Proverbs 31 is for Everyone

The woman in Proverbs 31 is not a biblical standard exclusively set for women. She is a personification of wisdom who shows us what wisdom looks like in action and calls all people, in every situation, to fear the Lord.

Since I began growing in faith, I was the classic good girl eager to do all the right things. In most women’s meetings, Proverbs 31 was the key passage to study. But I had a very complicated relationship with this passage.

Proverbs 31 was presented as the yardstick to measure all Christian women. It was the standard for being a good, godly, woman, which meant being a devoted wife and mother, who is also a domestic goddess, as well as active and enterprising outside the home.

I was all set to be this woman and translate this to whatever modern equivalency I could. But as it happened, I turned out to be single, without any children, and very far from being a domestic goddess. It was very difficult to relate to this expectation and to this passage.

Even for women who are married, or married with children, this passage can be intimidating. It feels like a burden that weighs them down with unrealistic expectations and makes them feel “less than.”

It is possible for men in India to neglect this passage as something that applies exclusively to women. Single men may see it as a guide for what to look for in a wife. A married man may use it to describe what his wife should be like.

But as I studied the book of Proverbs, I discovered that this chapter has something to say to all of us. Proverbs 31 is truly for everyone, irrespective of our situation.

Wisdom is Personified as a Woman of Valour

I loved the first Top Gun movie and I recently watched the sequel Top Gun: Maverick and I loved it. If you have seen the first movie, you immediately understand and identify the references it makes to the first movie. Proverbs 31 is a bit like that.

In Proverbs 1-9, wisdom and folly are personified as two women. Both have prepared a meal and are calling out to the simple man and inviting him to come in and eat with them (Prov. 9:4-6; 9:16-18).

The reward for finding wisdom is life but the consequence of choosing folly is death. The Lord lays out this choice between wisdom and folly throughout the book of Proverbs. He calls us to choose wisdom.

Wisdom is portrayed and personified as a ‘woman of valour.’

Proverbs 31:10-31 is set out as an acrostic poem in Hebrew. Each verse starts with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the idea is one of completion—giving us a full picture from A to Z of what wisdom looks like in action.

Consider this verse: “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (Prov. 31:10-12).

The word translated “excellent” (chayil) is closely associated with the term for a warrior and has military undertones.

The word for “gain” is the word used for “plunder” (Prov. 31:11). She rises up like a lioness and provides food for her household, where the word for food is “prey” (Prov. 31:15). She “girds her loins,” as if dressing herself for battle (Prov. 31:17). She is far more precious than jewels and, in Proverbs 3:15, the same words are used to describe wisdom.

More than portraying a to-do list for women, this passage reveals wisdom in action. It paints a picture of what it looks like when wisdom rules our life.

This ancient poem, written thousands of years ago, breaks modern stereotypes of women. Wisdom is portrayed and personified as a “woman of valour.”

The Woman of Valour Portrays Wisdom in Action

Wisdom in the book of Proverbs and in the Bible is not head knowledge and just words, wisdom is always seen in actions and in right living.

Wisdom is active, not passive and it is relational, not individualistic. So what does wisdom look like in practice? This “woman of valour” puts into practice all the themes from the book of Proverbs.

She Works Hard

The woman of valour works hard, and she is in direct contrast to the sluggard. There is an interesting wordplay using “hands.”

The sluggard “buries his hand in the dish, he is too lazy to even bring it back to his mouth” (Prov. 19:24, 21:25). 

The woman of valour does not generate wealth through exploitation but through diligent hard work.

In contrast, the woman of valour works with willing hands (Prov. 31:13), she plants a vineyard with her hands (Prov. 31:16), she makes her arms strong (Prov. 31:17), she puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle (Prov. 31:19).

She does not eat the bread of idleness and she is a resourceful woman.

She Generates Wealth

The woman of valour generates wealth. She is an entrepreneur, who is living out the wisdom of God: “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense” (Prov. 12:11).

She considers a field and buys it and plants a vineyard (Prov. 31:16), she perceives that her merchandise is profitable (Prov. 31:18), she makes linen garments and sells them and she delivers sashes to the merchants (Prov. 31:24).

The woman of valour does not generate wealth through exploitation but through diligent hard work.

She Prepares for the Future

The sluggard is told to go and consider the ways of the ant (Prov. 6:6-11). He is told to see how the ant prepares for winter by gathering in the summer.

The woman of valour prepares for the future just like the ant. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is covered in scarlet (Prov. 31:21). The word used here for scarlet also means double thickness, so they are warm in winter.

Wisdom says of herself, “whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster” (Prov. 1:33). The woman of valour laughs at the days to come because she is well prepared for the future (Prov. 31:25).

She Brings Flourishing to Her Home

Woman Folly persuades the young man lacking the sense to commit adultery with her and brings about his destruction (Prov. 7:19). In contrast, the woman of valour brings flourishing to those around her.

The fruit of her works and her beneficiaries are, first and foremost, those in her home—her husband and her children. She provides for her household (Prov. 31:15), who are clothed in scarlet (Prov. 31:21).

This ode to the woman of valour is an ode to wisdom itself.

Everyone at the city gates knows her husband (Prov. 31:23) and she looks well to the ways of her household (Prov. 31:27). The ones closest to her reap the benefits of her work.

The woman of valour is not a doormat, dancing to everyone’s tunes. But she is using all her strength to bring out the best in those around her.

She is Generous to the Poor

The woman of valour brings flourishing not only to those closest to her but also to those outside—to those who are vulnerable, poor and, needy.

She provides for her maidens, opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hand to the needy (Prov. 31:15, 20). This woman works hard with her hands and generates wealth. She is not close-fisted to the needy but uses the same hard-working hands to give generously to the poor.

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (Prov. 14:31). A life of wisdom is a life that acts justly and seeks mercy.

Her Words are Faithful and True

Wisdom says of herself, “All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them” (Prov. 8:8). 

The woman of valour opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue (Prov. 31:26). The word for teaching here is torah—the law and instruction. The writer uses the word chesed for kindness, which is the steadfast, loyal, covenant love of God.

The woman of valour does not use sugar-coated flattery. She speaks God’s truth in love. This is wisdom based on God’s word that instructs kindly, gently, and consistently.

She Fears the Lord 

Everyone, near and far, praises the “woman of valour.” Her children rise up and call her blessed and her husband praises her (Prov. 31:28).

Those who know her intimately praise her. Her work calls for praise in the city gates, not just from her family (Prov. 31:31)

Ultimately this poem, and the book of Proverbs, lead us to gaze at Jesus, who is the wisdom of God.

More than anything, the woman of valour embodies the key theme of the book of Proverbs—the fear of the Lord (Prov 1:7). Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30).

The book of Proverbs consistently places wisdom in relation to our relationship with the Lord (Prov. 9:10). This is what sets her apart from others.

Charm and beauty are fine in their own right but they are not foundations on which to build your life. But they are like vapour or mist, which is fleeting. You can try to grasp it, but it is impossible to grip.

The woman of valour is wisdom in action. This ode to the woman of valour is an ode to wisdom itself.

The Woman of Valour Points Us to the Fount of Wisdom

At the beginning of the book of Proverbs, Woman Wisdom sounds out an invitation to the simple man to enter her house and find life. The book ends with a picture of what it looks like when the man chooses to enter her house, to metaphorically take wisdom as his wife. God calls us to choose wisdom—to marry her.

Ultimately this poem, and the book of Proverbs, lead us to gaze at Jesus, who is the wisdom of God. The “woman of valour” is a metaphor. But we have a living, flesh and blood, embodiment of the wisdom of God in Christ (1 Cor. 1:24, Col. 2:2-3).

The real challenge of Proverbs 31 is to choose Jesus—to pursue him, to gaze at his beauty, to learn from him, to rest in his perfect, complete, finished work on the cross, and to live out the life of wisdom through his Spirit, who empowers and strengthens us.

This invitation is for all of us—women, men, married and single. May we find in Jesus all the riches of wisdom and understanding, and in seeking him, find our reward.