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PROVERBS CHAPTER 31
Lemuel’s lesson concerning chastity and temperance, Proverbs 31:1-5. The proper use of wine, Proverbs 31:6,Proverbs 31:7. An exhortation to righteous judgment, Proverbs 31:8,Proverbs 31:9. A description of a virtuous wife, Proverbs 31:10, with her husband’s confidence in her, Proverbs 31:11. Her work and careful provision for her household, Proverbs 31:12-20. Their furniture and clothing, Proverbs 31:21,Proverbs 31:22. The properties and praise of a good wife, Proverbs 31:23-29. The vanity of beauty; the good are to be praised, Proverbs 31:30,Proverbs 31:31.
Of king Lemuel, i.e. of Solomon, by the general consent both of Jewish and Christian writers; to whom this name doth very fitly agree, for it signifies one of or from God, or belonging to God; and such a one was Solomon eminently, being given by God to David and Bathsheba, as a pledge of his reconciliation to them after their repentance; of whom it is expressly said that the Lord loved him, 2 Samuel 12:24, and who was by God himself appointed to succeed David in the kingdom. Possibly his mother gave this name to mind him of his great obligations to God, and of the justice and necessity of his devoting himself unto God’s service and glory.
The prophecy; so called, either,
1. More especially, because she did either by natural sagacity, or by Divine inspiration, foresee Solomon’s danger, and what sins he was most likely to be either inclined or tempted to commit; and therefore thought fit to give him these precautions, Or,
2. More generally, as all godly discourses or counsels are called prophecies; of which see on Proverbs 30:1, and elsewhere.
His mother, Bathsheba, who having truly repented of her adultery, did not only avoid it in herself for the future, but seriously endeavoured to prevent that and such-like sins in others, and especially in Solomon, whom the remembrance of her sin might possibly provoke to an imitation of her example. But when she gave him these instructions is but matter of conjecture. Probably it was either,
1. When she first discerned his inclinations to those sins of which she here warns him, to which she saw he was like to have many and strong provocations. Or,
2. After he was made king, and had more plainly discovered his proneness to these excesses, although he had not yet broken forth into those scandalous enormities into which he afterwards fell.
What? a short speech, arguing her great passion for him; what dost thou do? or, what words shall I take? what counsels shall I give thee? My heart is full, I must give it vent; but where shall I begin?
The son of my womb; my son, not by adoption, but whom I bare in my womb, and brought forth with great pain, and brought up with tender care; and therefore it is my duty to give thee admonitions, and thine to receive them; and what I speak is from sincere and fervent affection to thee, which I trust thou wilt not despise.
The son of my vows; on whose behalf I have made many prayers, and sacrifices, and solemn vows to God; whom I have, as far as in me lay, devoted to the work, and service, and glory of God.
Thy strength; the rigour of thy mind and body, which is greatly impaired by inordinate lusts, as all physicians agree, and frequent experience showeth.
Thy ways; thy conversation or course of life.
To that which destroyeth kings; the same thing repeated in other words, as is very usual in these books; to the immoderate love of women, which is most destructive to kings and kingdoms, as was well known to Solomon by the example of his father David, and by many other sad instances left upon record in all histories.
To drink wine, to wit, to drunkenness or excess, as the next verse explains it.
Forget the law; the laws of God, by which they are to govern themselves and their kingdoms.
Pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted; which may easily be done by a drunken judge, because drunkenness deprives a man of the use of reason; by which alone men can distinguish between right and wrong, and withal stirs up those passions which incline him both to precipitation and partiality.
Unto him; which is to be understood comparatively, to him rather than to kings, partly because he needs a liberal draught of it more than kings do; and principally because if it proceed to excess, in him it is only a private inconvenience, but in kings it is a public mischief and grievance.
Ready to perish; sorely afflicted and overwhelmed with sorrow, as it is explained in the following words; for such need a cordial.
For wine, moderately used, allayeth men’s cares and fears, and cheereth their spirits, Psalms 104:15.
Open thy mouth, speak freely and impartially, as becomes a king and judge to do, for the dumb; for such as cannot speak in their own cause, either through ignorance and infirmity, or because of the dread of their more potent adversaries, or of the majesty of the king sitting in judgment.
Such as are appointed to destruction; who without such succour from the judge are like to be utterly ruined, whom therefore both justice and charity oblige thee to preserve.
A virtuous woman, whom he may take to wife. Such a person is hardly to be found. Compare Ecclesiastes 7:28. And here he lays down several characters or qualifications of an excellent wife, which are here delivered in alphabetical order, each verse beginning with a several and the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet; which method is used in some, and but in a few places of Scripture, to oblige us to the more diligent consideration and careful remembrance of them, as things of more than ordinary importance. And such this matter is, partly because the good or bad education even of private families, which depends much upon the mother’s qualifications, hath a mighty influence upon the welfare or misery of commonwealths; and partly because the right education of royal families is in itself a very public blessing, and therefore it is the interest and happiness of whole kingdoms that their kings should have virtuous and pious wives.
Doth safely trust in her, for the prudent and faithful management of all his domestic affairs, which are committed to her care.
So that he shall have no need of spoil; the sense is either,
1. He shall want no necessary provisions for his family, which are sometimes called spoil, or prey, as below, Proverbs 31:15; Psalms 111:5; Luke 11:22. Or,
2. He shall not need to use indirect and unlawful courses to get wealth, by cheating or oppressing his subjects or others, as princes have oft done to maintain the luxury of their wives, and as Solomon himself afterwards did, of which see on 1 Kings 12:4,1 Kings 12:10,1 Kings 12:11, because all shall be abundantly supplied to him by her providence.
She will improve, and not waste his estate.
She seeketh wool and flax, that she may find employment for her servants, and not suffer them to spend all their time unprofitably in ease and idleness.
Worketh willingly with her hands; she encourageth them to work by her example; which was a common practice among princesses in those first and purest ages of the world. Not that it is the duty of kings and queens to use manual or mechanical operations, but that it is the duty of all persons, the greatest not excepted, to improve all their talents, and particularly their time, which is one of the noblest of them, one way or other to the service of that God to whom they must give an account, and to the good of that community to which they are related and obliged.
By the sale of her homespun commodities she purchaseth the choicest goods which come from far countries.
While it is yet night; early in the morning, to redeem thee.
Giveth meat; distributeth all her necessary provisions.
A portion; either,
1. Of work, which she allots to them. Or rather,
2. Of provisions for them; for so this word is used, Genesis 47:22; Leviticus 10:13,Leviticus 10:14; Proverbs 30:8, and no where, to my remembrance, of an allotment of work. And so this clause agrees best with the former, expressing the same thing in other words, according to the manner.
She considereth a field; whether it be fit for her use, and of a reasonable price, and how she may purchase it. This excludes the rashness, as her proceeding to
buy it excludes the inconstancy, which is oft incident to that sex.
With the fruit of her hands, with the effects of her diligence,
she planteth a vineyard; she improveth the land to the best advantage.
She girdeth her loins with strength; she useth great diligence and expedition in her employment; for which end men in those times used to gird up their long and loose garments about their loins.
Strengtheneth her arms; putteth forth her utmost strength in her business.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; she finds great comfort and good success in her labours.
Her candle goeth not out by night; which is not to be taken strictly, but only signifies her unwearied care and industry, which is oft expressed by labouring day and night, or continually.
By her own example she provoketh her servants to labour. And although in these later and more delicate and luxurious times, such mean employments are grown out of fashion among great persons, yet they were not so in former ages, neither in other countries, nor in this land; whence all women unmarried are to this day called in the language of our law spinsters.
To relieve their necessities. Her designs are generous and noble; for she labours not only to supply her own and her household necessities, or to support her own state, much less to feed her pride and luxury, but that she may have wherewith to supply the wants of others who crave or need her assistance; which also procures God’s blessing upon her husband, and children, and whole family, to whom, by this means, she brings both honour and advantage.
She is not afraid of the snow, or of any injuries of the weather.
All her household are clothed with scarlet; she hath provided enough, not only for their necessity and defence against cold and other inconveniences, which is here supposed, but also for their delight and ornament; so that not only herself, and husband, and children, but some of the better rank of her servants, wear scarlet; which was more cheap and familiar in those times and countries than now it is with us. Or, as it is rendered in our margin, and by divers others, are clothed with double garments, which is necessary and customary in cold seasons.
Coverings of tapestry, for the furniture of her house.
Silk and purple, which was very agreeable to her high quality, though it doth not justify that luxury in attire which is now usual among persons of far lower ranks, both for wealth and dignity.
Known; observed and respected, not only for his own worth, but for his wife’s sake; not only for those rich ornaments which by her care and diligence she provides for him, which others of his brethren, by reason of their wives’ sloth or luxury, are not able to procure, but also for his wisdom in choosing, and his happiness in enjoying, so excellent a wife, by whose prudent care, in the management of his domestic concerns, he hath perfect freedom wholly to attend upon public affairs.
Sitteth among the elders of the land, in counsel or judgment.
Curiously wrought of linen, and gold, or other precious materials, Jeremiah 13:1; Daniel 10:5, which in those parts were used both by men, 2 Samuel 20:8, and by women, Isaiah 3:24; Song of Solomon 7:1.
Strength; not strength of body, which is no ornament of that sex, save only as she preserves her health and strength by sobriety and exercise, which other men waste by intemperance and idleness; but strength of mind, magnanimity, courage, resolution, activity.
1. Her prudent, and pious, and amiable behaviour, in which true honour principally consists. Or,
2. That good name and honourable esteem which she hath gained amongst all that know her by her virtuous disposition and carnage.
Her clothing; these, and not her rich garments mentioned before, are her great ornament and glory.
She shall rejoice in thee to come: the sense is either,
1. In her old age she reaps the comfort and benefit of her youthful labours, Or rather,
2. She lives in constant tranquillity of mind, and a confident and cheerful expectation of all future events, how calamitous soever, partly because she hath laid in provisions for a rainy day, and chiefly because she hath the comfortable remembrance of a well-spent life, and, which follows thereupon, a just confidence in God’s gracious providence and promises made to such persons.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom; she is neither sullenly silent, nor full of vain and impertinent talk, as many women are, but speaks directly and piously, as occasion offereth itself.
In her tongue is the law of kindness; her speeches are not froward and provoking, as those of foolish women frequently are, but most obliging and amiable, as being guided by wisdom and grace, and not by inordinate lusts and passions. And this practice is called
a law in her tongue, because it is constant and customary, and proceeds from an inward and powerful principle of true wisdom, which in a manner necessitates and constrains her to discourse like herself, so that in a moral sense she cannot speak otherwise, unless she offer violence to herself, or the nature of the thing require sharp and severe expressions.
She looketh well to the ways of her household; she diligently observeth the management and progress of her domestic business, and the whole carriage and conversation of her children and servants; whereby also he intimates that she spends not her thee in gadding abroad to other houses, and idle discourses about the concerns of other persons, as the manner of many women is, but is wholly intent upon her own house and proper business.
Eateth not the bread of idleness; that which is got by idleness, or without labour.
Her children; whose testimony is the more considerable, because they have been constant eye-witnesses of her whole carriage, and therefore must have seen her misdemeanours, if there had been any, as well as her virtues.
Arise up; either,
1. In token of reverence to her, which agrees not to the following clause, wherein the same phrase is understood concerning her husband. Or rather,
2. That they may seriously and industriously apply themselves to the work of setting forth her praises, as this phrase is used, Genesis 37:25; Exodus 2:17, and oft elsewhere. For sitting being commonly the posture of idleness, men that set about any work are said to rise in order thereunto.
Call her blessed, both for her own excellency, and for many happy fruits which they have gathered from her wise and godly education.
He praiseth her, in the following words.
Daughters; daughters of men, i.e. women, so called also Genesis 34:1; Ezekiel 30:18.
Thou excellest them all: he esteems it but just that his praises should bear proportion to her real and manifold perfections.
Favour; comeliness; or, as the next clause explains it, beauty, which commonly gives women favour or acceptation with those who behold them. These are the words either,
1. Of her husband, continuing to praise her. Or,
2. Of Bathsheba, giving the sum of what she had said in few words.
Is deceitful; partly, because it gives a false representation of the person, being ofttimes a cover to a most deformed soul, and to many evil and hateful qualities; partly, because it doth not give a man that content and satisfaction which at first view he promised to himself from it; and partly, because it is soon lost, not only by death, but by many diseases and contingencies.
That feareth the Lord; which character is here mentioned either,
1. As the crown of all her perfections. Or,
2. As a key to understand the foregoing passage of that wisdom, and fidelity, and diligence, which proceeded from or is accompanied with the fear of God.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; it is but just and fit that she should enjoy those benefits and praises which her excellent labours deserve.
Let her own works praise her; give her the praises which her own works may challenge. If men be silent, the lasting effects of her prudence and diligence will loudly trumpet forth her praises.
In the gates; in the most public and solemn assemblies.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Proverbs 31". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17