Perhaps it is foolhardy to attempt a fresh look at this ground that has been turned over many times by better men than I, yet I confess that I am not altogether convinced that they have found the true treasure hidden in this field. Parts of it have been unearthed and displayed for our edification in such a way as to appear unattainable by any mortal woman.
Let me say at the beginning that I believe that Lemuel is Solomon and that this chapter contains the teachings of his mother, Bathsheba. That is the ancient Jewish tradition and the modern attempts to find a better explanation are not convincing.
Verses 10 to 31 form a poem written in acrostic style where each sentence (verse) begins with succeeding letters of the Hebrew alphabet. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, thus 22 sentences in this poem. I will give my thoughts on four points in this the description of a virtuous woman.
First, this woman is a person in her own right. She is not the property of her father, her older brother or her husband, though no doubt each are important to her. Neither is she the servant of her children, though they are precious to her. She is not a person living her life in subservience to others, yet her life finds its meaning in her relationship to others. Her freedom, and the use she makes of it, is the most surprising aspect of this poem.
Secondly, though her family is the main focus of her life she is a leader, not a slave. There is nothing said about the meals she prepares but I would perceive her to be like the modern French woman who says “C’est moi qui décide.” “I am the one who decides what my children shall eat. They need nutritious and varied meals served at regular times and I wouldn’t dream of catering to a desire for sugar laden snacks at all times of the day.”.
She knows that she is the teacher that her children will learn the most from and she does not waste the opportunities to teach them respect and kindness and the other important lessons of life. She enjoys watching her children play and have fun, all the time knowing that she has the authority to let them know when their fun is in danger of going too far.
She sees to it that her family has suitable clothing for all weather and all occasions. She makes the home a place of warmth and security.
Thirdly, she contributes to the family income. She is described here as one who buys wool and flax, weaves them into cloth and garments to sell, then uses the proceeds to buy a field and plant a vineyard. This is a revolutionary concept. I believe that women in Canada did not have the legal standing to purchase property in their own name until about 100 years ago.
But note that none of her work takes place outside the family setting. Today we have gotten our priorities turned upside down. A woman who does not have a career outside the home is often made to feel that she is useless, a parasite on society. Go ahead and have children, our society says, but give them to the experts to raise. Well, the “experts” are not doing a good job of it. A mother is the true expert at raising her own children. To scorn the value of the things she does in the home to raise useful and productive members of society is entirely wrongheaded.
There are many things that a stay at home mother can do to contribute to the family income. Farm wives have always been an integral part of the farm workforce. The wives of small business owners contribute in many ways to the success of their husband’s business. Others have found ways to bring in income through home based businesses. There are many opportunities, but home and family are always the first priority of a virtuous woman.
Fourthly, she is known for her wisdom. “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” A wise husband will readily admit that he learns much from his wife. She often has sound advice in how to deal with difficult situations. She draws inspiration from the Word of God and applies it to life from a perspective that he would not otherwise see.
“She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea she reacheth forth her hand to the needy.” This also is wisdom, the wisdom of compassion that is at times lacking in men. We live in a day of government programs to help the needy. They do much good, but no program can perceive a broken heart and give the personal touch of compassion that will help it heal.
What I see in these verses is not a list of requirements that a woman has to measure up to in order to be considered virtuous. They are rather a general description of the nature of a virtuous woman and a list of possibilities for her to explore.