An excellent wife who can find? Done! Not the brag, but I found one. Seriously, I am not trying to brag. I would like to take this particular post and honor my excellent wife, N*. My goal is not so much instruction as to simply praise the really lovely woman I married.
First a few ground rules. We are only three years in so there are a few parts of Proverbs 31 that we have not gotten to yet. I take it that the description is of an older women, e.g. not a lot of preschoolers are rising up to call her blessed. Therefore in the areas that we have not reached in our marriage I will skip over. I also plan to revisit this yearly if we have covered something new and I will update.
An Excellent Wife
10 An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
I already covered this in the introduction, but I found her. She is more precious than jewels and frankly I am surprised her dad didn’t put up more of a fight for her. But I suspect that he actually had a pretty good understanding of the next part in that he trusted her. She is no fool or wilting flower. Her honesty is frustrating sometimes. She has only lied once and that was only a particularly cruel April Fools joke. I have complete trust in her. But to go further here she also meets this standard in her total lack of being manipulative. Elsewhere in Proverbs Solomon talks about wives who use an array of emotional, physical, or verbal weapons to get their way. The emotional honesty of N is an enormous gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
Honestly, you could just take this one at face value. The good she does me is incalculable. Even when she is being selfish she announces in advance. Which as Screwtape points out is better than forced unselfishness, “A little real selfishness on your patient’s part is often of less value in the long run…” And frankly that can be lived with because going with the pervious point, it is undeniably honest.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
Ok so not wool and flax specifically… Though on occasion these things have shown up, and were surprisingly useful. But she works very hard. She works until she is exhausted and doesn’t complain (unless a squirrel was involved but more about that later). Willingness is another point I would like to rave about. The hardness of the work does not deter her. For an example skip down to verse 15.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
When N was serving as a missionary in Taiwan she would find foods that she thought would be fun or good to serve in the Reading Group I host on Sunday nights. We were not even married then and she was literally doing this verse. Since we have been married she helps me, when traveling to keep an eye out for foods we can bring home to serve others. This is one of the little details from this proverb I really get a kick out of. I actually found this person!
15 She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
Ok the literalness of this one again blows me away. Granted N is a morning person and I am as opposed to mornings as God is to Satan. But still she wakes up early and will begin prep for our dinner and pack up our lunch for work. As well she does the shopping, which I always had a love hate relationship with. In that I hated it. I would shop around midnight so that no one would be in the store for me to have to interact with. Finally, she is currently feeding some maidens. Granted the passage is talking about servants or potentially ladies of the court type hangers on, but currently a dear friend had a husband abandon her and her daughters, and N has been preparing meals for them.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
We have not bought a field but she was the driving force behind us buying a house and land. I hate change and had burrowed into my apartment like the little tick I am. And the place was perfect for one (The horror on my landlords face when she realized I had painted everything and built floor to ceiling, wall to wall bookshelves was incredible.) That said she also does a lot of planting, we don’t have a vineyard… yet, but she did plant hops which are more valuable in home brewing.
17 She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
N does far better than me at making her “arms strong” She works hard at exercise, which I hate. With a passion. Beyond this, and I know this is a bit outside of the direct point, N has a strength of character and conviction that is intimidating to others. I hear pastors talking about wanting their daughters to, “grow up to be a beast.” Well I got one of those. Not only is she physically strong but she has the character to match.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
N doesn’t really sell stuff. We buy more from Etsy than we sell. But in our particular line of work she is a hard worker. I would argue she currently works two jobs. One for our local office as a teacher and helping me as a teacher trainer. But also as a translator for our organization’s offices in Taiwan. (N does insist that all of our lamps go out at night, the utility bill is a big concern of hers.)
20 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
I would refer you to the above section about our abandoned friend. But also I would submit to the record an evening when I has meeting with an old friend, and as he and I sat on the porch with cigars and an scotch a rain storm blew in. As we enjoyed the exciting weather from the relative comfort of our smoky porch I saw a neighbor woman walk by, soaked to to bone and barefoot. My first thought was it was a typical midtown hipster out for a euphoric walk in the rain. But then she walked by a second time, on the third she turned up our driveway and walked weeping onto our porch. As I seated her and offered her water to drink she tried to apologize for walking up so suddenly, she had fought with her new husband and walked out upset. This was something of a bind. While this poor woman needed care, I didn’t want to kick out my friend who I had not seen for several years. Saw this predicament and came out. She comforted the woman for a while then welcomed her into our house. She subtly seated the woman so that they were still in eye sight, just in case, and cared for her while I was able to continue catching up with my friend. At the end of the evening he told me how he had never seen anyone spring into hospitable action like that or a married couple being so in sync on how they did it. It would not have been so smooth or even so effortless if it were not for the excellence of my wife.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Ok, I am a ginger so not a lot of scarlet is being worn by me. I’m gonna take this one to talk about how N is modest in her dress. She does not come off as the kind of homeschooler that sews their own gingham dresses. Nor does she follow every wind of fashion. N does a good job of presenting herself publicly. She is never ostentatious not shabby. With the occasional exception of a particular grey hoodie she won’t let die making an appearance, she is never an embarrassment to be seen with. Also she does a great job with bed linens, buying, cleaning, rotating seasonally… I feel like that goes with the, “Bed coverings” bit.
23 Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
There was a book a while back that was particularly stupid, and in this particularly stupid book there was an especially stupid section. The author, who will remain nameless, attempted to take the most at face value, heavy handed approach to living out a year Biblically as a woman. This author knew better but had an ax to grind. So she took this section of Proverbs and decided to literally make her husband known in the city gates. She stood at the border of their town, right next to the “Welcome to…” sign holding a pasteboard reading “Dan is Awesome.” I contend that is the exact opposite of what this text is talking about. That is shaming, it is embarrassing. No man wants colleagues coming into work talking about how they saw his wife out there waving a pasteboard sign around with his name on it. You can be known in the city gates for good or for ill. In the providence of God where I am known I am respected in large part to my wife. I don’t make great first impressions, she does. We both work hard not to embarrass the other. We have had long conversations about how she feels loved and how I feel respected. When I sit with elders my wife is not a liability but a blessing.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
As I said before we are more shoppers of crafts than maker/sellers. But I would point out that this section is about financial responsibility. Which admittedly my wife is great at. I am considered something of a spendthrift. Payday and a sale at Thompson Cigar, or Banner of Truth renders me, ‘temporarily devoid of ready cash.” N, handles our money. And despite my desire to make it to the platinum level at Best Cigar Prices or purchase enough books that Sinclair Ferguson calls on behalf of Banner to thank me for being their biggest supporter; she toes the line of giving me freedom to spend and also requiring that we do the dull stuff like pay bills, save money, etc. (I can never let her read this article now) In one of the biographies of Teddy Roosevelt I read*, there is a story about how every morning Edith would put a twenty dollar bill in his jacket pocket, which at the time was closer to two hundred dollars today. And by the end of the day she never knew what he had spent it on. And she never asked. I find that to be very respectful. For all of her tightfistedness on the Roosevelt family accounts she understood it was his money too and he had a right to it.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
This one is kind of N’s job description since we teach kids together as our work. That being said she teaches wisely with the young women she disciples. And though she does not like or always follow southern social mores she is very kind. Even when someone has been insulted they heard the truth in what N meant as a kindness.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Full disclosure N is not into housekeeping, she is not even into organizing, she has a piling system. But she loves the outdoors. She loves to mow, and weed, and be out in nature. I am an avid indoorsman. So this works out. She is rarely idle. She works from sunup to sundown. Our skills and likes are quite complementary, but she is not lazy about any of her work.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Rounding third and heading for home I want to expand on the previous section a bit with a story. We live on a street surrounded primarily by older couples. With the exception of some newlyweds directly across from us. This new couple is something of a topic among the men on the street that I will occasionally have a scotch and cigar with, primarily the fact that they seem to have a complete and total inability to mow their lawn. After much kavitching that I sit through they bring up how often they see N out laboring in our yard. And after the wife of the new couple gave mowing their lawn the old college try to very mixed reviews they all again praised how well N kept our lawn. Now this is trivial in the extreme. But it does show how my N does excellently and is praised by those around her.
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Matt Chandler is fond of reminding young couples that are, for lack of a better description, horny and driven by attraction that, “Gravity wins.” Beauty is like chasing after the wind, even outside of human beauty which ages and fades, or even vogues determine what kind of girl is beautiful. Beauty in general is fleeting. Think of the flower in bloom that withers and dies and then in striving to hold on to the beauty is replaced with a fake version that gathers dust, cobwebs, and if left in the sun fades to one monochrome shade of yellow.*** Charm likewise can cover many flaws early on. But character, which is rooted in the character of Christ only grows and becomes more attractive. In the summer N and I work at a camp for three weeks and each week we have a new batch of young high school age volunteers. Many of them are in the bloom of youth and are attractive people, they are drawn to each other. But it always fascinates me working with the boys how at the end of the week the most beautiful girl can become unattractive because of how camp brings out the worst in people. It’s hard labor, and frankly always being outdoors in the mid south, in July, quickly renders the ability to remain dolled up impossible. Tempers can flare, irritation grows more quickly, 80 kids put a real harsh on romantic vibes. But the girls with character… They become more interesting to the boys, because they consistently manifest the fruits of the Spirit, even under pressure. Camp provides these young men with a perspective I have known for some time now. A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. And pursued.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
I love how this proverb returns us to the gates, where a person is held in honor. It is an exposition on a Biblical principal. Authority flows to those who take responsibility; not to those who grasp and grab for it. The modern thought is that respect should be demanded by women, they have to force themselves into the boys club. And many current writers trying to exegete this extended proverb assert this thinking. But the flow of the passage shows that the authority and respect are earned. After all of the other works are accomplished the public acknowledgement and reward comes at the end. Like everything else in life what matters most is not the first day, but the last one. Whenever N and I travel up north to her home it always stuns me how respected she is everywhere she goes. Churches bend over backwards to come have her speak about missions. She spent her entire life (up until I drug her down here) building up the kind of reputation where she is praised everywhere she goes. And she has started doing it here. Her work and character make praise naturally flow to her.
*Following Lewis example in his personal letters I am using first initials.
**I think it was Edmund Morris’s Theodore Rex. My favorite of his trilogy.
***Stole that idea from Bekah Merkle.