Proverbs 31 contains what is commonly known as the Virtuous Wife passage. One might say it’s about the ideal woman. While the verses are typically thought to instruct wives, there’s plenty of encouragement for husbands too!
The Virtuous Wife’s Treatment of Her Husband
Proverbs 31:11-12—The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.
He trusts her in more ways than one. He knows she is hardworking and does not need someone standing over her shoulder ensuring she is making good use of her time or the family’s finances. She is not like women who might spend hours on the phone, the Internet, or in front of the television. He also trusts her faithfulness to him, knowing she is the opposite of the adulterous wife in Proverbs 7:10–23 who entices the foolish young man with the temptation: “For my husband is not at home.” He has “no lack of gain” because as his helper she works hard to “[do] him good.” The rest of the passage elaborates on the ways the Virtuous Wife cares for her family and others.
The Virtuous Wife’s Job Description
Proverbs 31:13-16—She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She is like the merchant ships bringing her food from afar. Also, she rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants. She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard.
Interestingly, this passage was written at a time when women were not only legal possessions of men but their sphere of influence traditionally did not extend beyond the home and raising children. So what this passage includes as attributes of the “perfect woman” stands out in even starker contrast to what one might consider a stereotype of the biblical wife.
Notice she gathers the materials to take care of her family. She is diligent with her hands and travels to secure the best food for her loved ones. Her hardworking nature is shown in the way she gets up before dawn to have food prepared not just for her family but also for the servants. She is industrious and resourceful as she buys a field and then reinvests the profits to make more money for her family. This is important because it shows that women can also engage in work that provides for their families financially. Men are not the only ones who can make money.
The Virtuous Wife Takes Care of Her Family, the Poor, and Herself
Proverbs 31:17–21—She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night . . . She extends her hand to the poor. Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her hardworking nature allowed her to be a strong, healthy woman. Everything she made for her family, such as food and clothing, was of high quality, and she was willing to work late into the night to produce it. Her inventory was large enough to help those in poverty. She anticipated her family’s needs and made sure they were met. While providing for others, she did not neglect to provide high-quality possessions for herself.
Proverbs 31:24—She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants.
Her efforts bless many—from the poor and needy, to her family, to the leaders and merchants of the city.
The Virtuous Wife Makes Her Home a Priority
Proverbs 31:27—She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
This is one of a number of verses that portray an excellent wife as a homemaker. Here is a list of others:
- Proverbs 14:1a—The wise woman builds her house.
- 1 Timothy 5:14—I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house.
- Titus 2:3–5—Older women . . . admonish the young women . . . to be homemakers.
The Virtuous Wife is definitely a skilled homemaker, but there are also verses about her industriousness as she makes money outside the home. How do we explain these two investments of time and energy that seem at odds with each other?
She was clearly able to perform these activities (buying fields and selling products) without neglecting the care of her family, probably engaging in many of these activities from her home. She makes and sells linen garments and supplies sashes for the merchants, but most likely she produces them at home where she can continue to oversee her family’s affairs.
Thus, whatever activity a wife participates in outside the home should never take priority over her home or family. A wife’s husband, children, or even the home itself should never suffer as a result of any activity she engages in.
One additional reality worth mentioning is that life does not always go the way people expect or desire. I have known couples who would like the wife to stay at home, but unforeseen circumstances, such as the husband’s being injured or a financial emergency, required that the wife work outside the home. These couples should never be made to feel condemned because in such situations this is the best way for the wife to serve her household.
The Virtuous Wife’s Godly Character
Proverbs 31:25–26—Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness.
The godly character of the Virtuous Wife far outweighs her industriousness or business expertise.
Strength, honor, joy, wisdom, and kindness make this woman the opposite of the woman that the apostle Paul describes in 1 Timothy 5:13 when he warns women against being “idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.” The Proverbs 31 woman is busy with her own house and her own family’s affairs—not the houses or affairs of others.
Praise for the Virtuous Wife
Proverbs 31:28-29—Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.”
This is how the Virtuous Wife’s family reacts to her. There are not many satisfactions a woman can enjoy more than receiving her husband and children’s praise for her diligence in caring for them. As a result, they have great appreciation for her.
Proverbs 31:30—Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
This verse summarizes. Of all that can be said about the Virtuous Wife, this is the highest compliment, indicating she is as strong and impressive spiritually as she is in all other areas. Holiness and godly character deserve more respect than any amount of charisma or physical beauty.
Proverbs 31:31—Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.
This concludes the passage. While it is instructive for women, it’s a strong admonition to husbands to appreciate their wives for their excellence and effort. She has done so much for others that she in turn should be thanked and rewarded for what she has done.
The reference to “the gates” in our day might be similar to putting a notice in the local newspaper or community bulletin board. Back then, the gates were where the leaders of the city sat in session and where the news and commerce were centered. Earlier in the passage, we were told that the Virtuous Wife’s husband “is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land” (31:23). He is a well-known leader in the community and, by implication, part of his good reputation is the result of his wife’s good reputation.
But a loving husband does not just bask in his wife’s good reputation. The implication here is that he openly brags about her to his fellow leaders because of the wonderful helper she has been. We husbands should never complain about our wives, but rather make a point to praise them to others.
- Does your wife seem busy with the affairs of others? If so, what changes should she make, and how can you help her make these changes?
- What are your wife’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to managing the home?
- Does anything in your wife’s life take priority over you, your children, or your home? If yes, what changes need to be made?
- Do you praise your wife (to her and others)?
- If the answer is yes, what are some examples?
- If the answer is no, what praises will you strive to give your wife in the future?
- What ways are you tempted to be busy with the affairs of others?
- How does social media play a role in this temptation?
- What do you need to do to resist this temptation?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to managing the home?
- Does anything in your life take priority over your husband, children, or home? If yes, what changes need to be made to make them a priority?
- Do you feel your husband praises you (to you and others)?
- If the answer is yes, provide examples.
- If the answer is no, what would you like him to notice and praise you for to encourage you?
- What ways are you tempted to be busy with the affairs of others?