We hold up the “Proverbs 31 woman” as the example for the perfect wife, but when I look at her, I see a woman who is “not properly submitted” based on the standard some hold today. I’ve been studying the passage a bit.
First, let us look at Chayil, the Hebrew word used to describe the woman in verse ten. The word is translated by various versions as virtuous, excellent, good, and worthy. While I wouldn’t say any of these words is wrong, none of them conveys the full meaning of the word. The word means “strength, might, efficiency, wealth, army”. It is most often translated as “army” and second most translated as “man of valour”. This word is about strength and power, a person to be reckoned with. We don’t usually think of these things when we think about women. Perhaps our thinking is wrong.
Moving on, we are told the heart of her husband trusts in her. He is confident about her, and he is willing to trust himself to her. This isn’t a withdrawn woman who mindlessly follows her husband’s lead. She had a mind of her own, and her husband trusts her to0 use it for his good.
This woman seeks and works wool and flax, and does an excellent job bringing in a wide variety of fine foods for her family. While we can assume her husband has “delegated” these tasks to her, he is not micro managing her.
Then there’s verse 16. “She considers a field, and after receiving permission from her husband, she buys it.” If you know the passage, you know that is not what it says. The verse actually says she “considers” the field. The Hebrew word means, “to have a thought, devise, plan, consider, purpose.” Nowhere is there anything about her checking with her husband! She may have discretionary household money for this kind of thing, but it seems it’s her decision.
Later we read she considers her merchandise is profitable, and she makes and sells garments to merchants. This lady is a businesswoman, and a successful one at that!
The lady also gives to the poor and helps the needy. Again, we don’t read this happens after she clears it with her husband. No doubt they have discussed this kind of thing, but she acts on her own.
Verse 23 is a bit difficult, but in context it seems clear her husband is thought well of by others because of his wife. The Pulpit Commentary says it like this: “Such a woman advances her husband’s interests, increases his influence, and, by attending to his domestic concerns, enables him to take his share in public matters, so that his name is in great repute in the popular assemblies at the city gates.” Gill suggests the husband is seen as a man of wisdom because he chose such a fine wife.
We find in verse 26 that this woman is full of wisdom and speaks God’s truth.
Does a lot of that sound contrary to what some call a good, submitted wife?
Yes, the woman in Pr 31 does many of the things we think a good wife does: She manages her household and raises her children well. She provides clothing and food, and prepares for hard times (she doesn’t fear the snow).
This woman wouldn’t be accepted in some church circles. She’s not a woman without desire or direction, she has passion and drive, and she is able to act on her own. Her husband’s trust tells us she is not “disobedient” which suggests our understanding of headship and submission is not in line with biblical truth. All too often, the modern version of the “submitted woman” is an eviscerated caricature of what we see in Proverbs 31. Why?
When I read Proverbs 31, I see my wife in many, many ways. It has taken time for her to grow into this, in large part because of all the distortions and outright lies she has been told about what God expected from women. I also had some garbage to get rid of in this area.
Because I have not prevented her from becoming the woman God made her to be, I am richly blessed, and the ministry we do to marriage is far, far better than it could be if I tried to limit her with a wrong understanding of submission. As a friend put it in her blog, I have worked to be “a man opening doors” for his wife.
Is your wife the kind of woman we read about in Proverbs 31? Does she do those kinds of things? Would you be comfortable with her doing those kinds of things? My suggestion is you stop looking to the world or the church to understand who God wants your wife to be. Look to His Word, and look at the examples of women the Bible praises. This is the standard God has set; anything contrary to that standard is not of God!
Along these same lines: A fellow who comments here from time to time had a great (IMHO) post on submission. See There is More than You Think! on Rock His World.