Lecture 22: The Valiant Wife

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Lesson

After a discussion of the structure of the famous poem in Proverbs 31, Dr. Waltke moves into a verse by verse exegesis, emphasizing her entrepreneurial spirit and social consciousness.

The Valiant Wife

Transcription

Course: Proverbs

Lecture: A Valiant Wife

I. Translation – Proverbs 31:10-31

We are now going to Proverbs 31, the famous poem on the valiant wife. We will divide the lecture up into four sections: translation, introduction, exegesis and then conclusion. The superscript for chapter 31 covers the whole chapter as I think this chapter was composed by a mother and gave it to her son. It holds up as an exemplar in the first nine verses of what he should be as a king, man and the kind of wife he should marry and desire, and then for the daughter a kind of woman she ought to be. So it is held up as a model and an example to us. The book has been largely addressed to the son and thus we have not heard much about the daughter directly, whereas this poem is directly about the daughter and this concludes the book.

So these are the sayings of King Lemuel – an inspired utterance his mother taught him. We only know that he is royalty with the mother teaching him. There are those who want to change it to mean a geographical location but the word means a prophetic burden. This is also used of Agur and he will actually say, ‘the inspired utterance of the man.’ So she speaks with a voice and authority of a prophet as well as being a very wise woman. So it is an inspired utterance; his mother taught him as the NIV translates it.

A valiant wife who can find? Her price is much more than corals. The heart of her husband trusts in her, he does not lack spoil. She does him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects diligently wool and flax and works with her glad palms. She becomes like trading vessels; she brings her food from afar. She arises while it is still night; and provides “prey” for her household and the quota of food for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; from the fruit of her palms she plants a vineyard. She girds her loins with strength she strengthens her arms for the tasks. She perceives that her trading is good; and her lamp does not go out at night. Her hands she holds out to the doubling spindle; her palm grasps the spindle. Her palm she spreads out to the poor and she holds out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid on account of the snow, for all of her household is clothed in scarlet. Coverlets she makes for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he sits with the elders of the land. Garments she makes and sells [them], sashes she supplies to the merchants. Strength and majesty is her clothing and so she laughs at the coming days. Her mouth she opens with wisdom and loving teaching is on her tongue. One who watches over what is going on; the food of idleness she does not eat. Her sons arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and praises her: Many daughters do valiantly, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is fleeting; as for a woman who fears the Lord, she should be praised. Extol her for the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

II. Introduction

A. An Acrostic Alphabetical Poem

In not lacking ‘spoil’, he is talking about the spoil of war. Because this is an acrostic alphabetical poem, we really have to distinguish that the Hebrew alphabet leads as the alphabet itself has certain associations. In an acrostic, each verse begins with the following letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In bringing her food from afar, she can enrich the table from distant lands. I think at Solomon’s table, the first reference is to a chicken which came from the Far East. So she is able to bring what we take as being ordinary in our day. This was not obviously ordinary in her day. She is bringing food from Africa, India and other places in the world to enrich the table. The word food here is the same for prey. Note that only wool takes the color dye and as already mentioned that she is working with both wool and flax. Her clothing is fined linen and also woolen.

Notice the chiastic construction of the poem. You have the word ‘woman’ in verse 10 and again in verse 30. You have the Hebrew word in verses 10 and 29 hayil which means strength and translated here as the valiant in verse 10, coming from the word army. You have the same word in verse 29 as ‘many daughters do valiantly. And so it begins with the husband in verse 11 saying that the heart of a husband trusts in her and at the end of it in verse 28, her husband also praises her. This is sort of a chiastic inclusio. This helps us to understand how to read it by seeing the text more clearly. An acrostic poem also displays other structures as well. As you remember, I said that there were three types of structures: alternating structures, chiastic structures and also concentric structures.

B. A Chiastic and Alternating Structure

The chiastic structure is like throwing a rock into water and seeing the rippling out of the water and the pivot is at the center of it. We talked about alternating structures being like the waves of the sea with the second waves intensifying and expanding. This poem will show us this alternating structure of these waves of the sea, one after the other. And we will also see the chiastic construction. We will not see what I call a concentric construction. We have also experienced the Janus, another poetic technique. The Janus ties material together and here it is going to tie together the alternating structure with the chiastic structure. So the alternating structure cover verses 13-18 while the chiastic structure also includes that of verses 21-28 and we see the Janus in verses 19-20. We have a logical progression where she blesses the husband and he pronounces her blessed with a source of income which benefits others. These sources are presented in the alternating structure which leads to the benefits to others. The form of the poem is classed as a heroic poem which recounts the exploits of the hero. She is presented as a heroic figure with her exploits. Again, we have the military vocabulary in verse 10, ‘valiant’ and ‘plunder and verse 11 along with ‘prey’ in verse 15. This poem is in contrast to ancient near eastern literature where they praise the woman’s erotica as being very sensual. The contrast in verse 30 shows that she is a woman who fears the Lord. This is part of the balance considering chapter 5 to see that it isn’t just protonic, showing another aspect of marriage. This is also in contrast to the Greek praise of the ideal wife being silent and a homebody. This is what Christians think the ideal wife should be, silent and a homebody, but this is not the ideal of this chapter. This woman is not silent, she’s teaching and very active and she is in the market place being a merchant and being creative in that. It is also in contrast to the praise of the Hellenic wisdom of impartial rationality. Her virtue is being praised here and we have heroism of the battle field being transposed to a woman’s vita active in home and community.

C. A Historical Figure

Another point is the question of this being a real woman rather than being allegorical. I am going to argue that this is a real woman in contrast to the allegory of Woman Wisdom in the prologue which was a literary fiction. This is not a literary fiction but rather what a wife can really be. So it is on the historical register rather than a figurative register which was with Woman Wisdom. Interestingly in the proper sequence of the Books of the Old Testament, Ruth follows with Boaz calling her a noble woman and Ruth will exemplify this to a large extent. She is a real woman and she is called what this woman is. Ruth gives a concrete expression to that ideal: ‘and now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character (Ruth 3:11)’. So the rest of the book presents the character and activity of an ideal husband. We saw that Woman Wisdom was not represented as having a husband or biological children, unlike the Valiant Wife who has a husband and children. So Woman Wisdom was a composite figure; her persona was that of a prophet, sage and a mediatrix, almost a divine being whereas the valiant wife is presented consistently as a home maker.

D. An Outline

The outline includes an introduction, a main body and a conclusion. The introduction starts with her value with the main body dealing with her entrepreneurial and social activities and the conclusion is the praise she receives. This is a logical progression of her value and what she does. The introduction talks about her scarcity; in other words, ‘who can find a woman like this?’ This is a rare jewel and instructive of a young man and the kind of wife he should be looking for. This speaks of her worth to her husband. The first part of the body which is in the alternating structure tells of her income supplementing the income of the home. She brings wealth into the home and this comes from her entrepreneurial industry. There is a Janus in verse 19 and a social distribution of that income in verses 20-27. She is praised by her family, her children and her husband and then by everyone. So counting the Janus in verse 19 with 13-18 and the grammatically unified verses of 27 with verse 26, the poem consists of two seven verse strophes in the body and seven verses in its introduction and conclusion.

III. The Exegesis of the Poem

A. A Paradigm for Spiritual Reality

This is the introduction to this noble and competent wife who works for the home. She is very industrious and working entirely for the home and finds her joy and strength enriching the home. This can be a paradigm for spiritual reality and I can lead you into the Hebrew text and make it relative to the spiritual life of the church. Her general worth is inferred from her scarcity and in English has ‘virtuous’ but really that comes from the Latin word ‘dear’ which means men; so historical the word virtuous means that the woman was manly. This is the word for noble. Gerome has it as strong woman. When it is valiant, competent, noble and strong, per price is her bride price which is more that rubies. She is very expensive to get and extremely valuable. Her worth to her husband is in verse 11. The heart of the husband trusts in her. She does him good, not harm all the days of his life. The word husband in Hebrew is ‘baal’. Peter holds up Sarah as the model and she speaks of her lord, her husband and he has full confidence in her. Note that trust is otherwise used only of God with an exception of 20:36. We are to only trust God, it is exclusively of God. This is high praise that her husband can commit himself to trust her in such a fashion. When it says that he does not lack spoil, this is a plunder of war in the way he puts it and all days of her life; this is true love and commitment, not false. True love is constant, not temperamental, not fickle but discerning.

B. An Alternating Parallelism

In verses 13-18 there is an alternating parallelism. In verse 13, she selects flax and we have the word palms which work the raw textiles. The next important word is trade. She becomes like trading vessels bringing food from afar. So both verses 13 and 16 goes together as with verses 14 and 17 and lastly verses 15 and 18. A is concerned with income of her entrepreneurial palms produce; B is concerned with the trading to enrich her table and source of strength and lastly C is concerned with figuratively begins and ends the day in dark. Notice how it begins at night in verse 15. What does it mean when she gets up at night? By the word ‘prey’, she is like a lioness that gets up in the early morning in order to hunt and catch what she is after. She is right there at the beginning of the day. Verse 18 doesn’t mean that she is working all the time; instead it means that it is a very prosperous home. They are able to have an oil lamp burning all night long instead of being in pitch dark.

13              דָּ֭רְשָׁה צֶ֣מֶר וּפִשְׁתִּ֑ים וַ֝תַּ֗עַשׂ בְּחֵ֣פֶץ כַּפֶּֽיהָ׃

13

A

Palms (kappeyha) work the raw textiles

הָ֭יְתָה כָּאֳנִיּ֣וֹת סוֹחֵ֑ר מִ֝מֶּרְחָ֗ק תָּבִ֥יא לַחְמָֽהּ׃

14

B

Trades (shr) to enrich the table

וַתָּ֤קָם׀ בְּע֬וֹד לַ֗יְלָה וַתִּתֵּ֣ן טֶ֣רֶף לְבֵיתָ֑הּ וְ֝חֹ֗ק לְנַעֲרֹתֶֽיהָ׃

15

C

Arises at night (layla) to seek ‘prey’

זָמְמָ֣ה שָׂ֭דֶה וַתִּקָּחֵ֑הוּ מִפְּרִ֥י כַ֝פֶּ֗יהָ נְטַע כָּֽרֶם׃

16

A’

Invests in a vineyard from the earning of her palms (kappeyha)

חָֽגְרָ֣ה בְע֣וֹז מָתְנֶ֑יהָ וַ֝תְּאַמֵּ֗ץ זְרֹעוֹתֶֽיהָ׃

17

B’

Gains strength from her trading (shr)

טָ֭עֲמָה כִּי־ט֣וֹב סַחְרָ֑הּ לֹֽא־יִכְבֶּ֖ה בַלַּיִל נֵרָֽהּ׃

18

C’

Lamp does not go out at night (layla)

13 She selects diligently wool and flax and works with her glad palms

14 She becomes like trading vessels; she brings her food from afar.

15 She arises [like a lioness] while it is still night; and provides “prey” for her household and the quota of food for her servant girls.

16 She considers a field and buys it; from the fruit of her palms she plants a vineyard.

17 She girds her loins with strength; she strengthens her arms for the tasks.

18 She perceives that her trading is good; and her lamp does not go out at night.

So you see that the wool and flax is from sheep and the flax is a plant harvested from ancient times and reworked to become thread. The wool is dyed in color. The food from a far shows a table full of food like that of King Solomon. But note that in arising at night and relating to the figure of prey is not to be taken literally. An aristocratic woman doesn’t hunt food at night. The point is that she put the well-being of her household before her own. She considers in verse 16 and then she boldly buys it and then industriously plants it. She considers it, buys it and then plants it. The vineyard is the most precious. It entails selecting choice vines and building a watchtower and also a wine vat. The watchtower has a person looking over the vineyard making sure that there are no thieves coming into it. She readies herself for a heroic and difficult action; she is involved with the manual, menial labor with the slaves. The aristocratic woman of the Bible is not above menial labor. In girding her loins, she gets involves with the actual manual labor of preparing the vineyard. In a well ordered house, the lamp burned all night (Toy) and it extinction marked calamity (Jer 25:20 and Job 18:6). An Arabic proverb says, ‘he sleeps in the dark’, meaning that there is no money in the house.

C. A Janus: Now we come to the Janus and notice how it moves us from her income to her beneficence and this is the transition. The two verses are 19 and 29 and create an atmosphere whereby it can switch from hard work to helping other. So it goes hands, palms, palms and then hand. The switch is from income to beneficence from 19B to 20A’. The Yodh line (A/B) pertains to source of income in verses 13-18 and the Kaph line (A’/B’) pertains to social benefits in verses 21-27. The hands that produce are opened wide to provide. The Janus is used to unite the two halves of her exploits. The palm is more finesse and the hand represents more strength.

יָ֭דֶיהָ שִׁלְּחָ֣ה בַכִּישׁ֑וֹר וְ֝כַפֶּ֗יהָ תָּ֣מְכוּ פָֽלֶךְ׃

19 A

Her hands she extends (yadeyha shillehah) to the doubling spindle

 

19 B

Her palms (kappaha) grasp the spindle

כַּ֭פָּהּ פָּרְשָׂ֣ה לֶעָנִ֑י וְ֝יָדֶ֗יהָ שִׁלְּחָ֥ה לָֽאֶבְיֽוֹן׃

20 A’

Her palm (kappah) spreads out to poor

 

20 B’

Her hands she extends (yadeyha shillehah) to the needy.

D. A Chiastic Structure: Her Production and Social Activities are shown in a chiastic structure covering verses 20-27. Let’s read it here.

A 20

 

 

Her palm she spreads out to the poor and she holds out her hands to the needy.

B/C 21

 

 

She is not afraid on account of the snow, for all of her household is clothed in scarlet.

 

D 22

 

Coverlets she makes for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.

 

 

X 23

Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he sits with the elders of the land.

 

D’ 24

 

Garments she makes and sells [them], sashes she supplies to the merchants.

C’/B’ 25

 

 

Strength and majesty is her clothing and so she laughs at the coming days.

A’ 26

 

 

Her mouth she opens with wisdom and loving teaching is on her tongue.

A’ 27

 

 

One who watches over what is going on; the food of idleness she does not eat.

So in summary:

A

 

 

 

Spreads palms to the poor

20

 

B

 

 

No fear of snow

21a

 

 

C

 

Household clothed (labush) in scarlet

21b

 

 

 

D

Makes (‘aseta) coverlets and clothing for herself

22

 

 

 

X

Husband respected at city gate

23

 

 

 

D’

Makes (‘aseta) garments and sashes for merchants

24

 

 

C’

 

Wife clothed (lebushah) with strength and dignity

25a

 

B’

 

 

Laughs at the future

25b

A’

 

 

 

Opens mouth with wisdom, looking after household

26/27

In this Chiastic construction (such constructions are used to emphasize the importance of the material being presented), the A says that she spreads her palms to the poor and the B says that she doesn’t fear the snow. The C says that her household is clothed in scarlet. D tells us that she makes coverlets and clothing for herself and the X is her husband at the city gate. Then she makes garments using the same verb with double objects for merchants instead of herself. There is a repetition of the word, ‘clothed’ where she is clothed with strength and dignity whereas the household she clothed in scarlet. She doesn’t have any fear of the snow and parallel to this, she laughs at the future. So in A she spreads her palms to the poor and then in A’, she opens her mouth with wisdom, looking after the household. So it seems that A/A’ features two body parts which are the first words in the Hebrew texts. In verse 27 in the parallel, she opens her mouth in wisdom looking after her household. The word ‘looking after’ is the Hebrew word, ‘look at it or Sofia’; the Greek word for wisdom. Because of this word being also Greek, it seems to me that this is a very late poem. So keeps a lookout to promptly correct irregularities. She has probably turned the rearing of the children over to slaves but retains much of the responsibility for the teaching. She doesn’t indulge in habits, excuses or miseries of the sluggard. The B/B’ 21a and 25 b she isn’t afraid on account of the snow and strength and majesty is her clothing and so she laughs at the coming days. They don’t cite this but the synonym to ‘does not fear’ is to laugh at so they see it as a synonymous term. The C and C’ 21b for her household is clothed in scarlet and 25a strength and majesty is her clothing. Notice that it is connected lexically by the same word labush and lebushah for clothing. This explains the reason for her confidence. She has protected her household against the snow without (21b) and fortified herself with strength within (25a). She makes coverlets and clothing for herself in Verse 22 and for the merchants in verse 24. She isn’t doing this to empower herself but instead to help the family and her husband. Most feminist say that she does it to empower herself but not true, it is to free her husband up so that he can take leadership at the gate. In 22 and 24, we have ‘aseta, making.

E. Conclusion

So this concludes with praise for the woman who fears the Lord in verses 28-31. The key word in these verses is praise which is in every verse except 29:

28 Her sons arise and call her blessed; her husband arises also, and praises her:

29 Many daughters do valiantly, but you surpass them all.

30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is fleeting; as for a woman who fears the Lord, she should be praise

31 Extol her for the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

You have this repetition of valiant and blessedness. When you arise, you are giving great honor to that person and in Job we have, ‘the young men saw me and stepped aside and the old men rose to their feet.’ So when his wife stepped into the room, he stands up to give her honor. Another verse, ‘this is what the lord says – the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel – to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.’ To praise her in Hebrew is halleyah which almost sound like halleluiah. When he calls her daughter, I think it is an even more delicate and finer term for woman. Verses 30 and 31 are for all the community. We see that charm is deceitful because it promises a lifetime of beauty that it cannot give. It is not praiseworthy because it deceives. Charm and beauty stand in opposition to ‘fear of the Lord.’ On the other hand, it has its place in the Book of Ruth; just be aware of what charm and beauty really is. C. S. Lewis says, ‘if we do not admire what is praiseworthy, we shall be stupid, insensible, and great losers.’

A student asked why the Greek view of a woman is so dominant in the church. The lecturer answers that he thinks they focus on 1st Timothy where it says that a widow is one who is busy at home; so she stays at home and then we have the verse that a woman ought not to teach and you end of with that Greek Model. But I think women not taking leadership is contrary to this poem. She is busy for her husband along with teaching in the home. Another student asked why this poem is at the end of the book. It could be it was the last poem added to the book by the editor. I believe it was added later because of the Greek word we encountered eariler. It fits really beautifully here at the end. At the beginning we had Woman Wisdom, an allegory but at the end it actually becomes a real woman. It certainly matches the prologue and it makes a fitting climatic moment that matches the prologue also. Another point you must realize that the whole book has been for the husband seeing how busy he is. To a certain extent, this is certainly a counter Christian culture with her having full freedom and liberty because she is doing what is right. The woman in this poem is advancing the income of the home in order to free her husband up. This is the key to the poem.

Duration

1 hour 7 min

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