Proverbs 31 and the Virtuous Woman

Here is a question I was asked about Proverbs 31 and the Virtuous Woman. I have found this passage to have a fairly wide misuse in the Church against women.

Question: Is there a commentary you’d recommend for Proverbs 31. I’ve read three different commentaries and each give a different perspective of the king, mother and virtuous woman. I don’t know who’s interpretation is correct.

My brief response:

You’ll find folks all over the place on this. I have my own take.

Some dude (no clue from where) named “Lemuel” who was a “king” (not sure of where) shares advice from his mother (the queen mother? And no clue who she is). How’s that for help?

The literary effect though is that the advice/wisdom spoken from “father” (Proverbs 1.8a; 10.1a) and “mother” (Proverbs 1.8b; 10.1b) plays out in the larger structure of the book where the “father” speaks wisdom to his “son” (chapters 1-9) and concluding with the “mother” speaking wisdom to her “son” (chapter 31).

Then regarding the “virtuous woman” of Proverbs 31, I would also connect this to “Lady Wisdom” that the “father” in chapters 1-9 tells the “son” to find and join himself to. Now at the end of the collection of wise sayings we hear a mother’s voice to the son in chapter 31. This “virtuous woman” is the personification of wisdom throughout the Proverbs. In chapter 9, she is contrasted with Madame Folly who will destroy the “son”, but is deceptively alluring and can even sound and look like Lady Wisdom (compare Proverbs 9.1-6 with 9.13-18). The “son” must heed the advice of the parent/s and seek wisdom above all else and finding such, bind and commit himself with all he has to such. This is the marriage to Lady Wisdom. What this passage is not intended to be is a passage for Mother’s Day sermons to talk about how women need to be. It is intended to speak to who we all must be as people in wisdom. If we join ourselves to wisdom then we will be like this (not in the details spelled out, but in the flourishing of life). We will find what the fear of the Lord compels us toward.

In other words, I read this last chapter in light of the early chapters and hear Mama Lemuel saying, “Wisen up, son! Listen to your mama! Do the right thing! Be the right kind of person! And it’ll be alright.”

So here is me also adding my voice in seeking to discern the wisdom of this passage. 🙂

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4 Responses to Proverbs 31 and the Virtuous Woman

  1. Lollie Hofer says:

    Thank you for answering my question quickly and in a way that I can understand it. You rock, Dr. Rick.

  2. Karen Martin says:

    Hi, Rick! Something that occurs to me about the “virtuous woman” is that a virtuous man is implied in some details and explicit in others. This flow of trust is mutual and mutually beneficial. This team stands as a great model for their children!
    Your friend,
    Karen

  3. Marc says:

    I heard Pete Enns say something similar a few years ago and found it very convincing, but I hadn’t heard or read it anywhere else, so I appreciate you adding your voice!

    • Rick Wadholm says:

      I don’t recall hearing anyone else propose such (but am happy to hear Enns does). Likely I heard it somewhere but just don’t remember. Ha

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