Composed of twenty-two lines, each beginning with a successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, this elegant poem is the centerpiece of Lemuel’s mother’s prophecy. Her words were undoubtedly intended to guide her son in his selection of a wife. The Lord has preserved her words not only as a practical guide but also to stir the church to be his faithful and beautiful wife. It is an ideal picture, a divinely intended pattern for all godly women. At the same time, we should not glamorize or idealize overmuch, for work and sweat mark this woman’s beauty. Nor should we simplistically think that the picture drawn here is to be followed slavishly, as if a woman who does not make her own clothes is less godly than a woman who finds quality garments for a good price in the marketplace. This poem also strongly rebukes the foolishness of men. Like senseless beasts, they usually measure a woman’s worth and desirability by her appeal to the senses. God must rescue us from this blindness and teach us that female beauty consists primarily in piety, wisdom, and domestic industry. A woman judged by the world to be very plain is very beautiful in God’s eyes, as well as in the eyes of her husband, if she is careful in taking care of her home, adding to its resources and broader usefulness, and setting a God-fearing example to her household. Her physical beauty is then icing on the cake, but it is never the cake.
Standing as the capstone of Proverbs, this woman stands as a stirring contrast to the strange woman, whose only value lies in her looks, sex appeal, and moral looseness. The isolated descriptions of godly women found throughout the book are now completed in such a moving conclusion that we must bow in awe before the majestic penmanship of the Holy Spirit. By this strong and hard-working woman, he teaches us that heavenly wisdom is active. True wisdom is not retreat from earthly responsibility and pining after esoteric spirituality. If we fear the Lord, his life in us strengthens us to diligence and faithfulness where he calls us to serve him. Earth will never be heaven, and no woman or home will perfectly mirror the beautiful image written here. Still, the more we walk with the Lord and use the gifts he places at our disposal, the more heaven will influence our lives and homes. We shall reflect our Savior’s lovely, lively, and working image (John 5:17). Then, Christian families and homes will be something worthy of imitation, a testimony to the reality of God’s grace and a rebuke to the pride of man. Finally, we are also warned here that when men forsake God’s word and live as a law unto themselves, woman is debased and made an object to gratify man’s lusts. Home life becomes dissatisfying. Everything good and noble is lost, and the domestic peace and purposefulness that makes life worth living is sacrificed upon the altar of our corruption.
Hard to Find (v. 10)
The popular title for this poem is “The Virtuous Wife,” but the Hebrew chayil (lyIx;) is most often used in contexts of strength, wealth, and ability. While this woman is virtuous, the main idea seems to be that of strength and efficiency. Finding such a woman is difficult. Men do not often find her because they are not looking for her. They want beauty and depend upon sexual attraction as the standard of desirability. Of course, a man can find many women that are outwardly beautiful and sexually willing, especially in our decadent nation. Yet, if we would have happy and healthy relationships and homes, moral strength and domestic ability are more likely indicators of future happiness than outward beauty. Physical charms pass away, and to the degree that we base our happiness upon them, we will lose happiness and grow discontent as beauty fades. But God can lead us to happy and holy homes, for he knows where strong and godly women are to be found. This is the reason that it is written: “He who findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord” (Prov. 18:22). Therefore, whenever a godly man begins looking for a wife, he must ask the Lord to guide him. Here, as everywhere else, the world cannot help us, and our own hearts are utterly unreliable when it comes to love. Young men must particularly seek the Lord’s guidance and wisdom, for it requires “an old head on young shoulders” to look deeper than the first flush of youthful beauty to the piety and fear of the Lord that will endure when beauty fades. Will this young woman be an able guardian of my home, a steadfast lover of my children, and a humble servant of God? For young women, if you want to be found by a wise and godly husband, you must be seeking the strength and honor that come from walking with the Lord. He will make sure you are found, for he knows where he has hidden the choice gift of a godly woman.
Her Value Incomparable (vv. 10-12)
“Far above rubies” is her inestimable worth! Rubies are used in Proverbs as a standard of beauty and worth. Wisdom is said to be more valuable than all the wealth of the world (3:15; 8:11). Such an earthly comparison is used because we are creatures. The Lord teaches us the surpassing worth of heavenly things by utilizing earthly things of beauty and value. By comparing it to rubies, he shows us that his word is valuable beyond our ability to conceive. All true wisdom comes from the “only wise God,” in “whose light we see light,” whose Son, Jesus Christ, is his incarnate Wisdom (Rom. 16:27; 1 Tim. 1:17; Jude 25; Ps. 36:9; 1 Cor. 1:24). It is the personal possession of this heavenly wisdom that makes the godly woman precious. She has taken God’s word into her inmost being. She believes his word, loves and trusts his wisdom, and seeks to submit to her Lord in all things. Though woman was deceived and together with the man brought sin and death into the world, she becomes an instrument of incalculable good in the Lord’s hand. What mercy God shows woman! He calls her out of sin’s degradation and delivers her from the blindness of her own heart in order to make her his noble daughter. His word alone effects this transformation. Every godly woman, therefore, is made so by God’s grace and power, leading her to be a committed disciple of God’s word. Without this wisdom, the most beautiful woman in the world is nothing but a pig with a “ring in her snout” (Prov. 11:22).
Her husband’s heart trusts her (v. 11). This is one of only two passages in Scripture that we are not condemned for trusting in any person or thing (Judges 20:36). Her husband’s heart can trust in her is because her heart trusts in the Lord. Here is the foundation for true domestic order, peace, and beauty: when husband and wife are walking with the Lord together. Then, the husband may confidently give his wife oversight of the home and children. He is not afraid of her trying to usurp his authority or headship, for his heart is joined to hers. Together they love and fear the Lord, desire to obey him, and seek his glory and righteousness. To say that he safely trusts her means that he has no worries, no anxieties about pursuing his calling outside the home, no fear that his return home at the end of the day will be marked by trouble and godlessness. Loving her Lord, she seeks to please her husband, for she is one with him in faith, hope, and love. Though no wife, however godly, will perfectly meet this high standard, and neither can any husband, they are both humbled before the Lord and return to God’s throne of grace for mercy and help. He turns sins and failures to their good, for through them he teaches us that we stand in constant need of his strength and wisdom, as well as the cleansing blood of his Son.
The husband’s trust is seen in very practical terms. A humble, God-fearing woman is no spendthrift. Her husband need not go scraping for “spoil,” trying to replace what his wife has wasted. Of course, the damage done by wasted family assets can be committed by either spouse, but it is assumed that the wife has more constant access to needed family resources. She is careful with them. Together, they determine what should be spent, how present and future needs may best be secured. They seek the Lord for their daily bread and are content with what he provides. This is but one example of the way she “does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (v. 12). Modern men will scoff at the husband-centric perspective of this poem, but we should remember two things. First, it was written by a woman whose heart was filled with God’s wisdom and Spirit. Second, God knows what is better for woman than all the vixens and revolutionaries that turn societies upside down with their rebellion. God made woman out of the man, and she is fulfilled only if she lives according to God’s creative purposes for her. He made woman to do her husband good. When she does, she is happy. When she larks off on her own to seek fulfillment, she is miserable, the family ruined, the church emasculated, and society fragmented and corrupted. All of these may be restored and strengthened by godly women who see their sole purpose and highest honor to be the guardian of the home and the helper of their husbands.
Her Domestic Economy a Marvel (vv. 13-27)
Her Careful Home Guardianship (vv. 13-18)
Walking wisely requires that we get our hands dirty. True piety is not reclusive, other-worldly, or inwardly focused. It is active, industrious, and diligent. This is prompted by the Lord’s strength, for he has so joined his wisdom to his power, that when we have his wisdom in our hearts, we enjoy his strength in our lives. In the godly, noble woman, God’s wisdom teaches her to provide well for her family – not that she is the bread-winner but the bread-manager. She is ever seeking means to enhance the well-being of the home (v. 13). Her work with wool and flax, her use of whatever means, gifts, and talents the Lord provides, is willing, cheerful. Her hands are delighted to work. She does not complain. She is not distracted from her true calling by wistful dreams, personal frustration, or worldly diversions. Like the merchants, her table is well-furnished (v. 14). Her family has plenty of food. While the Lord does not promise to make our daily table sumptuous, he does promise to provide for us. We could do more with what he gives. Perhaps one reason why modern homes do not enjoy more prosperity is due to our ignorance of the older skills, the intrinsic wastefulness of a consumption based economy, and our lazy willingness to pay others to do for us what we could for ourselves, thus saving the resources for other areas of home provision and improvement.
This strong woman puts the interests and needs of her household ahead of her own comfort (v. 15). While it is sleeping, she is providing for them. She is timely and punctual in her preparations, willingly denies herself, and does not neglect duty to serve herself. This leads her to make plans for the better provision of her household (v. 16). She is thoughtful in her planning for the future, frugal in her government of household affairs, and works hard. She is quite willing to perform manual labor (v. 17). She is no pampered princess. She does not think “baring her arms” and “girding her loins” for work beneath her, unspiritual. Her diligence makes her work of high quality (v. 18), and she knows it – not in pride or vanity but in thankfulness to the Lord for his goodness. When dark times come, she is prepared for them; she has saved for them. There is light in her house because she has been diligent; because God’s wisdom is the light of her soul. The latter phrase does not mean she is a night owl, for “he gives his beloved sleep,” and it is “vain to rise up early, to sit up late” (Ps. 127:2). Without adequate sleep, no one can be strong. We are not God, who needs no sleep.
Her Beauty and Usefulness (vv. 19-27)
Verse 19 may function as something of a bridge between the sources of her revenue and the broader usefulness that strong family economy enables. “Hands” is the connecting link. The same hands that use his gifts productively (v. 19) reach out to the poor (v. 20). Unless she had been spinning, there would be nothing for her own household, and then nothing for the poor. Thus, the link is forged between strong family economies and the ability to relieve the needs of the local poor. We witness the horror of the poor becoming poorer, and society convulsed by intensifying revolutionary schemes to fleece the middle class in order to raise the poor. A significant contributing factor to this is our debased currency, inflationary boom-bust cycles that are propped up with more paper printing, and plain old lies about the purpose and legitimate reach of government. Then, when families are forced to spend billions upon insurance, to seek education so that they can be licensed, and to spend outlandish amounts on goods whose prices have been driven higher through government manipulation, there is nothing left for the poor – except to look to government for handouts, thus increasing its own power and voting base. Still, however corrupt our times, Christian families must do what they can to live frugally so that something is left over for the poor, that the wretched may have some personal, local hope that is not tied to government largesse. Godly women play a vital role in this, at least doing little things to improve their own domestic economy so that there may be some outreach to the needy.
Her constant activity makes her fearless of the “snow,” seasons when gathering is impossible and the family must live off what it has saved (v. 21). For her household and for herself, she seeks appropriate, quality clothing that reflects modesty and personal dignity (vv. 21-22). It is not worldly finery that a godly woman seeks but adequate clothing that says, “We are a family of the King of kings.” Her husband is thus able to take his place among the elders of the land (v. 23). Secure at home, he is able to venture confidently into the world. Many a man who might have served well his church or community is prevented from doing so because his home is unstable. He bears ultimate responsibility for this, but he has a wife to help him for this very purpose. If the garden of the home is not carefully tended, the fields of the world will go to ruin, as we see today.
Her clothing is so valuable that she is able to sell it (v. 24), thus increasing the wealth of the home and enabling its greater usefulness in the world. Yet, her true clothing is “strength and honor” (v. 25). She is strong in her God and lives honorably. This is the reason she can laugh at calamities – not in pride but because she knows that whatever the future holds, she has prepared for it the best she can. Especially with her children, she has given them a firm foundation and consistent example of godliness, so that however evil the times may be, they are ready to face it with faith and hope. We may also view the future confidently by being clothed with the strength that God’s wisdom gives and if our lives are honorable, above reproach, blameless. It is sin unchecked and homes unsanctified that fill men with guilt and lead them to retreat before evil, rather than meet it with the weapons of our warfare that demolish strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4-5). So, she “openeth her mouth with wisdom) (v. 26). The best preparation for the future is to speak God’s words in the present. “The meek he guides in judgment, and the meek he teacheth his ways” (Ps. 25:9). When she speaks to her husband and children, the “law of kindness is in her tongue.” A harsh, imperious tone or an inflexible, “I am always right and know better than you” will never crack the granite of a hard heart. God’s kindness to us in his Son melted our hearts, and godly parents must learn this lesson. Screaming avails nothing. Pouting, manipulation, and belittling do not accomplish the righteousness of God. His kingdom, in the home and world, is known and grows through love. Speaking God’s truth with an angry, frustrated heart is the evil equivalent of Moses striking the rock when he should have simply spoken to it. God’s word is more powerful than all our yelling.
Faith in God’s wisdom and forsaking her own enables her to “look well to the ways of her household” (v. 27). This is a capstone to her industry. A godly woman is focused upon her husband and children, for these are given to her in trust from God. The verb means to observe carefully, to watch after. Yes, there is only so much dusting one can do, as the old adage goes, but God has made it clear that a woman’s guardianship of the home consists in far more than keeping it clean. He would have its productivity expanded, its wealth and usefulness and influence increased. When the necessary chores are done, the thoughts of most women turn to the world, what they want to do, how they can be fulfilled. Instead, the Lord would have remaining time and energy be focused upon home improvement: more time spent with children, cottage industries developed, the poor served, ministries in the church increased, all with an eye to his greater glory through the family and home. This is the diligence God requires of the strong, valiant, and virtuous woman. Idleness is more than simply not doing what needs to be done, or delaying its completion. We are idle when we are not making our homes everything they might be. This weakens the family, to be sure, but it also spreads out into a weakened church and society. If we are eating the heavenly bread of God’s wisdom, the bread of idleness will sicken us. The thought of wasting time, resources, and energy on what will not promote his glory and hasten our Savior’s kingdom and coming makes a godly woman, and her husband, nauseated.
Her Praise and Legacy Lasting (vv. 28-31)
What an incomparable blessing a godly woman is! Her praise and legacy will be lasting, following her all the way to heaven, where her Lord and Savior will crown and commend her, and usher her into eternal dwellings of peace and joy. In this life, her children will “rise up and call her blessed” (v. 28). This assumes that they are godly, humbled by her service and example. It may not be immediate. Much ingratitude and hardness of heart may seem at times to be an impenetrable barrier to thankful children. But the valiant woman lives for the future, both in her economizing and in her parenting. Her children need not thank her today. It is enough for her that she has God’s promise that they will one day do so. Her husband also praises her. If you have such a wife, man of God, should not your heart be utterly humbled by God’s goodness? Many a hard-working and thrifty wife is ground down by an unfeeling husband, whose only words are discontent, criticism, and anger. And if you would quicken your wife, be often on your face before God, covering your wife’s failings with love, and encouraging her by your example and kindness. God’s grace can make even the poorest, chaotic, distracted, and, God forbid, useless home, a citadel of honor, godliness, and contentment. He alone can do this. You must not eat the bread of idleness, O man, if you would have such a home, for your wife is not your slave, but your helpmeet. You must endeavor to live in such a way that there is something meaningful in which she may assist you. She was not taken from your feet, as Matthew Henry wrote, for you to trample and abuse, but from your side, to be your equal, your helper, and your beloved.
By saying that “many daughters have done virtuously” (v. 29), or “strongly, valiantly,” the inference is that God works these graces and gives this strength to all the daughters of his household. They do not appear equally illustrious in all, but not one of his daughters lacks some of the King’s gifts and graces. He makes all his daughters fair to some degree, in various ways, according to his wisdom. But such a daughter as is pictured here “excellest them all.” This is said to encourage and to inspire. Yes, this poem rebukes our low and worldly aims, laziness, and wastefulness. Yet, its primary purpose is to set forth a model for the King’s daughter to aspire to. Jesus Christ is lovely, full of grace and truth, filled with wisdom and the fullness of the Spirit. He shares his fullness with us, “grace unto grace” (John 1:16). The more a Christian woman walks with him, the more of his fullness he gives and, by implication, the more godly, useful, and strong our lives and families and marriages will be.
Such homes and relationships do not depend upon outward beauty (v. 30). Only fools make physical attraction a barometer of future happiness. It cannot be. Charms and beauty are vain; they are fleeting. They are never a foundation for true usefulness and service to the King. There is a foundation, however, that cannot be moved. It is the fear of the Lord. The Holy Spirit ends where he began (1:7). To fear the Lord is to adore his wisdom, to be drawn to him in love and reverence, and to forsake one’s own and the world’s foolishness. It is to build one’s life upon the rock of eternal truth, our Savior’s own life-giving voice and perfect word. A woman who builds upon this foundation will be praised – not by the world, but by her family. Even more, and even in the absence of a thankful, adoring family, for even an Abigail suffered under the brutal tyranny of a Nabal, God will praise you. You will praise him back, of course, in the humble realization any goodness in you was his doing, but he always recognizes and praises his work. He knows where every drop of his grace has been poured. Devote your life, Christian woman, to the imitation of these lines, and the ideal will become the real. You will enjoy the fruit of your hands – a happy, holy husband, godly, useful children, and a strong, God-honoring home (v. 31). In the gates, you will be praised. Nothing is as beautiful, fearsome, and powerful as such a woman. You may begin to seek this as you lay down your pride and fears, your regrets and frustrations, upon the altar of God’s promises. Seeking him, humbled before him, he will raise you up. He will make you a tool of earthly victory and peace. He will give you eternal glory and gladness in the presence of the true King and best of Husbands, whom you will serve forever with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.