Culture

What if I can’t be the superwoman in Proverbs 31?

by Gracia Chiang // May 6, 2021, 5:17 pm

proverbs 31 woman - New featured

Image source: An adaptation of Rosie the Riveter, also known as the "We Can Do It!" lady.

Truth is, Proverbs 31 can be discouraging for many Christian women when you measure yourself against it. 

A mum who wakes up before sunrise to prepare cute bento boxes for her children.

A mum who sews whatever her family needs: masks, dresses, costumes for kids… you name it! 

A mum who has turned her passion for baking into a thriving online business. 

These could well be some of the modern expressions of the woman described in Proverbs 31:10-31.

But… what if I’m not like that mum? I do none of these things listed above.

Being a mum is the hardest thing I’ve done, but this is how it has shaped me

And even if I was able to achieve them, what about self-care? Where’s the me-time for the Proverbs 31 woman?

Where does unwinding with a good show on Netflix, hanging out with girlfriends or going for HIIT class fit in? 

WHO IS THIS SUPERWOMAN?

To begin, perhaps one should take a closer look at these famous last words in the book of Proverbs.

Originally written as an acrostic poem, each of the 22 verses starts off with a Hebrew letter in alphabetical sequence.

By doing so, the author gives the impression that:

  • this passage gives you the ABCs of what a woman of excellence is like.
  • it’s meant to be committed to memory, thus highlighting its importance. 

In traditional Jewish homes, husbands and children still gather around the table and sing “Eshet Hayil” (woman of strength or valour) before tucking into their weekly Sabbath meal, giving honour to the mother who prepared the food.

But… many forget that this advice was actually intended for a man. 

If you scroll back up in your Bible, you’ll find that this passage sits within chapter 31, which begins with King Lemuel recounting what his mother taught him. 

Yes, it came from the mouth of a woman, but it was likely that her motivation was to highlight the importance of character and the kind of traits her son should look out for when seeking out a potential wife.

TLDR: looks are not everything. 

And there’s more to the story. Some scholars believe that the woman here actually refers to Lady Wisdom – the personification of wisdom as a woman can also be found at the start of Proverbs (Proverbs 1, 8 and 9).

In that case, the advice was meant for both male and female audiences. The woman in Proverbs 31 would then be a portrait of what wisdom looks like in action for anyone

Celebrating mums in the Bible who struggled, just like us

Whichever side you resonate with, allow me to share my perspective as a woman who is looking to apply Proverbs 31 in my life.

Instead of viewing this as a laundry list of should-dos, I’ve decided to identify 3 principles from this passage.

I hope that they will encourage you too, especially if Proverbs 31 has often left you feeling like you weren’t good enough.

Even if you’re not married or don’t have children, you’ll find that these are virtues worth cultivating in your life!

1. SHE MAKES GOOD USE OF HER TIME

When read as a whole, the entire book of Proverbs doesn’t have anything positive to say about laziness. It’s no surprise, then, that it ends off repeating this point: Idleness should be avoided.

The woman in Proverbs 31 not only makes sure that everyone in her household is well taken care of (private space), but also engages in profitable work outside of the home (public sphere).

She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.” (vs 15)

“She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.” (vs 18)

“She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.” (vs 21)

“She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.” (vs 24) 

There are a few things that struck me. 

Personally, I think it’s heartening to know that there’s nothing wrong with spending time on work that brings economic value to the family in a time when some judge women for not being stay-at-home mums. 

Interestingly, this passage also doesn’t actually mention cooking. All it says is that the Proverbs 31 woman is resourceful in providing for her family.

Frankly it’s still exhausting to read what she does (does this woman not sleep?), but the main point here is hard work and diligence, which can take many forms.

These qualities are timeless, but how they are lived out will certainly be different across cultures and generations. 

I don’t cook, but I plan meals and get help with meal prep, so that everyone gets all the nutrition they need. 

I don’t sew, but I make sure my children have clothes for the right occasions. 

I don’t run my own business, but I use my writing skills to work and contribute to the financial needs of the family.

After all, the woman that Proverbs 31 celebrates is one that is productive and fruitful.

She is a good steward of the resources she has. She looks after the family she has been entrusted with. She considers and decides what is best for their well-being, and then does what is needed. 

We have all been been given unique talents and abilities – and can choose wisely how best to use them.

What does this look like for you in today’s context? 

2. SHE BLESSES THOSE AROUND HER

The author of Proverbs also describes a woman who does good to others.

“The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” (vs 11)

Compassionate and generous, she looks out for the needs of those who have less. 

“She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.” (vs 20)

When she talks and teaches, she does so with wisdom and kindness. 

“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” (vs 26)

It’s often easy for complaints and gossip to spill out from our mouths, but the Proverbs 31 woman reminds us that it’s possible to be restrained in our speech. She is not silent, but has self-control. 

Are we aware of the impact our actions have on those around us? Do we live mainly for our own wants and desires? How can we emulate the Proverbs 31 woman in her care and concern for others? 

3. SHE FEARS THE LORD

This is arguably the most important quality among all the ones earlier listed. 

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (vs 30) 

Here’s a clue: In the ESV Bible, the header for the entire section on the Proverbs 31 woman is “The Woman Who Fears the Lord”.

In this last chapter of Proverbs, the author revisits the overarching theme of the book, which he opened with at the beginning.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” (Proverbs 1:7)

Instead of a focus on outward appearance, Proverbs 31 emphasises that our hearts are far more important than what we actually wear.  

As a wife and a mother, there are many day-to-day decisions we must make. But practical wisdom will come when we seek to obey the Lord and honour Him in our lives. 

This is also why I believe the Proverbs 31 woman could have such joyful hope and confidence when thinking about her future.

“Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” (vs 25)

Do the days ahead fill you with worry and anxiety? What consumes you more: the fear of the Lord or the fear of what is to come?

WHERE DOES THE STRONG WOMAN GET HER STRENGTH?

Finally, I talked about the lack of reference to self-care earlier on. Here’s my take on this.

Clearly, the woman in Proverbs 31 didn’t have the option of going to the gym back then. But if she needed to be strong (verse 17 says “she dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong”), then she must have known the importance of keeping herself in good health.

I also previously mentioned the connection of Proverbs 31 to Sabbath. This rhythm of work and rest was not just an Old Testament commandment given to the nation of Israel (Exodus 20:8-11).

Even Jesus showed us that it was necessary to take time to be away from the crowds, to be refreshed, to pray. He slept too (Matthew 8:24)! 

To care for others, we need to be rejuvenated as well. And this could come from spending time with people, enjoying a good meal or pursuing our hobbies. 

If after all of this, you’re still feeling intimidated or overwhelmed by the woman described in Proverbs 31, know that ultimately these are not things we have to do to earn God’s love.

Instead, these are things that we naturally find ourselves doing when we realise how much we’ve been first loved by Him.

In other words, they are the fruit of a woman who fears the Lord.

“Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” (vs 31)

Remember that fruit takes time to grow. A fruit-bearing life also comes from being connected to the right source (John 15:5).

And here’s a reality check: We’re all imperfect and in the process of being transformed (2 Corinthians 3:18). Marriage and parenthood is one way through which God can do this!

We may never be the perfect wife or mother, but we can be inspired by the spirit of the woman in Proverbs 31.

Just like how Jewish families recite Proverbs 31 to praise mothers, take heart that these words are used to celebrate instead of condemn women.

If you’re a mum, we want to honour you this Mother’s Day!

THINK + TALK

  1. What does it mean to fear the Lord?
  2. How do you see God working in you to be transformed to be the woman (or man) He wants you to be?
  3. Which of these 3 areas would you like to work on in your life?
About the author

Gracia Chiang

Gracia used to chase bad news. Now she shares Good News. A journalist by training, Gracia is thankful that she gets to use her gift of writing to bring hope.