Do We Need to Be Like the Proverbs 31 Woman?

8:00 AM

At Sunday brunch, I got theoretically girlfriend swapped. You know, the funny what-if-but-no-way-would-this-happen scenario of trading significant others and seeing how disastrous the results would be. My boyfriend got a great cook in this theoretical trade-off. And what did I have to offer?


I panicked for a moment, because I couldn't think of anything. Nothing tangible, nothing immediately appealing to the general population of males. I

"Well," my new theoretical boyfriend comforted me, "I can learn to exercise virtues. Like patience."


To be honest, I probably share more in common with the Dripping Faucet Woman than the Proverbs 31 Woman. I like words over doing things. I like fixing people rather than rising early with my servant girls. I'm sure I've got a couple years to go before my husband and children arise and call me blessed.....for multiple reasons. Like being unmarried.

On a more serious note.......

Friends, I'd like to ask you this: As women, do we need to be like the Proverbs 31 Woman? If so, how much like her do we need to be? If not, what is she doing in Scripture?

I want to write a post about it, but I think I need a little bit more inspiration and insight from you all before I form an opinion. Comment away! Let's really make this a great discussion! (Guys, please do chime in!) As an extra incentive and a thank you gift to those of you who share, top comments will be shared in the upcoming post and linked to their respective blogs. :)

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30 impressions

  1. Long-time lurker here, but your gambit was so good I had to go for it. :)

    My husband and I were talking about this the other day, and found it interesting that though the Proverbs 31 woman is held up as the ideal in many fundamentalist Christian circles, she generally contradicts the ideal of womanhood they advocate: think staying at home and only taking care of children/husband/father/etc. This is actually a far cry from what the Proverbs 31 woman is like. She's the person who's going out and making money, trading with people, overseeing the farm, buying land, and making sure her family is provided for, while meanwhile her husband is sitting in the gates, helping to govern the city. And it doesn't say one word about her cooking and cleaning abilities (although apparently she can sew and spin!), or even about how she submits to her husband. It only says that they are both respected in the city. So yes, I would say that even modern-day women can be like the Proverbs 31 woman--strong women who know their own mind and aren't afraid to work for the good of their household. She definitely didn't sit around honing her chocolate-chip cookie baking skills while waiting for her husband to make money; instead, she took her business acumen and her talents and used them to help her husband.

    That said, I've got to admit that everything she managed to get done makes me feel a little lazy. I don't think I'd be a very nice person to be around if I had to do all that every day. So....maybe take her as an ideal to strive for, and a model of what a woman can do?

    1. Glad you fell for my little bribe. ;) It's really interesting to me that the Proverbs 31 Woman can be used by either sides of this debate. She's flexible enough to fit into the fundamentalist circles, and strong enough to fit in the more openminded Christian circles. That's a great point! I didn't really notice that!

  2. I struggled a lot with the topic of "Biblical Womanhood." In my attempts to understand it and define it neatly for myself, I read books that scared my friends (Jesus Feminist, for example). I read what Scripture had to say about it and of course Proverbs 31 tends to come up with you do that. I used to read that passage as a sort of job description, but I realized that there's a whole lot more to the conversation than that, especially when you look at it from a global perspective instead from our middle or upper class American one. I wrote a pretty long post about my thoughts on this if you're interested in reading it. You can see it here:

    ps. I have been a silent reader of your posts for a few years now (creepy much?) And I feel that coming out of the woodwork now is going to appear a little odd, but it's a topic close to me heart and one that I finally feel mostly at peace with.

    1. Sonja, that's beautiful. Oh, my heart -- I love this!! Question just to pick your brain: What would you say to people who seem to see American middle-class privilege as not American middle-class privilege but instead Biblical norms? People who would look at the mother in Ethiopia who can't afford to stay home and homeschool the kids and say, "Well, that's an exception, but that's not the Biblical ideal"? I haven't come up with a great answer to this, and I'd love your opinion!

    2. Thanks, Bailey! And also good question! I had the immense privilege to be homeschooled by my stay-at-home mom along with my two siblings. We never attended public school, and aside from a few jobs in her early marriage, my mom was blessed to be able to stay home with us. My Dad has always had a job that has provided not only for our necessities (food, housing, warmth, etc.) but also for our wants.

      However, as I was growing up my parents wanted to show me the other side. As a pre-teen I was helping feed homeless. I didn’t just donate food to a shelter for anonymous people; twice a week, I looked into their faces and the faces of their children and asked if they wanted some mac-n-cheese for dinner. Now, I work at a Boy’s and Girl’s Club where many of my kids have confided in me that they’re glad spring is here because their parents can’t afford to even heat the home during winter.

      And we look at the parents who send their kids to public school and criticize them for leaving one of the most important jobs they’ve been given, educating their children, to the secular state. But most of these parents have no choice. There is no option to skip the vacation and a new car so mom can stay home because they’re just worried about how they’re going to pay the rent. Of course there are the families who choose to have mom work because they want a particular lifestyle or because she doesn’t want to stay home all day. But there are just as many who don’t have that choice. Global statistics estimate that in 2011 alone, 2.2 billion people lived on less than US $2 (the average poverty line in developing countries like Ethiopia.)

      I think that it can be hard for people to look outside their world and what they were raised with and realize that there are people (as close as next door) who have so much less. Poverty is so much more than a problem in developing countries.

      God willing, I will be able to stay home and homeschool my children. I don’t believe that God wants people to leave the education of their children to the secular state. But, to be honest, if I lived during the times where education in schools was more Biblically based, I’d probably enroll my kids in school. You certainly didn’t see Jesus hounding mothers in Biblical days to take their sons out of the synagogue schools and back home for instruction.

      I don’t believe that God wants children to starve or be homeless. I can’t believe that God who looks at all in the world sees this and says “too-bad-too-sad” to the woman in Ethiopia or America who has to work alongside her husband to provide food for her family and say that the woman who can afford to stay home is living in the Biblical ideal. I don’t believe there is an “ideal.” I believe that families who are doing their best to budget their finances and work out what they can in today’s difficult world are doing what they can. God is just interested in our obedience and faithfulness. Like I wrote in my blog post: we all want to hear: "Well done, good and faithful servant."

    3. Thanks for your response, Sonja! I agree with you that there's no "ideal" of what a household should look like...but hard work, love, and providing for one's family in the best way possible for that particular family is as (if not more) honoring to God than the cookie-cutter Christian home.

    4. Totally, and I'm pretty sure you summed my whole 6 paragraphs up in like one sentence. thanks. :-D

  3. I heard once that the Proverbs 31 woman is not just a single person. Like maybe it should be Proverbs 31 women. Because God made us all with different characteristics and talents. So one woman could be really good at and really enjoy having people over - hospitality. And another could be good at working with her hands. And so on and so forth.
    I guess I thought it was helpful for me to realize that to be a "Proverbs 31 woman" you don't have to be perfectly good at every thing you do. I think we should use the gifts that God gave us for His glory.
    It says "An excellent wife who can find?" (verse 10) Which means it's practically impossible, right? So maybe she is just there as an example. I don't know.
    Just throwing my thoughts out there...

    1. Thank you for putting your thoughts out here, Katherine! I appreciate it! Would you see the Proverbs 31 Woman then as an ideal instead of an actual woman? And thus different women can be good at different things found within this ideal?

    2. There a number of virtuous women documented throughout the Bible. The Pr 31 is a composite of some of those women.

      A wife of noble character who can find? (v. 10) Ruth was know as a woman of noble character (Ru 3:11). Like the Pr 31 woman, Lydia was a woman of noble character. The name “Lydia” means noble. She is clothed in fine linen and purple (v. 22b). Lydia sold purple cloth (Ac 16:14). Both Lydia and the Pr 31 woman were merchants.

      She has been like a merchant’s ship that brings its merchandise from far away (v. 14). The Queen of Sheba literally brought Solomon large quantities of spices from far away. (1 Ki 10:6-10). Reward her for her work— let her actions result in public praise (v. 31). The
      Queen of Sheba’s quest for wisdom brought her public praise. Jesus publicly acknowledged and commended her (Ma 12:42). She came from afar to hear the wisdom of a mere man. She was amazed at what she saw and heard. However, when Jesus who was greater than Solomon came, many despised, rejected, slighted and slandered Him.

      Doesn’t let her lamp go out… (v. 18b). In the parable, the wise virgins didn’t allow their lamps to go out. They were prepared when the Bridegroom came (Ma25:1-12). Anna’s lamp didn’t go out at night because she worshiped God day and night by fasting and praying (Lu 2:36-38).

      Helps the poor (v. 20). Dorcas helped the poor (Ac 9:36).

      … speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue (v. 26). The Wise Woman of Abel’s instruction saved her city from destruction (2 Sa 20:19-22). Pilate’s wife spoke with wisdom and faithful instruction (Ma 27:19). Huldah spoke with wisdom and sent the king a message from God (2 Ki 22:14-20). Deborah wisely instructed the people of Israel (Ju chapter 4 & 5). Esther spoke wisely to the king and helped save the Jews from annihilation (Book of Esther). Priscilla helped her husband give Apollos wise and faithful instruction (Ac 18:26). Abigail spoke wisely to David. David recognized the wisdom in Abigail's words, and he decided not to kill Abigail's foolish husband and the other men in that household (1 Sam chapter 25).

      She watches over the affairs of her household (v. 27a). Rahab watched over the affairs of her household. She wisely and faithfully instructed the spies about how to hide and escape. She also negotiated a plan that saved her life and the lives of those in her house (He 11:31).

      Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all (v. 29). Like Pr 31 woman, these women were also called blessed. Most blessed among women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. May she be blessed above all women who live in tents (Ju 5:24). Mary – Thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women (Lu 1:28).

      She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life (v. 12). Because of Zipporah’s proactivity as it relates to circumcising their son, God’s anger against Moses was calmed and his life was spared (Ex 4:14-20).

      The description listed for the Pr 31 woman is very meaty. There's a lot that women (and men) of all generations can learn from her. Her description can also serve as a springboard that can compel us to appreciate and study more about the virtuous women listed in the Bible.

    3. Wow! That's so insightful! I never even noticed how all her characteristics match almost perfectly with many other women in the Bible!

  4. I'm not sure what I think about Proverbs 31, but here is a slightly different perspective to consider: What if the primary target audience is not women, but men? Because of the way it is written and where it is located in Proverbs, I feel it is talking about a tendency that is still found in some men today to think they want a "trophy wife" and that having that type of woman will increase their status. Proverbs 31 says don't pick a wife based on charm or beauty. Instead, pick a woman who is capable, wise, confident, and loyal. That is what will really increase your status and help you be secure, happy, and successful to boot. And, if a man is lucky enough to find a woman like that, then he needs to appreciate and value her, as well as trust her and praise her.

    Of course, even with this interpretation, women are still encouraged to be that type of woman that men will value. I read that these verses are actually an acrostic: In the original Hebrew each verse after verse 10 starts with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Did you ever make one of those for your mom for Mother's Day or something? Sure, you were honest and said true things, but a couple lines were stuck in for the letter, right? "Quickly makes breakfast in the morning" anyone? My point in bringing this up is that Proverbs 31 describes a particular type of woman that is admirable and to be valued, but it's not meant to be a checklist of specific items where every woman ought to be able to check off all of them.


    1. I never once thought that Proverbs 31 was directed to men, but that makes so much sense! Yay for good hermeneutics! ;) I really loved everything you said, Adele. I'll look into the acrostic thing.

  5. I think women should try to have principles like the Proverbs 31 woman has. I don't think this should be a checklist. It will only lead to some people feeling guilty and others being proud. Some people simply can't (physically, mentally, or emotionally) do all those things. However, the principles of diligence, faithfulness, industriousness, etc. still apply. Make sense?

    1. That totally makes sense, Justine! I think that's a really balanced view. Thanks for sharing!

  6. It also depends on what sort of housekeeping and lifestyle each family wants. My mom keeps her house perfect to the point that the editors of House Beautiful could show up at any given moment to do a photo shoot and the house would be ready to go. My house... not so much. I wouldn't want my house in any magazine, but I wouldn't be ashamed if friends randomly dropped by.

    This isn't laziness on my part, or even a good work ethic on my mom's part, it's almost completely personal preference. My mom prefers to present a perfect house to the world, and the perfect organization makes her feel relaxed, whereas I don't care if there's clean dishes in the drainer or dirty dishes in the sink or cat fur on the couch. I don't care if I open up the dryer and see last week's laundry still waiting to be folded. I have other things on which I'd rather spend my time. If I were to marry, I'd choose someone who does not value a perfect home or who has the money to be able to hire a maid. Which brings me to the point that the Proverbs 31 woman had servants. I suspect most of us are keeping our homes on our own. Of course, we have electric appliances, the servants of the 21st century.

    On a lighter note, I'm a night owl, so if I'm going to be the Proverbs 31 woman, I can either get lots of work done or get up early, but not both. And either way, there had better be coffee. :)

  7. Casvelyn...that's so me. I want household stuff to be subordinate to loving any future husband or children. I'm very fortunate to be dating someone who's as messy as I am -- fortunate in that neither of us make a big deal about the other person's stuff but responsible enough to clean it up once it gets out of control. :)

    Your comment about the coffee -- LOL. :D

  8. Justine and Adele...yes. I think when analyzing this part of scripture, it's important to ask yourself "what did the author mean?" So take away the cultural trappings and look at the character being described. Trustworthy, hard working, fit, intelligent, wise....honestly these are all attributes both genders could aspire to.

    How many of us are attracted to people mainly because of their external attributes? I know I've been guilty of this as much as anyone. But when selecting a lifelong companion, you want to know you have found someone that has your back every day. Someone that will remain interesting and supportive for the long haul. Have you heard this joke: "Before you fall for a bright pair of eyes be sure it's not the sun shining through the back of her head." Basically, this is what the message of proverbs 31 is trying to get across. :)

    1. I'm really glad everyone's bringing up the actual context of Proverbs 31 -- a mother's advice to her son to find a woman of character instead of just a charming face. I've never heard these perspectives before, and I'm so glad I am now...because you're right. :)

  9. Proverbs 31:1 states, “The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him:” That indicates Adele’s assertion to be correct.

    Another point I didn’t see in the comments… I once heard Prov. 31 explained as a snapshot of a virtuous woman’s LIFE not a virtuous woman’s DAY. Isn’t that a relief?! :)

    I discovered an interesting footnote of Proverbs 31:10 on -- c. Proverbs 31:10 Literally a wife of valor, in the sense of all forms of excellence

    Do we need to be like the Prov. 31 woman? Well, who doesn’t want to be worth more than rubies? Who doesn’t want the heart of their husband to safely trust in them? (I’m not married, but trust in marriage is very appealing. :)) Do we need to do exactly what she does? Someone already mentioned the acrostic that is happening in the Hebrew text. I don’t know that this chapter is written in the present imperative. :) I personally think it is safe to say that the details can look different. When I look at Prov. 31 I see generosity, responsibility, diligence, industry, creativity, dependability, compassion, protection/provision (for the poor and her own family), and perhaps most importantly the fear of the Lord.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share our thoughts, Bailey. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments. I have also been reading your blog for years but seldom comment because I don’t have a blog.

    Blessings! ~ Rachel H.

    1. That is a HUGE relief! I really appreciate your thoughtful comment, Rachel. Your perspective was helpful in pulling together several different trains of thoughts!

    2. Thanks, Bailey! I'm glad to be helpful. :) Also, I'm sorry my thoughts were a little "choppy" (disjointed) in the fourth paragraph of my comment.

      Looking forward to your post. ~ Rachel H.

  10. Great questions, Bailey! I’m glad you brought this up, as it’s been beneficial for me to think through this. :)

    As I’ve pondered the “Proverbs 31 Woman,” I see her the same way I see the wise woman and the foolish woman who are also pictured in Proverbs. Both of those women are portrayed as a picture for the principles of wisdom and foolishness laid out in the book. We understand that we do not need to go to the market-place and call people to wisdom in order to be wise. Yet, this gives us an understandable picture of the principle that wisdom does not hide itself in darkness as foolishness does, but instead calls others to understanding. In the same way, we do not need to rise early in the morning to tend our servant girls the way the Proverbs 31 woman does, but this pictures the principle that wise wives do not waste excessive time sleeping, but are conscientious in running their households.

    Viewing Proverbs 31 in this way, brings to mind two other considerations. First of all, while there’s nothing wrong with going through the passage and pulling from it all the principles for the way a virtuous wife will live, I don’t find this necessary, because these principles have already been laid out all through the rest of Proverbs. Yes, we can take the fact that she rises early and tends her servant girls, and make the correlation that she is hardworking and doesn’t waste time with excessive sleep. But we can also look at Proverbs 24:30-34 and realize that the same principle is already laid out there.

    And secondly, the Proverbs 31 woman is a picture within the cultural context of the author. I’m not going to have servant girls when I’m married and I won’t be industrious with a spindle, and that’s totally fine—I don’t live in the context in which this picture was “drawn.” The same principles of wisdom, laid out in Proverbs and pictured in the Proverbs 31 woman will look very different in the 21st century.

    Seeing a personification of a wise, married woman, based on Proverbs, can be helpful for us, as it can give us insight into what wisdom can look like as it’s lived out. And that’s ultimately what I find this passage to be—helpful insight, but nothing to hold over anyone’s heads (our own included) as *clear-cut expectations* or the *definition* of Godly womanhood.

    1. I love this, Amy! You're so right -- there's nothing in the Proverbs 31 Woman that hasn't already been laid out clearly in Proverbs. I wish I had more to say to such a great comment other than thank you for sharing!

    2. Very good points, Amy! I really like how you set Proverbs' wise and foolish women beside each other for comparison/added understanding. I found your comments very insightful.

      ~ Rachel H.

  11. I think one of the bigger things to be considered is, "What does a Proverbs 31 woman look like today?" I think a Proverbs 31 woman could be a blogger, because that could be a second source of income. This is just one thing among lots that wouldn't have been possible in Biblical times.

    1. This is true. No flax-spinning necessary!

  12. Pr 31 isn't just ABOUT women and/or wives. Many of the characteristics and duties listed in Pr 31 are mutual; they apply to men also. That's why some say that Pr 31 is a metaphor for the church.

    Do Good
    She will do him good ... (v.12). As believers, men and women are admonished to "do good" to our enemies (Lu 6:27, 35). Christian men and women are admonished to "do good" and to share with others (He 13:16).

    Work With Your Hands
    She ... works with eager hands (v.13). Christian men and women are called to live a quiet lives, mind our business and "work with our hands" ... (1 Th 4:11).

    Don't Be Idle
    She ... does not eat the bread of idleness (v.27). Paul proclaimed the value of hard work and sternly warned men and women not to be idle (2 Th 3:6-12). "And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone" ( 1 Th 5:14).

    Speak With Wisdom
    She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue (v.26). "The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just" (Ps 37:30).

    Help the Poor
    She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy (v.20). Christian men and women are admonished to care for the poor and needy (Ma 25:34-40).

    Fear the Lord
    ... a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (v. 30). "Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!" (Ps 112:1)

    When we read Pr 31, it's also important to remember that many of the traits and responsibilities listed are collective. Christian men and women should both aspire to have those mutual traits and fulfill the mutual responsibilities: doing good, working with our hands, not being idle, speaking wisdom, helping the poor and fearing the Lord.

    1. That's such an interesting perspective, Kim, especially because many conservatives point to this passage as an example of distinct feminine qualities. I think your comment dovetails nicely with several other people who noted that her obedience to God in these areas is what makes her stand out and is what we should follow. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in so detailed a way! I appreciated reading through them.

  13. I really appreciated this lecture on Proverbs 31. I think it's worth taking the time to listen:


Hit me with your best thought! I'm very interested in your unique perspective. If you'd like to discuss things in private, feel free to email me! :)