The Good Wife – Proverbs 31:10-31
Proverbs 31: 10-31 talks about or rather praises a good wife. It distinguishes between a wife and a good wife. The question, what makes a good wife is, is answered here. This part of the scripture has been described as an acrostic poem with its verses beginning with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet (McCreesh, 1985). This verse is a reflection of the importance of marriage and a family setting in Christianity. In fact, there are many other verses in the book of Proverbs and in the rest of the bible that complement it by talking about wives. Such include Proverbs 12:4 that compares a disgraceful wife to a wife of noble character. Proverbs 18:22 talks about how finding a wife can earn one favor from the Lord. Proverbs 19:14 states that while wealth can be gotten from one’s parents; a good wife comes from God. The book of Ephesians in 5:22-33 also talks about marriage and the role of a wife. These and so many other such as Mark 10:6-9, Hebrews 13:4-7, Colossians 3:18-19, 1 Corinthians 7:1-16, Matthew 19:4-6, and Deuteronomy 24:5, that talk about the wife. However, Proverbs 31: 10-31 seems to have been the climax of them all. It serves as an emphasis of just how important a good wife was in the Israelites culture and Christianity in whole. These twenty-two verses have become the popular poem that celebrates the good and noble wife. They have also come to be known as the Hymn of the good wife. The fact that they were placed at the end of the book of Proverbs suggests that they were a full summary of all the wisdom on wives as contained in the book of Proverbs. The question is how do religious scholars interpret this hymn. It is deeply discussed in this essay.
Verse 10 begins by asking who can find a wife of noble character and one who is worth much more than rubies. The word noble in this context is used to refer to Strength and ability as well as a firm moral character. It is also used to mean ‘one who fears God.’ Some versions of the Bible describe this wife as virtuous. The other instance in the bible where a woman is defined to have a noble character is in Ruth 3:11, referring to Ruth. The comparison of such a wife suggests how precious she is as well as one who possesses beauty whether on the outside or in the inside. Such a start has raised some questions among scholars. Some conclude that perhaps the writer of proverbs meant that this kind of wife is very rare to find. Others conclude that this is a description of an ideal wife that possibly doesn’t exist. Whichever the case, the rest of the verses continue with describing this kind of wife, verse 11 turns to the husband, who is said to have full confidence in the noble wife and lacks nothing of value. Some versions talk about the husband having trust in his wife. The emphasis here seems to be on the importance of trust in a marriage, that such a noble wife will earn the trust of her husband. The other part of the verse says that the husband shall not want or instead will not feel like he is lacking.
Verse 12 states that such a wife brings her husband good but not harm or evil for all the days of her life. Reading from this verse, it is clear that a wife is capable of bringing happiness or sadness to a man. The next verse says that she selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. Wool, in this case, refers to the sheep wool that was used in making of warm garments. Flax is a plant product used to make linen. It, therefore, means that such a wife cares for her family by clothing them. The use of the word ‘eager’ hands implies that such a wife finds pleasure in her activities. Some versions use the word ‘willingly’ to describe the same. The verse that follows compares her to a ship that brings food from afar. It suggests that the wife takes up the duty of bringing food for the family. Verse 15 describes such a wife as waking up before daybreak and providing food for her family as well as portions for her maidens. Rising early is interpreted as being hard working. The hours before daybreak are regarded highly in the Bible as also being a time to pray to God. The wife then prepares food for her family such that by the time they get up, they find food ready. The maidens or servants are also not left behind as they find their portions ready. The following verse says that such a wife buys a field out of her earnings and plants a vineyard. It seems therefore that she is involved in financial decisions and planning with her family’s interests at heart (Yoder, 2003). That she sets for her work vigorously, that her hands are quite strong. This signifies her inner strength. Verse 18 says that her trade is profitable and her lamp does not go out at night to mean that she enjoys her success and that she is up late in the night. The next verse talks about the good wife grasping the spindle referring to the making of garments.
Verse 20-31 says that she opens her arms to the poor as well as the needy therefore displaying a woman of kindness and compassion. When it snows, this woman doesn’t have any worries since the family is well clothed, the bed is well covered, and she is well clothed herself. This goes on to show just how much caring the good wife is. Her husband is also respected, and he has a seat among the elders. This is an emphasis of the proverb verse that behind a good man is a good woman and the other verse that a godly wife is a crown to her husband. She is also a source of income by making her profit. She is full of strength and honor. It is also said that she shall rejoice in the days to come since she has made provisions for the future. That she speaks with wisdom and kindness. What is meant here is that the words she utters are of wisdom and that they reflect what is in her heart. She also watches over the affairs of her household and does not idle. This means being mindful of her family, watching how her husband and children are faring. The fact that she does not idle means she is not lazy (Wolters, 1984). Her character is so good that her children regard her as blessed while her husband is so proud of her. The value of fearing the Lord is placed above having beauty by referring to beauty as vain. The good wife does not concern herself in outside beauty but instead in service of the lord. The last verse finishes by stating that such a woman deserves honor and praises.
The hymn of the good wife provides an interpretation of how a wife should act; it guides marriages as many people have forgotten what marriage is as the world keeps changing. Many scholars view it as a view of King Lemuel of Massa on the character of a woman of substance should be. Some critics argue that the description of the good wife is from a patriarchal perspective, that it expects too much of a woman by suggesting that the wife provides for her family, both clothing, and food, while all that is mentioned of the man, is that he sits on the council. While most scholars agree that most of the characters portrayed of the wife are indeed right, other scholars interpret it as having only been a wishful thinking of a man. The demands made of the wife seem too much. Sleeping late into the night while spinning the spindle and waking before daybreak to prepare food. These appear impractical and a bit oppressing. Of course, every man would dream of having such a wife, and this is what it might have been to the writer, a dream. The first verse puts this into a picture by asking who will find such a wife of noble character who is more worth than rubies. This shows that such a woman is so rare to find that even the writer has not found her (Wolters, 1988).
McCreesh, T. P. (1985). Wisdom as wife: Proverbs 31: 10-31. Revue Biblique (1946-), 92(1), 25-46.
Yoder, C. R. (2003). The Woman of Substance (אשת־ חיל): A Socioeconomic Reading of Proverbs 31: 10-31. Journal of Biblical Literature, 427-447.
Wolters, A. (1984). NATURE AND GRACE IN PROVERBS 31: 10–31 155 divergent categories of the various worldview paradigms comparable in principle. I. GRATIA CONTRA NATURAM The first perspective looks upon” the fear of the Lord” mentioned in. Calvin Theological Journal, 19, 153-166.
Wolters, A. (1988). Proverbs xxxi 10-31 as heroic hymn: a form-critical analysis. Vetus Testamentum, 38(Fasc. 4), 446-457.