The Proverbial Woman - From the Beginning
For quite a stretch of time, John prayed the Proverbs 31 verses over me every Friday night. As he prayed, I began to pay close attention to the words and to want to be this woman. In the past, I'd read this particular proverb and wondered at this woman who is described in various interpretations as a woman of valor, virtue, character, worth, excellence. I read from many reputable sources (not the Bible!) what an impossible task it was to become the Proverbs woman, that it was meant only as a guideline, was not relevant to the modern day woman, or the modern day family dynamics where men often cook, clean, become househusbands... but you know I've come to see that women CAN become the Proverbs 31 woman. She is not 'just a homemaker', which I think is a high calling in any woman's life, nor is she 'just a wife'. She is a woman.
In the opening of this proverb we read that King Lemeul's mother taught him these proverbs when he was young and standing at her knee. She reminds him that he was dedicated to the Lord in his childhood. She warns him to stay away from women (in casual relationship) and to forgo strong drink which is apt to harm his judgement. She reminds him of his duty to those who are needy and the right of the poor to find justice with their king, as much as any rich man. And she instructs her son in choosing a wife.
During our years as Messianic Christians I acquired The Complete Jewish Bible and I noted that the Hebrew alphabet letters were given a place in order beside verses 10-31. Each of those letters represented a key word in Hebrew that was the heart of that verse. A man who studied Hebrew had kindly given me the word to correspond to each letter. I'd written them down in my Bible. What a lot I learned during the study of those words and the subsequent study of the verses! I'd like to share those with you over the month of October. I'll do it verse by verse until we've made our way through each one. Will you join me?
We'll start here:
KJV Proverbs 31:10 A wife of noble character, who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
In my Bible this verse is represented by the aleph (ah-lef). In Hebrew, this is the first letter of the alphabet.
In this verse, while the main point is the character of the wife, the word that begins with aleph in the verse is ishshah which means 'woman'. When God named Adam he called him "ish" and Adam named woman "ishshah" because 'she was taken out of man.' So the term 'wife' is meant to impart that she is indeed 'part of her husband' not a separate being. I'll have to point you to the New Testament here where another passage takes on richer meaning. In I Corinthians 12:14 "For indeed the body is not one part but many. 15: If the foot says 'I'm not a hand, so I'm not part of the body,' that doesn't make it stop being part of the body..." In just such a way is woman a part of man and no amount of denial will make it not so! The Genesis verse also names her 'helpmeet'. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself...
I think aleph also represents this verse because she was a woman who knew God and had a strong spiritual relationship with him. There are some sages who believe that the upraised arm on the right side of the aleph represents hands held towards heaven, in a manner of praise. This woman has learned to draw near to God through prayer and praise.
The main idea of the verse is the character of the wife, which is represented by the Hebrew word chayil, (pronounced "Hi yil".) The meaning of the word is 'strength, might, efficiency, wealth, army'. What a great deal of meaning is wrapped up in that little word! First we learn that she is strong. Strength in terms of character is a great deal more than simply saying that she is good. She has been tested. She has learned to stand on principle even when it was difficult. She has learned to subdue the feelings that might want to rule and instead to rely on what she knows is right and just...even when it's the harder thing to do...even when it hurts.
How do I know this?
The word chayil is derived from a primitive root word, chuwl (pronounced 'kewl') which has several meanings: twist, whirl, dance, writhe, fear, tremble, travail, be anxious, be in pain. Other meanings are 'to bear...to bring forth'.
The characteristics of the word itself tells me that this is a birthing process, and the Proverbs wife was not simply born with a good character. She has had to birth it, by letting it grow and develop within her. It took a willingness to submit to the necessary disciplines. That is suggested also by another meaning of the word chayil : Army. One of the things learned first in the army is to learn the disciplines needed to be an effective part of a team, in other words a helpmeet, for that is the true meaning of the word.
If we look at other meanings of chayil, we see that she has learned to have 'might' which relates to physical strength. To have physical strength she has literally used her muscles. Which of us who have given birth aren't aware of the sheer physical strength required? Determination will make us stronger and I believe this wife has determined to be an excellent wife. Again, we go back to that term 'chayil' which certainly signifies a mighty physical presence. Men have fainted at the sight of an army advancing upon them!
She has learned to be 'efficient'. She does not waste her energy, her time or her resources. She would do things in an orderly maner. That's the meaning of efficient but perhaps she has learned to be efficient within her character. She has learned to stand strong in God and forgoes those foolish ways we sometimes use to manipulate or twist ourself and others. She doesn't waste her time or energy in hurt feelings or anger or making excuses for failures, or on guilt trips. I'm not saying that she doesn't feel these emotions because she is human. But she has learned to be honest within herself and acknowledges those feelings and then gets back to the business at hand. That's efficient!
Then we see that chayil also means wealth. Again, because of the content of this verse I believe that it is a wealth of good character traits but I think it also refers to the wealth she's found in her spirit life. Those traits are revealed in the verses that we'll study later.
The final part of this verse finishes off with "She is worth far more than rubies." I knew absolutely nothing about rubies when I began this study except that is a red stone. I had to go read up on them! Rubies are considered very rare among colored gemstones. Their value is not only due to their rareness but due to the difficulty in finding the pure red color. The most highly valued are blood red, and that redness was described in an ancient text as the first two drops of blood from the left ventricle of the heart of a pigeon. One of the qualities of the stone is it's hardness. It was formed under great pressure. I feel this speaks of the Proverbial Woman's character. Rubies were so highly valued in ancient times that in India whenever a ruby was found, the king went to greet it, giving it the honor due it's rarity. Not only were they valuable in the days in which this proverb was written, they are still highly valued today. So the value of this wife was and IS truly something of great value, to be prized, and sought after with diligence and protected once gained.
Remember that this proverb is a lesson to a man in what to seek in his future wife, but certainly it is a lesson to women in what a worthy woman of God should be.