by John Stubbs, Scotland
In this wisdom book of the Old Testament we have short sayings from a long experience. The book has been described as "Proverbs of Solomon for problems of society" and another has called it "Laws of heaven for life on earth". Both descriptions are fitting for this book and especially the subject we are now to consider. A careful reading of the book should show that there are proverbs of Solomon and also proverbs for Solomon. There is a difference. Well would it have been for this king had he paid heed to the proverbs intended for him. The book of Proverbs may not be a part of Holy Scripture that many would tend to look into for information and teaching on godly womanhood. It may be a surprise for some to know that there are no fewer than seventeen mentions of a woman or women in this book and this besides the references to the role of pious mothers in family life. In it we will discover a valuable contribution to these studies on the theme. The character of this book should lend itself to various aspects of counsel regarding what God expects of a woman. There are some interesting, terse statements concerning women in Proverbs. The book presupposes the sad fact of the fall of man and gives pithy and powerful advice for man in such fallen conditions. In these modern days of Women’s Liberation and the insistent plea for the equality of the sexes, the wise words of this book will, in its references to women, present the Divine view of what a woman should be, especially of godly womanhood as being of great value.
The early chapters describe the wicked and strange woman, illustrating the world in its seductive allurements and the godly woman in whose character are seen features that are God’s ideal of womanhood. What a contrast between the gracious woman who retaineth honour, 11.16, and the fair woman who is without discretion, 11.22; between the strange woman, 2.16-22, and the virtuous woman whose price is above rubies, 31.10.
How true it is that –
A godly woman sure should be
A Sarah to her Lord,
A Martha to her company,
A Mary to the Word.
Let us now look at a number of these references to women in this book. We will include the mention of the strange or wicked woman if only to contrast her to the woman who pleases God.
THE STRANGE WOMAN
The book of Proverbs contains four passages giving strong and timely warnings against a woman described as the "strange woman". These passages are as follows: 2.16-19; 5.3-8,20; 6.24-33 and 7.5-27. The last section makes solemn and sad reading as it gives a long description of her wiles and ways. It provides a sharp contrast between the wicked and worldly woman who lives for pleasure and lust, and the wise and worthy woman who desires to please the Lord. While the literal interpretation must not be overlooked and given its full force, yet one cannot help but see in this woman, that which is typical of the world and its seductive ways.
Proverbs chapter 7 may be considered in three sections that indicate we have an illustration, in the strange woman, of the world in its sinful and persuasive ways. In vv.1-5 we have safeguards against worldliness, or how I can be kept from the world ("keep my commandments and live"). In vv.6-23 we have the seductions characterising the world, or how I can be easily ensnared by the world ("with her much fair speech she caused him to yield"). In vv.24-28 we have the sad end of courting the world, or how I am no match for the world ("many strong men have been slain by her"). In v.26, in reference to the strong men, we are reminded of Samson and the three women in his life, and that he finally lost his Nazariteship. His separation had gone and with it his strength. The world will ever seek to spiritually weaken the believer. How watchful we need to be. Let us see from vv.6-24 that the strange woman uses three subtle tactics to drag down the unsuspecting young man. We will contrast her methods with the godliness of the woman who fears God.
In v.9 she uses the darkness of the night, "in the twilight, in the black and dark night". The association of the young man with her is not planned but temporary. The harlot works under cover of darkness to disarm the young man. What may begin as a passing connection ("passing through the street"), soon turns out to be disastrous for him. Many believers feel they have a loose relationship with the world only to discover before long that it has taken over their life. This strange woman is deceptive, cunning and persistent and so unlike the godly woman Solomon speaks of later in the book. Take, for example, the woman of worth in 31.10-31. Does she work in secret and deceptively? Contrary to the strange woman who at night does her evil work, the godly woman riseth while it is yet night in order to do her good work in giving food to her household. What a blessing such a woman is to her family. The godly wife and mother in the home can serve God this way as much as a servant of the Lord working farther a-field in the gospel. God Himself sets a very high value on the godly sister seeking to run the household as unto Him.
In v.14 she uses the disguise of religion, "I have peace offerings with me; this day have I paid my vows." She comes to allure him with the guile of sanctity, as if religion approves of her acting thus. Her conscience is thereby eased, but this does not lessen the evil of what she is proposing to do. It is a shameful thing to use the so-called garb of religion as an excuse for sinning, and yet many times through history this has been practised. The strange woman has no sensitivity to what is wrong in the sight of God, but continues to destroy innocent youth. This is so typical of the world today and even of religion. Let us again contrast her with the woman who fears God and seeks to be godly. Her religion is real, purely motivated and practical. We are told that "a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised" 31.30. The strange woman has no such fear. She may pretend to it, but it is false. What an inspiring tower of strength a godly woman in her fear of God can be to her family, to her friends and also in the church of God gathered to His name.
In vv.19,20 she uses the opportunity of the departure of the husband to indulge in her sinful ways. The husband left on his journey with complete trust in her, but she selfishly betrays that trust. Did she not remember her marriage vows? No, she had no regard for the sacred marriage bond in which she was placed. She possessed no respect for her husband, else she would never have gone out at night with such a God-dishonouring and blatantly sinful purpose. She took advantage of the absence of her husband. She denied her relationship with her husband. This is a sad and serious situation, but it is one that can be multiplied thousands and thousands times over in this fallen world. How refreshing to see in the godly woman of Proverbs chapter 31 the very contrast to this. The strange woman betrays the confidence of her husband and shows her lack of love for him, but in the description of the godly woman we find her husband is mentioned three times. Her husband trusts unreservedly in her, v.11. She supports her husband in his responsibility at the gates, v.23, and all that she does earns praise from him, v.28. What a delightful and happy relationship and what a blessing to have at the head of a family such pillars of strength and oneness. Such godly women are a rare breed indeed in society. Christian wives who read these lines would do well to have an exercise to be the woman God intends them to be in the home.
There are other descriptions of the ungodly woman in Proverbs that reveal her character. Some of these descriptions may seem extreme and it has to be said many ungodly or unsaved women have, naturally speaking, commendable features, but we are contemplating some women in Proverbs that are the very opposite to the godly woman. There are, as mentioned already, not a few references to what we may call the natural woman. In fact there are more mentions of the natural woman than of the godly woman and this is but a sad picture of the fact that godly women are few and far between in these dark days. Let us notice these further references and seek to extract some lessons.
THE FOOLISH WOMAN – 9.13
"A foolish woman is clamorous: she is simple, and knoweth nothing." The section comprising vv.9-18 is very similar to chapter 7 concerning the strange woman, but here we have four additional traits not mentioned in chapter 7. She is foolish – not deprived of all knowledge, but depraved in heart. She thinks nothing about destroying the character of men. She is clamorous or loud and forward. She is simple in her ignorance of what is morally right and knows nothing of what is really a grievous sin in the sight of God. Her fleshly lusts blind her and her shame and sensuous appeal is the very opposite to wisdom’s appeal in the previous passage in vv.1-12. She is so unlike the godly woman who fears God and remains faithful to her husband, 12.4.
THE FAIR WOMAN – 11.22
"As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion." Fair woman she may be, but more than physical beauty is precious to God. A beauty that is allied to purity and virtue is lovely to behold, but beauty without discretion and wisdom is missing very much indeed. It is so incongruous to see a jewel in a swine’s snout. Likewise, it is out of place to see beauty in women without any wisdom or the fear of God in their souls, but rather the woman who is truly godly will adorn the doctrine by her dress and gracious bearing and will develop those wonderful dignities that exhibit the features of Christ. A Christian lady was asked the secret of her beautiful complexion. She replied, "I use truth for my lips, for my voice prayer, for my eyes pity, for my hands charity, for my figure uprightness and for my heart love." These are heavenly cosmetics that are worthy of application and are supplied free to every woman applying to the throne of grace. "Whose adorning … let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" 1Pet.3.3,4. We only have to look at Jezebel to see in her history and character that which is sadly in contrast to this.
THE BRAWLING WOMAN – 21.9
"It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house." Where a brawling woman seeks to rule in a house and is adamant she wants her way, the home will suffer for it. In fact, it will not be a home but merely a house marked by a distressing atmosphere and unpleasantness. This is why it is better by far to be in a quiet corner on the housetop than to dwell even in a fine residence with such a woman. Is this what God expects the married state and the home to be like? What kind of marriage is it that forces the husband to a solitary life without; rather than to endure a quarrelsome life within? Such a situation contravenes the marriage bond and God’s Word that "it is not good that the man should be alone" Gen.2.18. Where God’s Word is submitted to in the home, the wife treated with respect and honour by the husband, the wife being submissive to her husband; the Lord’s presence cannot but be enjoyed and the children blessed. The apostle Peter speaks of the husband and wife "dwelling together", with all the grace, love and joy that this implies. What a blessed difference from dwelling with a brawling woman in a wide house! When a husband and wife are "heirs together of the grace of life", there can only be unity in the home and understanding between the husband and wife. This surely is what a Christian home is all about. The Christian, and especially the Christian wife, will be a great spiritual testimony for God when she acts according to the fear of God.
THE CONTENTIOUS WOMAN – 21.19
"It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman." This is very similar to the brawling woman considered in v.9. Why should this situation with such a woman be repeated? It is true that the repetition is not exact, for the wilderness replaces the corner of the house. In 19.13 the contentions of a wife are likened to a leaky roof. The distance increases from the roof, to the corner of a house and now to the desert. Isolation and separation are situations far removed from the closeness of the marriage tie intended by God in the husband and wife relationship and now it serves to show how disagreeable is this kind of woman. She lacks dignity, thoughtfulness and kindness. With her mouth and actions she is destroying this closeness and by so doing brings untold misery to her husband and all in the house. The Christian wife, rather, maintains and cherishes this closeness, and by her behaviour in the home is a blessing to her husband. Athaliah the wife of the ungodly king Jehoram was no help to her husband. Instead of being an influence for good she was an influence for evil. She was both contentious and angry and would stop at nothing to achieve her wicked ends. It certainly would have been better for Jehoram had he preferred a tent in the wilderness than to dwell in his palace with such a wife. It might have affected him for good.
AN ODIOUS WOMAN – 30.23
"For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear … for an odious woman when she is married." An odious woman here is not easy to define, but A J Higgins1 remarks in his commentary on Proverbs, "an odious woman may have reference to either an unattractive woman or an unpleasant woman who was without hopes of marriage. Instead of appreciating the mercy of God that has brought her into a relationship, she maintains her haughty and unpleasant nature. You can envisage her looking down on other single women and pompously demeaning them." Again we see how the marriage bond is lowered. Instead of rejoicing and being deeply grateful to God for her marriage, she uses it to despise those who are as she once was. To have such a spirit in the home is destructive to its peace. The godly wife will never be given to such an obnoxious attitude. She will have far too much care for her husband and dependents and will be a great example to all in the home.
1Higgins, A.J. "Proverbs – What the Bible Teaches." John Ritchie Ltd, 2008.
THE GODLY WOMAN
How different to turn from considering the strange woman and her alluring features, to look at the spiritual woman. No creature God has made is lovelier than she who manifests the precious graces of the Spirit of God in her character and ways. If married, what a great asset she is to her husband and family. If single, she will ever be an example in her dress, appearance and conversation. The godly woman stands out, for even from the book of Proverbs one easily gets the impression that they were few and far between in Solomon’s time. Today the situation has not changed and to see a godly woman adorn the doctrine of God in all things, is a pleasure to behold. Thank God for all those sisters who seek with godly exercise to be pleasing to God. We will now ponder four different descriptions of the godly woman given by the Spirit of God in Proverbs.
A Gracious Woman – 11.16
"A gracious woman retaineth honour: And strong men retain riches." Strong men may be able to retain wealth against those who would try to take it, but the weaker vessel, though not strong in body as the man, yet can be strong in character by her yieldingness of spirit in grace. She will be marked by this rather than to stand for what might be considered as her rights. A gracious spirit among men is good but it is especially beautiful to see such a spirit in a godly woman. What a blessing this disposition will be in whatever sphere the godly woman moves: whether in the domestic sphere, the assembly sphere or in the sphere of the world. We have a shining example of just such a spirit in a woman in the lovely Abigail in 1Samuel chapter 25. What a help and blessing she was to David in a critical time. The lesson here, then, is that strength of character is much better than a strong man who may use brute force to keep his material possessions. Beauty in a woman is one thing, but discretion and discernment are another. How very much this woman contrasts with the woman described further down the passage in v.22. Such a woman preserves her character unblemished; she is a blessing to her children. By her demeanour she may win her ungodly husband and also be an example to younger sisters in Christ. Let each Christian woman strive to be a gracious woman.
A Wise Woman – 14.1
"Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands." The idea that wisdom is needed to build, has been mentioned in 9.1 and is here repeated in connection with the godly woman. We have the contrast between the wisdom of the godly woman and the foolishness of the unwise woman. It does not take much to pull down a house, but it takes much exercise, burden and care to build a home on the safe and sure foundation of the Word of God. We have, in chapter 31, the development of how the godly woman will act in the home. She will be determined to build a home that will be a testimony to all who enter it, but especially glorifying to God and a blessing to her children. The godly wife and mother in the home will seek through prayer and dependence on God to influence her husband and family for good. What an asset a godly home is where a godly woman lives and works in the fear of God. It is interesting to see in 1Corinthians, an epistle of local church truth, that we have references to different houses, showing the great benefit to the assembly of a Christian home (see 1.11; 11.22; 14.35 and 16.15). The wise woman’s place is in the home and by her diligence and deportment her home is built on righteous principles and thus it is a blessing to the assembly. We pray that any married sister in Christ reading these lines may ponder these matters carefully.
A Virtuous Woman – 12.4
"A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones." The virtuous woman is not only chaste, but she is one in whom every noble quality shines, as is so beautifully set forth in the last chapter of Proverbs. The solemn thought running through the book of Proverbs regarding a wife is that she is either a blessing or a bane to her husband. Consider the godly Sarah and see how she called her husband "lord" Gen.18.12, and contrast Job’s wife who was no help to him in his hour of need, Job 2.9,10. A foolish wife by her behaviour and lack of respect for her husband can be like the sudden onset of old age. How sad to see a woman instead of being a crown to her husband, sap the life out of him and weaken his spirit. Where the husband respects the wife and the wife respects her husband there is the blessing of mutual understanding and usefulness. The godly woman will delight to see her husband esteemed, she will seek to cover-up as far as is possible his failings and be supportive of him. Weaker vessel she may be, yet she possesses strength of character. She is not so much a gold ring on his finger or a gold chain around his neck, but rather higher than that to her husband – a crown on his head!
A Good Wife – 18.22
"Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD." A good and prudent wife is from the LORD, 19.14, and can only be a blessing to her husband. Marriage is of God and instituted by Him in Genesis chapter 2, where God Himself said, "It is not good that the man should be alone" v.18. The wise Creator deemed that the man and the woman should be as one flesh, but not every godly woman will marry, for some will remain in the single state and in that situation she may consider she can serve God perhaps better than she would being married. What a treasure a wife (not merely a woman) is from the Lord. Seeing that marriage is such a serious bond it not only behoves the man to be guided by the Lord in his choice of a wife, but equally a Christian woman should be deeply exercised before the Lord to be in the will of God in entering into the married state. A godly wife is a great asset to the man, for he will value her support, advice and sympathy. Manoah found a good thing in his wife, Judg.13.23, but sadly it is not always so and even a godly man can make a mistake. In a state of innocence it was good to marry, how much more "two are better than one" in a world of sin, trouble and care.
THE MOTHER OF LEMUEL – 31.1
"The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him." Three points at least we will briefly consider concerning this godly mother.
The word "mother" is found 13 times in Proverbs and the importance of her role in the family is stressed. The word "prophecy" indicates a burden and lets us see the deep exercise she has for her son. It is rather wonderful to be privileged to listen to these words intended for her son and yet be blessed today by these instructions from the heart of one in touch with God. Some suggest that Lemuel is another name for King Solomon and that the mother mentioned is Bathsheba. It certainly would be very interesting if this was the case, for it would suggest her transformation in character after the sin she was a party to in 2Samuel chapter 11, but we have no proof of this. There is no king Lemuel among the kings of Judah and Israel and the name is not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. Whoever Lemuel was, he was blessed with a godly woman for a mother. His mother may well have left this life at the time this was written, but her son king Lemuel was still guided by them and reaped the benefit of the godly counsels of his mother. By her advice his character was shaped.
She did not personally proclaim her counsels publicly, but they likely became manifest to the people later through Lemuel. Here is a godly woman who knew what her sphere was and remained in it. Notice the king is not ashamed to give the source of his good instructions and to indicate what he owed to her. Who could be ashamed of a godly mother like this? What a teacher a godly woman can be to her children in the home. Notice too, her faithfulness in her warnings given to her son. In v.2 we see the moral right of this mother to instruct and warn her son. Three times over she describes him affectionately as "my son". This godly woman understands that she can exercise a greater influence for good in the home.
She calls him the "son of my vows" v.2. Here we see another delightful feature in this mother. Before Lemuel was born and while he yet remained in the womb, she had prayed to God and dedicated him. She was deeply exercised about the child. Is this not a good sign of a godly woman when she offers her child to God, praying that the child may be saved and used by God? Sadly, many Christian mothers lack such an exercise. Like the godly Hannah, Lemuel’s mother prayed earnestly for her child. Consider the ways in which her godliness is seen. It is seen in the way she instructed Lemuel from the Word of God and by her prayers for him. It is seen in warning him against the sins of the flesh, vv.3-5 and by instilling into him the standards of righteousness and the need of compassion, v.9.
A WOMAN OF WORTH – 31.10-31
The closing section of Proverbs is interesting because it is a poem in the form of an acrostic. Each verse is introduced with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Here then, so to speak, is God’s A to Z of a godly woman. Just as the Hebrew alphabet contains all the letters needed for the Hebrew language, so we have a complete picture of a worthy woman in God’s sight. The last woman in the Proverbs to be considered is the "woman of worth" (J.N.D.). The book, we have noticed, begins with the sad aspects of the strange woman and now fittingly ends with a woman who fulfils the very principles of this book. The picture painted by the pen of inspiration seems to be ideal and we may wonder, is there such a woman living today whose husband is so blessed with her presence, support and respect? Solomon asks, "Who can find a virtuous woman?" Such a woman portrayed in these verses would be a rare find indeed. The word "virtuous" certainly includes the thought of chastity, but it means far more. It is used in the sense of thrifty and devoted. It also contains the idea of moral strength and points too to her devotion, diligence and dignity. In these closing verses of Proverbs we may note her hands, household and husband.
Let us consider seven ways by which such a godly woman is seen in her action, behaviour and subjection. Note:
She is a Faithful Partner – vv.11,12
How lovely to read here that "her husband doth safely trust in her". What a contrast again to the strange woman of chapter 7. She is a true helpmeet and blessing to him. "She is not a career woman bent on advancing her own fame, nor the weak and helpless creature who is incomplete without a husband. No, she is a partner in a marriage – complete in herself and bringing to that relationship skills which complement and support her husband in his role." What is it that makes the heart of her husband safely trust in her? It is her fidelity, her loving dutifulness, the comfort she gives him, it is the way she eases his burdens and inspires his confidence. A husband who has such a jewel of a wife will have no regrets. A faithful husband and a trusting wife are a great, mutual blessing to each other. The godly woman in the home may not possess and manifest all the features pictured in the virtuous woman, but many of them she will.
She is a Thoughtful Buyer – v.14
"She is like the merchants ships; she bringeth her food from afar." The woman described here is not a recluse shut up in her house not happy to venture far in her active responsibilities. Distance is no obstacle to her as she seeks to supply what is fitting, necessary and good for her family. She is marked by industry, liberal but careful economy, self-denial, in that she holds in her hands the needle that seems to be ever working to clothe her household. She works willingly, happily and lovingly. She is the ideal example of godly womanhood. What a remarkable woman this is. She shops, cooks, sews, counsels, gives, loves and serves, all for the good of her household. She is no spendthrift or money waster. She considers before she buys. She looks for bargains and spends wisely. The woman who strives for godliness today would do well to learn from the praiseworthy features of this virtuous woman.
She is an Early Riser – v.15
"She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household …" Here is a woman who has no time for slothfulness, for before the light of the sun begins to lighten the horizon, before each day dawns, she is up and getting ready the morning meal. She draws up the loose, flowing garments to leave her feet free to run her errands, v.17, and with her hands she works diligently and energetically. Her lamp goes not out at night so that with a keen eye she may ever be watchful. It seems that every part of her anatomy is concentrated in doing well for her household. She is not idle like the slothful man condemned in this book. She fulfils also 20.13, "Love not sleep lest thou come to poverty." There is more than one warning against slothfulness and self-indulgence in Proverbs. It is interesting how again and again the virtuous woman illustrates the principles of this book. The godly woman will love the Word of God and seek to obey its principles.
She is a Diligent Worker – vv.13,16-20
"She worketh willingly with her hands … She layeth her hands to the spindle … She stretcheth out her hand to the poor." Five times we read in this passage of her hands. She is marked by much diligent activity. Her hands are ever working for those under her care. There is no idleness in her. Though she has a very busy life, she forgets not the need of others outside the family. She well knows that she represents a God Who has care for the poor and hence is compassionate toward them. She is so diligent and faithful that she even rejoices in time to come, v.25. This conveys the fact that she has no fear about the future for her family because she has attended to every need.
She is a Wise Planner – vv.21,25
"She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet." She provides seasonable clothing. She looks to the future, yet she is no worrier. She is not over-burdened with the cares of tomorrow. We may wonder what the scarlet colour has to do with the cold weather, but the word should still stand and points to the scarlet garments of warm wool as a provision for their covering. Thus the virtuous woman thinks of every detail, even to that which will assist in making her household comfortable in winter. What meticulous care! How can she from morning to night be so busy and have the energy to do it all? The answer is in v.25, "Strength and honour are her clothing". What is the secret of her strength? The strength she needs in her many daily tasks is drawn from God Himself Whom she fears and seeks to please. How brightly the godly woman can shine in her family and household.
She is a Careful Talker – v.26
"She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness." She is not a gossiper or a talebearer. Her tongue is never used to run others down or to speak behind the back of others. Here is no nagging housewife or a constantly complaining mother. Who would not love to be in the company of such a godly woman as this?
She is a Spiritual Teacher – v.26
Like Priscilla in the New Testament who opened her mouth with wisdom in instructing and correcting Apollos, she, from a pure heart, uses her lips to speak forth truth and righteousness. Here is a woman who knew her Bible and better still, knew her God and lived and worked daily in exemplary fashion to encourage others in the ways of God. She carefully observes the actions, ways and speech of her offspring and if discipline is needed she applies it for their spiritual good and blessing. There is no hardness in her heart, but wherever needed she graciously and lovingly will adjust or correct. She is altogether a blessing to her husband and children, v.31. She teaches too, by her life and character and recognises that true beauty is inward and not outward. None of the costly, worldly cosmetics are used by this godly woman. "Beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised" v.30.
Not with gold or costly dress,
Nor manners that the world thinks right,
But meekness, love and gentleness,
Are pleasing in God’s holy sight,
And she who with these graces rare,
Adorns her heart, her life, her ways,
Will bear their fragrance everywhere,
And be a blessing all her days.