10 An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The author has recounted a mother’s warnings against unprofitable companions for a king who is to uphold justice and have mercy for those in need (v. 3-7).
Unfit companions and disordered desires are a hindrance to the function of a king. Consider David’s desire for Bathsheba and its result–the murder of Uriah.
- Wine is not itself evil or forbidden to a king. Wine is fit for celebration and ceremony, but it is a hindrance to justice and mercy where wisdom and sobriety are virtually synonymous.
- Women are not to be avoided simply, but either because of their character or the manner in which a man may pursue them–in lust.
- Lust and wine lead to injustice
Having warned him, she now instructs him positively:
What sort of companion is fitting, by whom and with whom will he fulfill his function as king? How will he show himself “approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth?” (2 Tim. 2:15). With this in mind, his mother speaks:
An excellent wife
This is both literal and figurative. Truly, a man is fortunate to find a good wife. He will learn from her and benefit in countless ways by their daily intercourse. In this sense, it is equally difficult for a woman to find an excellent husband.
The text speaks simultaneously of the blessings of a good wife and the blessings which come from Wisdom. The text inclines in one direction or the other, toward the literal wife or figurative Wisdom, at different moments. But the boundaries are unclear:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:31-33).
Aquinas quotes Gregory to reminds us that Scripture can speak in manifold ways:
“Holy Writ by the manner of its speech transcends every science, because in one and the same sentence, while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery.”
At the climax of Proverbs, we are recommended not to certain wise sayings, but to find a wife for ourselves, to seek out One who will make her home with us and make that home blessed by her presence, by means of her diligence, her strength and forethought, by her kindness, and perpetual providence. Proverbs has made a full circle: Sell everything and buy wisdom (Prov. 4:5).
Lady Wisdom, a figure of Christ, is precious above all. It is by her alone that the course of a life is well directed. She is like a wife with whom one may have deep communion and from whom the fruit of intercourse brings forth a precious bounty.
An excellent wife
This woman is described as ‘excellent’ or ‘valorous’ (חַיִל). The word is used of men fit for war—strong men. Proverbs (and the Scriptures) clarifies the meaning of valor.
For by strength no man shall prevail (1 Samuel 2:9)
It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect (Psalm 18:32).
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
When a man does not trust his intimate companion, he is full of anxiety. He must take care to watch and manage her and his household. All his energy is spent in fear and toil, and he is often frustrated by her (Psalm 127).
How sweet to implicitly trust in someone, that they will fulfill their vows and do their part in the work of the day. How blessed to have a companion, a friend, a helper who surpasses one’s hopes. We have such a high priest (Hebrews 4:15).
Further, he trusts her not just with certain work, but with the well being of his entire household. This provision on her part extends further than typical oikonomos, but unto the entire stewardship of his well being. In this light, we must understand her to be Lady Wisdom, Prudence, the Council of the Spirit.
But we can also call to mind that a truly wise wife may indeed busy herself with the fuller sense of oikonomos. She will not be incapable when it comes to providing for her house in the fullest sense of provision. Indeed, she is truly is helpmate (Gen. 2:20, עֵזֶר). Our soul waiteth for the Lord: he is our help (Psalm 33:20).
A husband is blessed when he may trust his wife so far as to take counsel with her.
The very heart of this man trusts in her and it is by trust that his gain comes. For in that trust is the Sabbath of God and from that Sabbath comes all good things. It is through this trust that he has leisure to stand at the gates and be of service to others, without which he would wear himself out in toil. It is by that trust that he performs all his work well (Hebrews 11:6).
12 She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
His trust is well placed in her. Just as a man may not always understand his wife and yet trust in her, so too may we trust in Wisdom even when we do not perceive her benefits.
The good which Wisdom does us is not always apparent, but manifests itself over a lifetime. What true Wisdom prescribes sometimes seem like folly, but she will not harm. Her ways can be discerned only through the Spirit of God, and often only through the good counsel of others.
If a man comes to be faithful to her, he shall yet find out her surpassing beauty and goodness. The rest of the poem describes her benefits and how she reveals herself.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
Why wool and flax? These are both wholesome and useful. Further, their usefulness is obtained through labor and preparation. Wisdom is not one whose fruit is quick to gain yet of little value. Hers is often the fruit of long labor, skillfully worked, whose increase is priceless.
Further, the usefulness of these are as food and raiment which we can take in both the literal and spiritual sense, for both are obtained by providence and wisdom.
Both wool and flax are symbols of purity.
She finds pleasure in her work. With willing hands tells us that such a woman or by wisdom, we are disposed to do difficult or unpleasant work. Through her we discern the purpose of all that we do. And wisdom goes far to make even the difficult and tedious pleasant.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
Such goods come from afar: not from immediate circumstances, but by craft and labor.
Further, in as much as she is divine Wisdom, she indeed brings to us what was far off. We wonder at such goods as one might wonder at merchandise that has been brought from a distant land–strange and difficult things to obtain:
Surely I am only a brute, not a man;
I do not have human understanding.
3 I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.
4 Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
Surely you know! (Proverbs 30:2-4)
Now to each one of us grace has been given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. This is why it says: “When He ascended on high, He led captives away, and gave gifts to men.” (Ephesians 4:7-8; cf. Psalm 68)
15 She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
The good which God has prepared for us, he has prepared from the beginning. Not one thing has he forgotten. Not one day or one hour has he not made preparation for. Nor is such provision an after thought, but it is truly pro-vid-ential.
She is not jealous for her sleep, because her heart is set on the care of household.
The whole household of faith has been provided for, and this provision is to the purpose that each member may become fit and useful, and in this manner bring unity to the house:
Now to each one of us grace has been given according to the measure of the gift of Christ…some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for works of ministry, to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:7-12).
16 She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
You were bought at a price (1 Cor. 6:20).
She knows what is of value and sees the benefit long ahead–she plans for the future and for an increase. she is Prudence.
She is not one who wastes herself on things that do not last or which provide fleeting pleasure, but purchases a field by which countless goods may obtained for years to come.
Only by wisdom do we foresee true good and sell ourselves unto to its realization. Fools wonder how one person has such success or increase, but Wisdom knows the mystery.
Further we must not only understand this literally, but in reference to the harvest of righteousness.She plants this vineyard with fruit of her hands. The very seed which she sows is wisdom, it is the Word, and she brings forth a fruit which is like unto her.
17 She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
Wisdom waxes stronger and her beauty increases. A man who lives under the council of wisdom learns over time self-control, kindness, gentleness, godliness, etc. Such a man turns in wonder: “Is this the bride of my youth? How glorious she has become, how lovely she is to me now, more so even than before.”
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She is pleased with her work.
The profit may also refer not to the value of her work, but rather to those who are profited by it. Her husband profits by her work (he hearkens to her) and so she is all the more glad to spend herself in working for him. Thus she labors at night.
By ‘night’, we might understand tribulation, that the darkness does not overcome her, but rather while other lamps go out, wisdom is a sure and steady light to walk by.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
Wisdom is not proud, but sets herself to labor.
Weaving itself is an image of the Wisdom of God who works all things for good for those who love him, who has woven together all history, who unites law and grace, who unites the diverse elements of the world, and finally united his nature to our own.
20 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
How lovely are her ways. She is a mother to us all. Wisdom is wealthy and ready to open her treasures to all the needy. To be needy is to be human.
A wife who is set on the rearing of her own children and household is a good woman, but a woman who remembers those in need outside her household is yet more gracious. She makes them members of her home, or cares for them in a like manner.
To have such a wife is to have one’s own heart opened. Wisdom opens our heart to others. She therefore fulfills in herself and in her husband the requirement of kings to :
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9).
Folly (nabal) is to disdain the wisdom of one’s wife or Wisdom itself (1 Samuel 25). It is to close one’s heart to others and look only to one’s gain and advantage. For this reason, Nabal lost Abigail and she became wife to the king.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
For this reason (vs. 20), she is not afraid: she has made all preparation for her household, and not only in considering them, but through an overflowing love. The snow, the frost of sin, will be kept out. How? By the scarlet of royal robes which seek justice and love mercy.
When the snow comes, it is too late to make preparation.
22 She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
The very bedchamber is an image of her loving kindness. Where man is most intimate with God and Wisdom, where a man is united to the labor of love in truth, there he will find himself in the inner chamber, cf. Song of Solomon.
23 Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
By his kindness, by his success, by his prosperity he is known. Wisdom may at times be hidden from the world, but a man who has made Wisdom his aim will be known by what she has done for him, in him, and to him. His community will know him as one set apart. He will be known by justice and mercy, and council will be sought from him.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
She publishes the Good News. By her diligence, signs of God’s glory are sent forth to the ends of the Earth.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
When a great man or woman is seen, one may not remember what they wear, but they see that they are clothed in righteousness, in the strength of God.
God has so clothed the lilies of the valley, in what glorious raiment does he clothe his elect?
Strength and dignity are her clothing: she not only lives by strength and dignity, but she exults in them as does her husband–as a women is delighted in a beautiful garment, as if it makes her a more splendid being.
She laughs at the time to come. She fears not. She knows whose is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, cf. Psalm 2:2-4:
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed…
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
Though she is busy in many ways, yet she has time for council and kindness. Indeed this is her greatest glory, to speak the needed word in time, with the needed kindness. And it is these, her words which are cherished most of all by those who love her. These words they repeat and live by. These words are food and medicine. They are not forgotten, but treasured in the heart. She speaks with true weights and measures.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
We are to live not by bread alone, but by every word of his mouth.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
The children of the church will rise up and praise their Father.
The children of a good woman never forget her. Men dying on battle fields cry out for their mother. Men and women whose mothers were not so excellent yet preserve a place for her…how much more for this woman?
Her husband also: Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mtt. 18:3).
Her husband also: Does he know how much he owes to her…is it not everything that makes life good…Is there a husband ignorant of the value of his wife and what she has done…who grumbles against her, who does not know what it is to walk without such a companion…who is not gentle with her…let him consider…
No spouse who looks to himself and considers his companion privileged to have them is wholly fit for marriage.
The first and greatest sacrifice is that of thanksgiving
29 “Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
There are other excellences and attainments, but one is above them all (Luke 10:42).
When we love, we do not withhold praise but give honor and thanks where it is due. We pay our vow of thanksgiving with gladness.
A husband comes to know her worth and to praise her. He sees all that is due from her and that his life would be a shipwreck or empty without her. She is truly his helpmate.
In the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, St. Augustine of Hippo and Caesarius of Arles comment that this is not only the praise owed to Wisdom, but the praise He shall bestow upon his Church. “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2).
We need to be educated in the appreciation of beauty and goodness. While Wisdom is not without charm or beauty, only some come to love and thus know the extent of her glory.
Worldly wisdom (prudence for the sake of venial sin, for the sake of ambition and ego) has a certain charm and beauty, but what they promise is not enduring.
We are reminded who the true companion of kings should be and that a woman’s beauty is not a sufficient recommendation.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
A man whose wife has done great things for him will speak of them. For instance, if she fashions clothing for him. He will show the clothing she has made for him and exalt in it before others. He will speak of her shrewd and useful dealings. He will not be able to withhold his gratitude. ‘Look at this covering she has made for me. How fine and careful her work, how tasteful and beautiful.’
But her very works will praise her! Such a man has been transformed by her love and his love for her. He himself is the work of her hands and as such he is called to praise her. His very being praises her and he does so with his tongue as well. His own works are a sign of what she has wrought in him.
We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10).
Enter his gates with thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4).