The author intends for us to know that she is a woman of good character. She is godly. The Hebrew word “chayil” which is translated “excellent” in the ESV is also translated “virtuous” and Matthew Henry points out in his commentary that the same word is used to describe “good judges”, men who fear the LORD ,elsewhere in Scripture.6 Interesting to note is that the author bookends the passage with the description of the godliness of this woman. Verse 10 speaks of the excellent wife and verses 30 and 31 praise the “woman who fears the LORD”. It is understood that 30 and 31 are referring to the woman described in the above verses. Verse 10 lays the foundation for the practical aspects seen in verses 11-27 and verses 30- 31 again reiterate the heart of the woman. First and foremost this woman is a woman of God.
“The heart of her husband trusts in her (v.11). This woman gives her husband no reason to
doubt her confidentiality or her fidelity. He has no worries of his children and household falling into chaos (v. 27). He need not be concerned with her having loose behavior or flapping lips (v. 26, 30). It naturally follows that if her husband can trust her so can others. She has many who depend on her: husband, children, servants, and business partners. No one under her care lacks for anything.
I wonder when the Proverbs 31 woman sleeps! Verse after verse describes her industriousness. She rises early and goes to bed late (v. 15, 18). She works with wool and flax(v.13,19). The woman weaves and sews for the benefit of her own family but also for the sake of business the profit from which is a blessing (v. 21, 22, 24). Verse 17 describers her as making her arms strong and dressing with strength. This carries with it the idea that she works hard and is not afraid to get dirty. She is not a Victorian era flower that knows no greater manual labor than painting or needlepoint.
“She opens her hand to the poor…” (v.20).The excellent wife does not neglect to reach out to those who are less fortunate than she is. She helps meet the needs of those in her community. She also is generous in her dealings with her servants. “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.”(v.15) Her servants do not receive her left overs but are attended to along with her family. She is also generous with her time and skills. The Proverbs 31 has servants. She need not attend to manual labor yet she does. She works alongside her help.
Synonyms for insightful include alert, discerning, and shrewd.7 The excellent wife is all of those things. She is alert. “She laughs at the time to come.”(v. 25). She perceives that her household will have different needs in different season and prepares for them. She looks ahead and plans well so that they lack for nothing. She is discerning. Her mouth holds words as “apples of gold in settings of silver” (Prov. 25:11). She speaks with wisdom and kindness (v.26). This wise woman is also shrewd in her business dealings. She “considers” before she buys. She is not hasty in her decisions but evaluates the best plan of action for the greatest profit. Matthew Henry notes “What her own ground does not produce she can furnish herself with, if she have occasion for it, by exchanging her own goods for it; and so she brings her food from afar.” 8
Last but not least the Proverbs 31 excellent wife is cloaked in humility. She does not lay on charm or parade her beauty. Her eyes are not haughty seeking out the accolades of men. Rather she serves with humility attending to the needs of others. Actions speak louder than words and her actions testify to her selflessness. Her industrious acts are primarily for the benefit of her husband and family. She does not think that she is above helping the poor or working with her hands. She does not praise herself yet she has no lack of commendation. Her works praise her. Her husband and children do also (v.28-31).
How do we apply what we have learned about the meaning and implications of the text to the here and now of our modern lives? Men should continue to heed the advice given in Proverbs 31 with regard to finding a wife. Consider asking yourself these questions: Does the woman I am pursuing or thinking of pursuing possess the qualities listed? Is she growing in them? The virtues of the Proverbs 31 passage should be cultivated in the lives of women, whether they are married and not. She could ask: Am I trustworthy? In what ways do I fail to be trustworthy? Am I industrious and with that, diligent? Would people say that I speak with wisdom and kindness? These questions and more spring from the passage. May we not forget that virtue is not only for women but also for men. A man who desires a godly wife must show himself godly as well. He too may learn from the example of the Proverbs 31 woman.
One of the things I have to work hard to remember is that virtues do not come over night. They do not magically appear when one marries. They are cultivated. Before the excellent wife could sell her goods they had to be of a sellable quality! She had to develop her skills. Just as her vocational skills were developed her virtuous muscles too were exercised over the span of her life. She was clothed in strength and dignity instead of charm and fleeting beauty. It was a choice she made. Her mantle was a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:3). Development of character starts in the heart. The heart is changed by the Word through the Holy Spirit’s work. Therefore, diligent study and meditation upon the word are required.
What the author intends to communicate to his reader is what to look for in a wife. He effectively describes her in 22 verses. The excellent wife is more than an idealistic model or an allegorical picture of wisdom. She is a woman of fine character who is godly, trustworthy, industrious, generous, insightful, and humble. Her character serves as a pattern to inspire men to search after that “good thing” and women to become the “woman who fears the LORD”. Let us not neglect the example given in the word for we know that these things that were written in times past were written for our learning. (Romans 15:4)