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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 31

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verse 1

Pro 31:1

Proverbs 31:1

"The words of Lemuel; the oracle which his mother taught him."

This verse is rendered differently in some translations: "The word of Lemuel, king of Massa, which his mother taught him.” "These are the solemn words which King Lemuel’s mother said to him.” If these renditions should be allowed (and we seriously doubt it), then Lemuel was not even an Israelite. "Massa was an Arab tribe descended from Abraham through Ishmael (Genesis 25:14)"; but there is no record whatever of any such thing as a state called Massa ruled by a king. See the comment on Proverbs 30:1 regarding the importance of translating the word here as "oracle," indicating the authority of the passage. "There is no need to suppose that Lemuel was the author of that beautiful poem on the perfect wife that follows.” That Lemuel himself was indeed a king appears in his mother’s words, although, "king of what," no one knows.

McGee and others have supposed that Lemuel was the same as King Solomon. "Lemuel was Bathsheba’s `pet name’ for her son Solomon.” There’s nothing in this passage that sounds like Bathsheba to this writer.

Proverbs 31:1. This chapter is another supplement (just like Chapter 30). History has not preserved, nor has archaeology uncovered, information that would help us identify “king Lemuel”. If his father was a king with a harem of wives, the rearing and teaching of his sons became the work of his own mother. “Oracle” indicates a divine message. We are glad for this supplement that closes out the book of Proverbs, especially the material about the virtuous woman (Proverbs 31:10-31).

Verses 2-9

Pro 31:2-9

Proverbs 31:2-9

THE WORDS OF LEMUEL

"What, my son? and what, O son of my womb?

And what, O son of my vows?

Give not thy strength unto women,

Nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine;

Nor for princes to say, Where is strong drink?

Lest they drink, and forget the law,

And pervert the justice that is due to any that are afflicted.

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish,

And wine unto the bitter in soul:

Let him drink, and forget his poverty,

And remember his misery no more.

Open thy mouth for the dumb,

In the cause of all such that are left desolate.

Open thy mouth, judge righteously,

And minister justice to the poor and needy."

"O son of my vows" (Proverbs 31:2). This suggests that, He was given to his mother in response to her vows, as was Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11).

"Give not thy strength unto women" (Proverbs 31:3). The parallel line suggests that failure to heed this warning is indeed the "way that destroys kings."

"It is not for kings ... it is not for kings to drink wine" (Proverbs 31:4). This is not a double warning against "excessive drinking" of wine, but against "drinking wine." Furthermore, the warning is just as valid for private citizens as it is for kings and for everyone else who is not "ready to perish."

Drinking alcoholic beverages, "Opens all the sanctuaries of nature, exposes all its weakness and follies, multiplies sins and uncovers the nakedness of both soul and body. It takes a man’s soul into imprisonment more than any other vice, completely disarming a man of his reason and wisdom. More and more, those who thus indulge become less and less a man and more and more a fool!”

"Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish" (Proverbs 31:6). The proper use of alcohol appears here. In the Bible, "Alcohol is considered to have its proper use, not as an intoxicating drink, but for medicinal and restorative purposes (1 Timothy 5:23).”

Fritsch in the Interpreter’s Bible wrote, "These words deprecate overindulgence"; but Harris wrote more wisely, "This is not an allowance of moderate drinking, as Fritsch suggests. It recommends alcohol as a drug." "Upon the basis of this proverb, the noble women of Jerusalem gave a potion of strong drink to malefactors condemned to death, a potion which Jesus refused (Mark 15:23).”

These nine verses taken as a whole are primarily concerned, on the part of Lemuel’s mother, that her son should avoid the pitfalls of sex and liquor. After all, as Harris said, "Wine, women and song are the old debasing trio"; and if one wishes to stay innocent in this regard, it is not nearly enough to "quit singing"!

There follows next in this final chapter an acrostic, "An alphabetical poem on the Virtuous Woman; and the alphabet here is regular, unlike the acrostics in Lamentations and Psalms 119, where minor reversals of certain letters and a few other irregularities are found. The most important thing to remember about these alphabetical portions of the Bible, is that according to recently discovered Ugarit writings using this format during the fifteenth century B.C., alphabetical writings are no longer any evidence whatever of a late date.”

Proverbs 31:2. “The thrice repeated...’what’, which Luther appropriately rendered by ‘Ach!’, is plainly an impassioned exclamation expressing the inward emotion of the mother’s heart at the thought that the son might possible fall into an evil way” (“Lange”). The preciousness of this son to his mother is evident from her three expressions concerning him: (1) “my son”—her very own son, one of the dearest possessions that any woman can have; (2) “son of my womb”—not adopted by her but born by her, the fruit of her own body as blessed and enabling by God; (3) “son of my vows”—she, like Hannah (1 Samuel 1:2; 1 Samuel 1:8; 1 Samuel 1:10-11), may have been barren, earnestly prayed for a child, and vowed that if God granted her a child she would rear the same to His honor and glory. Her teaching these important things to Lemuel were likely part of her fulfilling those vows.

Proverbs 31:3. Her first plea was for him not to sacrifice his strength (Hebrew: “vigor”) to women (kings kept harems). Her second plea concerning “that which destroyeth kings” was likely referring to “strong drink”, which she goes on to discuss in succeeding verses. She was warning him against “wine” and “women”.

Proverbs 31:4. Solomon rightfully prayed for wisdom that he might be capable of ruling Israel (1 Kings 3:9), but strong drink can affect man’s reasoning powers. A king needs all of his mentality (and then some!) all the time, so his mother correctly said, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel.” Ben-hadad and the thirty-two kings with him were drinking themselves drunk, and the Israelites defeated them that day (1 Kings 20:16-21). Belshazzar was having a drunken feast when the handwriting appeared on the wall, telling him that that very night his kingdom would be given to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:1-5; Daniel 5:25-28). Ecclesiastes 10:17 observes, “Happy art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!”. It is too bad that our own capital city (Washington D.C.) has been consuming more alcoholic beverages per capita than other city in the U.S.A.

Proverbs 31:5. A drinking monarch will not be a good king: he will “forget the law” and “pervert...justice”. Matters that need attention will be neglected because of drinking. As was observed, boozing affects one’s mental powers, judgment-ability and general direction. Hosea 4:11 says, “Whoredome and wine and new wine take away the understanding.”

Proverbs 31:6-7. Another case of Hebrew parallelism in which the latter statement is but a restatement of the first. In other words, the “bitter in soul” is the same as “him that is ready to perish”. We do utilize drugs and alcoholic-based medicines to relieve the afflicted in their final sufferings. If one overlooks the Hebrew parallelism here, he would end up having God advising the sorrowful to turn to booze. But life has proven that people who do that don’t “drown their sorrows”; it is more as Archie Word observes: “They only give them swimming lessons.”

Proverbs 31:8. “The ‘dumb’ is any one who for any reason whatever is unable to plead his own cause; he may be of tender age, or of lowly station, or ignorant, timid, and boorish; and the prince is enjoined to plead for him” (‘Pulpit Commentary”). The next verse continues the subject.

Proverbs 31:9. The command to “judge righteously” is found elsewhere in the Bible also: “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15); “I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother, and the sojourner that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; ye shall hear the small and the great alike” (Deuteronomy 1:16-17); “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). But often the poor and afflicted had no one to see that they received justice. The Bible speaks elsewhere on that also: “Judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17); “He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well” (Jeremiah 22:16); “I delivered the poor that cried, The fatherless also, that had none to help” (Job 29:12).

Verses 10-31

Pro 31:10-31

Proverbs 31:10-31

THE VIRTUOUS WOMAN

"A worthy woman who can find, For her price is far above rubies."

"The heart of her husband trusteth in her, And he shall have no lack of gain."

"She doeth him good and not evil All the days of her life."

"She seeketh wool and flax, And worketh willingly with her hands."

"She is like the merchant-ships; She bringeth her bread from afar."

"She riseth also while it is yet night, And giveth food to her household, And their task to her maidens."

"She considereth a field, and buyeth it; With the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard."

"She girdeth her loins with strength, And maketh strong her arms."

"She perceiveth that her merchandise is profitable; Her lamp goeth not out by night."

"She layeth her hands to the distaff, And her hands take hold of the spindle."

She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; Yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.

"She is not afraid of the snow for her household; For all her household are clothed with scarlet."

"She maketh for herself carpets of tapestry; Her clothing is fine linen and purple."

"Her husband is known in the gates, When he sitteth among the elders of the land."

"She maketh linen garments and selleth them, And delivereth girdles unto the merchant."

"Strength and dignity are her clothing; And she laugheth at the time to come."

"She openeth her mouth with wisdom; And the law of kindness is on her tongue."

"She looketh well to the ways of her household, And eateth not the bread of idleness."

"Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying,"

"Many daughters have done worthily, But thou excellest them all."

"Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; But a woman that feareth Jehovah, she shall be praised."

"Give her of the fruit of her hands; And let her works praise her in the gates."

This poem needs no explanation. It is a brilliant description, not only of the ideal Jewish wife of Israel’s ancient history, but also of the typical wife of those American pioneers who built our nation, for this ideal was generally adopted by that whole generation of Bible-reading, God-fearing people who built a civilization in the wilderness of North America. This truth is illustrated by the fact that this poem has been publicly read at the funerals of thousands of women during this century and the last, many occasions having been those in which this writer read the chapter.

"This beautiful poem is a fitting climax to the Book of Proverbs." Throughout Proverbs, we have had all kinds of warnings against women who are prostitutes, adulterous, contentious, nagging, etc., but here we have emphasis upon the woman who is truly noble.

Her many wonderful qualities are thrift, industry, kindness, compassion, efficiency, business sense, discretion, discernment, true love, faithfulness and all the other graces and virtues of true womanhood. However, her crowning glory is mentioned in the concluding verses: "A WOMAN THAT FEARETH JEHOVAH"! There is no ability or achievement that surpasses the sacred worthiness of a truly Christian woman. Blessed be her name for ever! Those who fail to find salvation and fulfillment in Christ Jesus, regardless of other so-called achievements and successes, have failed totally.

The worthy woman in view here was wealthy, having servants of her own, money to purchase a field; and her husband was one of the "city fathers," sitting in the gates; and she stands as a paradigm of the Old Testament ideal of womanhood. This Old Testament ideal needs the enhancement of New Testament values, in which the poor widow who cast her last two mites into the treasury was awarded the praise of the Head of our holy religion, and in which the destitute woman with the issue of blood, a Gentile dog in the eyes of her contemporaries, exhibited a faith which Christ found, "No, not in Israel."

Nevertheless, this ideal of the "Worthy Woman" is exactly the one which was exhibited by the vast majority of the pioneer women of America who, in a very real sense, were the architects of our current civilization. This writer’s mother, and both his maternal and paternal grandmothers, as well as those corresponding ancestors of this writer’s wife, fully measured up to what is stated here of the "Worthy Woman." They were THAT KIND OF WOMEN. There’s altogether a new breed of women in vogue today; and it is far too early to give an accurate appraisal of the consequences. However, we are sure, as Jamieson stated it, that, "Upon the ability of the women of this generation to measure up to the ideals of this marvelous portrait of the Worthy Woman, there rest untold results in the domestic, and religious welfare of our nation." ; GOD HELP THE WOMEN OF OUR DAY TO RECOGNIZE IN JESUS CHRIST THEIR TRUE LIBERATOR!

Proverbs 31:10. From here to the end of the chapter sets for the beautiful description of a virtuous woman, wife and mother. It is the Bible’s longest and best description of her. It has been a favorite of many Christian women, and every Christian girl should know it well. Each of the verses of this detailed description begins with the different letters of the Hebrew alphabet. To describe it in English, Proverbs 31:10 begins with A, Proverbs 31:11 with B, Proverbs 31:12 with C, etc. to the end. Other passages on the virtuous woman: “A worthy woman is the crown of her husband” (Proverbs 12:4); “A prudent wife is from Jehovah” (Proverbs 18:22); “Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning...but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner aforetime the holy women also, who hoped in God, adorned themselves” (1 Peter 3:3-5).

Proverbs 31:11. The first part of this description relates her to her husband, and the first thing it says is that he can trust her. “The husband of such a wife goes forth to his daily occupations, having full confidence in her whom he leaves at home that she will act discreetly and promote his interests while he is absent” (“Pulpit Commentary”). See the contrast in Proverbs 7:18-19. “The man is not at home; He is gone on a long journey...Come, let us take our fill of love until morning.” His confidence in her integrity and her attention to the family’s interests shows up in “he shall have no lack of gain”. Proverbs 31:13 onward shows the important part she plays in the sound financial condition of the home. Contrast her relationship to this with the spendthrift wives who fairly wreck their husbands financially.

Proverbs 31:12. She is altogether an asset to him and in no sense a liability. Again, she brings him joy and not sorrow by her behaviour and by her contributions. “Her good is unmixed: she will do him good and not evil...Her good is...constant and permanent...all the days of her life” (“Clarke”). “All the days of her life” shows that she will still be his wife in years to come; she will be faithful to the marriage vow: “Until death do us part.” She will not only do good to him while he is strong and able but also when he is older and infirm.

Proverbs 31:13. Wool and flax (from whence comes linen) were made into yarn or thread, the yarn or thread into cloth, and the cloth into garments. This made it a big job to make clothes for the family, but she did it “willingly” and cheerfully. She was neither lazy nor complaining.

Proverbs 31:14. Even as she sought wool and flax (Proverbs 31:13), evidently wanting good materials to work with, even so she provides her family with good food, some of which came from distant places. Their markets contained items made possible by merchant-ships. She had planned meals—not just thrown-together ones or krick-krack eating.

Proverbs 31:15. We notice three things: (1) she gets up early—is no late-sleeper who is only concerned about herself instead of her family; (2) she cooks a good breakfast for the family—a good breakfast is a good foundation for the family’s day’s activities: they do not leave the house with empty stomachs; (3) she gets the family’s maidens busy with their work for the day. By that time some of our society-loving women finally get out of bed, she has a half-day’s work already done. She is filling her God-indended role in the home.

Proverbs 31:16. In this she is probably not acting independent of her husband, but since he is one of the elders of the land (Proverbs 31:23), she acts as his agent to investigate the worth of a particular field, to purchase it, and to plant it with vines for a vineyard.

Proverbs 31:17. All of this activity and working with her own hands elevated her out of being a weak, sickly woman. She was strong and healthy and able to uphold her part of the family’s work and projects. And she didn’t think she needed to be “liberated”!

Proverbs 31:18. She is a busy woman. She not only gives tasks to the maidens (Proverbs 31:15), but she herself works. She not only works outdoors, planting vineyards, etc. (Proverbs 31:16), but she makes garments and sells them (Proverbs 31:24). No wonder “her lamp goeth not out by night”! Yet she is not just a slave who works but has no responsibility to see that the business is profitable: she so manages things that her merchandise is “profitable”.

Proverbs 31:19. In Proverbs 31:13 we saw that “she seeketh wool and flax” (the raw materials). In this verse she is using the “distaff” and the “spindle” to make the thread or yarn. Proverbs 31:24 tells of her going on to make the actual garments and delivering them to the merchant to sell to the public. The distaff-and-spindle system of making thread preceded the spinning wheel: “The spindle and distaff are the most ancient of all the instruments used for spinning, or making thread. The spinning wheel superseded them” (“Clarke”). The distaff held the wool to be made into thread or yarn, and the spindle was what the finished thread or yarn was collected on. Before the spinning wheel, which mounted both of these on its solid framework, they were two independent pieces that had to be held and handled by the hands, under the arm, on the lap, etc. during the operation.

Proverbs 31:20. More Hebrew parallelism: “stretcheth out her hand” is the same as “reacheth forth her hands”; “to the poor” is the same as “to the needy”. She works for her family (Proverbs 31:20), but she does not forget others who are needy. Again, she is interested in business (personal, legitimate gain), but in so doing she is not unmindful of those who are having financial difficulties. We are taught to remember the unfortunate also: Matthew 25:34-36; Acts 11:29; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Ephesians 4:28; 1 John 3:17.

Proverbs 31:21. They did not have the severe winters that we do; on the other hand, they didn’t have the weather-tight houses and furnaces that we have. So they had to have warm clothing to cope with their times of colder weather. Her children were well and comfortably clothed—they were not neglected waifs of the street. The scarlet color would be warmer than plain white garments and dressier too. Every good mother wants her family to look nice.

Proverbs 31:22. The virtuous woman continues to be described in her relationship to different aspects of life. This verse shows that she likes nice things (“Carpets of tapestry”) and is gifted at making them. She not only likes outdoor work (“she planteth a vineyard”—Proverbs 31:16) but indoor work (needlework) as well. But she doesn’t go overboard on making nice things—she doesn’t neglect her family making them. Our verse also shows that this healthy, hardworking woman also likes to look nice (“her clothing is fine linen and purple”). Her wearing purple and fine linen shows that the family was not poor (compare Luke 16:19).

Proverbs 31:23. And what about her husband? Is he a lazy, no-good type of man? No, she was married to a prominent man, a successful man, one of the rulers of the land. Instead of a courthouse where legal transactions were recorded, their legal business was transacted in the city gates in the presence of the elders: Ruth 4:11; Deuteronomy 25:5-10. He was one of them.

Proverbs 31:24. Reference has already been made to her business enterprises: see Proverbs 31:16; Proverbs 31:18-19.

Proverbs 31:25. Clothes, we are told, express the person. In this sense this woman is expressed by two qualities: “strength” and “dignity”. These two qualities are evident in all that has been said of her. “This ‘laughing at the future’ is of course not to be understood as expressive of a presumptuous self-confidence, but only of a consciousness of having all appropriate and possible preparation and competence for the future” (“Lange”).

Proverbs 31:26. Special mention is here made of her speech habits. An idle woman will often get herself into tongue-trouble: “Withal they learn also to be idle, going about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13). The busy, useful life lived by Proverbs’ “virtuous woman” would help keep her from the above. Titus 2:3 instructs womanhood to be “not slanderers”. This will be foreign to the virtuous woman, for she is both wise and kind in her speech. When she speaks, it is wisdom that comes forth, and the “law of kindness” governs her lips also.

Proverbs 31:27. Her thorough care of her household is again emphasized (we might say in contrast with those women who are neglectful of their households, not seeing that they have proper meals, not seeing that their clothing is in good order, not keeping up the house, etc.). And her busyness in their behalf is again emphasized (we might say in contrast with those women who are lazy, sleeping in far beyond the proper time to get up, and then not working with diligence after they get up).

Proverbs 31:28. And her household notices her care of them and her work in their behalf, and she is greatly appreciated. Her husband does not overlook her good life and work, but “he praiseth her” (to herself, privately, to others upon appropriate occasion, and to God who gave her to him). And he teaches the children to appreciate her many efforts too, and the longer they live and the older they get, the more they rise up and call her “blessed”, making “Mother” one of the sweetest and dearest words in all the world to them. “Mother and goodness” and “Mother and love” go together in their minds. You men have good wives, tell them so, and you children who have good mothers, tell them so.

Proverbs 31:29. “Many daughters” means “many women” (or “many daughters of men”). Yes, the husband admits that there are many women who have done worthily, but to him his own is the very best of all! And isn’t this the way it should be? Thinking of her in this way, he will be happy and satisfied with her. He will not be thinking of other women nor leaving her for them.

Proverbs 31:30. He realizes that others may have “grace”, and others may display “beauty”, but it is better to be married to a woman who “feareth Jehovah”. Such a woman as he has will be praised, but to fall for the grace of the other woman will be found to be “deceitful”, and he will see how empty (“vain”) her beauty can be when she lacks the important qualities of womanhood. Oh, that all women realized how deceitful grace can be and how vain mere physical beauty is! Concerning “elegance of shape, symmetry of features, dignity of mien, and beauty of countenance,” “Clarke” says, “Sickness impairs them, suffering deranges them, and death destroys them.”

Proverbs 31:31. Psalms 128:1-2 speaks of the righteous person getting to eat the product of one’s hands: “Blessed is every one that feareth Jehovah, That walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands.” God’s final message concerning her to us is that we should give her what she deserves, what she has rightfully earned, especially praise and public recognition (“in the gates”). Let us listen to “Clarke” in his rather eloquent close: “Let what she has done be spoken of for a memorial to her; let her bright example be held forth in the most public places. Let it be set before the eyes of every female, particularly of every wife, and especially of every mother; and let them learn from this exemplar what men have a right to expect in their wives, the mistresses of their families and the mothers of their children.”

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Proverbs 31". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/proverbs-31.html.
 
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