Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Alternatives to the Proverbs 31 Woman

Is that a spot for a floppy disk?

            I wrote this essay a long time ago; it was last saved to my computer on June 10, 2000. Not this computer, but several computers ago, years before I purchased my very own laptop. 
             Go ahead and read it. Maybe it will give you a chuckle before I add some serious thoughts I’ve had lately.

The Virtuous Woman vs. Me

            I have a problem with that Proverbs 31 woman—the one you’re always hearing about on Mother’s Day. What’s with that dame?
            She is worth more than rubies. Maybe we’re not all that different. I’m always telling my husband there’s not enough gold in the world—or  chocolate—to pay for what I do.
            She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. My hands were eager to sew matching dresses for my daughters. God sent me a houseful of sons instead. I patch jeans. Does that count?
            She is like the merchant ship, bringing her food from afar. I just stop at Weis Markets since it’s on the way home from work. I guess that’s okay, since all the merchant ships deliver there.
            She gets up while it is still dark and provides food for her family. I too get up while it’s still dark, but the boys are too grouchy to eat breakfast. “You never buy any good cereal. I’ll just get a donut during my second period study hall.”
            And portions for her servant girls. Hold on, honey! She has servant girls? No one gave me any servant girls! No wonder I can’t keep up.
            She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She’s into real estate. Wow. All of my money is tied up in precious metals—the braces on my son’s teeth.
            Her lamp does not go out at night. Neither do my washer and dryer. Not when someone remembers at 10:00 p.m. that his track uniform is dirty. 
I wish!
             She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. I don’t know if they’re poor or needy, but every day my home is filled with neighborhood children playing video games and munching snacks that the merchant ships brought from afar.
            When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. Of course she has no fear when it snows. She’s not the one surrounded by boys eagerly watching the school cancellations on TV. Their snow gear, not necessarily scarlet, is lying in soggy piles all over the kitchen floor.
            Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. Is that where he is? I’m keeping his supper warm in the oven.
            She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. I had a yard sale once.
            She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. My tongue, too, but nobody can hear me over the TV.
            Her children arise and call her blessed. I can hardly get mine to arise in time for the school bus.
            Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. The only reward I want is a few more hours of sleep. And maybe some chocolate.

            Okay, now it’s July 2016, and time for a few serious thoughts. In the five translations I checked, Proverbs 31:10 is phrased as a question. (In two of them, it’s phrased as a question asked by Yoda. Sorry. Even my serious thoughts won’t stay serious.) Feel free to check the other forty-nine versions available at www.biblegateway.com yourself. 

            My point is, it’s a rhetorical question. www.dictionary.com says a rhetorical question is “a question asked solely to produce an effect or to make an assertion and not to elicit a reply, as ‘What is so rare as a day in June?’.” As for the definition of rhetorical, the same website provides
1. used for, belonging to, or concerned with mere style or effect.
2. marked by or tending to use exaggerated language or bombast.
3. of, relating to, or concerned with rhetoric, or the effective use of language. “
            Who can find the Proverbs 31 woman?
            No one.
            Because she doesn’t exist. She’s an idealized template of what King Lemuel’s mom (see Proverbs 31:1) wanted him to marry. She’s an idealized template from three thousand years ago. Yes, yes, don’t post angry, hateful comments; I agree there are principles here that can be extracted and applied.
             I’d just like to see Christian women stop beating themselves up over this one chapter.
            The Bible, a big book with lots of chapters, includes some alternatives to the Proverbs 31 template. Granted, most of the Bible’s heroes are men, but there are some heroic women in there, too.
            How about the Judges 4 woman, Deborah?
            How about the Ruth 1 – 4 woman, Ruth?
            How about the 1 Samuel 25 woman, Abigail?
            How about the 2 Kings 25 woman, Huldah?
            How about the Esther 1 – 10 woman, Esther?
            How about the Luke 1- 2 woman, Mary?
            How about the Acts 18 woman, Priscilla?
            I’m all fired up! How about I write about some of these women in upcoming blog posts? I think I will.


  1. Thanks for this. I always felt so inadequate reading Proverbs 31. I decided my housekeeping style was more like the Whore of Babylon. I'm glad you suggested some other biblical alternatives!

  2. Oh, Patty! I failed to mention Mary of Bethany who chose the better part. She's a good template.

  3. I enjoyed your blog post. I wish I had servants too. Great post!

  4. What a freeing thought that this is a rhetorical question. I've often felt inadequate compared to this woman. I like your parallel suggestions about how you were doing similar things. Clearly, a woman worth more than rubies in our current age and culture will look different.

    1. Even in that day and age, she could have looked different. Even within the chapter there's the woman in charge and her servant girls. They can't both fit the same template. I hope looking at other biblical templates will lift some of the stress.