Thursday, January 7, 2010

Who can find a virtuous woman?

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. 11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. 12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. 13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. 14 She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar. 15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. 16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. 17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. 18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. 19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. 2021 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. 22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. 2425 Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. 26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. 27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. 28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. 29 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. 30-31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. . Proverbs 31:10-31

The poem is skillfully crafted. It is both acrostic (each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet) and chiastic in structure. Either one of these is sufficient evidence of the poet’s skill; the integration of the two is astounding. The chiasmus is as follows:

A: High value of a good wife (v.10)
B: Husband benefited by wife (vv. 11-12)
C: Wife works hard (vv. 13-19)
D: Wife gives to poor (v. 20)
E: No fear of snow (v. 21a)
F: Children clothed in scarlet (v. 21b)
G: Coverings for bed, wife wears linen (v.22)

H: Public respect for husband (v.23)

G´: Sells garments and sashes (v. 24)
F´: Wife clothed in dignity (v.25a)
E´: No fear of future (v. 25b)
D´: Wife speaks wisdom (v.26)
C´: Wife works hard (v.27)
B´: Husband and children praise wife (vv. 28-19)
A´: High value of a good wife (vv. 30-31)

The center point of the chiasmus is v. 23, the declaration that the husband is highly regarded at the gate. The verse has been read as almost an intrusion on the poem; all the other verses praise the wife, but this verse alone focuses on the esteem the husband commands.

Far from being an intrusion, however, v. 23 actually establishes the central message of the poem: this woman is the kind of wife a man needs in order to be successful in life.

In short, the original intended audience was not young women (“this is what kind of wife you should be”) but young men (“this is what kind of wife you should get”). This does not mean that the poem cannot be used to instruct women, but the interpreter must recognize its primary objective.

Although it may seem strange that a wisdom poem on the virtues of a good wife should be directed at young men, it is in keeping with the whole thrust of Proverbs. The book everywhere addresses the young man (“my son”) and not the young woman. It expounds in great detail on evils of the prostitute and how she is a snare for a young man; it says nothing about lusty boys and the threats they pose for young women.

It is a false reading, however, to suppose that biblical wisdom despises women or views them as fundamentally corrupt (this poem alone contradicts that notion). There is no double standard; the gender slant in Proverbs is a matter of audience orientation rather than ideological bias. Proverbs directs the reader away from the prostitute and toward the good wife because its implied reader is a young man. For the same reason, Wisdom is personified as a woman and not as a man.

(Garrett, Duane A., The New American Commentary, vol. 14, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 1993, pgs 248-249)


  1. That makes sense, especially since the boys were the ones studying the scriptures while the girls were at home learning how to be those virtuous women!

  2. Very interesting. I'll love having this in my studies. Thank you!

  3. Wow! So interesting and makes total sense. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I am so grateful for this posting! One more indication of how highly Heavenly Father thinks of His daughers. May we all rise to this challenge.