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.
We have a lot to learn from the Proverbs 31 woman, but what we have learned through this series (what God teaches through His Word) may not be in sync with all that we have been taught in the past. For some of us ladies, we may have to do some unlearning, some putting off of false information, before we can put on truth.
To do this, let’s recap what we’ve discussed so far. Through this series we have learned:
This not That!
- The Proverbs 31 woman is a model for a life of wisdom, not a “blueprint” or prescription for how to be a godly wife. With that, we must not make her an idol. We have much to learn from her, but we women do not have to try to imitate her in all of her activity. We are not in sin if we don’t have a home-based business, or if we have never learned how to sew.
- In biblical/historical context, the Proverbs 31 woman is an aristocratic Israelite in a culture where wealth and wisdom are inextricably linked, whose husband is an elder in the land. She has handmaidens (i.e. help). She is an ideal wife in an ideal society. She is a portrait of royal domesticity, not a real person such as Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel — real women in a real fallen world with real sin — such as you and I.
- In literary context she is the main character of an heroic poem. She is hyperbolized, exaggerated. Like a Disney princess, she is an entirely fictional character. This chapter of Proverbs, as an acrostic “ABC” poem, was used by Jewish families to teach children about godly wisdom, an illustration of the kind of life wisdom can bring. It is not a promise of financial prosperity, for men or women, upon marrying rightly.
As I said in the previous article, Proverbs 31 culminates all of wisdom in the book of Proverbs. The wife of noble character is another personification of wisdom as a woman, like Dame Wisdom in the previous chapters of the book. She fulfills wisdom-themes throughout the book such as diligence, obedience, perseverance, shrewdness, attentiveness, and fear of the Lord. Though she is a woman, men as well as women are instructed to chase after her virtue. Proverbs 31 is an exhortation for all people to live with wisdom. Allen Ross states, “The work [Proverbs 31] says nothing about the woman’s personal relationship with her husband, her intellectual or emotional strengths, or her religious activities. In general it appears that the woman of Proverbs 31 is a symbol of wisdom.1“
This makes sense! Though wisdom is personified in the book of Proverbs as a woman, this attribute is first and foremost an attribute of God. In Proverbs 8:22-23 Dame Wisdom explains, “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” In verses 24-31 she goes on to discuss how she was with God through all of His process of creation. Indeed, wisdom is an attribute of God, an attribute all Christians must strive to attain.
For our purpose, we can define wisdom as the correct application of the knowledge of biblical truth to life. While the call toward godly wisdom is a call for all Christians, the unique beauty of this call for women specifically must be noted. Wisdom is first derived from the environment of the home; it is taught and practiced in the home. Through the nurture and admonition of the Lord, mothers teach their children to set themselves in righteous fear of the lord, where wisdom begins. When more is caught than taught, a mother exemplifies wisdom by her conduct in her home. It is the character of the Proverbs 31 woman which teaches us this, not her activity. The wise wife is trustworthy, kind, careful, diligent, generous. She is good to her husband and blessed by her children2.
Ladies, this is an exceptionally high calling that we must take seriously. We must ponder the way that is blameless (Psalm 101:2a). We must strive toward godliness. We must walk within our homes with blameless hearts (Psalm 101:2b). Proverbs was written to instruct and admonish us, to drive us reflect on our lives and the conditions of our hearts.
However, we must not dwell in shame whenever we don’t succeed. Dan Philips accurately states, “Of course, there is no such thing as an all-godly or an all-foolish man or woman”3. In our humanity we aren’t able to be wise and blameless all the time. We fail often. As much as we desire to, we will never consistently exercise godly wisdom. We will never reach the “impossibly high bar” the Proverbs 31 woman sets for us4. But what does she do for us in this? In our acute awareness of our imperfections, our brokenness, our sin, she points us to Christ! Our spotless lamb, our atoning sacrifice, our mediator, our perfect High Priest — our King.
The ground certainly is level at the foot of the cross; once we take the Proverbs 31 woman off her pedestal, we can see her for who she really is. As an arrow that points us to Him, she is no longer an idol, and we can rightly apply the wisdom she personifies to our lives. Now, my effort toward godly wisdom is an act of love and obedience, a response to the perfect life and work of Christ, manifested in my desire (by saving grace) to bring Him glory! That’s it. It is not to attain some legalistic domestic perfection, to imitate this woman of valor, or for hopes at some financial blessing.
Do you see the difference? Do you see how a shallow reading of this chapter damages? It does nothing for us but encumber a legalistic approach to our faith and sanctification. When we try to be “good enough” we lose the gospel. We lose Christ. We lose it all.
One further biblical application to tie this all in a bow: Never once does the New Testament exhort women to imitate the Proverbs 31 woman. We are exhorted to imitate Christ. Paul instructs, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
I feel I have only just scratched the surface in this series. Dame Wisdom and Lady Folly have so much to teach us in the book of Proverbs. The personified dichotomy that is set before us as these two women seek out followers is intriguing. Dame Wisdom cries out in the streets. She sends her daughters to call out and cry for men and women to seek after her. It is a public plea! Lady folly (also personified in the adulterous woman) is, on the other hand, covert and subversive. She lies in wait. She’s sneaky and destructive. She hides in alley-ways, and comes out at night.
Lady folly tears down her home with her own hands; she is contentious and self-seeking (Proverbs 14:1b). While Dame Wisdom builds her home; she is trustworthy and generous (Proverbs 14:1a).
It is imperative that we study the Scriptures, and study them rightly. We must strive toward godly wisdom in order that we first and foremost glorify God, but also that in our foolishness we do not be the ruiners of our own lives, and the lives of those most precious to us.
Lastly, I would like to give you a few tools, tools that I have used, to enrich your personal study of Proverbs:
1. The Put-off / Put-on Note-taker
Keeping a two-column “put off / put on” note-taker is very helpful. I keep one in my Bible and one in my journal. It’s as simple as folding a lined piece of paper the “hot dog way” and labeling the left side “put off” and the right side “put on”. You can list the sin with corresponding verses in the left column, and list the contrasting virtue with corresponding verses in the right column. This is an exercise I practice often — when I’m battling a specific sin, when my emotions are getting the better of me, and during my personal bible study time. I found it particularly helpful as I studied the book of Proverbs to contrast Lady Folly and Dame Wisdom. I listed “Foolishness” as the heading for the left column, and “Wisdom” as the heading for the right column. As I read Proverbs, I listed verse, thoughts, and notes in each corresponding column.
I learned about this note-taking idea from Martha Peace (whose website and resources I highly recommend) and have adapted this from her “Put Off Put On Bible Study“. You may also find it in her book, The Excellent Wife.
I use these note-takers alongside my personal Bible study all the time. It’s fun for me. I like seeing the contrasts. But it’s also convicting. Sometimes, in our personal growth we only half-way achieve — we put off. But when we put off a sin with nothing planned to put on in its place, there is a gap. This gap is waiting to be filled. When empty it is a foothold for sin, waiting for you to stumble and fill it with sin once again. Fill the gap! Don’t let it be a foothold for sin. Fill it intentionally with virtue! It starts in the Bible and it starts with the mind.
2. A Study of Complementarianism
Though there is much to be derived of marital complementarianism from the book of Proverbs, I did nothing in these articles to discuss this biblical call. If you would like to explore this topic further, Martha Peace excellently explains the biblical mandates for women, specifically wives, in her book The Excellent Wife. Stuart Scott’s The Exemplary Husband, is the accompaniment for men. I highly recommend both. A correct understanding of God’s high calling for women in light of our bent as women toward specific sins will enrich your study of Proverbs by leaps and bounds! Moreover, Mrs. Peace dispels any worldly “wisdom” of womanhood you might have bought into (as I had) and supplants misconceptions from secular influence with biblical truth. It truly does take an entire book, or more, to accomplish this. It would have been a disservice to you had I attempted that here.
Other helpful books on this topic include:
- Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem
- God’s High Calling For Women by John MacArthur
3. Bible Study Companion Books
Dan Phillips, in his book God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, provides fruitful exegetical discourse as you encounter various wisdom-themes. His exposition motivates, convicts, and encourages.
Robert Alden’s book, Proverbs is a great commentary companion to your personal study. He speaks plainly and conversationally as he explains deep truths, connects the dots and makes the confusing clear.
Ladies, for His glory we should always strive to that full-flowering domesticity to which Derek Kidner so poetically points us. In our striving toward godliness our human flesh won’t allow us to consistently be the perfectly regal wives which we desire. But we won’t always be held back by our flesh. In eternity we will be seated with God. We will rule and reign with Christ as daughters of the Most High King! The Proverbs 31 woman in all her matchless excellence doesn’t hold a candle to that. And these temporary temporal trials are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Have faith in future grace!
- Charles Bridges, An Exposition of the Book of Proverbs. New York, NY: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1865; reprinted 2012.
- Derek Kidner, Proverbs. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1964.