Saturday, December 30, 2006

A puissant wife?

Today's reading from Proverbs introduces the "wife of noble character." This passage has brought needless feelings of inferiority and inadequacy to countless women who compare themselves to her. I mean, just look at her:
Proverbs 31.13
She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
Proverbs 31.15
She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family
Proverbs 31.17
She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
Proverbs 31.19
In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
Sounds like a very diligent person, somewhat of a workaholic maybe? Is this really what the Proverbs say about the "ideal wife"? And why did I say "needless" above? First, let me point out this part of the passage:
Proverbs 31.15-16
she provides food for ... her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard
OK, so what kind of woman is this? She's a real estate investor, a vintner? She has servant girls? Sure, the passage praises her strong arms, but her servants must also be doing some work.

If you're a woman who's felt persecuted by this passage, do you have servant girls? Does your checking account have enough in it for you to go around buying fields and planting vineyards? Then this passage may not apply to you! Who does it apply to then?

Looking back a few verses, I see that chapter 31 begins with "The sayings of King Lemuel." I don't know who this king was, but my takeaway from that was: this is advice for a prince, a future king. We're talking about a princess, in other words.

Considering that, it's not surprising to learn that "wife of noble character" (as in the NIV) may not be the best translation of the Hebrew there. "A powerful wife who can find?" maybe. Or "a capable woman." The word "puissant" came to mind, and though I don't really know what it means, an online search gives me this:
Having or able to exert great power (

So there it is. If you know a woman who feels inadequate or inferior because of this passage -- or especially if you are one -- then I hope you remember that this passage is talking about a woman with servant girls, with millions in her checkbook, and that most of the specifics in this passage aren't for you or anyone you know.

And if you're married to a puissant woman, then I hope you keep in mind that the book of Proverbs praises such women. Never mind the bad teaching you've heard that says a woman should be subservient to her husband; consider this powerful woman and consider how you can support your wife to be a powerful force in the world.

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