By Elizabeth Prata
For a Christian woman to choose a career outside the home that voids her duties at home is sin and bad for the family. The Bible outlines that a wife’s role is to be helpmeet to the husband and mom to the kids, very present and involved, totally focused in raising the little humans and serving the husband, serving at home- if at all possible.
This stance always receives heat. The women who are opposing this doctrine say the verses I share to support this stance are taken out of context (like the woman’s comment below). Or they try to claim the verses don’t really say what they say. Yes, they do say what they say.
That one often gets thrown into the conversation at some point. “But, but, but the Proverbs 31 woman!” Liberal women and feminists like to claim that the Proverbs 31 woman was a self-sufficient sharp business woman who grew her business AND who incidentally had kids and a husband. They say that the Proverbs 31 woman busted that glass ceiling, was an entrepreneur extraordinaire, and who did it all- had a fulfilling career while managing her house.
Is that what’s really going on here? The Proverbs 31 woman as a model of professional career woman? Let’s take a closer read on this woman.
Proverbs 31 opens with King Lemuel (probably Solomon) dispensing to the son in wisdom some life lessons. That’s verses 1-9. Verse 10 begins advice on the qualities of a proper wife. Please note that the oracle is delivered by King Lemuel but he ascribes the wisdom to his mother.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says of verse 31:1-9 “When children are under the mother’s eye, she has an opportunity of fashioning their minds aright. Those who are grown up, should often call to mind the good teaching they received when children.
The first thing the King says is that the son should find a woman who fears the Lord. Fearing the Lord means a healthy reverence for Him mixed with gratitude and knowledge of our position before Him: justified sinner saved by grace.
Albert N. Martin wrote: “There was a time when even the unconverted would refer to a Christian as a “God fearing man.” With this theme so prominently and frequently mentioned throughout the Scripture—both Old and New Testaments—it is regrettable that in our day it can be rare for a sermon to be preached on this most important topic, let alone an entire series.“
The God-fearing women, too.
Then we read in Proverbs 31:10-11 her worth. Verse 12 picks up with what she does that earned her such laudatory language:
She deals bountifully with him for good and not evil All the days of her life.
‘Him’ means the husband. This begins the umbrella for the actions the wife takes on behalf of her husband and family. What is the “good” she does him? Proverbs goes on with specific examples of the “good” she does the husband. Gill’s Exposition explains:
she will seek his interest, and promote his honour and glory to the uttermost; all the good works she does, which she is qualified for, and ready to perform, are all done in his name and strength, and with a view to his glory; nor will she do any evil willingly and knowingly against him
The Proverbs 31 wife focuses on the husband’s good to the extent that she even sacrifices her self. (Ephesians 5:24). Women today say, “but, but what about her identity!?” Our identity is in Christ, the husband’s is too. (Romans 21:1, Luke 9:23). His identity is so submissive to Christ he would be ready to give himself up for his wife. (Ephesians 5:25). The Bible calls upon all of us to self-sacrifice for Christ. We all do so, just in different ways. It is difficult to focus on your husband’s well-being to the extent shown in verse 12 if you also have an outside job.
DISCLAIMER: I am not saying it’s sin for a wife/mom to hold an outside job. It is not. Many circumstances dictate a family’s personal decision for a Christian wife to work outside the home. I AM saying that if at all possible (and all things are possible with God) that the Bible says that wife, especially when she has kids, should strive to make it her priority to be at home with the kids and to serve the household as her primary orientation. Like a compass needle pointing north as the default.
Now, the chapter goes into details of the wife’s daily tasks. Verse 13 says:
“She searches for wool and flax And works with her hands in delight.”
While our tasks may be different today than in Bible days, for example we don’t spin wool to make clothes, but we do drive to the store with the kids in tow so they can get new pants. Below is a description of how a Proverbs woman spun wool.
In spinning, the distaff is held tightly against the woman’s body by her left arm. So constant an occupation is spinning, that many women have loops sewed to the left side of their dresses to provide additional support for the handle of the distaff. Wool is spun in a variety of thicknesses, the left hand pulling the desired amount of fibers from the mass of wool and the right hand spinning the spindle in a clockwise direction.
In other words, her hands were always busy. Verse 14b says,
She brings her food from afar
This means rather than settling for the easier option and convenience of a more expensive foodstuffs nearby, she will expend energy to go afar to get a better price or quality.
And she rises while it is still night, And gives food to her household And a portion to her young women.
Women have said to me that here, since the Proverbs 31 wife has servants, that gives her time to have a career. Well, first of all it was a royal household. Second, it was common for households of any size or status to have servants. Modern women who make this claim forget that we ALL have servants. Our lives are easier than the Prov 31 wife. Her backbreaking work of washing laundry (no running water, gather the water, gather the wood, light a fire, boil water, stick your hands in boiling water and scrub on washboard…) is representative of just one task. We have servants in the form of cars, washing machines, microwaves, vacuum cleaners, dry cleaners, etc. Having maidservants does not mean she had time for a career. Despite having maidservants, this wife still gets up early and works for the household.
She makes plans for a field and buys it; From the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
As we saw in the verse above about bringing her food from afar, the Proverbs 31 wife is careful with money. She wants to contribute financially to the household without it impacting the household. We know this because “she looks well to the ways of her household” verse 27. She appears to have a skill in agriculture she’s decided to employ. She doesn’t buy the first field she sees, but makes a plan. She’s prudent.
We know she gets up early but we see next she works late into the night. ‘Her lamp does not go out’ (verse 18) is not meant literally. No one can work 24 hours straight, but it’s figurative to show she is industrious in doing for her household and the people in it. This wife has worked hard to ensure warm clothing for the cold season,
She makes linen garments and sells them, And gives belts to the tradesmen.
Linen was difficult to make and expensive. That she has extra to sell shows her diligent productivity. Like, do you have an Etsy shop? Same. But she is also generous, giving to the poor.
The Proverb concludes:
She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and bless her;
As for her husband, he also praises her, saying:
“Many daughters have done excellently,
But you have gone above them all.”
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears Yahweh, she shall be praised.
Give to her from the fruit of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.
An honest reading does not allow room for the wife described in this proverb to have two careers, one as a professional woman somewhere in the economy, and another at home. An honest reading would show the reader that the Proverbs 31 wife works at home, near the home, for the home. Her excursions to the marketplace are to buy food, get flax, or to sell her wares. She has a vineyard, many of you ladies have a garden, do canning, or preserving. Some of you give away some extra at church, being generous, or even sell a bit extra on Facebook marketplace.
This activity is vastly different from the “CEO ministry” wives and moms of today running their own non-profit corporation working 40-50 hours a week outside the home, according to their statements on tax records.
In Praise of the Virtuous Woman
“This poem is an acrostic. Although the object of praise is the virtuous woman, the original audience of the piece was again the young man. The opening question in 31:10 implies that the reader ought to find such a wife for himself. The woman is trustworthy (31:11), industrious (31:13–19), intelligent (31:16, 18), and kind (31:20). She adds dignity to the family (31:23, 25) and has much foresight and prudence (31:21, 26). For all this she is much loved in her family and is the real center of the home (31:27–29). Above all she fears God (31:30).”
“The final verse speaks eloquently against the tendency to regard her role as of inferior significance.” Holman Bible Handbook (pp. 358–359).
Being a wife, serving one’s husband, if God so gifts a woman, is God’s work. Being a mom and staying home to raise them, should God bless a wife, is God’s work. It’s not less-than. It might feel menial, and it is sometimes, but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. The Proverbs woman DID have a career: wife and mom.
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