Case of the homemakers in Proverbs 31

I was reading the Bible recently and was looking at Proverbs 31.  You are familiar with that scripture I am sure.  It is the one that is usually preached on Mother’s Day and is supposed to give women courage, praise, and honor. 

Its really a strange chapter.  Apparently it is words from a woman.  In fact, it says “Sayings of King Lemuel – an oracle his mother taught him.”

First she tells him the things mothers tell their sons about life. 

  • She warns him about wine and women.
  • She tells him to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
  • To work for the rights of all who are destitute.
  • To speak up and judge fairly;
  • To defend the rights of the poor and needy. 

She seeks to make him a better man.  And then like all mothers, she tells him the kind of wife he should choose. 

Verse 10 suddenly starts telling us about this perfect wife.  I think she is the dream wife that the mother would like for her son to have.  Maybe the mother is this kind of woman and wants her son to marry a woman as industrious as she is.  I don’t know.  I don’t think the scholars know.

This perfect wife and will give him honor and prestige. If you look closely at the scriptures, you will find that the wife is actually the one that brings in the income for the family. 

We know she is the wage earner because:

  • She plants a vinyard out of her earnings.
  • She sees that her trading is profitable
  • She makes linen garments and sells them

You know what her husband does?  He sits with honor at the city gate among the elders.  I don’t know if that is a paid position or not. 

As the reader below points out, this is actually equality at work in the home. 

http://vimeo.com/14824926  Please watch our videos where we speak about being homemakers together.  This video was made at the Seneca Falls 2 Christian Women’s Right Convention on July 24, 2010 in Orlando, Florida.  Cindy Kunsman has put it together for her and we are grateful to her for this work.

Below is a comment from a reader.  I would like for you to read it.  She has a great insight to this. 

A man who sat at the city gates was a leader and a judge. People would bring their cases to the gates to be heard. So no, I don’t think the idea of the passage is that the husband is sitting there idle while his wife does all the work.

But it’s important to see that this passage is about ruling-class people. This woman has servants, or she would be unable to do all she does.

The most important thing to see about the passage is that she is being described in terms of praise that are usually used for men. The word “virtuous” is a mistranslation. The real meaning is closer to “valiant.” I have read that the words used to describe the way she “buys a field and plants a vineyard” is described in terms of a fighter, taming a piece of rough wilderness.

Notice how much autonomy she has, how she has the power to spend money as she sees fit. Her husband trusts her to do what’s good for the household. She doesn’t ask his permission for anything.

In accordance with a common Middle-Eastern pattern, this passage is told in a poetic, exaggerated style. The point is not that all women are supposed to be able to do everything this woman does. The point is all that she is empowered to do– no one stops her or says, “that isn’t woman’s work; go back to the kitchen and the babies!” But she is a poetic, not a realistic, figure. This passage is in the Proverbs, not the histories.

 

  

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About bwebaptistwomenforequality

Shirley Taylor writes with humor and common sense, challenging the church body to reclaim equality for Christian women.
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7 Responses to Case of the homemakers in Proverbs 31

  1. Kristen says:

    A man who sat at the city gates was a leader and a judge. People would bring their cases to the gates to be heard. So no, I don’t think the idea of the passage is that the husband is sitting there idle while his wife does all the work.

    But it’s important to see that this passage is about ruling-class people. This woman has servants, or she would be unable to do all she does.

    The most important thing to see about the passage is that she is being described in terms of praise that are usually used for men. The word “virtuous” is a mistranslation. The real meaning is closer to “valiant.” I have read that the words used to describe the way she “buys a field and plants a vineyard” is described in terms of a fighter, taming a piece of rough wilderness.

    Notice how much autonomy she has, how she has the power to spend money as she sees fit. Her husband trusts her to do what’s good for the household. She doesn’t ask his permission for anything.

    In accordance with a common Middle-Eastern pattern, this passage is told in a poetic, exaggerated style. The point is not that all women are supposed to be able to do everything this woman does. The point is all that she is empowered to do– no one stops her or says, “that isn’t woman’s work; go back to the kitchen and the babies!” But she is a poetic, not a realistic, figure. This passage is in the Proverbs, not the histories.

    Like

  2. Mara says:

    There are so many ways to look at this.
    All that has been brought up is very good.

    In addition to seeing this as poetic, I encourage people to look at this passage of scripture as more of a “can be” list rather than a “to do” list.
    It’s a “the sky is the limit” list, or a “if you can dream it, you can do it” list.
    It flies in the face of all who want to reduce the sphere of every female down to such small proportions as CBMW tries to do.

    Another way to look at it is as an allegory of how the Bride of Christ should be, as a whole. What is Jesus looking for in His bride on this earth? Some of us have ministries to the poor, some of us are teachers, some of us produce and make money to support ministries, etc.

    The use of this section of scripture to either shame women or to try to get them to do better at keeping up laundry and dishes is to misunderstand the scope of this incredible bit of the Bible.

    I hope others chime in with further understanding on the limitless nature of this awesome portion of scripture.

    Like

  3. Jane says:

    Yea it’s not ‘one’ woman doing ALL these jobs, even WITH servants it’s ‘physics’ impossible. Somewhere around here I have a book, journals of women back in 1700s, 1800s, etc., who wrote down their tasks because this was some kind of Calvinist leaning [I’m not Calvinist] but anyway–works based, etc., but so anyhow they are very detailed in their jotting down work and SPINNING ALONE was an all day job, so they broke it down like one daughter/or servant would spin all day, one would make soap, which was another very time consuming job, another would cook/clean, and THIS is why they had large families and why daughters also worked, so this MALE FANTASY of one woman doing all this work,

    Like

  4. With all the ‘authority’ type of talk, and saying how you see to check with him to make sure he approves and what not?

    Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.

    You don’t get the impression to many men have ‘full confidence’ in their wives the way they teach HOW to do the relationship.

    Its strange how people want to use this scripture as a hammer, and yet miss key little nuggets that blow their ‘hammer’ theory out the window.

    Like

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