Understanding Proverbs Thirty-One: A Disection

Proverbs 31 (KJV): 

Verses 1-5 explain the state and condition that a man can fall into and is counsel against “that which destroyeth kings”. These verses tell us how men must not let themselves fall prey to the vices in even great men -even kings- find  themselves in ruin and desolation.

The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.

What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows?
Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:
Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.

Verses 6-9 tell men of the ways they should live. A man’s strength should be put towards those in need. He should comfort the sick and afflicted and be a voice of reason to those who seek guidance- a comfort to those in need. Note that these verses are not speaking of drunkenness, but that during this time strong drink and wine were signs of wealth. It is not the same as we have today. If we were to compare this to our standards it is essentially saying to give those who are at the limit a cause to be happy and to feel like there is life yet to live. Show the poor man that he is of value- the rich man that there is much he can offer. Give him who is burdened a place of comfort and him who is in need of guidance a place to find his course.

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.
Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.
Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
Verses 10-12
Here we read that the worth of a woman who’s heart is set on God is far beyond any earthly value. It is very clear that a virtuous woman is honest, strong, good willed, protective, and is the support of any well respected man.

10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.

Verses 13-22
 Such a woman is hard working, knows how to be resourceful in caring for her family, can run a household responsibly, uses the most of the time given to her, and is sure to take care of those that rely on her. The work is hard, but she is willing and capable to doing what is needed. She is knowledgeable about not only her work, but also the work of men. She is therefore able to step in if it is needed for her to bring income as well. She knows quality when she sees it, and knows how to be prepared for whatever challenge comes before her. When it says that “…all her household are clothed in scarlet…her clothing is silk and purple…”, the reference is that a godly woman knows how to provide raiment that is clean and well taken care of- not necessarily that her family is wealthy (as is implied by silk and purple), but that she knows how to make her family clean and exceptionally presentable.

13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
14 She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.

Verse 23
Many people misunderstand the meaning of “her husband is known in the gates”. This reference does not mean that the gate keeper of the city knows who her husband is. During the time this was written, “the gates” were not the gates we think of today. “The gates” was similar to the town council. So when we read it with that understanding, “Her husband is known in the town council, when he sitteth among the elders of the land” it makes a bit more sense- it conveys that he is a man of influence in the community, rather than a man who is known for coming and going through the city gate.
*** This also is applied when we think of “the gates of heaven” if we take the meaning of gates as that of a council, rather than thinking we are approaching big giant gates with an angel standing guard, we think of a council of angels waiting to welcome people home.***

23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.

Verses 24-26
As we just learned that the husband of a virtuous woman is well respected and revered in their community, we continue to learn that not only is he well received, but that her strong morals and convictions cause her to be the one people come to for comfort, support and guidance. While he is working to build the community and uphold the laws of the land, she keeps a welcoming spirit for those in need of comfort, guidance, and a kind word.

24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
25 Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.

Verses 27-28

This type of woman keeps an orderly house, she does not shirk the work onto others unnecessarily. Her children love and respect her, and her husband cherishes her for her good works.

27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.

28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.

Verses 29-31
 As this chapter is counsel from a mother to her son, she is telling him to look at all the good women in the world, but that a godly man sees the best of the godly women and that is what he should be striving for. She tells him that it doesn’t matter how popular she is with the “in crowd” and that it doesn’t matter how physically beautiful she is. What matters is that she loves the Lord and works to please Him. That if she can do that, then the work she does will only bring goodness and that she will be honored at the gates of heaven (remember sort of like Heaven’s welcoming committee). She will see the good that she was able to do and give glory to the Lord, and in return she shall be blessed for it.

29 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
30 Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.

And that is the woman that king Lemuel’s mother wants him to find- a woman whose good works shine the Light of the Lord brighter than any star. Isn’t that the wish that any godly mother wants for her godly son? That he find a woman with her heart centered on Christ, and a backbone strong enough to do the work the Lord has given her?

These women do exist. But they only exist in those who are willing to make the commitment. Every woman can be as this picture. No matter your past or your present, it is your future that you control. And the Lord knows that this standard is not possible alone. That is why He came and atoned for our sins and transgressions. He died, and lives, that we might find ourselves and do His works at any stage in our lives. The choice is before us, and everyone will fail in fully meeting the standard every single day. But that is why He is here- to help us where we fall short. He is there to give us strength so that others will have a light shining for them in the darkness of their struggles.

This chapter is often quoted, often recited, often referred to. But the counsel in this chapter is often set to the side, and the thought of “I can never be that” is replaced where the charge is meant to be held close. It is the ideal for the perfect woman, and that is where the doubt of worth sets in. The Lord does not set a standard so we can fail. He sets a standard so that we can excel. This chapter is not a list of everything a woman is not doing but should- it is an encouragement to get on your feet and do good in the world. It is the assurance that through faith and hard work, good things will come. It is not a checklist of things that must be done.

It is a challenge for women to become everything the Lord wants them to be. He is saying: Here is a list of what you can be, and what I want for you- Follow me and I will help you to become what it is you are meant to be; I will help you do what you are meant to do. It is encouragement to keep striving and learning and doing.

So when you read this chapter don’t lose hope. Don’t get down on yourself because of the seemingly insurmountable list of everything a good woman should be and everything she must do. Remember that you can be this person. With the Lord’s help, you can become a this and more. Whether you are married or not- living a picturesque life or not, in a place of fair weather or in a tempest of horrid winds- relying on the Lord will bring your strength and comfort. He has a wonderful plan for each of His children. We just need to let Him do His work. If we can let Him do that, then there is no limit to the trials we can endure and the Light we can bring.

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