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As we come to the end of Proverbs we find this wonderful chapter, a chapter that has so often been relegated to ladies’ Bible Studies and Christian Woman’s Literature. However, there is a problem with this:
Proverbs 31 was written to a man!
[You can download a PDF file with a structure diagram of Proverbs 31 here.]
Whoever King Lemuel was, these words represent instruction he received from his mother. Just like the rest of Proverbs, these instructions were probably given to the king by his mother prior to marriage, possibly even just before. His mother is instructing him on marriage and leadership.
There is no question that verses 10 – 31 provide many wonderful principles for a Christian lady desiring to be a godly wife and mother to follow however, this is not the primary purpose of this portion of Scripture.
Take a look at “Diagram A” from the above structural pictures.
This chapter is made up of two negative commands, one positive command and one positive rhetorical question (which we will see in a shortly is in essence a positive command).
vs. 3 => He is to avoid women (plural) because they will steal his strength/virtue
vv. 4-7 => He is to avoid strong drink (involving his mouth)
vv. 8,9 => He is to pursue right speech (involves his mouth)
vv. 10a – 31 => He is to pursue one woman of virtue/strength
So what is going on in verses 10 – 31? What do I mean my “pursue” a woman of virtue?
Another misunderstanding of this passage arises from the use of the word “find” in verse 10.
“Who can find a virtuous woman?”
We tend to use the word find in the sense of “Oh, look what I found!” You are just going about life, minding your own business and wham, “I found a virtuous woman…let’s get married.” The problem is this word for “find” is never used this way in Proverbs. Anything of virtue/Wisdom is never just stumbled upon. To “find” anything of virtue/Wisdom one must be diligent, one must work. In fact Proverbs is clear that if one just bumbles through life, that individual will end in destruction.
The second idea this word may have is the “Intentional discovery of a known goal due to planning and effort.” Although this is common, we have already seen the “goal” (i.e. this Proverbs 31 woman). This is common in Proverbs. Wisdom exists, it is out there and God has clearly shown us how to “find” it, but we must be diligent in our pursuit. However, this woman described in Proverbs 31:10-31 did not exist when he met her or even married her. She has grown children, she is established in the community. The end goal is known, but it did not exist on the wedding day.
The final idea this word has in Scripture is the “Intentional discovery of a known but non-existing goal due to planning and effort.” This is the idea here. The goal is known it is clearly taught in Scripture, but it does not actually exist to it fullest extent on our wedding day.
The instruction to husbands is, “can we follow the blueprint laid out in Scripture, in Proverbs and specifically Proverbs 31 and with God’s help disciple our wives toward Godliness?”
Even here, the end goal is known, but she doesn’t just automatically pop out of a hat after 20 years of marriage. Yes, this is a great passage of Scripture for ladies to come to, to learn the qualities of a godly woman. However, more critically and central to the purpose of the passage, this is a passage of Scripture for husbands to come to, to see how they are dong at discipling their wives. The husband is 100% out for her best.
Notice also “Diagram B” in the structural pictures.
Here we see the structure of verses 10 – 31. Notice verse 23 serves as the thematic center of this portion of Scripture. This pictures the other half of the partnership of marriage.
The wife’s activity, role and desires are centered on her husband. Everything about who she is and what she is called to do in this passage results in her husband “fully trusting her” (vs. 11) and his recognition for leadership (vs. 23). She is 100% out for his best interest.
What we have here is a husband and a wife who are completely selflessly, self sacrificially, humbly focused on the other.
- They promote one another.
- They support one another.
- They help one another.
- They sacrifice for one another.
- They accept one another.
- They care for one another.
- They depend on one another.
The result – vv. 28-31 – A HOME FILLED WITH JOY AND PRAISE!!
There should be no question of the benefit our having this kind of marriage will be on our children. The best pre-marital counseling in the world would be to grow up in a home for 18+ years where this type of marriage was modeled.
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