A few months ago I heard someone mention that they didn’t like Proverbs 31. I didn’t pursue it, but I could definitely understand why. Personally, I have found many of the verses to be very encouraging, but there are some that seem quite dated. Since I was preparing my May fitness and meditation classes around Proverbs 31 I decided it was perhaps time to do a little extra research and take a fresh look at the “virtuous” woman.
First, I read Proverbs 31:10-31 in numerous translations. I found that some translations spoke to me better for some verses, but not all, so I was never able to settle on my favorite translation for the entirety of the passage. However, reading the various translations helped me understand the principles that a “virtuous” woman lives by and displays. These principles are as relevant today as they’ve ever been and worthy of inspection. I’ll break them down below, but first I want to address the opening verse, which has been translated in various ways:
A good woman is hard to find, or who can find a virtuous wife, an excellent wife, a capable wife, a wife of noble character, or one who is superior in all that she is and all that she does. The most common adjective used is virtuous, but what does that mean exactly? Dictionary.com defines its current usage in this way:
- conforming to moral and ethical principles; morally excellent; upright: Lead a virtuous life.
- chaste: a virtuous young person.
But our understanding of the word could use some context. The Hebrew word that was translated virtuous is Chayil. It means virtuous, strong, valiant, able, warrior, powerful, mighty, worthy, and wealth. During the time that the King James Bible was written, virtuous was most often used to signify valor—and manly valor at that. The Latin word is virtus, with the prefix vir meaning man. A virtuous man was strong, brave, excellent, full of integrity. That was the meaning that was in mind when they used virtuous to translate Chayil, even though they were talking about a woman. The virtuous woman in apparently a strong, brave, and mighty warrior, filled with integrity and displaying excellence!
Proverbs 31 consists of the warnings of King Lemuel’s mother to be wary of beautiful women and strong wine. At best they have distracted kings from the important work of leading a nation and upholding justice. At worst, they have utterly destroyed mighty kings. These words were meant as a guide for the most important attributes to look for in a strong partner. It’s an ideal and describes these characteristics in a way King Lemuel could recognize in that time period.
So, as I went through Proverbs 31, I tried to understand these characteristics and translate them for today’s 21st century woman. I believe they could/should also be applied to men/husbands. Remember, no one is perfect, and these verses were not meant to judge or condemn anyone by falling short. Even today they should be used as an encouragement to find ways we are able to cultivate these virtuous attributes in ourselves today (and look for them in a partner).
- Trustworthy and responsible – she can be trusted to have her husband’s back and do the work that is hers to do, whatever that involves (vs.11-12).
- Good business person – she gladly works with her own hands (vs. 13) and travels afar to find the best deals (vs 14). She creates a strategy, negotiates purchases, and uses the earnings to create more wealth (vs. 16). She doesn’t spend frivolously or go into debt (vs. 22, 24, 27)
- Good provider – she wakes up early to provide her family and staff with what is needed (vs. 15). She works late into the night in order to succeed if that’s what is required (vs. 18). She doesn’t worry about her family because she has provided for them (vs. 21).
- Strong physically and mentally – she “wraps herself in strength, carries herself with confidence, and works hard.”(vs. 17)
- Skillful, capable, and creative – she works skillfully with her hands (vs. 19, 22)
- Generous – she takes care of the poor and extends mercy to the needy (vs. 20)
- Commands respect – through her actions her whole family is respected and her family respects her in return (vs. 23, 28). Her partner sees her as the cream of the crop and speaks highly of her to others (vs. 29).
- Teaches with wisdom and kindness– she is able to instruct others without being proud or arrogant (vs. 26).
- Trusts in the Lord – she reveres God and puts her trust in the Lord, not her own charm or beauty (vs. 30). It is ultimately because of this attribute that she has all of the others!
We can take this vision and live into these attributes ourselves, trusting in the Lord – and with the help of the Holy Spirit of course!
This whole exercise brought to mind the Helen Reddy song I Am Woman:
I am woman, hear me roar…
Oh yes I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to I can face anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman
Be strong and live into the full potential of your womanhood!
Copyright © by Bobbi Mullins, May 25, 2021