What if I told you that the Proverbs 31 woman said more about the incarnation – and less about impossible tasks for Christian women – than you could ever imagine?
It'll take me a few minutes to get there, but bear with me.
Few passages are as firmly embedded in Christian consciousness as Proverbs 31. You might say that as Psalm 23 is to comfort or Genesis 1 is to creation or Revelation 20 is to millennial views, so Proverbs 31 serves for many as the defining chapter on defining the call of a godly woman.
And for many, that’s where the challenges begin. The woman of Proverbs 31:10-31 seems to defy comprehension for her greatness. How could any woman live up to such a standard?
My answer is simply this: no woman could, and the reason why ties to – fittingly for many this week – the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
To get there, we need to dig in for a deeper, richer understanding of Proverbs 31. I want to spend a few blog posts on this theme, and this will include explorations into the profound, grace-filled call to women Proverbs 31 does create.
But for now, here’s my basic thesis: the primary referent of the Proverbs 31 woman is “Lady Wisdom” of the book of Proverbs, the divine personification of the wisdom of God. She points us to the personal and profound and divine character of wisdom itself, a truth that ultimately anticipates Christ Himself.
How so? Let me dive into a structural point, and then some textual observations on Proverbs 31.
Structural view of Proverbs
If Proverbs were a house, and you took down all the drywall and looked at the supporting beams, you would find in the pivotal places a curious feature. You would find women, namely, lady wisdom. Consider, the following outline of Proverbs:
Proverbs 1-4: These chapters introduce this woman, Lady Wisdom as she is known, who we are to hear and follow.
- In Proverbs 1, she cries aloud to the sons of the street to follow her ways.
- In Proverbs 2, her path contrasts the seductress’ path.
- In Proverbs 3, she offers the tree of life (see Prov. 3:13-18).
- In Proverbs 4, fascinatingly enough, the son is told to go marry her (see the language of Proverbs 4:4-9).
Proverbs 5-7: we flee the world’s woman (lady folly), who most particularly presents herself in sexual immorality. Her route contrasts lady wisdom’s route. The answer is to maintain the pathway of lady wisdom, shown to us in Proverbs 1-4.
Proverbs 8-9: These chapters present the other bookend to the prologue of Proverbs (Proverbs 1-9). Here, lady wisdom returns and draws the simple/fool back to her to the house of wisdom.
In this view, Proverbs 10-30 – the core of Proverbs – reads as the wisdom we find when living in the house of “Lady Wisdom”. It is the lived-out truth of the life bound to wisdom and not folly.
And then, Proverbs 31, as the book ends, a woman appears again. How curious – a woman again at the end. The book loves to begin and end by talking about women.
Such a discovery leads us already to consider that this woman must echo or reflect or call mind that grand woman of wisdom already met in the book.
That’s our structural point. Now for our textual point.
Observing the Proverbs 31 Woman Herself
In short, Proverbs 31:10-31 repeatedly describes this woman in ways already used in Proverbs to describe Lady Wisdom. Consider a few examples as we move through the text.
Precious: In Proverbs 31:10, the Proverbs 31 woman is more precious than jewels. That description echoes Proverbs 3:15 and 8:11, which offered the same words for Lady Wisdom.
Good: In Proverbs 31:12, she does good – just like the path of Lady Wisdom is the path of good (see Proverbs 2:20).
Hands: The Proverbs 31 woman has active hands that offer life to those around here. (see Proverbs 31:13, 18, 19. See Proverbs 3:16, where Lady Wisdom is said to have “long life in her right hand” and “riches and honor” in her left.
Food: The Proverbs 31 woman provides food for her household (see 31:14-16). Here we find echoed the feast Lady Wisdom offered all the simple to come eat (Proverbs 9).
Sleep (or lack thereof). In Proverbs 31:15, we find her getting up early. In Proverbs 31:18, she is never going to sleep. This woman basically never sleeps! We know finite women must sleep (see Psalm 127), so it seems we have a divine figure here.
Provision: In Proverbs 31:18-24, we find a woman of great provision, echoing Lady Wisdom, who fills our treasuries (Proverbs 8:22).
Strength: The woman of strength (Prov. 31:25) already appeared in Proverbs 8:11.
Voice of wisdom: Her mouth of wisdom (Prov. 31:26) presents the strongest connection to Lady Wisdom. For Lady Wisdom has been defined (see Prov. 1, 8-9) by opening her mouth to the simple to hear.
Works in the gates: The final word of her is that her works praise her in the gates. Here we remember Lady Wisdom’s words in Proverbs 8:34-35: “Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. Whoever finds me finds life.”
So we discover that from beginning to end, the woman of Proverbs 31 is a woman of incomprehensible greatness. And of course she is, for she refers to the divine personification of wisdom itself!
No woman, no matter how great she is, could ever live up to the Proverbs 31 standard. Why? Because no woman carries the qualities of divinity itself personified!
We’ll see in a future post how Proverbs 31 does encourage a kind of Biblical womanhood. But for now, instead of driving women to an impossible standard, Proverbs 31 drives all of us to the wonder of wisdom itself.
And our hope is this: that the unfindable wisdom of God (Proverbs 31:10) has been found. In Proverbs, Lady Wisdom is not one the simple seeks. Instead, she seeks the simple, the fool. She shows up at the markets (Prov. 1:20), at the crossroads (Prov. 8:2). She enters the world of man and summons mankind to walk in her ways.
And it is here that this woman first drives us to Christ. Lady Wisdom is not Jesus. But her personified quality drives us to what Jesus Himself incarnates. For Christ “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24) has “become to us wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30). He is hope incarnate, He is life incarnate, He is truth incarnate – and He is wisdom incarnate.
Where she personified He entered and came. And now as believers, we drop all our capacity to ever be Lady Wisdom – to ever be infinite or perfect this side of glory. For wisdom has come. Wisdom has come bringing the way of life, the pathway of hope for sinners and fools, like you and me.
The old hymn says it well:
O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
So, women, men, boys, and girls, rejoice. Immanuel has come. Wisdom has come. Jesus has come.
Many of these insights can also be found in Alistair Roberts sermon on the subject. See here: https://subsplash.com/trinityreformedchurch/media/mi/+5zjq3z6