Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 13, 2001
This morning we certainly do agree with the original intent of Mothers Day in saying thank you to our mothers for their too often unpraised work in rearing godly offspring. Your labor with your children is often unnoticed and taken for granted. We live in a society that minimizes your work at home with your children while hyping and glamorizing employment outside the home. Lets face it, no one pays you to change your baby’s diapers. No one gives you bonuses for overtime in watching sick children through the night. No one gives you certificates of appreciation for instilling moral values into your home. And there are no award banquets to recognize a job well done in the daily grind of household chores.
A couple of years ago MS Magazine promoted a “take your daughter to work day.” Perhaps they are still doing so. I am certainly not against taking your daughter, or your son, to work so that they can get a better idea what you do for employment. However, there were two serious flaws in the program. First, it was done at the expense of the academic training the children missed at school that day. I went out on a lot of jobs with my father and visited my mother’s work place many times without it ever interfering with school. Second, much more significant and my reason for mentioning it at all, was the failure to include in the program the idea that being a “housewife” is a wonderful career. Politically Correct Society may not recognize the value of what mom does, but God does.
What a wonderful testimony to the value of a mother given by the Apostle Paul when he mentions both Lois & Eunice, the grandmother and mother of Timothy, and says in effect that the sincere faith that dwelt in Timothy was because it had dwelt in them, and they had passed it down (2 Tim. 1:4,5: 3:14,15). Timothy’s faith in the Lord arose from his personal interaction with his mom and grandmother. A mother’s influence not only extends to her children, but to the generations to come and society as well.
Now in saying all of this about mothers, I do not mean to imply in any way that just because a mom stays home with her children she has fulfilled God’s will and everything will work out wonderfully. Paul says both in 1 Timothy 5:14 and in Titus 2:5 that women are to be “workers at home” and the woman that does so should be commended. But the plain fact of the matter is she may not be doing such a great job even if she is a “worker at home” if her own character is not yet Christ-like the way it should be. In addition, the key even in the Timothy and Titus passages is not that she is at home, but the value, direction and energy she places into her home. This morning we are going to look at a passage of Scriptures that describes a very godly woman that did have work outside of the home. While staying at home is a tremendous help in having a godly influence on your children, the real key to it is actually your character.
Our quest this morning, as it is every morning, is to discover what God wants. Today I want us to examine Proverbs 31:10-31 to see the kind of characteristics that God desires a woman to develop and manifest.
Please note two things as we start our study. First, verse 1 – “The words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him.” This passage occurs in a section spoken by King Lemuel according to what he was taught by his mother. The effect of her influence is seen in that the only thing recorded in the Scriptures by this man are the things he learned from his own mom. Mom had quite an impact and what she taught her son made into the cannon of Scripture.
There is some debate on the identity of Lemuel. Some say it was another name for Solomon and others argue for somebody else. In either case, the passage is still part of Scripture and speaks the truth.
Second, Proverbs 31:10 -31 is a poem. It consists of 22 stanzas (each verse) written an alphabetical acrostic. Each stanza begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. That is why we will see some similar ideas repeated within the poem.
We will read through the entire poem and then back and look at each verse and see what kind of characteristic is displayed. Prov. 31:10-31 10 “An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good and not evil All the days of her life. 13 She looks for wool and flax, And works with her hands in delight. 14 She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar. 15 She rises also while it is still night, And gives food to her household, And portions to her maidens. 16 She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, And makes her arms strong. 18 She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle. 20 She extends her hand to the poor; And she stretches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet. 22 She makes coverings 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 belts to the tradesmen. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future. 26 She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband [also,] and he praises her, [saying:] 29 “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.” 30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, [But] a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. 31 Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.”
The first characteristic we see is:
VALUABLE (Vs. 10)
“An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.” The expression is a wish. It is an expression of desire that all men could find such a valuable treasure as an excellent/virtuous wife. She is excellent/virtuous. This is the idea of moral goodness and propriety combined with the idea of fine manners and culture. As we shall see later, this virtue is an outgrowth of her godliness.
What the writer expresses here is that such a woman is hard to find. There are few women that achieve the high qualifications needed to be considered virtuous or excellent. This is what makes this woman so valuable. She is rare and therefore precious just as jewels are. Jewels are not valuable just because of their beauty, but because of their rarity. Quartz is a very pretty crystal, but because it is so common it is not valuable. Diamonds on the other hand are very rare and very valuable. Marble is very pretty, but because it is common and so it is not considered valuable. Other rocks and minerals which are really not any more lovely than marble are valuable because of their rarity. So it is with the virtuous woman. She is of beautiful quality, and she is also rare. Therefore, she is extremely valuable.
The reference to her worth being more than jewels or “rubies” may actually even be a reference to the type of dowry that would have to be paid to acquire such a woman for a wife. In ancient Israel a suitor could not just ask a girl to marry him. He had to pay a dowry price to her father for her. Abraham did this in getting Rebekah as a wife for Isaac. Jacob had to earn the dowry to pay for both Leah and Rachel.
TRUSTWORTHY (Vs. 11)
“The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain.” The word “gain” comes from a word which means, “spoil of war,” and signifies the profit which she brings in. He can trust her wholly for she is seeking what is best for the family, and not just herself. He has no fear of her pilfering from the family or squandering finances on herself. Instead she actually brings profit into the family. To put it in modern terms, she can be trusted with the credit cards. She will not bring the family into debt, but will instead increase its wealth. We will see how she does this in later verses.
Too many husbands fear that their wives will bring them down into debt through careless and frivolous spending. (Although actual statistics show that it is the husband that usually brings on family debt. He buys big items and takes the family into debt in leaps, while she will buy little items and take the family into debt slowly). Trust is important. It is an aspect of love (1 Cor 13).
We may also surmise, from what little is said about the husband here, that he is in some important position in the community since he “known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land” (vs 23). It may very well be that because he is able to trust in her that he is able to pursue this calling to community leadership. He would not have time to be involved in such a thing if he had to constantly be watching over what his wife did. Here we find a woman who is trustworthy. She is a blessing and a profit to the entire family.
CONTINUALLY GOOD (Vs. 12)
“She does him good and not evil All the days of her life.” Her love is not dependent upon her feelings for her husband or upon what personal gain she may derive. This is the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13. It is based on deep moral grounds from which she obtains the ability to remain constant and pure. No wonder the heart of this man can trust her. She is consistently good to him.
INDUSTRIOUS (Vs. 13)
“She looks for wool and flax, and works with her hands in delight.” Part of the gain that she brings into the household is her industrious nature. We are not told specifically why she looks for the wool and flax. Perhaps to make clothing for her family? Perhaps to make something to sell? Possibly both as we will find later in this passage, but the emphasis here is on here industrious spirit. She does not wait around until something has to be done or until someone tells her to do it. She goes out looking for the materials that she will need for whatever project she is working on. And please note her spirit while doing her work. She does not have the complaining, grumpy attitude that seems to affect so much of our society. Instead, she finds joy in doing work. It is “work her hands delight in,” and she is “active with her hands’ pleasure!”
Work is a good thing. The Old Testament story of Ruth is a good example of such a woman. She is one that Ecclesiastes 5:18 would describe as enjoying herself in all her labor in which she toils under the sun during the few years of life God has granted to her. This is her reward.
PRUDENT (Vs. 14)
“She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar.” This woman who is directed toward the care and advancement of her family goes out beyond the nearest circle and extends herself to those farther away if they will bring about more prudent business. In other words, she does not shop at stores just because they are convenient, but she sacrifices her own comfort to get the best value in both what she buys and what she might sell. Again, we find that with qualities like this that it is no wonder that her husband values her so highly. He can trust her and the family gains profit by her.
DILIGENT (Vs 15)
“She rises also while it is still night, And gives food to her household, And portions to her maidens.” Again we find that the care of her family is above her own comfort. How easy it is to stay in bed and let those that have to be somewhere else early get their own breakfast, but we find this woman desirous to meet the needs of her family even at her own expense. The phrase “portions to her maidens” is thought by some to mean the daily work to her servants.
ENTREPRENEURIAL (Vs 16)
“She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard.” She is entrepreneurial. This is not someone who never leaves the house. She is a woman with a head for business and how to increase her profits through diversification. We have already seen that she may have some sort of business dealing with wool and flax and in verse 24 we will find that she is making things for sale. It is from the profits of these things that she launches out into real estate and farming. She is very intelligent and wise for she adds to the wealth of her household not only through her own manual labor and manufacturing, but by wise investment in other interests.
STRONG (Vs 17)
“She girds herself with strength, And make her arms strong.” She is not afraid of physical labor in the least for she “makes her arms strong.” You only accomplish that with physical activity. You may be getting the idea that this lady would have to be strong to carry out all she does, but there is more.
ATTENTIVE (Vs 18)
“She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night.” She perceives, she senses, literally, she “tastes” that her profit has been good from her industry and enterprise. She is attentive to the outcome of her labor and investments. “Her lamp does not go out at night,” does not mean that she labors all night too. If that were true she would not be human. But she is no couch potato. She is busy during the evening and attentive to the needs of her family to make sure the lamp does not go out at night. She has checked the oil to make sure there is enough. She does not want her family stumbling through the dark.
HARD WORKER (Vs 19)
“She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle.” I am sure you have already begun to realize that this woman is a hard worker. Here we find her busy about the activity of spinning wool or flax. We find that she is skilled in the art of making cloth. She is preparing material for clothing or for sale. But she is not just a skilled, diligent worker. We find she is:
COMPASSIONATE (Vs 20)
“She extends her hand to the poor; and she stretches out her hands to the needy.” She meets not only the needs of her family, but in compassion reaches out to the poor to assist them. The idea here of extending her hand and stretching her hands is not just the idea of providing them with some material thing, but of reaching out with a tender touch to comfort, counsel and encourage.
She may not need to be compassionate to the poor to please her husband, but she does need to have this quality to please God. This desire to please God is the foundation upon which all her character is built.
CONFIDENT (Vs 21)
All her diligence in labor and watchfulness over her family gives her confidence for what the future may bring. “She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet.” They are not only clothed to be warm in the cold months, but they are clothed well in scarlet. They have clothes that protect them and look nice.
ELEGANT (Vs 22)
She herself is also clothed well, in fact we could say she is elegant. “She makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.” She used the colors available to her to make fine clothing of contrasting colors – white linen and a purple colored material. These would be materials imported from Egypt and from Tyre. Both would have been expensive. Purple was the color for royalty because of its expense. She wears fine clothing as a result of her industry. That is important to remember because it is not the clothes that make her a virtuous woman, but it is her virtue, her excellence, that allows her to gain such fine clothing for her apparel.
ADMIRABLE (Vs 23)
“Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land.” As I mentioned earlier, because of her excellence, her husband is freed up to be involved in the public affairs of the land. While he may get much of the attention, the real honor goes to her because without her he could not do what he is doing. The husband may get the public attention, but she is also greatly admired. A man can only accomplish the extraordinary if he is backed up by such an excellent woman. I may be the one in the pulpit this morning, but anything I do must also be attributed to Diane’s excellence in her role as a wife and mother. Without her I could accomplish very little.
CAPITALIST (Vs 24)
Next we find a theme repeated again. “She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies belts to the tradesmen.” She is an entrepreneurial capitalist. Contrary to media language and Politically Correct speech, a capitalist is a good thing. Her industry and entrepreneurial spirit lead her to have a business of making linen garments. These were most likely the articles of clothing worn as an undergarment or by itself in the summer as light clothing. She also had a belt manufacturing business and she sold both of these. The belts specifically sold to international traders, probably the Phonecians. They would also be the ones from whom she got her own clothes and special things for the family mentioned earlier.
DIGNIFIED (Vs 25)
All of these are wonderful characteristics, but the most important ones are found in the next two verses and in verse 30. “Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future.” She may wear elegant clothes, but the real beauty of her apparel is her personal dignity. If she did not have dignity, then she would be as the woman in Proverbs 11:22 – a well adorned pig. “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.” Her real radiance is her dignity, not her clothing. And based on her strength and dignity she smiles at the future for she has nothing to fear. Arnot said it well, “If honor be your clothing, your suit will last a lifetime; but if clothing be your honor, it will soon be worn threadbare.”
WISE (Vs 26)
We also find that she is wise, “She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” A fitting ornament is her wisdom, especially in its expression of kindness in her teaching. And what is wisdom? It is the practical application in life of the proper fear of God. Foolishness is living as if there is not God. Wisdom lives life mindful of Him. This woman is wise and a reflection of that wisdom is a kind and gracious tongue.
WATCHFUL (Vs 27)
Her wisdom is also seen in her watchfulness over her family. “She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness.” She keeps watch over the activities of the home and directs for the work to be done. She is not someone who folds their hands and watches others work. She is involved in what occurs. The household runs well because of her organization and management. And her watchfulness protects her from evil. Idleness leads to all sorts of evil. Paul pointed out to Timothy that the widows the church was to help were those who needed the help and proved to be good workers throughout life. The church is not to support those who would be idle gossips and busybodies (1 Tim. 5:10-14). Arnot put it this way, “Empty hours, empty hands, empty companions, empty words, empty hearts, draw in evil spirits, as a vacuum draws in air. To be occupied with good is the best defense against the inroads of evil.”
HONORED (Vs 28)
The result of all this is a blessing from her children and her husband. “Her children rise up and bless her…; These children are not forced into this. It is the natural reaction of children well reared. They have been taught well. They know how to think and they realize how good a mother they have, so they bless her. We are increasingly seeing children who curse their mothers instead of blessing them. That is a revelation of the child’s character and a reflection of the mothers’. Proverbs 15:20 says, “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish man despises his mother.” Proverbs 10:1 adds, “but a foolish son is a grief to his mother.” 17:25 adds, “and bitterness to her who bore him.” Many are reaping the bitterness and grief of their children’s curses. The virtuous woman receives her children’s praise.
She also receives her husband’s respect.
RESPECTED (Vs 29)
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying . . . “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all. What wonderful praise for a wife to receive from her husband. He recognizes and tells her that she is a cut above, more than just noble, but excellent, virtuous.
GODLY (Vs 30)
Her excellence of character is not a fleeting thing, but based in the inward quality of godliness that dominates her life. That is the basis of the praise she receives. “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” These are not characteristics you can work up on your own, they must rise from the inside as you seek the Lord with all your heart.
ACCLAIMED (Vs 31)
Finally we find that she is acclaimed by the rest of society as well because of what she produces. “Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” She has brought much blessing to others by what she has done for them and they in turn give praise for it. Her godly character shines in all that she does, even the products of her hands, for they cannot be hid. Thus, she is acclaimed.
These various characteristics presented in this passage describe the virtuous, the excellent woman. It is an impressive list. Perhaps it may seem impossible to attain, and it is impossible to attain if you strive to do it in your own power. The only way these things can become true of your life is if you lay the same foundation this woman did and let everything flow from that. You must lay a foundation of godliness from which wisdom, dignity and strength of character flow. All this woman’s other attributes arise from these. If you want to gain the qualities of the virtuous woman, then it must start with the proper fear of the Lord. Your relationship with Him is the starting point of all the other characteristics described.
If you have seen yourself falling short of the example of this woman, then seek after God to have these qualities instilled in your life. This woman was not born with these qualities and they did not appear by magic. They started with her desire to please the Lord and from that she changed and developed all these characteristics. You can develop them too. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Strive for excellence. Strive to be as virtuous a woman as you possible can.
Husbands if your wife falls short, then don’t point out her faults and berate her. You will not help her that way. Give her praise in all the areas where she is doing well and encourage and support her in the areas she still needs to improve. Treat her the way you would want to be treated (for next week we are going to talk about the qualities a man should have).
If you do have an excellent wife or mother, then be sure to follow the example of verses 28 and 29. Bless her.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “she” and “her” are mentioned 2) Talk with your parents about the qualities that characterize a godly woman.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the origin of Mother’s Day? What does the feminist movement not understand about motherhood? What are some of the ways in which your mother influenced you? How important is it that a mother be at home with her children? What is more important than even that? How can a mom working outside the home keep her priorities in order? What is the origin of Proverbs 31:10-31? If you are a woman, examine your own life in relationship to the various characteristics described in this passage (and listed below) and then develop a plan of action for growing in those areas that need improvement. Share your plan with your husband or a friend to hold you accountable and encourage you. Do not compare yourself with other women. Remember that you do not have to be perfect to be loved by the Lord and used by Him, but He does desire for you to reach your full potential. If you are a man, describe the characteristics you would desire in a wife and then compare them to this passage. If you are married, develop a plan of action in how to encourage your wife to grow in the Lord without criticizing her areas of weakness (treat her the way you would want to be treated). Valuable, Trustworthy, Continually good, industrious, prudent, diligent, entrepreneurial, strong, attentive, hard worker, compassionate, confident, elegant, admirable, capitalist, dignified, wise, watchful, honored, respected, godly, and acclaimed.
Continually good (12)
Hard worker (19)
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