#TalkingThursday – If you don’t talk about Jesus who will?
Dearly Beloved, Welcome! We’re examining Proverbs 31: 10-31 as a step by step guide for Christian feminism. Hope you’re sincerely blessed by this #TalkingThursday topic!
First off, Proverbs was written as a book of wisdom for men who were going to serve the king; it wasn’t crafted with female readership in mind. That alone already raises questions about whether we should be using chapter 31 as a how-to-be guide for Christian women.
Proverbs 31 (P.31) is a collection of advice given to King Lemuel by his mother (regarding how a good woman would behave towards her husband, children & servants), which reveals another interesting context that doesn’t immediately lend itself to a straightforward reading of the passage as a checklist for biblical womanhood.
Nevertheless, let’s jump right into our analysis:
An excellent woman [one who is spiritual, capable, intelligent, and virtuous], who is he who can find her? Her value is more precious than jewels and her worth is far above rubies or pearls. She equips herself with strength [spiritual, mental, and physical fitness for her God-given task] And makes her arms strong.
— Proverbs 31:10 & 17 [AMP]
These verses tell us that she regards her spiritual, mental, physical abilities of more importance and value than her physical appearance.
As ladies, we should not be focused on arguments over jewellery, hair, makeup or leg-shaving when are yet to sort out our spiritual lives.
These verses also demonstrate that the P.31 woman had some form of education. Every female child is entitled to be educated up to the highest level and quality, these are the ideals that feminism is fighting for.
Verse 17 in particular, emphasises the need for ladies to be concerned about fitness for their God-given purpose (task). Yes, God equips those He has called, but we have a role to play in ensuring that we are fit for purpose, by taking the necessary steps needed to become the kind of person capable of the work God has in store for us, either through studying our bibles, humbly accepting correction, submitting to elders, leaders and other spiritual authorities, or through prayer/fasting and intercession — we must do all we can to edify and build ourselves up.
However, it’s not just spiritually. we must also be physically fit for purpose:
Joyce Meyer once told the story of how God instructed her to begin exercising regularly so she would be able to continue in her purpose. Although good health ultimately comes from God, we have a role to play in taking care of our bodies.
However, note the order – spiritual, mental and then physical. Your physical appearance is of no value when your mental and spiritual senses are not fit. It’s not that a woman shouldn’t be concerned with her physical fitness, but that her spiritual and mental health must take primary importance over her appearance.
She comforts, encourages, and does him only good and not evil. All the days of her life.
— Proverbs 21:12 [AMP]
This verse speaks to her good attitude. She is not manipulative in nature, unlike many ladies today who feel the need to trap a man into marriage with a pregnancy,
which btw, may not even be His child! or the wives who manipulate their husbands with lies and emotional scheming. Instead, this woman is a comforter to her husband, she cheers and encourages Him, the works of her hands are filled with good, not evil.
Proverbs 31: [Selected Verses]
She looks for wool and flax and works with willing hands in delight. She is like the merchant ships [abounding with treasure]; She brings her [household’s] food from far away. She rises also while it is still night and gives food to her household and assigns tasks to her maids. She considers a field before she buys or accepts it [expanding her business prudently]; with her profits she plants fruitful vines in her vineyard. She makes for herself coverlets, cushions, and rugs of tapestry. Her clothing is linen, pure and fine, and purple [wool]. She makes [fine] linen garments and sells them; and supplies sashes to the merchants. She looks well to how things go in her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
13-16, 22, 24 & 27 [AMP]
These verses tell us she does some kind of work, external work –
clearly ruling out Biblical Patriarchy, i.e. the idea that women cannot work or make any decisions independent of a man (usually brother/father/husband). These verses also support the idea that women who can afford it, should be allowed to get external help (maidens) with the domestic work in their household.
We also see her “making”, or “creating” you could call it. She harnessed her creative ability. Something all of women have in one way or another. Taking it literally it would suggest women should be encouraged only to do vocational work, but as a roadmap for feminism, let’s be less concerned with what she made, and be more concerned with the fact that she was “making”.
This woman was never ever idle. She kept a close eye over the goings on of her household. Despite the fact that she had external help, she didn’t just leave it all to them.
You’ve heard it said that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. A woman who is idle allows the devil to creep into her mind and into her household. Our P.31 model, never spared time for idle thoughts and gossip. She constantly had something doing, meaning she kept herself BUSY. She was someone who used her talents for the benefits of her household. She dealt with merchants and actually made a profit (vs. 18). She didn’t let men take advantage of the fact that she was a woman and use that to cheat or swindle her. Neither did she sit by and let the man do it all, she HELPED – like a helpmeet is designed to do.
This passage isn’t saying all women must learn to make rugs and curtains, but that all women ought to use whatever abilities and talents they have to beautify their household.
The word “household” is also a symbol for God’s kingdom. As women, we belong to the household of God, our heavenly household. God’s kingdom is our heavenly household. Many women have a ministry that they consider their heavenly work.
Are you keeping a close eye on your heavenly household even though you have external help? Or are you being careless with your abilities and letting men swindle you out of your godly gain?
Are you making sure your talents are bringing a profit for God’s household? Or are you eating the bread of idleness and letting the devil slowly turn your ministry into his workshop?
She sees that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out, but it burns continually through the night [she is prepared for whatever lies ahead].
— Proverbs 31:18 [AMP]
The P.31 woman is a lot of things and we can each find ourselves within her. Just like the 5 wise virgins whose lamps did not go out, the P.31 woman has extra oil and is prepared for whatever lies ahead. Many of us are not very organised in our daily lives, yet some of us are. That doesn’t mean we should crucify those who are not.
What it means to be prepared for whatever lies ahead is that she has spent considerable time thinking of the future and has made preparations accordingly. This is something all women should be doing at the back of their minds.
Marriage does not relieve a woman of the responsibility for her life. God in His sovereignty is ultimately responsible for our well-being but we have a duty to plan ahead as we foresee certain events under the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Have we got some money saved for rainy days? Have we made investments? What are we doing to secure the future of our children? It is a dangerous thing to leave all this up to the men to take care of.
She opens and extends her hand to the poor, and she reaches out her filled hands to the needy. She does not fear the snow for her household, for all in her household are clothed in [expensive] scarlet [wool].
— Proverbs 31:20-21 [AMP]
If we take this woman to be our model, then we as christian feminists ought to be concerned about the poor and needy, whether they be male or female. We ought to have something in our hands to give them. We are not to engage in discussions about aborting male children or letting them die because they are male.
It is true that such injustice has been exerted over female children in the past, and even in some places today, such injustice still prevails but while we work to alleviate such suffering, our heart’s response is not vengeance over the male child, because all that creates is a cycle of hate. We must extend our filled hands to all those who need it; whether they be male or female.
Another thing that jumped out from these verses in light of being prepared for the future is that she did not fear for:
ALL HER HOUSEHOLD
My mind shrieked when I realised this included the maids. She had considered them too and clothed them in scarlet, expensive scarlet. She was not worried about anyone under her roof, including the maids. Yes, THE MAIDS.
Our P.31 model did not discriminate towards other women. She did not look down on her maids. They may not have been her equal or of her social standing, but she cared for their wellbeing and treated them well.
Can we say we do the same?
Proverbs 31:23 [Selected Versions]
[AMP] Her husband is known in the [city’s] gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.
[EXB] Her husband is known at the city meetings [gates; the place where city leaders meet]
[NLT] Her husband is well known at the city gates, where he sits with the other civic leaders.
The common misassumption is that her husband was known because of her, but there’s nothing in the text that particularly suggests that. Her husband is at the city gates because He is a leader/elder of the community.
This demonstrates the kind of man a virtuous woman commits herself to. She was not unequally yoked. What kind of man are you committing yourself to? Is he respectable? The woman in P.31 is not yoked to someone who is spoken of with disrepute (i.e. a bad reputation), rather he is well spoken of in the community.
In context, (i.e. in that day and age) it is likely the reason why she can trade with the merchants and afford all the wonderful privileges she has. This doesn’t instantly mean she could not have earned those things of her own right, as surely any woman could, and should be able to, which is exactly what feminism is fighting for.
Proverbs 31: [Selected Verses]
The heart of her husband trusts in her [with secure confidence], and he will have no lack of gain. Her children rise up and call her blessed (happy, prosperous, to be admired); Her husband also, and he praises her, saying, “many daughters have done nobly, and well [with the strength of character that is steadfast in goodness], But you excel them all.”
11, 28-29 [AMP]
The description of the P.31 woman reveals much about the kind of man she is married to. Her husband trusted her with no reserve, i.e. with all his heart; and she gave him no reason to regret it. The kind of man she married loved her wholeheartedly like Christ loved the church.
How many men today trust their wives with phone passwords, talk less of bank accounts? Some women can’t even pinpoint how much their husband earns.
He praised and regarded her above ALL other women, i.e. including his own mother! The P.31 woman was clearly applauded for taking initiative on a lot of things; her doing this did not scare or bother her husband – again demonstrating the kind of man he was.
His manhood was not determined by how domineering he was over his wife. Within this marriage, she was allowed to retain her free will, her ability to think, take initiative and express herself and that is exactly what feminism is all about.
Proverbs 31:31 [Selected Versions]
[AMP] Give her of the product of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates [of the city].
[EXB] Give her the reward she has earned [fruit of her hands]; she should be praised in public for what she has done.
This is a very key verse for the Christian feminist. This verse illustrates that her OWN works are the reason she is praised at the very city gates where her husband is well known.
She is praised for what SHE has done, not for her husband’s accomplishments.
Yes, She may have good social standing because of her husband; Yes, she is one flesh with her husband, and whatever honour she gets will positively rub off on his image in society but that does not diminish her individuality! Let her be praised for who SHE is and let her receive her OWN reward for the fruits of her OWN labour.
This is what feminism is fighting for!
Proverbs 31:25 [Selected Versions]
[EXB] She is strong and is respected by the people [Strength and dignity/honour are her clothing]. She looks forward to the future with joy [laughs at the future; she is not anxious].
[AMP] Strength and dignity are her clothing and her position is strong and secure; and she smiles at the future [knowing that she and her family are prepared].
This verse comes as no surprise considering all that has been said before. Someone so skilful and hard working will obviously be the joy of the community and will be well respected in all circles whether male or female. We have previously noted how she has nothing to fear about the future because she has considered all things and is well prepared for whatever is to come.
Many of us take this out of context without realising all the hard work she’s done beforehand to secure her family is what makes it possible for her not to be anxious about rainy days or tough times.
We, on the other hand, are totally unprepared and simply read this verse to comfort ourselves in our uncertainty, having done or considered nothing beforehand. We see it as a license to do whatever we like in the present moment, all in the name of “smile and don’t be anxious about your future”.
The P.31 woman could smile because she was prepared. Don’t be unprepared in your heart and use this scripture to cover your carelessness.
Coming to the tough part, what does it mean to clothe oneself with strength and dignity?
In times of sorrow and heartbreak, many of us are unable to clothe ourselves with strength. Most especially at certain times of the month, where we just feel angry, weak, bloated, in pain and want to die.
How do we maintain our strength and dignity in such situations?
We clothe ourselves with strength, honour and dignity by never looking away from the one who gave us those things in the first place: God Almighty.
In every moment, remain grateful. It is difficult, only when we are in our flesh. You will find that you are often able to accomplish great feats of strength in your weakest moments because you invited God to be your helper when you felt like giving up.
Charm and grace are deceptive, and [superficial] beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord [reverently worshipping, obeying, serving, and trusting Him with awe-filled respect], she shall be praised.
— Proverbs 31:30 [AMP]
We can’t really be Christian feminists until we fulfil this very verse. If we become everything else this woman is and neglect our duty to fear the Lord, our womanhood is incomplete. The Christian feminist is able to afford Proverbs 31:25 because She has spent time practising Proverbs 31:30.
She opens her mouth in [skilful and godly] wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue [giving counsel and instruction].
— Proverbs 31:26 [AMP]
The EXB translation adds “loving instruction is on her tongue”.
This is amazing. As feminists following this roadmap, how do we train our tongue to speak skilful and godly wisdom? How do we counsel with loving instruction and teach with kindness?
It all seems too much, doesn’t it?
Remember, these verses are merely a mother’s dream for her son, it doesn’t mean it must be an immediate reality for us. So don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed by the P.31 woman; I do too.
However, what King Lemuel’s mother speaks of is not impossible, which is why we must be careful not to read Proverbs 31 in isolation. We must look to other teachings in scripture [E.g. Galatians 5] to understand that without the Fruit of the Spirit in us, the teaching of kindness which Proverbs 31:26 speaks of cannot be on our tongues.
Wisdom is personified as “female” in the bible [See Proverbs 8]. Therefore, we can train our tongues to counsel with loving kindness and godly wisdom. Godly wisdom is a gift from God, and we must kneel at His feet to receive it from His very hands.
When we submit what we think we know to God, we find that our intellect is humbled to receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit. You cannot receive inspiration from God unless you lay your wisdom at His feet like Mary [Sister of Lazarus] did. Exchange your words and thoughts for His, that’s how to get godly wisdom.
Although P.31 was never a law or command; the P.31 woman is our model for biblical feminism because she combated the prevailing gender roles in society, and that’s what the feminist movement is trying to do today.
Nonetheless, attention should not be given only to the money related aspects of P.31, to enforce the idea of all women as “21st century entrepreneurs or career women” when there’s so much more we can learn from this passage. The Proverbs 31 woman would be called a “feminist” today. She did much that women of her day and age were not used to doing.
Many Christians often condemn feminism, because they have a stereotype in mind…Women who hate men. Women who refuse domestic obligations. Women who are lesbians. Women who refuse to submit to male authority.
In some feminist circles, such stereotypes hold true BUT there’s so much more our feminism as Christian women can be about.
We cannot use a flawed understanding of P.31 to uphold radical feminism. As women of faith, we need to revisit our understanding of P.31 and take back our real roles. In framing our feminism/biblical womanhood using the P.31 woman, we must first acknowledge that the woman that is being talked about is:
She has no real name. She is just a description of what ONE mother considered to be a virtuous woman for her son. Now, we’re all aware of mothers and their high expectations so you can breathe peacefully if you’ve read these verses and felt overwhelmed or panicked because you didn’t feel like you could live up to her standards.
Secondly, she is a wife. This affects the way we apply P.31 to our individual lives. There are things she is now able to do effortlessly as a wife, which are only possible because she has been practising those things from singleness.
Her good charm, attitude and strong work ethic did not manifest because she got married. We often think marriage will solve all of a woman’s troubles, but that’s never true. If we don’t activate certain abilities while we are single, those struggles will follow us into marriage.
Lastly, our views on P.31 cannot be read in isolation from Ephesians 6:10-20 or Galatians 5:22-23, 1 Timothy 5 and Titus 2. All these passages are as relevant to our feminism and womanhood as Proverbs 31.
A woman who exhibits the fruit of the Spirit is fulfilling biblical feminism, as much as someone who’s ticking every single box of P.31. This is because the whole Bible is relevant to framing our feminism and womanhood.
It is dangerous to take one aspect of scripture and exclude the rest. When we hyper-focus on the P.31 woman alone, we’re missing out on other the directions, ideas, values and ways we are called to manifest the Kingdom of God here on earth.
Proverbs 31 should not be used to justify a very specific reading of gender roles. A passive, “helpmeet” reading of the P.31 woman can hold many women back from fulfilling their potential for the Kingdom of God.
Focus on your calling.
We are called together as allies to push back the kingdom of darkness. Women are called to bring honour to those around them, particularly to bring honour to God by what He has called us to do.
That is the ultimate framework of our feminism.
There are many blogs, websites and preachers telling women it is their “joyful privilege” to imitate the P.31 woman, forgetting that God calls us each to do different things. Yes, some women are called to be homemakers and housewives, but not all.
Imagine Deborah had been told to stick within the boundaries of the P.31 woman, would she ever have risen to her calling as a judge? Ladies, we may be in the same oven, but we’re not identical cookies. Be committed to whatever it is you’re on earth to do. Whether that be sewing & knitting or constructing buildings and running businesses.