The Ideal Woman
If you would look at the covers of popular women's magazines, you would soon discover what qualities are being promoted for the ideal woman of the early 21st century. She is a relaxed in manner and dress, healthy body, healthy mind. She's independent, even if she's married, she's independent. She's aware and involved in what's going on around her. The ideal woman is making a place for herself in the world. This is what we hold up as the ideal for women today. These are the catchwords for the ideal woman.
As a comparison to this particular woman, I'd like to describe the portrait of an ideal woman given to us in the Bible that's 3,000 years old. Just to compare it to this one here. This is not an exhaustive description about women, so you couldn't do all of that in just a simple 30-minute lesson. But it's a sketch. It's a sketch of an image of the kind of woman that is pleasing to God and to man and it's still relevant today, I believe anyways.
The Description of the Ideal Woman - Proverbs 31:10-31
The description of the ideal woman is that the end of the book of Proverbs, it's a beautiful acrostic poem extolling the virtues of an ideal woman. Acrostic poems are those where each line of poetry begins with the subsequent letter of the alphabet. For example, if it was a poem in English, the first line of the poem would start with the letter A and then the second line with the letter B and the third line with the letter C and all the way down to the end.
An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels.
- Proverbs 31:10
In this poem, the writer begins his description by saying one about what he calls the virtuous woman. And he says, an excellent wife who can find for her worth is far above jewels. In other words, he's saying the excellent woman, the virtuous woman, he says she's rare. Not every woman is like this, he says, just like not every piece of jewelry is precious. Pearls are precious because they're rare and they're hard to find. All jewelry shines, but not all jewelry is precious. He's saying that basically about women. A virtuous woman, one that has inner strength he says, is hard to find, even harder to find than precious jewels. Precious jewelry, not easy to find, he says, but a virtuous woman, even more difficult.
So what makes her more valuable? He explains,
11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
12She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
- Provebrs 31:11-12
The writer summarizes her value in describing her relationship to her husband. In other words, she's trustworthy. That's what makes her so valuable. The author tells us that the innate quality that this woman possesses is her trustworthiness. Now, not just to her husband, but as an essential quality that she has as a person. So with or without a husband, she's trustworthy. That's the thing that makes her precious. He says, when you have found a woman like this, you have found a precious stone.
In the following verses, the author is going to go on to describe the outward signs that reveal this precious inward quality of trustworthiness.
If you meet a woman it isn't stamped on her forehead, "trustworthy." It's an inner quality but there are things on the outside that point to that on the inside and that's what he's going to talk about in the context of a married woman. This isn't the only context, but for this time and for this place, he describes the qualities of the married woman that point to her inner trustworthiness.
She is a good manager and a hard worker.
She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands in delight.
- Provebrs 31:13
The author gives several examples of this first quality. He says, she is cheerful in her work, she doesn't complain or see her work as a burden, as a drudge.
She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar.
- Proverbs 31:14
We would say she uses imagination in preparing food and is a wise shopper, careful with her money. She manages her responsibilities well in her home.
She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household
And portions to her maidens.
- Proverbs 31:15
In other words, she's on top of the situation concerning her affairs. Yes, she manages a home, but she manages that home. She knows what's going on, she's about her business.
16She considers a field and buys it;
From her earnings she plants a vineyard.
24She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies belts to the tradesmen.
She has good business sense and she knows how to turn a profit without sacrificing her home. She's able to use her business talents to the advantage of her home. She doesn't neglect her home with outside work, she builds her home with the outside work that she does. He says she is not afraid of hard work and doesn't waste her time at home. This is a woman who knows the difference between leisure and laziness.
She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.
- Proverbs 31:17
She senses that her gain is good. Her lamp does not go out at night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff and her hands grasp the spindle. And that's of course working at home. She demonstrates that a well-managed home is a profitable enterprise. She understands that time is money, not just in business that time is money, not just at work or at the factory or wherever you are, time is money. Time is money at home as well and she uses her time at home profitably.
I've always said that a well-managed home is like a second salary. A lot of people think they need to leave the house and get a job in order to have extra income but if the home is well managed, it is like having a second income. When you calculate all the money it costs to work, a lot of times, especially when you've got little kids at home and you have to pay to have them taken care of and pay for this and pay for that, by the time you subtract all the expenses for you to go out to work, it's almost not worth the money. Not in every situation of course, but I know a lot of women who have said this very thing, I'm working, but there's not much left.
21She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
- Provebrs 31:21-23
By her work at home, she contributes to her family's and her husband's reputation in the community. Her children are clean, they're well-fed, they're mannered, they're well dressed and her husband is also and that is a reflection of their home, of which she is the manager. If marriage is a partnership, the woman that the author describes here is a good partner to have, this is the one you should be shooting for. In describing the outward signs that point to the inward quality of the ideal woman, the author begins by describing the things that make her a good manager and a hard worker.
She has a good character and a good reputation within her community.
He continues by talking about another outward sign that points to her inward virtuousness and that is, she has a good character and a good reputation within her community. And he goes on to say four things about her character.
1. She extends her hand to the poor and she stretches out her hands to the needy.
She's kind and generous. The book of James tells us that benevolence to the poor and homeless is a sign of true piety (James 1:27). This woman here is truly a spiritual woman with a godly character.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.
- Proverbs 31:25
I love that expression, she smiles at the future. In other words, this is a woman who has confidence. She's not afraid of the future, the near future or the far future because her faith and her good works cover her with honor and power. Good works are empowering. She's a person who's at ease in her conscience because her heart and her hands are busy doing what is right. She's not guilt-ridden or depressed because she's busy giving herself away to others, especially to the ones that she loves.
2. She is wise.
She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
- Proverbs 31:26
Her tongue is not for gossip, but rather for edification. Never using words to destroy, always to build others up. This is wisdom from above and the woman of the poem demonstrates that well, she has this kind of wisdom.
3. She is concerned.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
- Proverbs 31:26
In other words, she is concerned, but her first and primary concern is her home and her family. There's a difference between concern and worry. Having concern is when you're looking at all the factors and what's going on, you're paying attention. Little Jimmy, he's got the sniffles. I need to keep an eye on him because there's a thing going around. She's not worried about Jimmy, but she's concerned about little Jimmy. or there's moisture kind of building up over here on the ceiling. She's not, "we can't afford a new roof." She's not worried, she's concerned. She's paying attention. I need to talk to Joe when he comes home, I need to talk to him about that so we can kind of nip that in the bud and not make it something that will become expensive. That's the difference between worry and concern.
She is aware of the needs of her family and the community and she's concerned about fulfilling them using all of her skills and qualities refined through years of service and practice. Paul says in I Corinthians 11:3, "that the man is the head of the woman and consequently the head of the home." But the writer here in Proverbs 31, balances out this picture by showing us that the woman is the heart of the home. The man may be the head of the home, but the woman is the heart of the home and when the head and the heart are in union with Christ as the Lord, what a wonderful place that home can be.
4. She is virtuous.
28Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
29"Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all."
- Proverbs 31:28-29
The author describes the rewards awaiting such a person and clear signs that she is a virtuous woman. She has this trustworthiness demonstrated by good stewardship of her home and a godly character. And these two things, they bring her rewards.
They bring her the reward of praise from her family. Her children are thankful that they have a mother like her. What a reward for a mother to have grateful children. If you don't think so, try living with ungrateful children. Children who are young adults, who do not recognize the sacrifices that their mother has made on their behalf and are ungrateful, that is a terrible burden to carry.
Let's face it, as children, we have forgotten the things that our parents have done for us because we can't remember what happened when we were eight months old. How can we remember how many nights of sleep our mother lost because we were sick. So, when your own children praise you, this is a great reward.
And then her husband sees her as the best of all women. And of course, that he mentions her husband in this way, this suggests his absolute fidelity and devotion as well. And so she has the praise of her family, the appreciation of her family and she has the support and the devotion and the fidelity of her husband. These are wonderful lifetime rewards that you can't get in other ways.
And then he also says that her community in a sense praises her. He says,
30Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.
- Proverbs 31:30-31
In the gates is where the city council would be. It's a reference to the community. So her neighbors and her friends and her community see her as a woman of value and a woman of character. So in the end, the author summarizes the true essence and value of this person.
In verse 30, he says, Her motivating factors are not beauty or charm, not social climbing. She's a person that fears or if you wish, respects or obeys the Lord. This is what motivates her, her desire to work well, to serve others, to develop a good character. All of these are inspired by her basic faith and desire to obey God who wants all of his daughters to become women of value and women of virtue.
What the Passage Doesn't Say About Her
Now I want you to notice some of the things that were not mentioned about this woman. First of all, her looks, there's no mention of her looks, her skin, her hair, her weight, her height, her figure, we don't know. Was she tall or short? Was she overweight, underweight? Was she beautiful or homely? Was she handicapped in a way? Did she stutter? Was she blind in one eye? Did she have crippling arthritis in one? We don't know. We have no idea. There's no description of that whatsoever.
Another thing that's not described is her independence. What degree of independence that she has, so important to today's woman. I mean, for this woman in this poem here, that's not even a question. It's not something that even comes up. It wasn't about her independence, it was about the people who depended on her. That's what she thought about.
And also notice it doesn't talk at all about her quote, her knowledge, her education. Was she a very educated woman? Was she not? I mean, did she have formal training of some kind? Nope. These were not mentioned, not because they're not in themselves important, but rather because they did not make her more valuable one way or another.
Would she have been more valuable had the writer said she was very beautiful or she was not very beautiful? Would that have changed her value as an individual? No. Notice, however, what was mentioned as important, her work concerning her responsibility towards her husband and family and community. In New Testament times we've talked about the community, the church. That's her immediate community. Her attitude of kindness and wisdom, that was important to mention. Her confidence and lack of guilt. I love this idea. She smiles at the future. She smiles at the future. I mean, she's not worried about the future and her reward of praise from three groups that she serves, her family, her community and of course God himself who praises her because if you think about it for a moment, he's the one that wrote this poem. He's the one that wrote this poem about the virtuous woman.
So, we have extremes in recognizing women in our society today. Either we have a day that honors only those women that have children, Mother's Day or the various organizations that promote those women who see themselves as feminists, it's like extremes. I want to encourage those women who work hard in raising children, but I want to also include all those women who are striving to become women of valor in our society, regardless of their status. And who are these women in our day and age? Who are the women that are striving for this? They're out there.
Remember I ended my lesson last week about what to look for in a man and I said, these men that I just described, they're out there. They're tall, they're short, they're big, they're whatever, but they're out there, these men. These men that you ought to be saying, well, these women of valor, they're out there. Absolutely. They're out there. They're out there because they are the women who are resisting the pressure from the median society to work only on the outward beauty, but through patient, obedience to Jesus Christ, they're also creating a beautiful inward person.
And I'm not saying that as a cliche, it's almost the punchline to a joke. I want to set you up on a blind date, really? What does she look like? Well, of course, remember I said the first thing we look for is looks, what does she look like? Well, she's a good person. Yeah, yeah, but what does she look like? Oh, but she has a beautiful inward person. Yeah yeah, but what does she look like? And we use that as a joke, but it's not a joke. I would say to that young man if the only thing that the guy says about your blind date is that she's a looker but nothing else, be careful. Because if that's the only thing that she has to commend herself, maybe that thing won't go very far.
Of course, we want to be attractive to other people, but we also want to be attractive to God. And the attraction that lasts a lifetime, we know this, is the attraction that we have from within and not just without, because looks, let's face it.
Women who in a thousand ways every day serve their husbands and or their families, their church, their school, their community. And they do it with a smile and they do it sincerely and they do it with diligence.
What was the thing that the servants saw in Rachel when he was searching for a wife for Jacob, right? What was the thing that amazed him? What was the thing that he asked God? Did he say, okay God, show me the "looker." I'm looking for the looker here cause my boss, he didn't want me to bring home somebody who's ugly. What was the condition he said? The one that comes and offers me water and gives me water and takes care of my camels and my animals. In other words, the one that comes by and offers us service.
And if you read that passage, you notice that she served them eagerly, she was happy to do it. Yes, my Lord, she said, I'm happy to serve you and let me get this for your animals and so on and so forth. So those women are out there, able to serve with a smile and sincerity and diligence. Women whose strongest desire is not to be free and independent, but rather desire to be useful and kind and generous to those who are in need. What a marvelous quality that is.
And of course, women who are keeping themselves pure sexually and ready, not ready just for marriage, if that's what we're talking about, but also ready for the return of the Lord. I tell people, especially young unmarried people, who told you that you're going to get married before Jesus returns. Maybe he'll come back before you have a chance to get married. Won't you be happy that you've prepared yourself not only for marriage, but you've prepared yourself for him?
So we have many such women. Of course, they're out there, but they're in our congregation as well. And our young men should take careful note of this lesson and review it seriously because I think a lot of times, their criteria for finding wives is based more on worldly ideas hatched in Hollywood than godly ideas found in scripture. It's the scripture that teaches us how to stay married for life. Hollywood never teaches us how to stay married for life. That's not the message.
So for these women here, whether they are married or widowed or they're single or they're unmarried or they have children or they have no children, I pray that God will bless you as true women of valor. And I also pray that as the precious jewels that you are, you will shine forth among all others and receive the reward of praise that you so richly deserve for being Christian women of valor. That is a valid objective to shoot for and one that brings reward.