Proverbs 31: For Women Only?
The list of characteristics in Proverbs 31 has rightly been used as a criteria for finding a godly wife. And, much to the chagrin of many a godly woman, is the only real listing of its kind found in the Bible, making it impossible for women, when it is used incorrectly, to point to the ‘male’ list and say, ‘See, see, you’re not doing so well yourselves!’ Despite the nastiness that sometimes accompanies these endeavors, the question does remain: Is this a list for females only, or are they universal characteristics one should look for when anyone is considering uniting themselves to another for life?
So let’s look at the qualities listed in these verses, first noting that there are some criteria given in verses 3-9 that speak directly to the men. (Also notice that, if you are like me, you have probably never heard these verses of Proverbs 31 preached on before…)
The verses of instruction spoken directly to the son by his mother tell him:
1. Not to spend his energy chasing women who will only do him harm.
2. Not to drink wine or crave beer as a ruler, since doing so will result in poor decisions being made.
3. To give beer to those who are in anguish, so they may be relieved of their misery.
4. To speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
5. To judge people fairly.
6. To defend the poor and needy.
So what does this man look like? He is not a player or a partier. He makes good decisions, helps those who are in pain and he stands up to bullies. He does not make snap judgments, and is not overly critical but instead treats people fairly, which involves not making excuses for bad behavior as well.
And then there are verses 11-31. And the question is: Should men have these qualities as well? (And I think we can all agree that women should not be partiers, and be a person of good morals like the man described previously as well.) So let’s look at the qualities a wife should have:
1. She is a person her future spouse may have confidence in. One who brings him good, and not harm every day (not just when she feels like it). To choose a husband that does less would be disastrous, and an emotionally immature male, who does not constantly seek the best interests of his wife would best be described as abusive, so yes, these characteristics are universal.
2. She selects wool and flax. She knows how to pick quality products to meet her family’s needs. This too is a good trait in a man.
3. She works with eager hands. Again, a lazy man, who does not wish to work diligently, will not make a good spouse.
4. She does not mind traveling far to get the best quality food for her family. A man too should be willing to expend effort to see that his family has what is best.
5. She gets up early and makes sure everyone under her authority (her servants and her family) is well fed. A man too should not be prone to sleeping in nor negligent in making sure that the basic needs of the people in his care (and this may include employees) are being met.
6. She considers a field and buys it, and the start-up capital comes out of her earnings. She has resources and is able to start her own business and run it. (Remember, during this time in history, most people were self-employed.) A man too should aim to have extra earnings to invest and the knowledge to make wise decisions regarding those investments.
7. She works vigorously and her arms are strong enough to do the work that is necessary. Similarly a man should also be a vigorous worker and in good enough health to do the work he has chosen without tiring.
8. She sees that her trading is profitable. She does not make poor business decisions. A man too should be good with money, and his business dealings should be profitable. This means that he is not investing time or money in projects that will inevitably fail. This may include: degrees that have no real word application, get-rich quick schemes, having a dead-end job or being frequently out of work.
9. Her lamp does not go out at night. She remembers to do the little things that are necessary to a smoothly run life. Today this would be remembering to put the garbage out, changing the oil, not forgetting the things you need, like your wallet or cell-phone etc. These qualities are important for a man as well.
10. She sews. While she is a wealthy woman, she has the skills to do the basic tasks that would be needed if her family fell on hard times. Today this would include: basic maintenance of the home and car, coupon cutting and budgeting, home haircuts etc. These skills are good for a man to know as well, because even the best laid plans sometimes go awry. Further, men do sew in scripture. The Levites make the priestly robes. Men sewed items for the Tabernacle. Jacob made Joseph a coat of many colors etc. So while today fabric is often more expensive than premade clothing making more than basic sewing a luxury, sewing itself is not restricted to the women in the Bible.
11. She is generous to the poor and needy. A man who cannot give to those who are truly helpless, will not likely be generous to his wife and children either.
12. She does not fear the snow, since her household has what it needs. (More than what it needs, since they are clothed in scarlet, an expensive cloth.) Men too should seek to provide those under their care with more than what they need so that they do not have to fear being cold, or any other misery. The scarlet cloth also indicates that they are not hoarding their wealth by being stingy, but using it wisely to bless those in their care.
13. She decorates her house and dresses well. A man too should not be a slob, but should be able to dress and keep his surroundings in a way that garners respect. (But balanced with the verses to not be showy, meaning that what he does is respectful, not ostentatious and designed to make others feel small.)
14. Her husband is respected, meaning that her actions benefit him and do not demean him in the eyes of others. A man too should never do anything that would bring shame to his wife, whether through his own behavior, or by putting her down.
15. She makes garments and sells them. She has profitable skills. A man should also have skills that may bring extra income into the home.
16. She is confident, and does not worry about the future. This is not a false confidence, but because she knows she can handle life. A man too should have enough success in life, before being married, to be confident that he can handle whatever the future brings.
17. She speaks with wisdom and instructs others correctly. A man should also be known for giving advice that actually works.
18. She watches over the affairs of the people in her household and is not lazy. She knows what is going on in the lives of those she cares for. A husband too should know what is going on in his house.
19. Her children call her blessed and her husband praises her. She should be the type of woman who you would not think of making fun of. A man too should be someone whom put-downs would just seem silly if applied to him. People, especially those who are close to them, should respect both the man and the woman, or they are not ready to be wed. (They still have some growing up to do!)
20. She surpasses all women. This can only be true in the eyes of her husband, since it is advice to every man about the woman he is to marry. Her future husband should believe she is the best there is and he is lucky to have her. A future wife should believe the same about her future spouse.
21. Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting. A wife should not be chosen based on her looks, or how much she flatters you and makes you feel like ‘the man.’ These things will not last. A woman should also not choose a spouse based on his looks and smooth talk. These too will fade, and often the guys with the smoothest lines can’t wait to try them out on someone else…
22. She should fear the Lord. Yes men, so should you.
23. She is to be praised and receive the rewards that result from what she has done. Her husband should not treat her earnings or accomplishments as if they were somehow his doing. Neither should a wife usurp the praise or rewards due to the husband for what he has done. This means that the man does not take a Bible teaching he heard his wife use and repeat it as his own, that a wife does not utilize all the household money on clothes while he has none to enjoy for his own needs etc.
In teaching Proverbs 31 as a list of criteria for a spouse in general might we motivate the young boys to strive harder, and encourage the young ladies to pick better, more mature men? Shouldn’t the man be at least as mature as his wife? Just a thought.
Photo by Matija Barrett