At Work & Theology 101

Biblical Womanhood Deconstructed

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Many women are a bit intimidated by the person they see in Proverbs 31:10-31: the wife, or woman, of noble character.

Is there nothing this woman does not do well?

Is she real?

Should we aspire to be this woman or have the same pursuits? If not, what should this passage say to us?

These are just a few of the questions Christian women might ponder after encountering this Old Testament superwoman.

Truth is, this is probably not a real, historical, flesh-and-blood woman. It is a portrait of a wise and godly wife painted by a mother for her son as he considers marriage (or comes of age for marriage). The son is King Lemuel (perhaps King Solomon?) and the advice comes at the end of a book intended to instruct not only young men but all of God’s people in the wise ways of God and not to be tempted to pursue earthly things and pleasures instead of God.

This is particularly poignant for me as my son enters marriage. Having prayed for my son’s future wife, it’s wonderful to now know her and trust that God has prepared each one of them for this step and will continue to grow them to be the godly partners he intends.

But I’m truthfully more interested in this image of a godly woman as it pertains to me and other women, including my new daughter-in-law—what this “God-breathed, God-inspired” passage of scripture is teaching me about God and the work of women.

Called to Many and/or Different Things

I think this passage says mainly four things about what a godly woman can be:

  • She is hard working and is a planner: “she gets up while it is still dark…” (v. 15); “she sets about her work vigorously…” (v. 17); “…her lamp does not go out at night” (v. 18); “when it snows she has no fear for her household;…all of them are clothed in scarlet” (v. 21).
  • She has strength for the tasks at hand: “She is like the merchant ships, bringing food from afar…” (v. 14); “…her arms are strong for her tasks…” (v. 17); “In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers” (v. 19). This is strength on many levels, but it is also physical, which we don’t often think about as feminine, but masculine. The point is, for her tasks, she is strong and capable. Her physical strength for her tasks is part of the picture of biblical feminity.
  • She is entrepreneurial and creative: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard” (v. 16); “She sees that her trading is profitable…” (v. 18); “She makes linen garments and sells them” (v. 24).
  • She serves her family and community: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life” (vv. 11-12); “She provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls” (v. 15); “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy” (v. 20).

Looking at this passage with some life experience and a faith and work perspective, I see these verses in a much richer way than I did originally. Far from evoking guilt in me because I haven’t checked all of these boxes or because I don’t do all of these things well, the Proverbs 31 woman now inspires me. I see this image rather as (at least part of) God’s mandate for women.

Proverbs 31 shows us all that we can do and be as women—all the work God has for us to do.

But this passage is more than just a job description. There’s something foundational to the work of this woman that we read about in verses 29-30. Why does the Proverbs 31 woman do what she does?

Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all….a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

This woman does the work she does because she fears (reveres, submits to, loves) the Lord. All her pursuits are made holy, fruitful, glorifying to God because she seeks God first. Without this humility before God, her pursuits might become ends in and of themselves.

We catch glimpses of this woman—both her character and work God has called her to—in Ruth, Esther, Lydia (Acts 16:14), and Mary.

Seeking God First in Our Callings

This comes back to something we talk about often here at IFWE: all that we do—how we use all of our time—is the Lord’s. Whether it’s:

  • Managing a household and caring for those in it
  • Money-making pursuits
  • Working in our communities

All these endeavors are the Lord’s; he has ordained these pursuits in our lives—perhaps in distinct seasons or overlapping, or not at all—and in them we bring God glory and serve the common good.

Knowing this, we can thank God for the varied work he’s given us to do and how he’s equipped us to do that work. He’s made us strong for our tasks and shrewd to make choices and plan so that we can increase what he’s given us and bless those around us. All for his glory.

I now love this complex, accomplished woman. I may fall short of the “bar” she sets due to my own personal limitations and failings, but I love that God saw fit to include her in his word to us. She provides a timeless picture of godly womanhood and reveals God’s heart about all he’s called me to be—a wife, a mom, a grandma (?), manage a home, work outside my home, and care for my neighbors.

I hope you, too, will see the Proverbs 31 woman not in a distant, ivory tower or in a league way beyond you, but as a sister who’s gone before you to show you the possibilities for your work in the kingdom.

Editor’s note: Teach the young people in your life about God’s calling in Understanding God’s Calling, a high school homeschool elective course suitable for a variety of ages and teaching formats.

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