A Model of Womanhood
May 10, 1998 Proverbs 31:10-31
The way in which the Word of God is conveyed in Proverbs is different than the manner of the rest of Scripture like the law, prophets and revelation. In these, divine information breaks into human consciousness from beyond, but Proverbs is knowledge gained from personal and social experience - often painful experience. One sage has quoted, “In every proverb, the stable door is only locked after the horse has been stolen.” We may learn too late to help the immediate cause, but it is important that we learn. This knowledge is considered to have divine authority because it is received with a world view that sees God at work in the whole of creation and human endeavor. Experience can be an accurate teacher when seen from God’s view, that is from the rest of Scripture as a framework. Experience seems to get wasted without this view. But anyone can learn from experience if they see God at work in it and fear him enough to gain knowledge of him in it - this is true wisdom.
There is much confusion today about just what is expected in our roles as both men and women. We are in the midst of a sexual revolution that has thrown expectations and resultant behaviors into a tailspin in our cultural caldron that pressures each to rethink from base zero who they really are and what they should do about it. It is like there is some outside ideological pressure trying to undo centuries of time tested truth. Sexual identities are up for grabs. But what about the timeless truth of the Bible? There is nothing we need to know that it doesn’t tell us about. God has thought all this through for us if we choose to accept it. And if we choose not to accept it, untruth is ultimately self eliminating. Nations, cultures and societies following false leads fall apart with regularity.
Here on Mother’s Day, we focus upon the role and importance of the special place women have, not only before God, but within our families and our society. God gives us a model in Proverbs 31 of the kind of woman who stabilizes society. I bring to you today not what I (a man) say a woman should be, but what God says. And even God in his wisdom has chosen to speak this to us in his Word through the lips of a woman - King Lemuel’s mother. So this is advice (indeed prophecy - the words of God, vs. 31:1) to a son from his mother about what a woman of God should be like. And if you, as a woman, would be the wife, or the mother, of a king; this is your role model. Believe me, if any man had a woman who desired this model, and she pursued it, he would be a king - and she would be a queen. This woman is wisdom personified (a key theme in Proverbs) befitting a king. This is what every wise woman of God would want for her son, or her daughter, or herself.
There is some thought that King Lemuel is an affectionate name for King Solomon - which would make these the words of Bathsheba - words that he did not necessarily follow, but words that he agreed with as divine wisdom, which is why they are in his book. Certainly Solomon learned a few things about horseflesh through the open barn door - that is, through the experience of failure. Jewish tradition has it that Bathsheba gave Solomon this advice at a time when he was engaged in magic with his Egyptian wife and delayed the morning sacrifice. These are written as an acrostic poem for remembrance, each verse starting with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet - an organized arrangement of virtue - the ABC’s of wisdom. A current Jewish tradition is that this poem is recited by husbands and children at the Sabbath table each Friday night. They are wise words ending Proverbs as it was begun - as a father’s instruction and a mother’s teaching (vs. 1:8).
There is a fearful beauty in true womanhood. This ideal woman fears God. A woman who does this will have no time or inclination for sin. She will build a lasting legacy for her God, her husband, her children, her world. This passage does not speak of what this woman looks like (not with braided hair, 1Tim. 2:9-10), but speaks of what she does that flows from who she is. Perhaps this ideal woman cannot be found. There certainly are degrees of approaching this ideal. But we must have an ideal of what this godly woman is like if we are to approach it. If she can be found, you will have seen the effective image of godliness, as God intended, in a woman, a wife, and a mother. What an effect this woman would have on those around her. She is a priceless model of womanhood. Every man wants a model for a wife. But there is a difference between the world’s model and God’s model.
Newsweek (May 11, 1998) article about supermodel Elle Macpherson.
You can put a price on Elle and her physical poise and beauty, but not on this woman’s character and virtue. Her standard may not be within reach of all, but the poem does reveal the flowering of wisdom in domestic life. She is not just some man’s dream woman but a universal type of woman as a symbol and pattern of wisdom to be embraced by all. This poem shows us that true heroism may lean more toward the moral and domestic than the military. It may be telling us that true wisdom and heroism begins at home where it may be taught and lived and reproduced.
What are the characteristics of value in a wife and mother?
What constitutes a woman’s irreplaceable value to a godly home?
A. She has priceless character.
10 ¶ A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
Why is it that women like jewelry? Perhaps they have an innate understanding that that is how they are to be viewed - since jewelry has value. But we are talking here about what it is in a woman that is of the most value, and that is character. Character flows from the knowledge of God in the lessons of life, and who can put a price on God? Character has the most value because it has the most influence. Just like the man who finds the kingdom of heaven to be most valuable, so too the kingdom of heaven displayed in the life of a godly woman is most valuable.
Mt 13:44¶ "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
B. She is her husband’s greatest treasure.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
The tribute begins here and this is her first priority. She is a wife, a career woman, and the mother of children. But neither her career not her children are allowed to come before the obligations of her marriage. She knows that a stable and loving marriage is basic to success and happiness in these other areas. She knows that marriage fulfills her as a person and that the first essential of motherhood is to create for the children the environment of a loyal and loving home.
So first of all she is faithful and supportive to her husband. She must establish and maintain credibility with her husband as a helpmate that brings him honor. Her character is proven and her husband trusts her. She makes herself indispensable - and she is. There is no need to look for greener grass elsewhere, he has all he needs in her in this life.
And if her husband is not a believer, he may well become one by her witness.
1Pet. 3:1 ¶ Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,
2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.
4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.
5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands,
C. She is a consistent helpmate.
12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
She is not contentious. She sees the end from the beginning and runs the race to win. She is confident of what she can accomplish. She knows that she has value to her family and her society in each stage of life.
D. She is industrious.
13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
She spreads out her assets. She has prepared herself with skills and ability to be industrious and contribute to the family welfare. She follows projects through from beginning to end. She doesn’t just delegate to her husband and children. She delegates herself as an example to all. She enjoys work and the outcome it produces.
E. She is resourceful.
14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
She researches her options and learns from experience. She is an expert in her God-given and willingly accepted role as homemaker.
F. She is diligent.
15 She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.
This woman is quite aware that many depend upon her and she plans ahead, knowing that a stitch in time saves nine. Note that her industriousness has acquired others to help her, but she is not a slave driver - she sets the example.
G. She is frugal.
16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She has accomplished much with her efforts. The profits of her labors are not spent foolishly but reinvested wisely. She doesn’t put all her eggs in one basket. She runs a well rounded operation.
Marriage does not claim all her time. She is too gifted for that. She is a business woman: she has an interest in real estate, and is also a dress designer and manufacturer. There is nothing old fashioned about her. She is a liberated woman, a person in her own right. Her life has significance quite apart from her relationship to her husband and children. And her family evidently respect her for it.
H. She is energetic.
17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
This woman doesn’t need to go to “Women’s Workout World.” She stays in shape by what she accomplishes. She is not a kept woman. She is truly liberated.
G. She is a wise investor.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
This woman is in touch with the economy and knows how to turn a buck. If need be, she burns the midnight oil to figure it out. And you can be certain that the lamp won’t go out because they run out of oil, or can’t pay the electric bill.
I. She is talented.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
She is skilled at the things she does. She has worked at it. She knows her part in what it takes to raise a family.
J. She is generous.
20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
As much as this woman is industrious, frugal and resourceful, she is not a tightwad. She is generous and compassionate - works to have something to give. She knows that the tragedies of life befall others, and a much as she depends upon God, and her own abilities as directed by God, to provide for her family, she is savvy enough to know it could be her family in need. Remember, this is a woman of character.
Eph 4:28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
K. She is prepared.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
The Proverbs 31 woman thinks and plans ahead. She is not caught with her apron off. She has credibility in her provision for her family.
L. She is well kept.
22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
She not only keeps her family well, but she understands that she herself is as much the temple of God as her home and each one in her care. She doesn’t waste time on herself, but she does take care of herself and her marriage relationship.
M. She adds to her husband’s reputation.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
Can you imagine a man with a wife like this? He’d be the talk of the town. He’d be a pretty special guy to have a woman who cared this much, not only about him but about her calling in life to the family God has given her. Any man with a wife like this must certainly be worth listening to, not only because he has chosen a wife wisely, but he must also be loving her wisely - and she is as much compelled by devotion as he is. Their marriage may not be perfect, but it certainly is a model by all comparative standards. The fruit of their lives reveals it. Her husband is respected because she obviously respects him so much as her life and work attest.
N. She is diversified.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
Not just one or two talents, this woman cuts out the middleman and turns labor and foresight into profit at every turn.
O. She is confident.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
This is not the laughter of pride but the confidence of humble, hard-working character that has done its best. If anything goes wrong, it won’t be because she hasn’t prayed and planned and labored. We can have joy in knowing we have done our best under God with what he has given us to have and to do and to be.
P. She is a wise teacher.
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
There is no idle gossip here, and she teaches her children well. Her words as well as her works come from God. Her life has a lasting impact and generations will call her blessed.
Q. She is a good manager.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
She may not shepherd a church, but she shepherds her little flock. She knows that you get out what you put in.
R. She is respected.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
Her honor is well deserved. She has been faithful to the gift of life. She has given it the nudge it needed from her generation. She is a fond remembrance of godliness. The writer paints a picture of the woman as the leading character in her family drama, the focus of the family, the strength of her household. This woman in today’s world makes a distinctive contribution to society while at the same time giving her children the love and support that they need. And this adds to her husband’s strength as a public figure and a leader in society.
S. She is adored.
29 "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."
Her place of esteem is unsurpassed in the eyes of those who know and love her. What more earthly, even heavenly reward, could one hope for than for the acknowledgement of a job, an etenally important job, well done? She has fulfilled her created place and passed it on.
T. Her inner beauty is breathtaking.
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
There is no greater description of beauty than that of God. And whatever of God within us that we cultivate will reveal his beauty in us. This woman has served life well because she knew she was serving God within it.
U. Her reward is well deserved.
31 Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
There is certainly a heavenly reward awaiting this woman of excellence. She has earned it. And the city gate is not only such a grand reputation in this life, but there is such a city above. There will be many mothers there, and they will have with them many children who followed in their footsteps.
This poem certainly presents a pattern for women who want to develop a life of wisdom. It teaches that the fear of the Lord will inspire people to be faithful stewards of the time and talents that God has given; that wisdom is productive and beneficial for others, requiring great industry in life’s endeavors; that wisdom is best taught and lived in the home - indeed the success of the home demands wisdom - and that wisdom is balanced living, giving attention to domestic responsibilities as well as business enterprises and charitable service.
This virtuous woman is kind, resourceful, and versatile. She exercises the age-old rule of the Hebrew matriarch in supervising closely the affairs of her entire household. This demands energy, foresight, and careful planning so that nobody for whom she is responsible will go hungry or lack clothing. To meet this situation she always has available an adequate supply of whatever is needed for all those who are under her care, and with the work of her own hands she makes certain that they are fed properly and clothed appropriately. Yet she does not consider these duties to be demeaning but rather rejoices in them as the fulfillment of her responsibilities to her family and to society in general.
As the result of all this, her husband is the recipient of special attention and recognition when he sits with the council of elders inside the city gate. Not content with providing clothing for her own household, she also devotes her talents to making fabrics for sale to the city merchants. Nothing in the nature of guile debases her character, because she is clothed with strength, honor, and gentleness. A natural outcome of her conduct is the way in which she becomes the object of outright praise and admiration from her husband, children, and others.
It is eminently fitting that, in a book devoted to wisdom, an excellent, praiseworthy woman should have the last word. Our future depends on her. She is indispensible. And for the degree that you desire and fulfill this model for your God, your family, your church, and your world, you are to be praised and honored. And may the degree of honor that we give you work together with God to enable you to fill your priceless position with increasing excellence. Be encouraged today. You do not need to strive with today’s culture to obtain what they call a life of significance through independence from your God-given calling. True joy and peace are found in being who God designed and created you to be.
A mother is not a substitute for God, but neither is there any substitute for a mother. She can be an angel of God to her children, the instrument of God’s purpose and guidance and love and support. The truth is that nobody can take a mother’s place in the life of her family. She bears children in her body, ushers them into the world, feeds them at her breast, makes a home for them, rears them, gives them goals, teaches them ideals, fires their ambition, loves them, helps them, suffers with them and stands by them when all other forsake. They have every reason to rise up and call her blessed. She is still the focal point of the family drama. The international institution of Mother’s Day proves that time cannot wither nor custom stale the veneration in which we hold our mothers and their great wisdom in bringing us into the world. Today we give honor to you ladies in recognition of God’s perfect design for life. Without you, it wouldn’t happen. We need you and we love you. May God, and the men and children in your life, bless you.