What is your response when someone preaches or teaches on the famed passage about the woman in Proverbs 31? Are you quick to grab a notebook so you can take notes, hoping to learn how you can be more like the woman described there? Do you roll your eyes and think, "Here we go again?" Or do you cringe and feel pangs of guilt knowing you are going to fall short of whatever is taught?
Proverbs 31 is a famous chapter among women. It's one that women aspire to, measure themselves by, or sometimes avoid altogether. But I wonder if there is something missing to our usual reading of this chapter. I wonder if there is more hope there than we think. And I wonder if the final chapter in the book of Proverbs has a lot less to do with us and what we do or don't do and lot more about what God has done, is doing, and will do in us.
The Context of Proverbs 31
Often we open the book of Proverbs and read it as a list of promises. We read words such as "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6) and "The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5) and think they are conditional promises, telling us that if we do those things, we will be happy, successful and have all we've ever wanted. Yet Proverbs is part of that category of Scripture called wisdom literature. It is more descriptive rather than prescriptive. It describes things that tend to happen. Much of the time, if we work hard we will be successful in life. Generally, if you teach a child the right thing to do, they will continue to do the right thing. But it's not a promise. We all know people that no matter how hard they work, they never seem to get ahead in life. We also know people who never worked a day in their life yet they live in the lap of luxury. And we know of godly, faithful parents whose children are prodigals.
When it comes to the chapter in question, Proverbs 31 was written by a mother to her son, advising him on what to look for in a wife. It was a list of ideals. It describes a woman who is industrious, works hard, helps her husband, and serves her family. She doesn't depend on her own strength but lives in the fear of the Lord. This list stands in stark contrast to the description of the adulterous woman in Proverbs 7. It's a good list. Indeed, we should all want and desire to be industrious, loving to our husbands, serving our family, and fearing the Lord.
But ladies, here's the truth, the Proverbs 31 woman was not a real person. She didn't exist.
But she will.
Jesus and Proverbs 31
All of Scripture is about Jesus and the book of Proverbs is no exception. Jesus himself said, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Jesus is wisdom incarnate. He is the book of Proverbs come to life; the perfect fulfillment of all that Proverbs teaches us. He is the only wise God, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3)..
Paul Tripp wrote this about our need for Wisdom:
"You can't buy wisdom. You can't get it by hard work or lots of experience. No, wisdom is the result of rescue and relationship. To be wise, you first need to be rescued from you. You need to be given a new heart, one that is needy, humble, seeking, and ready to get from above what you can't find on this earth. And then you need to be brought into relationship with the One who is wisdom....The One who is wisdom now guides you. Wisdom protects you. Wisdom convicts you. Wisdom teaches and matures you. Wisdom encourages and comforts you. Wisdom works to change your thoughts and redirect your desires. Wisdom forgives your past and holds your future in his hands. And wisdom will welcome you into an eternity where foolishness will be no more." (from New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional meditation for July 14).
This Wisdom, Jesus, answers the question Proverbs 31 asks, "an excellent wife, who can find?" He has found her. He is making her. He is preparing a Bride, the church. As Ephesians tells us, "...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25-27).
If you tend to read Proverbs 31 and treat it like a to-do list, you may grow weary and tired and discouraged when you fail. If you look at Proverbs 31 and simply give up in hopelessness because you know you can never measure up, there is great hope for you. If you ignore the Proverbs 31 woman altogether because you've been compared to her for far too long, cringe no more.
Sisters, Jesus has bought us and redeemed us. He has chosen us as his Bride. He has clothed us in a brilliant white gown of his own righteousness. He is right now making us new. He is shaping us and molding us into the Bride we were created to be. In this life, we'll see glimpses of her. We will see her industriousness, her love for her family, and her service to others as the Spirit works in us to refine and transform us. But one day, the Bridegroom will return. That will be the day of the great Wedding Feast where we will be presented before the King as holy and blameless. On that day, we will finally be the Bride of Proverbs 31.
So read Proverbs 31 with joy, gratitude, and anticipation. Rejoice that your Bridegroom has answered the question, "an excellent wife, who can find?" For through Christ, she has been found in us, the Bride, the Church.