The Character of the Excellent Wife

Virtuous Woman

Many read the passage in Proverbs 31 of the “excellent wife” or the “virtuous woman” (KJV) and assume that the wise man is describing the ideal woman who does not exist in reality. However, even though culture and technology have changed since the time of the book of Proverbs, the “excellent wife” today is going to have the same focus as the one described in the following passage – fearing God, supporting her husband, serving her family, and helping others. There can be no change in culture or technology that would rightly call for a shift in focus from these four fundamental areas. Rather than think of the “excellent wife” of Proverbs 31 as an ideal that only exists in abstract terms, women today must look at her and see how they might imitate her in their lives.

An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.

She looks for wool and flax and works with her hands in delight. She is like the merchant ships; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She senses that her gain is good; her lamp does not go out at night. She stretches out her hand to the distaff, and her hand grasps the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies belts to the tradesmen. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying: ‘Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.’ Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (31:10-31).

An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels” (31:10). In asking the question – “Who can find?” – the wise man is not saying that “an excellent wife” cannot be found. Rather, he is emphasizing the fact that such a wife is rare and is therefore “worth…far above jewels.” Therefore, because she is so valuable, she ought to be treated as such.

The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (31:11-12). As a suitable “help meet” (Genesis 2:18, KJV), the excellent wife seeks to support her husband, rather than selfishly pursue her own ambitions and desires. Because of her consistency in this, her husband is able to trust in her; and he will prosper. One of her primary focuses is that she “does him good and not evil all the days of her life.

She looks for wool and flax and works with her hands in delight” (31:13). Adam Clarke points out in his commentary that the wool and flax this woman seeks for her work is not ready woven cloth but the raw material that has likely come from her own flocks and fields. This suggests that the excellent wife is willing to work harder, rather than take short cuts, when it is prudent to do so. She is not only able but willing to work with her hands. She does so not grudgingly but with joy.

She is like merchant ships; she brings her food from afar” (31:14). The merchant ships would be engaged in buying, selling, and trading. The excellent wife is like them in that she is able to obtain food for her household through the goods she produces that she is able to bring to the market (cf. 31:24). She is also willing to bring “food from afar,” signifying the fact that her thoughts revolve around what is best for her family, not what is most convenient for her.

She rises also while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens” (31:15). The fact that the excellent wife has maidens (servants) who work for her should not lead us to discount all the work that she does as being non-applicable to women today. In fact, we see that the excellent wife makes the most of her time in that she “rises…while it is still night” and sees to it that these maidens have the provisions (food) and assignments (portions) they will need for the day ahead.

She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard” (31:16). Earlier the wise man says that this woman’s husband “trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain” (31:11). The excellent wife is willing to spend money. Yet she does not spend money selfishly on her own desires. Instead, she carefully considers a field and buys it as an investment to contribute to the family. “She plants a vineyard” from the money she earns through the sale of those products she makes with her own hands (31:24).

She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong” (31:17). E. M. Zerr’s comments on this verse are helpful: “This woman puts a belt around her waist, not for show or ornament, but to assist her in her work for the family.” She “makes her arms strong” so that she will be ready and able to carry out the various tasks that are necessary in taking care of her household.

She senses that her gain is good; her lamp does not go out at night” (31:18). The excellent wife sees profit in the work that she does. With this positive outlook, she carries out her responsibilities, even though it often means working long hours – into the night – to care for her house.

She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle” (31:19). This is connected with the verse earlier that describes the excellent wife as looking “for wool and flax and [working] with her hands in delight” (31:13).

She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to be needy” (31:20). This woman is not only concerned with her family. She is also eager to help those who are less fortunate. Because of the work that she does, she is in a position to provide aid for them.

She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple” (31:21-22). The excellent wife makes preparations so that her household is well-equipped to handle even challenging circumstances. “She is not afraid of the snow” because she prepares for it. The wise man specifically mentions her making clothing for herself. She also supplies clothing for her household, either by making it herself or by obtaining it through the fruit of her labor.

Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land” (31:23). Being “known in the gates” and sitting “among the elders of the land” is an indication that her husband is in a place of honor and respect. This is made possible, in part, by having a good “help meet” (Genesis 2:18, KJV) who very capably fulfills her responsibilities within the home so that he can focus on his responsibilities outside of the home.

She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies belts to the tradesmen” (31:24). This woman is more than willing to contribute to her household’s income. She does so, not by leaving the home to find work elsewhere, but by doing work that is an extension of the work she is already doing within her role in the home (cf. 31:13, 19, 21-22).

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future” (31:25). The clothing mentioned here is figurative and describes her character. Because of her character, industriousness, and wise stewardship, she is able to look optimistically toward the future. As the wise man later mentions the fact that she “fears the Lord” (31:30), we can also conclude that this optimism she has is rooted in her faith in God.

She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (31:26). The excellent wife is not only busy working with her hands and taking care of the needs of her household, she is also active in teaching others. The wisdom she teaches is not worldly wisdom, but the wisdom that comes from above. She also teaches kindness, which ought to be expected, given how she treats others.

She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness” (31:27). Most of this passage about the excellent wife describes how the she focuses on her household. This is one of her primary concerns. There are many responsibilities that come with this; so as she “looks well to the ways of her household,” she is diligent in her labor. The stereotype of the lazy housewife is nothing like the woman of this passage.

Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying: ‘Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all’” (31:28-29). As her focus is largely directed toward her household, particularly her husband and children, these are the ones who rise up to bless and praise her. Her husband recognizes that when compared with other women, she excels them all. She is a rare treasure (31:10); and he recognizes this, as every husband of an excellent wife should as well.

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (31:30). The world values charm and beauty. Yet for one to appreciate this excellent wife, he must understand what is truly important. Charm only deceives one into believing that someone is better than her character would indicate. Physical beauty means little. But this woman is worthy of praise because she “fears the Lord.” Though her service to God is barely mentioned in this passage, all the work that she does in supporting her husband, serving her family, and helping others indicates that she has a strong desire to serve the Lord and fulfill the responsibilities He has given her in the role of a wife and mother.

Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (31:31). The excellent wife is worthy of honor, respect, and gratitude for all the work that she does. This praise is not private, and certainly not unspoken. Instead, the praise she is due ought to be public (“in the gates”) so that all can recognize her devotion and follow her godly example.


This article is an excerpt from the book, My Son, Hear My Words: Notes on Proverbs.


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Comments

  1. David Clark says

    This kind of a woman is a treasure indeed! What an important, seldom taught and timeless message from the Word of God.

  2. Larry DeVore says

    Good article, Andy. And you have such a wife in Rachel. God bless.

  3. I have heard that the secret to the Proverbs 31 woman is that she’s an older woman. She has gone through the difficulties, trials & problems of life. She can make clear, wise decisions because she is older and has come out of her trials successfully. There are indications in the text that she is an older woman. For instance, she has older daughters that she has done things with. Patsy Rae Dawson has an excellent CD on the subject that readers may enjoy.

  4. Paula, you’re right about the fact that the text indicates that this is an older woman. One must develop these traits as they go through life.