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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Proverbs 31

 

 

Verses 1-31

In THE FINAL CHAPTER of the book has also a peculiar character, King Lemuel is the writer, but not the author, for he simply quotes the words of his mother. Actually, no king of Israel or Judah is known by this name, and it would seem most likely that Lemuel is a name given Solomon by his mother. If this is so, then it bears lovely witness to the godly character of Bathsheba, whose experience of shame with David no doubt wrought to produce a serious self-judgment and resulting sober concern for her child. This too would be consistent with the character of these last seven chapters of Proverbs, which we have been considering, for God's provision for man in times of failure and ruin is the predominant subject. How beautifully therefore the grace of God shines out, especially in this concluding seventh chapter, with its picture of quiet rest and satisfaction. Indeed, Solomon's own failure to properly heed the instruction of his mother here given, serves to accentuate the greatness of that grace.

But also, it bears witness to the fact that this prophecy looks much beyond Solomon, to a King in whom these characteristics of faithfulness and truth are seen in perfection of beauty. The first part of the chapter - to verse 9 - shows His throne established in righteousness (blessed anticipation indeed), while the second - from verse 10 to the end - adds the lovely picture of His Bride, "An help meet for Him," in whom He finds deep and precious delight. How unspeakably sweet to the true heart in times when a ruined church testimony grieves the soul, to look beyond the ruin to contemplate the absolute certainty of God's counsels concerning Christ and the church, His Bride!

The mother of the king would here speak of Israel elect by grace in contrast to the bondwoman, as Sara the free woman was the mother of Isaac, the child of promise, a lovely type of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was not the fruit of Israel's boasted lawkeeping, but the precious Fruit of the grace of God operating in the little remnant of Israel elect by the pure grace of God. Compare Galatians 4:22-31. How sweetly this evidence of grace and its results are seen in the lowly character and words of Mary the mother of the Lord (Luke 1:46-55).

"What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows?"

The language here is quite in contrast to that of arbitrary commandments: legality is given no place. But it is an earnest appeal to the heart and conscience of her son, a practical pressing upon him to answer decidedly for himself. She appeals to him on the ground of her giving birth to him, and also on the ground of her vows, which no doubt were those of devoting her son to God, as his name Lemuel ("unto God") implies. a reminder of Hannah's vowing that Samuel would be given to God all the days of his life. Certainly only in Christ we see the perfection of such devotion, the perfect carrying out of the godly instructions we find here; but they are intended for both the exercise of Solomon and of all the children of God today, who are "made unto our God kings and priests," and whose character therefore is to be patterned after that of Him who is "Lord of lords and King of kings."

"Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings."

The tragedy of Solomon's disregard for this first of his mother's instructions is a painful comment on the impotence of the greatest human wisdom. It was Solomon's many wives who turned away his heart from obedience to God (1 Kings 11:3). Nor have more recent philosophers been men of exemplary moral lives. Greece, with all its culture and philosophy, destroyed itself through idolatry and moral corruption. Did Solomon not know better than to serve idols? Certainly, but his knowledge was not sufficient to preserve him. If he had learned to distrust himself, as did Agur, he might have known how to depend in communion upon the Lord, Who Himself is the Preserver of men. Many saints of God in the Old Testament were sadly guilty of polygamy, and some have dared to justify this merely on the ground that these men were believers. But this evil was first introduced by Lamech, of the line of Cain (Genesis 4:23), a gross despising of the words of God: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife" (Genesis 2:24). It is true enough that God did not enforce this upon men, but the Lord Jesus reaffirmed it as that which was true "from the beginning of the creation" (Mark 10:2-9), and it is Christianity alone which has brought back some measure of true submission to this holy principle of God. Faithful devotion to one wife is beautifully seen in the love of Christ for the church (Ephesians 5:25-29), and this is the sacred standard for the child of God as regards the sanctity of the marriage bond. Violation of this is the thing that "destroyeth kings."

"It is not for kings, o Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; not for princes strong drink: lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. Give strong drink to him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more."

Whatever others may be at liberty to do, there are certain positions that demand a different standard of conduct. For instance, an airline pilot or a rail engineer cannot be allowed to indulge in strong drink for obvious reasons. A king too is in a place of trust, responsible for the welfare of many subjects, and it is imperative that he maintain at all times sobriety of judgment that is wise and fair. If others indulge in wine and strong drink, this is not for him.

Did Solomon not know this without having to learn it by experience? Yet here again he ignored his mother's advice, as Ecclesiastes 2:3 tells us, only to learn by painful experience that his mother was right. In Christ alone we see the perfection of sober, undeviating wisdom and faithfulness in judgment. For wine speaks of anything that merely exhilarates or stimulates for the time. Man may be intoxicated by pleasures, as Solomon was for a time, or by personal pride, by money-making, or any of those multitude of things that influence the desires of the flesh. These may so affect the thoughts that proper, sober judgment is for the time impaired. Let us remember these things too in being exhorted, "Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). The believer, is here to represent the Christ whose royal dignity is perfection itself: let us follow Him in some true measure. The world will certainly show the opposite character: all the greater therefore is the responsibility of the Christian to bear a true witness.

Yet strong drink is to be given to those ready to perish, and wine to those heavy of heart. Is there not here the implied truth of the Gospel of grace? A lost, hopelessly miserable soul needs the reviving, resuscitating joy of the knowledge of forgiveness, the "pouring in" of the oil of the Holy Spirit, and of the wine of a new-found joy in trusting to the precious blood of Christ. This initial, effervescent joy of a newborn soul is most precious in its place; but this should lead to a sober, faithful, devoted character of solid dependability. Wine is not to be the diet of the soul after conversion, but the milk and solid food of the Word of God.

"Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy."

This is the last of the three basic characteristics of the true King. The glory and wealth of Solomon's kingdom was such that it ought to have been a simple matter for him to follow this sound advice of his mother. Yet, do we find it so? In fact, nothing is said positively as to his so doing; while his son Rehohoam later acknowledged to Israel, "My father did lade you with a heavy yoke;... my father chastised you with whips" (1 Kings 12:11). The taxes he laid upon the poor evidently reached the point of oppression. How tragically sad a comment on the fact of man according to flesh being exalted in authority! It may be that Solomon began well, and paid some attention to his mother's instruction, but in the end he violated all of it! How the earth groans for the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords, He whose reign will be perfect equity, kindness, compassion, judging righteously, pleading the cause of the poor, delivering those appointed to destruction, so that the whole earth will break forth into singing! It is surely this we are to take as the implication in these first nine verses of chapter 31: there is a King of whom all these things are true.

The latter part of the chapter is a grand completion of the prophecy, presenting as it does a wife suitable for the King, her character answering beautifully to His own. This is in thorough contrast to what we have seen of the vanity of man in the flesh, his failure and untrustworthiness; for it is the lovely fruit of the grace of God, responded to by faith: she is God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Ephesians 2:10), and to be presented to the Lord Jesus without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27). How it adds to the greatness of His own glory to contemplate the wonder of His work in transforming a loveless, lifeless, sinful people into a company united in devoted affection and obedience to Himself! It is said that we shall be "to the praise of the glory of His grace," and also "to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 1:12).

The completeness of satisfaction involved in this is further enhanced by the fact that this section is an acrostic, using the entire Hebrew alphabet, each verse beginning with a letter of the alphabet, in proper order. It may be helpful to indicate this in quoting the text.

10.(Aleph) "Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies."

11. (Beth) "The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need (or lack) of spoil."

12.( Gimel ) "She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life."

Does the question of verse 10 not imply that a virtuous woman is not to be found everywhere, just as another question is raised in chapter 20:6, "A faithful man who can find?" Virtue does not only refer to moral purity, it is evident, but to all the characteristics of faithfulness, diligence, dependability that the chapter outlines. How refreshing to see in any good measure these qualities in a woman. But it is impossible apart from the grace of God having wrought in her heart. No material price can possibly give a recompense for her. The precious red ruby, or many of them together have no comparison to her worth. But are we not given a veiled hint here that her value is only measured by the precious blood of Christ, the price of her redemption? It is He Himself who has placed this value upon her: His heart safely trusts in her: He will have no lack of spoil, that is, no lack of gain through her. Not only will she refrain from harmful things, but "she will do Him good," as the good servant who reports to his master, "Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds." She is too busily occupied with good to allow time for even worthless things, let alone evil things. And this continues "all the days of her life:" there is no growing weary of diligent devotion.

13.(Daleth) "She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands"

14.(He) "She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar."

15.(Vau) "She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens."

Her clothing is not ready made nor even the fabric, for of course it was common in the east for women to both weave the fabric and make the clothes for her family. Wool is for warmth, the product of the sheep, the sacrificial animal. This would speak of the "work and labor of love," warm and affectionate, which Hebrews 6:10 tells us God will not forget. Flax is the material for weaving "fine linen," and the garment in this case cool in comparison to the wool. Revelation 19:8 interprets this for us, "the fine linen is the righteousnesses of saints." If in the case of the wool, the hands perform a work and labor of love, the linen tells rather of works of righteousness, the result of a living faith. How good to see these two lovely characteristics in balance! Her working "willingly" too is in lovely contrast to any spirit of legality.

The symbolism of verse 14 is excellent also: as the merchants' ships bring food from long distances, so she draws her provision from beyond the realm of observation. The spiritual significance of this is of course the important matter: the believer's provision of food for the soul is not found in his local circumstances, for the world around him is a wilderness: it is from the very presence of God we must draw that which our souls require day by day. Prayer, dependence, meditation, are the means by which we may do this.

Moreover, her faithful use of it is seen in verse 15. When the soul has learned from God, being filled with purest good, does it not delight in sharing with others, and practising self-denial in order to do so? Early in the morning, the people came to the temple to hear the Lord Jesus in the days just before His death: how precious that readiness to give the Word of God to souls in need. For He spent the nights in the mount of Olives: for the sake of others He would not spare himself (Luke 21:37-38). Thus too the virtuous woman will rise before the night has passed, because of her concern for her household and her maidens. Her maidens are of course servants, yet she also will serve them when occasion may arise for it. Has not the Lord of Glory Himself in grace come among us as "He that serveth"?

16. (Zain) "She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard"

The word for "buyeth" here is actually "acquireth." She is busily engaged in seeking gain for her husband, not only that he might have the property, but that she might make good use of the property. Again, the spiritual meaning predominates in this. In New Testament language, "the field is the world" (Matthew 13:38), and the Lord Jesus has, in the sacrifice of Himself, "sold all that He had" to buy the field (Matthew 13:44). Therefore, the believer, united as by a marriage bond to the Lord, has very real title to this vast possession: "all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world. or life or death, or things present or things to come: all are yours: and ye are Christ's and Christ is God's" (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). How important to insist that we are not the world's, but the world is ours. It is therefore merely to be as a servant for our use: we are not to be entangled by it but to use it insofar as it will serve the interests of our Lord. Practically speaking, we may not, as the viruous woman, have considered the world from this viewpoint, and thus not have "acquired" it in the sense of having it under our feet for the sake of the gain of our Lord. But "this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4).

Also, in the field she plants a vineyard, with the fruit of her hands. Paul speaks of this in connection with the work of the Lord, establishing the assembly in testimony to His grace: "Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not the fruit thereof?" This labor of planting in the world, a blessed witness of Him who "is not of this world," is another lovely characteristic of the true church of God. This is indeed a proper use of the world, and will bear fruit for eternity for the sake of our adorable Lord and Master.

17. (Cheth) "She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms."

We have before mentioned the Lord's girding Himself to serve the disciples. In the girding of the loins the loose flowing garments are drawn up and securely fastened to allow unimpeded progress or labor. Thus 1 Peter 1:13 exhorts us, "Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober." Our minds should be under proper control, no loose ends allowed to hinder our spiritual progress. This honest self-discipline of our minds is true spiritual strength; and thus too our arms will be strengthened for work. It is the precious principle of going "from strength to strength" ( Psalms 84:7).

18.(Teth ) "She perceiceth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night."

Experience in dealing with Divine things will deepen the soul's conviction that this is true good. Is this not clearly declared for us in Philippians 1:9-10 : "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are more excellent." This perception of what is good will so occupy us with good that evil will have no place; and the candle of testimony will burn brightly all through the night of our brief sojourn on earth. But if souls choose the world's goods just because they "see no harm in them," then it is evident they have not perceived the "good" that so permeates all the things of God, and their candle will grow dim proportionately.

19.(Yod.) "She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff."

20.(Caph.) "She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy."

These two verses show her hands properly and diligently occupied, first at home, and secondly, for the sake of others outside. With no spinning wheel, her labor was more thoroughly manual, as she used the long spindle with one hand and the distaff with the other, taking long hours to spin only small amounts. Yet how much better is this than the boredom of having everything manufactured by machine and selfishly piling up clothes that are unnecessary. Is it not a pointed question to us today that, since we possess more, do we not have more to give away? For this virtuous woman stretches out her hand to others also; and as though one hand is not enough, the other hand follows willingly, her whole heart expressed in her liberality. Why do we not more joyfully follow her example? It may be remarked that her hands are spoken of seven times in the chapter, a beautiful indication that her works are found perfect before God. (Contrast Revelation 3:2).

21.(Lamed) "She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet."

The advent of winter is symbolical of the cold desolation of the judgment of God, the snow adding its voice of white, spotless purity, which man in his guilt is rightly afraid to face. But she fears not, for her household is clothed with scarlet. How lovely a picture of the blessed covering of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Scarlet is the warm, attracting color, and is the dye taken from a worm-like insect, with which the scarlet fabrics of the tabernacle were dyed. This very insect is that referred to in the words of the Lord Jesus in Psalms 22:6, "I am a worm, and no man," in view of His sufferings for sin on Calvary. Blessed covering indeed for every child of God! - a covering that removes all fear, because it removes all guilt.

22. (Mem.) "She maketh herself coverings of tapestry: her clothing is silk (or byssus) and purple."

It is good that we be reminded that much of our time is rightly spent in covering ourselves; for this is significant of the fact that personally we are not acceptable to God; but when self is covered by that which speaks to God of His own beloved Son and of His great work, then the heart of God cannot but find deepest pleasure in us. Let us note again however that verse 21 has shown the first covering to be that of redemption: this must come before the fine linen and purple, or the putting on of the two last would be mere hypocrisy, as in the case of the rich man of Luke 16:19 "clothed in purple and fine linen." Byssus is so fine a linen as to resemble silk, and is beautifully significant of the righteousnesses of saints, as we have seen, and would remind us that believers are "holy priests," characterized by priestly purity, and privileged to enter the presence of God (1 Peter 2:5). Purple is the royal color, speaking of the dignity of kings given to the children of God. Thus, as "royal priests" we are to "show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). This is a testimony of noble dignity before the world. Not that believers are entitled yet to reign as kings: we are not; but true kingly dignity is to be seen in our moral character, as those who represent a king who is not of this world. and is at this time rejected.

23. (Nun ) "Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land."

If in one respect this looks on to the blessing of the millennium, when the Lord Jesus will sit as Judge in the gate, known of all, and administering in perfect justice, yet also at the present time we who are of faith are privileged to know Him in His faithful administration in connection with the church of God: thus in a spiritual way we anticipate those blessings that in a public way will be known in the millennium.

24. (Samech) "She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant."

It may seem amazing that this industrious soul, after so fully caring for her own household, and for the poor, would still have time and energy to produce fine linen for the market. What an example indeed! Does this not teach us that not only ought we to consider the Lord's interests in our immediate contacts; but to have a missionary spirit, concerned for others too whom we may never meet on earth? How precious a reflection of the gracious heart of our Master!

25. (Ain) "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laugheth at the coming day" (New Trans.).

Is there not the salutary reminder here that a believer's strength is not in himself? Nor in fact is true dignity a virtue of the flesh: these are "her clothing," and certainly typical of Christ, as the apostle could joyfully claim, "I can do all things through Christ. Who strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13). And again, "Of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30), a dignity certainly infinitely above the highest attainments of the flesh. It is because of this that "she laugheth at the coming day," that is, the future holds for her no fear whatever: she "may have boldness in the day of judgment, for as He is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17).

26. (Pe) "She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness."

We have already seen that this precious soul is a worker, not a talker; yet there is lovely moral balance here, for she knows how to give "a word in season": when she does open her mouth, it is that words of wisdom may be spoken. This compares with 1 Peter 4:11 : "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." If we obeyed this instruction, how much evil and vanity would be avoided, and how much good accomplished! "The law of kindness" in her tongue is no doubt a designed contrast to "the law of commandments contained in ordinances" ( Ephesians 2:15). Legality has utterly no place in her character: her words of grace are consistent with her gracious actions: if this is called a "law," this simply indicates that it is her settled principle of conduct. It is far from looseness and indulgence of evil, but firm in kind consideration of the needs of others.

27. (Tsaddi) "She looketh well to the way of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness."

It is the household in which the character of the inmates is fully seen; and doubtless we are intended to apply this to "the household of faith." In the church as the house of God we look for order, government, proper discipline, and here again is a sphere we must not be guilty of ignoring. But along with this "she eateth not the bread of idleness": it will take our whole energy of faith to maintain both a true Gospel witness, and proper care for the house of God: we shall have no idle time, just as a mother who must continually watch as to the ways and tendencies of her children if she is to preserve them in faith and love, from snares of sin and disobedience.

28.(Koph) "Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her."

If discipline and proper care seem irksome to a child, so that rebellion may smoulder for a time, yet when the Spirit of God works in the soul to give the knowledge of salvation and spiritual light, the children later will look back with true thankfulness for that same discipline, and when it is accompanied by tenderness, love, and diligent faithfulness, the children will not eventually fail in commendation of their mother. May this be truly so in every sphere in which we are called upon to bear an influence in preserving godly Christian character. If in the assembly of God this honorable, loving concern for order and true discipline is practised, it may not always be taken kindly at first, but in the end souls will recognize the value of it, and so express themselves. But more important is the fact that "her husband also ... praiseth her." Is the church not above all things responsible to please her Master? His commendation is how infinitely precious. Do we not deeply desire to hear Him say "Well done"?

29. (Resh.) "Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all."

If in verse 10 she is called "a virtuous woman," yet this verse clearly shows that it is a prophecy intended to be specific: "thou excellest them all." How precious is the delight that our blessed Lord finds in His Bride! No doubt it could be applied to the earthly bride Israel, in connection with earthly circumstances, but in a higher way to His bride, the church; and this surely draws our hearts out with deepest desire to respond fittingly to such affection and commendation on His part.

30.(Schin) "Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised."

31.(Tau.) "Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates."

How fitting that a book characterized by the fear of the Lord should end in this way. However others may seek to obtain favor by pleasant manners or beautiful appearance, the eyes of the Lord look deeper than this, and see the heart made known in consistent daily conduct and devotion. He will not be deceived, nor will the vanity of fair appearances make any impression upon His heart of absolute truth and purity. Is there not here also the clearest significance of the judgment seat of Christ? "She shall be praised." Not only will others eventually recognize her value, but far above all else, God will express His own approbation. "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come: and then shall every man (or each) have praise of God" (1 Corinthians 4:5). How deeply thankful then will each saint be who has honestly sought, with single heart, the pleasure of the Lord. We know that nothing will escape His eyes, nothing be forgotten that has been the fruit of faith working by love. And what child of God now would not yearn with desire for the joy of hearing those precious words from the Lord's lips, "Well done. thou good and faithful servant"?

But not only is she praised: she is also given the fruit of her own hands. Just as the servants who gained by trading with their Master's pounds were allowed to keep what they had gained, so the goodness of God abundantly rewards those who have labored truly for Him ( Luke 19:24-26). We shall find that what we have gained for Him has really been for ourselves also.

And finally, there will be public recognition of those works in the Day to come. Is this not implied in the Bride's being clothed in fine linen, pure and white, which is the righteousnesses of saints? We cannot now be allowed to be clothed in our own righteousnesses, for in our present state this would be mere self-righteousness, not purified from the imperfections and soiling of our own hands; but in that Day our robes will have been washed, our motives purified by the complete judgment of the flesh in every feature of it. But "in the gates," the very place of public administration, God will see that the righteousnesses of saints are displayed for the recognition of the whole creation. For this will all be "to the praise of His glory," whose grace has so marvelously wrought in precious souls; and His Name will thus be exalted for eternity.

How complete, and satisfying, is the conclusion of this book, in contrast to Ecclesiastes; - at least as precious as it is possible in the Old Testament. But it is food for our souls, intended to be well digested, to permeate our entire life and character, till we see His face.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Proverbs 31:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/proverbs-31.html. 1897-1910.


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Friday, October 20th, 2017
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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