Who Can Find A Virtuous Woman?
There she is, every man’s dream. Industrious, faithful, strong, capable, gracious, domestic, giving and altogether wise.
She looks good on paper, but where is this elusive virtuous woman in real life? I am beginning to feel like a birdwatcher, biding time for just a short glimpse of a rare species.
Assuming for now that she even exists, how shall we men recognize her as we ferret among the myriads of women? Moreover, if the long-awaited fledgling does light upon a close branch, who is to say that she will not fly away before we have time to focus our binoculars?
We certainly cannot make assumptions or critical judgments about her on the basis of ill-conceived checklists. Too many men front load their catalog of qualifications for a mate and accumulate a veritable heap of unreal personal biases. On the other hand, we cannot be like those who have no standards at all and blindly tie the nuptial knot with women who fall far short of God’s expectations.
The Bible offers us its opinion of the truly excellent wife, and we will do well to heed it. Not only may our marital success depend upon it, but the church may never be the same if we take this advice to heart.
God’s Picture of Wisdom
Men, I am sorry. God did not personify wisdom by applauding the virtues of a man. This is not to say that He could not; God can do anything. But He did so by picturing wisdom through the finest qualities of womanhood, and there is something uniquely appropriate in this analogy.
The Book of Proverbs praises the supreme value of an excellent wife by alluding to her as wisdom itself, a priceless gem. “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies” (Prov. 31:10; cp. Prov. 3:15; 8:3).
God did not conclude this, the most famous book on wisdom ever written, with a platitude that is difficult to grasp. He gave a flesh and blood picture of true excellence and did so by describing the ideal wife.
She Is Trustworthy
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good, and not evil, all the days of her life (Prov, 31:11-12),
First and foremost, a virtuous woman is trusted by her husband. She engages in extensive business and domestic ventures without challenging her spouse. Simply put, he does not feel threatened by her. She understands that his ego is inextricably bound to hers by nature of their marital union, and therefore she is careful to nurture his trust. No less does he nurture hers. A settled confidence between them is the basis for her actions outside the home. He, being so confident in her, does not question her intentions but, rather, has full faith in her chastity. He does not consent with reservation or simply grant permission for her to engage in her own desires, but trusts her in whatever she does.
This trust is fostered by nature of her good spirit, and her success is at least in part due to her unselfish motives. She does not simply seek to fulfill her own career dreams but is impelled to work at life by the desire to do good for her husband.
She Is Strong
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms (Prov. 31:17).
You get the impression that the Proverbs 31 woman is a short and stocky young lady ready to stare down a grizzly at a moment’s notice. While I am sure she did not lift weights as a habit, she certainly excels with energy. The whole chapter oozes with her displays of strength.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. . . Strength and honor are her clothing (Prov. 31:19-20, 25).
She possesses physical, moral and spiritual vitality and abounds with vigor.
She Is Industrious
Even with all her dignity, this woman is not too proud to look for a bargain (vv. 13-14). She is not afraid of manual labor. She cooks (v. 15), sews (v. 22), has her own business (v. 24) and even is a private investor trading to make a profit (v. 16). She teaches on the side (v. 26) and still does a good job at raising her family (v. 27). This woman is a dynamo. She works hard to get the most out of life and does it with confidence (v. 25).
She Is Enterprising
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the virtuous woman is her business savvy. One does not expect the Bible to promote the business dealings of a wife and mother, especially considering the highly patriarchal nature of the ancient world. However, this woman is described in every respect as a financial speculator, dealing shrewdly in real estate and commodities (vv.16, 24). She engages in land ventures to establish a farmstead for her family, subsequently planting a vineyard with money acquired through her industry. She does not go into debt (v. 16) and seems to have the respect of the merchants by virtue of her diligent character. Her entrepreneurial ambitions are a supreme example of good stewardship.
She Is Domestic
The virtuous woman does not love her bed in the morning but is awake before the crack of dawn to discharge her obligations as a mother (v. 15). During the day she makes clothes for herself and her children (vv. 19, 21-22), producing some extra to sell at a profit (v. 24). Her unceasing work is recognized by her family, and they are not hesitant to commend her to others. It is no wonder she has dwarfed her peers (v. 29).
Although this description is enough to supercharge any single man’s soul, let’s get real, shall we? Isn’t this hopeless idealism one space shuttle flight from reality? No one in his right mind believes such a person exists, does he? Isn’t Proverbs 31 simply a paradigm of what a woman could do if she were able to exercise all her potential? To put it crudely, can’ t we regard the chapter as a poor joke, failing the test of real life? Is this just one more goad to pierce the soul of the already oppressed woman? Is this one more mirror for men to arrogantly hold up to reflect all the wrinkles of womanhood?
It is no secret that everyone has warts. None of us is perfect. Yet this chapter in the Bible is without a hint of failure. Doesn’t she ever kill her vines by watering them too much? Doesn’t she sew the sleeves on wrong when she makes her children’s clothes? Doesn’t she get mad at her husband? Do all her children rise up and bless her, answering “Yes, Mother”?
So, if reality is not like Proverbs 31, why is this chapter in the Bible? It makes women mad! It makes them even madder that there is no Proverbs 32. You know, the chapter that describes the qualities of a virtuous man – compassionate, firm, understanding, capable, gentle, authoritative, wise and disciplined.
I believe the answer to the question of why God gave us this rather idealistic chapter is found in two very simple principles – hope and grace.
Christianity is a religion of hope. Fundamentally, we look forward to the day when the crooked and twisted things of this world will be straightened, when the wrongs will be righted and when the Church will be perfected. Unfortunately, however, we often focus on the imperfect. The harder we look at our mates, the larger the flaws appear to us; and by peering hard at the qualities of the ideal wife, we become frustrated with the way things are or the way things are not. Honestly, it makes us mad. It aggravates men when they cannot find what they read about. And it irritates women when they are not what men are looking for.
The Bible calls us to aspire to the ideal. We have every reason to believe that, although we are not yet the people God wants us to be, we will become those individuals. While we must be content with our position in Christ, we cannot be content with our sin. We cannot give up hope that we will achieve significant steps toward being like His Son. For a woman, this means aspiring to the qualities found in Proverbs 31.
It requires more than just hope to become the polished gem described by the sage; it takes grace.
Men must realize that God sees women through eyes of compassion, and so should they. We men are not perfect; nor will we find the perfect woman. If we do, we should certainly not marry her because we might spoil a good thing.
The only hope any of us has in achieving godliness is grace. God’s grace covers what we are not and makes us what we are in Christ. It provides us with the capability of polishing our character – shining God’s crystal, so to speak.
We must cling unrelentingly to the ideal, not so that we shall know her when we find her, but that we will recognize the rare woman who desires to be the excellent wife – one who admits she is not there yet but clings to the mercies of God that He would make her a trophy of His grace.
The Picture Completed
Yet, is this the whole story? Does this exceptional individual simply develop on her own through metamorphosis, ultimately emerging from her cocoon as a perfect wife? Certainly not.
The New Testament completes the picture of womanhood by addressing man’s role in nurturing his wife – he is to love her in such a way that she becomes what God intends her to be. In Ephesians 5:25 and 27 we read:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it . . . . That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
It should be no small comfort to women to know that they do not carry all the responsibility for their spiritual growth (or lack of it). To a large degree, the task of maturation of the wife is placed upon the husband. The biblical narrative reminds us of the seriousness with which men should care for their wives, especially concerning the latter’s character development and conduct (Gen. 3:12ff; 16:5, etc.). Christian women must be willing to accept the fact that men have a tremendous duty to God in this regard, and in light of such a charge, wives should respond to their husbands with appropriate respect and submission. However, if husbands do not take their responsibility seriously, nor like what they see in their wives, men simply may have themselves to blame for the apparent dissatisfaction. Clearly it is the woman’s responsibility to mature in the sight of God, but it is the husband’s (or father’s) role to make sure she gets there.
The Look Ahead
Are Christian young men trained today to look for the type of wife described above or, for that matter, encouraged to be individuals who mature their wives? Is the church doing its job in educating young people to make a good choice of a spouse? Are we doing justice to the countless singles who come from families with poor role models? What are we teaching by teaching nothing? Whose standards do young people adopt if they do not adopt biblical ones?
Today many Bible believing churches, if they teach anything at all about the role of women, teach that women should be seen but not heard. Yet, those who are aware of biblical injunctions concerning the role of women in society understand that the idea of an active and vibrant wife is taught from the Bible as a whole. Young women can only reach their God given potential when they are instructed in a gracious and nonthreatening way to become a vital part of household leadership. How much farther along would the church be if trust were established as a basis for creativity and industry in the home?
Since our society poses an ever increasing threat to biblical role distinctions, it is imperative that the church concretize its convictions concerning the working mother. There is an ever growing phenomenon among families today – especially those who are upwardly mobile – that the wife works outside the home for reasons of economic security. Frequently such situations are entered into solely for financial reasons without asking the more critical questions concerning the relational factors between husband and wife. While the Bible seems to encourage female industry, it assumes that such activity has the trust of the husband and is not done in spite of the husband’s questions and uncertainty.
Many believe that it is an obsession with most women to promote themselves and assume authority that the Bible does not grant them. Consequently, some campaign against the notion of an active mother. Such individuals are reacting against unhealthy female self assertion that is common in our society today. Yet, we must all realize that the Bible supports the idea of a working woman, when in fact she does so as an extension of the home, under the complete trust of her husband. However, in most of our churches and homes, women are not encouraged to pursue great dreams and ambitions under the trust of their fathers and husbands. It is also rare to find men who till the soil of the development of a healthy and vibrant self worth in their wives.
I believe it would be a great testimony to the grace of God if those outside the church could look within it and see scores of young ladies who aspire to a biblical model of womanhood; not a model where women lay constant claim to a set of “rights” predefined by the world but a model that is steeped in trust, demonstrating liberty of expression in dispersing obligations as a woman, wife and mother.
Editor’s Note: In our view this is a balanced, gracious, biblical treatment of an important issue on the calendar of 1988.