Was the Proverbs 31 Woman Disobedient?

August 15, 2013

in 2013 Awesome Husband, Change, Links to good stuff, Seeing Clearly, Understanding Her

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 that some hold. I have 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 would not 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 do not usually think of these things when we think about women. Perhaps our thinking is wrong.

Woman picking grapes © marin | freedigitalphotos.net

Moving on, we are told that the heart of her husband trusts in her. In his mind, he is confident about her, and he is secure in trusting himself to her. This is not a withdrawn woman who mindlessly follows her husband’s lead.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 is 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 is her decision.

Later we read that she considers her merchandise is profitable, and that 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 do not read that 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 that 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 does not fear the snow).

This woman  would not be well accepted in some church circles. She is 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 that she is not “disobedient” which suggests that 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 much more 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.

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20 comments
Oldschool Husband
Oldschool Husband

I'm mostly in agreement with Paul on this, that submission doesn't always mean a quite, meek woman (although it definetly can and we shouldn't be teaching that that is bad) with the one exception that I believe way to little was written on "has her husband's trust".  Obviously this is something not only given (the part Paul was teaching on), but also something earned.  You have to prove yourself trustworthy and that you have your husband's back.  In other words, I think this is a both gender's fault/responsibility.  If you haven't been proven trustworthy in small things, neither God nor a husband should trust you with big things.

MInTheGap
MInTheGap

Without stating who exactly you are opposing in your post, there are some comments that I can make about the post itself without knowing it.

First, the title asks "Was the Proverbs 31 woman disobedient?"  I don't know that you sufficiently answer the question.  There's no way that you can know whether she was or not, since you would have to know the command given in order to answer that question.  The passage is devoid of either a command from someone that she should follow, or the implication that she had a command-- as you point out yourself with your comments that it could be rationally assumed that she either had delegated authority or that she was acting on direction.  Your argument that the fact that her husband's heart trusts in her, therefore she is not disobedient, isn't necessarily true.  He could just be ignorant of her doings.  Just like I could not know that my wife is purchasing something that I wouldn't approve of and do not see it, therefore I still trust in her.

Second, from the passage itself I am unclear whether such a woman as the Proverbs 31 woman exists or whether King Lemuel is telling his son what to look for in a wife.  There are no commands for the wife present in the passage, and I believe it is a burden to all wives when we hold up the Proverbs 31 example of what a wife should be.  Often wives are not there, nor should we expect them all to want to have a business, to be into buying real estate, force them to deal with dying clothing, etc.  So to me, the Proverbs 31 wife could be the ideal example of what a wife can be, but I see no commands here.

Third, while the Proverbs 31 wife may be the Biblical ideal of what to look for King Lemuel's son, the Bible is quite clear in multiple passages in the New Testament and in the Creation story that the wife is to rank under the husband like how the church ranks under Christ.  If we hold that Christ could micro-manage the church and be within his rights, should a husband be able to micro-manage his wife?  (This is not saying that he should do this, but strictly a question of authority.)  If the wife is to obey the husband in everything, what part of everything is she able to refuse?

While I partially agree with the main point I think I'm getting from your article (a good leader does not need to micro-manage those under them), I take issue with the idea that the husband is therefore not in his rights to do so, and thereby giving the wife a pass because her husband isn't living up to the ideal.

partanon
partanon

You hit some points I often point out that people miss, and just like the first part of the chapter, some principles for kings apply to everyone, but not all.


This is a description of a good queen, certainly a polygamist wife, and businesswoman with many employees/servants...so effectively like no one today. Although the chapter seems anti-stay-at-home-mom, I don't think it is fair to extrapolate such to your average income monogamist wife. Yet it is annoying that some people read this chapter, ignore what it actually says, and then use it to argue for stay-at-home motherhood.

Oysterbed7
Oysterbed7

Excellent, Paul!  Leading does not equal micro-managing and submission does not mean we are micro-managed.  Could it be fear that motivate men to want to micro-manage?  I agree with, J, women will flourish if given trust and confidence.  It's a cycle, if he is confident in her and she builds their house in honorable ways, he will become more confident in his ability to lead.

HotHolyHumorous
HotHolyHumorous

I've thought about this passage a lot as well, particularly this woman being able to consider and buy a field on her own. What I've come to over and over is that having a husband who is strong through and through allows me to be a strong woman who still doesn't overstep him in any way. I'm quite passionate and outspoken, but my husband is still a leader and I don't speak out without knowing his trust carries me through.

Oddly enough, I hear from more wives these days who wish their husbands were stronger and led more. I think they have an innate sense that if that happened, those women could be as strong as they wanted but still feel the security of their husbands as a foundation in their lives.

My two cents. I'll be interested to see what other feedback you get here. Thanks for this, Paul!

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@Oldschool Husband No arguments on that. 

Of course this puts the responsibility on the man to size up a prospective wife. We get out hearts (or something lower) all worked up, and then we make stupid decisions that we pay for the rest of our lives!

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@MInTheGap I am "opposing" those who delegate women to a very small place in life, ever under the scrutiny and control of her husband. Some take that to an extreme, but I see problems even with those who don't take it to an extreme. My goal here is to present an archetype that Bible shows us to be good and right and allow men and women to compare and contrast their understanding to that.

I assume from the reaction of her husband and others, and the fact that the woman is biblically praised, that she was in a right relationship with her husband - i.e. submitted. I assume the woman has had a great deal delegated to her, and I see that the husband is seen as wise for doing that. So beyond showing what a woman can do, we see that it is wise for a husband to entrust her with a great deal.

I don't think she is a real woman; she is an example of the best possible wife. I agree that using her as a template is not kind to women, but if we study what is behind each part of the passage we can find principles that are broader. My wife has done a great job of this in a three-part series that starts with The Dreaded Proverbs 31 Lady, Part Uno.

The reality is Christ does NOT micro-manage the church. If we do it because He has the right to do it while ignoring that His example is different, are we doing His will? I think this is the real heart of the issue, following some "He has the right" mandate while ignoring the example of Jesus - an example we are commanded to follow. His example is what is right, anything else is wrong - IMHO. In other words, my RESPONSIBILITY to treat my wife as God commands exceeds any "RIGHTS I may think I have.

I don't understand the "giving his wife a pass" part. Can you clarify?

Thanks for the great comments!

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@carltonh I don't think this is just for kings. The woman discussed is certainly not a queen, she has some servants, but she is doing much of the work herself. A queen would have someone to keep a flame overnight to light a fire in the morning, and a queen would not likely be making and selling clothing for extra income.

In general the Proverbs were seen as wisdom for all.

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@Oysterbed7 Well said!

I tend to agree with your fear comment, but it can also be what you were taught, which would be fear passed down.

Bottom line, a strong self-confident man has nothing to fear from a strong self-confident woman. What's more, I would think any such man would want just that kind of woman.  

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@HotHolyHumorous When you know your husband, you can do a great deal knowing he would support you. There is no need to check every decision when you know he trusts in you.

I also get the lack of leadership, it is an epidemic! We have allowed the world to convince us that we are wrong, so we just stop. It is the other side of this, and I need to address it too.

Oldschool Husband
Oldschool Husband

@TheGenerousHusband @Oldschool Husband I think that's part of it no doubt.  But I can name countless godly men and women who "chose" right...and yet did not.  I can think of countless people from the Bible who did the same.  I don't think this is just about choosing the right person.  This is about a wife becoming the right person (and obviously the husband also...but we weren't speaking about that).

MInTheGap
MInTheGap

@TheGenerousHusbandI applaud the idea of opposing those that would rule over their wife in such a way that is inconsistent with Christ's command to the Apostles that a Christian leader is not like the Gentiles, lording their authority over those underneath them.  There is wisdom in knowing how to be a godly leader, and this is something that, I believe, gets short shrift much like the discussion of how a wife should respect her husband gets short shrift compared to the amount of time that is spent telling the husband how to love their wife.

I appreciate what you are trying to do in as much as you are attempting to put forth what a godly husband is supposed to lead like.  The challenge is that this is a public forum that both men and women  read, and as such, someone could easily decide that they are not going to do their end of the command because their husband isn't in the will of God.


Let me construct the scenario.  You posit in your comment here the following:

"The reality is Christ does NOT micro-manage the church. If we do it because He has the right to do it while ignoring that His example is different, are we doing His will? I think this is the real heart of the issue, following some "He has the right" mandate while ignoring the example of Jesus - an example we are commanded to follow. His example is what is right, anything else is wrong - IMHO."

So, husband comes to his wife and tells her to "take the trash out now."  Wife says to herself, "Husband is micro-managing me!"  She now has grounds not to obey her husband because the instruction is to obey the husband in the Lord, and according to the Generous Husband, her husband is no longer in the Lord because he's micro-managing her.  Therefore she is free not to obey.

Yes, I know, trivial example, but the concept is firm.  By setting conditions for submission to an authority, you set the person in the lower position as arbiter in regards to the requests/demands of those in the higher position.  Therefore, they become the ones with the higher position by default, since only the person in charge is authorized to decide whether or not to obey a command.

To use the Biblical scenario again, Christ has the right to command us to do anything, and we cannot refuse.  We can request things of Christ, but He is not in the position of having to do anything we ask or demand.  Christ will never be the sinful husbands that we sometimes are, but neither will our wives consistently show respect.

Again, I don't think anyone should be micro-managed UNLESS they have proven  unable to follow basic instructions.  In this case they cannot be trusted and therefore one needs to take greater control of the situation.

So let me ask a clarifying question.  Are you implying with this post and your comments that it is never appropriate to micro-manage what a spouse does, or that this should not be the default behavior?

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@carltonh Did a bit of research on King Lemuel. The most common theory is that it was a poetic title for Solomon.

Along the way I also learned that most scholars think the section ends with verse 9, making the part about the wife a separate passage that is not aimed at the king. Give that the passage does not seem to describe what a queen would be doing, I would tend to go with that.

Oldschool Husband
Oldschool Husband

@TheGenerousHusband @HotHolyHumorous 

This goes directly to your & my disagreement on the church.  Any businessman will tell you that the systems you have in place are perfect for the outcome you are receiving.  In other words if the men aren't there, why?

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@Oldschool Husband @TheGenerousHusband Certainly people change, and some present a false image before marriage. This was less common in the past when families were more a part of the process of finding a spouse. Love is blind is fairly accurate, and friends and family can see things we miss when we are head over heals.

Of course you are right about who we become, and the church has a part to play in that.

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@MInTheGap In my experience, those who want a reason to do or not do something will find one or just make one up. I doubt anyone is going to start "disobeying? because of what I have said. What's more, I am deeply opposed to withholding truth just because it could potentially be miss-used (see my Saturday post for more on that, but unrelated to this). All truth can be twisted, but that does not make the truth wrong or dangerous.

As to our relationship with Christ, we are told He will never demand anything beyond our ability. We can refuse; we should not, but we can. Finally, we are told that if we ask in His name (in line with His will) He will give us what we ask for.

I do understand and agree that a track record of failure and lack of trust is an issue, but I don't think micro-managing is the solution because it will not bring about change. Maybe as part of a larger solution, but if that is all then the issue will become perpetual. Beyond that, we have no example of Christ micro-managing, no matter how much the church fails. If He never does it, I have my doubts we ever should.

In general I don't see micro-managing as a path to growth. The only time I could see it being of any use would be with someone young or exceedingly inexperienced, and then it should be done as a form of training with the goal of backing off ASAP. If someone can't do a job without being micro-managed, they are not the person for the job. I realise "firing" your wife is not allowed, but if she can't learn to do the job on her own there is something deeply wrong that needs to be addressed.

partanon
partanon

@TheGenerousHusband  I knew the standard belief is Lemuel = Solomon, but even apart from that, IIRC, there were no clearly monogamous kings. I, however, disagree on what would be expected of Jewish queens. Or for that matter of the high elite class who had servants, even if you argue this isn't about a queen. Jewish perspective was not of Chinese foot-binding of women who would grow fingernails long to prove they didn't have to do physical labor. Jews expected people of all power classes to work, as the particular combination of this wife who constantly works, and is praised for it, despite having servants necessitates.

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