Rev. denHartog is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.
We recently concluded a lengthy study of the book of Proverbs in our Young Adults’ Society with two sessions discussing the portrait of the virtuous woman found in Proverbs 31. We were impressed again with the great wisdom of the teaching of the Word of God in this passage. The godly women of our churches, both young and old, can do well by studying this Word of God. Especially valuable is such a study to combat the sometimes insidious influence of the ungodly feminist philosophy of our day even in the church. There could hardly be a philosophy more contrary to the beautiful portrait of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 than that of modern-day feminism. God-fearing women ought to realize this, not only that they might combat this worldly teaching but also in order that they might know what is true beauty and virtue before God.
We believe the correct interpretation of Proverbs 31 is that the reference is literally to a God-fearing woman, an example to all in the kingdom of God. Some commentators interpret this passage allegorically. Some make her an allegory of “wisdom.” Others make her to be an allegory of the church. We follow the rule of Bible interpretation that the Scriptures must be taken literally unless the Scriptures themselves indicate otherwise. We see no such indication in this passage. Furthermore, the great detail that is given in describing the virtuous woman fits best with a literal interpretation of her as the ideal woman.
Space constraints do not give opportunity for a complete discussion of all the details given in this chapter. In our Young Adults Society we found more than enough material in this chapter to spend two meetings discussing this section of Proverbs. In this article we can only point out some of the broad outlines of the chapter and at the same time contrast them with the philosophy of the world.
Let us take note first of all that the inspired author of Proverbs speaks of “finding” a virtuous woman. The reference is to the searching of the young man for a suitable marriage partner for life. Few endeavors will have greater impact on his future life than this one. The virtuous woman is extremely rare. That is the point of the question, “Who can find a virtuous woman?” Few are to be found. The vast majority of women in the world are the opposite of the virtuous woman. They are wicked, proud, vain, self-seeking, rebellious against their husbands, worldly in their concerns, terribly poor mothers, and ill qualified to raise a family in the fear of the Lord. Young men searching for a good life partner ought to read Proverbs 31. They must search diligently and with great care to look for a truly virtuous woman. They must search in the right place for a wife, namely, among the God-fearing and in the church of God. Surely they will never find in the world one that has the virtues mentioned in Proverbs 31. They must realize that “favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain” when they search for a mate.
Most young men of our day do not look for the virtue described here in the Word of God. They areconcerned only for outward, physical beauty and worldly popularity and glamour. This is tragic because they will soon find out how little these things matter for a godly and blessed marriage. God has given us in His Word a guide concerning whom we should marry. We are wise when we pay attention to it in the choice of the person with whom we will spend the rest of our life. The price of the virtuous woman is far above rubies. To find such a woman is to find a great treasure that will be a great blessing for one in marriage and also for the cause of the church and kingdom of God.
Two things stand out immediately when one reads this chapter regarding the virtuous woman. First, she lives for her husband. Secondly, one of her greatest virtues is self-denial in order that she might care for her family.
Both of these things are considered outrageous by most feminists of our day. What could possibly be more male chauvinist than to say that the virtue and worth of a woman in marriage should be judged according to her faithfulness to her husband? Does she not have the right to independent glory and honor for what she is in herself? And what could possibly be more demeaning to woman than to confine her to a life of drudgery and humility in having to care for children in the home? Is this not a task that the least educated, with very few gifts, can perform? Cannot child care be done by those who are not intelligent enough to get any other occupation, or by part-timers who have not yet advanced themselves in their careers? An educated and gifted woman surely ought not to have to waste her outstanding gifts in the demeaning role of taking care of a husband’s needs and those of children? Perhaps in days gone by when educational opportunities were limited for women nothing better could be expected of them. In our modern-day society the woman has gifts that qualify her for far more than being confined to the home. She is highly educated, and it is a tragic waste for her to stay home.
That is the way the world thinks. Who would deny it? Often with great anger, contempt, and proud self-assertiveness the teaching of God’s Word is rejected.
Consider carefully how the virtuous woman is described by God in His Word. “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that she shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all her life.” It is obvious that this woman devotes herself to her husband. Her husband can trust in her. How vital is trust in godly marriage! The virtue of this woman is doing her husband good and not evil all the days of her life. She is highly praised for this.
Furthermore, the role of this woman is not one forced upon her by some evil man or repressive philosophy of the time. We are told in verse 13 that “she worketh willingly with her hands.” The virtuous woman loves her role, she finds her glory and honor in it. Her husband loves her and she loves her husband. What peace of mind there is for the God-fearing husband who can go to work every day in the confidence that things are well at home because the home is under the care and wise management of his godly wife.
Peruse Proverbs 31 and consider how complete is the devotion of the virtuous woman to her home and family. “She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens” (v. 15). “She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet” (v. 21). “She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness” (v. 27).
What are some of the great virtues displayed by all of this? Self-denial is one of the greatest. This is the opposite of the pride and self-seeking that is so shamelessly promoted and even boasted of by worldly feminism. There is hardly an occupation in life that requires more self-denial than the occupation of mother in the home. But as much as this virtue is despised by the world, much more is this virtue exalted by the Word of God. Self-denial is a wonderful and glorious spiritual virtue. No painted face of any movie star or shapely body of a worldly sex symbol can compare with the virtue and beauty of self-denial. According to the words of our Lord Jesus, self-denial is absolutely necessary for the Christian life. We cannot follow Him except we deny ourselves. God is pleased with it. The self-denying mother is precious in God’s sight. Her self-denial will have a tremendous impact on her home and family. There is no more powerful example than this virtue for the nurture of God-fearing children. God-fearing children will praise and bless the mother who is self-denying.
Obvious from the description of the virtuous woman in this passage is that she works very hard. It is almost unbelievable how hard she works. She rises up early and stays up late. She goes to great lengths to provide for her family. This is a virtue in God’s sight. There is moral and spiritual virtue in this hard work because it involves devotion to her husband and family and is not for self promotion, not for glory among men, but for the good of husband and family. Notice the great length to which this woman goes in order to provide for her family. “She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchant ships: bringing her food from afar” (vv. 13 and 14).
The virtuous woman is very gifted and intelligent. She is artistic. She is able to make beautiful things. She is able to do many things. She has developed the talents God has given her in a very great measure. She does not sit around moping that she has been relegated to a sphere in which she is unable to “realize her potential.” She uses her gifts and talents to the fullest extent in a fulfilling role which is at the same time for the good of her husband and in devotion to her children. This is noble in God’s sight. There is no worldly career woman that can light a candle to this virtuous woman as far as virtue and significance is concerned. This must be seen of course especially in the light of the great value and significance of raising a covenant family and children that know and fear the Lord. What career in the world can possibly compare with this in God’s sight? What has greater significance for the future welfare of the church of God and the cause of the kingdom of Christ?
When all the glory of the kingdoms of this world and all the works performed in them are destroyed, the works of the virtuous woman shall stand forever in the glorious kingdom of Christ. They will be shown to have been performed by the grace of Christ Jesus in the heart of this woman and they will redound unto His praise.
Pay attention to the profuse manner in which the virtuous woman is praised and exalted in Proverbs 31. “She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms” (v. 17). “Strength and honor are her clothing” (v. 25). “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excelleth them all” (v. 29). The world would call the mother in the home weak and pathetic. The strong, according to the world are those who liberate themselves from the home. To be something, woman must by all means get out of the house. No woman will ever make anything of herself in the demeaning role of motherhood.
Godly women of the church, pay attention to how absolutely opposite the Word of God is to the vain philosophy of the world! Strength and honor belong to the virtuous woman. Her honor is ultimately the place which the Lord has and will give her in His kingdom. Her strength is from the Lord. It is real spiritual strength whereby she does great things.
Notice another great virtue of this woman. “She stretcheth out her hand to the poor, yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.” In the busyness of her life in the home and with the family it is almost beyond belief that this woman still has time to care for the poor and the needy. Yet she does. Again this shows how utterly selfless this woman is. As much as she loves and devotes herself to her family she realizes that this must not so totally preoccupy her that she has no care for those who are outside of her family. The virtuous woman excels in her care for the poor. God has commanded us to care for the poor. Godly women are especially gifted in their womanly nature to have tender compassion and care for the poor.
Most career women of the world are far too busy with selfish pursuits to have time and energy for these things. Their very character of self-centeredness precludes this. Self exaltation and self glory is considered to be the great virtue of the world in which we live, but in God’s sight these are despicable and abominable vices. Compassion, sincere, genuine, selfless compassion for the poor and needy are great virtues before God. It amazes me how often the homes where there are several children and the homes that are so very busy are also the greatest centers of hospitality and love for outsiders.
The husband of this woman was a prominent man in society. He was known in the gate of the city. In Old Testament times the gate of the city was the place of commerce and business and the place where the courts of law were found. Perhaps the husband of the virtuous woman was a lawyer or a politician. This is not to say that the commoner must not also have a virtuous woman as his wife. But this part of the illustration of Proverbs 31 silences all who might imagine that for the poor and uneducated it may suffice to have a wife like the woman in Proverbs 31, but that the prominent men in the world of our day must have wives who are equally prominent. Their wives must have their own careers, equal in worldly glory with their husbands. We said at the beginning that the worth and significance of the virtuous woman is described in terms of her faithfulness to her husband. But it is also true that the husband is “known in the gate of the city” because of the virtue and devotion of his wife. There is indeed truth in the common proverb “behind every great man there is a woman.”
The children of this virtuous woman rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her. Not all children and husbands of virtuous woman do this. This is not to the credit of these ungrateful and derelict children and husbands. Sad to say, even in the sphere of the church there are wicked and ungrateful husbands and children. This is a shameful thing. Yet in the covenant home we see this on every hand. Husbands and children who have wives and mothers who show the virtues described in Proverbs 31 ought to praise and bless them profusely. The blessing of her children and the praise of her husband are a great reward for the virtuous woman. Because she has understanding and wisdom she rejoices greatly in these things. Husbands and children have a great calling and obligation regularly to bless and praise their virtuous wife and mother. There are few things in life that God gives which are a greater blessing than a virtuous wife and mother. The spiritual and psychological well-being of children are the fruits of the labors of the virtuous mother in the home.
The principle from which the virtuous woman lives her life is the fear of God. That is the reason why, as we said at the beginning, there are no women with these praiseworthy virtues in the ungodly world in which we live. Those who do not fear God cannot be truly virtuous. They never will be. As much as the virtuous woman is motivated in all her life and business by her faithfulness to her husband and devotedness to her children, there is a higher principle out of which she does all things. This principle is the fear of the Lord. God Himself works His fear and love in the heart of the virtuous woman. She is therefore His glorious workmanship created in Christ Jesus. This is the greatest reason for her virtue and praiseworthiness. And therefore also, more important even than the blessing and praise of husband and children, she is blessed of the Lord and she will receive a great reward from Him.
Let us look around us in our churches and in our covenant homes. The Lord has given us such virtuous women. How worthy they are of praise, and what reason for thanking God we have that He has given such great women to His church.