Proverbs 31 is one of those passages that can bring up varied emotions. Some feel intimidated by it; some cherish the passage, while others are disgusted by it. I had always viewed Proverbs 31 as an unattainable list for wives and mothers that didn’t apply to single ladies. I mean, Walk into any Christian book store and you’ll find dozens of books written on this passage geared only towards married women.
So, does Proverbs 31 apply to a woman’s life only if she’s married? Is it an attainable list? Can it apply to single women too?
Proverbs 31:10-31 was written as a mother’s advice to her son, King Lemuel, on what to look for in an ideal wife. He’s commonly thought to be King Solomon (King David’s son), whose mother would have been Queen Bathsheba. What a wonderful, wise mother! She cared so much about her son and the importance of choosing the right wife, that she made this outline for him.
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’s also a passage for women on attributes they should seek to attain. So this passage isn’t just for married women, it’s for singles, marrieds, men and women. All of God’s children can learn from and apply Proverbs 31 to their lives.
The Proverbs 31 Woman is Single.
Have you ever made a list of godly characteristics you want in your future husband? This is a similar type of list for godly characteristics of a single woman that will make a good wife. Even though the Hebrew word used, ishah, means ‘woman,’ many translations say “wife,” though the King James Version refers to her as “a virtuous woman.” In Ruth 3:11, the same Hebrew words, ishah hayil, are used by Boaz in describing Ruth as a “woman of noble character.” Interestingly enough, Boaz called her a noble woman before they were married while she was a single woman. This term is only found in Proverbs 12:4; 31:10, 31:29 and Ruth 3:11. In the Tanakh (Jewish Bible), Ruth is actually listed right after Proverbs 31 because she’s a real life example of a Proverbs 31 woman. Ruth was a “woman of noble character” before and after she married Boaz and if you want to see how she modeled Proverbs 31 then click here.
But, even though the Proverbs 31 passage is commonly translated as “the wife of noble character,” I believe the woman in this passage is a single. King Lemuel’s mother is telling him, “Look for a woman who has already been developing these characteristics because she will make an excellent wife.” Just as your future guy needs to be developing godly characteristics before you’re married, a single woman must be developing the Proverbs 31 characteristics before she’s said, “I do.” All women, single or married, should try to pursue excellence in the Lord. We should all learn to be self-sufficient, care-takers of the home, and God-fearing women and the Proverbs 31 woman exhibits excellence while single and married.
But 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 these characteristics is beyond human capability!” Just as rare jewels are hard to find, so is this woman. Rare jewels aren’t impossible to find but they are extremely rare, priceless, and treasured when they are found. This is why the Proverbs 31 woman is compared to rubies, coral or pearls, implying the rarity and beauty of such a woman. 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 isn’t real; no one could ever do all those things. Become what you can because God doesn’t expect you to do them all” But, this is not consistent with Scripture. 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). God wouldn’t give the Proverbs 31 model if you couldn’t, through Christ, become like this godly woman. She IS a capable woman, she IS faithful and strong enough to take care of her household, her future family, and her community. She IS a woman you can become.
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 rare and precious jewels? But, how can a single woman apply a list that seems to be only for mothers and wives to her life? Well, hopefully I can show you so come back next week for part 2 of this series and you’ll find out!