I was laying in bed the other night, thinking. I do a lot of that in the middle of the night because I’m a life-long insomniac. Also, with four kids, it’s about the only time I can get completely through a thought without being… “Hey, mama!” So, as I was laying there thinking about the Bride of Christ (likely because of the previous posting), my mind wandered to thinking about regular old wives, of which I’m one. I don’t think you can be a Christian woman and not immediately think of Proverbs 31 when that topic hits you. We’ve been taught that it’s a biblical record of the perfect wife written by the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon. There are a lot of jokes that run throughout female circles concerning this woman… how we could do what she does if we had maidservants, too, or wondering where our beautiful purple clothing is (I look awesome in purple, by the way)… the list of comparisons is long and often funny.
But for me, honestly, I’ve always felt belittled by her. I’ve thought about hunting Solomon down as soon as I enter heaven and asking him what the big idea was. Couldn’t a noble wife have been just a LITTLE bit more realistic? Of course, being blinded by God’s glory would likely stop me in my tracks before even remembering my not-so-wise intentions (see what I did there?)… and that would be a good thing. Because as I lay in bed the other night, something else crossed my mind. What if the wife of noble character that’s being sought after… and stay with me here… isn’t really an actual woman? What if Solomon, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, was initially writing about the Bride of Yahweh (Israel/Jer. 31:32) and thus, by extension, the Bride of Christ?
A flood of joy washed over me as I pondered this. No longer would the verses in question be about one woman seemingly taking on the world, but about one Body, Christ’s bride, accomplishing the good works that were set-apart for Her — works both within and without of Her family. Let’s look at the passage as a refresher before continuing:
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.
There are a few things that we need to note before dissecting the passage. First, it’s a acrostic poem. An amazing one, at that. Each line begins with a different letter from the Hebraic alphabet. Obviously, we lose that beauty in the translation, but it’s there, none-the-less. Knowing that it’s a poem allows my mind to think beyond the literal and move into the figurative, without it being bad hermeneutics. Not that I would have to read it figuratively, but that I could. At this point, that’s a good start for the thoughts that I’m trying to gather.
Another thing to note is that this is the epilogue to the entire book of Proverbs. It’s not just for this chapter, and it’s not an extension of King Lemuel’s mother’s words of wisdom to her son. It’s the ending summation, so to speak. The word “epilogue” is defined as, “the end of a story that often serves to reveal the fates of the characters.” In contrast, the “prologue” (which Proverbs also has) is defined as “an opening to a story that establishes the setting and gives background details.” Let’s look at that portion, too.
10 My son, if sinful men entice you,
do not give in to them.
11 If they say, “Come along with us;
let’s lie in wait for innocent blood,
let’s ambush some harmless soul;
12 let’s swallow them alive, like the grave,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we will get all sorts of valuable things
and fill our houses with plunder;
14 cast lots with us;
we will all share the loot”—
15 my son, do not go along with them,
do not set foot on their paths;
16 for their feet rush into evil,
they are swift to shed blood.
17 How useless to spread a net
where every bird can see it!
18 These men lie in wait for their own blood;
they ambush only themselves!
19 Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
it takes away the life of those who get it.
If a prologue sets the scene and the epilogue reveals the fate of the characters, what do we see happening in Solomon’s book of Proverbs? What does the opening show us? What does the closing offer us? Were we to accept the literal interpretation of the epilogue in chapter 31, would we not then be inclined to discern that the entirety of Proverbs could be summed up in finding a good woman to marry? Is that what Solomon wanted to teach? Or could it be that if we backed further away from the text, we could see more in there on which to chew? Or am I just hungry?
Let’s break it down starting with the prologue. When I look at it, I’m immediately able to see that the writer is trying to convince his children to stay away from sinful men, in whatever form they approach. He warns that they entice, and Solomon shows us all the ways in which the sinful could spend their time. Specifically, we can note that a sinful man lies in wait, he ambushes the harmless, he desires to steal, to plunder, to cast lots. In other words, as the last verse of the prologue states, his days are spent in ill-gotten gain. Nothing that was mentioned in the passage denotes anything honorable; everything was ill-gotten.
The body of Proverbs is filled with instructions on being wise and avoiding folly. It covers more topics than I could list here (but look at the handy-dandy link I’ve provided!). That’s pretty comprehensive. Way to go, Solomon! There’s more meat in those chapters than we can digest all at once. This book is meant to be feasted on for a lifetime! The building of character that it encourages can’t be matched. From what to speak to when to work and how to eat, it’s all there. But that’s a different post for another day.
After all of that, we arrive at the epilogue… the wife that many women have grown to despise because of her seemingly superhuman abilities… or revere because of her steadfast determination. Yet in context with the prologue, and with poetic license in mind, can we see something besides an individual woman accomplishing all of this? If the prologue sets up exactly what Solomon wants us to avoid (a life of sin) and the following chapters teach us how to be wise, could the epilogue then show us what all of that might look like, were it to be seen in one place? Is this not what God was intending for Israel? Was their purpose not to be a shining star that announced the glory of God through the mighty acts accomplished through and for one small nation? Were they not His bride? Then, as the heirs to the spiritual blessings of Abraham, is this not how we, the Church, are supposed to look? Together, as one Body, set on the Wisdom of Ages, we are able to be a city on a hill, a Bride that can accomplish the impossible with the power of her God.
Read the passage again… can you see how the Body of Christ would be able to do the things that are mentioned? Taking care of the family, the needy and the poor, being good stewards, being clothed in dignity, working day and night (thanks to time zones! Haha), speaking with wisdom and giving faithful instruction, eager to do whatever is necessary. One woman could never be in this constant state of “doing”, but one Church could. One Church that was also the Bride of the One True God.
If the prologue to Proverbs gives us insight into the life of the unwise,
it’s fitting that the epilogue would give us insight into the life of the wise.
Ironically, though not really, all of the things mentioned in the epilogue are repeated in the New Testament as parts of the role of the Body of Christ. I believe that we can narrow the New Testament role of the church AND the epilogue of Proverbs down to three subjects: Edification, Benevolence & Evangelism.
1. Edification: Scripturally, the word used for edification in the New Testament means to “build a house” (oikodomeo). There’s a great article already written that goes into detail about the verses that speak toward this topic. You can read that here for more information. But the point that I want to make is that we are called to build up the church through various ways (both individually and corporately). These include instruction on Christ-likeness as well as actually taking care of the physical needs of the Body. Whatever it takes to care for the members is part of the edification process. Proverbs 31 mentions these aspects of living.
2. Benevolence: This is defined as an act of kindness or charity. Basically, it’s taking care of those who are outside of the church as well. The needy, the poor, the hurt and broken around us fall into this category. Again, both the New Testament and Proverbs 31 speak of these things (you can look up Matthew 19:21, 1 John 3:17-18).
3. Evangelism: This, of course, seems most obvious. We were given the Great Commission to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:16-20). This one takes a poetic eye to locate in the Proverbs epilogue, but it’s there! I believe that verse 16 speaks to this when it says that she “plants a vineyard” from her earnings. Our reward is in Christ, and it’s through him that we are able to evangelize and bring forth a harvest. The New Testament talks of evangelizing as harvesting (John 4:35) and often calls the Body to be workers in the field (Matthew 9:35-38).
Having said all of this (let’s make this my epilogue), can Proverbs 31 give encouragement to a specific wife in a specific home on this specific planet? Of course! All scripture is useful for encouragement in our walk with the Lord. Can we, however, take this passage to mean that wives are to follow this poetic example? Should her sink never hold a dirty dish? Should her light remain on through the night? Should she be growing her own food and eating lunch standing up because there’s no time to sit? Is this what it means to be a noble wife to an earthly man? I struggle to believe that could ever be the case. However, I most certainly believe that the Bride of Christ is called to a 24/7 role of edification, benevolence and evangelism. I believe that we are to be seen as ever-working, above reproach and in a constant state of Christ-likeness as we await our Groom’s return. THAT is what brings me joy — the idea that I’m not alone in this working, that I’m only one part of the entire Body that Jesus has purposed to bring all things together under Him. THIS is a Bride that I can be! It’s a bride we can ALL be… men and woman alike!