What if women aren’t the main audience for Proverbs 31?
I was recently sent a really interesting article by reader Jennifer Walls. She’s not a blogger, but she had a thought, and she wanted to share it more widely, so she wondered if I’d like to publish it.
I read it, and I thought it was very, very interesting. She’s really asking the question: What if the point of Proverbs 31 is not to give women a “to-do” list to make us feel inferior, but rather to teach men to respect their wives?
Give her a minute and she may change your mind. Here’s Jennifer:
‘A wife of noble character who can find?’ Proverbs 31:10.
If you, like me, are a woman in today’s Christian circles, chances are you have come across Proverbs 31:10-31 more than once. Personally, it was often the centerpiece of teen girls Bibles and women’s conference. It’s easy to find the verse decorating Mother’s Day cards and flowery Bible bookmarks. Twice I’ve completed a devotional book that walked me through how to live out each of the wife-of-noble-character’s many industrious traits.
And I get it, we are hungry for Bible passages about women. Female Bible characters are in short supply and here is a whole 22 verses saying ‘she’ and ‘her’ over and over again. So we jump at it, ready to use this for our women’s ministry or moms’ Bible study.
But what if Proverbs 31 wasn’t written for women, but rather for men?
What if, instead of a list of characteristics we need to strive for, it’s actually intended as the antidote for locker room talk? What if it’s not a checklist of who we need to be, but rather a how-to of ways to encourage one another? Let me explain.
Proverbs was a passing down of wisdom from kings and nobles to the next generation. Solomon was directing it at other noble men, though, as with all Scripture, all of us can glean wisdom from it. But even without a historical understanding of this, the passage is clear in who it is talking to. I can’t believe I missed it for so many years.
Take a minute to read Proverbs 31:10 to 31 right now and then let’s work through it together.
- The poem begins with verse 10, stating that a great woman is almost impossible to find and therefore is very valuable.
- Next verses 11-22 and 24-27 go about describing her many laudable characteristics.
- Verses 23, 28, and 29 state that a noble wife will have a husband who is respected at the city gate and that her husband and children will shower her with praises.
- Verse 30 is the quotable piece of wisdom that this whole passage hangs on; it’s not about beauty or charm, but rather about being godly.
Here’s the thing, up until this point we have not received any instructions or commands. Verses 10-30 are simply statements of facts, the sharing of wisdom.
But in verse 31 we are finally told an action to do:
‘Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.’
The city gate was where the men gathered to talk. It was not only the centre for high minded and important talk. If you’ll allow me, it was also the locker room of its day. This passage is instruction for the husbands. If you’ve got a great wife, you should do two things:
- give her rewards for all her hard work; and
- when you sit around yakking with the guys, praise your wife not for her beauty and charm, but for all the wonderful industrious things she has done and for her fear of the Lord.
What if we used this passage to teach our boys how to be respected men? What if we taught them Proverbs 31 so that they knew what to honour in the females around them?
What if young, Christian men were trained to change the locker room talk from a discussion of outer beauty to a praising of godly characteristics in the women they know? Because if the way men talk about women is praising their godly character, it will also be how they think about women and eventually treat women.
And when women are treated with respect and honoured when they strive for Godly character, becoming the Proverbs 31 woman becomes a little easier and a lot more appealing.
After all, isn’t this the gospel anyway? It’s not a list of characteristics you need to be or things you need to do. We are called to love God and love each other. Instead of focusing on making ourselves into the ideal woman or man, we should be focusing on loving one another. That includes praising each other for the Godly characteristics we see in them.
So instead of seeing this passage solely, or even mainly, as a checklist of how to strive to be a ‘wife of noble character’, let’s see it as reminding us to ‘bring each other praise.’ Let us use Proverbs 31 to teach both our sons and our daughters to ‘arise and call each other blessed.’
Because this passage is actually for us all.
Thank you to reader Jennifer Walls for this post!
Jennifer Walls is a proud stay-at-home mom of an 18 month old and one on the way, and a loving wife to her teacher husband. Her job B.C. (before children) was working in music and youth ministry on Vancouver Island. She is passionate about her faith, her family, and the importance of good Dutch cheese.