In my early days of ministry, I worked with college students. Many wanted to know what the Bible says about the kind of spouse they should be looking for. I remember having a group of students in our home one evening to walk through Proverbs 31. I described the “P31 woman” and told them, “This passage sets the biblical standard for married women.”
As I taught, one woman in the group was visibly shocked, like a deer in headlights. Another woman hung her head low. I didn’t know it at the time, but I see now that I had misused the Bible to set an unrealistic bar. I’d put a painful burden on some women there. I wish now I could go back to tell that group, “This passage is about so much more than the ideal wife.”
Problems with My Interpretation
What’s wrong with the “ideal wife” interpretation of Proverbs 31? There are at least three things.
First, there’s an audience problem. Proverbs wasn’t originally written to women to instruct them on how they should live. Solomon’s original audience was young royal boys who would grow to rule as part of the Israelite nobility. If the passage isn’t written to women, it’s wrong for us to see it primarily as a tool to teach wives how to act.
Second, there’s a context problem. In the context of the book as a whole, the passage most likely describes Lady Wisdom. Throughout Proverbs, the sage has personified godly wisdom for young men as an attractive model woman. Chapter 31 provides the most desirable picture in the book: the perfect wife. But the purpose of this passage isn’t to put the spotlight on wifely perfection, but on Lady Wisdom, who is even better.
Third, there’s a problem with our assumption. Even if you didn’t know anything about the audience or the context, just look at all this woman does! She’s perfect in every way. She beats the sun out of bed in the morning to make food for her husband and all their servants. She stays up all night making merchandise to sell the next morning. She’s both a night owl and an early bird! She makes the food, makes the clothes, earns the money, and deals with the kids. It makes you wonder what in the world was left for the husband to do! The “ideal wife” interpretation of Proverbs 31 assumes it’s possible to find the perfect spouse in our fallen world. But it’s not. . . apart from Christ.
Why would Solomon produce a whole book about pursuing wisdom and finish it by saying, ‘Now, go marry Wonder Woman!’? That’s not his point.
Why would Solomon produce a whole book about pursuing wisdom and finish it by saying, “Now, go marry Wonder Woman!”? That’s not his point. The main purpose of Proverbs 31 is to show how incredible godly wisdom is. Solomon pleads with young men to desire wisdom the way they desire the perfect wife.
Solomon’s metaphorical wife shows us just how amazing wisdom is. Wisdom is more precious than jewels (31:10). Treasure gives us purchasing power and security. Jewels can get us houses, vacations, fine food, and quality clothes. But wisdom can purchase what no jewel can.
Wisdom affords emotional and spiritual security (3:24), good decision-making skills (12:8), honor and esteem from those around us (31:23), the ability to be a good father or mother (22:6), trust from our spouse (31:11), and the ability to do good and bless those around us (31:12). Wisdom can purchase us the ability to get sober (23:20), to forgive (17:9), and to love more deeply (10:12). It can give us a clean conscience and a good night’s sleep (3:24).
Wisdom blesses the whole household. When wisdom abounds, work is carried out more diligently (31:15) and finances are handled more profitably (31:16). Wisdom dresses herself in strength, offering you protection (31:17). Then at night when you go to sleep, wisdom does not (31:18). She continues to watch over you because her lamp doesn’t go out. Even the best wife needs a break, but Lady Wisdom does not.
Lady Wisdom not only blesses her household but her community as well. She benefits the poor and needy (31:20) and offers those around her protection from the harsh winter weather (31:21). Lady Wisdom brings honor to those who embrace her. Just being in a relationship with her gains you esteem in your city (31:23). She’s kind and caring (31:26), lifting up and restoring those around her.
Where Is Wisdom Found?
Lady Wisdom doesn’t only show young men the value of being wise. Her perfection foreshadows our wisdom from God: Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30).
Lady Wisdom doesn’t only show young men the value of being wise. Her perfection foreshadows our wisdom from God: Jesus Christ.
Who else works for you around the clock, even as you sleep (Rom. 8:34)? Who else offers you something more valuable than jewels (John 14:6)? Who else denies himself that you may be blessed (Phil. 2:7)? Who else takes on burdens so you may be praised (1 Pet. 2:24)? Who else perfectly fears the Lord in a praiseworthy way (Matt. 3:17)? Who else brings us all these blessings, just from being in a relationship with him (John 3:16)? Who took the shame of God’s wrath on the cross so we might be praised by God at the eternal gates (2 Cor. 5:21)? Only Jesus!
Does this mean there’s nothing for a wife to learn in Proverbs 31? No, there’s much here for wives, husbands, children, and singles. All who embrace Lady Wisdom through Jesus Christ will be blessed in this life and the next. Hear Solomon’s pleas at the climactic ending of his book: Embrace wisdom. Don’t just take her for a time. Commit your life to her the way a man would the perfect wife.
The Gospel Coalition