Sometimes God places a task on your heart that drives you to shift priorities in order to make it happen. The weightiness of the task is both terrifying and exhilerating. You know that whatever He has brought you to will change your life, but you wonder the fire you are about to walk through to reach that change. It doesn’t matter though, because you know there is no way you can avoid it and eventually the thought of it consumes you.
That exact situation is how I found myself knee deep in Proverbs 31 with a dozen tabs open on my browser to various Bible versions and the actual Hebrew alphabet (aleph-bet). I didn’t really have time to be doing an in-depth study on this chapter that has been preached a million times. I wondered what I could possibly learn. But I felt the Proverbs 31 woman calling to me, like a old, wise grandma ready to impart her life’s lessons to me.
I had a feeling that this small chapter held more truth than the average church pastor had discovered. I was positive the Bible had more to say about her than how well she made fine clothes and how she got up every morning. While these things are important, it seemed so counter to what the Bible usually focuses on. The Bible generally spends very little time on day-to-day activities and focuses more on the heart. So what have we missed all these years from this ideal woman?
I did my search from a place of exhaustion. I have been married 7 years and I have 2 small children. By most standards, I am a pretty intense “homemaker” with my garden, fresh baked bread, and DIY cleaners. The idea that everything I do, and have done, does not even begin to compare to this perfect woman and that I should strive to do more is depressing. My friends all seem to share this feeling. Is all of this really the only way to be the woman God has called me to be? Do I need to get up before the sun and spend my days buying land and spinning yarn?
I am on my 3rd marriage. The first failed because I was young and dumb. The second failed despite all my very best efforts. Unfortunately you can’t force someone to stay when they don’t want. I’m completely aware of what a failed marriage looks like and I see the areas that I could have done better. None of those areas involved getting up at 5am or baking fresh bread. I’m confident that those things would not have saved those marriages.
So who is this Proverbs 31 woman? Really. Is she a checklist for us to print out and do monthly or is she more?
The Wise Mother
Before I started, I wanted to know who wrote about this woman. Unfortunately it is not entirely known who it was, but my research suggest it was King Soloman’s mother, Bathsheba (There is some suggestion that Lemuel was another name for Solomon.) So this wisdom is coming from a queen mother – one who got her position in one of the most tragic stories in the Bible. The fact that this sinful union, that resulted in a man’s murder, would ultimately bring about King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, will never not boggle my brain. Talk about God redeeming a bad situation.
Considering this chapter was written by a woman who has spent her later years stretched out on stuffed pillows and eating caviar makes the chapter even more interesting. Why would a woman being courted by a king need to know how to spin wool or plant a vineyard?
There is further argument that this chapter was never meant to describe a physical woman but rather it was a metaphor for chasing wisdom. (Wisdom is often described as a woman.) Perhaps it is, but it didn’t feel like it to me. This feels very much like a woman helping her son find a suitable mate.
As I was digging, I discovered that this half of chapter is an acrostic. Meaning each line starts with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet – from Aleph to Tav. Its speculated that it was written this way to be more easily remembered. Nobody forgets their ABC’s and things written in this type of format typically will stay with us better. What a clever woman this mother was!
But the biggest surprise of all for me was the discovery that this portion of Proverbs 31 wasn’t even written to women. It was written TO MEN. This was not written from a mother to her daughter, teaching her how to be. It was written to a man to give them a perspective. To chase the woman who is of honor and not just the “pretty one”. Jewish custom shares that men sing this acrostic to their wives in a way to honor them. Its not meant as a checklist for women to try to hold themselves up to.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from her! There are many wonderful, practical lessons here that can help us be better wives and mothers. But the absence of these things in our lives does not make us failures. You aren’t a crappy wife if you don’t get up at 5am. And I think that’s where most Proverbs 31 studies go wrong. They become a weapon against women, it makes us feel less than if we can’t keep up with this woman.
And let’s make one thing clear. God is not in the business of beating people down. He is the perfect Father and a perfect Father does not sit around berating us for how bad of a wife we are. He inspires us. He lifts us up. He empowers us. So with that in mind, we have to look to Proverbs 31 in the way I believe God wrote it – as a means of inspiration. A direction to move towards.
Its Not About Doing
Now that we’ve addressed the who, why, where and when, lets talk about the what. What was King Lemuel’s mother actually talking about? And to learn that, we are going to go to the actual Hebrew, the language it was written in. I believe so many truths are lost to us English speakers because we read the Bible in our flat English language. Written English is to Hebrew in the same way that spoken English is to Scottish. Hearing a Scot speak is so rich and there is so much meaning to what they say than just the words. The same is true for Hebrew. Hebrew is a rich language and some of the words simply cannot translate to our flat English language. To understand what the author’s meant, we have to look at what they actually said and we have to look at context clues.
For full disclosure, I am NOT fluent in Hebrew. I am a baby in this type of study. But I can read a Lexicon and I can take the time to break down an individual word. I feel that I have done a decent job of breaking down the Hebrew in this chapter and as I continue to grow and eventually become fluent in Hebrew, I may come back and edit some of these posts with updated information.
So without further adieu, I invite you to come along with me to see what the secrets the Proverbs 31 has for us and see if these revelations don’t just rock your world and change your life and marriage.