Some say that the woman in this chapter is allegorical, representing wisdom or something similar, but for the sake of the current discussion, I’m taking the application that it’s representative of a real woman – which I don’t think would be a misapplication of this passage at all.
The Proverbs 31 woman – she is the epitome of a godly woman. Churches point to her as the prime model of a wife and mother. She is the standard to which Christian women look to as the definition of what they should be.
Yet, in this chapter filled with all her good works, there is little mention of what her inner thoughts might be. Even those verses that touch on her attitude (“worketh willingly”) are still the outward appearance- what others see.
But isn’t it possible that this woman who does so much for her family… might she have moments of self-doubt, moments where she feels she is not doing enough? Perhaps in between verses 18 and 19, in the dark of night when there is none to see- perhaps she has a moment where she breaks down, feeling the weight of all that she isn’t.
“But she is perfect,” you say. “She always does what is right- she is the model woman.” So she might be.
But then, she might not be. What about those who blasted her for working outside the home, telling her she should focus on her family instead? The chapter is filled with examples of her business- “she maketh fine linen, and selleth it…” (verse 24). It doesn’t say that she does this at home. In fact, there are times when she must leave the home to conduct business. And of course, any amount of time spent working on the business is time spent not focused on your own family or household.
This woman is not the model of a stay-at-home mom, people. Is it good to stay at home with your children? Yes, it is. But at the same time, is it bad to work outside the home? God doesn’t seem to think so.
What about those that might have criticized her dress, saying that she dresses too fancy – she is “showing off”? “Her clothing is silk and purple.” (verse 22) How many times has a woman been blasted for what she wears, simply because people think she is strutting or showing off? I have even seen arguments presented by some that we should not wear brand name clothing.
To top it off, it’s not just her that gets to wear the nice clothes – her own kids are wearing scarlet, which is a color of nobility (verse 21). There’s no humble beginnings here, no sense of humility in how they dress. There is pride in their work, confidence in their dress, and the entire family gets to enjoy the spoils. How many times has a parent received a negative comment because their child wears name brand clothes? We can dress “appropriately,” but should never be dressed too finely. Maybe it’s immodest to dress nicely, stylishly. Maybe it’s vain. Is it?
Then there’s her strength. Many have this idea that femininity equals weakness – but this Proverbs 31 woman “strengthens her arms (verse 17)” She is not a weak woman, in any sense of the word. She is strong physically, emotionally, and mentally.
The company she hangs out with is not something to be desired, either. Sure, she brushes shoulders with the merchants and the powerful men of the city. Her husband sits in the gates, which is a prime leadership position. But then she turns around and mingles with the poor, the downtrodden- the ones you see on the street corners, in the back alleys. She crosses to the other side of the tracks, so to speak (verse 20). “Who knows what she could be doing in those dark parts of the city,” some sputter, aghast at the notion.
She also has servants, did you notice? “Goodness, that woman is so selfish! She has others do for her just what she could do herself! My, if only I had that kind of money to spend on such frivolous things!” It may be frivolous- but God’s model woman has them.
All of this might be okay if she would just keep it quiet, humble. Today’s Christian could accept that. But as if all her failures aren’t enough, there is no humility here – at least, not the way some people consider humility. There is no quiet blushing, no passing off honors on to someone else, there’s no amount of self-deprecating comments from this woman. None of that. In fact, the chapter ends with this thundering announcement: “Let her own works praise her in the gates.” These days, praise is not an easy thing to come by – if you accept praise, you must not be humble, and we all know that being humble is a key aspect of being a Christian. Yet that’s not what we find here.
The Proverbs 31 woman, the standard to which women in the church today should adhere to, is completely and utterly flawed. And yet, God points to her as the example; He singles her out among so many others. These are the qualities that He chooses, that He admires in her. Are they really flaws, after all? Maybe we’re the ones with the skewed perspective.
I’m sure this woman had her moments, those times deep in the night, when her tears fell freely; moments when she looked at all she had done for the day, and felt that it wasn’t enough. Or perhaps it was too much – in the midst of all this busyness, taking care of her household and business, did she neglect her children? Were they cared for, loved? Did she give them enough attention?
Or maybe it’s a different track entirely. Maybe she feels too burdened, too wearied by her duties. She has servants, sure, but she still has to manage them, and it doesn’t mean she gets to slack off on her work. And her husband, couldn’t he help out some, too?
These whispered thoughts- they aren’t real, any more than they were for this Biblical woman. The criticism you receive from those around you- it’s ignorant of what God is really looking for. So when these thoughts come, remember that your weakness is God’s strength. Remember that what others see is not what God sees. Where others see flaws, God sees quality.
“If God would just show himself, then I’ll believe.”
“If I can see God face to face, I’ll know he exists and I’ll believe.”
Most people want God to show himself, but here’s a thought for consideration:
The Bible says that when we finally do meet God face to face, that every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11). There will be no argument, no discussion – every single human being will unequivocally realize just who God is.
How does this come about? Many people have this idea of God forcing people to their knees. Maybe his angel soldiers marching behind the line of humanity, kicking them behind the knees and pushing down on heads until every person is prostrate before the Lord.
But that’s not how God works. Even in Judgment Day, he still puts free will above all else. We have a choice in how we see God, how we relate to him. Even in death, we are not forced to love or worship him. So why does the whole of humanity fall to its knees, if not by force?
By sheer presence alone.
Have you ever been in a place that fills you with awe, that makes you weak in the knees and bereft of words? Your chest is tight, your eyes wide, your mouth speechless as you take in the sight. Maybe it’s a grand cathedral or an ancient monument, or a breathtaking display of nature’s power and beauty. A storm, a mountaintop view, the Grand Canyon. Whatever it is, it’s something that forces you to stop and take it in.
Now imagine that experience, but amplified ten thousand times. Meeting God face to face is no piece of cake. This is a God who formed entire worlds with a single phrase, who spans the Universe with his hands. Every inch of our world, he created, from the smallest quarks and atoms to the vast nebula and galaxies picked up by the Hubble telescope. And as you take in the whole of Creation, note the diversity, the attention to detail. Very little is grayscale. Color abounds at every turn, and not just mild, bland colors we recreate with our artists’ utensils, but bold, vibrant, popping colors that take your breath away.
At the center of all of that is God himself, who we will meet that day in his very own throne room. And if he can create all of this, imagine how he is in person, as we stand face to face with all his power, all his authority, all his creativity… what would our reaction be? Naturally, it would be to fall to our knees, not through some measure of force, but as an inevitable reaction at being faced with something with so much greatness and majesty.
We’ll have free will, but we will be so overridden by what we see that we won’t even consider fighting it. We’ll be on our knees before we know it, giving obeisance to a God who is so holy and awe-inspiring.
Why doesn’t God show up? People say they would believe if they could just see God face to face. It’s true, they’ll believe – but not in the way God wants. God has always wanted an honest relationship, one fully determined by how much we want to be with him. He could force us, but he’d rather let us be the determining factor in what goes on and how far we go.
The moment he steps foot in the picture and we see him physically, all of that goes away. Our power to choose a relationship with him becomes tainted with our inevitable urge to drop to our knees before him. In not showing up, God allows us the greatest freedom he possibly could – a chance at an unbiased choice, one that is fully our own to control, to decide whether we want to come to him.
By the time Judgment Day comes and we all gather in that throne room, the dice will have been cast, fates decided. Our choices will be made. There is no longer any need to hold back – one way or the other, we’ve already made our choice. And so God steps out, reveals himself to the people of his Creation, allowing them to see him for who he truly is –
The God of the Universe.