Many people read Proverbs 31:10-31 as an instruction manual. They interpret it as a literal list, given to women, of standards we should be held by. There are whole ministries built around this concept as well as countless books and devotionals.
I started taking a hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) class this semester and through my studies I have realized that the idea that Proverbs 31 was written as a handbook for women, is not necessarily true.
It is well known that this passage is an ode to a godly woman and her noble characteristics. But, there are some important facts that often go overlooked.
First, it’s a poem. Cool fact: in the original Hebrew text, it’s actually an acrostic. It was designed to show her as a godly woman from A to Z (or the Hebrew equivalent). The Bible is filled with many different genres and each genre has its own rules for interpretation. So, a poem can’t be interpreted like a prophecy, a prophecy can’t be interpreted like an historical narrative, an historical narrative can’t be interpreted like a psalm, etc. When we try to figure out what exactly the implications of this text are to our own lives, we must follow the rules of interpretations for poems.
The authors of poems were less concerned with precision and accuracy, and more concerned with invoking emotions and provoking thoughts. However, don’t think this means that it should be taken as unimportant. It may not be a literal list of instructions, but it is an example of a kind of woman we should emulate. Just remember that if something is written in the form of biblical poetry, the author meant to trigger an emotive response more than provide something of scientific accuracy.
Second, this poem was written by a man and to a man. It was not written to be directed towards a woman. It was a message from a father to a son meant to illustrate the ideal woman, but more than that, it was meant to show the son how to praise her. Instead of saying, “This is the kind of woman you must find!”, he is saying when you do find her, cherish her because she is a rare kind.
These verses are one’s that I really appreciate, maybe more than any other passage in the Bible. Obviously they are significant to me because I am a woman and they provide an example for who I should strive to be. But this passage is important to me not only as a woman, but as a woman in an anti-God culture. I appreciate having a point of reference to help me understand God’s role for me in this self-obsessed world. I find myself constantly overwhelmed by trying to figure out who God wants me to be in a world that tries to tell me different. The word ‘woman’ has been warped and damaged to the point where anyone can define it however they like and no one questions it. but I am not of this world; I am a child of God. And when I find myself battling for my identity, I can turn to His word to keep my eyes fixed on Him. He has given me Proverbs 31:10-31 to show me who he has called me to be.
A Proverbs 31 woman is in many ways the ideal woman. But her most important trait is her faith in the Lord. Verse 30 says, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” No matter how much this world changes, this fact is timeless:
When we strive to be her, we are truly striving to be a woman of God.