by Murray Palmatier
With the end of summer upon us, another school year begins. Our children are back at school. Many of our young adults are off to institutions of higher learning or out in the work force trying to make a place for themselves in this world. As they embark on their journeys this year in a world vastly different from forty, thirty, or even twenty years ago, what place does righteous character have in today’s secular, fast-paced, lawless, postmodern world?
The last chapter of the book of Proverbs, written by King Solomon, depicts “The Virtuous Woman,” which is often scoffed at and brushed off as an archaic list of expectations more relevant for the “Leave It to Beaver” generation of the 1950s than today’s more enlightened times. A closer examination of this passage (Proverbs 31:10-31) shows that the portrait of this beautiful lady is as important today as it has ever been—and not only to our young ladies, but to all of God’s people.
The word “virtuous” is the Hebrew word haiyl (H2428) and means “of strength” or “of valour.” A closer look at her habits and character reveal a very Godly person who is trustworthy (v. 21), a prudent manager of her time (vv. 15, 18, 27) and finances (v. 16), charitable, humble, and kind to others (vv. 20, 26, 31), a keen protector and provider (vv. 15, 21-22, 27), physically fit, active, and multi-talented (vv. 17, 19, 22, 24), wise and discreet (vv. 25-26), and a God-fearing, God-centered woman (vv. 12, 28, 30). These qualities are clearly timeless and would be foundational in the character of any successful woman, regardless of her chosen path in life at any point in time.
However, the key to understanding this passage is to note to whom it was written. This was written to a young man, just starting out in his profession. Proverbs 31:1 tells us that “these are the words of King Lemuel [likely Solomon], the utterance which his mother taught him.” The young king was just starting out and his mother was detailing advice to him on what kind of king she wanted her son to be. Before delving into what kind of woman he should have as his wife and partner in life, note the expectations she placed in him. She encouraged him to be pure (v. 3) because giving yourself to many women destroys one’s integrity and ability to make right choices. Secondly, his mom reminded him of the safe and proper use of alcohol (vv. 4-7). One should never consume alcohol in an amount that would result in the impairment one’s ability to make sound decisions. Finally, she admonished him to be watchful for those who cannot stand up for themselves and protect and watch over them (vv. 8-9). This chapter was, in fact, what a Godly man should strive to become. Then, once you have become the leader God wants you to be, you will be ready to be the deserving partner of a Godly woman of strength and valour.
In essence, the rhetorical question, “Who can find a virtuous woman?” (v. 10), is more of a statement against unprepared men than against the lack of virtuous women. Who deserves a Godly woman of valour? A man whose focus is building a relationship based on trust (v. 11); one who has full confidence that whatever she does is good for the family (v. 12); one who yields to and encourages her to use her gifts and strengths (v. 16); one who, himself, lives a life worthy of respect in his family, workplace, and community (v. 23); one who emboldens her to transact business on behalf of the family (vv. 16, 24); one who always speaks positively about her in public and in the presence of their children (v. 28).
Character does not happen; character is built through effort, hard work, and focus on doing what is right. People of character are drawn to other people of character. So the answer to that question—Who can find a woman of strength and valour?—is a simple one: A man of equal strength and valour. That takes dedication to making right decisions regardless of who is watching, and holding the man in the mirror accountable. Finally, this proverb is of equal importance to all of God’s people, whether married or single, working or retired, parents or childless, man or woman. We are all striving to become the bride of Christ, preparing ourselves for His return and our invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Who is more deserving of a virtuous woman, a bride of strength and valour, than our Saviour, Jesus the Christ?
As we embark on another fall Holy Day season, let’s expect more of ourselves as individuals and as a community. Let’s strive together to become that virtuous bride He is coming back to find.