My grandma is one of the most amazing people I know. If anyone has displayed Christ accurately to me, it is her. During some of the most difficult years of my life, she would stay up with me for as long as I wanted to talk to her, and she listened, never judging or condemning, even when I talked about some of my frustrations with my parents.
She always checks with me before she cooks a meal to make sure that it will be something that I enjoy, and she buys my favourite instant oatmeal (Dino-Eggs, just for the record) when I am coming for a visit. She never criticizes my eating.
She encouraged me when I became frustrated with my inability to cook. She has been the one who reminds me that I am still competent and talented, and that I don’t need to be great at cooking after all.
She is honest, yet kind. Christ shines through her, but she doesn’t flaunt it. She is generous, yet wise. She is perceptive, but she does not worry about what she doesn’t know. She is steady in crises, and strong in more ways than one. She is a woman of valour, and her works deserve to be celebrated.
Proverbs 31:10-31 describes a woman worth noticing – a woman of valour. Throughout the book of Proverbs, you can find warnings to men to avoid the adulterous woman and to refuse to give in to her temptation. Proverbs 31 closes with the opposite message, originally aimed at young men: Look for a wife of noble character, an excellent wife, and a woman of wisdom. The Hebrew phrase for the title of this woman is eshet chayil, which can be translated as “woman of strength” or “woman of valour.” Let’s read what this passage says about her.
Proverbs 31:10-31 (New American Standard Bible)
10 An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
13 She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands in delight.
14 She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar.
15 She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household
And portions to her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.
18 She senses that her gain is good;
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hands grasp the spindle.
20 She extends her hand to the poor,
And she stretches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies belts to the tradesmen.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.
26 She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
29 “Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.
This passage gives us three characteristics that we can use to recognize the women of valour in our lives and celebrate them.
One thing to note is that in the context of the book of Proverbs, women got married. Their marriages were often not their own choices, and because women were often considered of lesser value and were given fewer civil rights, they needed male family members to provide finances, protection, and a voice. Today, however, women have much more choice. So one thing to keep in mind with this passage is that a woman does not have to be married to be a woman of valour. Marriage was a part of nearly every woman’s life, then, but that is not what this passage declares is important. Here is what is important:
1. Women of valour fear the Lord (v. 30).
“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting.” I have known people who use charm to deceive. They are smooth talkers. They look good on the outside, but their heart isn’t right. People use charm, grace, and charisma to work towards their own interests and goals.
“Beauty fades.” I hate to break it to all of you, but part of life is that you get older, and your looks change. You’re not going to look this cute in 40 years! Outward beauty is not consistent. It changes, and it fades.
What is important and what we do need to pay attention to is those who fear the Lord.
Proverbs 1:7 states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom is a theme throughout the book of Proverbs, and it is something to be pursued. The fear of God is the beginning of that. Where do you find wisdom? In God.
A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. She knows what is important. She knows who the source of wisdom is, and she is pursuing it.
2. Women of valour can be noticed by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20).
Matthew 7:15-20 says this: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
You can recognize someone’s character by the results of their actions. Someone may seem to serve God, but is Godliness coming out of their life as well? Proverbs 31 is not a to-do list. It is a model of what fruit a women who fears God produces with her life. These are outward manifestations of an inward orientation toward God.
The Proverbs 31 woman of valour brings her husband good and prosperity (vv. 11-12). She makes his life better, not worse, and she only adds to his gain.
The Proverbs 31 woman of valour is generous to the poor (v. 20). She thrusts out her hand to them, enthusiastically and generously giving to those in need.
The Proverbs 31 woman of valour works hard (vv. 19, 27). She is not idle; she works for what she receives, even though, with her wealth, she probably doesn’t need to. With the same energy that she has when she gives to the poor, she works at her own trades.
3. Women of valour may look very different from each other.
For some women, using their gifts may mean stepping outside of cultural norms, even Christian cultural norms. In Proverbs 31:15-18, we are given a picture of an entrepreneurial woman who purchases land, plants a vineyard, earn money through trading, and has accumulated enough money to invest in an area of her own choosing. In a culture where women were considered subordinate to men, where they had fewer rights, and where they had less value, a woman buying property is unlikely. A woman who even had the education to manage money well, to invest, and to consider property and purchase it was extremely uncommon. This woman of valour had a gift for business, though, and she used it well.
For other women, using their gifts may mean focusing on the home. This also appears in Proverbs 31 and is no less worthy of honour and celebration. In verse 15, she gets up early so that she can feed the entire household. In verses 21-22, she is focused on making sure that everyone in her home is warm and well-clothed. Verse 26 depicts her bestowing wisdom and teaching. She took good care of her family, and her family praised her for that.
There are two wonderful ladies and women of valour whom I have met within the last year. Alisha is a stay-at-home mother who takes care of her and her husband’s year-and-a-half old daughter. Before having a child, Alisha was very involved in her husband’s youth group, and they worked as a team to minister to them. With her daughter being born, she made the choice to make her child the number one priority in her life, even though that meant giving up some things that she enjoyed doing. She is still always finding a way to speak into people’s lives and to serve other people, while keeping her home life as the number one focus. Alisha is a woman of valour.
Tasha is quite different, but a woman of valour just the same. Tasha is a woman with incredible vision and leadership skills. She is generous with her time and with her home, and she uses her talents to reach young people in a variety of environments, from summer camp, to school, to welcoming people into her own space. She teaches people to make it on their own: how to cook, how to find a job, how to maintain your home, how to find community. Tasha is changing lives, and she is a woman of valour.
Tasha and Alisha lead two different lives, but both are pursuing God, both are producing fruit, and both of them deserve to be celebrated and honoured.
Women of valour are worthy of praise. Proverbs 31:28-29 describes the woman of valour’s family as intentionally rising up, commanding attention by doing so, and then praising her for her valour. Then, in the last verse, it says, “Let her works praise her at the gates.” This praise of the woman of valour is not limited just to her husband and children! The city gates were the hub of activity, whether social, economic, or judicial. This woman’s valour is no private matter. The whole community is invited to notice and celebrate her!
We should all be honouring and celebrating the women of valour – the women who fear the Lord – around us. Do you notice the women of valour around you? Do you celebrate them and honour what they are doing? Encouragement is powerful. Reinforcing the good in people is important. We need to recognize and honour the women of valour around us. This is my challenge for all of us: who will you celebrate today?