30 September 2016Proverbs 31:10-31
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (v. 30)
Psalm: Psalm 17
A while ago, it was noted in the news that a famous footballer had advertised for a new personal assistant, with a list of over 50 key tasks that ranged from creating a global brand to stocking his fridge. But that pales into insignificance beside the capable wife described in this passage, who gets up while it's still dark, organises her household, buys a field, plants a vineyard, serves the poor, makes her own clothes and, it seems, has children who don't draw on the walls or eat peanut butter straight from the jar. It can be tempting to write off this terrifying portrait of womanly excellence as an unattainable ideal, or as an attempt to establish or reinforce particular gender roles.
But perhaps there's more to her than that. These verses form the end of the book of Proverbs; in its opening verses, we are told that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). The capable wife, who embodies the qualities that Proverbs has sought to encourage over the previous 30 chapters, fears the Lord (verse 30). The suggestion is that our relationship with God must be the starting point, and that all else (who we are and what we do) will follow. Ken Howcroft, reflecting on the words of John Wesley, says that holiness for Wesley "is no less than the image of God stamped upon the heart; it is no other than the whole mind which was in Christ Jesus...". He goes on to say that that involves all of what we would call our instincts, feelings, emotional dispositions, ways of thinking and spiritual sensitivities being brought together, made whole and made holy. It makes us respond to God thankfully and lovingly in turn. And, says Wesley, if we start to love God, we shall naturally end up loving the rest of the world as well. We will not be able to help it. God's love will not let us."
Holiness has many forms and expressions, not all of which will resemble the portrait in this passage. Some will be decidedly messier (thank goodness). But they all begin with God.
- How does the description of the woman in this passage make you feel? Would you like to meet her?
- What do you think the author of this passage wants us to aspire to do or to be?
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