If you’ve attended church for more than a year, you’ve probably heard of the Proverbs 31 woman. Along with King Lemuel (her husband), pastors around the world hold her up as a paradigm of feminine virtue. And why not? This is one impressive lady! Let me list off a few of her accomplishments, and you’ll see what I mean:

  • works wool and flax (spinning? weaving? knitting? we’re not told which)
  • brings food for her family (not just from anyplace—“from afar")
  • rises while it’s still night and gives food to her whole household, and to her maidens (keep in mind, the writer is a king, so he's talking about feeding all the royal servants!)
  • considers a field and buys it (a shrewd businesswoman)
  • from her earnings, plants a vineyard (no mean feat—it takes years of hard work for a vineyard to become fruitful [1])
  • exercises
  • never sleeps
  • cares for/gives to the poor
  • makes sure all her household has good clothes (remember, there are many, many people in a royal household)
  • in fact, she makes her own clothes!
  • makes linen clothes and belts to sell
  • has time to be a teacher as well, and spread her wisdom
  • does not eat the bread of idleness (no kidding...)
  • her children rise up and bless her (wait! she has kids too???)

I look at a description like this, and think, If I followed this as a plan for my life, I would go insane from lack of sleep, and be anything but a blessing to my husband. I'd burn out, and die by the age of 50.

There are several clues in this passage that show King Lemuel has let his poetry run away with him. For one, she never sleeps. Also, she's royal, yet she makes her own clothes, sells her own wares, plants her own vineyard, and brings food "from afar"?

This is a classic case of delegation. In those days royal people didn't even take care of their own children; such a task was handed off to nannies. There’s nothing wrong with delegation. That’s how the world works. Without it, neither companies nor individuals would be able to get much done.

However, there is a problem with how we treat the Proverbs 31 woman. Making an impossible superwoman, born of poetic exaggeration, our ideal is ludicrous. Yet this is what Christians have been doing for years.

The point of this passage is not to burden women with impossible expectations. It’s that a good wife is appreciated by her husband. She’s industrious in the things she sets her hand to, and to her husband she is worth more than jewels.

But that's not even the good news!

One day a few years ago, I was reading through my friends' Facebook feeds. I noticed one posted by a friend's husband. He was extolling his wife on their anniversary, saying, "Want to know what my wife is like? Just look at Proverbs 31."

I found myself thinking, I don't want to be a Proverbs 31 woman!

At first, I felt embarrassed, thinking I'd just had a heretical thought. On reflection, though, I realized this is completely Biblical.

In the New Testament, Jesus raised the bar above the behaviours and rules set out in the Old Testament. “You have heard it said," He said many times, "but I tell you..."

This happened with:

  • murder (If you’re even angry with someone, or call them “Racca”, this is murder of the heart) [2]
  • adultery (if you look at someone lustfully, this is adultery of the heart) [3]
  • attitudes towards sin (you should crave righteousness so much that if your eye causes you to sin, you’re willing to pluck it out) [4]
  • etc.

Jesus also raised the bar with our definition of the perfect woman. I don't want to be a Proverbs 31 woman. I want to be a Luke 10:39 woman. This is Jesus' new standard—the standard He set one day when visiting His friends in Bethany.


"Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

(Luke 10:38-42, NASB)


Martha was a Proverbs 31 woman, but Mary was lifted up as the ideal. Martha was a picture of industry; Mary was a picture of rest. Martha lived to please others; Mary lived to be with Jesus.

When we lift up the Proverbs 31 woman, we go back to Old Testament living instead of embracing the better way Jesus has for us.

In the Old Testament, women had to learn about God from their husbands; they could not read; they could not get the same level of teaching as men. Now, with the new covenant through Jesus, there is no slave or free, no male or female; all have equally been given the Holy Spirit. [5] We can read. We can learn directly from God through the Holy Spirit. We have the capability to metaphorically "sit at Jesus' feet".

Industriousness is good. We shouldn’t be lazy—this is upheld in the New Testament. [6] But, if you have limited time and have to make the choice between folding laundry or spending time with Jesus, choose Jesus!

How free, how liberated I feel in this truth. That’s the freedom that Jesus has intended for us all along. Please don't forget, and slap those old shackles back on yourself. Remember, Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” [7]


NOTES

[1] See winemakermag.com/559-plan-your-first-vineyard.

[2] Matthew 5:21-22.

[3] Matthew 5:27-28.

[4] Matthew 5:29.

[5] Galatians 3:28.

[6] 1 Timothy 5:8, Colossians 3:23-24.

[7] John 8:31-32.

(Picture Source)