Posted: 13 Apr 2011 12:00 AM PDT
PROVERBS 31 FOCUSES, IN TWO different ways, on women.
In the first part (Prov. 31:1–9), the text offers us the "Sayings of King Lemuel" (of whom we know very little)—but although these sayings are "of King Lemuel" in the sense that he authorized them or made them known, they are alternatively described as "an oracle his mother taught him" (Prov. 31:1).
These sayings touch on three subjects. (a) Lemuel's mother strongly encourages her son to avoid fornication. He must not spend his vigor "on those who ruin kings"—and presidents, for that matter. In addition to the ordinary lusts of the flesh, those in power doubtless have additional opportunities to satiate those lusts, along with additional responsibilities. So the right resolve must be taken as a matter of principle early in life. (b) She tells Lemuel to avoid intoxication. In an age before morphine, beer and wine were fine to help those dying or in terrible anguish (Prov. 31:6), but the "help" provided is of the sort that makes you forget yourself and even lose consciousness. Rulers have no right to opt for such escapism, for they are responsible for upholding the law and assisting the oppressed (Prov. 31:4–5). (c) That brings the queen mother to her last theme: King Lemuel must "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves" (Prov. 31:8). High officials should not use their office to feather their nest and grow detached from ordinary people, but to administer fairly and especially to help the neediest and poorest members of society.
The second part of chapter 31 (Prov. 31:10–31) is well known and describes a "wife of noble character." (It would be easy to show that the book of Proverbs also says quite a bit about the husband of noble character, but the relevant proverbs are not drawn together into one place, as here.) This woman of noble character is someone in whom her husband has full confidence (Prov. 31:11) and who constantly seeks his good (Prov. 31:12). She is industrious, so much so that she contributes to family income and has more than enough left over to help the poor and needy (Prov. 31:13–22). She plans for the long haul, speaks with wisdom, and manages the household well. In the end she is the praise of her children and husband alike. But above all, and beyond the culturally specific descriptions (e.g., she works with wool and flax, and as a farmer's wife considers a field and buys it), she fears the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised" (Prov. 31:30).
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