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A. The introduction of Lemuel 31:1
King Lemuel was evidently not a king of Israel or Judah. No king by this name appears in Kings or Chronicles. Some scholars have suggested that "Lemuel" (lit. "Devoted to God") may have been a pen name for Solomon. There is no evidence for this. Yet this is the only reference to a king by name in Proverbs, an unusual feature in wisdom literature from the ancient Near East. [Note: Leah L. Brunner, "King and Commoner in Proverbs and Near Eastern Sources," Dor le Dor 10 (1982):210-19.]
"Since such a king is unattested in Israel’s history, he is probably a proselyte to Israel’s faith." [Note: Waltke, The Book . . . 31, p. 503.]
The use of foreign loanwords in this poem supports this view. Proverbs generally contains the counsel of aged courtiers to the sons who were in line to succeed them as government officials, as previously mentioned. We have also noted that both parents normally shared the training of these young men. [Note: See my comments on 1:8-19.] In chapter 31, we have King Lemuel’s recollections of the instruction he had received from his mother earlier in life. Perhaps his father had died, or was unable to instruct him, or gave him other teaching not recorded here. According to Jewish legend, Lemuel was Solomon and his mother was Bathsheba. [Note: Greenstone, p. 329.] There is no factual basis for this tradition, however.
VII. COLLECTION 7: THE WISDOM OF LEMUEL CH. 31
Some commentators have regarded only the first nine verses of this chapter as Lemuel’s writing. One reason for this is that the Septuagint translators separated Proverbs 31:1-9 from Proverbs 31:10-31 by five chapters (chs. 25-29). However, the Hebrew text implies that Lemuel wrote the whole chapter since it connects these two sections.
The unusual address, "What, O my son?" is "affectionately reproachful." [Note: Kidner, p. 182.] She was getting his attention and appealed to him strongly to give heed to her words for two reasons. She had borne him, and he had some connection with vows she had made to God.
B. The wise king 31:2-9
Her counsel was that it is not wise for a king to make himself dependent on women (Proverbs 31:3) or wine (Proverbs 31:4-7).
"David’s lust for Bathsheba made him callous toward justice and cost Uriah his life, and Solomon’s many sexual partners made him callous toward pure and undefiled religion and incapable of real love. In other words, obsession with women has the same effect as obsession with liquor (Proverbs 31:5)." [Note: Waltke, The Book . . . 31, p. 507.]
The advice in Proverbs 31:6-7 is probably sarcastic, to point out the uselessness of intoxicants. [Note: Ibid., pp. 508-9.] Positively, a king should uphold justice, especially for those whom other people might take advantage of (Proverbs 31:8-9).
"It is the responsibility of the king to champion the rights of the poor and the needy, those who are left desolate by the cruelties of life (see 2 Samuel 14:4-11; 1 Kings 3:16-28; Psalms 45:3-5; Psalms 72:4; Isaiah 9:6-7)." [Note: Ross, p. 1128.]
"I think Proverbs 31:6-7 are spoken in irony and not as a commandment, because nobody’s problems are solved by forgetting them, and who wants to spend his or her last minutes of life on earth drunk? [cf. Matthew 27:33-34]." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 149.]
The Hebrew word translated "excellent" (Proverbs 31:10, hayil) means noble, virtuous, and fine. It denotes strength, wealth, ability, valor, and dependability. The sense of Proverbs 31:10 is "a good wife is not easy to find, but, when found, she is of inestimable value." [Note: Toy, p. 543.] She will not bring her husband to ruin by overspending (Proverbs 31:11 b). Furthermore she is not contentious (Proverbs 31:12; cf. Proverbs 27:15).
C. The wise woman 31:10-31
There is much in Proverbs about unwise women. Solomon personified both wisdom and folly as women earlier (chs. 8-9). Perhaps God wanted us to finish reading this book-assured that women are not essentially evil or foolish-but that they can be very good, wise, and admirable. Jewish husbands and children traditionally recited this poem at the Sabbath table on Friday evenings. [Note: Y. Levin, "’The Woman of Valor’ in Jewish Ritual [Proverbs 31:10-31]," Beth Mikra 31 (1985-86):339-47.]
The form of this discourse is an acrostic poem. Each of the 22 verses in the Hebrew Bible begins with the succeeding consonant of the Hebrew alphabet. Such a device not only made for more interesting and beautiful reading, but also aided the Hebrew reader in memorizing this passage. The genre of this section is perhaps a heroic poem. [Note: A. Wolters, "Proverbs XXI 10-31 as Heroic Hymn: A Form-Critical Analysis," Vetus Testamentum 38 (1988):446-57.]
The woman in view in this passage is probably no single historic individual. This seems clear from the fact that the writer described her impersonally in Proverbs 31:10 as "an excellent wife," rather than as Lemuel’s mother or some other specific lady. Furthermore, throughout Proverbs the writers described people generally. They did not use particular individuals as examples, positively or negatively.
Some scholars believe this chapter does not describe women at all but deals with wisdom personified as a woman. [Note: E.g., Ross, pp. 1128-30; and Aitken, p. 158.] It is interesting, however, that even those who hold this symbolic view occasionally speak of the woman in this poem as a real woman. I believe this view is too extreme. Wherever a writer personified wisdom elsewhere in the book it is always clear to the reader that he was using personification as a literary device (cf. Proverbs 8:1; Proverbs 9:1; Proverbs 9:13). That is not the case here. Lemuel’s mother seems to have been describing the eminently wise woman, not just Wisdom as a woman. The woman in view seems to be a role model who epitomizes wisdom. [Note: Tom R. Hawkins, "The Wife of Noble Character in Proverbs 31:10-31," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996):12-23.]
In this chapter, the wife in view does the things that the wife of a prince or courtier in the ancient Near East would do.
"The woman here presented is a wealthy aristocrat who runs a household estate with servants and conducts business affairs-real estate, vineyards, and merchandise-domestic affairs, and charity. It would be quite a task for any woman to emulate this pattern." [Note: Ross, p. 1128.]
Lemuel said nothing of her intellectual interests or pursuits because those things were not significant for his purpose, which was to stress her wisdom. He did not mention her relationship to God or to her husband. The absence of her husband’s involvement in domestic matters fits her station in life as an aristocrat. He would have been busy with public affairs in the ancient Near East.
Probably Lemuel’s mother intended the qualities and characteristics that follow to be a guide to him as he considered marrying. They provide a standard of godly wisdom for women. However, this standard is not within every woman’s reach, since it assumes certain personal abilities and resources that are not available to all. It is idealistic.
The poem presents the height of female effectiveness. Within the sphere of the household we see that the wife has opportunity for great influence and achievement, not only succeeding herself but enabling her husband to succeed as well.
I do not believe we should interpret this poem as denigrating a woman’s work outside the home. It simply addresses a certain kind of woman in a particular social and historical context whose arena of activity was domestic, in the largest sense, almost exclusively. It also advocates characteristics that women can demonstrate in many different contexts in life. Women can manifest them in any period of history and in any culture.
"Wool and flax" reflects the eastern economy; she is industrious (Proverbs 31:13 a). "In delight" reveals her positive motivation. Rather than using whatever is handy, she wisely shops for what is best that she can afford (Proverbs 31:14). She puts the needs of others in her household ahead of her own comfort and convenience. She is self-sacrificing (Proverbs 31:15).
Eastern culture is again obvious in these verses. She is thrifty, and she augments her husband’s income (Proverbs 31:16). Today, supplementing her family’s income may be a possibility for her (cf. 31:34). However, husband and wife should agree that this is best for the family. She should make sure her motives and priorities are in order before committing herself to such a job. Is the income essential to meet needs or wants? Is she doing the work to avoid her other higher priority responsibilities? Is she hoping that her job or career, rather than her relationship with God and her family members, will satisfy her needs?
She is industrious (not an amazon, Proverbs 31:17). She has a legitimate sense of self-respect, and she works hard, with the result that she is prosperous (Proverbs 31:18; cf. Proverbs 13:9; Proverbs 20:20; Proverbs 24:20).
The "distaff" was the rod that held the raw wool while spinning. The "spindle" was the stick the spinner twirled between her fingers that took up the spun wool (Proverbs 31:19). She is generous rather than selfish (Proverbs 31:20).
"The hands that grasp to produce open wide to provide." [Note: Van Leeuwen, p. 262. Cf. Ephesians 4:28.]
She provides security for her family by providing them with clothing that is both warm and attractive (Proverbs 31:21). She also tends to her own appearance. She dresses in quality garments (Proverbs 31:22).
The implication of Proverbs 31:23 is that she helps her husband advance. She is a credit and an ornament to him (cf. Proverbs 12:4). She is both thrifty and industrious (Proverbs 31:24).
"Strength and dignity" are the outstanding qualities that people see when they observe her-dressed in the high-quality clothes she fashioned with her own skillful handiwork (Proverbs 31:25 a). She is also optimistic about the future because she has prepared for it (Proverbs 31:25 b). She is able to speak of wisdom because she has learned it (Proverbs 31:26 a). She is a kind person because she wisely realizes the importance of that virtue (Proverbs 31:26 b). Moreover, she manages her home well (Proverbs 31:27). She gives her household high priority.
Her husband and children, those who know her best, appreciate and praise her for her many excellent qualities. This poem pictures her caring for others, but Proverbs 31:27-28 show that, as a result, others care for her.
Here is the key to her greatness (Proverbs 31:30). Charm can be misleading because it promises a lifetime of happiness but cannot deliver, and physical beauty is only temporary. But the fear of Yahweh is the indispensable core of a woman like this. Though she does not fear the natural elements (Proverbs 31:21), she does fear the Lord. Such a woman deserves to share in the fruits of her labors and to receive public recognition for her greatness (Proverbs 31:31).
A wise woman will enjoy many benefits. Her husband, assuming he is of normal intelligence, will value, bless, and praise her (Proverbs 31:10; Proverbs 31:28 b, Proverbs 31:31). She will be secure (Proverbs 31:25). Moreover, her husband will also cherish and honor her (Ephesians 5:28-29; 1 Peter 3:7 b), unless he is a fool.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Proverbs 31". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
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