“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” – Proverbs 31:25
If you went to church on Mother’s Day, you probably heard Proverbs 31 mentioned at least once. At a glance, it’s the perfect Mother’s Day passage. Proverbs 31 is presented as advice from a mother to her son (who just happens to be a king). She outlines the characteristics of what type of wife and mother her royal son should look for, and we usually take these verses to show our moms how much we appreciate them. Moms are incredible and deserve our praise, but incorrect readings of Proverbs 31 confine a woman’s worth to her tasks in the home. Taken in context, it is one of the strongest feminist passages in the Bible.
Although the Proverbs 31 woman is, in fact, a wife and mother, the text’s focus is on her characteristics, not her role. Proverbs 31:10-31 outlines the qualities of a woman who is highly praised, a hard worker, and “clothed in strength and dignity”, among many other wonderful qualities. The woman is responsible for managing the household and making important decisions. Proverbs was written in the 6th Century B.C., when a woman’s primary tasks were in the home and family, regardless of her marital status. In Biblical times, each household was a basic unit of production and played an important role in the economy. Women might have spent most of their time at home, but their time was spent assisting with family businesses and buying and selling in marketplaces.
Proverbs 31 describes the woman’s characteristics in the context of her daily tasks. She is a diligent, hard worker who makes clothes and obtains food for the family while managing the household and servants. She is a shrewd businesswoman, as she sells some of the clothing she makes, independently purchases a field, and uses the savings from her savvy purchase to plant more vines in her vineyard. Her household prospers, and her husband and children praise her and consider themselves blessed. She is respected in the city, not because of her husband’s praise, but because her own character speaks for itself. The Proverbs 31 woman is described as wise, generous, just, and physically, mentally, and spiritually strong.
The passage ends by stating: “Charm and grace are deceptive, and beauty is vain [fleeting], but a woman who reverently and worshipfully fears the Lord, she shall be praised!” The woman’s most important characteristic, and her source of worth, comes from her relationship to God. Her works are praised throughout the passage, but only because a God-fearing woman does them. Her incredible works are a byproduct of her walk with God.
Very little is said of the Proverbs 31 woman’s husband and children. Her husband receives little attention, and her children receive even less attention in the passage. Despite this, many contemporary Christian readings of Proverbs 31 are used to describe women as wives and mothers. While women’s roles as wives and mothers are undoubtedly important parts of many women’s lives, they are not the only defining characteristics of women. The Proverbs 31 woman finds her identity outside of being a wife and a mother. She is praised for her inherent value, not for her value in relation to a husband or children. Wives and mothers are incredible and important, but not the only women who can find joy in God’s Proverbs 31 view of women. All women are clothed in strength and dignity.