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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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.
Torah For Women
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