Building the Home I Need

 

Week of May 12, 2013

 

Bible Verses: Proverbs 31:10-12,15-20,25-31.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you create the home you need.

 

Be Trustworthy: Proverbs 31:10-12.

 

[10]  An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.  [11]  The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.  [12]  She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.  [ESV]

 

[10-12]  We now come to the climactic, and concluding, section of the entire book: the well-known treatise on the excellent wife. This section serves not only as an outline of the individual qualities and cumulative worth of a fine wife, but also as a fitting literary conclusion to the whole of Proverbs. In the opening section [chapters 1-9], wisdom was personified as a woman. Here, again, as the book concludes, wisdom appears, this time in the picture of the wise domestic partner. The ideals of wisdom presented throughout the Book of Proverbs are now gathered up and presented in a beautiful, breath-taking, but practical, presentation of wisdom embodied and in motion. This poetic description of the ideal woman is presented as an acrostic poem. Each of the twenty-two verses begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This arrangement in composition was to provide a helpful aid to one’s memory. Notable is her title as an excellent wife. The term translated excellent is the same one used to describe the heroic man of valor [Judges 6:12; 11:1; 1 Sam. 16:18]. Here, however, it appears to speak of her capability, efficiency, and character. The question who can find can imply impossibility. But, would a book so intent on holding wisdom up as the ideal of life, and to setting it forth in such practical portals, in the end, tell us to throw up our hands and give up pursuing it? Rarity, rather than impossibility, is the point here. Truly, such a wife is a gift from the Lord and a sign of His favor. To underscore the point, we are told her worth is far more precious than jewels. The word translated precious is a commercial term that normally refers to the price of something. The point may be that, even if such a woman were for sale, the price would be beyond us. Probably, the point is that no dowry, no matter how large, can balance the worth of such a gift from the Lord. The term jewels has been used before to refer to the value of wisdom. This woman is completely trustworthy [11]. It is, particularly, her husband who finds her faithful. He trusts her with the home, his wealth, his reputation, their children, and the whole of their domestic life. This is a remarkable statement, for this verb is almost exclusively used for trust in the Lord. Only twice in the Old Testament is it used of trust in another human being: here and in Judges 20:36. The husband is seldom seen in this ode to the woman of valor, except as a man free from domestic worries, so that he can give himself to civic leadership [23], or as turning from his preoccupations to praise his wife [28]. His conspicuous absence in the poem is not a signal of an estranged relationship, but underscores his trust in her. The second line tells us that his trust is not misplaced, for he will have no lack of gain. Rather than consuming the family resources, this woman multiplies them. The word translated gain is the normal word used to describe the spoils of war – a seemingly odd application here. Perhaps the word was chosen because it refers to an increase in wealth which does not result from one’s personal labors. The husband finds his household’s net worth has increased because of his wife’s industrious ways. The trust her husband has placed in her is, at first, a gift and, then, a reward, because, time and again, she provides good for him [12]. The good is not only psychological and relational, but tangible, as the following verses show. Note that, despite her far-flung entrepreneurial ways, her focus is upon the home and her husband. She is, first, a keeper of the home and only secondarily a career woman. Her focus is fixed and helps to secure the marriage and home: all the days of her life.

 

Be Responsible: Proverbs 31:15-20.

 

[15]  She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.  [16]  She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.  [17]  She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.  [18]  She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.  [19]  She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.  [20]  She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.  [ESV]

 

 

[15-20]  Not only does this remarkable woman carefully, and broadly, shop for her household [14], but she takes charge personally of the meal preparation. Sleep has generally been regarded by Proverbs as an impoverishing indulgence. The sluggard thereby casts himself into poverty. In contrast, before the light of dawn begins to brighten the landscape, this woman is up and diligently preparing the food for the day. She thinks of her family’s needs before her own need for rest. The word for food in the second line normally refers to the prey of an animal. In later Hebrew writings [see Mal. 3:10], it did come to have the more general meaning of simple food, as here. This is the only verse in the poem that contains three lines. The word for portions can refer to either provisions of food or assigned work tasks. Its meaning is, most simply, ‘what is appointed.’ This could be a reference to assigning the appointed labors to the household servants. It seems odd to some that a woman wealthy enough to afford household servants is up early, preparing food. However, she views her resources not as license for personal ease, but as a gift demanding personal responsibility. We all would do well to learn from her. Now in verse 16, we discover that the excellent wife knows not only how to spend money, but how to invest it wisely as well. She weights out not only the wisdom of investing in land, generally, but she also evaluates the worth of the particular field which she is considering. In the end, she is convinced of this financial venture and buys it. That this kind of liberty was not the norm for women of the ancient Near East only underscores her husband’s trust in her [11]. That confidence in these kinds of financial ventures was intended is clear, because it is stated that he will have no lack of gain [11]. She is not contented with simply becoming a land baroness. She wants her property to become a money-making venture yearly, not simply when it is resold. For this reason, she plants a vineyard. The money, not only to purchase the land, but to cultivate the vineyard, comes from her earnings: the fruit of her hands. She has been purchasing the best of materials and works joyfully [13] and diligently [18-19], making garments not only for her family [21-22], but also for resale [24]. This diligence has paid off in a second-level business venture, as she takes those earnings and reinvests them in land and agriculture. She is not only a shrewd business woman, but a diligent and hard worker [17]. She is not afraid of physical labor. The physical act of girding involved gathering up the loose, flowing robes of one’s tunic and tucking them into one’s belt. This was done to grant freedom of movement for physical labor or armed battle. This is an expression typically used of men and warriors. Here it may mean either that she helps out with the physical labor of the vineyard, or that, more generally, she sets about her work vigorously. Though she had servant girls at her bidding, she is not above working alongside of them. The second line says she makes her arms strong. The same word for strength is used to describe the military power of the soldier to stand his ground and of the political might to secure the kingdom. Here, it means not that she is a body builder, but that she applies herself to her work and is thereby fit and capable for it. In verse 18 we gain an understanding of that which motivates such an entrepreneurial woman. The verb translated perceives means, basically, to taste or sample food or beverage. It is used often in a literal sense, though also metaphorically, as here, to speak of testing, discerning or sensing something. She has begun to eat of the fruit of her labors in buying, selling, producing, and trading and it whets her appetite for more. The word profitable is from a root that is a commercial term, referring to the increase made through business ventures. Line one informs us, quite simply, that she knows how to discern when business is good. While she can enjoy the fruits of her labor, she is doing more than simply consuming them. She is, in a good sense, consumed by them and motivated to multiply them. Motivated by the profitable business, her lamp does not go out at night. This could simply mean that she doesn’t retire at sunset, but continues to work by artificial light to make sure she doesn’t miss the wave of good business fortune that has come to her.  We should beware of taking the wording here too literally. She has already risen before dawn to prepare food for her family and servants [15], worked hard throughout the day in manual labor [17], agricultural pursuits [16], commercial transactions [13,16], and the production of goods [13]. To insist that she, literally, forgoes sleep is both unrealistic and to miss the point. The expression lamp … go out can speak metaphorically of calamity [Prov. 13:9; 20:20], rather than sleeplessness. Here then it could be a symbol of her providing for the safety, security, and prosperity of her household. Among her nocturnal activities is the spinning of wool and flax into useable form for the garments she makes for her family [21], herself [22], and for resale [24]. This verse [19] must be read with the next, if the meaning is to be clear. We encounter the word hands twice in verse 19, but they are two different Hebrew words. The first means ‘hands’ and the second ‘palms.’ These same two words are presented in the reverse order in verse 20. She puts her hands to labor and works late into the night, so that she will be in a position to make the same motion toward those who are in need: reaches out her hands to the needy [20]. Having worked hard all day, she employs her hours of rest for labor that she might be able to bless those who cannot pay her for her goods. She is a tireless, thoughtful, and unselfish woman.

 

Be Godly: Proverbs 31:25-31.

 

[25]  Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.  [26]  She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.  [27]  She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  [28]  Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:  [29]  "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all."  [30]  Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.  [31]  Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.  [ESV]

 

[25-31]  Her adornment is not merely outward [22], but also the inner beauty of substance and character [1 Tim. 2:9-10]. Here, she is pictured as wearing strength and dignity as her clothing. That is to say, these are essential character qualities of her inner person that cannot help but be seen by those about her. Strength, though used of humans, is a word that essentially speaks of the power of God. As an attribute of God, it is something God gives to His people, not as a thing, but by His own personal presence with them. This woman walks with God and He dwells with her. The word translated dignity points to being raised up above that which is low, common, or little. It speaks of a just pride or true dignity. She is not arrogant, but because of her relationship to God [30] and her industrious ways [13], she is recognized as a woman who is a cut above those around her. The future is not a fearful prospect to her. Indeed, she laughs at the time to come. the future for the mocker is a frightful thing, a time when God will laugh at him in his calamity [Prov. 1:26]. But, this woman has chosen her fears well. She does not fear the future, but has appropriately set her fear upon the living God [30]. Thus, she is at peace with uncertainties. For the first time, we learn something of the speech of this excellent wife [26]. Until now, we have observed her behavior and studied her character, but her speech has been unexamined. Not surprisingly, when she opens her mouth, we discover wisdom flowing from it. Who she speaks to is not designated, but it likely includes her household servants, her children, and her husband. A mother is to give instruction to her children, and this she faithfully carried out. Not only does she speak wisdom, but the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. This brings together two of the richest Hebrew words in the Old Testament: torah (teaching or law) and hesed (kindness or covenant love). These two words might be said to embody Old Testament religion. The Law and the covenant love of God were the pillars upon which the Israelite’s relationship to God rested. Here, she has so thoroughly integrated them into her life that her very words are salted with their flavor. This woman is an amazing blend of hands-on worker and efficient manager of her staff and family [27]. As a faithful administrator, she looks well to the ways of her household. What is obvious is that, despite her far-flung enterprises and broad-sweeping investments, this woman is absorbed in her home and family. The second line is an understatement of her industrious ways. The bread of idleness would be a reference to eating food for which one did not labor. Or, understood more generally, it would refer to entering into the benefits of something for which one did not work. As the poem comes to a close, those near her cannot contain their praise. It begins with her children [28], and moves on to her husband [28-29], God [30], and the broader community [31]. They see her for what she is: an excellent wife and mother. The action indicated by the verb rise up was one necessary before an important declaration was about to be made. Today, it might picture one calling for the attention of assembled guests and clearing his throat to make a toast, or of a crowd leaping to its feet in a thunderous standing ovation. What her children do when they arise is call her blessed. The word means to pronounce one blessed or happy. It is a word never used of God’s praise for another, but only of man’s praise. She has come to enjoy the benefits of having reared wise children. In the second line, the husband chimes in as well. He praises her. The exact content of this praise is quoted in verse 29. The word excellently is the same Hebrew word translated excellent in verse 10. At the start, the author wondered aloud: An excellent wife who can find? This man has raised his voice to claim that he had. If her worth is far more precious than jewels [10], then this man is claiming to be a rich man indeed. The wise husband is reminded that it is not sufficient to simply estimate his wife’s worth [10-28], but he must also voice it [28-29]. Having skillfully instilled a gnawing hunger to know what makes this woman tick, the poet now reveals the source of her excellence [30]. The first line instructs us concerning what makes an insufficient grounds for life and relationships: personal charm and physical beauty. The former is deceitful. The word normally refers to words or actions that are untrue and without foundation in fact or reality. By her charms, a woman is able to set forth an impression of herself which will not hold up over time and under the pressures of real life. While physical beauty is said to be vain. The word, literally, means ‘breath’ or ‘vapor.’ It is here today and gone tomorrow. We should not read these as a denouncement of physical beauty, for Proverbs has counseled a man to find delight in his wife’s body [5:15-19]. Rather, the point is that there must be much more than physical attraction and general enchantment if the marriage is to last and reflect God’s ways. Above all else, that which makes her an excellent wife is her fear of the Lord. It is her spiritual life which gives strength and beauty to the rest of her being. This reference to the fear of the Lord connects back to 1:7, the key verse of the book. We do well to remember that the book began here and that the first major section of the book ended here as well [9:10]. So, now, the book as a whole also ends upon this theme: The fear of the Lord is the beginning (and ending)  of knowledge (or wisdom). In the end, this virtuous woman receives back for all her unselfishness. The poet demands that we give her of the fruit of her hands [31]. This expression seems to be a broad and sweeping description of the many good things that her godly, disciplined life yields. The God she has feared has rewarded her in tangible ways. The book closes with the poet’s last call: that we let her works praise her in the gates. We are reminded of her husband’s influence there [23]. Perhaps he starts the chorus of cheers. Perhaps her glory is found in his respect there, and her works praise her in some reflective or residual manner. It would have been unusual in Jewish culture for a woman to be directly praised at the city gates. But, this is no ordinary woman. She has joyfully learned the truth of Proverbs 22:4:  The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         List all of the characteristics of the excellent wife given in these verses.

 

2.         How does a chapter describing the excellent wife provide a fitting conclusion to a book on wisdom? How do you see wisdom displayed in the actions of the excellent wife?

 

3.         What is the significance of the writer beginning [1:7] and ending [31:30] his book emphasizing the important of the fear of the Lord? How do the fear of the Lord and wisdom relate?

 

References:

Proverbs, Charles Bridges, Crossway.

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III, Baker.

Proverbs, John Kitchen, Mentor.