An Excellent Wife

This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.
Genesis 2:23

Proverbs is a book of kingly training, written by King Solomon for his son to learn to rule justly. Throughout the book, Wisdom is personified as a woman. In chapter one, Wisdom is a woman that cries aloud in the street, calling the simple to turn to her that she might pour out her spirit on them. In chapter eight, she again cries out to the simple. It is by her that kings reign, and it is with her that God established the heavens and earth. She is contrasted with the woman Folly in chapter nine. She calls the simple to sit at table and share a meal of bread and wine and receive life. But Folly entices men to seek stolen water and bread, which is sexual immorality and idolatry. Throughout the book, she is described as more precious than jewels, a tree of life, a guardian, one who bestows riches and honor. She is contrasted with the foreign woman, the adulteress, whose way seems pleasant but ends in destruction.

In chapter 31, she is a virtuous woman, a glorious bride. Peter Leithart points out that this conclusion to the book is written as an acrostic poem, where each verse begins with a successive letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It has many elements in common with heroic poetry found elsewhere in scripture, like the Song of Deborah in Judges 5 and the women’s songs for Saul and David. The woman is praised for her strength. It uses various terms that are often used in battle accounts: “gain” in verse 11 is the same word translated elsewhere as “spoil” or “plunder”; “food” in v. 15 is literally “prey”; “ascend” in v. 29; and “stretches out a hand” in v. 19. The woman laughs like a victorious king or warrior and she “girds herself with strength” as if going out to battle.

He goes on to say, “Two conclusions may be drawn from these connections: First, the woman’s work is domestic, economic, craft-work, and yet the poem celebrates it in heroic terms.  A heroic poem for someone engaged in domestic labor is remarkable in the ancient world, and shows something of how God regards the work of women.  The great battle of the world is between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman – not the seed of the man!  In their care for their households, wise women are on the front lines of God’s holy war.  Second, …the emphasis throughout the poem is on action and strength, not on beauty.  In fact, the poem ends debunking beauty by stressing its impermanence.  Of course, Scripture also includes the Song of Songs, and that too is wisdom literature.  But the emphasis here is on the glory and beauty of the woman’s strength, productivity, wisdom, and prudence.  Those don’t fade.”

It is with this in mind that we approach with humility New Testament passages like 1 Peter 3 or Ephesians 5. Because the Proverbs 31 woman is simultaneously a model for wives and a picture of the church, we can see that marriage is an amazing reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church. It goes back to the garden, the blessed union of the first man and woman, which Paul says is a great mystery that refers to Christ and the church. A rightly ordered marriage, with the husband the strong, godly head and the wife the strong, glorious helper, glorifies God because it reflects Him and testifies to the world who He is. Peter says that even wives who live with meathead husbands can win them over without a word by their respectful and pure conduct. Again, he makes it clear that this is not a matter of rank or class, but wives are fellow heirs of the grace of life and are to be honored.