At some point in her life, every Christian woman gets to know about the Proverbs 31 woman.
I first got to know the passage during our pre-marital workshop, and to be honest it gave me the willies and made me quite uncomfortable, because the standards seemed so high.
Now, years later, I still can’t say that it’s my favourite Bible passage to meditate on, simply because I always feel conscious of how far short I fall of that perfect “virtuous wife” description it depicts.
The book of Proverbs has 31 chapters – each chapter containing God’s word of wisdom for every day of the month. I used to think that it was God’s grace that there aren’t always 31 days in every month, so that I wouldn’t have to encounter that passage so often.
I mean, this Proverbs 31 wife is really something else – she does her husband good and not evil all the days of her life and her husband trusts her with everything, she gets up while it is still dark and makes food for her household and maidservants, she works hard till beyond late at night, she helps the poor and needy, all the while watching over her household and keeping them on the right paths.
It never talks about her relaxing on the couch with hot tea, music and a good book – no, she is never idle or lazy.
On top of being the best homemaker and philanthropist, she is also successful and learned in many trades and businesses at the same time. She is adept at buying and selling property, importing food, planting vineyards, making fine clothing and selling them abroad.
Even the best housewife and mother, or the most successful working wife or businesswoman and mother can’t compare with this wife. They may be able to tick some of the boxes, but not all.
And just in case an all-in-one wonder wife out there might feel inclined to put up her hand as a contender, here’s the final clincher: every word that comes out from this woman’s mouth is of wisdom and kindness.
Ouch. Kind of makes you wish that God had put in a description of the wonderful loving husband too, like in Proverbs 1 perhaps.
But while happening to read it again recently, something in the passage jumped out at me that began to open up a whole new understanding of this entire passage.
Here it is:
Strength and honour are her clothing; (Proverbs 31:25)
And a few verses earlier it tells us:
Her clothing is fine linen and purple. (Proverbs 31:22)
Why does it tell us about her clothing? Because, what a woman wears is the first thought in any woman’s mind. Every woman is concerned about what she’s going to wear before she steps out of the house. No woman does anything without first getting dressed. Properly.
God of course knew that, seeing as He made women, so He left this useful clue to point us women as to where to start. In fact, verse 25 is possibly the most often-quoted verse you’ll find of the whole passage.
And in case there’s still any doubt, I found that He left us an additional indicator too, hidden in the Hebrew letters.
Let me explain. The passage of the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31 is an acrostic poem in the original Hebrew – there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and the first letter that starts each verse is in the exact order of the Hebrew alphabet, from the first letter Aleph to the last letter Tav.
Now, this doesn’t always happen, so on the rare occasion that it does there could be something special within. And it just so happens that the starting Hebrew letter of verse 25 is the letter Ayin, which means eye, including as a means of expression of knowledge or character; it also means spring or fountain (source: Abarim publications).
The eye is the window that opens up the soul and heart of something, and usually the first point of receiving information. As Jesus said, the lamp of the body is the eye, and when our eye is good, our whole body is also full of light, and vice versa (Luke 11:34). A spring or fountain also represents a source, as is often depicted in the Bible.
It appears then that the key to the entire passage lies in this verse 25, concerning this wife’s clothing, which is strength and honour. The earlier verse 22 also tells us that her clothing is fine linen and purple.
What does this mean?
Linen in the Bible always represents righteousness, as it is white. The priests always had to wear linen, which was a material that was not prone to cause sweat – hence also representing rest. Purple is the colour of royalty, as it was worn by kings.
The reference to the Proverbs 31 wife’s clothing being fine linen and purple, therefore, is a reminder pointing to her being clothed in the robe of God’s righteousness and being made a king-priest in Christ.
This is the strength and honour that is her clothing – Christ’s righteousness upon her is her strength, and her identity as king-priest in Christ is her honour.
This is the reason why she can do all things, even all the things described of her in the passage, through Christ who strengthens her – through resting in the truth of her righteousness in Him. This is the reason she can be assured that her words to her husband and children and household are weighty and have effect.
The secret to being the virtuous wife as described in Proverbs 31, therefore, begins with the woman knowing and resting in the truth of her righteousness in Christ, and knowing that she has been made a king-priest surrounded with glory and honour in Him, because of His finished work at the cross.
What awesome rest and joy this revelation brings.
God never meant for any wife – or husband, for that matter – to be an all-encompassing spouse just through her own effort to do well. Rather, He wants us to be assured and first and foremost rested in the truth that we are righteous and glorified in Christ.
When we realise that we are still righteous and imbued with honour and regality no matter how we’re performing, we will simply rest and allow Christ working through us and in us to cause us to become the perfect wife (and husband).
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.