This intriguing poem serves as the conclusion to the entire book of Proverbs. This is a book about wisdom. Wisdom is personified as a great lady in Proverbs 8. She is more precious than rubies (8:11). She is contrasted with the adulterous woman of Proverbs 7. The young man (my son) is admonished to steer clear of the wrong kind of woman (7:5). Again, in Proverbs 3, wisdom is portrayed as the lady who is more precious than gems (3:15) and is to be desired over the folly of the adulterous woman (2:16-19).
So – we should not be surprised that this book closes with a description of a virtuous woman who serves as a blessing to the man who has secured her as his wife (31:23). In other words, this section of Proverbs can be read both as a stand-alone text extolling the virtues of a Godly woman. Or, it can also be read as a fitting conclusion to a poetic, artistic expression of Godly wisdom that is beneficial to the young man who has chosen the way of the righteous.
I would propose that we do both! One the one hand, let’s keep in mind the context of this closing tribute to wisdom. But, let’s read this text to discover some rich truth about a virtuous woman who honors her family and blesses her community through her life and work.
Another interesting feature of Proverbs 31:10-31 is that it is an acrostic poem. Each stanza begins with the successive letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The writer is painting a portrait of a Godly woman by utilizing the poetic tool of acrostic poetry. From A-Z, he carefully praises the life of this woman.
It is also possible to see another poetic tool in this section of scripture – namely, a chiasmus. This term refers to an author’s ability to craft sentences that are mirrored later in the poem. And so, the structure resembles the letter “X” – “chi” in Greek, hence the name chiasmus. In his commentary on Proverbs, Duane Garrett offers the scholarly opinion that this acrostic poem is a chiasmus as well (Duane A. Garrett, The New American Commentary: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Broadman Press, 1993, p. 248). According to him, it looks something like this:
A wife of noble character
Husband is blessed
She works hard
She is benevolent
She has no fear
Children are cared for
She makes fine linen
Her husband is honored
She makes fine garment
She is clothed in dignity
She has no fear
She speaks with wisdom
She works hard
Husband and children praise her
Wife of noble character
Granted, any suggestion of this kind of poetic structure is subjective. We cannot know for sure if this is what the poet intended. But, we do know it is an acrostic. We are certain the author wanted his reader to understand the holistic expression of affirmation and blessing on this woman by using the entire Hebrew alphabet in his carefully worded poem. Is the “hinge verse” found in verse 23? Dr. Garrett thinks so. I think it is an intriguing thought – but I am not totally convinced. However, there is no question this poem has been highly organized by the writer.
Regardless – there are many lessons for us in this beautiful poem. What can we learn?
Beautiful on the inside – This poem describes a beautiful woman. Notice vv. 10-12 – She is a woman of valor. She is quite a find for any man. Her husband is blessed because of her character. In v. 25 we read that she is strong and a person of integrity. She wears her strength and integrity like clothing.
Industrious – This woman is not content with the current reality. She chooses to use her gifts and abilities to craft new business ventures and better provide for her family. Notice v. 16, she makes entrepreneurial decisions. She is expanding her work environment in beneficial ways. In an era that pre-dates manufacturing and mass-production, she finds a way to sell her wares to turn a profit (v. 24).
Strong work ethic – There is nothing lazy about this woman! She exhibits a strong work ethic in every respect. In v. 15 we read she rises early to take care of her household. She is a hard worker (v. 17) who oversees her business affairs with acumen (v. 18). She works long hours (v. 18) and she is rarely idle (v. 27).
One of the healthy components of our working life is a good, positive work ethic. Woven in the fabric of this poem is an undergirding truth – this woman is a hard worker! She doesn’t meddle around in other’s affairs. She doesn’t wait to be told what to do. She is industrious, creative and energetic in her approach to her work.
Committed to her family – Here in this poem we see the unique challenges that working women face in seeking to balance their working life and their family life. We are not told how this happens – but we are told that the family of this woman is blessed by her life and work. Her children are not neglected (vv. 15, 21, 27). In fact, her children recognize the value of their mother and they bless her in all she does (v. 28).
Her husband is also the beneficiary of the actions of this woman (vv. 11, 23). He notices what she does and he is appreciative (v. 28). In fact, the community around her recognizes the contributions she is making and it praises her (v. 31).
Spiritually mature – The woman described in Proverbs 31 is characterized by a certain spiritual maturity. She understands the value of her inner life and her relationship with God (v. 30). She has a certain stability that is reflected in her decision-making and through her relationships with others (vv. 20, 25, 26).
Conclusion – Obviously, the woman described in this text is the ideal woman and wife. The “young man” of the entire book of Proverbs will do well to find this kind of woman and secure her as his wife. If he does so, he will be honored at the city gate by the other elders in the community. His family will be truly blessed because of the strong character of a Godly wife and mother. Again, this is a fitting way to conclude the entire book of Proverbs. After instructing young men in particular about prostitutes, adulterous women, laziness, work ethic, sound business practices, marriage, heeding parental instruction, fearing the LORD, following the way of the Lord and seeking wisdom — the book closes with the young man, happily married to an incredible woman, blessed with children and honored at the city gate.