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Lemuel. This Hebrew word signifies “For God,” or “belonging to God,” and is regarded by most commentators as a proper name. The prophecy. Delitzsch, Stuart, and many other Hebrew scholars render this word as a proper name, and read “The words of Lemuel, king of MASSA, which his mother taught him.” Miller reads the verse, “Words in respect to the Seed-of-God, a king; a prophecy in agreement with which his mother disciplined him,” and, as in the preceding chapter, applies it to Christ.
Proverbs 31:2. What, etc. “An impassioned exclamation expressing inward emotion.” (Zöckler.) “The question,” says Delitzsch, “which is at the same time a call, is like a deep sigh from the heart of a mother concerned for the welfare of a son.”
Proverbs 31:3. The second clause reads literally “nor thy ways to destroy kings,” and hence some understand it as a warning against warlike rapacity and lust of conquest, but, as Delitzsch remarks, this does not stand well as the parallel to the warning in the first clause.
Proverbs 31:4. Strong drink. (See on chap. Proverbs 20:1.)
Proverbs 31:5. Any of the afflicted. Literally “The sons of want.”
Proverbs 31:8. Such as are appointed to destruction. Literally “Children of leaving,” generally understood to mean orphans. The twenty-two verses following form an alphabetical song, each verse beginning with the several letters of the Hebrew alphabet arranged in consecutive order.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 31:1-9
DIVINE COMMANDS FROM A MOTHER’S LIPS
I. Two considerations made it obligatory upon Lemuel to attend to this counsel of his mother.
1. She was inspired to utter it. However we may translate the word here rendered prophecy (see Critical Notes), its place in the Holy Scriptures gives to it the authority of a message from God. The words are not merely the results of a tender and wise mother’s own observation and experience, but they are the utterances of a spirit under the special influence of the Holy Ghost. Although, therefore, his mother’s love, and, doubtless, her holy example, ought to have been very powerful incentives to attention and obedience, his obligation was increased tenfold by the conviction he must have had that God spoke to him through her lips.
2. He was a king. If men in every station of life are bound to keep the paths of purity and charity, much more is it the duty of one in a high place—the influence of whose actions stretch so far beyond his immediate surroundings, and who holds in his hand the destinies of so many beside his own. Because Lemuel had been called by God to a throne, what he was and what he did concerned not a few people only, but a nation, and this reflection ought to have added great weight to his mother’s words.
II. The first and indispensable duty of a ruler is to rule himself. Every man is a little kingdom made up of many different and sometimes opposing forces—of inclinations towards the earthly, the sensual, and even the devilish, and of aspirations towards the heavenly, the spiritual, and the godlike. There are lawful desires which, satisfied in a lawful manner, may lead to much enjoyment and blessing, but which, if allowed to rule the man, or even to have any share in the government of the life, will degrade and may almost brutalise him. Bodily appetites have their place in the constitution of man, but it was never intended that they should be satisfied by breaking the moral law; and when they lead to this, moral anarchy has set in, and moral ruin is not far off. The two great sins of the body against which Lemuel is here warned have in all ages shown how man can turn blessings into curses by abusing and mis-using them, and the Word of God and human history unite in proclaiming the truth that the Divine intention is perverted when the body rules the man and not the man the body. Every man is bound to be king of himself, and one who aspires to be a king over others and is yet a slave to his own unlawful passions will bring upon himself the curse of man and the judgment of God. On this subject see also on chap. Proverbs 6:24-35, page 89, and chap. Proverbs 23:29-35, page 673.
III. The obligation next in order is succour of the needy. In former chapters we have considered the obligation which God lays upon every man to consider the cause of the poor and afflicted. (See on chaps. Proverbs 14:20, page 370, and chap. Proverbs 24:11, page 180.) As we remarked at the outset, duties which men owe to their fellow-men multiply and become binding in proportion to opportunities. The king of ancient times was but another name for one whose direct influence over his subjects was greater than that of monarchs in our day. His word was law, and the power of life and death was often in his hand alone, and if he exercised self-denial and gave of his substance to those in want, he might often by his individual action entirely change the condition of half his subjects. The relations of society have changed since then, and kings have no longer so exclusively the power for good or ill, but their influence is still very great, and if it is all exerted in favour of benevolence and justice, and they live lives of self-denial and active compassion on behalf of others, they will come up to the ideal picture here drawn for their imitation.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 31:2. There was a threefold cord of maternal love which this parent was wont to employ, and which remained in its form as well as its power in the memory of her son. “My son” is the outmost and uppermost aspect of the relation. This is a bond set in nature, felt by the parties, and obvious to all. On this she leans first when she makes an appeal to his heart. But at the next step she goes deeper in. She recalls the day of his birth. She goes back to that hour when nature’s greatest sorrow is dispelled by nature’s gladdest news, “A man-child is born into the world.” By the pains and joys of that hour she knits the heart of her son to her own, and thereby increases her purchase upon the direction of his life. But still one step farther back can this mother go. He is the “son of her vows.” Before his birth she held converse, not with him for God, but with God for him.—Arnot.
Proverbs 31:4. It is not for kings to admit within their dominions anyone that is stronger than themselves, and able to overthrow them. It is not for kings to harbour anyone within their dominions that is false unto them, and ready to betray them: much more it is not for kings to admit within themselves any immoderate quantity of wine, which soon proveth too strong for them, and quickly with shame overthroweth them.—Jermin.
Proverbs 31:10. Virtuous. Literally “a woman of power.” Rubies, rather “pearls.”
Proverbs 31:11. He shall have no need, etc. Rather, “He shall not fail of spoil.” “Strictly, ‘the spoils of war,’ a strong expression to denote his rich profit.” (Zöckler.)
Proverbs 31:15. This probably signifies the appointed task for the day.
Proverbs 31:21. Scarlet. Delitzsch and Zöckler retain this reading; the former remarks that, “as high-coloured, it appears dignified as well as preserves warmth.”
Proverbs 31:22. Coverings, rather “coverlets,” as in chap. Proverbs 7:16, “a part of the furniture of the bed.”
Proverbs 31:25. She shall rejoice. Rather, “She laugheth at the future,” i.e., she is not afraid of it, being fully prepared for all emergencies.
Proverbs 31:26. Law of kindness. Delitzsch reads “Amiable instruction.”
Proverbs 31:30. Favour, i.e., “outward grace.” Vain, or “a breath.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 31:10-31
A MODEL MATRON
This picture of a faithful and kindly wife, mother, and mistress is here placed before the youthful monarch as the ideal woman whom he is to seek with all diligence, because she is well worth any pains to secure, and with much discrimination, because she is a rarity, and because there are many imitations of the real gem which look very much like it before they are tested. This beautiful picture is held to his view as the master holds some grand conception on canvas before his pupil, in order that he may acquire a distaste for all that comes short of it. This portrait may have been drawn by the mother of Lemuel; in any case we may safely conclude that she was such a woman herself, and if it came from another hand it is, probably, her likeness drawn from life. We notice—
I. The prominent features of her character.
1. Her energy. There seems to be within her a spring of unfailing activity, and the completion of one task is immediately followed by the beginning of another. In her home she is astir before the dawn, and when her domestic duties are completed she gives her mind to the transaction of business without—to the best market in which to sell her goods, and to buy all that she needs for the supply of her household. We cannot conceive of this energetic spirit in a frail and sickly body—she must have been physically healthy and strong, and we may give her credit for having been observant of the laws of God in this respect as in higher matters, and be sure that she avoided whatever might weaken her body or deaden her intellect. This being the case, her constant activity would be a pleasure, and would in itself contribute to the maintenance of her bodily strength.
2. Her capability. She was not only a great worker, but there was wisdom behind the work—a brain directing the hands. There are many people always busy, who yet accomplish but little, because their activity is not wisely directed—indeed, energetic action without wisdom to guide it, may be most disastrous in its effects. There is an abundance of power in the locomotive, but if it is set in motion and left free from wise control, it works ill instead of good. But this woman’s intellectual capacity equalled her active energy. She was a good judge of the merchandise that she had to sell, and knew the value of the land that she bought. She was methodical, and so able to arrange the employments of all the household so that no confusion should arise, and she could also show them with her own hands how to perform their work, for “she layeth her hands to the spindle,” and so follows up her precept by example. Her capacity also manifested itself in her forethought—in keeping her supply well ahead of her demand.
3. Her loving tenderness. She might have been all that we have thus far painted her, and yet not have made a happy home. If she had been nothing more she might have been feared, and in some measure respected, but she would not have been loved. Just as energy may be dangerous without wisdom to guide it, so such capable energy may be repellent without love to soften it. But her uncommon endowments and attainments did not make her impatient with her inferiors, and she was not so absorbed in providing for those at home as to forget the poor outside. Her commands were given in a winning tone, and her corrections in a loving spirit. She was more apt to instruct than to reprove, and doubtless acted upon the principle that the “way to make people better is to make the best of them.”
II. The root of all these excellencies. Although it is not absolutely stated, it is implied that godliness was the source of this symmetrical character—that it was the fear of the Lord which enabled her to keep so even a balance of virtues as to stand forth a perfect pattern to the women of every age and nation. The fear of God had given her a right conception of her duties towards all mankind, and especially of the sacred nature of her relationships as wife and mother. She fully entered into the Divine idea of marriage, and this made her the true helpmeet of her husband, and in regard to each son and daughter she heard the voice of her God saying, “Take this child and nurse it for me.” She knew that faithfulness in all things was expected of a servant of God, and that true godliness consists not so much in the things done as in the spirit in which they are performed. In the spirit of George Herbert she could say—
“Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see;
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.
“All may of Thee partake;
Nothing can be so mean
Which with this tincture (for Thy sake)
Will not grow bright and clean.
“This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.”
And thus living every day and always in conscious fellowship with the Unseen, she would be too conscious of her own shortcomings to be anything but tender towards the failings of others, and would not forget that she owed all her success in life to the blessing of the Lord, and held all her material good in stewardship for His service.
III. The blessed results of all. She had an abundant and lasting reward. Her husband’s trust in her was undimmed by a single shadow; whatever position she was called upon to sustain he felt fully confident that she was equal to it, and that everything that he possessed—from his reputation to his purse—was not only safe in her hands, but had increased in worth through his connection with her. Her words of loving counsel, and her useful and benevolent life, were not lost upon her children, but as good seed sown in good ground brought forth an abundant harvest in their filial reverence and noble deeds. And this family blessedness was not a thing that could be hid, but, like a candle of the Lord in a world of much moral darkness, it shed its light all around, and blessed and stimulated others to fear God, and so to serve their generation.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 31:12. The manner of some is to do good with the one hand, and with the evil of the other to spoil it: whereby they still remain to be evil wives. Others will do good while the fit lasteth, but they are weary of well-doing; whereas a good wife indeed will do good to her husband all the days of her life. It is not said of his life, but of hers. For though he be dead, she will do him good while she liveth, by doing good to his children, to his friends, to his memory.—Jermin.
Proverbs 31:16. Some consider but they buy not; some buy but they consider not; some consider and buy, but they plant not; some consider and buy and plant; but it is with the rapine of their hands, not the fruit of their hands. That field is well bought, where wisdom considereth what is bought, where ability buyeth that which hath been considered, where care planteth that which hath been bought, and where honesty giveth a blessing to that which hath been planted.—Jermin.
Proverbs 31:20. She doth not only open her hand, but stretcheth it (if I may so make use of the word), as if she would hold more to give the poor if she could.… And as if one hand were not enough for her it is said she reacheth forth her hands; and if she had more than two no doubt she would reach them all forth to the poor.—Jermin.
Proverbs 31:22. It is precisely such a woman who should wear such garments. The silk hangs all the more gracefully on her person that it was wound and spun by her own hands … This matron is not limited to silk and purple; strength and honour are her clothing too. She may safely wear elegant garments, who in character and bearing is elegant without their aid. If honour be your clothing, the suit will last a life-time, but if clothing be your honour, it will soon be worn threadbare.—Arnot.
Proverbs 31:26. There be many false keys which open the mouths of many, as rashness, and choler, and pride, and folly, and the like. But there is one right key, and that is wisdom. That it is which makes a virtuous woman courteous to all, a flatterer to none, a tale-bearer to none: that it is which maketh her to be familiar with a few, to be just and true with every one: that it is which maketh her respectful to her husband, lovingly grave to her children, awfully grave to her servants; dutiful to her superiors, affable with her equals, friendly to her neighbours, and not disdainful to her inferiors: that it is which maketh her slow to speak, quiet in speaking, profitable by speaking.—Jermin.
Proverbs 31:29. By the benefit of a better nature, or civil education, or for the praise of men, or for a quiet life, sure it is that all unsanctified women, though never so well qualified, have failed, both quoad fontem, et quoad finem, for want of faith for the principle, and God’s glory for the aim of their virtuous actions. And, therefore, though they may be praiseworthy, yet they are far short of this gracious matron.… “Better is pale gold than glittering copper.” (Bernard.) Say the world what it will, a drachm of holiness is worth a pound of good nature.—Trapp.
Proverbs 31:30-31. The lessons end where they began. Obedience is traced up to faith.… As we traverse the various phases of her character, we seem to be making our way over a well-watered and fruitful region, until we reach at last the fountain of its fertility.… Near the base of a mountain range, early in the morning of the day and the spring of the year, you may have seen, in your solitary walk, a pillar of cloud, pure and white, rising from the earth to heaven. In the calm air its slender stem rises straight like a tree, and like a tree spreads out its lofty summit. Like an angel tree in white, and not like an earthly thing, it stands before you. You approach the spot and discover the cause of the vision. A well of water from warm depths bursts through the surface there, and this is the morning incense which it sends right upward to the throne. But the water is not all thus exhaled. A pure stream flows over the well’s rocky edge, and trickles along the surface, a river in miniature, marked on both sides by verdure, while the barrenness of winter lies on the other portions of the field.… Such are the two outgoings of a believer’s life. Upward rises the soul in direct devotion; but not the less on that account does the life flow out along the surface of the world, leaving its mark in blessings behind it wherever it goes. You caught the spring by surprise at dawn, and saw incense ascending. At mid-day, when the sun was up, it rose unseen.… Thus is it in the experience of living Christians in the world.… The upright pillar is seldom visible, but the horizontal stream is seen and felt to be a refreshment to all within its reach.—Arnot.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 31". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany