And on Mother’s Day, she’ll likely show up in sermons, held up as the standard of a godly woman or, as the passage calls her, “a wife of noble character.”
There’s only one problem: the Proverbs 31 Woman is an impossible standard to live up to.
The Proverbs 31 Woman gets up early, stays up late, cooks, sews, runs a business, helps the poor and needy, dresses well, never stresses, never is idle, and always speaks with wisdom and kindness. Also, in case that’s not enough to live up to, she’s a wife and mother, something that not all women are called to be.
Is it any wonder that many women like to avoid Proverbs 31 altogether? If the point of this passage is a measuring stick or a checklist, then it can do more to push women down than to lift them up. Reading online you might actually find the Proverbs 31 Woman referred to as “discouraging,” a “mental nemesis,” an “impossible standard,” a “burden,” “intimidating,” and even a “weapon.”
But what if we change the way we look at this passage of scripture? What if, instead of seeing it as a checklist of virtues for women, we saw it instead as directed towards men?
It turns out that this perspective is arguably the original intent of Proverbs 31. Traditionally, Jewish men and children would memorize this passage of scripture and sing it as a song of praise to their wife or mother on the Sabbath.
The Book of Proverbs is full of instruction, but in this passage only one instruction is given and it’s directed towards men in verse 31: “Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
Writer Stephen Altrogge puts it this way: “Proverbs 31 is not a moral checklist for us husbands to use as a grading sheet for our wives. Rather, it is a checklist of ways we can encourage and praise our wives.”
Reading through the passage with this perspective is eye-opening: how often do we take it for granted when the women in our lives do praiseworthy things?
I think of my mother waking up early in the morning to make me lunch before I left for school or the long hours she spent in the garden so there would be fresh vegetables on the table. How often did I praise her for that daily work?
I think of my sister who battled breast cancer with incredible strength and dignity. Yes, she was able to laugh at the days to come. I’ve always been inspired by her. How often have I praised her and let her know the impact she has had?
I think of my wife and all of the ways that she has brought me good, not harm. I think of how I have full confidence in her and how she is worth far more than rubies. I think of how she speaks with wisdom and kindness. How often do I praise her for these things and let her know how much I appreciate her?
As men, we can support and encourage the women in our lives with Proverbs 31.
If our wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, or female friends fulfill any part of Proverbs 31 — praise them for it.
- If they set about their work with eager hands: praise them.
- If they cook a meal for their family or friends: praise them.
- If they make a shrewd investment: praise them.
- If they work outside the home: praise them.
- If they choose to be a stay-at-home mom: praise them.
- If they have compassion for those in need: praise them.
- If they are strong, dignified, wise, and faithful: praise them.
- If they trust in the Lord: praise them.
This Mother’s Day, consider the ways in which the women in your life deserve praise, but don’t let it stop on Mother’s Day.
Memorize Proverbs 31:10-31 and notice how many of the verses talk about things that are done daily, rather than one-time events. Consider how the children and the husband in verse 28 “arise and call her blessed,” suggesting with the word “arise” that praising and blessing is to be done daily.
Think of ways you can use this passage to encourage and lift women up, not for just one day a year, but every day. As you do this and meditate on Proverbs 31, let the Holy Spirit guide you to a stance of appreciation and blessing towards the women in your life.
Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character
|10||A wife of noble character who can find?|
She is worth far more than rubies.
|11||Her husband has full confidence in her|
and lacks nothing of value.
|12||She brings him good, not harm,|
all the days of her life.
|13||She selects wool and flax|
and works with eager hands.
|14||She is like the merchant ships,|
bringing her food from afar.
|15||She gets up while it is still night;|
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
|16||She considers a field and buys it;|
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
|17||She sets about her work vigorously;|
her arms are strong for her tasks.
|18||She sees that her trading is profitable,|
and her lamp does not go out at night.
|19||In her hand she holds the distaff|
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
|20||She opens her arms to the poor|
and extends her hands to the needy.
|21||When it snows, she has no fear for her household;|
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
|22||She makes coverings for her bed;|
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
|23||Her husband is respected at the city gate,|
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
|24||She makes linen garments and sells them,|
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
|25||She is clothed with strength and dignity;|
she can laugh at the days to come.
|26||She speaks with wisdom,|
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
|27||She watches over the affairs of her household|
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
|28||Her children arise and call her blessed;|
her husband also, and he praises her:
|29||“Many women do noble things,|
but you surpass them all.”
|30||Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;|
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
|31||Honor her for all that her hands have done,|
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.