(Original Hebrew) אֵֽשֶׁת־ חַ֭יִל מִ֣י יִמְצָ֑א וְרָחֹ֖ק מִפְּנִינִ֣ים מִכְרָֽהּ׃
(Hebrew Transliterated) ’ê-šeṯ- cḥa-yil mî yim-ṣā; wə-rā-ḥōq mip-pə-nî-nîm miḵ-rāh.
(King James Version) “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.”
(Berean Study Bible) “Who can find a wife of noble character? She is far more precious than rubies.”
Breakdown of the word “Wife”/ ’ê-šeṯ-/אֵֽשֶׁת־
- Aleph: Of YHVH
- Shin: Fire/Transformation/Balance
- Tav: Seal/Purpose/Completion
Aleph = Of YHVH
The Aleph is an interesting character and one that really threw me off when I first started researching this. In its simplest explanation, it is the symbol for YHVH. Most (or maybe all?) times that it is seen, there is a hint or reflection of YHVH in that word. Its a silent letter on its own but often has a vowel sound associated with it (A or E, depending on the word.) You can read a little more on the association here.
So the fact that the Hebrew word for wife begins with an Aleph brings in a spiritual aspect. You cannot make the word wife, or woman, without beginning with YHVH. The Hebrew word for man (Ish) and woman (Isha) are similar, and both begin with the Aleph.
Eset (the word used in this verse) is the word Isha but with the addition of the Tav to the end to change the word from woman to wife. Which I found incredibly interesting as Tav means perfection or completion. And is it not true, that a man and woman come together to complete each other? Perhaps the hidden meaning of Eset is that the woman is now complete.
Additionally, thanks to the hyphen at the end of eset, we know that the word following it is actually more important than the beginning word. In other words, eset becomes an adjective to chayil. And chayil is translated virtuous. So while the first word here is wife, its not the most important word. The most important word is virtuous. So let’s look at that.
What is Virtuous?
As woman, we have all been taught about this verse that says “who can find a virtuous woman” but upon looking at the original Hebrew, I was immediately struck with this notion that the word translated to “virtuous” here does not mean “demure” or “submissive” or even “modest”. Not in the least.
It actually carries the idea of a soldier. As a matter of fact, this word is a masculine word and is used elsewhere in the OT to refer to mighty men of valor. One such place it is used is to describe the “mighty men” who Joshua took to Jericho. Another time it is used is to describe the men Saul kept close to him. We are not talking about a quiet Susie Homemaker. We are talking about a woman who would take up a sword if necessary. This video gives a wonderful overview of this word and exactly what it means.
This made me think about all the great women of the Bible. The ones the authors of the Bible felt necessary to share their stories. I think of Abigail (who my daughter is named after), who stood up to her wicked husband to protect David and his men. I think of Ruth, when she saw her mother in law all alone, pledged to not leave her – even though it meant Ruth would lose all hope of a good future. I think of Deborah, who stepped in when no good male judges could be found. Even Rahab, a prostitute who had more virtue than an entire city and saved God’s men. And of course, Mary, the mother of Jesus, who just took it in stride when God told her she would carry the Messiah.
My original image of a “virtuous woman” was one who would pick up a sword if necessary, but then I realized that being a woman of valor is more than that. To put it simply, she is one who does not back down when God asks her to do something. She says “Ok, God, I’m trusting you in this, even though I don’t know how I’ll do it.”
- Yes, I will protect your anointed King, even if it might cost me my life.
- Yes, I will take care of my mother in law, even if it means I may never re-marry.
- Yes, I will step up and counsel your people, even though my hands are already busy as a wife (and possibly a mother)
- Yes, I will protect the Isrealites, even it means I may be killed.
- Yes, I will carry the Messiah. I will be responsible for the single greatest human to ever walk the Earth. (Even though I can only imagine what that must have felt like to her.)
Its not always a sword or a battle. Its not always something that requires a lifetime of dedication or training. Its not always something that risks your life. Its simply saying “Here I am. I will do as You have asked.” Whatever that may be.
What is her worth?
One final thought. It says this woman’s worth is “far above rubies”. One translation indicates its worth is that of a precious pearl. This is not an average woman. This is not a good enough woman. This is someone special. This is a once in a lifetime mate. And she is exactly what a king would need. Someone who was more than just a dish washer, bread maker and floor scrubber. She is someone who would leave her mark on the world. Forever.
Find Verse 2 here – Bet: Safely Trusts