A Mother’s Advice
Scripture Text: Proverb 31:10-31
Many people love to give advice. Some advice is good while other advice is not. If you can find good counsel from friends or family, someone you can trust, then you have found a valuable thing. Even parents love to give advice to their children. And why shouldn’t they? Most parents want to see their children do well and not repeat the same mistakes they made. The strange thing about parental advice is that most children probably do not appreciate that advice when they are younger. I can remember many times my mother and father sharing important advice and instruction that was for my benefit (obeying it would typically avoid pain and punishment) but only turning a deaf ear to it. As I have gotten older I have learned to appreciate the wisdom of my parents. It is amazing how much smarter parents get the older their children are.
It is a mother’s advice that we read in the last chapter of the book of Proverbs. While the father of an Israelite family may have been the primary teacher of the children, godly women also took that role at times. Most of the book of Proverbs is a father speaking to his son, counseling his son to make wise decisions. However, in Proverbs chapter thirty-one we read of a mother’s advice to her son.
Proverbs 31:1 The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him.
Unfortunately, we do not know who King Lemuel was, or where he was king. He most likely was not an Israelite king, but whoever he was, he wrote this proverb under the inspiration of God’s Spirit that included some wisdom his mother taught him. She was urgently asking her son to act wisely in some of the most important issues of life – leadership, marriage and family. Verses two through nine of the proverb are a mother’s advice in how the ideal king ought be temperate, wise and compassionate. The rest of the proverb, verses ten through thirty-one, is a poem about a virtuous woman. It may be easy to read Proverbs Thirty-one as a “blueprint” so to speak of how women ought to be; but remember, this proverb is a mother’s advice to her son. King Lemuel’s mother instructed her son about finding a good wife. That was the main point!
Men spend a lot of energy and time searching for “the right one.” Unfortunately, the world tells men about several things to desire in a “good wife.” For instance, the world typically honors women for their outward beauty – how physically attractive they are. Because such value is placed upon physical appearance, many women spend a lifetime trying to have and preserve the perfect body and face. Another thing the world desires in women is being rich or successful in business. God’s Word, on the other hand, gives other reasons to honor women that is completely counter-cultural – it is not the same as what current society values. While our society is trying to eliminate the distinctions between men and women, Proverbs Thirty-one describes a wife whose life is centered on serving the Lord, being her husband’s God-given helper and the caregiver to her family. Those are things that Scripture describes as the “excellent wife.” In short, this proverb was not primarily for young women (“this is what kind of wife you should be”) but for young men (“this is what kind of wife you should desire”).
The poem section of Proverb’s Thirty-One (vss. 10-31) is skillfully crafted, where each verse begins with a sequential letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The poem also follows a structure where the high value (excellence) of a good wife both begins and ends the section. We see in verses one through nine, Lemuel’s mother advised him to not “give his strength” to promiscuous women. In other words, do not settle on the temporary pleasures of casual flings with women, such as the moral failures of both King David and King Solomon who followed the desires of the flesh. But then, in verses ten through thirty-one, King Lemuel’s mother described the kind of woman he ought to desire. It is worth noting that the end of Proverbs ends much like it began. Near the beginning of Proverbs is the personification of Lady Wisdom, imploring young men to come to her. At the end of the book is an actual “excellent woman” who serves as the model for young men seeking a wife. There are five things to note about this kind of woman:
- She is Precious
- She Cares for her Family
- She is a Hard Worker
- She has a Good Reputation
- She Fears the Lord
An Excellent Wife is Precious
In verse ten, King Lemuel’s mother told him the following:
Proverbs 31:10 An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
Another way of saying this is, “Who can find a wife of noble character?” At first glance, this statement seems to suggest that a good wife is impossible to find. Such a wife is not impossible to find, but she may be hard to find. This is not to say that she is hard to find, but she might be. Either way, the text says that this is the type of woman men ought to desire. Men will often define themselves by wealth, work, or status. Having money or possessions, an important job or one that make one fell important or worthwhile, even status or position in society or the work place are things valuable to many men. God’s Word says that a wife is far more precious than these things. This is similar to two other statements in the book of Proverbs:
Proverbs 12:4 An excellent wife is the crown of her husband…
Proverbs 18:22 He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.
Finding a good wife is far more precious than having wealth, status or power.
An Excellent Wife Cares for Her Family
Most of us like to be cared for. When family and friends take care of us, are there for us in a particularly difficult time, or when we just need a shoulder to cry on, I suspect most of us appreciate the tender care of our loved ones. A mother’s love is something special. An excellent wife cares for her husband and family. According to this proverb, she is a planner – she plans and anticipates the needs of her family and make sure those needs are met. She provides food for her household. She does not worry about the winter for she has made sure her family is properly clothed. Because her husband and children are so loved and taken care of, they call her “blessed.” Her husband praises her.
An Excellent Wife is a Hard Worker
Proverbs Thirty-One describes the excellent wife as one who is a hard worker. This is not just someone who is a busybody, who looks busy but is not really getting much done. This woman is working hard to care for her family and others. She provides food and clothing for her family. The passage declares, “She rises while it is yet night.” Taken literally, it would seem that this woman never sleeps at all! Some probably do not! However, this passage simply means that she is diligent to complete her work both in the morning and in the evening. The text states that she avoids laziness.
Proverbs 31:27 She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
An Excellent Wife Has a Good Reputation
The center point of the poem about the excellent wife is verse twenty-three.
Proverbs 31:23 Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.
Some have viewed this verse as almost an intrusion on the poem. All the other verses of the poem praise the wife – the verses speak well about her. However, this verse alone focuses on her husband’s reputation. What does this verse have to do about the excellent wife? It actually establishes the central message of the poem. Remember, we ought to look at this poem not as the characteristics women ought to be, but as the kind of wife a man ought to desire. The husband’s reputation is tied to the reputation of his wife. In ancient Jewish culture, the city gates were the center of civic and economic life, where the leading men gathered. Anyone who was someone was found at the gate. A wife’s excellent work and virtuous character would contribute significantly to her husband’s success and reputation when he sat among the elders of the land. But not only is her husband known at the gate, verse thirty-one states that the wife’s works are also known and appreciated in the gates. In fact, her strength and dignity are so much a part of her character and conduct that they seem to be almost like her clothing. (v. 25) The excellent wife does her family good.
An Excellent Wife Fears The Lord
The single most important quality of a wife, a mother, or anyone for that matter is a healthy fear and respect of God. A person who fears God should conduct his or her life in such a way that he or she has the characteristics mentioned in this proverb. This might be a summary statement for the entire proverb.
Proverbs 31:30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Charm and beauty are not bad, but they are simply insufficient reasons to marry someone. Charm and beauty are outward appearances. Both are temporary and should not be praised. True beauty is the fear of the Lord. Men may look for what is outwardly beautiful and completely miss the true beauty of a woman – her devout love and worship of God. That does not mean that the same woman cannot have both – outward and inward beauty – but what is truly beautiful, what is truly worthwhile and precious, what makes a woman, a wife and a mother excellent is a genuine fear of the Lord. From that will flow the preciousness of an excellent wife. From that she will demonstrate godliness and train her children in the way of righteousness.
Put another way, a person’s outward charm and physical beauty is not what is most important. A really praiseworthy possession is one’s devotion to God. The young man should first seek a woman who fears the Lord. The mention of a woman who fears the Lord at the end of a long list of excellent qualities is similar to the theme of the whole book of Proverbs:
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…
The excellent woman excels in her fear of the Lord is a model of the character traits and wisdom taught throughout the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is a book about living wisely. True wisdom is seen as the life lived in wholehearted obedience to God and this is the model of the excellent wife.
In this brief Proverb we have the advice from a mother to her son about finding an excellent wife and mother of his children. Proverbs has, in effect, come full circle. It began by saying that the young man must embrace the imaginary ideal of Lady Wisdom in order to have a fulfilling life. It ends by saying that a man needs a good wife to achieve this goal. For godly women today, this passage may be depressing. How could anyone measure up to this standard? This description of the excellent wife is an ideal just as Jesus Christ is the model for a husband. Who can find such a man? It should not be expected that any one would look exactly like the excellent wife in every respect, but the faithful should be willing to be molded by God into it. Also, just as most of the exhortations to the “son” in the rest of Proverbs can be applied to all people, both men and women, everyone can learn from the example of the excellent wife.
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.