We often assume that Proverbs 31 describes the perfect woman or the characteristics a “good” woman needs to possess. However, we need to be aware that this passage is a poem that describes the virtues of wisdom and does not reflect a gender definition. These verses from Proverbs 31 express and celebrate the virtues of wisdom and its character. They celebrate wisdom’s capabilities.
The church often employs this passage to encourage women to look on these characteristics or virtues and practice them. This misunderstanding reminds me of a story told by Alan Carr. He wrote, “A teacher gave her class of second-graders a lesson on the magnet and what it does. The next day in a written test, she included this question: My full name has six letters. The first one is M. I pick up things. What am I? When the test papers were turned in, the teacher found it astonishing that almost 50 percent of the students answered the question with the word Mother.
The children connected the description of a magnet to a role that society has imposed on women. The church often does the same with this passage from Proverbs. We have misunderstood a poetic personification of God’s wisdom as an outline for fulfilling the cultural role of “biblical womanhood.”
Isaiah 54:5-6 speaks of the Lord as the husband of Israel. From this perspective, today a “good wife” can be understood as the body of Christ, which is the church—a church always ready to serve the Lord; a church with character, integrity, and loyalty.
Father and Mother God, may we be willing to live in harmony and unity, governed by your wisdom. Amen.
Proverbs describes the noble wife and sets a standard that can seem impossible. This woman is capable and respected but also generous and wise. She serves but is not weak. Is she a “superwoman,” and do all women need to be “superwomen”? No, she is noble because she follows the counsel of the psalmist and is deeply rooted in the teachings of God. Therefore, she sets a standard for everyone to emulate, not just women. James, another teacher of wisdom, encourages believers to show these same characteristics by following the wisdom given by God. In Mark the disciples display a lack of wisdom by arguing over who is the greatest. Jesus reminds them that greatness in God’s eyes comes through service, not through seeking recognition.
• Read Proverbs 31:10-31. How have societal expectations shaped your life? How do you allow them to shape the ways you interact with others?
• Read Psalm 1. When have you had to choose between wickedness and righteousness? What influenced your choice?
• Read James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a. You can choose the way you react to conflict. How can facing your internal struggles help you deal with external conflict?
• Read Mark 9:30-37. With what are you too preoccupied? How do your personal worries constrain your perspective?
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