9 November 2013

Proverbs 31:10-20

“A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (v. 10)


These verses are unique in ancient literature in their praise of a good woman, although reading them today in a very different culture takes a little care and translation. In a world where women were often either invisible or held up for criticism, this passage sings the praise of a woman's strength, dignity and social power and is particularly remarkable when we remember that the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) normally presents the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the heroic figures of Israel.

In Hebrew these verses are a poem which begin with succeeding letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which means that the verses are ordered to make sure that the lines can begin with 'A-Z' rather than according to any kind of logic.

The first verse is a much stronger statement than is apparent in the NRSV Bible. The Hebrew word translated 'capable' is the word usually used for physical strength and powerful military action, both traits which ancient literature normally associate with men. It can also be used for material wealth. Ellen Davis suggests that we should use the word 'valorous', although I wonder if 'valiant' might also work.

There are times in this poem when the NRSV Bible hides language in which the Hebrew attributes to this woman, abilities which are normally associated with men, including the ability to acquire security and goods. For example, in verse 11 the husband does not lack booty (goods acquired through war or raiding), and verse 15 refers to prey (acquired through hunting) not simply to food. Add to this the way in which the woman clearly rules her household and has a public role, and this is a poem which underscores the importance and value of women in a way which is truly remarkable for the ancient world.

This woman lived in a very different society to ours and we have learned to admire different traits than the ones held up here. But it does seem important to remember that in a world where men were so often the dominant force and the only ones to be given attention, Scripture sings the praises of a valiant woman.

To Ponder

  • How do you respond to this picture of a valiant woman? What traits here do you admire?
  • Is there a particular Proverb from today's passage which you can take with you to ponder during the rest of the day? What is it? And why do you think it jumps out at you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.