Whole Life Whole Bible Day 19
Proverbs 31:10-31 (NASB)
10 An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
13 She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands in delight.
14 She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar.
15 She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household
And portions to her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.
18 She senses that her gain is good;
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hands grasp the spindle.
20 She extends her hand to the poor,
And she stretches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies belts to the tradesmen.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.
26 She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
29 “Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.
18: Words for the wise
The major turns in the biblical story — God’s promise to Abraham, the redemption of Israel from slavery, the making of a covenant with the people, the giving of the law, the establishment of the monarchy, the building of the temple — are conspicuous by their absence in the biblical Wisdom literature.
As it turns out, wisdom is rooted further back — in creation, grounded in the orderly regulation of the world by the creator God, even with the acknowledgment (as Job and Ecclesiastes provide in different ways) that there are great mysteries woven into the fabric of life in God’s world. Wisdom is not, therefore, a ‘secular’ alternative to other, more ‘sacred’ parts of the Bible. Nor is it surprising that Israel is able to engage with its surrounding cultures, gleaning insight where they reflect the truth that is God’s truth, because of the recognition that he is the source of wisdom.
This is made clear in the opening of the book of Proverbs, where it is said that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction’ (1:7). If Wisdom literature is concerned with living wisely in God’s world, then fear of the Lord is the first principle of such a life, where wisdom does not begin in human autonomy but in deep reverence for the Lord God; where wisdom is not merely intellectual capacity but is linked with discipline and discernment, shrewdness and skill; where wisdom produces a certain kind of character and demonstrates itself in particular sorts of actions. What’s more, wisdom operates in every sphere of life — at home, at the city gate, in the market square — and it embraces the daily rhythms of eating, drinking, working and sleeping.
These qualities are powerfully portrayed in the Bible’s fullest description of the regular activity of an ‘ordinary’ person — the woman who ‘fears the Lord’ (31:30), whose wisdom is demonstrated in her everyday activities of being a wife to her husband and a mother to her children, providing for her family, managing her household, engaging in international trade in cloths and textiles, negotiating the purchase of fields and looking out for the poor.
Insofar as the woman is a picture of wisdom itself, matching the portrayal of ‘Woman Wisdom’ in earlier chapters of Proverbs (for example, 1:21–33; 8:1–36), the image is applicable to men as much as to women, setting out the ideal of practical wisdom, embracing actions and speech, worked out concretely in the kitchen, in the field or at the desk — wherever God has called us.
For further reflection and action
Read and reflect on the whole of Proverbs 31:10–31, perhaps pausing to consider how the ‘fear of the Lord’ might inform your own activities today.
From what you know of the Wisdom books of Job and Ecclesiastes, how do they balance out the more confident assertions found in the book of Proverbs about the way life tends to work?
Song of Songs is often held to belong to the Bible’s Wisdom literature. What might this suggest about how the poems should be interpreted?
Visit LICC to find out more or get an overview of the Biblical narrative and the ways it can shape us by reading the Introduction to Whole Life, Whole Bible from the Whole Life, Whole Bible book.