The Proverbs 31 Woman (Part One): What Have We Done to Her?

In Bible Study, Women's Issues by Jessica Pickowicz5 Comments

More Precious Than Jewels: The True Story of the Proverbs 31 Woman (A Three Part Series)
Proverbs 31 is not just a laundry list of “shoulds” for the virtuous wife. Oh dear sister, it is so much more! This chapter displays the eternal wisdom of God, essential wisdom needed for every Christian believer. Abandon what you think you know about this wife of noble character. Tune into this 3 part series and discover The True Story of the Proverbs 31 Woman. You might be surprised.

Head to toe, she is perfect. Her mind is sharp, set on wisdom, kindness, and the fear of the Lord. She is robed in strength and royal purple. Her arms are strong and ready for any task. Her hands are open to the poor. Her legs carry her, dignified, in all her chores and errands: making bed coverings for her home, clothing for her family, and selling her wares to the merchants in town. This virtuous wife works tirelessly providing for the needs of her household, including her handmaidens. Her husband trusts and praises her. Her children rise and call her blessed. And this little description, here, doesn’t even cover it! This wife of noble character is the most exemplary model for Christian womanhood in all of Scripture.

But what have we done to her? It is evident that contemporary Christian teaching has mishandled and misapplied the Proverbs 31 woman in several ways: we have taken her out of context; we women have applied her as a blueprint for godly living – instructions to be followed to the letter, and we have turned this excellent wife into an idol.

Now, I am not going to spend this article addressing specific ministries, books, or teachings that have perpetuated this shallow interpretation and legalistic application. But, I am going to share my story. And my assumption is that it’s not much different from many other experiences today’s women have had with this text.

One fine day, under some misguided teaching, this chapter and verse rocked my world, and sent me, with a guilt-filled conscience, crying shamefully to my husband, “I don’t make things and sell them. I don’t have a home-based business. I have loads of dishes and laundry piling up. And I don’t even ‘provide portions for my handmaidens’.” I was a first-time mother caring for a colicky nursing baby, but my conclusion: I am not a Proverbs 31 woman; therefore, I am not obeying God; therefore, I am in sin. (Cue sobbing hysterics — my poor husband.)

What had I done? I had wrenched this Proverbs 31 woman out of context, and I was berating myself for not fitting exactly into her mold. In my heart I was idolizing her, wishing I could muster the discipline to be just like her. I had battened upon myself a heavy yoke of legalistic expectation that God Himself never intended for me. I had misinterpreted and misapplied the Scripture. I was struggling in the arm of the flesh to be good enough for God.

Thankfully, my very pastoral husband explained to me a bit of what was wrong with my conclusion/interpretation/application/idolatry. It was enough to give me peace for the moment (though, I admit, I didn’t entirely buy what he was selling). And, like the bookish hubby he is, he encouraged me to read all of Proverbs on my own with the aid of a couple of sound books and commentaries, that we just happened to have on-hand. (Shoulda’ seen that one comin’!) Well, needless to say, I did.

Now, I believe and affirm that the Scriptures are authoritative, infallible, and sufficient. All of the information provided about the Proverbs 31 woman is there for a reason. Every jot and tittle has a perfect purpose. Every stroke of pen is correct! The style of writing, the characterizations, the teachings are all there for a reason. They all have context! However, I had failed to rightly interpret. Many of us women have looked at Proverbs 31 as a laundry list of “shoulds”, and some of us, a list of “musts”. We read it in isolation and we heap shame and guilt on ourselves. Ladies, this is the wrong approach to the Word of God! Here is the truth:

The Proverbs 31 woman is by all means a model for a life of wisdom. But she is not a prescription or “blueprint” to be followed to the letter.1

Context is everything and it is what has been lacking in the contemporary teachings of the Proverbs 31 woman. We need to put her back in her historical, cultural, biblical context. It is there she will shine more precious than jewels.

The next article, The Proverbs 31 Woman: A Biography, does just that. Keep reading as we discuss the true story of this misunderstood wife of noble character.

Jessica Pickowicz

Jessica Pickowicz

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Jessica is the founder and lead writer of Beautiful Thing. She is wife to pastor/ church-planter Nate Pickowicz, and mama of two.

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  1. Allen P. Ross, “Proverbs” in Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991).