Proverbs 31 is a chapter well-known to me since my childhood because of verses 10-31 which contain the description of the Virtuous Woman, also called in other versions the Excellent Wife, the Noble Wife, or even the Worthy Woman. Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve viewed the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 through a couple of different lenses. As a young idealistic girl, I saw her as a goal to strive for when I became a woman; as a wife and an exhausted mother, I saw her as a set of unattainable standards that made me feel a lot less worthy and a lot more subpar.
But is this really what these verses are meant to convey? Is this a list of expectations that women need to try to live up to in order to be virtuous? Is this passage meant to make us feel envious of women who do more than us or ashamed that we’re not living up to a certain standard? There are a lot of books and blogs out there that would suggest so, but recently I began to suspect that none of those condemning viewpoints are correct. I did some digging and- good news- they’re not! The verses describing the virtuous woman are actually a poem in the Hebrew language, called Woman of Valor. It’s a poem which highlights the mundane, every-day tasks that this woman accomplishes with strength and competence, forcefulness and might. Furthermore, did you know that this passage was originally addressed to a man, and that some Jewish husbands still sing it to their wives on Friday night before Shabbat dinner? Jewish women also sing this to each other. I find that so beautiful and inspiring. To be reminded, not that you’re failing to measure up, but that you’re a woman who fears the Lord.
This song of the virtuous woman now serves as an assurance to me that God sees us living our lives with valor, and he values that in us, whether we’re in a place of prominence and praise or doing tasks that others will never recognize us for. Valor is not a thing you do, but a way you do what you do, and this applies to all people, across all lines of culture, gender, and ethnicity. Let’s stop expecting others to live up to a list of idealized expectations or a checklist of perfection, and instead begin to celebrate courage and virtue, to uplift and revive one another as we all learn to praise God with our lives.
became a wife nearly 9 years ago, and a mother 6.5 years ago. She loves her family, enjoys living in the Pacific Northwest, and looks forward to meeting God face to face.
The Righteous Are Bold as a Lion
1 The wicked flee when no one pursues,
But the righteous are bold as a lion.
2 Because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes;
But by a man of understanding and knowledge
Right will be prolonged.
3 A poor man who oppresses the poor
Is like a driving rain which leaves no food.
4 Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
But such as keep the law contend with them.
5 Evil men do not understand justice,
But those who seek the Lord understand all.
6 Better is the poor who walks in his integrity
Than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich.
7 Whoever keeps the law is a discerning son,
But a companion of gluttons shames his father.
8 One who increases his possessions by usury and extortion
Gathers it for him who will pity the poor.
9 One who turns away his ear from hearing the law,
Even his prayer is an abomination.
10 Whoever causes the upright to go astray in an evil way,
He himself will fall into his own pit;
But the blameless will inherit good.
11 The rich man is wise in his own eyes,
But the poor who has understanding searches him out.
12 When the righteous rejoice, there is great glory;
But when the wicked arise, men hide themselves.
13 He who covers his sins will not prosper,
But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.
14 Happy is the man who is always reverent,
But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
15 Like a roaring lion and a charging bear
Is a wicked ruler over poor people.
16 A ruler who lacks understanding is a great oppressor,
But he who hates covetousness will prolong his days.
17 A man burdened with bloodshed will flee into a pit;
Let no one help him.
18 Whoever walks blamelessly will be saved,
But he who is perverse in his ways will suddenly fall.
19 He who tills his land will have plenty of bread,
But he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough!
20 A faithful man will abound with blessings,
But he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.
21 To show partiality is not good,
Because for a piece of bread a man will transgress.
22 A man with an evil eye hastens after riches,
And does not consider that poverty will come upon him.
23 He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward
Than he who flatters with the tongue.
24 Whoever robs his father or his mother,
And says, “It is no transgression,”
The same is companion to a destroyer.
25 He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife,
But he who trusts in the Lord will be prospered.
26 He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,
But whoever walks wisely will be delivered.
27 He who gives to the poor will not lack,
But he who hides his eyes will have many curses.
28 When the wicked arise, men hide themselves;
But when they perish, the righteous increase.
Happy Is He Who Keeps the Law
1 He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck,
Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
2 When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
But when a wicked man rules, the people groan.
3 Whoever loves wisdom makes his father rejoice,
But a companion of harlots wastes his wealth.
4 The king establishes the land by justice,
But he who receives bribes overthrows it.
5 A man who flatters his neighbor
Spreads a net for his feet.
6 By transgression an evil man is snared,
But the righteous sings and rejoices.
7 The righteous considers the cause of the poor,
But the wicked does not understand such knowledge.
8 Scoffers set a city aflame,
But wise men turn away wrath.
9 If a wise man contends with a foolish man,
Whether the fool rages or laughs, there is no peace.
10 The bloodthirsty hate the blameless,
But the upright seek his well-being.
11 A fool vents all his feelings,
But a wise man holds them back.
12 If a ruler pays attention to lies,
All his servants become wicked.
13 The poor man and the oppressor have this in common:
The Lord gives light to the eyes of both.
14 The king who judges the poor with truth,
His throne will be established forever.
15 The rod and rebuke give wisdom,
But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
16 When the wicked are multiplied, transgression increases;
But the righteous will see their fall.
17 Correct your son, and he will give you rest;
Yes, he will give delight to your soul.
18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint;
But happy is he who keeps the law.
19 A servant will not be corrected by mere words;
For though he understands, he will not respond.
20 Do you see a man hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
21 He who pampers his servant from childhood
Will have him as a son in the end.
22 An angry man stirs up strife,
And a furious man abounds in transgression.
23 A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honor.
24 Whoever is a partner with a thief hates his own life;
He swears to tell the truth, but reveals nothing.
25 The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.
26 Many seek the ruler’s favor,
But justice for man comes from the Lord.
27 An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous,
And he who is upright in the way is an abomination to the wicked.
The Wisdom of Agur
1 The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, his utterance. This man declared to Ithiel—to Ithiel and Ucal:
2 Surely I am more stupid than any man,
And do not have the understanding of a man.
3 I neither learned wisdom
Nor have knowledge of the Holy One.
4 Who has ascended into heaven, or descended?
Who has gathered the wind in His fists?
Who has bound the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name, and what is His Son’s name,
If you know?
5 Every word of God is pure;
He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.
6 Do not add to His words,
Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.
7 Two things I request of You
(Deprive me not before I die):
8 Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
9 Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.
10 Do not malign a servant to his master,
Lest he curse you, and you be found guilty.
11 There is a generation that curses its father,
And does not bless its mother.
12 There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes,
Yet is not washed from its filthiness.
13 There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes!
And their eyelids are lifted up.
14 There is a generation whose teeth are like swords,
And whose fangs are like knives,
To devour the poor from off the earth,
And the needy from among men.
15 The leech has two daughters—
Give and Give!
There are three things that are never satisfied,
Four never say, “Enough!”:
16 The grave,
The barren womb,
The earth that is not satisfied with water—
And the fire never says, “Enough!”
17 The eye that mocks his father,
And scorns obedience to his mother,
The ravens of the valley will pick it out,
And the young eagles will eat it.
18 There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Yes, four which I do not understand:
19 The way of an eagle in the air,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the midst of the sea,
And the way of a man with a virgin.
20 This is the way of an adulterous woman:
She eats and wipes her mouth,
And says, “I have done no wickedness.”
21 For three things the earth is perturbed,
Yes, for four it cannot bear up:
22 For a servant when he reigns,
A fool when he is filled with food,
23 A hateful woman when she is married,
And a maidservant who succeeds her mistress.
24 There are four things which are little on the earth,
But they are exceedingly wise:
25 The ants are a people not strong,
Yet they prepare their food in the summer;
26 The rock badgers are a feeble folk,
Yet they make their homes in the crags;
27 The locusts have no king,
Yet they all advance in ranks;
28 The spider skillfully grasps with its hands,
And it is in kings’ palaces.
29 There are three things which are majestic in pace,
Yes, four which are stately in walk:
30 A lion, which is mighty among beasts
And does not turn away from any;
31 A greyhound,
A male goat also,
And a king whose troops are with him.
32 If you have been foolish in exalting yourself,
Or if you have devised evil, put your hand on your mouth.
33 For as the churning of milk produces butter,
And wringing the nose produces blood,
So the forcing of wrath produces strife.
The Words of King Lemuel’s Mother
1 The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him:
2 What, my son?
And what, son of my womb?
And what, son of my vows?
3 Do not give your strength to women,
Nor your ways to that which destroys kings.
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
It is not for kings to drink wine,
Nor for princes intoxicating drink;
5 Lest they drink and forget the law,
And pervert the justice of all the afflicted.
6 Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
And wine to those who are bitter of heart.
7 Let him drink and forget his poverty,
And remember his misery no more.
8 Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
9 Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy.
The Virtuous Wife
10 Who can find a virtuous wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
And willingly works with her hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
She brings her food from afar.
15 She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
And a portion for her maidservants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hand holds the spindle.
20 She extends her hand to the poor,
Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
For all her household is clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.
25 Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
27 She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.
Prayer and Praise for Deliverance from Enemies
A Meditation of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjamite.
1 O Lord my God, in You I put my trust;
Save me from all those who persecute me;
And deliver me,
2 Lest they tear me like a lion,
Rending me in pieces, while there is none to deliver.
3 O Lord my God, if I have done this:
If there is iniquity in my hands,
4 If I have repaid evil to him who was at peace with me,
Or have plundered my enemy without cause,
5 Let the enemy pursue me and overtake me;
Yes, let him trample my life to the earth,
And lay my honor in the dust. Selah
6 Arise, O Lord, in Your anger;
Lift Yourself up because of the rage of my enemies;
Rise up for me to the judgment You have commanded!
7 So the congregation of the peoples shall surround You;
For their sakes, therefore, return on high.
8 The Lord shall judge the peoples;
Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness,
And according to my integrity within me.
9 Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end,
But establish the just;
For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds.
10 My defense is of God,
Who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a just judge,
And God is angry with the wicked every day.
12 If he does not turn back,
He will sharpen His sword;
He bends His bow and makes it ready.
13 He also prepares for Himself instruments of death;
He makes His arrows into fiery shafts.
14 Behold, the wicked brings forth iniquity;
Yes, he conceives trouble and brings forth falsehood.
15 He made a pit and dug it out,
And has fallen into the ditch which he made.
16 His trouble shall return upon his own head,
And his violent dealing shall come down on his own crown.
17 I will praise the Lord according to His righteousness,
And will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.