Proverbs is an instruction book for living wisely in this world. And good instruction is best reinforced and impressed upon us by living examples. Proverbs 31 shows us how to appropriate the teaching of the book through the marvelous example of a godly woman and wife.
The Profile of a Godly Woman
Someone in my church sent me a humorous list of things his mother taught him while he grew up. He said, “My mother taught me the value of cleanliness when she said, ‘If you and your brothers are going to kill one another, go outside—I’ve just cleaned the house.’”
He also wrote, “My mother taught me the value of perseverance when she said, ‘You’re going to sit there at that dinner table until you’ve eaten all your spinach.’”
I can identify with that! How about you?
Many a night I would be alone at the dinner table with green peas left on my plate, which I couldn’t stand. They were obviously the result of a fallen world. My mother would tell me I had to stay there until they were all gone. So, I started storing my peas under the rim of my plate and then mashing them under the rim of the plate and then volunteering to rinse off the dishes. My mother finally figured it out, and she went out and bought clear glass plates. That ended that.
Well, frankly, there are too many things to list that I learned from my godly mother, growing up. She often pointed to a plaque hanging on the wall of their missionary home, where my three brothers and I grew up. It read, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Well, we have arrived at the final chapter in the book of Proverbs, and it happens to be advice from a mother to her son. The chapter begins with this heading in verse 1: “The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him.”
We do not have any record of a King Lemuel in the Old Testament. Lemuel means, “belonging to God.” I agree with some Old Testament scholars that Lemuel was likely a special name for Solomon, given to him by his mother who dedicated him to the Lord.
And Solomon’s mother was none other than Bathsheba. This dedication of Solomon to the Lord represents her personal testimony of repentance and commitment to the Lord. And she wanted nothing more than for her son to follow Him as well.
I think it is interesting that her first piece of advice to Solomon is a warning here in verse 3: “Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings.” She would know. Because of her sin with King David, she would see this family filled with trouble and division.
It is sad to consider that Solomon is not going to heed his mother’s advice. Women will certainly destroy his godly reputation and walk with God.
A second warning from Bathsheba concerns the dangers of alcohol. She says to him in verse 5 that drinking clouds the minds of kings: “They drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.”
Who knows? David might have been drinking that night he saw Bathsheba down there in her courtyard bathing. Did he drink and forgot what had been decreed by the Lord as it related to adultery and how a king should act?
Following these warnings, Bathsheba begins to describe for Solomon the profile of a godly woman. The list stretches some twenty-two verses.
This list reminds me of the list of godly characteristics in 1 Timothy 3, required of men who lead the church—and frankly of every man who wants to be godly. That list is always intimidating to me; but it is good for me. I will never get it all down perfectly, but it is the goal of godliness every man should pursue.
Well, no woman is going to get this list down perfectly either, but these twenty-two verses give us the goal of godliness for women to this day.
This section beginning at verse 10 is an acrostic poem, with each verse beginning with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This made the passage easy for the nation of Israel to memorize.
It begins with a question here in verse 10: “An excellent [virtuous] wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” In other words, a man can be financially poor, but if he finds a wife like this, he is the wealthiest of men. He can trust her with his heart and life, verse 11 adds.
Now this woman has to be one of the hardest working women on the planet. In fact, no woman is going to be able to keep all this up without these maidens she has working for her, mentioned in verse 15. She evidently has a household staff of women assisting her.
My wife has often joked that she would be able to fulfill Proverbs chapter 31 if I would just hire a household staff for her. Well, neither my faithful wife nor the vast majority of you wives reading this has a houseful of people working for you—it’s just you.
Bathsheba adds to the description this element of financial discernment: Not only does she apply herself to work at home, but she also earns money outside the home. Verse 16 says, “She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” Down in verse 24 we are told, “She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.”
She is not just selling clothes in the marketplace; she is also clothing her own family: “She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet” (verse 21). This Hebrew word translated “scarlet” actually means “double garments”; their garments are doubly thick for the cold, snowy winter.
We are told in verse 20 that she also cares about people outside her family: “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.”
Now she evidently doesn’t give everything away and walk around dressed like a pauper because we are told here in verse 22 that her own “clothing is fine linen and purple.” This statement represents a measure of wealth and fashionable taste in clothing.
Verse 23 gives us a brief glimpse of her husband as being “known in the gates” and sitting “among the elders.” He’s a well-respected man, perhaps even a judge. The idea is that his wife has increased his credibility and respectability by her actions and reputation.
So, it is no wonder this poem includes a personal statement from her husband. In verse 29 he says, “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
Bathsheba had been a woman beautiful and charming enough to get the attention of David’s faithful soldier Uriah. This renowned warrior married her. Sadly, Bathsheba also was beautiful enough to get the attention of David, who, in my view, abused his power and manipulated his role as king to get Bathsheba into his palace that night.
But now listen to what beautiful Bathsheba has to say about beauty here in verse 30: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
Listen to her as she counsels her son. Charm is deceitful; it can get you into trouble. Beauty is vain—it’s empty—without a relationship with the Lord.
If you have a godly mother, or if you are blessed to be married to a godly woman, she is going to hand out the same advice.
She is going to be more concerned with her character than her complexion. She is going to saturate her mind more with the Word of God than with the latest trends. She is going to challenge her children, if she has any, to pursue the approval of God rather than the approval of people. She is going to live by this principle: “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”
And with that we finish our Wisdom Journey through the book of Proverbs.