Saturday, September 15, 2007

Proverbs 31: A Great Exegesis

I am beginning to really like The Net Bible and may have to think about buying a hard copy for a personal Bible. First, I like this translation (though that is purely subjective)

Proverbs 31:10-31

Who can find a wife of noble character?
For her value is far more than rubies.
The heart of her husband has confidence in her,
and he has no lack of gain.
She brings him good and not evil
all the days of her life.
She obtains wool and flax,
and she is pleased to work with her hands.
She is like the merchant ships;
she brings her food from afar.
She also gets up while it is still night,
and provides food for her household and a portion to her female servants.
She considers a field and buys it;
from her own income she plants a vineyard.
She begins her work vigorously,
and she strengthens her arms.
She knows that her merchandise is good,
and her lamp does not go out in the night.
Her hands take hold of the distaff,
and her hands grasp the spindle.
She extends her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hand to the needy.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
for all of her household are clothed with scarlet.
She makes for herself coverlets;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is well-known in the city gate
when he sits with the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
She is clothed with strength and honor,
and she can laugh at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and loving instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed,
her husband also praises her:
“Many daughters have done valiantly,
but you surpass them all!”
Charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting,
but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.
Give her credit for what she has accomplished,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.
This note on the section, though, is really cool:
The book of Proverbs comes to a close with this poem about the noble wife. A careful reading of the poem will show that it is extolling godly wisdom that is beneficial to the family and the society. Traditionally it has been interpreted as a paradigm for godly women. And while that is valid in part, there is much more here. The poem captures all the themes of wisdom that have been presented in the book and arranges them in this portrait of the ideal woman (Claudia V. Camp, Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs, 92-93). Any careful reading of the passage would have to conclude that if it were merely a paradigm for women what it portrays may well be out of reach – she is a wealthy aristocrat who runs an estate with servants and conducts business affairs of real estate, vineyards, and merchandising, and also takes care of domestic matters and is involved with charity. Moreover, it says nothing about the woman’s personal relationship with her husband, her intellectual and emotional strengths, or her religious activities (E. Jacob, “Sagesse et Alphabet: Pr. 31:10-31,” Hommages à A. Dont-Sommer, 287-95). In general, it appears that the “woman” of Proverbs 31 is a symbol of all that wisdom represents. The poem, then, plays an important part in the personification of wisdom so common in the ancient Near East. But rather than deify Wisdom as the other ANE cultures did, Proverbs simply describes wisdom as a woman. Several features will stand out in the study of this passage. First, it is an alphabetic arrangement of the virtues of wisdom (an acrostic poem). Such an acrostic was a way of organizing the thoughts and making them more memorable (M. H. Lichtenstein, “Chiasm and Symmetry in Proverbs 31,” CBQ 44 [1982]: 202-11). Second, the passage is similar to hymns, but this one extols wisdom. A comparison with Psalm 111 will illustrate the similarities. Third, the passage has similarities with heroic literature. The vocabulary and the expressions often sound more like an ode to a champion than to a domestic scene. Putting these features together, one would conclude that Proverbs 31:10-31 is a hymn to Lady Wisdom, written in the heroic mode. Using this arrangement allows the sage to make all the lessons of wisdom in the book concrete and practical, it provides a polemic against the culture that saw women as merely decorative, and it depicts the greater heroism as moral and domestic rather than only exploits on the battlefield. The poem certainly presents a pattern for women to follow. But it also presents a pattern for men to follow as well, for this is the message of the book of Proverbs in summary.


  1. This is great- I will spend more time exploring that link! Thanks and peace.

  2. This is a very intriguing explanation of Proverbs 31. I don't think I knew that it was acrostic poem.
    (I linked to this post over at my blog.)

  3. hey you have just copied the entire commentary from the expository commentary and not even acknowledged it anywhere.

  4. Suresh

    Actually, I did not get this from the Expository Commentary - I got it from the Translation Notes from the NET Bible.

    I indented it as a quote, linked the source right before the comment, and said it was a note on the section.

    Doesn't that cover the acknowledgement?

  5. thanks for this. I have to preach this at a women's conference and found it refreshing to know that this is a possible personification of Wisdom. I think that it confirms my thoughts that it is not a picture of how women should be but more a picture of what can happen with a person who yields to Lady Wisdom. Lovely and enlightening, not to mention, I feel a little less guilty for not being just like the Proverbs 31 woman. LOL


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly