When we consider Proverbs 31 we typically view it in light of what an ideal woman will be like. We consider the principles that are extolled in this passage and point out that it is these ideals that women should strive to attain. While this is true that it is these virtues that are desirable the passage is not designed solely with women in mind. In fact the larger context, and the structure of the poem, suggests that these words are meant as instruction for a young man in the selection of a wife. Thus the passage is not only to women (though certainly there is instruction to find here for you) but also to men, teaching the character and qualities that are to be valued and sought after.

The poem is constructed as an alphabetical acrostic, each line starts with the a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. We see this type of poetry used throughout the wisdom literature of the Old Testament and it was a common style meant to convey a specific form of poetry. We also see that the poem is chiastic in its structure, meaning that each point can be related to another in the poem with the with the central point being the overall focus of the poem. In this case the central focus of the poem is verse 23 where the value of the women is shown in how she influences the prestige of her husband. Please understand that this is not chauvinism, but rather a simple statement of the truth in that culture. We see much of these today though we often fail to recognize it. Here is an example: “My Mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.” George Washington. The saying, “Behind every great man is a great women” is true, and the proverb is saying that within the cultural context of the time in which it was composed.

What then are the values that both sexes are to seek after and value?
1) She is trustworthy. Verses 11 and 12 tell us that her husband puts his trust in, and that she does him good and not harm. Naturally these two go together because if a woman causes her husband ill then naturally he would have cause not to trust her, but because of the good that she shows him he is able to trust her and that trust results in great gain for them both.

2) She is not idle. Verses 13-15 explain that this type of woman is industrious with her hands, as opposed to being idle which is condemned throughout Proverbs and the rest of the Scriptures. She is active in seeking out what she needs in order to provide for her family. In fact she goes so far as seeking out the merchant ships which would carry exotic foods and materials from other parts of the world so that her family’s life is filled with variety. And yet she also rises early to provide food not only for her children and husband, but also to her servants. In that ancient culture it would usually be the purview of the servant to provide the morning meal for their masters, but instead, knowing that the servant is a valuable member of the household, this woman rises before everyone else and provides for those of the household.

3) She makes wise financial decisions. There have been those who consider this proverb to be fiction because it is generally considered that women had no control of the finances of the home. However this is simply not true of all cases. Here we see (v16) that the household is quit prosperous as a result of this woman’s care and oversight. While it may not have been the common place that a woman would be able to purchase property it is also not unheard of and a wealthy woman such as this has the means of doing so. Yet not only does she increase the property of her family she uses such a purchase for the further betterment of her household!

4) She gives to those less fortunate. Just as in our modern society, the poor and destitute were often pushed to the fringes of society and were solely depended upon the charity of others for survival. It can be very easy to forget about such individuals, but these woman generously gives to the poor and needy. Given the various other attributes that have been pointed out one might be inclined to say, “That’s nice, but clearly she can afford to give. I can barely afford my rent!” While the woman described here does indeed have financial security and abundance, we need to be mindful that it is her attitude that is the attractive quality. She is willing to give and does what she can. How many of us spend more money on our hobbies, or leisure activities or other frivolous things that could be given to those in need. Remember that it was the widow who gave the minas that gave more than all the other wealthy people.

5) She is confident about the future. While no one knows what tomorrow will bring it is possible to be prepared for the pitfalls of life. In verse 25 she is said to laugh “at the time to come,” this does not mean that she scoffs about what may happen, but that she is well prepared and is ready for whatever life may bring. Confidence is her stock in trade in regards to the future.

6) She provides wisdom and instruction. We’ve all heard the sayings that our mothers have, the old folk tales that ring true all these years later. Not only does she provide wisdom but she also instructs her household. It’s interesting how as life progresses we go through stages of wisdom and instruction with our mothers. In early life we trust everything they say and our mothers can do no wrong, but as we grow into our teen years we begin to doubt. Most people as mature adults then fall back into a pattern of trust leading to a period of dependence (in a healthy way), and finally we long for their words of comfort after they have departed this world. The good woman provides her family with her insight and wisdom as a means of instruction, teaching them and leading them in the paths of the Lord.

7) Finally she is praised by her husband and children for who she is and all that she does. In the eyes of her family she is the “Worlds Greatest Mom” and she is extolled for her virtues.

How though does one develop into this type of woman, and what is the source of such a character? Verse 30 provides the closing encouragement and echoes the first verses of the book. It is the fear of the Lord that leads her into developing the godly character described in this poem. Fear here, and throughout much of the Scriptures, does not mean quaking in our boots terror (though we should have a healthy respect for the cosmic power that God controls!) but rather means that we respect and honor him and who he is. She understands her relationship with her creator and thus shows awe and reverence to her Lord. When we, both men and women, fear God it allows us to grow and mature into a godly character, but the road is not easy and requires much work and diligence as we seek to serve our Creator.