Her Works Shall Praise Her
“Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:31).
In all human history, the wise have pursued virtue. The Scriptures use the word virtue to indicate “moral character and excellence of soul” (Strong’s 1411). Therefore, one who is virtuous possesses the strength of character, moral excellence, and intrinsic value and stability. Proverbs 31 describes the lovely quality of virtue as it is displayed within the character and role of a godly woman.
This chapter records the words of King Lemuel, who shares lessons he learned from his mother. Many believe that Lemuel was a complimentary or affectionate nickname for King Solomon. The name means “One Who Belongs to God.” As is common in the experience of God’s people, while we too often go astray and depart from His will in our lives, we still ultimately belong to God. We can be confident of His correction, His pruning, and His Grace (Hebrews 12:7).
If Lemuel was King Solomon, then his mother who taught these lessons would have been Bathsheba. Considering the difficult experiences she endured in her life, how wonderfully valuable her heartfelt admonitions would be respecting the virtues of true womanhood.
Verse 1 explains that his mother taught Lemuel these truths. Good mothers teach their sons many life lessons; and good sons listen, understand, and believe their mothers’ words. But the real passion that a man feels for the lessons his mother teaches him comes after many years of experience, after life has confirmed the truth of her words, and he looks back in tender thankfulness for her instruction. Perhaps this looking back in thankfulness is what prompted King Lemuel (after a variety of life experiences) to share these admonitions about a virtuous woman, and to make certain that he lovingly attributed them to his mother.
Verses 3-9 advise the king to avoid strong drink which would pervert his judgment and affect his dealings with the less fortunate. Verses 10-31 then describe how a virtuous woman enhances the value and substance of a man’s role as husband, father of their family, and member of the community.
Verse 10 asks, “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.” This verse mentions both finding her and also noticing her tremendous value. The thought here is similar to the Parable of Jesus where a man discovers a pearl of great price and sells all he has in order to purchase it (Matthew 13:45-46). This man recognizes that the pearl he has found is more valuable than anything else in his life; so he invests all he has in order to obtain it. The same concept is true with the virtuous woman. Lemuel teaches that the virtuous woman is more than merely valuable; she is worth investing in.
This suggests more than obtaining or possessing her. Investing in her instructs one to value her, cherish her, and actively nurture (invest in) his relationship with her. Within the virtuous woman is that heart attitude which desires to be loved, cherished, invested in, and to cooperate with her husband’s effort to do so, even when those efforts might be feeble.
While verse 10 refers to her as a virtuous “woman,” the characteristics that follow speak mostly of her role in the family as a wife and mother. A woman can be virtuous without being married, but this chapter uses the role of a wife and a mother to illustrate the beautiful qualities of character which any woman can develop and exemplify. This woman was virtuous well before Lemuel understood her value.
The scriptures describe things to be more valuable than rubies only five times. Job 28:18, Proverbs 3:13-15, and Proverbs 8:11 all teach us that “wisdom” is more valuable than rubies. Proverbs 20:15 explains to us that “knowledge” is more valuable than rubies. Proverbs 31:10 says that the Virtuous Woman, is more valuable than rubies. These scriptures taken together suggest that part of being a virtuous woman is endeavoring to be as valuable to those around her as are “knowledge” and “wisdom”; and perhaps using knowledge and wisdom to encourage others. On the other hand, these scriptures also suggest that whatever amount of effort, passion, and work a man puts into obtaining knowledge or pursuing wisdom, he should put that same amount of effort and passion into understanding, nurturing, and loving his wife, because, by scriptural implication she is equally valuable.
Rubies are beautiful and red, and yet the virtuous woman is far above their value. In scripture, red often represents sin. This metaphor of color suggests that the virtuous woman is far more valuable than the most beautiful thing that this sinful world can offer. She is better than red, she is one whose own redness is covered by her faith in Jesus’ blood, whose thankfulness for that covering is evident and she is confident that she is acceptable because God — and her husband if she has one — loves her irrespective of her imperfections.
Verse 11 says, “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.” The scriptures instruct a man to trust four things in life. Trust God, trust God’s Son, trust God’s word, and trust his virtuous wife. Realizing this, the virtuous woman endeavors to be as completely trustworthy as humanly possible. The virtuous woman is the only human in the list of four. No human being can be perfectly trustworthy, but simply realizing that her husband’s ability to trust in her is similar to his ability to trust in God should infuse her with a profound desire to earn his trust in every act of life.
Verse 11 also says that his heart safely trusts her. When a virtuous woman is a wife, part of her role as a wife is to be her husband’s confidant. In that role, she shares the most intimate thoughts and deliberations and fears of her husband’s heart. She shares them with no one but God. This kind of trust (in his wife) produces in a man’s heart the feeling of safety, of connection, and of courage.
This verse also says that a husband’s feeling of trust negates his need for spoil. This is an interesting metaphor. Spoil is something of perceived value that is obtained through violence or stealth, something stolen from someone else’s possession. When there is complete trust, complete connection, and complete safety between spouses, neither needs to find fulfilment, connection, or validation from any other source but God himself. This kind of trust in the heart of a spouse results in strength, safety, and love. It is truly a gift that each can give the other.
Verses 13-27 speak about the diligent energy the virtuous woman expends on behalf of her family, and each verse refers to a variety of ways she works to demonstrate the love and care she has for them.
God promised his people Israel that He would lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey. This expression is one that promises that God would provide for their every need. A land flowing with milk and honey requires abundant flocks, grass, water, orchards of fruit trees, fields of flowers, and the requisite bees to pollinate them. Therefore, “milk and honey” implies their every need will be provided. The expression “seeking wool and flax” in Proverbs 31:13 is similar. With wool she clothes her family in winter, and with flax in summer. The virtuous woman provides for her family in every situation of need.
Verse 15 says the virtuous woman “riseth also while it is yet night and giveth meat to her household and a portion to her maidens.” She positions herself to be able to serve those whom she loves. This quality reminds us of Lydia in Acts 16:13-15. Lydia is described as a woman who worshipped God and therefore went to a place by a river where prayer and worship were customarily made. In God’s providence, on one of her days in prayer at the river she received the Gospel from Paul. Lydia was immediately baptized along with her household. With a servant’s heart, she provided hospitality to the Apostle Paul himself.
It is difficult to fully comprehend how substantive a blessing it was for Lydia’s family to have the presence of “The Apostle to the Gentiles” in their own home. Paul was blessed and comforted enough by her hospitality that he returned to her house again after being released from jail (Acts 16:40). Lydia’s testimony is a lovely example of a virtuous woman rising at night to give spiritual meat to her household.
Verse 15 also says the virtuous woman gives a portion of meat to her maidens. One of the privileges she has, progressing through her Christian life, is becoming a living example of godly womanhood, especially to the younger women in her fellowship. Paul speaks about this privilege: “The mature women likewise, that they be in behavior as becometh holiness, not given to much wine, teachers of good things that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children” (Titus 2:3-4). What a wonderful service, not only for her family, but for the whole Christian community she surrounds herself with.
Verse 17 says, “she girdeth her loins … and strengtheneth her arms.” Peter speaks of “girding up the loins of your mind” as he exhorts us to diligence in our Christian walk, seeing the grand privilege to be footstep followers of Christ, which the angels desire (1 Peter 1:13).
The beautiful prayer of Hannah, mother of Samuel, and the strength she received, is a lesson in perseverance (1 Samuel 2:4, 9-10). After enduring difficult experiences, she realized she could not succeed in her own strength. In this condition of heart, on her knees, she begged God for strength. At that spiritual plateau she was able to be girded with God’s strength and she bore a son who became one of the greatest spiritual servants in the history of Israel.
Verse 23 says, “Her husband is known in the gates when he sitteth among the elders of the land.” This implies that the virtuous woman supports her husband in his work within the spiritual community, and that a portion of the value of his work results from the contribution his supportive wife makes to the family. The Apostle Paul advises: “wives, adapt yourselves to your husbands that your marriage may be a Christian unity” (Colossians 3:18, Philips). This is an admonition for the wife to discern her husband, discover his strengths and weaknesses, and to use her peculiar insight to support him in his service to God. When he fails, the visible example of a supportive virtuous wife may be a more powerful message than any public words of her husband (1 Peter 3:1-2).
Verse 28 teaches that the character quality of her children is a measure of her virtue. Oftentimes children who initially rebel, after leaving childhood, return after some life experience and remark: “Because of my mother’s longstanding example, I have learned to love her God” or “My mother is the most compassionate person I know.” While it may take years for a child to come to this conclusion, the virtuous woman’s children rise up and bless her.
Verse 30 says that with time, a virtuous woman’s outward beauty fades, and her inward beauty grows. This phenomenon is powerful evidence that she loves the Lord and for this, she should be praised.
Verse 31 is the crowning verse. Many of the preceding verses teach how the virtuous woman contributes to the value, reputation, and comfort of those whom she loves, how her efforts contribute to the quality of her children and to the respectability of her husband. However, verse 31 gives her the credit for the blessings for which she has labored.
Lemuel’s closing advice is that we tell the virtuous woman in our lives that we notice her value and love her for it. Lemuel guides us in inspirational praise of the value of the virtuous woman: her value to her family, her spiritual community, and in the graces she brings to the Body of Christ.