Good morning! With today’s last two chapters (Proverbs 30-31), we finish this book of sayings. These chapters are somewhat similar and dissimilar to those which we have read in the majority of the book. They try to boil down exemplary wisdom into easily digestible aphorisms which summarize basic truths. However, these chapters finish the book with more extended advice-giving and unique praise for “a capable wife”.
The Oracle of Agur which makes up Proverbs 30 sounds in some places like conversations with God from the book of Job. The writer confesses agnosticism about the wisdom that orders the cosmos, but within human communities there are some best practices to follow for healthy living. One theme which crops up repeatedly is that of basic respect for father and mother. “Family values” instruction continues at the beginning of Proverbs 31 with wisdom that—surprisingly—is credited to a queen mother. King Lemuel’s mother advises to avoid too much playing around with women, and too much drink, for these will lead one to forget one’s duties. Rather, the righteous ruler is called to use voice, position and power to advocate for the destitute, the voiceless, the poor and the needy.
Proverbs 31 is most notable, though, for its characterization of a “capable wife” in verses 10-31. Recognize first that this wife is not sequestered at home. To the contrary, she is active as a merchant and trader, a hardworking family provider. This business woman manages field and vineyard, in addition to being a diligent, generous homeowner. Her finery is a result of her own work, and not something given by a spouse. In fact, when a husband is mentioned “taking his seat among the elders” in recognition of his status, we are to understand this as a result of her success. This depiction of women is a welcome alternative to the stereotyped and unkind references to women earlier in Proverbs (and throughout much of the Bible). It may also set the bar so high that married women might feel inferior when they are judged against this ideal. I find it better to receive this passage as ancient aspiration for what unhindered female talent might be able to accomplish, rather than treating it as a job description for the modern married woman expected to be perfect in all things. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Ecclesiastes 1-5. Thanks for reading!