The Most-Hated Woman in the Bible

Sandra Glahn's picture

I have a hunch that the most-hated woman in the Bible is not bad-girl Jezebel. It’s the "woman of noble character" in Proverbs 31. One friend whined to me, "I can’t stand that Proverbs 31 lady. I feel tired just thinking about her."  

Who can blame us? P-31 is so competent—so intelligent, industrious, and strong—that she intimidates your garden-variety believer. (That’s all of us, right?) She certainly challenges anyone suggesting that the ideal wife has no independent thoughts, or that she’s unintelligent, dainty, and fearful.

It’s easy to shy away from P-31 because we identify so little with that kind of perfection. Yet perhaps a few observations can help us appreciate rather than abhor her.

First, the word “noble’ used to describe her in Proverbs 31:10 is used in other contexts to refer to prowess or bravery in battle. Think “valor.” So we could call P-31 a "woman of strength." We find this same word used to describe Ruth (Ruth 3:11) and the "good wife" in Proverbs 12:4.

Perhaps it helps, too, to know that Proverbs 31:10–31 is a poem. In fact it’s an acrostic with a line devoted to each of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Think: "An Excellent Wife From A to Z." Maybe the author laid out the chapter this way to show completion. Or perhaps to aid memorization.

Certainly the placement of this section of scripture helps us see that the first and last chapters of Proverbs serve as bookends. While Proverbs closes with this description of the noble woman, it opened with wisdom personified as a female. And throughout the Book wisdom speaks. "In Proverbs 31 we find someone who is probably equally a model for men and women as someone who teaches wisdom," says Dr. Robert Chisholm, who chairs the Old Testament department at Dallas Seminary.

Dr. Chisholm also points out that P-31 is probably a member of the upper class: "Proverbs tends to reflect this mindset of an upper-level official giving his son advice on how to be a responsible citizen and leader in the community.” In this case the husband has a large estate supporting many people and businesses, and he stations himself in the gate—the ancient Near Eastern version of City Hall. Meanwhile, his wife runs the plantation. This is not your average working-class couple. And in that sense, Ruth was nothing like this woman.

For us to think our lives must directly parallel hers is about as logical as thinking God wants us to exemplify Martha-Washington-meets-Martha-Stewart.  Of course if we had that many servants, we  too would have time to raise our kids, purchase exotic foods, run real estate businesses, plant vineyards, make and sell clothing, oh—and help the poor ….

The point of the passage is not that we should model our schedules after P-31’s or aspire to accomplish as much as she does. Rather we need to see the character behind the activity: She is a strong, hard-working, others-focused woman. And more than anything else, she possesses the key quality that runs deeper than charm and outlasts beauty—fear of the Lord (Pro. 31:30).

Comments

Sue Bohlin's picture

What a relief!

And this makes it easier to relax into my good friend Jody Capehart's comment that her life verse is Proverbs 31:18. Slapping her hips, she quotes, "She senses that her gain is good."

:::naughty laugh:::

I really enjoyed this article. I have always maintained that the woman portrayed in this poem must be an older woman. No mom of 4 young children would dream of dragging those children shopping in the markets early, or trying to run a business! But article was very thought-provoking and encouraging!

Marla Alupoaicei's picture

Sandi, thanks so much for your insights on this. The Proverbs 31 woman is definitely a lot to live up to. You are one of the women I know who really fits her description.

Sandra Glahn's picture

Thanks, Marla. Those are some kind words. Congratulations on the publication of your book! That has been a long time coming. I'm so proud of you.

As for strong women, check out this verse sent to me by Gaye at bible.org today:

Sandi, I always enjoy your insights. Thank you! :)

Your post reminded me of an old book I've enjoyed reading and rereading through the years, Help, I'm Being Intimidated by the Proverbs Thirty-One Woman. It a humorous, yet thought-provoking look at this "hated" woman. :)

I like your take. Very creative and fun :) Being a man, I never would have thought about it like that. Makes sense though. I especially like your abbreviation, P-31.

It is crazy to me that I just said that today in a counseling session: "I hate the Prov. 31 passage".....in a context that I am a stay at home mom of two young kids struggling with what my role is as a woman and challenged on if I am using my giftings well and wondering if I am being lazy by staying home or if it is the more spiritual thing to do....I have found that both of those feelings are wrong and really just are drawing me more to seeking God and His purpose in my life as well as being challenged with my pride as well as my self-righteousness as well as my idleness and lack of responsiblilty.  
Also today I was reading a post that a girl wrote on a facebook page for "Learning to be better wives" and she was quoting someone who was basically saying that married women with children shouldn't be working based on the Bible... and even though I am a stay at home mom and regard my role as a wife and mother as priority, I was very disturbed by the post and thought I wanted to write back something especially because of Prov. 31!! 
That was when I happened to read your post and I just had to laugh and feel blessed at the same time.  Thank you for what you wrote and the background information that you provided that is eyeopening and very helpful.  I have been seeking to grow in this area and am grateful for what I have been able to learn from you.  I see that none of this is coincidence but know that God is at work in my life and am grateful to Him for that!
May God bless you and continue to give you wisdom.

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