Throughout history the roles of women have often been limited, even restrictive or demeaning. But whenever I read Proverbs 31 I am reminded that God intended women to have great influence and to be able to exercise a broad variety of gifts and skills. If an excellent wife is deemed more precious than rubies, this must be because her effect on her household is so powerful and greatly to be desired. But the opposite is also true. A foolish woman has a profoundly negative effect on her home. Proverbs 14:1 says, “A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.”
What does this say about the role of women? In the most general sense, I believe Proverbs teaches that women are designed to influence their sphere of relationships, whether in the home as a wife and mother, in the community to which they belong, or among their network of friends and coworkers. Women are geared to build up relationships and foster the bonds between people. But with that power, they also have the ability to tear down relationships and create division. Does the foolish woman realize she is tearing down her home with her own hands? Maybe she does; maybe she doesn’t.
However, for the woman who recognizes her capacity to influence her family and community, Proverbs 31 provides a whole alphabet of characteristics to strive towards, lest any man or woman treat a woman’s role too lightly. (In the Hebrew, this passage is an acrostic poem, with each verse beginning with a Hebrew letter.) Allow me to point out a few that inspire me:
1. She can be trusted to always have what is best for others, especially her husband, in mind (vv. 11-12). Rather than looking out for only herself, the godly woman focuses on others and does what’s best for those around her, even if it requires sacrifice on her part. Those who depend on her know her to be trustworthy and unselfish.
2. She is diligent and hard-working, providing for those in her care (vv. 13-15). Rather than avoiding responsibility, she takes initiative and makes the most of her resources to bring benefit to others, especially those who look to her leadership.
3. She sets goals for herself, always seeking to improve her circumstances (vv. 16-19). Rather than accepting her circumstances as they are, she invests what she has so that she can produce more fruit and become a stronger person. The godly woman is no weakling!
4. She is generous to the needy, to her own household, and even to herself (vv. 20-22). She may be frugal, but she isn’t stingy. She shows compassion to the poor, yet doesn’t neglect her own family or her own needs. She makes sure everyone is well taken care of in sunshine or rain.
5. Her good reputation brings honor to her family and credence to her words (vv. 23-27). This is the kind of woman people want to do business with. She is carefree because she fears the Lord. When she speaks, she teaches others with her wisdom and kindness.
6. Her success is rooted not in charm or beauty, but the fact that she fears the Lord (aka wisdom) (vv. 24-31). This woman is not praised for shallow or external traits, but because her whole household can testify to her wisdom and the blessings she brings to those around her.
Truly God has given women a position of great honor and strength, if we would only use our power for good, fearing the Lord rather than people. And whether we are married or not, or whether we have children or not, every woman has been endowed with a unique ability to connect others, to build up her network of relationships, and to invest in the lives of those around her. Women, whatever your past experience has been, don’t put limits on what God can do through you to bless others. Men, take note of the precious value God has placed on women, and seek to know and learn from those women who fear the Lord. They are indeed more precious than rubies.
1. What impact have godly women had on your life and how can you emulate them?
2. How does the Proverbs perspective on women compare with our culture’s messages about women?