The idea of a virtuous wife is fairly well known from Proverbs 31. She is even often referred to as a “P31 woman.”
An internet search will find a number of resources which show that there are plenty of women who want to model themselves around Proverbs 31. We’re going to see that that is a very good thing to do – whether you’re a wife, a widow, single – or even a man.
What is a P31 woman? (10-12)
Read Proverbs 31:10-12.
There are a few things worth saying right at the outset. First, we’ve noticed every week that Proverbs is written from a father to a son. That’s why it’s not, “Who can find a godly husband?” But wisdom isn’t specific to men or women, so we can all expect to find much of value here.
Second, notice that we’re starting at verse 10 because chapter 31 is actually two distinct units, and verses 10-31 are a specific poem about a particular kind of woman.
Third, we also notice that it begins with a question: “Who can find…?” The woman we’re going to read about is rare!
So what is a P31 woman? “A virtuous and capable wife.” We’re not all married, nor all women. But bear with me – we’ve all got something to learn here.
Where the NLT has “virtuous and capable”, other translations have “noble” (NIV, CSB) or “excellent” (ESV) or even “valiant”. The word is often used in the Bible to denote men of valour, brave men, men of action and exploits. So the wife portrayed in Proverbs 31 isn’t some kind of passive cheerleader; she’s an active, enabling, strengthening partner to her husband. A warrior, even.
Where v11 speaks of how she’ll greatly enrich her husband’s life, she will literally bring him “plunder” – as joint warrior at his side through life. So the ideal wife is not some shut-away, passive flower. Rather, she is an active co-fighter, a partner for life.
Is she for real?
As we go through in more detail, though, you may wonder who could be such a super-woman: Does she never get ill? Can she ever have a bad day? Does she never worry about anything at all?
This isn’t a kind of tick-list or blueprint. We’ll come back to this, but for now notice two things:
- It’s an acrostic poem (in Hebrew). 22 verses, 22 letters. We have a poetic ideal, not necessarily a fixed pattern.
- The Bible is cross-cultural. This woman works with wool and flax, and buys fields for vineyards. It’s absurd to take everything literally, so look at the detail then stand back and see the whole picture.
How to be praiseworthy (13-31)
Let’s take a look through. Read Proverbs 31:13-15.
Throughout the book of Proverbs there are many things said against laziness and in favour of hard work. This woman is clearly busy, working, not lazy. In particular, she’s busy in her own home.
But then read Proverbs 31:16-18. Again using language the Old Testament often uses for men in battle, she’s described as “energetic and strong.” She’s resourceful and busy. Some people revel in seeming to be busy but actually they’re chasing their tail, not doing anything. But she’s profitable and productive, and this is out at work.
So she’s busy at home and out at work, but more besides. Read Proverbs 31:19-21. She’s caring for the poor and preparing for the needs of everyone in her household. Love is always other-person oriented. Her work benefits others.
Perhaps her husband feels neglected? No. Read Proverbs 31:22-23. She takes care of her own appearance, and prepares her own bed. Her husband has an important role in the town and is able to do that because he has a good reputation. His good reputation is completely bound to hers.
But more, his stability and character are linked to the stable character of hard work and preparedness at home. For both husband and wife, lively stability at home leads to positive contribution at work and in the wider community.
Read Proverbs 31:24-25. There’s a nice mention of clothing in both verses. On the one hand, she makes clothes and sells them (probably underwear, linen worn next to the skin). But she clothes herself with strength and dignity. She doesn’t need to wear the right labels to feel she’s going to fit in: Fashions change, but this woman doesn’t fear the future.
Lovely inside and out
Her inner character is of far more value than anything she can put on her skin.
And it shows in her words: Read Proverbs 31:26. She says the right things. She instructs wisely. “Kindness” there is a particular Old Testament word that has more depth than dropping 50p in a beggars cup. This is a covenant-strong, abiding and meaningful kindness. Instruction of this sort is a long-term investment in someone’s life and welfare. That’s what she does when she speaks.
So busy at home and at work, always caring for others, not neglecting her marriage along the way, strong and dignified and investing in others’ welfare with wise words – what a woman! More, a praiseworthy woman. Read Proverbs 31:27-29.
Husbands: Praise your wives in private and in public. Let’s not be those men who always belittle and joke about our wives. And where you have a capable, hard-working wife who runs things at home in a way that delights you, don’t use that as an excuse to go golfing or whatever: Her work is an enabler for you to go and do good to others. This woman doesn’t carry her husband as a burden. She enables him as a partner and co-warrior in life.
And children (whatever your age): Praise your parents for their godly instruction to you in the Lord – there’s no greater gift.
So we summarise this woman something like this:
- She is strong and hard-working.
- Her energies are very much for her family and home.
- And yet much of that is carried out in work and trade, all the while remembering to care for those less well off.
How does she do it?
You may well ask, “How does she do it?” In the end, it’s not about her. Read Proverbs 31:30-31.
- “Charm is deceptive” precisely because anyone can turn on the charm (look up “politician”!). It’s a skin-deep thing. “Sincerity is everything; if you can fake that you’ve got it made.”
- “Beauty doesn’t last” is literally “beauty is meaningless” – as in Ecclesiastes’ “Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
- We saw in v22 she takes care of her appearance, but it’s “meaningless” because it’s no indication of wisdom.
This woman is all she is because she fears the LORD. Because she fears the LORD, she grows in wisdom. Because she grows in wisdom, she’s energetic at home and at work, cares for the poor, speaks wisely etc.
If you want to be this woman, then realise this is most emphatically not about you “compared to her” (whoever “she” is for you).
- Fear the Lord. Love and honour and cherish him first.
- Grow in his likeness, in his wisdom, in his love.
- That will work out from you into your family, into work, community, and church.
If you feel you need to work harder to be like the wife in Proverbs 31, the answer isn’t to “try harder at it.”
Go to Jesus; repent, and grow in your love and obedience to him. Proverbs 31 isn’t about carbon copies anyway:
We’re not all the same
In the Hebrew Bible (which is, of course, just the Old Testament), the books are arranged a bit differently from as it is in an English Bible. You turn the page from Proverbs to Ruth. Ruth was so poor she had to gather left-overs at the harvest time. She didn’t have servant girls like the woman of Proverbs 31!
And yet she was described as having kindness towards her mother-in-law Naomi using the specific, covenant word for kindness in Proverbs 31.
More, where Proverbs 31 describes the “virtuous and capable” wife (noble wife, excellent wife, etc) – that’s the very word used to describe Ruth in Ruth 3:11.
- And if Ruth (a single woman) is an example then we see we’re not looking for a checklist of things to do.
- This is about wise, godly character.
- It’s also to be worked out 24×7 – with everyone you meet, at work and at home, with no promise of reward, and not just for a season.
Which is why you can’t do this on your own, nor do you need to:
Christ gives you wisdom
I said at the start that we can all benefit from modelling ourselves on this woman in many ways – whether you’re single (as Ruth was), a wife, a widow, or a man.
- Because we are all a Bride.
- Together, as Christians, we’re the bride of Christ.
Marriage itself is a picture of God’s relationship with his people. Revelation 19:7 looks forward to a time when Jesus (the Lamb of God) will be wedded to his Bride (all his people across all time):
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
and his bride has prepared herself.
That will be an amazing day, though only for his own people. It’s clear that when he returns to earth it will be wonderful for his people. But if you’re not a Christian, it will be a day of terror. No amount of proverbs and clean living can wipe the stain of your sin. Your only hope is forgiveness today. Turn to God in repentance and faith today! Or die lost.
For those who have, together we are Christ’s bride. What kind of bride – wife – should we be?
- Like the Proverbs 31 wife, obviously.
- Energetic within – among ourselves, in worship, love, praise, action – and in the community.
- We want to bring honour to our great Husband when he “sits in the gate” (as it were) – when he is seen by all.
- You’re to be a co-warrior, strong worker – whether in serving the church through action, finances, prayer, or encouragement.
How can you do it?
And if you lack energy or strength, remember where the Proverbs 31 woman was grounded: The fear of the LORD (v30).
Growth in wisdom is growth in Christ, because he is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Growth in Christ is growth in wisdom. You must start with him.
- His wisdom in you is God’s power in you.
- He energises you to do his work.
- He gives his people strength.
- To do his work – as a Christian – is to move with the current of God’s will in the world.
- He enables you. So go to him; know him.
You will grow in Christ; it will show in your life, in your words, in your relationships.
Proverbs 3:18 Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly.