WORTH MORE THAN RUBIES
Who can find a virtuous woman?
For her price is far above rubies…
King James Version
WHO WAS KING LEMUEL?
The 31st chapter of the Book of Proverbs contains words of wisdom from a mother to her son, King Lemuel. In the second part of the chapter, she describes the kind of wife he should look for—one who is worthy of being a queen.
History does not record King Lemuel. It has been suggested that he was the King of Massa, in Arabia, but ancient Jewish tradition contends that the mother in Proverbs 31 is Bathsheba, lecturing her son, the future King Solomon. That is a distinct possibility, especially when you consider that Solomon wrote the Book of Proverbs. In Hebrew, the name Lemuel means “belonging to God,” which further supports the theory that he is the son of King David. According to 1 Kings 11:3 Solomon had approximately seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines—one wonders if he took his mother’s advice!
WHO WAS THE PROVERBS 31 WOMAN?
We know very little about the woman described in Proverbs 31. We don’t even know her name. It is possible that she may be a purely hypothetical person, although many—this author included—prefer to believe she actually lived.
It has been suggested that she was a compilation of many women of the day. However, this does not appear to be the case; the original Hebrew word ishsha translates as “woman,” “wife,” or “female,” which are all singular.
It is possible that the model for the Proverbs 31 woman was Ruth, the daughter-in-law of Elimelech and Naomi. After Elimelech and his two sons died, Ruth loyally accompanied Naomi back to Bethlehem. She married Boaz, a wealthy landowner and a relative of her late husband. Their son, Obed, was the father of Jesse, grandfather of King David, and great-grandfather of Solomon. They were also the ancestors of Joseph, making Ruth the foremother of Jesus. The Book of Ruth was originally placed immediately after the Book of Proverbs in the Tanakh; some Bible scholars see this as an indication that Solomon was thinking of his great-great grandmother when he wrote Proverbs 31.
There are many parallels between Proverbs 31 and the Book of Ruth. Among them:
- Ruth is described as a “virtuous woman.”
- Boaz publicly recognized Ruth at the public gate in order to secure her as his wife.
- Boaz first saw Ruth’s strong work ethic when she was gleaning corn in his field.
- Boaz was an elder in the city.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT HER?
Proverbs 31: 10-31, originally called “Eisheth Ḥayil,” was traditionally recited in Jewish homes every week on the eve of the Sabbath. As a young girl Mary, the mother of Jesus, would have taken these words to heart.
Each of the twenty-two verses begins with the next character in sequence in the Hebrew alphabet—Aleph, Beth, Gimel, and so on. It is one of thirteen acrostic poems in the Bible. In the Hebrew text, each verse is clearly divided into two sections.
This ideal woman, known simply as the Proverbs 31 woman, had a healthy self-esteem, a healthy relationship with her husband and children, and a healthy work ethic. She is described as follows in The Living Bible:
10 If you can find a truly good wife, she is worth more than precious gems!
11 Her husband can trust her, and she will richly satisfy his needs.
12 She will not hinder him, but help him all her life.
13 She finds wool and flax and busily spins it.
14 She buys imported foods, brought by ship from distant ports.
15 She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household, and plans the day’s work for her servant girls.
16 She goes out to inspect a field, and buys it; with her own hands she plants a vineyard.
17, 18 She is energetic, a hard worker, and watches for bargains. She works far into the night!
19,20 She sews for the poor, and generously gives to the needy.
21 She has no fear of winter for her household, for she has made warm clothes for all of them.
22 She also upholsters with the finest tapestry; her own clothing is beautifully made—a purple gown of pure linen.
23 Her husband is well known, for he sits in the council with the other civic leaders.
24 She makes belted linen garments to sell to the merchants.
25 She is a woman of strength and dignity, and has no fear of old age.
26 When she speaks her words are wise, and kindness is the rule for everything she says.
27 She watches carefully all that goes on in her household, and is never lazy.
28 Her children stand and bless her; so does her husband. He praises her with these words:
29 “There are many fine women in the world, but you are the best of them all!”
30 Charm can be deceptive, and beauty doesn’t last, but a woman who fears and reveres God shall be greatly praised.
31 Give her praise for the many fine things she does. These good deeds of hers shall bring her honor and recognition from even the leaders of the nations.
A NEW TESTAMENT PARALLEL
Before Christ, the ancient Greek language contained three primary words for love—storge, the love the Proverbs 31 woman had for her children; eros, the love she had for her husband; and phileo, the love she had for others around her. The Proverbs 31 woman lived a thousand years before the New Testament era, yet she was the personification of the love described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Here is the passage, as found in the New Living Translation:
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud
5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!
SHE LIVED 1 CORINTHIANS 13
The Proverbs 31 woman patiently spent long hours working the spindle, and was willing to put in even more long hours in the vineyard before finally harvesting her grapes.
She was kind and never selfish. She sewed for the poor and stretched out her hand to help them. She did not boast about her wealth; rather, she shared it. She knew it came from God, and she did not fall prey to the sin of pride.
She was not jealous of others. She was thankful for all God had given her—both materially and otherwise—and she dedicated her life to Him and to her family.
The Proverbs 31 woman was not rude to anyone. Instead, she was respectful, supporting, and understanding.
She didn’t demand things her way, nor was she angry when she didn’t get something she wished for. She didn’t “keep score,” bring up past arguments, or hold grudges.
She never took pleasure in the misfortunes of others. Nor did she secretly enjoy hearing of them being wronged.
The Proverbs 31 woman never gave up. Some translations say, “bears all things.” She kept going, no matter what, because she had hope and faith that everything would turn out for the best.
She was filled to overflowing with the kind of love that lasts forever!