Proverbs 31 is one of those passages that can bring up varied emotions. Some are intimidated by it; some revere the passage, while others are disgusted by it. I have always viewed Proverbs 31 as an unattainable list for wives and mothers that did not apply to single ladies, like me. Walk into any Christian book store and you’ll find dozens of books written on this passage geared only towards married women.
This made me wonder: Does Proverbs 31 apply to my life only if I’m married? There weren’t any books written from a single woman’s perspective, so the answer must be yes, right? But when I sat down and read the passage again, I realized that it IS an attainable list and it does apply to single women too.
Proverbs 31:10-31 was written as an acrostic (each verse begins with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet) as a way to make it easier to memorize and learn. This is a great teaching tool when wanting someone to learn a passage of great importance. It begins as a mother’s advice to her son, King Lemuel, on leadership and finding an ideal wife. He is commonly thought to be King Solomon (King David’s son), whose mother would have been Queen Bathsheba. What wonderful, wise mother! She cared so much about her son and saw the importance of choosing the right wife, that she made this outline for him.
The primary audience was actually intended to be young men. As Christine Yoder (Wisdom as a Woman of Substance) states, “Proverbs 31:10-31 remains a portrait of the most desirable woman, an image of the ideal wife intended for a predominantly male audience…” But it is also a guideline for women on the attributes they should seek to attain. Men and women alike should learn from the wisdom of this passage.
Married or Single?
The answer is BOTH. The Hebrew word used is ishah, or woman, but many translations say “wife.” The King James Version refers to her as “a virtuous woman.” In Ruth 3:11, the same Hebrew words are used, ishah hayil, by Boaz in describing Ruth as a “woman of noble character” before he was married to her. The Hebrew term translated “woman of noble character” is only found in Proverbs 12:4; 31:10, 29 and Ruth 3:11. Interestingly enough, in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible), Ruth is immediately after Proverbs 31 giving an example of what a “woman of noble character” looks like.
Even though the Proverbs 31 passage is commonly translated as “the wife of noble character,” my belief is that the woman in this passage is a single woman, not just a wife. King Lemuel’s mother is telling him, “Look for a woman who has already been developing those characteristics because she will make an excellent wife.” Wouldn’t that woman have to be single? That is not to say that if you are married then you shouldn’t try to become like this woman. We should all try to pursue excellence in the Lord. We should all learn to be self-sufficient, care-takers of the home, and God-fearing women.
Who Can Find Such a Woman?
At the beginning of chapter 31, the question is asked, “A woman of noble character who can find?” For some the answer to this question is an obvious, “No one! Having all those characteristics is beyond human capability!” The basic meaning of the word “noble” (hayil) is “strength” and “power” and can be applied to a variety of people, including warriors (powerful), functionaries (able), and landowners (wealthy). This word embodies all the characteristics listed in verses 10-31. She is a capable woman, who is faithful and strong enough to take care of her household, in every way. This kind of character is rare and seen as a valuable treasure in a woman.
This virtuous woman is compared to rubies, coral or pearls, implying the rarity and beauty of such a woman. Just as rare jewels are hard to find, so is a woman of noble character. But if a man is blessed enough to find such a woman to marry, he is finding something of worth far above precious gems!
Unfortunately when most women approach studying Proverbs 31, they are intimidated and feel defeated before really taking a look at the characteristics. Women will tell each other, “Of course this woman is not real; no one could ever do all those things.” Instead, they make it into “Become what you can out of all these because God does not expect you to do them all.” But is this consistent with Scripture? No! God has always commanded us to follow the example of our perfect Savior and live holy lives, having all the fruits of the Spirit, not just some (Gal.5:22-25, 1 Pet.1:15).
The Proverbs 31 woman is a concrete example of others-focused maturity, a maturity commanded of every Christian woman. So as women who fear the Lord, we should do everything we can to bring God glory and obey His commandments. Why would we not want to become like precious jewels? So, in Part II of this blog, I hope to show you that you CAN be a Proverbs 31 woman, even if you are single. It applies to you too! 🙂