The Proverbial Woman: vs. 27
Proverbs 31: 27 She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Tsade (tsah-dee) is the eighteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The 'ts' in this word is pronounced the same way the 'ts' is in 'nuts'. Tsade got it's name from it's shape which replicates a fishing hook or a bird trap. Tsade is from the root word, tzod, meaning "capture, hunt, catch".
The word in our verse is tsaphah and means "to look out, to keep watch". It derives from a primitive root word that means "to lean forward, to look into the distance."
Here I think we get a far clearer understanding of our Proverbial Woman. In simply reading as the words stand it is quite easy to see the Western understanding of this woman is that she is always busy. But in studying the Hebrew, one gains a deeper perspective.
In the day and age in which she lived, the cities were protected by walls and gates. Upon those walls were watchmen. Their duty was to look constantly beyond the walls of the city, both near and far. Watchmen paid attention to what was going on: who came into the city, who went out of the city, who was coming from the distance. While on duty a watchmen was not sleeping. He had to constantly be about his business of watching, aware of the present moment right up until the moment he was relieved of duty.
This verse in English is certainly misleading! A woman who is constantly busy (as we know too well) is not at watch over her household. She is caught up in the details and the various tasks. But if we see her as the watchman of her household, and we take that to a spiritual sense then we gain a better understanding of what she's doing.
First let us look at the meaning of the root word of tsade: to capture, hunt, catch. What would she be watching for in her household? I think she is accurately assessing the household members, aware of which child needs correction for a habit or trait that might be troublesome in the future; aware which of her maids may need counsel in choosing a mate of good character; aware of one who is in need of a kind word. In light of our last verses, she is looking carefully at all influences and knows which represent danger for her family members and what is normal and necessary.
How would one 'eat of the bread of idleness' in this case? I think it represents that lack of awareness, not sleeping but 'zoning out'. I remember the days when I had a 50 mile commute from my job. At times, I seemed to lose track of ground covered. I had driven miles automatically and simply didn't notice details along the way. This is not a good thing!
So the Proverbial Woman is not endlessly busy, nor is she worrying unnecessarily. She is aware and ready, as is any good watchman.