Proverbs 31, ESV and KJV, The Wife of Noble Character. What women can learn, and apply to their lives, by following in the foot steps of this marvelous and noble woman of God. A fun fact about Proverbs 31:10-31 is that it’s an acrostic poem, meaning that each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
V.15 – ‘She also rises while it is yet night, And provides food for her household, And a portion for her maidservants.‘ She is up before the sun, showing that idleness and laziness have no room with her (see verse 27). There are great benefits to rising up early; it is a quiet time free from the noise and distractions of the day, and it is an ideal time to spend with the Lord in quiet meditation and prayer. In mark 1:35 we have a great example, our Lord Jesus Christ who paved the way – ‘Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed… Also this Psalmist was in the habit of morning prayer when he said – ‘My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up.‘ (Psalm 5:3 ). If a person sleeps in late, by the time they really get going it may seem that half the day is gone, and in that time they accomplished very little or nothing at all. The key is beginning well. The virtuous woman is diligent, yet flexible and realistic. Secondly, the virtuous woman makes sure that her family gets off to a good nutritional start, by cooking them all breakfast, which according to studies is the most important meal of the day. Breakfast gives your brain the nutrients and power to carry out the tasks for the day. Young women today, in many cases, hardly know how to prepare meals. Many families eat out frequently, ordering food that can be brought back to the home. How many families today actually take time to sit down and eat a meal together around the table? Often families don’t eat together at all, they often don’t pray together, and the often don’t read together; as a result they don’t stay together. Remember in the last verse how it mentioned her fetching food and doing the grocery shopping for the family? Well she took this food and made a meal for her husband, her children, and her maidservants. This term “food” is also used in Psalm 111:5 of God’s gracious provision of ‘food‘ for those who fear Him. Now this God fearing woman did not live in poverty, for the verse states that she fed her maidservants (her female maids). Though we are reminded that under the Old Testament those who honored and feared the Lord were promised not only spiritual blessings, but also material blessings, and certainly the woman described in Proverbs 31 had both.
V.16 – ‘She considers a field and buys it; From her profits (with the fruit of her hands) she plants a vineyard…‘ In context the word for consider is ‘zamam‘ meaning devise, plan, purpose, plot, or deep thought. This word considered is usually used in the sense of evil or wickedness throughout the Bible scriptures. Yet in Psalm 17:3 this same verb is used of determining a course of action, ‘You have tested my heart; You have visited me in the night; You have tried me and have found nothing; I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress‘. When wicked men plan and plot evil they often will put a lot of thought into it. We can think of the horrific attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11/01. These successful attacks were the fruit of long term and thought provoking planning and premeditation. It was a very carefully thought, and carried, out operation. Now the virtuous woman considers a field, meaning that she carefully and deeply thinks about the land. She is looking at the land from every angle; time, upkeep, cost, long-term effects, etc… She doesn’t make an irrational or emotional decision, she is solely relying on her logic and wisdom. She may have even discussed it with her husband. Then the verse says she buys it, literally meaning that she takes it, seizes it, and snatches it up! The fact that she buys a field indicates that the godly woman was involved in financial decisions relating to the family. However the verse wraps up by stating ‘from her profits (with the fruit of her hands) she plants a vineyard‘. The purpose of the field was to provide a place for a vineyard so that the family and others could enjoy the fruit of the vine. The fruit of her hands can signify the result of her labor, and to cultivate a field and to maintain a vineyard requires much labor. Before we buy something we need to count the cost, before we buy the field, we need to ask, “Am I willing to work the field?” Many things that we purchase can require a lot of maintenance, and as stated above, if we are unwilling to provide the labor that is needed for the maintenance, then the purchase is unwise. Secondly ‘with the fruit of her hands‘ can also be understood as ‘the fruit of her earnings.‘ That is, with the fruit of her hands (as we saw in verse 12-13) she was probably able to earn enough money to purchase and plant a vineyard. She may have even employed her servants (from verse 15) to work the field or to help her work the field. How many women buy all kinds of things on the spur of the moment without giving the matter careful thought and deliberation? As she races out to the shopping mall with her friends, can her husband safely trust in her? Don’t think this can’t work vice versa though, men.
V.17 – ‘She girds herself with strength, And strengthens her arms.‘ To start he word for girds is ‘chagar ‘ meaning to gird, to bind on, or to put on a belt. Just as a man would ‘gird his sword’, seen in 1 Samuel 17:39, this industrious woman girds herself with strength. In Biblical days men and women wore outer robes or tunics, but if the tunic was un-girded it would interfere with a person’s ability to walk freely. In a sense to be ‘girded’ means to be ‘ready for action’. Psalm 18:39 ‘For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle’. In Ephesians 6:10-18 we see that we are to be ready for battle, no so much in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense by putting on the whole armor of God, ‘…Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places…‘ This kind of inner strength of truth and character builds up and produces an outer strength filled with tenacity and vigor. Some translations say ‘loins’ rather than the word strength. The ‘loins’ are regarded as the seat of strength as seen in 1 Kings 12:10 and Nahum 2:1. The term refers to the abdominal or hip region of the body, the region of strength and procreative power. This virtuous woman has a reservoir of inner strength which is able to energize her and enable her to accomplish physical tasks which require a great amount of physical strength. She is not weakened by slothfulness or laziness but she is a wonderful example of due diligence and industry.
V.18 – ‘She perceives that her merchandise is good, And her lamp does not go out by night.‘ The word perceives is ‘ta`am ‘ and it translates to taste, perceive, or eat. So she is quite literally ‘tasting’ that her merchandise is good. Now the same word is found in Psalm 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” God’s goodness must be tasted and be personally experienced. Only those who have truly trusted Him have tasted of His goodness and experienced God for themselves. The word for merchandise is ‘cachar‘ meaning traffic, gain, profit, gain from merchandise. The word is found twice times in Isaiah 23:18 ‘Her gain and her pay will be set apart for the Lord; it will not be treasured nor laid up, for her gain will be for those who dwell before the Lord, to eat sufficiently, and for fine clothing.‘ (also found twice in Proverbs 3:14). The Proverbs 31 woman seeked wool and flax, produced garments and linens, traded for food from far away lands, prepared the meals before the sun had risen, and without idleness; considered, bought, and planted a vineyard (verses 14-16). Here in verse 18 you see that she is reaping what she has sewed, the good and blessed fruit of her diligent laboring, while being wholly blessed by God with a good harvest. She experiences the sale of the product, seeing that her trading is profitable. The results of the labors of her hands and the strength of her arms. Learning that success results from good hard labor. Homes in Bible times were illuminated at night by olive oil lamps, however the virtuous woman’s lamp did not go out at night, that is, it was not quenched, put out, or extinguished (see Isaiah 1:31). What was she doing at night? Probably the activity mentioned in next verse, verse 19. Here was a woman who worked day and night with amazing fortitude. If you were to pass by her house late at night you would see that her light would still be on. We wonder when this woman ever slept because in these verse she is working late at night, while in verse 15 she rises while it is yet night (early morning, before the dawn). The fact that she rises indicates that she did get some sleep. We have the expression, “early to bed, early to rise,” but she seems to have been in the habit of “late to bed, early to rise.” Some women are up late at night pursuing questionable activities using vain lamp light, but then they sleep through half the day, missing out on superior sunlight. But the godly woman is diligent both day and night, and is able to get the necessary sleep, without overindulging. Believers need to evaluate their nighttime activities to make sure that they are pleasing and glorifying the Lord – things which are profitable and worthy of eternity. During the day we normally have our duties and our schedule; things we need to do and places we need to go. Our time is usually well accounted for during the day, but after sunset is usually the part of the day when we have ‘Free Time’ and it is important to recognize that this time belongs to the Lord. May we be about our Father’s business!
V.19 – ‘She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hand holds the spindle.‘ She knew how to use her hands with skill in providing clothing for her family and perhaps for selling or trading. This verse describes a very ancient method of spinning used in the days before the spinning wheel even existed. Let’s begin with the distaff – it was a staff used for holding the flax or wool which would be spun into thread by means of the spindle. Now the spindle would turn and twist the fibers into threads. The spindle was a round stick with tapered ends used to form and twist the yarn. The spindle and the distaff are the most ancient of all instruments used in the craft of spinning, specifically hand spinning. About eight to ten inches long, spindles were used to guide the thread as it was fashioned into cloth. The weaver sometimes turned the spindle by rolling it across her thigh. The wool or flax was wound on the distaff, which was stuck upright in the ground or held under the arm. The spindle, which had a circular rim to steady it when revolving, was attached to the thread being drawn out from the distaff. By rotating the spindle, the spinner twisted the thread. An example of hand spinning is found in the ancient book of Exodus 35:25-26: ‘All the women who were gifted artisans spun yarn with their hands, and brought what they had spun, of blue, purple, and scarlet, and fine linen. And all the women whose hearts stirred with wisdom spun yarn of goats’ hair‘ If a woman’s hands are idle and if she is not engaged in worthwhile, constructive, and edifying pursuits then watch out! In Proverbs 14:23 it says, ‘In all labor there is profit, But idle chatter leads only to poverty.‘ and in Proverbs 19:15 it says, ‘Laziness casts one into a deep sleep, And an idle person will suffer hunger.’ Do not be idle and you will not taste of poverty or hunger. Be smart and profitable by utilizing your 86,400 seconds, per day, wisely in edifying activities that produce muchness.
V.20 – ‘She extends her hand to the poor, Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy‘ Verse 20 is an example of parallelism that is found so often in Hebrew poetry. In these two phrases of paralleled ideas are set forth. Both phrases emphasize the fact that the virtuous woman has compassion toward the poor and needy and she shows her compassion with concrete deeds of mercy. She loves the poor, not in word or in tongue only, but also in deed, action, and truth. The word for poor here is ‘`aniy ‘ in the physical it means poor, weak, afflicted, wretched and in the spiritual it means humble, meek, or lowly, as seen here in Psalm109:22 ‘For I am poor and needy, And my heart is wounded within me.‘ (click here for more). No one can make progress in his or her spiritual life until he realizes how desperately needy he or she really is. Recognizing that only the Lord God can supply that which is needed, as it is written, Psalm 145:16 ‘You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing‘. God’s people are to be of likeness to His character. One of His attributes is having a heart of compassion for those who are physically, spiritually, and materially poor and needy (scripture reference click here) – Isaiah 41:17 says, ‘The poor and needy seek water, but there is none, Their tongues fail for thirst. I, the Lord, will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.‘ However in the law – Leviticus 23:22 – God told the Israelites ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.‘ The godly woman of Proverbs 31 faithfully obeyed the following commands, “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11). Early in Proverbs 31, believers are encouraged to plead the cause of the poor in verse 9. In Proverbs 14:21 a benediction is pronounced upon those who show compassion to the poor and help them, ‘He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, But he who honors Him has mercy on the needy.‘ In studying this Hebrew word which is translated into poor and it reminded me of a prophetic verse I read not to long ago in Zachariah 9:9 ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey‘. We can then be reminded of our Lord’s amazing condescension, ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.‘ (2 Corinthians 8:9). The word needy is used to describe the spiritual condition of God’s people. Every believer needs to recognize his or her spiritual bankruptcy, ‘I am poor and needy.’ What we need only God can supply, when He faithfully supplies that which we lack, then we are rich in Him indeed.
As we consider our responsibility to the poor today, some words of caution are necessary. Don’t be duped, a man may deceptively beg for money for groceries and end up spending it on alcohol, drugs, or other vain things. Another might ask for gas money and use it to support some wicked and destructive habit. Different approaches need to be used, for example; if a person is truly hungry, and you believe it is proper to help, you can sit down with him at a restaurant, or go get him/her take-out. As he eats his meal there is opportunity to share the gospel with this person of need. Not only are you satisfying his or her physical hunger, but you are also providing opportunity for spiritual nourishment, which is his greatest need of all. If a car repair is really needed, don’t give the money to the poor man who may wrongly use it, but directly to the car mechanic. Make sure the money is used for the right purposes, for discernment is a much desired virtue. There are times when the right thing to do is to not give any money. There are people who routinely go around to churches looking for handouts and financial gifts. Supporting this kind of behavior will not really help the person to be responsible for themselves in the long term. After he profits from you he is off to the next church. We don’t want to support irresponsibility. In Bible times, the poor, blind, and lame depended upon merciful alms-giving in order to survive. Things are somewhat different in our American society where there are all kinds of government programs to assist the poor and needy. Now wise stewardship should take this into account. Our government is going to spend a great deal of money supporting the poor and needy (and we contribute to this through our paid taxes), but our government is not going to spend any money on God-honoring missionary efforts. Also we should always remember that meeting a person’s physical and material needs does not solve his greatest problem. If we give a person food, clothing, and good housing for his entire life, then he dies and eventually goes to the lake of fire, what have we really done for this man? How much better to support Christ-centered mission agencies which have workers who are concerned about the material needs of the poor, but who are even more concerned about their spiritual and eternal needs. May God give us much wisdom and discernment in how to best meet the needs of those with whom God puts us in contact. The virtuous woman was wise while about her business and God’s business. We are to always be about God’s business while we are about our own. Snatch up every opportunity to share the gospel and use your intuition and discernment, that God has blessed most all women with, to correctly provide for their physical need and may the Holy Spirit give us the words to speak when providing for their eternal needs.
Those are our tips on how to be a Proverbs 31 woman for today! Continue coming back and reading them as many times as you need! I personally have them posted on my fridge so I never forget! Thank you for joining us in this study, next time we will be going through verses 21 to 26. God Bless and we’ll see you next week!