Proverbs 31 is not a well-loved passage of scripture for a lot of women who feel the pressure to be the perfect women, wives and mothers when they hear it taught. But I don’t think this passage was meant for women. I think the passage, as a whole, from verses 1-31, not just 10-31 as it is often reflected on, is for men, and specifically men of influence, or men who could be of influence.
I haven’t felt this way until I read this entire passage tonight as it’s translated in Blue Letter Bible’s Interlinear Parallel NASB (New American Standard) translation next to the original Greek and then, not even until I studied many of its specific words and phrases in the Greek. Here is the entire passage written out in the NASB translation:
1 The words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him.
2 What, O my son? And what, O son of my womb? And what, O son of my vows?
3 Do not give your strength to women, or your ways to that which destroys kings.
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink,
5 For they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
6 Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter.
7 Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more.
8 Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate.
9 Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
10 An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.
13 She looks for wool and flax and works with her hands in delight.
14 She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar.
15 She rises also while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong.
18 She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle.
20 She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies belts to the tradesmen.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.
26 She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying,
29 “Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.
31 Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
I believe this is written by a powerful man lamenting over the wisdom of his mother after a time of foolishness when he finally comes to realize the richness of her wisdom and advice given to him over and over and over again. I can see him imagining in his mind’s eye the memories of his mother living out each of the tasks she so wondrously exemplified. And I can see him lamenting that he has not found a woman such as her for his own wife (as a result of his not taking her advice, no doubt).
I also believe this powerful man may be passing this wisdom on to his sons, beseeching them not to waste their youth as he has, and to seek this type of virtuous yet illusive woman for their own wives. I believe the wonderful things this woman has done were not done all at once or all the time, but rather over the course of her lifetime. And I believe the son is here reflecting all of his glorious memories of his wonderful mother.
I also believe that this powerful man is King Solomon. Even though this chapter is titled “Sayings of King Lemuel,” there is no known king by this name, and it is believed that this is a nickname, as it means one belonging to God. I also believe the mother he is speaking of here is Bathsheba, which may be why this passage of wisdom is cloaked with vague names. Many of us might not believe that a woman such as Bathsheba, whose history is riddled with adultery and scandal, could not be known as a woman of virtue or a woman to look up to and strive to be like. But the man here may not be sharing all of his memories of his mother, just the memories that give him great joy, as we are apt to do as we remember the ones we love, as well as the memories and virtues that he wants to inspire his sons and future generations to aspire to attain as they seek out their future wives.
It’s too late in the evening for me to go into more detail at this time, but I look forward to breaking this passage down bit by bit to share why and how I’ve come to these beliefs about this passage. I do believe this will turn into a very interesting series.
What I’d like to close with in these wee hours leading into this Mother’s Day is to implore sons to honor your mothers as this son has done. Remember all of her good and strong efforts. Remember your youthful foolishness in ignoring her. Thank her for all her efforts, and take the time you have now to heed her advice and her example. And for mothers, consider the pattern of this woman and her son’s memory of her life, and apply it to yourself. Because this woman feared the Lord above all else, her life was turned around, and her son remembered only the good and honorable parts of her journey. Although I do highly recommend working through healing from the major transgressions and traumas of life, let the Lord be your strength throughout the journey.
Happy Mother’s Day! I dedicate this blog post to my mom, my mother-in-law, my mentors, and all the women and mothers I’ve walked through Bible studies with over the years. You all know who you are! You are dearly loved by God and by me.
By Donna Brendel