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