“Who Can Find a Virtuous Woman?”
“Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool and flax and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night and giveth meat to her household and a portion to her maidens.” (Proverbs 31:10-15).
Among 600 representative Americans who nominated 200 different women in a ballot for “the most interesting woman in America,” one vote should have attracted nation-wide attention… A solitary individual had the temerity [boldness, audacity] to declare that woman attains her highest ideals when, forsaking the roar of business, the mud-slinging of politics, and the clash of other careers, she marries, settles down to make a home, proves herself a helpful wife, and cheerfully assumes the responsibilities and blessings of motherhood. These, we may believe, were the sentiments of the person who, at the end of a formidable list of nominations for the stars of first magnitude in the heavens of femininity, dared to propose as “the most interesting woman in America” none other than “a successful mother.” This nomination should be seconded and the election made unanimous; for “a successful mother” is not only the most interesting, but also the most valuable woman in our nation. The glory of consecrated womanhood is clearly emphasized in the Scriptures, particularly in the closing verses of the ode to godly mothers found in the last chapter of Proverbs. (Dr. Walter A. Maier, For Better Not for Worse, CPH, 1935, p. 470)
Proverbs 31:10-31, “called the A-B-C of a virtuous woman, on account of the fact that it is an acrostic in the original Hebrew, each succeeding verse beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is well worthy to be memorized by every Christian woman, and especially every Christian wife, as containing the ideal of the Lord Himself” (P. E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, Old Testament, Vol. II, St. Louis, 1923, p. 260).
In our Mother’s Day meditation we shall examine Proverbs 31:10-15 under two main points: First, a Christian mother is a virtuous woman. Second, a Christian mother is an industrious homemaker.
The Holy Ghost begins our title-text with the question which gives us the title for this article: “Who can find a virtuous woman?” (v. 10a). Who can find a woman of moral strength, integrity and virtue, a woman who has the ability to do her job well, in a God-pleasing manner? One such woman that we find in the Scriptures is Ruth. Regarding this fine lady Boaz testifies: “All the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman” (Ruth 3:11). How did Ruth become a virtuous woman? Was she born with virtue? Of course not. Every human being is thoroughly infected with original guilt and depravity: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6a), that is, sinful. No one is born virtuous. A person is called to virtue when he is converted and renewed by the Gospel. The Apostle Peter says: “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, according as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and Godliness through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue, whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue” (II Peter 1:2-5a). By the exceeding great and precious promises of the Gospel of Christ, namely, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in His blood and righteousness, we are converted to saving Christian faith; and a new spiritual nature is created in us. We are called to faith by God’s grace. We are to live by faith, adding to our faith virtue, by living according to the New Man and resisting and suppressing the Old Adam by God’s power. Not that we are ever entirely successful in this task, even for a minute, but we strive after perfection out of thankfulness and gratitude for our full, free salvation in Christ. We daily sin much in our struggle; but, before God for the sake of Christ, our sins are forgiven; our works are covered in Jesus’ blood and righteousness and thus are considered virtuous for His sake. Therefore, a “virtuous” woman is a Christian woman, a sinner who, by the grace of God, despairs of all self-worth and merit before God, simply clings to Jesus’ blood and righteousness for salvation, and serves God out of thankfulness for His gift of eternal life in Christ.
Are you looking for a wife? Seek a virtuous, Christian woman. For the Proverbs assure us: “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband; but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones” (12:4). A Godly wife, though perhaps plain by the world’s outward standards, is a crown of glory and happiness to her husband, devoted, faithful, caring, loving, and, above all, a Christian!
How much is such a rare woman worth? Beyond the price of precious gemstones, for “her price is far above rubies,” our title-text declares (v. 10b). Yea, such an one is priceless, for she cannot be purchased or bought; she is a gracious gift of God alone. Proverbs 19 states: “House and riches are the inheritance of fathers; and a prudent wife is from the Lord” (v. 14).
So let the women of the world parade around as if they were priceless — a Godly woman is worth more than all of them put together. This is the judgment of Almighty God on the matter. Peter, a married man himself, writing under the direct word-for-word inspiration of God the Holy Ghost, writes: “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the Word be won by the conversation [behavior] of the wives, while they behold your chaste conversation [behavior] coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands” (I Peter 3:1-5). Yes, “the hidden man of the heart,” the “New Man” in the Christian woman, contains a meek and quiet spirit, which is, in the sight of God, of great price.
Such a wife has the implicit trust of her husband as Proverbs 31 records: “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil” (v. 11). Many men simply don’t trust their wives. Others trust their wives even though their wives are not trustworthy. But the husband of a Godly wife can trust his wife in every way without fear or worry. Certainly trust is a necessary foundation for a good marriage. A Godly wife is trustworthy by the grace and power of God, who works in her both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
Since she is trustworthy, the husband “shall have no need of spoil.” When the head of the house, the husband, delegates certain responsibilities to his helper, his wife, he need not fear that she will bring him and the family into ruin. He knows, for example, that she is not like the covetous women of the world who live to spend money. He has a woman who believes the Scripture, which says: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Timothy 6:6). He can trust her in money matters, in raising the children, in the various domestic duties she has, and in her own sexual chastity. He knows that, by the grace and power of God, she will be a faithful steward in all these areas.
The husband knows, as our title-text declares, that “she will do him good and not evil all the days of her life” (v. 12). A virtuous wife puts her husband and family first among her temporal concerns and responsibilities. She knows that God will bless her and take care of her needs as she ministers to her family. She is not, as the women of this world, ruthlessly pursuing her own so-called “fulfillment” at the expense of spouse, children and home. She is truly concerned about the needs of her husband and demonstrates her love in concrete acts, “[doing] him good and not evil.” Her love is more than words; it is evident in her deeds. Her faith works by love. God works in her (Philippians 2:13), producing the fruit of the Spirit in her daily life. By the Gospel she is enabled by God to love her husband in thoughts, words, and deeds, motivated by God’s love to her, as the Gospel assures every sinner: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10). God’s Son took our punishment, atoning for our sins and appeasing God’s holy wrath against us forever! He did it all, fulfilling the Law for righteousness and paying the ransom price for sin. A true Christian gives heed to this exhortation: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (I John 4:11). Thus a Christian wife loves her husband and shows her love by willing obedience: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24).
The love of a Christian wife is lifelong, “all the days of her life.” She is faithful to her marriage vow in good times and bad, in sickness and health; yea, she continues to honor her husband all the days of her life! She guides the house and takes care of their children with such obvious devotion that even her “adversary,” one who is looking for an occasion to be critical of her, dare not “speak reproachfully” (I Timothy 5:14). And she will continue to care for their children, their “heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3), even after the bond of marriage has been dissolved by her husband’s death.
A Christian mother also shows her love to her husband, to their children, and above all to God, by being an industrious homemaker: “She seeketh wool and flax and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships: She bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night and giveth meat to her household and a portion to her maidens” (vv. 13-15). A Christian wife and mother, according to the New Man within her, is not indolent, lazy or slothful, but rather attentive, industrious and hardworking. Motivated and constrained by the love of her Savior (II Corinthians 5:14; Philippians 4:13), she applies herself to her God-given tasks, duties, and responsibilities with diligence. She applies herself to the work God created for her: To be “an help meet for [her husband]” (Genesis 2:18), a Godly wife, mother and homemaker — “all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).
Listen to God’s view about marriage and motherhood: “I will… that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house” (I Timothy 5:14). “Teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:4-5). A truly “virtuous woman,” a Christian wife and mother, guides the house based on God’s Word. She knows that, “having food and [clothing],” Christians should be content (I Timothy 6:8); so she seeks to provide her loved ones with the very best of these basic necessities as the Lord’s gift of “daily bread” allows. The Holy Ghost tells us in our title-text that she seeks “wool,” the staple material for the manufacture of clothing in those days, and “flax,” a plant, the fiber of which is still used to make linen cloth. And, after finding these raw materials, she “worketh willingly with her hands.” She is personally involved in clothing and feeding her family. Being a wife, mother and homemaker is hard work, period! Anyone who doubts this should try it, not only as a day’s experiment or in a home economics class, but as a day-to-day career. But a truly “virtuous,” Christian woman approaches her task “willingly,” literally with delight and desire. She cheerfully approaches her daily chores and finds her delight in performing them to the best of her ability, “do[ing] it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; …for [she] serves the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).
“She is like the merchants’ ships.” This virtuous woman hunts far and wide for the best food bargains and the highest quality. Like a merchant ship, she brings what is needed “from afar,” sometimes having to travel some distance to find them. This often requires rising early to meet the demands of her household; so she gets out of bed to start her long day“ while it is yet night” to provide food for the entire household. In ancient times, large households included “maidens” and other servants and staff for whom the “virtuous woman” was responsible. Today, however, “maidens” have generally been replaced with modern technological equivalents, modern equipment that helps a mother accomplish her household duties.
If you are a wife and mother and are reading about this “virtuous” Christian woman, you may be comparing yourself unfavorably to this Scriptural ideal. Do you feel guilty that you are not measuring up to the ideal Christian wife and mother, the perfect homemaker described in Proverbs 31? This is not at all out of order; “for there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). No one, not even the Christian in his life of sanctification, achieves perfection according to the rule of God’s Law and attains to the goal for which he is to strive (Isaiah 64:6; cf. Philippians 3:12), for how things should be. Since her calling demands a 24-hour schedule and an astounding array of diverse skills and responsibilities, a wife, mother and homemaker may see her failures more pointedly than a single woman; for her job has a way of revealing shortcomings by its very nature. A truly Christian (and therefore “virtuous”) wife, mother and homemaker should therefore humbly recognize and confess her numerous sins and shortcomings, many of which are shared by her Christian sisters in the world, sincerely repent of them, and flee in confidence to God’s mercy in Christ Jesus for forgiveness (Luke 18:13), as well as for the strength to live better day by day unto her Savior (II Corinthians 5:15).
How can you accomplish this? First of all, drink deeply of the refreshing water of the Gospel: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. And He is the Propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2). Remember: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). God forgives you, daily and richly, for Jesus’ sake! And then rely upon His grace not only for forgiveness but also for the strength to bear in your weakness the trials and tribulations that often accompany your calling (II Corinthians 12:9) and to live better “unto Him which died for [you] and rose again” (II Corinthians 5:15), turning to God’s Word for guidance in your calling: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Finally, flee from all anxiety in your life and gratefully pray to the God of all grace for help in all of your endeavors: “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Thus you will be and remain a truly “virtuous woman” to the praise of His grace and to the glory of His name.
— E. J. W.