“Who can find a virtuous woman?” or “worthy woman”, or “woman of worth”, as some would read it. The word virtuous here is elsewhere translated ‘worthy’ (see Ruth 4:11; 1 Kings 1:52). It means, according to the lexicons, able, valorous; or embraces, perhaps, something of the meaning of all three words — virtuous, valorous, able. Such a woman who can find? “for her price is far above rubies” — the most precious gem known to the ancients. The acquisition of such a treasure is beyond all price; a wife of this description cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof. It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire. The gold and the crystal cannot equal it; and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls, for she is herself a pearl, and a type of her who is to Christ the “pearl of great price”: His loved and blood-bought Church. The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal the worth of such a woman.
The description of the model wife here is in the form of an acrostic, embracing as it does the whole Hebrew alphabet of twenty-two letters. Christ Himself is “the Alpha and the Omega” (the A to Z, in English), exhausting human language, as it were, in the attempt to tell the infinite glories of His person — His moral excellences, coupled with His might, His majesty, His dominion, His grace, His justice and His truth. And here, in this description of her who is intended to represent His church, His spouse, the whole gamut of the alphabet is run to express her moral and domestic virtues and womanly excellences.
Seven things — the perfect number — are specifically noted of her.
1. Her faithfulness (vv. 11-12);
2. Her industry (vv. 13-15);
3. Her thrift (vv. 16-19);
4. Her benevolence (v. 20);
5. Her providence (vv. 21-25);
6. Her moral excellences (vv. 26-27); and
7. Her reward (vv. 28-31).
Let us briefly note these points of excellence one by one, beginning with the mark of most importance, namely,
HER FAITHFULNESS; faithfulness to her absent lord. “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her.” We say absent husband, for he is evidently considered as being away from home here, and how fittingly this figures our Lord in the time of His absence now from earth. He is, like the nobleman of the parable, gone to a far country to receive for Himself a kingdom and to return, and in His absence His heart can safely trust in her whom He has left to look after His interests till He comes again.
It is His heart, mark, that trusts in her — the seat of the affections. It is not so much His goods and her care for them that He is most concerned about, but her love; this is what He prizes above all. For what would be the industry, the thrift, and all else, without this initial good and basic spring of all the rest?
His heart doth safely trust in her. It is no misplaced confidence — she will not deceive or disappoint him. “She will do him good, and not evil, all the days of her life”.
This loyal wife’s opposite is seen in the woman of impudent face of chapter 7. Her husband, too, was absent: “The good man is not at home” she tells her yielding victim; “he is gone a long journey. He hath taken a bag of money with him, and will come home at the day appointed”. Her husband, too, trusted her, perhaps, but he did not safely trust — she shamefully deceived him. She proved herself untrue, like that which calls itself “the one true church” today, Rome, to an extreme degree, and her Protestant ‘daughters’ in ever-increasing measure. The great harlot of Revelation 17 is the final form of this base betrayal of the temptress.
But where, it may be asked, can this lovely characteristic of faithfulness to Christ be seen today? And a question it must remain, alas! The picture is ideal, collectively; there is not an assembly or body of Christians anywhere on earth that would not be compelled in truthfulness to say, It is not in me.
Yet, let it be the aspiration of the individual soul to answer, in some small measure, at least, to the description, not only of this primary and best-beloved trait of the woman of worth but also in all that follows.
HER INDUSTRY is noted next: “She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchant’s 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”. In Christ Jesus it is “faith which worketh by love”. The loving partner here works ‘willingly’, or with delight, as Young translates it. True love must be active while there is one single need of its object that remains to be met — it must be up and doing for the object of its affections. “The labour of love” is never drudgery, but rather a delight, as here.
The model woman has a house to keep. “Chaste keepers at home”, is the expressed command of God concerning women who would please Him (see Titus 2:5). She does not gad about, engaged in social settlement work, thrusting herself into the public affairs of the world, or demanding equal rights with the men for her sex. Her labours are purely domestic; and it in this circle that she finds her hands happily and ever full, as every true wife and mother most surely will. Food and clothing for her household occupy her fully — the preparation of wool and flax for the distaff and loom, and meat for her household; she apportions work also for her maid servants, suffering none to dwell with her in idleness.
And the church of Christ — is it her business to mix herself in politics? to wish to govern the world, or even to attempt to mould or influence public opinion. No; her sphere is elsewhere, and her work is of a different character altogether. She has the affairs of her household to look after — “the household of faith”, to feed them with the children’s bread and to see that they are properly clothed with practical righteousness, and adorned with the goodly “garment of praise”.
The church, of course, strictly speaking, does not do these things; as has been often remarked, the church does not teach, but is herself taught. But each member does, or is supposed to do, its share; and so the work is done, if not by the church collectively (or as some would say, officially), by the individuals, who in the aggregate compose the church. “She bringeth her food from afar.” It is meat to eat that the world knows nothing of — “bread of heaven”, Christ ministered in the power of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. The expression “food from afar” reminds us of the words of Moses in his song before all the congregation of Israel: “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, and my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” (Deut. 32:2). “I will fetch my knowledge from afar”, says the inspired Elihu, in Job 36:3. “The children’s bread” is not fable or tradition, cunningly devised and craftily inculcated, but “sound doctrine” drawn from the inerrant Word, the Holy Scriptures, inspired of God. “Nourished in the words of faith, and of good doctrine”, answers to the “food from afar”, “the meat to her household”, of this diligent “woman of worth” (see 1 Tim. 4:6).
Closely coupled with the ideal wife’s industry is . . .
HER THRIFT; “She considereth a field, and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff”. She is aggressive, enlarging her husband’s domain — buying fields and planting them to vineyards.
Oh, for more of this spirit of aggression among the saints to-day — that we might be “a missionary church”, indeed, reaching out to “the regions beyond” us, covetous for further fields of conquest.
The field was first considered — there was exercise. She did not act on the impulse of the moment, but only bought it after calm and careful deliberation (see Luke 54:28). Then the price was paid, the purchase made. Some lands of earth are inherited; but every square inch of territory acquired by the ‘church militant’ must be bought, and dearly paid for, often — in toil and tears, treasure, and sometimes blood, even life itself.
After being bought it must be ‘planted’ with witnesses, assemblies, or individuals, to bring forth fruit unto God. For this, strenuous work is demanded — loins must be girded and arms strengthened, “strong in the Lord and the power of His might”.
Such happy service for the Lord whets the appetite for more: “She perceiveth that her merchandise is good”; she sees the profit there is in labour for the absent, but returning, good Man. Night comes on, but her candle still burns. It was said above, “She riseth also while it is yet night”. It is now the night of our Lord’s rejection and no time for sleeping. But the morning dawns, thank God. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand”, the watchman calls. May the little candle of our testimony not be allowed to grow dim or go out, brethren, but shine on “till the day dawn and the shadows flee away”.
HER BENEVOLENCE is noted next; it is not niggardliness, or because she is selfishly covetous, that she pursues the practice of thrift and industry, but that she may have to give to others: “She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy”. This is the spirit inculcated in the church of the Ephesians by the apostle Paul: “Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28).
And, to apply it in a still more spiritual way, think of the devoted apostle himself, toiling night and day “enduring all things for the elects’ sake, that they might also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory”. What self-abnegation, what love for others — the souls of the really poor and the needy. He impoverished himself for others: “As poor,” he says, “yet making many rich.” He was indeed a philanthropist in the truest and highest sense of that word — the New Testament counterpart of that generous, benignant soul whose goodly ways and character we are analyzing here, this “woman of worth”, beyond all price. May both his and her spirit characterize us, their spiritual descendants, more and more.
Next to her consideration for the needs of others comes . . .
HER PROVIDENCE — her care for her own. “She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet (or double garments, margin). She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles to the merchant Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come”. A man who provides not for his own, especially for those of his own house, he is worse than an infidel, Scripture assures us (1 Tim. 5:8). The lauded housewife here does not come under the condemnation of this passage. She has made ample provision for the future of those dependent on her. Not only is she prepared for the days of storm and snow, but “she shall rejoice in time to come”, the delineator of her virtues says. “Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life”, is the apostolic admonition concerning those that are rich in this world (1 Tim. 6:19). This, in measure, all may do, even if poor in this world’s goods. To lay up for themselves treasure in heaven is the privilege even of those most indigent in the church.
And what is the clothing of scarlet, the fine linen, the coverings of tapestry, her clothing of silk and purple, but the garments ‘clean and bright’ of the bride of Revelation, ‘the Lamb’s wife’, who by her divinely energized providence had ‘made herself ready?’ (Rev. 19). It is “the righteousnesses of the saints” — their personally practised righteousnesses, as distinguished from that imputed righteousness by which alone they stood justified before God. This last is God’s free gift, but the other is of their own prayerful, patient, persevering weaving, though taught and enabled, certainly, by the Holy Spirit.
This will all redound to the praises of the glory of His grace, ‘her Husband’. He will in that day when He shall “be glorified in His saints and admired in all them that believe”, be, indeed, through her, “known in the gates”. Happy, happy day will this be for the now toiling, often weary church — to see Him honoured, and in a certain sense, and in whatever small measure, through her.
Closely akin to her providence are . . .
HER MORAL EXCELLENCES
“She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” Her speech is in all wisdom — there is “neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient”. But though in her conversation chaste, she is not austere; for “the law of kindness” is in her tongue. Her conversation is always in grace, yet seasoned with salt. There is a way of speaking which is as the piercings of a sword; and on the other hand there is a class of speech that is all honey. Both extremes are by this favoured woman happily avoided; while kindly in manner and tone, there is no winking at or smoothing over wrong or sin. “She looketh well to the ways of her household” — there is the faithful exercise of discipline in the circle of her own. Some would discard discipline entirely in the church — the house of God. Not so this noble helpmeet of her Husband; she watches carefully the conduct of those beneath her roof and under her authority. And there are those set in the church “who watch for our souls as those that must give account”. “Good, easy man” does not describe the “man of God”; he threatens to come “with a rod”; if remonstrance and loving admonition fail.
She “eateth not the bread of idleness”. The days are evil and it is no tune for ease or idleness. “In diligence not slothful.” As the Israelite in the desert had to rise betimes to obtain the manna, while it was yet early, or go hungry, so must Christians use diligence in the feeding of their souls; they are not permitted to eat the bread of idleness and at the same time prosper in their souls. “In all labour there is profit”, and this worthy wife shall in the end obtain a full reward for her unselfish toil and thoughtfulness for others.
This brings us to the last and final item to this highly advantaged woman’s account —
HER REWARD. “Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates”
These encomiums are evidently rendered her after her removal from the scene of her numerous and praiseworthy activities. Toil and care for the welfare of others was the chief element of her useful and unselfish life; now she is gone to her rest and her works do follow her. And her reward is the unstinted, gratefully rendered praise of both her children and her husband. This honour and blessing will be publicly bestowed on the faithful at the judgement-seat of Christ. But even here in time are not the servants of Christ of past generations praised today by those who now profit by their labours — the apostles for their example and writings, and the martyrs and the reformers for their devotedness and willingness to toil and suffer (death, if need be), that the truth of the Gospel might remain with us? Do not we, their spiritual descendants — their ‘children’, in this sense — rise up and call them blessed? Are they not even now being praised by Christ the Lord Himself through all them that because of their testimony have believed?
“Many daughters have done worthily”, but the saints of the present dispensation excel them all; the Christian in a peculiar way is greatly advantaged over the saints of other and past dispensations, excelling, in a manner, even honoured patriarchs and prophets. For it was said of even such an one as John the Baptist — one of the greatest of those born of women, — that he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
Deceitful is worldly favour, and vain is fleshly beauty; “the flesh profiteth nothing”, and the earthly advantages of birth, culture, riches or fame count for nothing in the estimation of the Lord, the righteous Judge, when weighed in the balances of the sanctuary. But the fear of Jehovah, producing and bringing in its train subjection to and affection for Him, this is what alone merits and obtains praise and honourable mention before the coming judgement-seat — ‘the gates’ of Oriental imagery used here.
Yes, ‘the gates’; it is the last word of our acrostic — indeed, the last of the whole Book of Proverbs. Let us not forget them; and may we, by God’s grace, live and labour in the light of that coming day. Amen.