The bookends of this famous passage reveal a lot.
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If the Proverbs 31 wife were on social media, I’d hide her feed.
This timeless gal who has been presented to me countless times in sermons as a liberating example of domestic and professional greatness “rises while it is still yet night and provides food for her household” (that includes servants); she also does a zillion other things that definitely include sewing and knitting, all while making money outside the home too (“she considers a field and buys it”).
This Proverbs 31 wife does one other thing triumphantly, too: She stresses me out!
I’ve always translated these verses to mean: “In order to be a good wife, you better wake up at 4 a.m., make at least 10 ham and cheese casseroles; you’ve also got to clothe and feed your own family, as well as the poor AND be a real estate whiz too — but no pressure, ladies.”
Thankfully, my perspective on Proverbs 31:10-31 shifted recently when I stumbled on a key insight into the passage in an unexpected place — the fictional novel The Lady’s Mine.
The Lady’s Mine is the latest release by the popular Christian author Francine Rivers. The story centers on Kathryn Walsh, a fiery Bostonian suffragette who has been sent west by a disapproving stepfather to claim an inheritance left by an uncle she’s never met: an apparently worthless mine and a defunct newspaper office in Calvada, California, an uncivilized mining town full of brothels and saloons.
I reviewed The Lady’s Mine for Aleteia in December, and a character’s comments about the Proverbs 31 wife have been running through my mind ever since:
“Take a good, hard look at the husband that woman had … If I ever met a man who treated me with that kind of respect, I might even marry again.” (The Lady’s Mine, p. 291)
This brief section of dialogue made me set aside the novel for the night and open my Bible. And what I found was truly eye-opening. The spitfire character who made this observation is absolutely spot on. The Proverbs 31 husband is key to his wife’s success, starting with the fact that he treats her with profound respect. And this respect is lived out in two main ways by the husband: Trust and praise. [Note, that this entire section of Scripture is about a “good wife” — not merely a “good woman.” The Proverbs 31 wife is most definitely married, and this married state empowers her.]
Trust: “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” (Proverbs 31: 11) Note that this line comes at the very start of the passage describing the good wife. While I’m not a biblical scholar, I think it’s obvious that this great trust the husband has for his wife lays the ground-work for her awesomeness. There is no way this Proverbs 31 husband is a nit-picking micro-manager, a criticizer or a second-guesser. If his wife has a large enough budget to feed and clothe a household as well as the poor, she has some serious decision-making power. If she’s buying real estate, the Proverbs 31 husband is obviously encouraging her to have significant input on major household decisions as well. And because of this “heart of trust” the Proverbs 31 husband has for his wife, he “has no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.”
Praise: Proverbs 31: 28: “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently but you surpass them all.'” The Proverbs 31 husband not only praises his wife, he is specific in his praise and he lavishes it on. He makes it clear that she’s the apple of his eye, that she “surpasses” all other women. To me, it’s obvious this guy is not too busy with work or hobbies or staring at his smartphone to spend quality time with his wife. He enjoys watching her in action and giving appropriate, meaningful applause. He certainly does not take her for granted. The Proverbs 31 husband is smitten and doesn’t hold back — no wonder his wife is a Ninja Warrior Princess.
In short, trust and praise act as bookends in this passage, with trust at the beginning and praise at the end. Perhaps that means the husband renews his trust for his wife every morning and praises her at night. I’m fortunate to say I’ve experienced such patterns at times in my own 23-year marriage and the results are cyclical: A trusted / empowered wife is one who naturally earns praise; and a well-praised wife is one who engenders trust.
Lastly, there’s one more important thing to say about this Proverbs 31 husband. In the center of the passage, it states: “He’s known in the gates when he sits with the elders of the land.”
So, the Proverbs 31 husband not only gives respect, he earns respect — from people within and outside of his household. I imagine this husband goes to Mass and takes his kids to sports’ practices and the park. I know I’ve seen my own husband who is an introvert by nature still find ways to be involved with his community, and it certainly earns my respect and the respect of others.
The Proverbs 31 husband is not living in isolation as so many modern men are sadly apt to do in these present times (and suffering greatly because of it). Rather, the Proverbs 31 husband is earning the respect he desperately needs from his wife and others by beingrespectable.
So what do you do if you don’t have a Proverbs 31 husband?
Pray for him! Send him this article! Tell him that if he’s respectable and he gives you more trust and praise, you might just end up making ten ham and cheese casseroles by 5 a.m. and buying a field by noon — in which case, I’ll rejoice with you! And I might not even hide your feed on social media!