Proverbs 31

  • Question from BC, Singapore

    How do you interpret Proverbs chapter 31, verses10-31 – The Epilogue on The Wife with Noble Character? Does it mean that if a mother/a wife who does not possess the knowledge and wisdom cannot be able to be a wife with noble character? It’s a demanding role. Does it mean if I have the fear of the Lord, then is the beginning of my knowledge? How do you interpret ‘knowledge’? Are there any relevant expectations for a husband/father?

    The book of Proverbs belongs to a particular genre of writing called ‘Wisdom literature’. Other examples in the Bible include Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and some of the books found in the Apocrypha. These books are all quite confusing and their origins are usually obscure. One thing that can be said, though, is that this section in question is probably not meant to be a prescriptive list to be lived up to. It is someone musing on what makes a perfect wife and mother, concluding with the assertion that Godliness is the most important thing.

    ‘Wisdom’ in the wisdom literature, and the Bible generally, is not about human knowledge. It is about where you place your trust. Thus the person who says there is no God is a “fool” (Psalm 14) and Jesus refers to the man who builds storehouses for his crops and entrusts his future to his own plans, not taking God into account, as equally foolish (Luke chapter 12, verse 16-21). The key verse in the passage in Proverbs is verse 30: “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” The other attributes of the ‘noble wife’ – caring for her family, working hard, being productive, planning ahead, caring for the needy – all stem from her commitment to God.

    In terms of expectation for a husband or father, the Bible was written in a culture where women were regarded as possessions and the man was firmly the head of the household, also ruling over the children. Into this culture Paul instructs Christian men to treat their wives with dignity and respect. The most relevant passage is Ephesians chapter 5, verse 22 – chapter 6, verse 9. In this passage, Paul tell wives, children and slaves to obey and submit to their husbands, fathers and masters. The irony is, of course that wives, children and slaves had no option, legally and culturally, but to submit.

    The real sting in this passage falls on those who have power: the husbands, fathers and slave-owners. They have to love their wives as much as they love themselves, to ‘not exasperate’ their children and to treat their slaves with as much respect as their slaves have to treat them. This teaching has lost its radical edge in the modern world where everybody’s rights are enshrined in law, but what Paul is really getting at is challenging for men (and anyone in power) and just as the ‘noble wife’ in Proverbs accomplishes everything because she ‘fears the Lord’, Paul firmly locates the ability to live up to this ideal by emulating the example of Christ and being empowered by him.

    Thanks for your question, BC.

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