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Proverbs 31:10

Context
The Wife of Noble Character 1 

31:10 Who can find 2  a wife 3  of noble character? 4 

For her value 5  is far more than rubies.

Proverbs 31:30

Context

31:30 Charm is deceitful 6  and beauty is fleeting, 7 

but a woman who fears the Lord 8  will be praised.

1 sn The book of Proverbs comes to a close with this poem about the noble wife. A careful reading of the poem will show that it is extolling godly wisdom that is beneficial to the family and the society. Traditionally it has been interpreted as a paradigm for godly women. And while that is valid in part, there is much more here. The poem captures all the themes of wisdom that have been presented in the book and arranges them in this portrait of the ideal woman (Claudia V. Camp, Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs, 92-93). Any careful reading of the passage would have to conclude that if it were merely a paradigm for women what it portrays may well be out of reach – she is a wealthy aristocrat who runs an estate with servants and conducts business affairs of real estate, vineyards, and merchandising, and also takes care of domestic matters and is involved with charity. Moreover, it says nothing about the woman’s personal relationship with her husband, her intellectual and emotional strengths, or her religious activities (E. Jacob, “Sagesse et Alphabet: Pr. 31:10-31,” Hommages à A. Dont-Sommer, 287-95). In general, it appears that the “woman” of Proverbs 31 is a symbol of all that wisdom represents. The poem, then, plays an important part in the personification of wisdom so common in the ancient Near East. But rather than deify Wisdom as the other ANE cultures did, Proverbs simply describes wisdom as a woman. Several features will stand out in the study of this passage. First, it is an alphabetic arrangement of the virtues of wisdom (an acrostic poem). Such an acrostic was a way of organizing the thoughts and making them more memorable (M. H. Lichtenstein, “Chiasm and Symmetry in Proverbs 31,” CBQ 44 [1982]: 202-11). Second, the passage is similar to hymns, but this one extols wisdom. A comparison with Psalm 111 will illustrate the similarities. Third, the passage has similarities with heroic literature. The vocabulary and the expressions often sound more like an ode to a champion than to a domestic scene. Putting these features together, one would conclude that Proverbs 31:10-31 is a hymn to Lady Wisdom, written in the heroic mode. Using this arrangement allows the sage to make all the lessons of wisdom in the book concrete and practical, it provides a polemic against the culture that saw women as merely decorative, and it depicts the greater heroism as moral and domestic rather than only exploits on the battlefield. The poem certainly presents a pattern for women to follow. But it also presents a pattern for men to follow as well, for this is the message of the book of Proverbs in summary.

2 sn The poem begins with a rhetorical question (a figure of speech known as erotesis). This is intended to establish the point that such a noble wife is rare. As with wisdom in the book of Proverbs, she has to be found.

3 tn The first word in the Hebrew text (אֵשֶׁת, ’eshet) begins with א (alef), the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet.

4 tn Heb “a woman of valor.” This is the same expression used to describe Ruth (e.g., Ruth 3:11). The term חַיִל (khayil) here means “moral worth” (BDB 298 s.v.); cf. KJV “a virtuous woman.” Elsewhere the term is used of physical valor in battle, e.g., “mighty man of valor,” the land-owning aristocrat who could champion the needs of his people in times of peace or war (e.g., Judg 6:12). Here the title indicates that the woman possesses all the virtues, honor, and strength to do the things that the poem will set forth.

5 sn This line expresses that her value (Heb “her price”), like wisdom, is worth more than rubies (e.g., 3:15; 8:11).

6 tn The first word of the twenty-first line begins with שׁ (shin), the twenty-first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The graphic distinction between שׁ (shin) and שׂ (sin) had not been made at the time the book of Proverbs was written; that graphic distinction was introduced by the Masoretes, ca. a.d. 1000.

7 sn The verse shows that “charm” and “beauty” do not endure as do those qualities that the fear of the Lord produces. Charm is deceitful: One may be disappointed in the character of the one with beauty. Beauty is vain (fleeting as a vapor): Physical appearance will not last. The writer is not saying these are worthless; he is saying there is something infinitely more valuable.

8 sn This chapter describes the wise woman as fearing the Lord. It is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom – that was the motto of the book (1:7). Psalm 111:10 also repeats that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.



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