“The Biblical Woman: Through the Years”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Proverbs 31.10-31. Mothers Day 2019
This Mother’s Day I’d like to preach from Prov. 31. Vino in NAH-poli wrote a Dear Abby piece as published in a newspaper, June 13 1971 … , “Dear Abby: I am an Italian who reads your articles in the Rome Daily American. I am very much interested in meeting the Memphis, Tenn., lady who is looking for a husband. I am thirty-two years old and am 5 feet 11 inches. I am very well built and have olive skin and green eyes and plenty of black hair. I speak five languages and come from Italian nobility on my mother’s side. I play the mandolin very well and sing romantic songs. The Memphis lady says she is self-supporting, is in good health, and she owns a late model American-made automobile. If she would like to correspond with me, please ask her to send me a recent photograph of [wait for it…] the automobile.”
Ok, folks, we have a problem! In our society, the ideal man, the ideal woman…. doesn’t usually match the Bible’s ideal.
145,000 men were surveyed on a dating website. They were asked to attach an amount they would pay for each quality that they wanted in a woman, in order to take her on a a date.
Blonde hair (+$59.31)
Blue eyes (+$54.92)
Slender body type (+$55.43)
Social drinker (+$49.67)
Graduate degree (+$59.90).
The ideal first date, for just $137.
Contrast that with the biblical ideal in Proverbs 31. We will read verses 10-31 as we progress through the message this morning. But before we do, there is something very important about these verses, something more than meets the eye.
There are 22 verses in verses 10-31. And there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Each one of these verses begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with the equivalent of A and ending with the equivalent of Zed.
And so there is clearly some progression that is meant here; It’s not just random verses put together. Similarly, Psalm 119 is also structured similarly. And it has a progression like a spiritual journal over time.
And that’s one reason why I believe that these verses show a progression from the early years to the later years.
Her Early Years (vv. 13-17)
Her Middle Years (vv. 18-22)
Her Later Years (vv. 23-28)
No doubt there have been many women over the years who have said, “How can I do all of this at every period of my life? It seems impossible!
And further, that there is a progression, is in the wording itself. Verse 12, we’re talking about ‘all the days of her life.’
Verse 17 says that she girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong. Literally she girds her loins with strength. The loins are the waist area. Child bearing requires strength. Her arms are strong… probably from carrying all those kids! What stage of life is this?
Verse 23, her husband sits with the elders, that’s old men. What stage of life is this?
And in verse 25, it says that she smiles at the future. Literally it is that she smiles at the last days. This is probably talking about the woman in the last years of her life.
So, there is a progression …Her Early Years (vv. 13-17); Her Middle Years (vv. 18-22); Her Later Years (vv. 23-28)
But ironically, this passage is primarily for young men. Back up in verse one the words of King Lemuel which his mother taught him! A mom taught his son these words. This is for young men.
A WOMAN OF STRENGTH
And she is exhorting her son … “Don’t give your strength to women …” among other things. And then in verse 10 it says, “an excellent wife, who can find? And that word “excellent” in verse 10 is the same Hebrew word in verse 3 “strength.”
So, it could go like this … do not give your strength to women, you young men. But get an excellent wife, a woman of strength. Do not spend your strength on women who will bring you to ruin, but search for a woman who will bring you strength!
A woman who gives her husband strength is rare. “Who can find?” the writer asks. The ideal here is not unobtainable, but it is rare. And it could be that this kind of woman is rare because men do not desire her as much as a woman of external beauty. Far too many men have longed for charm and beauty, only to find that it’s all vain and deceitful. If our men would desire the biblical ideal, we would likely have far more women who meet it.
Not only is she rare, her worth is invaluable. “Far above jewels.” The strength, material benefit, help, spiritual assistance, wisdom, and homemaking, mothering, provides eternal benefit in the husband and the children. Invaluable!
And the last two verses of introduction of the passage, vv.11-12, say that her husband trusts in her to his material benefit, “he will have no lack of gain.” Also, she is of moral benefit to him also, she does him “good, not evil.” She supports his moral pursuits.
In the ancient world, husbands did not trust their wives. Fathers often arranged the marriages and often there was not trust built between the husband and the wife. The husband would jealously watch their wives and would carefully guard their valuables. Not so with this wonderful woman of strength. Her husband trusts her, to his own material and spiritual benefit.
ILL: The marriage of John Wesley wasn’t as grand. “As Lex Loizides explains for Church History Review, Wesley’s marriage to Molly Vazeille in 1751 didn’t begin as a romance, and had filled his brother Charles Wesley with dread.
The dread was appropriate, because in just a few years the couple would be locked in tense conflict. Wesley was increasingly distant from his wife due to his preaching itinerary, while Molly – wrongly – suspected infidelity and struggled with Wesley’s frequent correspondence with other women.
Since she was left at home for weeks at a time, but was allowed to open Welsey’s mail, she saw letters from many of her husband’s admirers.
She grew antagonistic to Wesley, wrote critical letters and spied on him, accused him of adultery and gave Wesley’s enemies material with which to slander him.
Wesley wasn’t particularly charitable either, and once sent an unflinching message demanding Molly be content and submit: ‘Know me and know yourself. Suspect me no more, asperse me no more, provoke me no more: do not any longer contend for mastery…be content to be a private insignificant person, known and loved by God and me.’
Content she did not become. John Hampson of Manchester wrote that he ‘once entered a room unannounced to find Molly dragging her husband across the floor by his hair’. But John could be violent with his words, once writing: ‘If you were buried just now, or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God?’
After years of conflict, Molly eventually left her husband in 1771. Wesley famously wrote in his journal, in his only comment on his marriage: ‘I did not forsake her, I did not dismiss her, I will not recall her.’” John Wesley wasn’t innocent in the marriage, but neither was Molly. Even what we would call good men and women, they can fail in the their marriages.
No doubt, Wesley’s own experience of marriage influenced his counsel to others. A young man once asked John Wesley (1703-91) for an evaluation of his fiancée. Wesley advised him not to marry her. “Why?” asked the young man, “She’s a Christian.” The wise Wesley responded, “But there are some Christians only God can live with!”
Similarly in the Bible, the first help became a tempter, Solomon’s wives drew away his heart, and Job’s wife told him to curse God and die.
TRANS: But not our woman of strength … vv13-17
Early years (vv.13-17)
Proverbs 31:13–17 13 She looks for wool and flax And works with her hands in delight. 14 She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar. 15 She rises also while it is still night And gives food to her household And portions to her maidens. 16 She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength And makes her arms strong.
EXP: She spins wool and makes clothes. She is actually making the thread and with that thread she makes clothing. She looks for it and works with her hands in delight.
It would be very easy under conditions like … having to make thread … very easy to grumble about one’s work, but no, she delights in the creative freedom she has to work with her hands.
She works with delight and v. 14 … she is like a merchant ship. The captain of a merchant ship would go into a distant land and sell his goods at a profit and then buy goods in that distant land and bring them home to sell those goods at a profit.
ILL: have you ever noticed that women tend to be the shoppers? Men tend to go to the store they find exactly what they want and leave. But many women can shop for hours. Many women know how to find a really good deal. A wise woman knows how to invest her skill and labor to improve the family’s quality of living; she doesn’t spend all her husbands money! She plans the budget carefully and purchases things within her means.
TRANS: We get a little more insight into her homemaking skills in verse 15.
Proverbs 31:15 15 She rises also while it is still night And gives food to her household And portions to her maidens.
Remember, this is for a king’s family, King Lemuel. His mom is teaching him this. And in a king’s family they would have female servants, called maidens here. She is overseeing female servants. She does not give portions to her servants in the sense that she makes them breakfast in the morning.
No, as the note in the margin of the New American Standard says that she gives “prescribed tasks” to her maidens. She is overseeing their work, delegating tasks. The oversight of her family comes before her own pleasure of sleeping in.
APP: Now, you may never have an indentured servant in your house. But we can still delegate tasks. In our house, after the evening meal, Haddie does the dishes and Rosie dries them. Pazli clears the table and Hudson wipes the table and sweeps the floor and feeds the dogs and cats. Dad cleans the counters and mom milks the goats. Mom doesn’t do it all; mom has delegated.
In her early years, she also carefully employs hard work for profit. Verse 16, most view this as her buying a field. But the word is literally “to take” and in the ancient world, women were not allowed buy fields. The word “to take” occurs over 900 times in the Old Testament is only translated “buy” here. We could understand it as she takes hold of it, and masters it … or that she has acquired it somehow.
But if in fact she is buying the field, before she buys the field, she considers it. There is the careful planning. She notices it’s for sale, she calculates the cost and ponders the benefit it can bring to the family. After weighing the pros and cons, she buys it.
And then with that field she plants a vineyard.
The new American Standard reads from “her earnings” she plants a vineyard. Literally as it has in the margin, from the “fruit of her palms” she plants a vineyard.
To get the picture, note that fruit is produced, not earned. And fruit in the Bible is also regularly associated with a part of the body. For example, the fruit of the womb. Or the fruit of his mouth. And here, the fruit of her palms and hands. What it means is what that part of the body produces. Just as the womb produces children, the hands produce work. From her hard work, she plants a vineyard.
Whether she has bought it or not, what is she going to do with that field? She considers it and she plans and then she works the field and from the work that she does, she plants a vineyard, resulting in much benefit, either profit or benefit to the family.
APP: Today, so much more than just a field is at our disposal. The world is in front of us. A wise woman will know how to make the most out of any situation and turn it into something profitable. It’s not just an overgrown field, it’s an opportunity. She isn’t pessimistic and negative, she sees the potential.
Whatever hand she is dealt, she can turn it into something profitable, materially or spiritually, for the family or for others.
TRANS: In her middle years, vv.18-22, she does a little self reflecting, as is expected.
Proverbs 31:18 18 She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night.
She is reflecting back on her earlier years and she senses that her gain is good. The things that she has done, whether it’s bringing home good things, homemaking, or her relationship to her family, she realizes that her gain has been good. No mid-life crisis!
She hasn’t made rash decisions, she doesn’t feel like she’s losing her mind, she is not bored, she has no sense of loss, she’s not becoming worried about her appearance nor has she stopped caring about the way her or her home looks, and she’s not thinking that her best years are behind her. She reflects, “My gain is good!”
And she’s always available, her lamp doesn’t go out at night. In the ancient East, a lamp burning in the home meant they were there and available, not that she was always up and never sleeping. And her being available extends into the next 2 verses.
Proverbs 31:19–20 19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle. 20 She extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy.
She’s available for those in need. She makes the thread and the clothing.
It’s her hands! Today’s men do not look well to a woman’s hands and what they do. But this woman stretches out her hands … her hands grasp…. she extends her hand to the poor and stretches them out to the needy.
She works hard and she is generous.
APP: You may not have to make your own thread, but we can still be available to those in need. We can spend earnings from our hard work in order to give some of those earnings to those in need, either in the church or in our communities.
Not only does she make clothing for the needy, she does also those of her own household and for herself.
Proverbs 31:21–22 21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
The winter doesn’t take her by surprise because she has planned well for the future.
“Oh no, is it cold again in Jerusalem?” Not taken by surprise. A wise woman would have to plan for that. And you can imagine those living in our part of the world in northern Alberta when this was originally written. How much more did they have to prepare for the winter here!
Though the white snow comes, her household is clothed in scarlet and herself in purple. She didn’t just barely prepare, she even has household clothed elegantly.
This woman faithfully plans for difficulty and overcomes in trials. And so can we.
TRANS: Finally this morning, her later years, vv.23-27.
Later Years (Text)
In her later years, after the children have grown up and moved on, she has opportunity to look more to her husband. Rightly, when there are young children in the house in the earlier years, a mother is focused on her children. When they’ve grown up a little bit in her middle years, she can focus more on others, including the poor. Whereas she never neglected her husband to begin with, in her later years due to her wisdom in living for God, she shares her husband’s honor in the community.
Proverbs 31:23 23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land.
She has been such a support for him over the years that now, he is a prominent member of society.
When Proverbs was written, the city gates was where business was conducted. The wise and respected older men would sit at those gates and judge different matters in society. Since her husband is elderly, she is presumed to be as well and she is now sharing in the credit for her husband’s reputation.
His reputation was built in large part, by his wife!
You know what they say, “Behind every successful man there is a ….woman!”
By this time in her life, this woman of honor has spent much time and gained much skill in making things from home.
Proverbs 31:24–25 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies belts to the tradesmen. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future.
The things that she makes are of such a quality, that merchants are buying them in order to resell them for profit, she supplies belts to the tradesmen.
Once again we are told what she is wearing. Verse 25, strength and dignity are her clothing. Strength from her early years in verse 17, honor from her middle years when stretching out her hand to others. And now show is smiling at her latter days, knowing that she has lived a wise and honorable life.
Her character is one of wisdom verse 26 … Wisdom that has come with experience. And she uses that wisdom and lives for others, teaching them opening her mouth in wisdom and the teaching of kindness on her tongue.
Wise older women teach younger women.
Titus 2:3–5 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
In their older years, it’s clear from these passages that women need to be careful to be kind in their speech. Further, it’s very easy in older age to become idle and lazy. But no, it’s important in our older years to be active and to keep a positive outlook. So we should encourage wise older women to stay useful, discipling younger women and looking to the ways of their household.
In 1900 A. E. Winship tracked down 1,400 descendants of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. Jonathan Edwards was used of the Lord in a great revival, the Great Awakening, but ironically was fired from his church over the question of who was to be admitted to the Lord’s Table.
Jonathan and Sarah Edwards descendants are remarkable. Among the 1,400 descendants of Sarah Edwards …
Thirteen college presidents.
Sixty-five college professors.
One hundred lawyers, and a dean of an outstanding law school.
Sixty-six physicians and a dean of a medical school.
Eighty holders of public office—
Three mayors of large cities.
Three state governors.
One Vice-President of the United States.
One controller of the United States treasury.
One hundred foreign missionaries.
Several were authors—
Members of the family wrote 135 books.
They edited eighteen journals and periodicals.
Many were successful businessmen—
They directed banks.
They owned mines.
They promoted industry.
Winslop remarked, “Whatever the family has done it has done ably and nobly.” He concluded, “And much of the capacity and talent, intensity and character, of the more than 1,400 of the Edwards family is due to Mrs. Sarah Edwards.” One of the Edwards’ grandsons, Timothy Dwight (1752-1817)—son of their daughter Mary—became president of Yale University. It was he who made the famous statement, “All that I am and all that I shall be, I owe to my mother.”
Proverbs 31:28–31 28 Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: 29 “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.” 30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. 31 Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Proverbs 31.10-31. Mothers Day 2019
Now, young men, since this passage is primarily for you, your task is to make sure that you have your sights set on correctly. Give attention to what she does with her hands. Give attention to her character and virtues, rather than to her beauty.
Ladies, your husbands and your sons and daughters love you! You mean everything to us.
And we have failed to give you the proper praise that you deserve. And where you feel that you have failed, there is grace from the Lord and grace from us also. We desire very much to be a support to you and a comfort to you not a source of conflict and heartache.
And because of what is going on in your life, you may feel alone. But I’d like to encourage you this morning that in Jesus Christ through faith we are in his family forever.
And I’d like to conclude this morning with ways that we can encourage our mothers and wives.
1. We need to allow our ladies to make mistakes. Children, your mom is not perfect. They fail and get discouraged and stressed with all the busyness of their life. Instead of condemning them, think on the good and the positives of how they have helped you and have been a blessing to you. They’ve given birth to you…you know, you were a pain from the very beginning, please realize that, ok?!
But she has loved you anyway. Clothed you, helped you, changed your diapers, she can clean the house in five minutes when you told her they were on their way, she listens to you and all of your drama. She drives you around to your activities, she can invent meals out of nothing, she erase all your bad dreams, she can answer to “I’m starving” a million times. She can translate toddler talk and can find the one pencil in the house that works, read any story a hundreds of times with patience, and love you when you are at your worst.
Love her and let her know how she has made a huge impact on your life!
Closing hymn: 5 Now Thank We All Our God