Proverbs 31: The Virtuous Woman

Proverbs 12:4 tell us that “a virtuous woman is a crown to her husband.”

You cannot buy this kind of wife. She puts the interest of others above herself.  We will call her Pearl because the word “rubies” in verse 10 means “pearls” in Hebrew. And the woman described here is certainly a jewel.

Lemuel’s mother, earlier in this chapter, had given warnings concerning seduction. Now she (or perhaps Solomon) sets before him what a godly woman ought to be like. This passage lists the characteristics of a good wife. Lemuel’s mother had given him earlier a small “photo” of a loose woman. Now she paints a full-length portrait of a good woman.

This passage addresses a good woman’s domestic activity, domestic relations, and   business activities. The results of it all are what she can expect for her efforts. It’s all here in the Word of God. It tells us what women should shun, and what characteristics they must strive for.

Every man knows it is hard to find a good woman. Abraham sent a servant to a distant country to try to find one for Isaac. Because it was God’s will, he found her. The problem today is that too few men search hard for this type of woman.

Let us look at the 21st century application of this passage. Solomon uses a proedicamenta, an acrostic poem, of 22 couplets or verses. Each verse begins alphabetically (in the Hebrew alphabet) in acrostic form, describing the ideal wife. It uses all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Young women should memorize this passage, because “virtuous” in verse 10, means strong and valuable. If you want to add to your value as a wife or a future wife, you must note that there is no pessimism any place in this passage. It’s all positive.

The woman we will call “Pearl” merits her man’s full confidence and respect, for she has earned it.

Proverbs 31:10

Whoever the man was who married Pearl married a smart, industrious woman. It is not true that Pearl attained her good reputation in spite of him or because of him. It is assumed the man knows what he has been blessed with.

Pearl seems content with her situation in life. There is no hint she wants “equal rights”. If Pearl were alive today, she’d probably have no desire to be a Naval Submarine Officer!

Remember that this passage is a Hebrew acrostic. Aleph, in verse 10 means “Who can find?”  This seems to imply that this kind of virtuous woman is hard to find but is a wonderful discovery. This verse seems to be more of a wish than a question. It’s as if Solomon is exclaiming, “O, that every man could find such a treasure!” Or perhaps, “Do you know how rare this type is?” or “What would the world be like if it was filled with this kind of wonderful woman?”

These attributes can be found in one woman. This husband found them all in Pearl. The word “virtuous” here means “devoted and thrifty,” but the concept of chastity is included, for fidelity is assumed in such a woman as this, for she could not be “praised” (vv. 28, 30-31) if she was immoral and unfaithful.

The concept of strength is also included in this picture of womanhood that Solomon is painting. Pearl is a woman of gentle strength. Pearl is God-fearing, discreet, economical, diligent and active in all the right things. Pearl is smart, intelligent, successful and considerate. Pearl would never be labeled as a “Miss Priss.” Pearl seems to be an exceptional example of womanhood…but she should be the norm.

God is using the woman pictured here to set the standard. The Holy Spirit placed this passage in the Word of God so that all women would seek these same characteristics.

A woman like Pearl reserves herself for one special man.

Verse 11 contains the second letter in this acrostic: Beth. From what Solomon is writing here, it seems clear that this woman we are calling Pearl, is a rare woman and thus her type is found by only a fortunate few.

Perhaps Pearl’s husband realized he didn’t deserve such a wife. Perhaps he saw her as a special blessing. Solomon does not even try to estimate her value. He only writes that “it is far above rubies,” for her value can’t be estimated by material things. From Ecclesiastes 7:24, we know that women like Pearl are scarce, and this passage conveys the difficulty of finding one. To hold this type of woman is to hold a rare jewel indeed.

Verses 10 and 11 of Proverbs 31 give us an indication of the priceless value of such a woman. The husband “won’t lack gain.” Why? Because Pearl never “maxes out” on credit cards. The husband trusts her and all good marriages are based on trust. Note that you could not buy a wonderful woman like Pearl, but she will make money for her family.

Pearl seems to have her own circle of influence in her community. It seems that her husband is wise, for he lets her have her space. He does not dominate Pearl nor stifle her creativity.

Paul speaks of the woman in I Corinthians 7:34 who is ever concerned about “how she may please her husband.” She’s no Jezebel.  She is no negative Naomi. Sapphira she is not.  Nor is she like Job’s or Lot’s wife. Neither is she the brawling girl of Proverbs 11:9!

Pearl is a Mary and a Martha combined. Pearl is a Hanna, a Rebecca, a Ruth and Esther, all in one. Pearl is like the woman Paul describes to Timothy in I Timothy 2:10, “godly…and performing good works.”

Pearl is not pretending to be something she is not. Solomon can only describe Pearl by the way she manages her household which we will discuss tomorrow.

The word “sloth” is not in Pearl’s dictionary. Verse 11 tells us that her man will have “no need of spoil.” This is a strong Hebrew word referring to the spoils of war, a word describing wealth and riches. To the Hebrew and Arab mind, “spoil” means profit and gain of all kind.

The idea here is that Pearl will help to lift the burden of her husband by her diligence. Pearl keeps a tight budget.  Although there was no true concept of budgeting a family’s income yet in Israel, the concept of thrift is all over this passage.

Verse 12 says that Pearl will do her man good “all the days of his life”. Pearl and her husband had no pre-nuptial agreement, they are mated for life!  “Till death do us part.”

Verses 12-24 describe Pearl’s specific actions. This passage describes how Pearl does things, never why she does these things, for love for one’s family cannot be explained by words.

The next Hebrew letter in Solomon’s acrostic here is in verse 12, Gimel, meaning “She will do him good.” Note that everything about her is positive! There is no thought in Pearl’s mind to “do him evil” (v. 12) in any way. Far from her mind is the thought of ever causing her husband grief, for her love for him is deep, steadfast and consistent.

In verse13, notice how Pearl works. The word “seek” here refers to “the intention of the mind” and explains how she proceeds to do what she does. Pearl is focused on the business at hand, for she knows that if she has busy hands she won’t become a busybody. Pearl stayed busy and focused on her family, so she had no desire or time for gossip.

The next Hebrew letter in Solomon’s acrostic is found in verse 13: Daleth.  Pearl knows how to work cloth, wool and linen. The concept here is her diligence in making suitable, homespun clothing for her family. Pearl is too busy to watch soaps or sitcoms. She is too balanced and busy to give into lust. Many people today tend to down-size the word “lust” which means to desire. Lust is always a sin to be judged, desire is not.

Pearl is a wonderful example to all men and women. She is only radical and extreme in her normal, godly desires to serve her family. Pearl would not tend to be glued to the television during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show for Pearl is not fashion nor fad-conscious. These verses depict Pearl as one who is always busy with her hands. The idea here is that her husband and children are well-dressed in the practical sense, not a fad-conscious sense. Her boys didn’t have tattoos and her girls didn’t have body-piercing. They had nothing to prove because they have a well-balanced family life.

This entire passage stresses her unselfish industriousness.  At the end of this passage, we find everyone praising her for her efforts. She works these materials “with her hands with pleasure.” She is active and effective with her own business.

Note that “she seeks” the best prices and bargains. Pearl uses coupons at the grocery store. She doesn’t constantly have to treat or award herself with material things. She knows they are transitory.

She takes pleasure in her work because she loves those whom she serves. Pearl notices things about her home and home life. She is an efficient, careful supervisor. She knows when her kids need new shoes, clothes, backpacks, but she won’t buy them the latest video-games.

This passage tells us that Pearl’s “hands are active after the pleasure of her heart.”  Her family gives her pleasure.

In Solomon’s continuing alphabet acrostic, the next Hebrew letter is He. In verse 14, he tries to compare Pearl with something:  “She is like the ships…from afar.” This seems to tie in with the concept in verse 24, that she will do profitable business outside the home. She is not afraid to do family business, even at a distance.

She is always on the lookout for a bargain, finding ways to save. Pearl gets around, but does not wander aimlessly.  She is on the move to improve her family’s quality of life. She is not a recluse. She is not spending her life in a convent. Her husband does not attempt to “keep her in her place.”

We are not told that Pearl prays and reads her Bible for six hours a day, but the last verse of our text does tell us that she is a godly woman. And no woman becomes godly by accident.

Verses 14-24 shows her consistent industriousness and verses 13-28 shows her motive is doing it all. It is her family’s welfare that gets her attention and affection. It indicates that her family knows it too. Pearl has a right attitude because she has right priorities.

Verse 15 contains Solomon’s next Hebrew letter in his acrostic: Vau. Pearl is a morning person!  The picture here in these verses is Eastern, but all nations can relate to Pearl’s positive attitude. The normal routine of wives in Syria is to rise early, feed her man and family so the family can eat and go to work. Our text does not tell us if Pearl was even a good cook! What is pointed out to us is her willingness. Her willing and loving hands work as a result of a solid relationship with God and family. We see no reluctance to do her part and more.

Notice that Pearl laid out the work for her maids in the morning. She knew how to delegate. Pearl had a schedule and placed her own inconveniences as secondary to her responsibilities.

Notice that our text does not say she arranged the work for the male servants. She would have left that to her husband, for a wise woman will always “abstain from the appearance of evil.”

She seems to neglect nothing in her home management. Pearl plans, directs, oversees and no doubt still prays with her children at night. She plans her work and works her plan.

Solomon’s next letter in his acrostic is found in verse 16: Zain. “She buys a field.”
Pearl has a sharp business eye for real estate. She will take a well-planned calculated risk. Verse 18 shows her lights on late at night, perhaps Pearl is doing her bookkeeping! You won’t find Pearl in Vegas, or wasting money on lottery tickets. She is not a prude. She is prudent.

Nothing indicates she does what she does without her husband’s approval. They seem to be a team. She buys the field apparently with cash. Pearl does not say, “Oh, I can charge it, because I’m not maxed out yet on my MasterCard!” She is buying land in addition to what her husband brings in. Then, because she made a profit, she plants a vineyard in it! Pearl doesn’t let it “grow over with thorns” like the field of the slothful (Proverbs 24:31). Solomon seems to indicate here that Pearl has a specific plan to make more money from this vineyard.

Solomon’s next letter in his acrostic is Cheth found in verse 17.  “She girds her loins with strength.” Why? For service to others, not herself. By her consistent duties, she keeps her body and arms strong. Pearl is not imbalanced by being obsessed with physical fitness. she just keeps busy. She keeps strong by her daily work. Her beauty is internal not external (I Peter 3:3).

Let us be specific in our goals as we set out to serve those who come in our path.

Verse 18 contains Solomon’s next acrostic letter: Teth. “She perceives her purchases are good.”

Pearl has foresight not hindsight. She tastes the bread, smells the milk, and makes sure her family’s food is not spoiled. Solomon is indicating that Pearl is perceptive. She sees to it that her grapes are growing properly in the vineyard she bought (v. 16).

Verse 18 says, “Her candle doesn’t go out at night.” Pearl “burns the midnight oil.” She’s checking her bookkeeping at night. She pays her bills! The word “lamp” here could be allegorical because “light” can indicate a happy life and prosperity.

Yod is Solomon’s next Hebrew letter found in verse 19. “Her hands hold the distaff.” The distaff is the knob fastened to the spindle that revolves and spins out thread in weaving. The point here is that her hands find work, for work is not a dirty four-letter word to Pearl. The concept is that her hands are busy. She’s skillful at spinning, as many Eastern women are. Even today, much clothing is homemade in the East. Pearl would not feel it was beneath her to spin along with the maidens. For her, it is a matter of integrity to see her family properly clothed in all seasons. An old maxim reads, “Cloths fit so well, when made by the hands that we love.”

If Pearl was Navajo, she would make her Navajo rugs from the ground up: raising her sheep, shearing them herself, dying the wool, making the yarn, and then weaving her rug with a pattern she has devised.

The point here is clear that she has talent. Pearl is skilled. And when she works, she is busy with both hands and does her job very well.

“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all they might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10a).

Solomon’s next acrostic letter is Caph found in verse 20.  “Her hands are busy helping the poor.”

“Hand” here refers to the palm or hollow of the hand, held out to the needy. Funds are being given by her hand or deeds are performed by her good hands. The concept here is of her stretching out both hands. She is going beyond just giving sparingly. The idea here is that she is giving more than just money. Pearl would never throw a coin to a beggar just to make herself feel better. She is not selfish with the profits from her investments.

Pearl reminds us of Dorcas in Acts 9:36. Pearl evidently doesn’t think like this is a real sacrifice, for giving just is part of what she is. Pearl thinks of those less fortunate and she responds! She doesn’t just take care of her family.  Her character is such that all with whom she comes in contact are blessed in one way or another.

The next acrostic letter is Lamed found in verse 21.  “She is not afraid of the snow for her family.”

The reference here is to warm woolen clothing. The color of the cloth depicted here doesn’t keep out the cold. It’s a reference to the type of warm material used to keep one warm. Even when it’s really cold in Israel, her good clothing that she makes will be warm for her family. This could refer to clothing that’s “double-warm.”

II Samuel 13:20 tells us of snow in David’s era. It can get freezing cold in Palestine.Charcoal in pans was often the only heat in Israeli homes. The point here is that all members of her household are properly clothed via her efforts. It is practicality, not luxury that is in view here. This warm clothing leads us naturally to the idea of warm coverings for her family’s beds in verse 22.

Let us make an effort to clothe our families with warmth both physically and spiritually by putting God first in our daily routine.

The next letter in the Hebrew alphabet Mem, is found in verse 22. “She makes herself coverings of tapestry.”

Pearl has proven herself to be practical. She dresses with dignity and common sense. She is not only practical, she is industrious. Pearl is never underdressed or overdressed. She also makes coverlets, pillows and mattresses, coverings to make the beds soft and warm.

The next acrostic letter is Nun, found in verse 23.  “Her husband is known in the gates.”
This refers to her husband’s good reputation in the “gates” or primary business places of the city. He is well-respected in the gates, because Pearl is well-respected in the home. While he is at work, she is thinking of ways to better their lives.

Her excellence makes him wealthy, notable and trusted. All that Pearl is enhances his status in life. His opinion has value because he values her. The community bears witness to their family values.

It does not say she is smart in his business, just in her own. Such a wife causes men to respect the husband. He has a good reputation in the city council, but he has her to thank for it.

“The woman makes the man” is not a Bible verse but it is clear that she can play a vital role in his success in life. Having a good wife says something about a man.  It says, “At the very least I can choose a good wife!”

Solomon’s thoughts now turn to her profitable labors. His next Hebrew letter is Samech found in verse 24.  “She makes fine linen.”

This refers to body linens, summer clothing and nightshirts. It is another reference to Pearl’s diligence and concern for providing her family’s needs. The concept here, again, is that they are properly clothed.

Verse 24 continues, “and sells girdles to merchants.” These merchants were probably Canaanite, Phoenician or Palestine traders. This is a reference of the far-reaching effects of her life. Perhaps these “belts” were made of leather, decorated with silver and gold. The merchants know her work is of high quality.

Her heart is in her work. Pearl wasn’t out and about looking for the praise or admiration of other men. Other men can admire her, but Pearl had eyes for only one man—her husband.

Verses 24-27 depicts her attitude. She is neither presumptuous nor self confident. She is just sure of herself and her preparations for her family’s future.

Solomon’s next acrostic letter, found in verse 25, is Ayin.  Pearl wears strength and honor. She is “clothed” with it. Her “clothing” is the dignity and confidence which she “wears” as she views the future.

“She shall rejoice in time to come.” A better translation is that “she will rejoice in the time to come,” for she has on eye on the future. This is emblematic of Pearl’s heart and industriousness.

Pearl is seen here as wearing a strong character. She displays the dignity of a woman who walks with God.  No wonder “she shall rejoice in time to come” (verse 25). The joy of Lord is her strength! Walking with a good attitude is the secret of a happy life.

The next acrostic Hebrew letter is Pe, found in verse 26.  This verse is a reference to Pearl’s words. Pearl is worth listening to if you love wisdom. Pearl teaches wisdom by her works and her words. Her wisdom is reflected in all that she says, does and is.

Solomon’s next Hebrew letter in his acrostic is Tsade found in verse 27. “She looks well to the ways of her household.”

This verse points to her instructions to her household, and is directly connected with the praise of her husband. Pearl is industrious plus she is wise: a great combination. This passage denotes her kindness, compassion and empathy.

Pearl disciplines her children in love and encourages them. It is hard to picture her as a stressed-out soccer mom. Pearl stands in sharp contrast to the schizophrenic lifestyle of the immoral woman in Proverbs chapter 7.

Her “looking well to the ways of her home” refer to its organization and management. She is on top of the domestic situation and sees to it that things flow in her home. Pearl seems to have supper planned before sunrise (v. 15). She “doesn’t eat the bread of idleness.” 

Verses 28-31 tell us of the impact of her life and her rewards. The end result of her life isn’t evaluated by God in dollars, but in her character and in her inspiration.

Our Jesus is the Pearl of Great Price, but the Pearl in Solomon’s narrative refers to a “priceless” wife.  Her “evaluation” in these final verses point to her bravery, activity, energy and godliness.

Note the action words associated with her activities:

She comforts and encourages her husband – verse 12
She seeks the best merchandise – verse 13
She brings her family food – verse 14
She rises early – verse 15
She considers what she buys – verse 16
She girds herself with godly strength – verse 17
She ensures a bargain really is a bargain – verse 18
She opens her palms to the poor – verse 20
She makes items by her own hand for her family – verse 22
She looks well to her families needs – verse 27

What areas do you find that you excel in?  What areas do you need to work on?  The Lord is ever with you to help you overcome and be the wife He intends you to be.

The next Hebrew acrostic letter, found in verse 28 is Koph.  This concerns praise from her husband and children.

Usually, children don’t tend to really appreciate their moms until later in life, but these children and her husband attribute their success and happiness to Pearl’s loving, godly discipline and orderliness.

Verse 29 seems to be what the husband is saying or really feeling about her. These are the thoughts of a thankful husband. Men should express their appreciative thoughts to their wives very often.

“You excel them all.”  Pearl, you’re a jewel!”

“Many daughters have done virtuously,” but Pearl, you are awesome! “Virtuous” here points to the concept of strength in all areas:  physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually (v.30).

Our next acrostic letter is Schin in verse 30, and could be a continuation of the husband’s praise about his godly gal or perhaps it is Solomon making his own comments here. In any case, verse 30 shows that is wasn’t Pearl’s bloodline, lineage, money, looks, ethnicity, tribe or height that gained her merit from all who knew her. It was her godly character.

Ask yourself this question, “For what character traits will I be remembered?” Beauty is transitory, but not virtue. The internal is the key to success not the external. With the overemphasis on external beauty in 21st century America, it is vital to remember that God’s Word points out that beauty can be just a mask. Pearl never had aspirations to see her face on the cover of “Self” magazine. We don’t know if Pearl was even cute!

It is one’s inner beauty that is imperishable. Looks are deceptive. External beauty is subject to the law of all earthly things. It will perish one day, but God measures what endures.

Yours and my devotion to God is private, but our works for Him are public. While the world sees your talents, God sees your heart. This entire passage concerns spiritual beauty. It’s what is inside a woman’s heart that really counts.

The love of Pearl’s husband wasn’t grounded on her beauty. External looks have very little to do with marital bliss. Pearl might have been very homely but she loved those within her home. An Apache girl once told me, “White girls are too preoccupied with their surfaces. We look deeper into a person.”

The last letter in Solomon’s acrostic is Tau in verse 30.  “The woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.”

The last lesson in Proverbs is the same as the first one, “The fear of Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (1:7).  What is the source of all Pearl’s great character traits, her secret of success? Respect for God. Out of that flows love for family. Her words, her ways, her work, her character, her dress—all stem from her life in God.

Wife selection better be based on this, above all else. Does your sweetheart really love Jesus? This question isn’t incidental to success in marriage, it’s foundational. I Peter 3:4 says that the fear of God is a woman’s prettiest ornamentation.

Pearl didn’t waste her life by raising a godly family. I Timothy 5:10 praises the woman who “followed every good work diligently.” Give your wife the praise she’s earned! Thank her for her diligence in every area!

Her joy involves being appreciated. Pearl’s “own works praise her.” They speak for themselves. What she does shows what she is.  The husband honors himself by honoring her,  and she honors him by her godly character.

Pearl just can’t help but do great things. That’s just the way she is.

Life Lessons from Proverbs 31

Proverbs ends like much like Ecclesiastes ends:  “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”  Ecclesiastes 12:13

Pearl is a woman content to love and be loved by her family. Pearl might be seen as a type of the church, reflecting the love of the Church for Christ. Pearl is not some man’s slave, but has taken her rightful position in home and community. She is a godly, feminine, domestic administrator. Nothing is said how she performs sexually, for that is not what makes a woman complete. Note how she performs her duties without whining! Because Pearl’s “tree” was good, her fruit was also (Matthew 7:17).

Pearl’s story is here for one reason: to show that a woman can get it right. Only Satan would say otherwise. What she is and what she receives is the point of this text.

So…What are the attributes a woman should seek? Consideration, loyalty, moderation, diligence, industrious, God-fearing, positive attitude, gentleness, good mother, generous, perceptive, dependable, capable, dignified, priceless, practical, economical, trustworthy, selfless, good personal habits, honorable.

It would be hard for any man to keep up with a woman like Pearl!
This passage should be a mirror for all women. Mathew Henry said, “This passage is a looking glass for ladies by which they should dress themselves.”

Women must not compare themselves with their peers, but by the scriptural example of Pearl in this passage. If the standard Pearl sets is unobtainable, then God is unfair. The only type of woman who thinks and acts like Pearl is one who is in the Word of God daily. Are these attributes instantaneous?  No!  As we grow through studying God’s Word, we will become more like Pearl every day.  It is a daily goal to strive for.

Martin Luther said, “There’s nothing dearer on earth than a woman’s love to him who can gain it.”

I like to think Pearl died very old, well-loved by her husband and children and grandchildren, all crying at her deathbed knowing she had done right by every one of them.

How will they remember you?


Maxim of the Moment

A problem is a chance for you to do your best. - Duke Ellington