(Original Hebrew) הָ֭יְתָה כָּאֳנִיֹּ֣ות סֹוחֵ֑ר מִ֝מֶּרְחָ֗ק תָּבִ֥יא לַחְמָֽהּ׃
(Hebrew Transliterated) hā-yə-ṯāh kā-’o-nî-yō-wṯ sō-w-ḥêr; mim-mer-ḥāq, tā-ḇî laḥ-māh.
(King James Version) “She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.”
(Berean Study Bible) “She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.”
Breakdown of the word for “She is” / hā-yə-ṯāh / הָ֭יְתָה
- Hey: At the beginning of a word, hey makes the object concrete and definite
- Yod: Creation
- Tav: Seal/Purpose/Completion
- Hey: At the end of a word, hey makes it feminine/fruitful/productive.
Hayetah = She is/becomes
The first thing we learn from this verse is the word hayetah or she becomes. Most translations say she is but I don’t think that’s a complete translation. In many other places, this word translates to becomes or has some sort of sense of intentional change. I think it teaches us a powerful thing. The Proverbs 31 woman doesn’t just EXIST, she BECOMES. Its a journey. Its a concerted effort. It takes trial and error. It takes failing and trying again.
So many of us feel defeated because we aren’t the Susie Homemaker down the street. We feel we aren’t a good wife because we don’t have a knack for crochet or we don’t know how to cook real well. First of all, we’ve established that those things are not required of a Proverbs 31 wife, but more, we can see that the Proverbs 31 woman may not have been good at those things in the beginning either. She may have burnt their first meal together. She may have shrunk her husbands favorite tunic. She may have started their first fight.
We all have a journey. We all things to learn. Nobody is born perfect and talented. This simple words tells us that she became something that she previously was not.
But this verse has more…
Tabi = She Brings
The next section says “She brings her food from afar.” This brings questions. Does she order her groceries from Amazon? Does she physically go afar and find the food and bring it in? Is she always traveling? And what does any of this even have to do with being a good wife?
I looked up several commentaries (most written by men) and found many trains of thought. Obviously, I don’t think we’ll ever know exactly what the author meant (unless someone has a time travel machine in their garage), but I really didn’t feel like these commentaries were on the mark.
One suggested that she brought her food in from afar because it was cheaper that way. Now, here we have an upper class woman who clothes her family in the finest garments and buys vineyards. She is also active in her community. I just don’t see her shipping food in from far away because its cheaper. Better quality, maybe. But not for the purpose of being frugal. Aside from that, the word used for “food” here almost always means “bread” or the daily sustenance. This is not some exotic food like spices or herbs. This is the every day meal. To me, this is not something she would be importing.
Other commentaries went into elaborate explanations about her becoming an actual merchant ship with a rudder and being like Jesus and…. Well, it was a little bit more analogous than I feel the author meant.
Finally, I did a word search. I cross referenced every word in the verse to see where else it was used and how it was translated. As it turns out, the word used here for “bring” is used many times in the Bible and almost every single time its describing the owner of the item to be physically bringing it. For example:
- Gen 6:19 – “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.”
- Ex 34:26 – “You shall bring the very first of the first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God.”
- 1 Sam 17:18 – “Bring also these ten cuts of cheese to the commander of their thousand, and look into the welfare of your brothers, and bring back news of them.”
All of these (and more) use the word bring as a very literal sense of the person physically taking the item. I feel very strongly that this is not her ordering items from far away. And when you put it together with the word “food” or “lachem” which means the daily meal we get a perfectly clear picture:
She takes a meal to her husband, even when he is far away.
When he is working in the fields or at the city gates, she goes to him and has a meal with him.
I picture her taking time to make herself beautiful and traveling to him. I see him wipe his brow from his work (whether it be physical or mental), stand up straight and look off into the distance to see his wife arriving with the noon meal. It may not an every day thing, but he is so happy to see her. She may be wealthy enough to have some sort of entourage with her or she may walk out on her own. She is wearing a fine dress and has washed her hair with sweet smelling spices. They sit and have their meal together, talk a little, make sweet promises of alone time later, then she packs up and goes home. He goes back to his work – a smile on his lips for the rest of the day.
What is her worth?
Being a wife is not only about the big stuff. Having babies, making clothes, buying vineyards. Its also about the small every day things. I would argue the smaller things actually make more of an impact than the little things.
We see in the book of Esther just how important and special a meal could be and how it honored her husband. Again, in Esther, we see how much preparation goes into the meal. We see all the preparations that Esther underwent to become pleasing to the king. We know that we can draw our husbands in by wearing an outfit that suits us, doing our hair up, wearing his favorite fragrance.
As wives its so easy to become complacent in marriage. Its so easy to get into the daily grind and live in sweatpants and messy buns. And we are absolutely allowed to do those things, but one of the very best things we can do for our marriage is to also bring our husbands back to the feelings he had in those first days. A reminder of the first kiss, the wedding night, the early days of infatuated newlyweds. These special moments can rekindle the fire in our spouse and bring us closer.
The Proverbs 31 woman is giving us an excellent example of the art of keeping her husband feeling wanted, respected and loved.
Find Verse 6 here – Vav/And She Rises