May 13, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 14:35 in the audio file.
Or, An Oracle from the Queen Mother
It may seem an odd place to start for a message about women on Mother’s Day, but consider Proverbs 22:29.
Do you see a man skillful in his work?
He will stand before kings;
he will not stand before obscure men.
According to this wisdom, we ought to want our skills to be seen by significant people, like the king. People-pleasing has a place, when we make a good product. A desire to be noticed just for self often kills, but a desire to be noticed is great when we serve with skills.
This is not what we’ve been told as Christians, and sure. God resists the proud and exalts the humble. But even with that, what does it mean to be exalted by God? Is He the only one who sees lifted up? Or does it mean that He may lift us up in the eyes of others?
I wonder if C.S. Lewis might not put it like this: God finds our desires to be recognized not to strong but too weak. We want to be praised for showing up rather than making sacrifices and working with diligence to make something great. We want the profit without the investment, the compliments without the commitment. We want the President’s Award for High Self-Esteem.
Proverbs 22:29 reveals that almost anyone can be known by obscure/unknown men. You’ve got to do something skillful to be seen by the significant. It isn’t that your job has to be unique or special. Just be good at it.
I bring all this up because Proverbs 31, including verses 10-31, are not really written for women. They are written about a woman, a certain kind of woman, so that kings will know what to look for. These verses have much to commend to young women so that they will be the kind of “skillful” and “excellent” women that would make a great queen, but this is also wisdom for young men to pray for a woman like this.
The chapter is written by King Lemuel, from a lesson his Queen Mother taught him (“son of my vows”), and edited into the current form by another king, Solomon, who knew a few girls in his time. Lemuel’s mom, a Queen herself, asks the question every mother does of her son at some point: “What are you doing?” (verse 2). She asks it three times, and then she warns about three king-killers: 1) the wrong women (verse 3), 2) drunkenness and partying (verses 4-7), and 3) injustice toward the weak (verses 8-9).
Then she comes back to the right sort of woman for a wife for 22 verses. Though it isn’t said explicitly, if three things can destroy kings (verse 3), then the right woman makes kings and helps shape a nation. This oracle from the Queen Mother tells her son how to find a Queen Mother for his children.
So again, Proverbs 31 is about how to be admired by kings, because it is what kings should be admiring. It has application for every unmarried man and woman, as well as for every father or mother who hopes to raise wise and skillful men and women.
I’ve heard that some people believe Proverbs 31 is like a collage—a glued together image from many different images—rather than one character, a sticking together of characteristics of different ladies instead of describing one lady. Otherwise it must be an exaggeration, an impossible, unattainable standard.
I believe it is one woman, and I believe that because there is one wife and one husband throughout the whole story. This isn’t “Lady Wisdom,” wisdom personified (as in Proverbs 8). This is a lady wisdom embodied, a woman with a husband sitting in the gates of a city.
I also believe that this is a woman that God-fearing women should think of as a realistic pursuit. She is amazing/skillful/excellent, but she is a prototype based on verses 30-31. Be like this and you will be a woman to be praised. Also, be like this and kings will take note. Both are reasons for the passage.
Let’s read, I’ll tell you her name, we’ll talk about her, and then I’ll also mention some things she isn’t.
We don’t know anything about her childhood, her parents, her hometown, or her early influences. We don’t know how old she is, how many kids she has at this point, or how long it took her to have all of these skills. Proverbs 31 is like a snapshot of a couple seasons of her life. That’s it. We don’t even know her name.
Or do we? Could we give her one? We know her as an “excellent wife.” Both the ESV and the NAS use “excellent.” The KJV uses “virtuous,” and the NRSV has “capable.” The NIV has “noble character.” It’s the Hebrew word khayil, meaning all of the above. At first, I thought her name might be Valory (she who shows great courage in the face of danger).
Then I looked at the LXX and it used andreian which is from a root that means “manly,” so also “virtuous” (vir in Latin). It is not about being male, a “masculine wife” is not attractive. All Hail Queen Bearded Lady. No, being this kind of “manly” is fully human, living up to the image-bearing nature of our created status, here in female form. These are characteristics of a woman who is living up to her full potential. Her name is Andreanna.
The same word describes Ruth (Ruth 3:11, a “worthy” woman) and Proverbs 12:4, an “excellent” women (like Andreanna) is the crown of her husband.
According to this biographical snapshot, she is:
The heart of her husband trusts in her (verse 11)
You can believe what she says, no exaggerations and no lies. You can believe that she’ll keep her promises. Count on her, even in how she spends her time when you can’t see her. Whatever she’s given, whether that’s information or an assignment, she takes care of.
Not only is she characterized by hard work and perseverance, but also working hard to promote an enterprise: her family first, and by extension her community. She has her hands in international commerce and non-local foods.
she is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar (verse 14)
Robert Capon would include how she wields a meat cleaver in the kitchen:
A woman with a cleaver in mid-swing is no mere woman. She breaks upon the eyet of the beholder as an epiphany of power, a mistress of a house in which only trifles may be trifled with–and in which she defines the trifles. A man who has seen women only as gentle arrangers of flowers has not seen all that women have to offer. (Supper of the Lamb, 61)
She has her hands in real estate and small business like a winery.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard (verse 16)
She has her hands in textiles, more than texting (verses 21-22, 24).
all her household is clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
She delivers sashes to the merchant.
She knows math, economics, current events, and foreign products. She “rises while it is yet night and provides food” (verse 15), “her lamp does not go out at night” (verse 18), she “does not eat the bread of idleness” (verse 27). There is “fruit of her hands” (verse 30). She is bearing God’s image in her responsibilities and in her relationships.
She isn’t just giving money for charity, she’s giving of herself. She is not a productive nag on a mission or fussy tyrant. She is dignified (verse 25), hopeful/believing (verse 25), and kind (verse 26).
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue (verse 26)
She finds more than enough for her family as well as for the poor and needy (verse 20).
She opens her hand to the poor
And reaches out her hands to the needy (verse 20)
No one is beneath her, and yet everyone looks up to her.
Imports and exports, buying and investing and making and selling. Not only does she not need to be told what to do, she is taking care of her stuff and people and looking for more. She spend time on Facebook, but it’s to be a blessing not as a digital hiding place from work. She is taking dominion and making disciples. She may have a nice collection of beautiful images on Pinterest, but she has produced far more than a virtual page of pictures.
Here is a one-sentence summary: Andreanna (and her daughters) are always busy procuring and producing for other’s profit and to her praise.
Also very important: these are not things that keep a woman from fearing the LORD, these are the things that a woman who fears the LORD does. This is the fear of the Lord incarnated. A godly woman should not feel guilty because she doesn’t have a two-hour quiet time, or because she “listens” rather than reads the Bible. She fulfills her responsibilities because she is a worshipper.
Okay, a proviso, a stipulated condition: Andreanna was not naturally gifted in all these spheres nor was she immediately successful/excellent in each of these skills.
She took her talents and multiplied them. She recognized her interests and expanded them. She acknowledged her weaknesses and ignorances and set about to learn and get stronger in honing her skills.
This is Christlike. What is He interested in? Not only does that allow you to be interested in many things, it requires you to get more interested.
Part of skill is research (“considers a field”), trial and error, practice (“works with willing hands”), correction, failure, perseverance. Your skills can grow. You can become more “manly,” more fully image bearing than you are now. And you can start now. Today. Make a meal. Baby sit. Make clothes for your dolls. Draw something beautiful. Can you be more trustworthy, industrious, and generous? Of course you can.
You will not wake up Princess Awesome one morning with Prince Charming on a white horse and a mocha in his hands for you.
You do not need to be the best realtor or property mogul with a show on HGTV. You do not need to be the Chief Operating Officer of multiple start up companies. Your apple pie or Amish quilt do not need to win first place at the county fair. But you do need to work hard and creatively and lovingly for others.
Sadly, in our day, many young (Christian) ladies are skillful in much ado about nothing. They tend to be:
These are ways to be a non excellent woman, the Unwoman, Unandreanna. This is what happens to a woman who is not fearing the LORD, who is not beholding her Lord. She becomes like who or what she worships, and she becomes a hollow, two-dimensional image rather than a female image-bearer of God.
Ladies, do you want to be married to a more kingly man or a nobody? If you want to attract a typical, boneheaded guy, then be a typical, petty woman. Fools of a feather date together.
You might not be a queen, but you could be the kind of woman that would make a good queen, the kind of woman that would cause a king to flourish and shape a nation. Or at least your family and the next generation. According to the Queen Mother, there are women who destroy kings (verse 3), so there are women who boost them.
Also, if you know your skills are valuable, don’t let fools handle the merchandise. An “excellent wife” is “far more precious than jewels” (verse 10). Tell them to come back when they know how to handle true hotness. “Put a ring on it.”
Ladies, you want to be prized. So be a prize. Live like a queen like Proverbs 31 describes, not like a self-centered, proud woman.
Guys, you want a woman with long eyelashes who giggles at your idiocy? Or someone who will make kings write poetic wisdom about a woman like yours?
Husbands, thank God for her. Praise her (verses 28-29). “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain
but Andreanna fears the LORD and has mad skills that kings notice.
In Paul’s charge to the Corinthians he wanted the whole church to be Andreannas (Andrews). Using the imperative form of andrizomai, the verb related to the noun, he exhorted, “Act like men.” Men: be men. Women: be excellent, be strong, be praiseworthy. You are called by God to a life of representing Christ by the grace of Christ until the return of Christ. Do all you do in the name of the Lord Christ, and may the King of kings take note.
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. (1 Corinthians 16:13–14, 22–23)