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Proverbs 31:10-31

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.

31:11 The heart of her husband has confidence 6  in her,

and he has no lack of gain. 7 

31:12 She brings him 8  good and not evil 9 

all the days of her life.

31:13 She obtains 10  wool and flax,

and she is pleased to work with her hands. 11 

31:14 She is like 12  the merchant ships; 13 

she brings her food from afar.

31:15 She also gets up 14  while it is still night,

and provides food 15  for her household and a portion 16  to her female servants.

31:16 She considers 17  a field and buys it;

from her own income 18  she plants a vineyard.

31:17 She begins 19  her work vigorously,

and she strengthens 20  her arms.

31:18 She knows 21  that her merchandise is good,

and her lamp 22  does not go out in the night.

31:19 Her hands 23  take hold 24  of the distaff,

and her hands grasp the spindle.

31:20 She extends 25  her hand 26  to the poor,

and reaches out her hand to the needy.

31:21 She is not 27  afraid of the snow 28  for her household,

for all of her household are clothed with scarlet. 29 

31:22 She makes for herself coverlets; 30 

her clothing is fine linen and purple. 31 

31:23 Her husband is well-known 32  in the city gate 33 

when he sits with the elders 34  of the land.

31:24 She makes linen garments 35  and sells them,

and supplies the merchants 36  with sashes.

31:25 She is clothed 37  with strength 38  and honor, 39 

and she can laugh 40  at the time 41  to come.

31:26 She opens her mouth 42  with wisdom,

and loving instruction 43  is on her tongue.

31:27 She watches over 44  the ways of her household,

and does not eat the bread of idleness. 45 

31:28 Her children rise up 46  and call her blessed,

her husband 47  also praises her:

31:29 “Many 48  daughters 49  have done valiantly, 50 

but you surpass them all!”

31:30 Charm is deceitful 51  and beauty is fleeting, 52 

but a woman who fears the Lord 53  will be praised.

31:31 Give 54  her credit for what she has accomplished, 55 

and let her works praise her 56  in the city gates. 57 

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 second line begins with בּ (bet), the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The verb בָּטַח (batakh) means “to trust; to have confidence in.” With the subject of the verb being “the heart of her husband,” the idea is strengthened – he truly trusts her. Cf. NCV “trusts her completely”; NIV “has full confidence in her.”

7 sn The Hebrew word used here for “gain” (שָׁלָל, shalal) is unusual; it means “plunder; spoil” of war primarily (e.g., Isa 8:1-4 and the name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz). The point is that the gain will be as rich and bountiful as the spoils of war. The wife’s capabilities in business and domestic matters guarantee a rich profit and inspire the confidence of her husband.

8 tn The first word of the third line begins with ג (gimel), the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

9 sn The joining of these two words, “good” and “evil,” is frequent in the Bible; they contrast the prosperity and well-being of her contribution with what would be devastating and painful. The way of wisdom is always characterized by “good”; the way of folly is associated with “evil.”

10 tn The first word of the fourth line begins with דּ (dalet) the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The verb דָרַשׁ (darash) means “to seek; to inquire; to investigate.” The idea is that she looks for the wool and flax to do her work, but the whole verse assumes she has obtained it. This verb also occurs in the hymn of Ps 111, which says in v. 2 that “the works of the Lord are searched.” One word used in another passage is not that significant; but the cumulative effect of words and ideas suggest that the composition of this poem is influenced by hymnology.

11 tn Heb “and she works in the pleasure of her hands.” The noun חֵפֶץ (khefets) means “delight; pleasure.” BDB suggests it means here “that in which one takes pleasure,” i.e., a business, and translates the line “in the business of her hands” (BDB 343 s.v. 4). But that translation reduces the emphasis on pleasure and could have easily been expressed in other ways. Here it is part of the construct relationship. The “hands” are the metonymy of cause, representing all her skills and activities in making things. It is also a genitive of specification, making “pleasure” the modifier of “her hands/her working.” She does her work with pleasure. Tg. Prov 31:13 has, “she works with her hands in accordance with her pleasure.”

12 tn The first word of the fifth line begins with ה (he), the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

13 sn The point of the simile is that she goes wherever she needs to go, near and far, to gather in all the food for the needs and the likes of the family. The line captures the vision and the industry of this woman.

14 tn The first word of the sixth line begins with ו (vav), the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

15 sn The word for “food” is טֶרֶף (teref, “prey”; KJV “meat”), another word that does not normally fit the domestic scene. This word also is used in a similar way in Ps 111:5, which says the Lord gives food. Here it is the noble woman who gives food to her family and servants.

16 sn The word חֹק (khoq) probably means “allotted portion of food” as before, but some suggest it means the task that is allotted to the servants, meaning that the wise woman gets up early enough to give out the work assignments (Tg. Prov 31:15, RSV, NRSV, TEV, NLT). That is possible, but seems an unnecessary direction for the line to take. Others, however, simply wish to delete this last colon, leaving two cola and not three, but that is unwarranted.

17 tn The first word of the seventh line begins with ז (zayin), the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

sn The word “considers” means “to plan carefully” in accordance with her purposes. The word is often used in the book of Proverbs for devising evil; but here it is used positively of the woman’s wise investment.

18 tn Heb “from the fruit of her hands.” The expression employs two figures. “Hands” is a metonymy of cause, indicating the work she does. “Fruit” is a hypocatastasis, an implied comparison meaning what she produces, the income she earns. She is able to plant a vineyard from her income.

19 tn The first word of the eighth line begins with ח (khet), the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

tn Heb “she girds her loins with strength.” The idea is that of gathering up the long robes with a sash or belt so that they do not get in the way of the work. The point of the figure is readiness for work. But to say she girds herself with “strength” means that she begins vigorously. “Strength” here would be a comparison with the sash.

20 sn The expression “she makes her arm strong” parallels the first half of the verse and indicates that she gets down to her work with vigor and strength. There may be some indication here of “rolling up the sleeves” to ready the arms for the task, but that is not clear.

21 tn The first word of the ninth line begins with ט (tet), the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

sn This is the word for “taste.” It means her opinion or perception, what she has learned by experience and therefore seems right.

22 sn The line may be taken literally to mean that she is industrious throughout the night (“burning the midnight oil”) when she must in order to follow through a business deal (W. McKane, Proverbs [OTL], 668); cf. TEV. But the line could also be taken figuratively, comparing “her light” to the prosperity of her household – her whole life – which continues night and day.

23 tn The first word of the tenth line begins with י (yod) the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

sn The words for “hands” are often paired in poetry; the first (יָד, yad) means the hand and the forearm and usually indicates strength, and the second (כַּף, kaf) means the palm of the hand and usually indicates the more intricate activity.

24 tn The verb שִׁלַּח (shilakh), the Piel perfect of the verb “to send,” means in this stem “to thrust out; to stretch out.” It is a stronger word than is perhaps necessary. It is a word that is also used in military settings to describe the firmness and forthrightness of the activity (Judg 5:26).

25 sn The parallel expressions here underscore her care for the needy. The first part uses “she spreads her palm” and the second “she thrusts out her hand,” repeating some of the vocabulary introduced in the last verse.

26 tn The first word of the eleventh line begins with כּ (kaf), the eleventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

27 tn The first word of the twelfth line begins with ל (lamed), the twelfth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

28 sn “Snow” is a metonymy of adjunct; it refers to the cold weather when snow comes. The verse is saying that this time is not a concern for the wise woman because the family is well prepared.

29 tn For the MT’s “scarlet” the LXX and the Latin have “two” or “double” – the difference being essentially the vocalization of a plural as opposed to a dual. The word is taken in the versions with the word that follows (“covers”) to means “double garments.” The question to be asked is whether scarlet would keep one warm in winter or double garments. The latter is the easier reading and therefore suspect.

30 tn The first word of the thirteenth line begins with מ (mem), the thirteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The word rendered “coverlets” appears in 7:16, where it has the idea of “covered.” K&D 17:335 suggests “pillows” or “mattresses” here. The Greek version has “lined overcoats” or “garments,” but brings over the last word of the previous verse to form this line and parallel the second half, which has clothing in view.

31 sn The “fine linen” refers to expensive clothing (e.g., Gen 41:42), as does the “purple” (e.g., Exod 26:7; 27:9, 18). Garments dyed with purple indicated wealth and high rank (e.g., Song 3:5). The rich man in Luke 16:19 was clothed in fine linen and purple as well. The difference is that the wise woman is charitable, but he is not.

32 tn The first word of the fourteenth line begins with נ (nun), the fourteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The form is the Niphal participle of יָדַע (yada’); it means that her husband is “known.” The point is that he is a prominent person, respected in the community.

33 tn Heb “gate”; the term “city” has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

sn The “gate” was the area inside the entrance to the city, usually made with rooms at each side of the main street where there would be seats for the elders. This was the place of assembly for the elders who had judicial responsibilities.

34 tn The construction uses the infinitive construct with the preposition and a pronominal suffix that serves as the subject (subjective genitive) to form a temporal clause. The fact that he “sits with the elders” means he is one of the elders; he sits as a judge among the people.

35 tn The first word of the fifteenth line begins with ס (samek), the fifteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

sn The poet did not think it strange or unworthy for a woman of this stature to be a businesswoman engaged in an honest trade. In fact, weaving of fine linens was a common trade for women in the ancient world.

36 tn Heb “to the Canaanites.” These are the Phoenician traders that survived the wars and continued to do business down to the exile.

37 sn The idea of clothing and being clothed is a favorite figure in Hebrew. It makes a comparison between wearing clothes and having strength and honor. Just as clothes immediately indicate something of the nature and circumstances of the person, so do these virtues.

38 tn The first word of the sixteenth line begins with ע (ayin), the sixteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

39 sn This word appears in Ps 111:3 which says that the Lord’s work is honorable, and here the woman is clothed with strength and honor.

40 sn Here “laugh” is either a metonymy of adjunct or effect. The point is that she is confident for the future because of all her industry and planning.

41 tn Heb “day.” This word is a metonymy of subject meaning any events that take place on the day or in the time to come.

42 tn The first word of the seventeenth line begins with פּ (pe), the seventeenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

sn The words “mouth” (“opens her mouth”) and “tongue” (“on her tongue”) here are also metonymies of cause, referring to her speaking.

43 tn The Hebrew phrase תּוֹרַת־חֶסֶד (torat-khesed) is open to different interpretations. (1) The word “law” could here refer to “teaching” as it does frequently in the book of Proverbs, and the word “love,” which means “loyal, covenant love,” could have the emphasis on faithfulness, yielding the idea of “faithful teaching” to parallel “wisdom” (cf. NIV). (2) The word “love” should probably have more of the emphasis on its basic meaning of “loyal love, lovingkindness.” It also would be an attributive genitive, but its force would be that of “loving instruction” or “teaching with kindness.”

44 tn The first word of the eighteenth line begins with צ (tsade), the eighteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

45 sn The expression bread of idleness refers to food that is gained through idleness, perhaps given or provided for her. In the description of the passage one could conclude that this woman did not have to do everything she did; and this line affirms that even though she is well off, she will eat the bread of her industrious activity.

46 tn The first word of the nineteenth line begins with ק (qof), the nineteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

sn The deliberate action of “rising up” to call her blessed is the Hebrew way of indicating something important is about to be done that has to be prepared for.

47 tn The text uses an independent nominative absolute to draw attention to her husband: “her husband, and he praises her.” Prominent as he is, her husband speaks in glowing terms of his noble wife.

48 tn The first word of the twentieth line begins with ר (resh), the twentieth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

49 tn Or “women” (NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT).

50 tn The word is the same as in v. 10, “noble, valiant.”

51 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.

52 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.

53 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.

54 tn The first word of the twenty-second line begins with ת (tav), the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

55 tn Heb “Give her from the fruit of her hands.” The expression “the fruit of her hands” employs two figures. The word “fruit” is a figure known as hypocatastasis, an implied comparison, meaning “what she produces.” The word “hand” is a metonymy of cause, meaning her efforts to produce things. So the line is saying essentially “give her her due.” This would either mean give her credit for what she has done (the option followed by the present translation; cf. TEV) or reward her for what she has done (cf. NAB, NIV, NLT).

56 sn Psalm 111 began with the imperative יָה הָלְלוּ (halÿlu yah, “praise the Lord”), and this poem ends with the jussive וִיהָלְלוּהָּ (vihalÿluha, “and let [her works] praise her”). Psalm 111:2 speaks of God’s works, and this verse of the woman’s (or wisdom’s) works that deserve praise.

57 tn “Gates” is a metonymy of subject. It refers to the people and the activity that occurs in the gates – business dealings, legal transactions, and social meetings. The term “city” is supplied in the translation for clarity. One is reminded of the acclaim given to Ruth by Boaz: “for all the gate of my people knows that you are a noble woman [אֵשֶׁת חַיִל, ’eshet khayil]” (Ruth 3:11).



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