Proverbs 2) A Wise Woman

A Wise Woman

Text: Proverbs 31:10-31

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Last week we started our new series on Proverbs and finding wisdom for everyday life. And since today is Mother’s Day I decided to pick Proverbs 31:10-31, which is all about being a wise woman. And the key verse for this morning is verse 30, ‘30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Prov 31:30)’ The whole point of our passage today is that wisdom is found not in what the world has to say about being a woman, or a wife, or a mother, but in what God says about those things. This morning we’re going to take a look at what doesn’t make a woman wise, what does make her wise, and the benefits of being wise.

But before we do that I just want to say 4 things about our passage in general.

1. A Heroic Hymn

Firstly, our passage is more than just a poem, it’s a heroic hymn. It’s helpful to remember that primarily the book of Proverbs is written from a father to a son. It’s written primarily for men. And when you get to this poem about women, it doesn’t fit into the genre of romantic poems, this isn’t the Song of Songs, there’s no weird allusion to doves, pomegranates, or cute fluffy baby fawns. No this is a man’s poem, it talks about a noble woman, or a woman of strength. This woman is in a battle with the world, she is defined by hard work, by her strong arms, be her fearlessness and her confidence. Typically this sort of poem celebrates the victory of a soldier, but here it celebrates the sort of woman a man could really be impressed by.

2. An Acrostic Poem

Secondly, it’s an acrostic poem, which means that each line starts with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. One commentator calls it ‘the alphabet of wifely excellence.’ It’s meant to give the sense that we are reading a complete and ordered description of a wise woman. If you want to know what a wise woman looks like than this is it, this is all you need to know.

3. The place in the Hebrew Canon

Thirdly, it’s interesting to note where this passage fits into the Hebrew Canon. You see in the Hebrew Bible the books are all in different orders, ours tends to be more chronological, whereas the Hebrew Bible is more topical. And in the Hebrew Bible this description of a noble woman, is immediately followed by the Book of Ruth, and it’s interesting that Ruth is described as ‘11 …a woman of noble character. (Ruth 3:11b)’ And then after Ruth comes the Song of Songs, in which a woman is not only the main speaker, but who also initiates the relationship between her and her husband. All three are about women, and it’s interesting that they’re nothing like the sort of women we would expect in a male dominated society. Rather they are women of great strength, and that strength is not only celebrated, it is encouraged.

4. The Male Counterpart (Psalm 112)

Finally, while this poem focuses on a wise woman, most of what we learn in this passage also applies to men. In fact, if you want to read a male counterpart to this passage it’s Psalm 112. It pretty much teaches the same things as our passage this morning, except it’s shorter, probably so the blokes don’t get too overwhelmed, either that or describing the perfect woman just takes more time.

 

1) What doesn’t make a Wise Woman (v30a)

Anyway, let’s get into the text, and let’s start by looking at what doesn’t make a wise woman. The Book of Proverbs contains a fair bit about what doesn’t make a wise woman, things like being quarrelsome and being unfaithful, but here in our text it mentions only two, and it’s interesting what they are.

a) Charm

The first one is charm. Our text says, ‘30 Charm is deceptive… (Prov 31:30a)’ You would think that a charming wife would be a positive, and charm in general is spoken of in a positive way in Proverbs. So what’s wrong with being charming? And the answer is charm maybe superficial, it’s something that a woman projects outside herself. And the danger of charm is that it may be deceptive, charm may hide a nasty personality. Some women use charm to cover up what they’re really like. In fact, elsewhere men are warned against the charms of women. For example, ‘3 …the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, 4 but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. (Prov 5:3-4)’ And later it mentions ‘24 …the smooth tongue of the wayward wife. (Prov 6:24b)’ and ‘5 …her seductive words. (Prov 7:5c)’ Being charming isn’t the way of a wise woman, and we’ll see why in a moment.

b) Beauty

Secondly, beauty doesn’t make a woman wise. Our text puts it pretty blunt, ‘30 …beauty is fleeting… (Prov 31:30b)’ In the Hebrew it’s even stronger, ‘beauty is meaningless.’ It’s the same word that’s used nearly 40 times in Ecclesiastes, ‘2 Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. (Ecc 1:2)’ And one of those meaningless things is beauty. The world would disagree. As far as our society is concerned, beauty is everything. If you’re not beautiful you’re not valuable. If you don’t have clear skin, and long legs, and a stick thin figure, and long lashes, and pouty lips, and flowing hair, and on and on the list goes. But our text says, beauty is fleeting, beauty doesn’t last, and therefore in the scheme of things beauty isn’t important. It’s not saying there’s anything wrong with being beautiful, but just that a wise woman doesn’t pursue beauty. She does not see her value in how beautiful she is.

And what makes these two things so amazing is that this was mostly likely written by a bloke, to other blokes, about the sort of woman that they should find desirable, and what’s most desirable in a woman is not their charm or their beauty.

 

2) What makes a Wise Woman

So what does make a woman wise? If it’s not her charm and her beauty, what is it that makes a woman desirable?

a) Fear of the Lord (v30b)

Well firstly, and most importantly, it’s the fear of the Lord. Our key verse puts it so well, ‘30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Prov 31:30)’ What makes a woman wise is understanding her place in the universe, that she was made by God in order to honour and worship him. A wise woman understands that all of her life flows out of her love and commitment to God. Like we saw last week, the writer uses the covenantal name for God here, Yahweh. This is the God who not only made the universe, but who entered into a covenantal relationship with his people, who promised to be their God, to care for them, to love them, and guide them; if they would be his people, if they would honour him and obey him and serve him. A wise woman is one who fears the Lord. This morning if you don’t have a relationship with God then you need to wise up, repent of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ, because only by believing in Jesus’ death on the cross can your sins be forgiven and you can be reconciled with God. According to the Bible the most attractive thing a woman can do is fear the Lord. The truly beautiful women are those who love Jesus.

b) A Godly Character (v25-27)

Secondly, a wise woman has a godly character. Our text calls her ‘a noble woman,’ she has a noble character. In fact, our text puts it as a question, ‘10 A wife of noble character who can find? (Prov 31:10a)’ And as we’re about to see you may be tempted to answer ‘No one, because she doesn’t exist!’ And if you’re thinking that, don’t panic, because you are right to think that. What this passage is doing is describing an ideal, this is an image of the perfect woman. So husbands don’t use this passage to critique your wife and say ‘You don’t measure up!’ If you do they might quote Psalm 112 back at you and say the same. This is a portrait of the ideal woman. It doesn’t embody any one woman but the attributes of many. And at her very core she is a woman of character. Verse 25 says, ‘25 She is clothed with strength and dignity… (Prov 31:25a)’ It’s interesting that this almost exact phrase appears two other times in the Bible referring to God.  Psalm 104 says that God is ‘1 …clothed with splendor and majesty. (Ps 104:1c)’ And God says to Job that if he wants to be God then, ‘10 …clothe yourself in honor and majesty. (Job 40:10)’ The word ‘majesty’ in those verses is the same word as dignity in our passage. The point is that a woman who fears the Lord reflects God’s character. A woman who fears the Lord is beautiful, not because she is physically attractive, but because she has a Christ-like character. A woman’s majesty, her splendour, is in how she mirrors Jesus. The Apostle Peter says this about wives, ‘3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Pet 3:3-4)’ The beauty of a wise woman comes from within, from her gentle and quiet spirit.

c) Proven by her actions

But a godly character isn’t some abstract thing that you have, it’s something that you prove by your actions. And that’s where the bulk of this passage focuses. In fact that’s the bulk of what the whole book of Proverbs focuses on - how the fear of the Lord, how a godly character, works itself out in practical everyday ways. I’m going to group the actions of a wise woman under three headings.

i) She works hard

Firstly, a wise woman who fears the Lord and has a godly character works hard. Verse 13 says, ‘13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. (Prov 31:13)’ And notice she doesn’t just work, but she works eagerly, she actually finds pleasure in hard work. Verse 17 says, ‘17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. (Prov 31:17)’ This woman isn’t a weak, frail thing, she is a strong capable woman. And if you think this is just a domestic picture think again, because this woman is a shrewd business person. Verse 16 says, ‘16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. (Prov 31:16)’ And in verse 24 ‘24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. (Prov 31:24)’ She’s into manufacturing and property development. You may be wondering where she finds the time to do all of this. Well our text says she doesn’t sleep very much. Verse 15 says, ‘15 She gets up while it is still dark… (Prov 31:15a)’ and verse 18 says ‘18 …her lamp does not go out at night. (Prov 31:18b)’ This is one hard working woman.

ii) She provides for her family

And she works so hard in order to provide for her family. According to our text ‘14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. (Prov 31:14)’ By the way guys, don’t tell your wife she’s like a merchant ship, it probably won’t go down well. But the point is that she provides food for her family, even if it means going a long way to get it. She buys wool and flax so that she can provide bedding and clothing for her family, so that ‘21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. (Prov 31:21)’ Verse 27 nicely sums up these two points, ‘27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. (Prov 31:27)’ A woman who fears the Lord, a woman of godly character works hard in order to provide for her family.

iii) She helps the needy

Thirdly, a woman who fears God also looks beyond her family and helps the needy. Verse 20, ‘20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. (Prov 31:20)’ Just as she understands how God has provided for her and her family, so she provides for others.

I want to ask you women here this morning: how wise are you? Firstly, do you fear the Lord? Do you have a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ? Secondly, do you have a godly character? Does your beauty come from within? Don’t get distracted by superficial things like charm and outward beauty, rather focus on the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. Thirdly, does your fear of God work itself out through your actions? Do you work hard to provide for your family and help those in need?

 

3) The Benefits of being a Wise Wisdom

A woman isn’t wise because of her charm or her beauty, but because she fears the Lord, because she has a godly character that works itself out through her actions. But what are the benefits of being such a woman? Because to be honest, it sounds like a lot of hard work! I don’t know about you but I get exhausted just reading this passage. Well there are four benefits to being a wise woman.

a) She is a Blessing to Others

Firstly, a wise woman is a blessing to others.

i) To her husband (v11-12,23)

Beginning with her husband. Our text says, ‘11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. (Prov 31:11-12)’ In the original Hebrew it’s even stronger. Remember how I mentioned this is a heroic hymn? Well in the Hebrew a literal translation would be ‘Her husband entrusts his heart to her, and he does not lack plunder.’ Now before you get all soppy about the idea of your husband pouring out their heart to you, in Hebrew the heart doesn’t stand for emotions, but rather your core personality. Basically the NIV is right, it’s all about the husband having absolute confidence in his wife. But the second part the NIV doesn’t get quite right. It’s not picturing the wife as a business woman who adds value to the marriage, but more as a warrior princess who in the battle of life goes out and fights on behalf of her family and returns home with the spoils of war. How many of you men think of your wife as a warrior princess? But the point is that the wife blesses her husband. In verse 23 it suggests that because of her efforts, ‘23 Her husband is respected at the city gate… (Prov 31:23a)’

ii) To her family

Secondly, she is a blessing to her family. Because of her hard work, her family is well feed and well clothed. They aren’t afraid of cold weather because they are dressed in warm clothes. Because she looks out for the welfare of her family, her children are well-cared for.

iii) To others

Thirdly, she is a blessing to others, particularly the needy and the destitute. She reaches out her hands to help others. She is a blessing even to those outside her family.

So I want to ask you again, ladies, are you a blessing to others? Wives are you a blessing to your husband? Do you add to his life? Do you work for his good?  Are you a blessing to your children? Are you a blessing to people outside of your home? The first benefit of being a wise woman is how you benefit others.

b) She gains Confidence

The second benefit of being a wise woman is that it brings confidence. The second half of verse 25 says that a wise woman, ‘25 …can laugh at the days to come. (Prov 31:25b)’ It’s not that she knows the future, or that she doesn’t expect trials and difficulties to come, but because she fears the Lord, she knows that her future is secure. A wise woman is confident because she knows that her future is in God’s hands. A wise woman is confident because she knows that her security and her self-worth aren’t found in her charm, or her beauty, or in her wisdom, but in God. If you fear the Lord, no matter what happens in life, you can know this unshakeable confidence.

c) She gains Wisdom

The third benefit in being a wise woman is gaining wisdom. Our passage says that a wise woman, ‘26 …speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. (Prov 31:26)’ A woman who fears the Lord has something worth passing on to others. When a wise woman gives ‘faithful instruction,’ she is really sharing what she has learned and experienced in her relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A wise woman passes on what she has learned throughout her faith journey to others.

d) She receives Praise

Finally, a wise woman receives praise. The writer isn’t suggesting that you become wise so you can be praised, rather he’s saying that it is one of the benefits, or rewards, of being a wise woman.

i) From her children

Firstly, a wise woman receives praise from her children. Verse 28, ‘28 Her children arise and call her blessed… (Prov 31:28a)’ Now that might not always be our experience, especially if you have teenagers. In fact, often children take their parents for granted. But generally, if you lovingly care for your family, if you are an example of godly character, if you fear the Lord, your kids will be blessed and will respond with blessing. So a word to the kids this morning, make sure you tell your mum how much you appreciate her. Tell her how much you appreciate her hard work, how she cares for you, how she provides food and clothes and a clean home. And tell her how much you appreciate the way she loves Jesus and how she teaches you about Jesus, and how to live for Jesus.

ii) From her husband

Secondly, a wise woman receives praise from her husband. Verse 28 continues, ‘28 …her husband also [calls her blessed], and he praises her: 29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” (Prov 31:28b-29)’ There you go blokes, if you can’t think of a good compliment there’s one right there, just tell your wife that she surpasses every other woman, “there are plenty of great woman in this world, but you are best.” Proverbs 18 says, ‘22 He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord. (Prov 18:22)’ Men, do you realize what you have in your wife? Do you understand that she is a gift from God? Do you appreciate just how good you’ve got it? Whatever you do, don’t forget to tell her – praise your wife!

iii) From others

Finally, a wise woman receives praise from others. This whole passage ends with the words, ‘31 Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (Prov 31:31)’ A woman who has lived her life in the fear of the Lord, who has pursued godliness, who has faithfully served her husband, her family, and people in need, deserves the praise of others. Such a woman benefits society and ought to be held in honour.

 

This morning, as we celebrate Mother’s Day, I want to encourage the mums in particular to become wise women. Don’t get sucked in by the world’s wisdom and work on your charm, or define yourself by physical beauty, rather fear the Lord, and pursue ‘the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.’ Pursue a godly character that is seen in your hard work as you provide for your family and people in need. Be a blessing to those around you, be confident in the Lord, and share the wisdom you have received as you follow Jesus Christ. And may your kids bless you, okay kids? And may your husband praise you, okay husbands? Amen.

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