Who is that virtuous wife?

woman as wisdom

Wisdom portrayed as a woman

Proverbs 31 ends with a description of a virtuous wife. More than one Christian woman has confessed a love-hate relationship with that chapter. Men have their own frustrations with it.

Here is a caricature that captures the problem: this wonderful woman possesses every virtue. She effortlessly runs the household. And a prosperous business. Everyone respects her. Her husband adores her, but he spends all his time hanging around the city gate chattering with his buddies.

Many women look at her in frustration, because some of her stellar characteristics are completely absent from their lives. Many men look at her in frustration because their own wives fall so far short of that ideal.

Who is this ideal woman, really? And for that matter, who is her husband?

The picture of wisdom

St. Sophia, wisdom as woman

St. Sophia, personification of wisdom / Orthodox icon, 17th century

Wisdom makes her appearance early in the book of Proverbs. Yes, her appearance. Wisdom, the most conspicuous theme of Proverbs, is personified as a woman.

This ideal wife of Proverbs 31 is no woman of flesh and blood, but still a personification of wisdom. Men, too, ought to aspire to wisdom. In other words, men as well as women should aspire to be like her.

  • She is honest: “The heart of her husband safely trusts her” (v. 11, NKJV).
  • She is diligent: “She seeks wool and flax and willingly works with her hands” (v. 13)
  • She is economical: “She is like the merchant ships” (v. 14).
  • She is organized: “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and a portion for her maidservants” (v. 15 ).  – Organized and a good employer as well!
  • She is a good steward: “She considers a field and buys it. From her profits she plants a vineyard” (v. 16)
  • She is confident: “She perceives that her merchandise is good” (v. 18).
  • She is charitable and humble: “She extends her hand to the poor. Yes, she reaches out her hand to the needy” (v.20)
  • She plans ahead: “She is not afraid of snowfor her household, for her family is clothed with scarlet” (v. 21). John Gill’s commentary points out that the Vulgate, the Septuagint, and Arabic versions translate that last part, “clothed with double,” which really makes more sense. The color of clothing doesn’t keep people warmer in winter, but providing double layers certainly does. http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/proverbs-31-21.html
  • She is strong: “Strength and honor are her clothing” (v. 25).
  • She is wise and kind: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (v. 26)

Wisdom’s family

Wisdom has a husband and children.

  • “The heart of her husband safely trusts her, so he will have no lack of gain” (v. 11).
  • “Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land” (v. 23).
  • “Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also, and he praises her” (v. 28)

If the wife in Proverbs 31 is not a woman of flesh and blood, but a personification of wisdom, then her husband and children are likewise personifications.

Not only is wisdom portrayed as a woman, but so are the nation of Israel and the church. Israel proved to be an adulterous wife of God. The church is the bride of Christ.

The church has abused Ephesians 5 as much as it has abused Proverbs 31. That’s the chapter that tells wives to be submissive to their husbands, sort of. (Did you know that in Greek v. 22 starts in the middle of a sentence? The verb is in v. 21.) We spend so much energy squabbling about what that means that we completely neglect Paul’s conclusion, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).

Christ welcoming his bride

Christ welcoming his bride

So the same chapter tells husbands to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). And why did he do that? “That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

What better way to present the church without blemish than to transform it into the picture of the ideal wife in Proverbs 31? In fact, Revelation describes the church in four different chapters as the bride.

So when Proverbs 31 mentions the husband, we should think of Jesus. And who are wisdom’s children? Those disciples of Christ who have been trained by wisdom and become mature in wisdom.

And so the intimidatingly perfect women described in Proverbs 31 is not the kind of wife women should regret not being or the kind men should regret not having. She is our mother. She is the model person we all aspire to become. And by the time Jesus returns to claim his bride, she is all of us in his church.

Photo credits:
Wisdom as woman. Source unknown
St. Sophia. Public domain
Christ welcoming his bride. source unknown

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