There’s much controversy in Christian circles over the Proverbs 31 woman. To many, she is the unrealistic portrait of a woman we can never quite become. To others, she’s the model of contented homemaking. But what does Scripture itself teach us? I find the actual picture quite compelling—inspiring, even—and motivating to my own life as a woman, wife and mom.
We often think of her as industrious, possibly even a workaholic, judging by how much she gets done! Some people put her down because, after all, she has maidservants to help run her household. Who has a maidservant today?!
If we look at the passage itself in Proverbs 31:10-31, we see a woman being described by the mother of a king. The mother of King Lemuel wanted him to know what a woman of virtue looked like. In these 21 verses, she sums up the entirety of a woman’s life. Twenty-one verses to depict a legacy! It makes sense for these verses to contain a lot of information.
When we read Proverbs 31, we shouldn’t look at it through eyes of guilt. God inspired this passage to give us a glimpse of how life changes when we follow Him. A woman of virtue allows her faith to influence every single aspect of her life and work. This is the core message of the last chapter of Proverbs. But in the midst of reading it, a few things get overlooked.
Here are five things you may not know (or simply haven’t heard emphasized) about the Proverbs 31 woman.
1. She didn’t work all night.
You know that line “She gets up while it is yet night…” (v. 15), and that other one, “and her lamp does not go out at night” (v. 18)? Judging by this combination, the woman never sleeps!
This is not what the verse means, however. That wouldn’t make sense for the long-term health of women, and it wouldn’t make sense for the Sabbatical culture in which she lived. No, God’s women take time for rest. They need Sabbath. So how come her lamp doesn’t go out at night?
Because she keeps a light on in her home. She keeps a lamp lit, ready and on guard, even in the night. She is ready to get up at a moment’s notice and open her door, or help a sick member of the household, or perhaps to find her way in the morning when she gets up before the dawn. The Proverbs 31 woman wasn’t burning the candle at both ends. She was the guardian of her household.
2. She was a businesswoman.
This is apparent throughout the entire passage, but it’s often overlooked and understated. This is unfortunate! In an age of entrepreneurship, we NEED a Christian model for female businesswomen. The Proverbs 31 woman is it. She creates. She trades. She buys real estate. She invests her profit and turns a bigger profit.
And she does all this while still in submission to God, honoring her husband and caring for her children.
This passage alone tells us that God does not reject women who help provide for their families. Providing has never been exclusively a male task; both men and women were tasked to work from the very beginning. We must be careful reading things into Scripture that are not there, and Proverbs 31 reveals God’s heart for both home and business.
3. She was clothed in expensive, quality attire.
To be clothed in linen, in purple and scarlet, is to be clothed in the very best. This is important to note for two reasons: 1) This woman is hardworking and wise with money, so she’s not spending on these items at the expense of her family’s future; and 2) there’s a good chance she made the items herself while she was crafting bed coverings (a nod to her intimate relationship with her husband, by the way; verse 21-22).
There have been some arguments against wearing nice attire, citing 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, 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.”
The point Peter is making in this verse, however, is not that we must give up expensive clothes and jewelry. He was pointing out that these things should not be our focus. We should not be parading our status and money in front of others in our church, making it all about us instead of about the Lord. The Proverbs 31 woman was clothed in beautiful, expensive attire—but she came by it wisely, and she didn’t use it for selfish purposes.
4. She was her husband’s coworker.
Simple, but so important. The Proverbs 31 woman labored beside her husband in providing for their family. Her work and contribution brought him honor as he dealt with business and justice at the city gate. They were teammates! In order for him to accomplish the civil justice he was working toward in his influential position, he needed a dependable person managing the home. This is a full-time job, and it required much more than just cooking and watching the children. The Proverbs 31 woman probably had help with those things (we know she had servants). She contributed as much to the family as her husband did, giving us a glimpse once again of God’s vision for marriage.
5. She was known in the city gate, a place of influence.
Her husband sat in the city gate. To our westernized minds, this seems unimportant. But it was VERY important in that day! Sitting in the city gate was the equivalent of sitting in the state capitol. It meant her husband had a place of influence, probably on issues of justice and major business transactions.
To be known in the city gate means the Proverbs 31 woman was known in the business and justice community, made up of influential men, in a culture where women did not often receive honor. That’s pretty incredible. And how did it happen?
Because she’s a woman who fears the Lord. Wow. At the end of the day, that’s where we all need to start.