Trying on Hats with Proverbs 31 Woman

The woman described in Proverbs 31 is meant to be the ideal, but she’s an object of ridicule among dedicated Christian women. At the same time, we ask her to wear a lot of hats. She is regularly called upon to endorse our preferences.

I have heard one too many times from theologians, from well-known pastors, from other women, that the woman in Proverbs 31 had a career outside the home. I cannot find the evidence.

My point is not to object to wives having careers. Our cultural and economic context is very different than that of the Old Testament era society described in the Book of Proverbs.  But let us refrain from misusing Biblical text.  Let’s let Scripture say what it says, and not press it into our service. There may be Scripture to support our career choices; I just do not find that support in Proverbs 31.

Does the woman in Proverbs 31 have a career?

Can we take a look together?

A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
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.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Certainly no one can deny that this woman works. She is quite busy at home. She is such a diligent, efficient, committed worker that she seems to do the work of several people. Mentally walk through what she is doing. When exactly do you find time in there for her to go to a job? Between “…her lamp does not go out at night”…and…”she gets up while it is still night…?”

So where is the career in this proverb? Is it this?

She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

She is the wife-manger of her husband’s estate.  An estate would include a home, the property where the home is located, and the fields where food is grown, animals are pastured, and other agrarian products might be produced, all for the provision and wealth of the owner’s family.

She is the manager of all she surveys.  She possesses the trust of her husband and her community, and the prerogative to increase the wealth of her estate. She buys more property to add to her family farm.  This makes her an independent real estate agent?

Or is it that we’re so addicted to the trope that says that ancient women were subservient and socially powerless that we are blind to the plain meaning here: she, as a faithful homemaker-wife, is a respected woman of social standing with perfect freedom to manage the household estate and broker a land purchase in the marketplace?

Is it this the career?

She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.

I use some skills I picked up in art college to create handmade books. I hope to grow my tiny tiny micro business into a small business in the next few years. I do it all at home. I do not receive a paycheck. I do not spend my days assigned to a different location than my home. I do not observe company hours or union rules. And most importantly, I do not work for a boss.

Mrs. Proverbs 31 does not answer to any “boss” but her husband. 

The woman in Proverbs 31 excels at sewing.  She creates garments for everyone in her household so that they are properly, modestly dressed and warm in winter. In addition, she is such a diligent worker that she designs and sews sashes which she then sends to the marketplace to be sold.  She even ingratiates herself with the merchants who will offer her products for sale by gifting them with beautiful sashes. This has been a common practice of homesteaders, farmer’s wives, and colonists throughout human history. This makes her a businesswoman with a career?

She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.

Picture her sitting in front of the household accounts at night after everyone else is in bed.

I just can’t find that outside-the-home job in this passage. If you find it, please let me know.

This woman, and by extension her family, profits from the overflow of her domestic activity.  She is doing all these things anyway; she is diligent enough to go beyond the bare minimum and God rewards her industry. This is the home overflowing out into the world, not the world (job) inserting itself into the home, nor her leaving her home to work for another interest.

She opens her arms to the poor, and extends her hands to the needy.” Charity does indeed begin at home. God’s design for the family home was a generous center of industry and benevolent influence radiating out into the local community. The wealth she produces benefits the local community by spreading the wealth in trade with other homes and merchants. She is extending her wealth out into her community in charitable work. And she is sending that wealth outward by discipling the next generation to go out into the world and into the future.

This woman is a wife and mother who works tirelessly toward the betterment of her family’s estate. She feathers her nest, she builds up her home. I  do not see any evidence whatsoever in the passage which places this woman under the authority of a boss not her husband, or transplanting her energy and effort to another sphere outside her home, non-inclusive of her home.

Read it over again. Don’t we have to devalue her hard work at home in order to insist that she have a career in addition to her homemaking?  Is it because the work done by a woman in her home, for her home, isn’t perceived as being hard work? Or “real” work? Or significant work?

Let’s find other sources of blessing on our lifestyle choices. Proverbs 31 Woman is busy enough without putting on all the hats we need her to wear. Or are we trying to wear hers?

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6 thoughts on “Trying on Hats with Proverbs 31 Woman

  1. insanitybytes22

    Really well said, thank you. I laughed at this, “Mrs. Proverbs 31 does not answer to any “boss” but her husband.” That would make a great bumper sticker.

    I know my grandmas and great grandmas always worked, and so do all the elderly women I know, to this day, but the work they do revolves around their homes, their community, their churches.

    I’ve known a lot of career women in my time and the problem is we’re often trying to force a round peg into a square hole, which eventually makes us unhappy. Women in general are simply happier with home, hearth, and family. Most of us are more relationship, culture, and service oriented. We’re not supposed to say that in today’s PC climate, but it’s true and it’s a good thing that women are nurturers, mothers, teachers, nurses. Money is wonderful, but it just isn’t love and it doesn’t keep you warm in your old age.

    As to that Proverbs 31 woman, the part that always drives me crazy, I seem to be lacking those female servants? What’s with that?? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. madblog Post author

      Well said yourself.
      I know, right? I don’t know when we agreed to be homemakers extraordinaire with the home, kids, homeschooling, ETC…when women throughout history who managed “estates” and big homes had servants! What were we thinking?

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  2. wordsofgoldblog

    Great post! I’ve heard this career woman excuse so many times! It’s even been used against me before. Thanks for simply breaking it down verse by verse. I too cannot see Mrs. P31 leaving her home either.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. madblog Post author

      Thanks! Understand, I’m not making a case here that we shouldn’t work, but just that the evidence that this ideal Biblical woman worked outside the home is not here.
      Only a cursory reading and a cultural preference will tell you that she did!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  3. lang3063

    The job of building a home and family is just way too big for one kind of person. All those characteristics we used to have sense enough to ascribe to men and women are needed to do it well. Proverbs 31 tells us how highly God values the woman who loves what He loves and how He rewards those who live according to His good design. It gets right back to the issue of God’s promise of abundance vs. our drive to control everything because we don’t trust Him and fear scarcity.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  4. madblog Post author

    There is a really good point-by-point exegesis of this passage re: the working-outside-the-home issue by Mary Pride in her amazing book, The Way Home. Or it might be in the sequel, All the Way Home. I haven’t read it for awhile but it definitely set me right early in my marriage.
    I highly recommend these two books for all Christian women who are married.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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