The Virtuous Woman
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.
Proverbs 31:10-31 New American Standard Version
New Wine on Old Wineskins
I loved Rev then, and I love him now. He gave me the best fatherly advice he knew to give. His advice aligned with the archetypal image of the pastor’s wife, I’d come to know and respect. For my grandmother and former mother-in-law were beautiful pastors’ wives and school teachers. They were educated and financially secure. They used their beauty, education, social skills, talents and organizational skills to help their husbands build their churches. Donned in beautiful dresses and hats, receiving accolades in front of the church, sacrificing everything behind the scenes, these women were fully invested in their husband’s ministries, in their dreams. For me, they were archetypes of “godly women” and they were the standard for women ministering symbolically at their husband’s sides.
They archetypal “godly woman” is symbolized Proverbs 31. In this chapter advice is given by Lemuel’s mother about how a virtuous king should reign and the attributes of a virtuous or ideal woman. In this chapter, women are encouraged to be wise and industrious so that her husband, family and works will bring forth praise, or a celebration of her and her efforts. Some scholars believe that this section of Proverbs was not originally included in the Hebrew Bible and written by King Solomon as is commonly believed, but instead it was added to Proverbs later. Nevertheless, the importance of it remains. In Jewish culture, this chapter is recited on Friday nights before Shabbat in some Jewish homes. Among the Christian community, is Proverbs 31 used for ministry titles, books and conferences. She is the penultimate woman. Interestingly, the actual Hebrew translation to describe the “virtuous” Proverbs 31 woman in verses 10 and 29 is “Hayil”, which can be translated or summarized as the “good woman’s character”. This has been translated into “virtuous” or “noble”. Some academics have even suggested that the term means “forceful”, “mighty” or “valiant” because the word is almost exclusively used in the Tanakh as a reference to warfare.
This image of virtuous woman is often reinforced anecdotally in the stories and images in the quiet, pretty, seductive power of Esther and in the faithful, yet seductive energy of Ruth in the Old Testament. For these women must be our
“she-roes” because they are the only women in the Bible who get their own books. They present themselves to men in a humble and beautiful way so that they can be selected to reign with them in a tale of which ends with “happily ever after”.
The virtuous woman is memorialized in the submissive image of Mary (the mother of Jesus), Mary of Bethany (the sister of Lazarus and Martha who sat at the feet of Jesus as a faithful student) and Martha (the dutiful sister who served Jesus and many others), and crystalized in the work of Priscilla and Lydia who were followers and financial supporters of the for the ministry of the apostles. These women remind me of my grandmother, my former mother-in-law and even my childhood pastor’s wife. These women came from a different time. They took their solace in the happiness of their husbands and their families. They sacrificed themselves and swallowed their tongues often. They took a backseat, even though they were educated and leaders in their own right. They didn’t question. They worked hard and gave themselves as sacrificial lambs for the sake of their homes, communities and churches. I have an immense level of love and respect for their service and the symbolic leadership they offered to so many. But what happens when a new generation of women grow as virtuous women beyond the shadow of “virtuous king”? What happens to the transformative archetypal images of the perfect Proverbs 31 woman and the villainous Eve who symbolically cursed all women for all time with cramps and kids? When the biblical canonical texts no longer offer sustainable images of women for women who are evolving spiritually, whose context is expanding culturally, and whose appreciation for the universality of God and His love for all humans is expanding exponentially? Freedom…