Mother’s Day is a special day, one of the most important days of the year. It is the day we celebrate all the women of the church: the literal mothers who have actual children; and then all the women (daughters, sisters, mothers) from our newest arrivals, to those distinguished senior mothers. So important are women in the Bible that Proverbs, the Book of God’s wisdom, ends with a celebration of what a faithful reverent woman should look like: Proverbs 31:1-31.
Proverbs 31 is inspired female advice taught by a Queen Mother to her son.
The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:
No, my son! No, son of my womb!
No, son of my vows!
Do not give your strength to women,
your ways to those who destroy kings.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to desire strong drink;
or else they will drink and forget what has been decreed,
and will pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Give strong drink to one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty,
and remember their misery no more.
Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
—Proverbs 31:1-9 (NRSV)
Whenever we read any Scripture, it’s always important to see the context for it. Verse 1 tells us this is an oracle, which is a communication or revelation given to a person directly from God. God gave this revelation directly to King Lemuel’s mother to be recorded in the Bible.
Who Is Lemuel?
Do you remember who King Lemuel was? No? Neither do I. Lemuel is not listed in either 1 or 2 Kings or 1 or 2 Chronicles, the Hebrews’ record of their monarchs. Is Lemuel, perhaps, some ruler from some other country?
The rabbis didn’t think so; they had an explanation. They pointed out that the name Lemuel means “devoted to God.” They saw it as a nickname for Solomon himself. After all, Solomon, who was blessed with God’s wisdom, was unlikely to let someone else have the last word in his book! Instead, if the rabbis are correct, he would have reserved the last word for his own mom, Bathsheba. Seeing this as the wisdom of Queen Bathsheba, written down by her son Solomon, certainly puts an interesting perspective on these words. Wasn’t Bathsheba the woman stolen away from her Hittite husband by Solomon’s dad, David, and made an adulteress by order of the king? You can read the account in 2 Samuel, chapters 11 and 12.
If the rabbis are right, that would explain the really passionate tone of her advice. See, what she is saying is “Son, don’t do what your dad did.” What’s that exactly? Verse 3 tells us: Don’t dissipate with a bunch of loose women or, as in David’s case, collect many wives, because promiscuous sexual relationships distract and destroy leaders as surely as any addiction does—for example, the way alcoholism ruins your life as verses 4-7 point out. Having many wives certainly destroyed David’s rule.
Needed: One Capable Wife
So, Bathsheba is saying in verses 8 and 9, “Look, your calling as king is to lead righteously, to concentrate your energy on being champion of the downtrodden, uplifting the poor, judging righteously, and defending the rights of the poor, needy, the marginal, and the disenfranchised.” “What you need,” says Solomon’s mom, “is one solid, capable wife.
That is exactly what any married man needs if he’s going to amount to anything in life: a wife who is devoted to looking out for his well-being, not a debilitating distraction. If Solomon’s dad, David, had stuck with only one wife, he would have had one clear heir reared specifically to assume the throne. Instead, he had a miserable plague of court intrigue among his wives, each one jockeying to get her kid on the throne. Eventually, those competing heirs began to kill each other off, leaving one miserable, grieving dad. Finally, only Solomon survived, and so David ended up with one son anyway. And did Solomon do the best job for Israel? Honestly, probably not.
Solomon’s problem was that, although he was gifted with the good advice of his mom and the perfect advice of God, he simply didn’t take all that good advice to heart. He didn’t act on it. He was the wisest man who ever lived, but he didn’t live by his godly wisdom. Instead of defending the rights of the poor and needy, as his mom told him to do in verses 8 and 9, he taxed his subjects overbearingly, he turned his whole nation into a kingdom of servants to himself, and he built far too many buildings on the backs of his people.
Further, Solomon disregarded his mom’s advice and God’s commands by marrying too many women. Therefore, since he didn’t follow his mom’s advice he fell into the very trap she warned him to avoid. He gave his spiritual and emotional strength to all his pagan wives. He ended up embracing all their gods, trying to honor them as well as the Lord in order to please his wives. And he made God angry with him.
Look at 1 Kings 11:1-8 and see how Solomon loved many foreign women from the nations of whom God had said: “You shall not enter into marriage with them.” Verses 9-12 of 1 Kings 11 tell us:
Then the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this matter, that he should not follow other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord commanded. (NRSV)
“Therefore, the Lord said to Solomon, ‘Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant’” (v. 11).
And that’s exactly what happened. Solomon’s pagan wives reared their sons in pagan worship, and they abandoned God just as Solomon did.
Further, 1 Kings 12:8 tells us Solomon’s ruling son disregarded the good advice the seasoned counselors gave him and he lost the kingdom. Like Solomon, Solomon’s son was told just what to do; but, like Solomon, he disregarded God’s wisdom, and he lost God’s blessing and everything else. Remember: Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. But, by itself, wisdom is nothing without obedience to God. Knowing the right thing to do is not the same as doing the right thing.
Good Advice Is Meant To Be Followed
Now, what should Solomon have done, way back in the beginning, before he made a mucky mess of his home, his family, his heir, his kingdom and ended up losing everything? He should have followed his mom’s advice and married the one capable woman described in Proverbs 31:10-31.
Let’s look at this passage, with a practical eye so that, for men, we can avoid the ruin that destroyed Solomon, or, for women, we can avoid destroying a Solomon.
A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.
She makes herself coverings,
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.
—Proverbs 31:10-31 (NRSV)
These are words for everyone to take to heart. These are words to memorize; words to dwell on, and words to build one’s life upon. Here we have a chance to make our lives different from theirs. We too have the advice, and we have a chance to follow it. Every woman reading this should strive to become the virtuous woman God blesses, the one described here in Proverbs 31. Every man needs to encourage the virtuous women among us. For guys who are seeking a wife, here’s your check list, right from the mailroom of heaven. This is God’s prescription for what will nourish your life and bring you joy.
The Woman God Honors
So, what does God honor in a woman of faith? The checklist starts in verse 10 with a summarizing word. Literally, it says: issha hayil—that is, a woman of power, strength, valor, military force, army, wealth, virtue, and honesty. Who can find her? In other words: “What lucky guy can find a hayil type of woman?”
This is no simpering, little hothouse flower, some clinging vine, a fragile bit of paste jewelry, all glitter but easily chipped and demolished. This is not one of those “Oh, dear, I’m the perfect Christian woman. I can’t do jack, unless my big strong husband does it for me. I’m just ornamental, well-trained in charm school.” Not on your life!
Hayil, capable, is a military term. It describes a powerful force that marches on in the cause of goodness and industry. She’s God’s tough Amazon, so to speak, to win within a tough world.
This kind of woman, God says, is more precious than gemstones. Why is that? Because jewels are static; they just sit there. Their value may be great, but it appreciates mainly according to inflation. A regular 24-carat diamond is valuable, but it won’t exceed the value of a 24-carat diamond, within the market’s economic context. But the hayil woman is a source of wealth. Her shrewd industry earns many jewels. In other words, she is not simply a diamond, she’s a diamond mine—spiritually and practically. And look how the spiritual and the practical balance off against each other in the rest of the passage.
Verse 11 : “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” She is trustworthy (spiritually) and she makes money (practically).
Verse 12 : “She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” “She does only good and no harm to her family.”
Verse 13 tells us that she succeeds in business. Look at all the businesses this woman is engaged in. Verse 13 tells us she’s involved in the textile business, specifically clothing manufacturing.
Verse 15 tells us she is the executive manager of her staff. Verse 16a tells us she’s involved in the real estate business. Verse 16b tells us she’s involved in agriculture.
What about her personal habits? Verse 17 says, “She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.” In other words, she exercises regularly and keeps herself in great shape. You know—abs of steel! This woman works out.
Verse 18 notes she produces a high quality product and that it’s built to last. There is no planned obsolescence here. It doesn’t punk out when the consumer gets it home after store hours. It’s a dependable product.
According to verse 20, she’s a philanthropist. She generously provides for the underprivileged. But, verses 21 and 22 tell us, she does not serve others at the expense of the well-being of her own family. She lives well and helps others live well too. Like the industrious little ant, praised in Proverbs 6:6, she prepares for the future. While the loafer’s family is freezing in the winter, her family is comfy and in style. We’re told in verse 21 her household is clothed in crimson and in 22 in fine linen and purple.
Crimson and purple clothing were affordable only to the rich in ancient times. This woman is so virtuous, industrious, and successful under God’s blessing of her hard work that her whole family is decked out in good stuff. She’s like Lydia, in Acts 16, who was such a successful purple merchant that she financed Paul’s ministry.
Here, too, because of her success, her husband is an honored leader in government. He can afford to serve in civic government because he partnered with his wife and helped her become all that she could be. After all, behind every successful woman is a supportive man. He hasn’t said to her, “Now, Honey, don’t worry your pretty head about business, it’s far too tough for you.” or “Gee, you shouldn’t really try to compete with Abdul’s Fifth Century B.C. Real Estate Brokerage Firm, should you?” or “Why don’t you leave textiles to Peniel’s Purple Emporium for Appealing Apparel?”
No; he says, “Go, Girl! You can do it!” And she does, big time. Verse 24 tell us she’s the one who supplies Peniel with his purple apparel. And Abdul’s business depends on her patronage. As verse 25 puts it, using a metaphor from her business, “Strength and dignity are her clothing and she laughs at the future.” In other words, she regards the days to come with pleasure, not fear, because she’s built a firm foundation for herself, her family, her staff, and the downtrodden who depend on her help.
But does she stop there? Is a woman’s place in the business world only? Not at all! As verse 26 tells us, she becomes a teacher. The Hebrew word hokma used in verse 26 means wisdom, knowledge, experience, intelligent insight, and judgment that comes from a life of doing good work as well as good works. In its verb form it means “to become wise through experience and then to teach others.” Substantively, it is used to signify a philosopher; the philosophers were the professors of the ancient world. And, when she teaches, she fulfills the directives of Paul in Ephesians 4:15, “She speaks the truth in a spirit of love,” or as Proverbs 31:26b explains, “The teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”
She can accomplish all these things, verse 27 says, because she has managed her own life well, invested it in worthwhile activities and not wasted it in idleness.
Verse 28 tells us her reward is that she is honored by all. Her reputation is that of a wise woman. In the Bible, the wise woman is a unique category of leader. Even the kings traveled from all over to consult the wise woman. Whole cities were saved by wise women (e.g., Judges 9:53); the whole nation was saved by Deborah. These were more than the Dear Ann or Dear Abby or Dr. Joyce Brothers of their day. They had godly insight. The Proverbs woman is like these.
So her children bless her, and her husband praises her, as verse 29 states it: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Each husband praises his wife according to her unique accomplishments. So we praise our wives. And for women without husbands, we also all together praise each of your accomplishments today as well. And finally, verses 30-31 put the cap on it: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.”
Those simpering little hothouse flowers may look cute, and their line, “Oh, you’re such a big, strong man, you do it,” may work for a while, but that gets old fast—and so do they. But a woman whom God is blessing improves with age; like a good Dutch cheese or an aged New York steak, the flavor goes through. She’s mighty, like a rose bush or a tulip or a crocus; a hearty, strong, durable flower. Her inner beauty glows out gloriously with the years. She’s built for eternity, and the hand of God is on her. Because she honors God, God honors her, and so she earns and deserves praise from everyone. As she grows through life’s seasons, she garners more and more honors. Verse 31 tells us she ends with a comfortable legacy to pass on and a great reputation among all who know of her.
These are the kind of women we encourage in church: hardworking women who honor God and bring glory on themselves, their family, on their church and on the faith itself. Therefore, we honor our powerful, wonderful, hayil women. Let us all take this Proverbs 31 passage to heart.
Sisters, continue to strive to be the reverent, hard-working women of God’s ideal. This earth is your Olympic arena; go for the gold! May God bless you with success. Brothers, we’ve just studied the inspired words of God. Forget the diamonds, seek the diamond mine. Assist your wife in becoming such a prosperous, joyful, fulfilled woman. The payoff is big time, temporally as well as eternally.
To all of us, no husband or wife should ever be in competition with the other. As a wife or husband succeeds, the glory reflects on the spouse. When I see a truly successful man or woman who honors God, I always automatically respect the supportive spouse. It takes a mature person to help his or her spouse to steward God’s gifts and become all that he or she can be.
And note that the final message in Proverbs ends the way the Book began. Fear—that is, profoundly respect and completely follow—the Lord’s commandments, because that is the beginning of all wisdom. All who act wisely will end up being praised and honored by those whose opinions really count, God’s and the saints’.
So, happy Mother’s Day! We salute you. We honor your accomplishments. And we pray God’s blessings on you as you lead and support God’s work among us. You are a credit to our God and to us all.