Proverbs 31, 10-31:
A Meditation

Evergreen Place, Greencroft Retirement Assisted Living – Sept. 16, 2021

Today we examine a text from the Wisdom portion of Bible content, from the book titled Proverbs. You will recall that some Bible content reports on history, the story over a period of time of God relating with people. Other sections focus on law or prophets or gospel, the latter being distinct reports about Jesus who taught his followers to re-form their loyalty to God.

Old Testament books titled Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs are part of what is called Wisdom literature. They suggest practical ways to live a wise or faithful life. Wisdom follows from an unending quest for meaning in life. [Anchor Bible Commentary on Proverbs, RBY Scott, xviii] My mother Bessie King Yoder taught Sunday School classes with adult women for many years. After she died, when looking into her Bible, I noticed how many verses about wisdom and knowledge that she had underlined.

You may recall short statements called proverbs. From the country of Algeria comes: “Look for an ideal woman and marry her daughter.” Hear several proverbs from the Old Testament book of Proverbs:

4:19 – “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what they stumble over.”

6:20-21 – “My child, keep your father’s commandment, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart always; tie them around your neck.”

Hear also Lady Wisdom’s word from the first chapter of Proverbs.

(verses 20 -27, 33)– “Wisdom cries out in the street; in the square she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance to the city gates she speaks: ’How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?’”
Do you hear the practical advice of proverbs in such statements?

An interesting feature of the twenty-two verses that we note today is that it is an acrostic poem. That term acrostic means that each verse starts with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In English that would mean that the 10th verse starts with a word that begins with A; the next verse begins with a word that begins with B, and the next with a word that begins with C. Follow? Such acrostic poems were easier for a person to memorize. Perhaps some of you might try writing an acrostic poem—about the weather, a special friend, or why you trust in

Consider the qualities of character mentioned about the Wise Woman in the 31st chapter, this final chapter of Proverbs. Perhaps the book was written to guide men who might serve the king. It begins with a question: Who can find such a capable woman? Such a person is scarce.

Never idle, she even rises early to instruct her maids with their tasks for the day. An effective manager of others, she gives serious thought to and buys a field in which she plants a vineyard. Some writers consider this the longest economic account in Jewish/Christian scripture. It honors the dignity of human work and materials. Her manual effort shows her weaving textiles; she creates items out of tapestry. Furthermore, she makes clothing to both wear and sell and then she makes a profit in dealing with merchants, near or far. Investing what she saves, her talents benefit the entire household.

Some students of the text think that the mother of King Lemuel wrote the first nine verses of this chapter. These final verses then describe the Wise Woman whom he should choose for a wife, a woman whose strength balances his. In the Hebrew language the same word means wife and woman. This Woman of Substance excels many others because she doesn’t fear the future for which she is prepared. She speaks with wisdom and in a kindly way gives counsel; therein, she honors God.

Writer Rachel Held Evans notes three things for us to know about this poem of Proverbs 31.

First, it is a poem about Wisdom in action. The entire book’s focus—Wisdom—is here centered in a total way through the entire alphabet, an acrostic poem. No doubt, an upper-class Jewish woman, she keeps orderly the everyday features of her household.

Second, the easily-learned acrostic format helps any Jewish husband to praise his wife at their Friday evening’s Sabbath meal, a meal that Jewish people practice.

And third, the text commends valor. Not only what the Woman of Substance does is to be celebrated but how she does it—with integrity, bravery, strength, and Wisdom. [“3 Things You Might Not Know About Proverb 31,” Blog, pp 2-4]

What might this brief review bring to your mind? Other proverbs, or praise that you have heard for a wise woman friend of yours? Do you value being reminded that the Bible includes such an account of a disciplined or valiant woman worker?

I am reminded of a project of mine over thirty years ago, in 1987. Seven women friends, then living in Goshen, came together to create a video using our personal slides. Each of us had lived three to fifteen years in another country—countries as diverse as Guatemala, Bolivia, Argentina, Zaire, Uganda, Egypt and India. We had all taken pictures or slides, many of women, in those countries. We had also all studied scripture in seminary. So, we decided to find among our international slides scenes that depicted each phrase of the 22 verses of Proverbs 31 written over 2200 years earlier.

Our intent was to inform others about global women doing tasks each in her own setting: work of buying and planting land, of making clothing or useful articles out of varied cloth, of managing other workers, of bargaining with merchants. Often valued by a husband or children around them, they were worthy of praise given for determination and strength.

As our mothers had gathered to quilt bed covers or can fruit and vegetables, we gathered to create a slide set that combined scripture with 150 slides of global women whom we had met. Having secured funds to make and distribute the set, we sent the end product to Women’s Sewing Circles in congregations. Eight questions were included for their group discussion of: cultural distinctions, factors of change, drudgery or reward of work, or learning about the Proverbs text through this practical scheme. As the Wise Woman had been depicted in Proverbs, we felt motivated to share what we knew—our Wisdom about women.

From a seminary in Georgia, an article by professor Christine Roy Yoder identifies the main character of Prov. 31 as “Woman of Substance.” The woman reflects affluent women of the ancient Persian period (from 559 to 331 BCE). The opening question of this text—“Who can find such a one?”—suggests that such a capable woman is uncommon. Yoder discusses dowry of that time and how the worth of a woman was measured by what she brought with dowry to her marriage. My encounter with dowry, meaning financial gifting from a bride’s family to a groom’s family on the occasion of marriage, stems from living in India. Yoder explains that In ancient Persia a husband held to the dowry if no divorce occurred.

This final section of Proverbs reflects how the Woman of Substance written about in an acrostic poem was known distinctly for manufacture of textiles. Taking raw materials of wool and flax, she, or slave and free women and girls who worked for her, would spin and weave textiles which she then sold at a marketplace. Like Persian women of the time that Proverbs was written, this Woman of Substance bartered for and purchased varied food items like salt and vegetables, grains, and a noted purple dye, This Woman of Substance effectively exchanged imported goods in marketplaces afar. Her husband benefited from her skills of lively trade for profit. He and their children praised her.

This Woman of Substance reflects “Woman Wisdom” of Proverbs. [ CRY “The Woman of Substance (Hebr): A Socioeconomic Reading of Proverbs 31:10-31” JBL 122/3 (2003), 427-47]. Therefore, we avoid seeing this woman’s worth as derived from or being submissive to her husband. We value her strengths rather than weak dependence on others; we credit her neither for birthing or for her appearance. Instead, we understand how she conveys the important quality of Wisdom. May she continue to inspire us as part of biblical Wisdom literature!