Maybe you have heard some Christian pick-up lines. There is the one from the book of Joshua: ‘have you walked around me seven times? Because I have fallen for you.’ The one for the book of Numbers: ‘I was just reading the book of Numbers, but I realised I don’t have yours.’ There is the one from Hebrews 11: ‘Is your name Faith? Because you are the substance of things hoped for!’ Then there is the one from Proverbs: ‘why study about the woman of noble character when I can just study you?’
Proverbs ends with a poem. It is what is called an acrostic poem, which means that every verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This poem celebrates the woman of noble character.
We have seen that the book of Proverbs was originally a manual of instruction for young men. It records the teaching of fathers and mothers to their sons. Having taught their son about the kind of wise life he is to lead, they now tell him about the sort of woman he should seek to marry.
While most of the proverbs of this book are given by Solomon, this chapter is not. That is probably just as well. For the wise Solomon was very foolish when it came to wife-choosing. He had more than one wife, and he choose women who did not love the Lord. Love for the Lord is the beginning, and non-negotiable, place when a young Christian looks for someone to marry.
The beginning of this chapter tells us that these are the words of King Lemuel. We don’t know who Lemuel is, but his name means ‘devoted to God’. Lemuel is passing on the advice his mother gave to him. Before you think that this chapter is sexist, remember that the king was taught by his mother, and the wise woman she describes speaks with wisdom and teaches with kindness.
Given that the Proverbs is a ‘book for boys’ (the word ‘son’ occurs forty-four times), it is obvious why it focuses on the type of wife a wise young man would look for. But supposing it was the advice of a father to his daughter, rather than a mother to her son. What sort of characteristics would we expect to find in ‘the ideal husband’? Much of the advice would be the same. Proverbs has told young men not to be arrogant, lazy, dishonest, vain or harsh. A father should instruct his daughter to look for a husband who hard-working, willing to be involved enough to discipline the children, kind and gracious. Most importantly, a Christian father would tell his believing daughter to desire a man who fears God and let’s his faith be lived out.
A woman of faith
The first thing a young Christian is to do, in looking for a spouse, is to look for people who love God. The wife of noble character ‘fears the Lord’ (30). Race makes no difference (Moses was married to a Cushite and Boaz married a Moabite), but there is to be no unequal yoke between someone who loves the Lord and someone who does not (2 Corinthians 6:14).
A strong woman
The woman described here is hard-working and innovative. Her identity is not simply found in terms of who she is married to. The young man is to be willing to trust her to buy and sell. He is not to be an overly-controlling husband. Men should not be scared of strong and capable women. They shouldn’t be intimidated if she has more business sense than he. They should be encouraging their wife to use and develop their gifts.
A woman to be praised
The woman’s children rise up and ‘call her blessed’ (28). ‘A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised’ (30). This woman receives honour, although her aim is to bring honour to another. The Bible commands us to encourage godly women. How many women feel emotionally starved because they are taken for granted and never encouraged!
A generous woman
This woman is extravagant in her care. She provides for her household, but she is not blind to the needs of those outside of her household. She speaks with kindness. ‘She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy’ (20). Do you want to know what someone is really like? Then see how they treat those who can do nothing to pay them back!
I think that the most notable thing about this woman is that she is willing to be a servant. She is strong and capable, but her life seems to be lived for the blessing of others. She wants her children to safe and secure and she wants to bring honour to her husband. This servant-heart is not simply the preserve of wives. The Apostle Paul tells husbands to ‘give himself up for his wife’ (Ephesians 5:25). In truth this should be the attitude that all Christians aim for, as we remember how Jesus gave himself up for us (Philippians 2:8).
Conclusion—We are looking for something super-natural
Sadly, many young men put too much focus on a girl’s outward appearance (in fact many women obsess too much about how they look), and many young women attract the boys simply by playful flirting. Young people often ask, ‘which is more important, looks or personality?’ Proverbs tells us that ‘charm is deceitful, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised’ (30). It is not that looks don’t matter, after all the Song of Solomon celebrates physical attraction, but what matters most is godliness. What the woman described here is all the wisdom of Proverbs in action!
What do we mean by godliness? After all the woman in these verses seems so perfect. Many women read these verses and feel inadequate. I would hate for husbands to use these verses to and make unfavourable comparisons to their wives. The key thought of this poem is a willingness to put the needs of others ahead of our wants.
That is something we should all aspire to. It will make us better neighbours, employees, church members, parents and friends. It is something that models the one who came ‘not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). It is something that we can practice as we live as imperfect husbands who are married to imperfect wives. It is something supernatural.
You see, self-centredness comes all to naturally to me but selflessness needs a miracle. In January I won’t need to make the resolution: ‘this year I must break the habit of putting other people before me. This year I must try harder to make it about me. I must me first, me second and me third’ (adapted from Douglas O’Donnell). No next January I will need to pray, as I should pray every day, ‘Lord, help me think of others before myself.’ That is the quality we are to praise in others. That is wisdom in action! And it is a fitting way to finish this book!