The Verses Sometimes Known as The “Check List” Of The Perfect Woman
At least once each year, usually around Mother’s Day in America, pastors, preachers and teachers bring up the Proverbs 31 woman. When they speak on it, many women take an invisible whip and beat themselves up for not measuring up to what a lot will claim is the perfect woman - The Super Wife and Super Mom who perfectly performs everything mentioned in Proverbs 31 - and MORE! It is often believed that you must be able to do every single thing on the list and that this is commanded by Yahweh. Torah for Women hopes to give you a new perspective and insight into Proverbs 31 in your own life.
Where to begin. . . The best place is in what Proverbs 31 is NOT:
First, Proverbs 31 is not a commandment. No where in this writing is it stated that these words are a command delivered from Yahweh to the children of Israel. We must first understand and accept this before moving on. When we study the Torah, it is fairly clear that there are things we are commanded to do: the Sabbath, the Feast Days, the Ten Commandments, to name a few. What makes it obvious is how Yahweh had them written and recorded for us. Proverbs 31 is not written in the same way, nor are they words directly fromYahweh, but are the words of advice from a mother, recorded by her son. Do these words from the son’s mother exemplify Godly principles? Definitely. Do they contain inspiration that may have come from Yahweh? They certainly appear that way. Yet, they are not words of command from Abba to His earthly daughters.
If Proverbs 31 is not a commandment from Yahweh, then it is to be used only as a description of things that we could be or what we could work toward in order to make our homes, lives, and families more organized and able to operate in the day and age in which we live. There are things in Proverbs 31 that will help us in society, in life, in finances, in saving money, making a better home, helping our husband succeed, and so much more. We could easily apply these teachings in our lives, and probably already are, but we need not beat ourselves up over them by struggling to create the perfect Proverbs 31 woman.
The description of the wife being sought by the king in Proverbs 31 is someone who is well versed in many areas so that she can be a valuable partner to her husband. With this partnership, he is then able to go out into the town or society with honor and with a good reputation, which can benefit them in their ministering for Yahweh as well as in providing for their family. This is displayed in verse 11 that tells of the confidence he has in her ability and in verse 23, which says he is respected at the city gate and takes his seat among the elders of the land.
Second, Proverbs 31 is not a score card. What many women do not realize or have not been taught, is that this is not a check list for women to go over and compare themselves to. Simply put, Proverbs 31 is not written as a prescription for all womankind. It is instead, a list of characteristics for a young man to look for in a wife who will fear the Lord and who will not ruin his work, his reputation, his ministry in Yahweh, and his earthly realm or “kingdom”.
If it is not a list of commandments, and is not a checklist for us to judge ourselves by, what is it? It is, in reality, several different things that many women could and should find comforting and encouraging, not constraining.
Proverbs 31 is:
- Poetic. Many writings in the Bible are written in the form of poetry, and Proverbs 31 is one example. It is actually an “acrostic” poem. For those who do not recognize this term from our high school or college English courses, an acrostic poem is one in which the first letter, syllable, or word of each line or paragraph spells out a word or a message. In this case, in the Hebrew writings, the beginning letter of each verse spells out something in particular: the Hebrew alphabet, in order, from beginning to end. This would not be noticeable in an English translation, but in Hebrew it would be seen as the first letter on the right at the beginning of each verse.
It could be said that poetry is as old as the hills because many examples of poetry have been discovered in ancient ruins all around the world. Some of these include prayers, stories with religious subject matter, love songs, fiction, even instructions for everyday activities, like we sing the English Alphabet to teach our children letters. Some prominent examples or discoveries are the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, but two of the most notable are Iliad and Odyssey. In the biblical records we have the Psalms and some of the Proverbs, as seen here with number 31.
Poetry was a beautiful way to convey historical events, share knowledge, express deep feelings, or just tell stories. These could be carried down through the generations and passed along as a record of the people.
In this case, the Poem is recorded as the “words of King Lemuel” and is a summary of the words of wisdom passed on to him from his mother. Words of counsel that cover everything from how to avoid compromising yourself as king to what to look for in a quality wife who will bring him honor and praise, as well as protect him from disgrace.
Is this about a woman of virtue or a woman of strength?
Let’s take a look at what might be translation bias. In the mother’s first instructions about a wife, which appears in what we know as verse 3 KJV, it states:
“Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.” This is an interesting phrase to share with a son - “give not thy strength to women. . .”
When you look to the Hebrew, the word for strength used here, referring to Lemuel’s strength, is the same Hebrew root word that is used to describe the ideal wife in a later verse, which is translated into English as being “virtuous”. So, is the King’s mother telling him to not give his VIRTUE to women or his strength? Let’s dig deeper to see why the same Hebrew word is translated strength when applied to the king and virtue when applied to the woman.
The root word for the king and the ideal wife means: power, strength, army, capable, valiant. These are forceful words that are fit for a king, while “virtuous” is more delicate and gentle. Therefore, it seems that the more accurate translation for the word would be the one used to describe the instructions to King Lemuel, rather than the later description of the “virtuous" woman he should marry. Why? Well, how often would a king be described as delicate or gentle? Not of a king that is supposed to be powerful, but in addition, there are only two times that the word is translated as “virtuous” and that would be in Ruth 3 and Proverbs 31. Both of these uses of the word “virtuous" are describing women, who were often thought of as delicate and were not often wanted to be perceived as strong, powerful leaders. All other records show that the Hebrew word is translated to English as able, valiant, valor, capable, army, warrior, forces, troops, riches, or wealth. It makes it more accurate to translate the sentence for the king as “Give not your power, strength, army, capabilities, and valor to women.”
With this clarity we can now adjust the sentence about the type of wife to find: “Who can find a virtuous (worthy) woman? For her price is far above rubies. . .” should more accurately be translated, “Who can find a powerful, strong, capable, and valiant woman? For her price is far above rubies.” Here we can now see a different picture painted of the wife the king should seek.
In the Jewish cultures, Proverbs 31 is not for women to focus on, but rather for the men. “For the MEN?" you ask, “How is that possible when the entire poem is about what a woman must be?” It is tradition that it is sung by the husband of the household at the beginning of Sabbath as a praise for all that his wife is and has done in the home. It is used as a song of gratitude and appreciation for the wife and mother keeping her home together, organized, and ready to share with others and especially to share with Abba.
The messages of praise that are included in this Proverb are that the wife is good at household tasks such as cooking and sewing which is described by her ability to spin her own threads and make clothing and household goods. As well as provide clothing for her family, she sells these items she makes to provide additional finances for the household. She is honorable, wise, kind, works diligently and willingly, able to buy food, prepare it, and feed her whole household. She knows how to invest and make financial decisions, buy and sell property as well as grow a vineyard, and is intelligent, smart, and charitable. She does and is all these things while at the same time she does not speak ill of her husband or gossip. From her dedication, her husband is recognized in the city and amongst their people. All of these attributes contribute to making a woman what verse 3 says a man (a king) should look for in a wife - she is someone who is powerful, strong, capable, and valiant, as powerful as a warrior, while being loving and charitable in reverence of Yahweh.
Now, some may believe that doing all these things may make a woman over-bearing, controlling, or unable to submit to her husband. It may even be claimed that she “wears the pants” in the family. This is not the case at all, and is evident when a man must leave the home to go to work, out of town on ministry or business, and a great example is when a man goes away to war. The wife must be ready, willing and able to rise to the occasion and take charge of the home while he is away - she must be able to run his “kingdom” as he would run it. This could involve decisions in every area from household finances, investing to help their financial stability grow, to taking care of children and feeding family. It may also involve so very many other areas that normally a husband would be “in charge” of, but his wife must be ready, and knowledgeable enough to handle in his absence. If she is untrained in these areas, unwise in these areas, who will take up the slack in protecting the family while he is away? The key is that, as in everything, it is a balance, and the wife must be willing to fully understand that when the husband returns, she relinquishes those responsibilities back to the “King of the castle”.
The understanding of Proverbs 31 should be clearer now, and it should be evident that it is not a commandment from Yahweh on what the perfect woman must be. Can Proverbs 31 be used as a guide of things that would be helpful for every young woman, single adult woman, or wife to learn? Yes!
It is our hope that women might find some desire to learn something new that she has not learned as yet, perhaps finances, or real estate. Every home has different needs and every home is unique, but husbands and wives should work together as true partners in the home. The wife should be involved in all the day to day activities of the home and fully aware of the finances. Wives should be ready to step in and pick up the husbands duties when he is not home. This might include learning how to repair things around the house, or working on the car. A woman shouldn’t be paralyzed when her husband is not available. However, this type of household requires the husband and wife being united in thought and purpose and willing to work together toward their goals.
May Yahweh bless you in your endeavors and in your studies, and may you find joy in learning something new and uplifting.
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Being a wife and mother is a beautiful calling in life. It is one of which many young women dream.
Not long ago I heard a mother speak of her daughter and say all she wanted to do when she graduated from high school in a year or so was to get married and have children. What an honorable thing to seek after and proclaim. The daughter worked hard all through school, got good grades, and was well liked by all her peers. She was not asked or required to hold a job while in school, and had no experience at all to take to the workplace. It was her belief that the husband was supposed to do all the providing and that she need not go any further in her education than high school. She believed she would be fine as soon as she was married, which she greatly wanted to be as soon as possible.
But. . . not every woman is blessed with this opportunity. For some it may come later than intended or wanted, for others it may never come. For some it may have come, and gone, while others it may have been stolen from them through death and tragedy leaving them alone to figure things out and raise the children alone. Life is different for each person, and this world sometimes creates different paths for us than what we dreamed of or prayed for.
In times like these, what is a woman to do? The scriptures are actually filled with many words of wisdom on preparing ourselves for what is to come as well as many records of events where people prepared for the future. Joseph was told to set up stores for the famine that was to come; Noah was told to build a boat to save his family and the animals; Moses was told to ask the Egyptians for wealth to take with them as the Israelites left Egypt (Exodus 12:35-36). Then there is the parable of the Ten Virgins, the wise and the foolish, 5 prepared for the bridegroom and five unprepared (Matthew 25:1).
How can these be related to a young woman just leaving school and dreaming of marriage and children, or what life may bring in the future? A lot. Yahweh has given examples to us throughout the scriptures to prepare for things to come, for the future.
The young woman mentioned in the beginning was ready, willing and able to be married and could not wait. She was putting together her wedding planner, picking out dresses, flowers, venues, and even what day she would be married on. The interesting part was that she had no prospects, none, zero. She was not dating, not working, rarely socializing, and had not yet met any young men who would fit her qualifications. The likelihood of her marrying at any time soon is drastically reduced with her not being out in the community in some way. Making new friends or meeting new co-workers, even attending college could lead to meeting someone with the same faith, same moral standards, same life goals. She was not out communicating with her peers, yet she was insistent that she was going to marry immediately and have children on a particular date. It could be said that this is not a very good example of a Proverbs 31 woman, who is valiant, powerful, ready, prepared, knowledgeable, and educated. (link to Prov 31 article)
In ancient times, the problem of not socializing with young men was often solved by the father arranging a suitable marriage for their daughters, completely eliminating the need for dating to find a spouse. Then, things became more relaxed, societies expanded, and women become more able to choose their own husbands. Today, though, some young men and women find themselves in a similar predicament as ancient times because they are seeking someone in the same faith or moral standard which can, at times, be difficult to find because their faith community is spread out or small. The role of the “matchmaker-father” now is often left up to dating sites that allow for you to contact people of the same interests, but this has gotten more and more confusing and in some cases, dangerous. It could take some time for a young woman to find a suitable mate this way, and in the mean time she has options that she can choose, I would hope that staying at home, doing house work for mom and dad as a single woman would not be the only option she would choose.
Things that a young woman could take into consideration are working while searching for a future husband.Or how about the young girl attend college, a trade school, a tech school, or some other form of educational path? This is not an offense against her dreams of becoming a wife and mother, and in fact might be a way to help her Why can’t she meet someone she can befriend, get to know, and one day marry if things work out. In the meantime, the young woman can expand her knowledge base and become more like the Proverbs 31 woman that a king could be searching for to help “rule his household” and build his “kingdom”.
There is nothing at all wrong with the dream of being a mother and wife. As said before, it is a most beautiful calling in life, and there is so much to learn about being a wife that isn’t always learned just by the example of your own good mother. Running a home is similar to running a business with accounts payable and accounts receivable, scheduling, financial decisions involving buying cars, homes, and large ticket items. The list is endless what a wife needs to know and do, which some say can include everything from being a housekeeper, laundress, gardener, interior decorator, secretary, psychoanalyst, nutritionist, diagnostician, baker, chef, handyman, and even a nurse. Some of these things will be learned growing up, others will be learned as hands-on experience or on the job training when she becomes a wife and mother, still others can be learned in further education, or by outside-the-home job training that might also come in handy in the future.
As said before, life does throw things in our pathway that we cannot always forsee, but we can prepare for. In these troubled times, men lose their jobs and it is not uncommon today for it to take a year or two to find another. A man may be injured and unable to work. How will the family provide for themselves without dad’s income? If the mother/wife has had some training along the way or further education, both may need to be refreshed, but there is the potential there to be able to provide for the family in the interim.
Why are woman so resistant to be prepared? Why do women put all the burden on their current or future husband to figure out all of life’s problems. Why don’t woman prepare themselves to be the wife that will be a real asset to their husbands and family with skills that are ready for any problem life throws at you.
Just food for thought. . . Blessings!
I have learned in recent months that people often express several different “types” or “levels” of what we call faith. As we experience each one, our Father asks us, even expects us to reach for the higher ground, pushing and prodding us upwards in our faith walk. Through inspirations and our time we spend with him, he reveals to us scriptures and teachings that will help us reach those new heights, if we are willing to accept his influence.
1. There is the faith that we have that says, “Ok, I THINK he will help/bless me. But I am not sure, but I will pray anyway, let’s see what happens. . .”
2. The faith where we think he might bless us, but where we don’t believe we are worthy of His blessings or his protection, because in our mind we just are not “good enough" to receive the things we are believing for. Although Yahweh, through his love and mercy, sees us worthy to receive his blessings:
Ephesians 2:4-10 WEB
But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, . . . For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them.
-- There is the faith where we grit our teeth and say, “Ok, God, it’s yours!!!” But in the back of our heads we are thinking, “it’s not like he is going to really help me, he never has in the past!” This is the one where we are plagued with doubts because we are looking back at our past experiences and past failures instead of focusing on his word. In this kind, we often fail to see the times when he has pulled us our of our own messes and saved us in spite of ourselves.
-- Then there is the faith we use when we get angry that things have not happened on our time table and we throw our hands up in frustration and call out, “FINE!!! If YOU think you can do it, go ahead! I put it all in your hands!” Here we become weary in the midst of the battle and give up, because we don’t see things happen we we thought they should happen.
Galatians 6:9 WEB Let us not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we don't give up.
-- And finally, the faith where we say in humility, “Ok, Yahweh, first let me apologize for all those other things I did and said. . . . Please forgive my impatience, my frustration, anger, my pride, my weariness, and even my doubts. You said to give it to you – it’s yours. I love you and trust you to take it from me - burden and all. I also know you love me and you are faithful to your promises. I am just going to let you handle it while I go on with life and follow the directions that you have laid before me. You know what directions I mean: those instructions you have given me a thousand times, but I wasn’t paying full attention. You said you have got this and you have made promises in your Word, so here it is. I will be over there working on the other things that need to get done. Oh, and Yahweh? Thank you for your loving kindness and especially your forgiveness.”
This is the better form of faith, the one that will, in the end, get us through while we grow and learn. It is the stronger faith, the humbling faith. Having faith in his faithfulness and love.
A great example of this would be the story of Jonah. When he realized he could no longer hide from Yahweh, and that he could not fight against Yahweh’s calling. Once Jonah realized his attitude was wrong, Jonah prayed for forgiveness and deliverance, which Yahweh granted.
Jonah 2 WEB Then Jonah prayed to Yahweh, his God, out of the fish's belly. He said, "I called because of my affliction to Yahweh. He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried. You heard my voice. For you threw me into the depths, in the heart of the seas. The flood was all around me. All your waves and your billows passed over me. I said, 'I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple. The waters surrounded me, even to the soul. The deep was around me. The weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains. The earth barred me in forever: yet have you brought up my life from the pit, Yahweh my God. "When my soul fainted within me, I remembered Yahweh. My prayer came in to you, into your holy temple. Those who regard lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving. I will pay that which I have vowed. Salvation belongs to Yahweh." Yahweh spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah on the dry land.
In the end, I believe Yahweh wants us to develop the ultimate form of faith, where we don’t put ourselves and Him through the first several so-called faith scenarios. We need to break our bad faith habits and skip right to the last example by simply saying, “You said to give it to you – it’s yours. I love you and trust you.” We need the kind of faith were we say: “YUP! I know that I know that you’ve got this one, so guide me, direct me, lead me through it! I am ready Lord!!! Let’s do this!”
Just a little random thought for the day. . . . Shalom!
Other scriptures on Faith:
Psalm 4:1 WEB Answer me when I call, God of my righteousness. Give me relief from my distress. Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.
Genesis 25:21 KJV
And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
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Lead Author (Bio)
Jim, (Judi's husband), has Sephardi Jewish ancestry and is a minister and head of Shofar Productions. Jim was a denominational pastor, hospital chaplain, and former director of a non-profit community organization.
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