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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART THIRTY-FIVE

SERMON PRESENTED ON 09-23-17

       Today will be the 35th and final sermon in a series I started on the book of Proverbs back in October of 2015.  Last time we were together I discussed the issue of the sayings found in Proverbs 30 being attributed not to Solomon but to a man named Agur (aw-goor).  I discussed the various scholarly perspectives as to who Agur might have been and then went on to discuss a number of the sayings attributed to him.

       Today we will jump right into Proverbs 31 which deals with sayings attributed to a man named Lemuel (lem-oo-ale') who is identified as a king.  This king is shown to have received what is written from his mother.

       Proverbs 31:1-2: The sayings of King Lemuel--an oracle his mother taught him: "O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows.

       Nothing is known about this king other than what is mentioned here in Proverbs.  Some Jewish legend identifies this king as Solomon and that he received what he wrote here from his mother Bathsheba.  However, there is no solid evidence that Bathsheba is the source of what is written in Proverbs 31 or that Solomon is the author of this passage.

       Bathsheba being the mother providing this oracle appears problematical. Clarke’s Commentary points out that the mother mentioned here identifies the son she is addressing as the son of her womb and the son of here vows.  Clarke shows the Hebrew to indicate this is a reference to the birth of a first child and the result of a marriage based on vows exchanged during a marriage ceremony. 

       Bathsheba was married to Uriah and may have had children with him.  Uriah was killed in battle at the instigation of King David.  The son born to the adulterous relationship between David and Bathsheba died. Solomon was born later and there is no Scriptural evidence of an official marriage between David and Bathsheba involving vows.  Therefore, it may be reasonable to argue against Bathsheba being the mother producing this oracle. 

       On the other hand, there can be argument for Proverbs 31 being written by Solomon.  As we will see, a significant portion of Proverbs 31 deals with what it is to be a wife of noble character. This focus begins in verse 10-12.

       Proverbs 31:10-12:    A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

       This introduction to a list of characteristics that define a wife of noble character in Proverbs 31 appears to be related to something Solomon wrote in Proverbs 12, a passage that definitely is attributed to Solomon.

       Proverbs 12:4: A wife of noble character is her husband's crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.

       Here Solomon reflects on how a wife of noble character causes her husband to be looked upon with greater respect and admiration while a wife of low character can cause disgrace which Solomon analogizes to decay of the bones. This analogy is very descriptive.  If the bones decay the entire body is destabilized.  It is the bones that give structure to the body.  In the previous verse, Solomon writes this:

       Proverbs 12:3:  A man cannot be established through wickedness, but the righteous cannot be uprooted.

       Here the Hebrew word rendered “established” means to be erect or to stand perpendicular.  If the bones decay we can’t stand erect, we can’t be perpendicular. When the bones thin as in osteoporosis, the structure of the body becomes weak and bone fractures can occur causing a great deal of discomfort.

       In Proverbs 12, Solomon speaks of a wife of noble character as opposed to a wife that is disgraceful being like decay in the bones. In Proverbs 31 we read about what a wife of noble character is like and what that means to her husband.

       Because of this apparent synergy between Proverbs 12:4 and Proverbs 31:10 in speaking of a woman of noble character, some feel Solomon authored both passages.  However, it must be remembered that the actual author of the material seen in Proverbs 31 is attributed to the mother of a king and not to the king himself.  This mother begins by instructing the king to not spend his strength and vigor on women who ruin kings and then goes on to show what kind of woman the king should be looking for to be his wife. 

       Proverbs 31: 3: Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings.

       Some scholars have argued that the section of Proverbs 31 dealing with a wife of noble character has little to do with an actual wife but instead is a summary of all the narrative dedicated to revealing the value of wisdom which is discussed repeatedly in Proverbs.  The NET Bible foot notes Proverbs 31: 9-31 in the following manner:

       The book of Proverbs comes to a close with this poem about the noble wife. A careful reading of the poem will show that it is extolling godly wisdom that is beneficial to the family and the society. Traditionally it has been interpreted as a paradigm for godly women. And while that is valid in part, there is much more here. The poem captures all the themes of wisdom that have been presented in the book and arranges them in this portrait of the ideal woman.

       While some view Proverbs 31:10-31 as a personification of wisdom and not about the ideal woman, most see verses 10-31 as describing the ideal woman, because this passage appears to directly address a wife and husband.

       Proverbs 31:10-12: A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.  

      You will note that the commentary from the NET Bible that I read speaks of the passage dealing with a noble wife as being a poem. That this passage is a poem is well recognized by Biblical Scholars.  It is interesting that beginning with Proverbs 31:10 and running all the way through verse 31, each new thought begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  It is called an acrostic poem.

       A typical acrostic poem, sometimes called a name poem, uses a word for its subject. Then each line of the poem begins with a letter from the subject word.                             

      This type of poetry doesn't have to rhyme.  An acrostic poem can also be a poem where each line of the poem begins with successive letters of the alphabet of the language used in writing the poem. This is what we find in Proverbs 31:10-31. Each line of the poem begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. 

       Let us now move to the poem itself and take a look at what is sometimes referred to as a Proverbs 31 woman.  We will look at this poem as discussing the attributes of the ideal wife as is commonly done. The poem begins with the writer asking who can find a wife of noble character. 

       Proverbs 31:10: A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.

       The Hebrew word here rendered as “noble” has broad meaning which includes moral worth and having strength of character in general.  Some translations render this passage as “Who can find a virtuous woman?” This same word is used to describe Ruth in Ruth 3:11.  This same word is used to describe men of valor in the Hebrew Scriptures.  For example, in Judges 6:12, it is recorded that when the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior."  The phrase “mighty warrior” is the same Hebrew word rendered “noble character” in Proverbs 31:10. 

       It appears this word is used here to describe a woman who is virtuous, strong and very competent to do all the things that define this woman in some detail in the narrative that follows.  It denotes a strong, capable woman with strong convictions.

       Proverbs 31:11: Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.

       The Hebrew word here translated as “value” has the general meaning of plunder or spoil of war and is used in that manner in other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures to describe that which is obtained through victory in war.  Apparently the point being made here is that because of the skills and capabilities of his wife, the husband has full confidence that he will gain much in the way of wealth no different than what would be obtained in a victory over ones enemy in a war. Her industriousness adds to the family income. Let’s now look at the skills and capabilities demonstrated by this ideal woman

       Proverbs 31:12-19: She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.  She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.   She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.  She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.   She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

       What we find here is a strong, dignified, multitalented, caring woman who is very capable and is the ultimate fulfillment of what we find recorded at the time Eve was created.  In Genesis chapter two we have a recapitulation of the account of God having created the animals and now God asks Adam to name the animals. But it is shown that Adam was all alone in all this and he needed help to fulfill what God intended for his human creation 

       Genesis 2:20: So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.   But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

       The Proverbs 31 woman appears to provide definition to what a suitable helper is to be like.  The woman described in Proverbs 31 is her husband’s partner.  She is her husband’s best friend. He can completely trust her to be responsible with what he gives her to do and because of this he gives her great latitude in the handling of the family affairs and the overall decision making process.  He allows her to make important decisions and trusts her judgement in the making of such decisions.    

       She is able to use her discretion in the selection of materials she will use to make clothes.  She chooses the food items the family will eat.  She has authorization to make purchases and even go into business and produce product to sell and trade.  She is industrious in that we see her getting up early in the morning to provide for her family and apparently works into the night as indicated by the fact her lamp does not go out at night.  It is said her arms are strong for her tasks which indicates she is diligent to maintain good physical conditioning.  There is the allusion to learning the necessary skills to sew and make the family’s cloths.

       Proverbs 31: 20-23: She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.  When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.  Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

       Here we see her going beyond providing for her husband and family in that she reaches out to help others in need.  She can be counted on to be there for others and provide for them.  She is the kind of person who would be Johnnie on the spot to do all she could to help the victims of hurricane Harvey and Erma.  We again see her providing for her household to adequately protect them from adverse weather conditions.  She herself is clothe in fine linen and purple showing that she is fashionable in how she dresses and presents an attractive image of herself to others. This all helps to promote respect for her husband as others see in him the wisdom he demonstrated in choosing a woman of such character to be his wife.

       Proverbs 31:24-29:  She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."

       We see more written about her sewing skills and her ability to market what she sews and thus bring additional income into the family.  She is seen as a woman of strength and dignity.  She can laugh at the days to come because she has adequately prepared for them.  She is educated and therefore can speak with wisdom and give faithful instruction.  She is anything but idle.  She makes great use of her time and plans her days to accomplish as much as possible. Because of all this, her children admire her and give her accolades and her husband praises her.

       What I find very interesting about all this is that this was written thousands of years ago but it adequately describes many modern day women. I know that we use to teach that a women’s place is in the home teaching and taking care of the children and it is best if a wife and mother doesn’t have to work outside the home.  But that is not a Proverbs 31 women is it?

       The Proverbs 31 woman not only provides for home and family but she also is an entrepreneur.  She is active in the workaday world.  She makes products and sells them.  She maintains physical strength and she voluntaries to help the poor and needy.  

       Many modern day women maintain a household, have children, play the role of soccer mom, sew for the family, work out at a gym to stay in shape and work a part time or full time job.  While a stay at home mom may seem ideal, that is not the Proverbs 31 woman.  The Proverbs 31 woman appears to have a very broad and diverse life style and does it all while being a loving and devoted mother to her children and a loving and devoted wife to her husband.

       In this respect, the Proverbs 31 woman can be as much a description of a modern day woman as it may have been of a woman living thousands of years ago.  However, there may be one major difference.  Many modern day women may display the attributes of being industrious, skillful in many things and may even be a model mother and wife.  Still, if all such attributes are not rooted in the fear of the Lord, they are not worthy of praise.

       Proverbs 31:30-31: Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.  Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

       Here it is recognized that charm and beauty is deceptive and fleeting.  What is critical is that a woman fears God.  All that has been said to this point is now placed into its proper context.  The context is that the works that define the Proverbs 31 woman for which she is to be praised are based in and on her being a woman who fears God.      

       An overriding theme in the Proverbs is the importance of knowledge, understanding and wisdom and how these three sisters, as their sometimes called, start with fearing God.  Solomon emphasizes that knowledge; understanding and wisdom begin with fearing God.

       Proverbs 1:7: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

       Proverbs 9:10: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

       This compilation of sayings called the book of Proverbs begins and ends with the recognition that fearing God is the pathway to knowledge, understanding and wisdom which then leads to all other attributes of life.  I think we all understand to fear God is to acknowledge Him as the source and sustaining power behind all existence. To fear God is to be in total submission to His will.  To fear God is to obey God and positively respond to His Lordship over our lives.

       What makes this nameless woman described in Proverbs 31 significant is not that she knows how to sew beautiful clothes for her family, cultivate a vineyard, engage in buying and selling in the marketplace or even being a model wife to her husband.  It’s her fear of the Lord that makes her a woman of virtue, a noble woman. 

       This poem about the ideal wife began with the statement that a wife of noble character is worth far more than rubies. With that in mind, I would like to end this series on the book of Proverbs and our discussion of what it means to be a wife worth more than rubies by playing a song for you that gives praise to this kind of wife.

       Back in 1970, country music artist Marty Robins wrote and recorded a song entitled “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife." It became a big hit and Marty won a Grammy for best country song of the year.  Like Proverbs 31, the words of this song reflect upon the value of a wife of noble character.

       This is a beautiful song that could be inserted into Proverbs 31 and added to the extolling of a noble wife that is her husbands crown as Solomon wrote in Proverbs 12:4.

 

Hands that are strong but wrinkled
Doing work that never gets done
Hair, that's lost some of the beauty
By too many hours in the sun

Eyes, that show some disappointment
And there's been quite a lot in her life
She's the foundation I lean on
My woman, my woman, my wife

Everyday has been uphill
Oh, we climb but we can't reach the top
I'm weak and I'm easily discouraged
She just smiles when I want to stop

Lips, that are weary but tender
With love, that strengthens my life
A saint, in a dress made of gingham
My woman, my woman, my wife.

Two little babies were born in the spring
But died when the winter was new
I lost control of my mind and my soul
But my woman's faith carried us through

When she reaches that river
Lord, you know what she's worth
Give her that mansion up yonder
'Cause she's been through hell here on earth

Lord, give her my share of Heaven
If I've earned any here in this life
'Cause God, I believe she deserves it
My woman, my woman
, my wife

 

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