The poetic figure found in Proverbs 31 is not the only woman in the Bible to receive the high praise of, “eshet chayil!” or “woman of valor!”
So did Ruth.
Ruth was a destitute foreigner whose daily work involved gathering, threshing, and winnowing wheat. For most of her story, she is neither a wife nor a mother. Circumstantially, her life looked nothing like the life of the woman depicted in Proverbs 31.
Ruth didn’t spend her days making clothes for her husband. She had no husband; she was widowed.
Ruth's children didn’t rise up and call her blessed. She was childless.
Ruth didn’t spend her days exchanging fine linens with the merchants and keeping an immaculate home. She worked all day in the sun, gleaning leftovers from other people's fields, which was a provision made for the poorest of the poor in Israel.
And yet guess what Boaz says of Ruth before she gets married, before she has a child, before she becomes a wealthy and influential woman:
“All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character” (Ruth 3:11).
The Hebrew that's used there is “eshet chayil" - woman of valor.
Ruth is identified as a woman of valor, not because checked off some Proverbs 31 to-do list by getting married, keeping a clean house and producing children, but because she lived her life with incredible bravery, wisdom, and strength. She lived her life with valor.
So pastors, don’t be afraid of looking to Scripture for examples of strong and capable women. But be careful of focusing on marriage, motherhood, and domesticity, when it is not our roles that define us, but the integrity and bravery we bring to those roles.
You don’t have to turn to Proverbs 31 to find women of valor. You can turn to Sarah, Deborah, Esther, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, Martha, the Apostle Junia, Priscilla, Phoebe, and Tabitha too. And you can turn to the women of valor in your life and around the world who are bringing their unique gifts, insights, passions, and callings to bring hope and healing to the world.
That’s what it really means to honor Proverbs 31.
See also: Women of Valor: It's About Character, Not Roles, / Enough: Or, Why We Should Be Laughing Hysterically in the Magazine Aisle
For a much more in-depth look at this passage and others in Wisdom literature, see Bruce Waltke's The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31 and Ellen F. Davis' Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs.
You can also read more in my book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood.
Here at A Virtuous Woman, I want to encourage women to serve God in every aspect of their lives. Being a Proverbs 31 woman is not about being “perfect.” It’s about living life with purpose, diligence, forgiveness, and repentance.
The Proverbs 31 Woman Today
Often women believe that Proverbs 31 doesn’t really apply to our modern lives. Here at A Virtuous Woman, we believe that God’s Word stands the test of time. I wrote the 10 Virtues of the Proverbs 31 Woman as the mission statement for A Virtuous Woman, but soon realized that it was more than a mission statement. The 10 Virtues of the Proverbs 31 Woman demonstrates how, as Christian women today, we can all be Proverbs 31 Women.
The 10 Virtues of the Proverbs 31 Woman
1. Faith – A Virtuous Woman serves God with all of her heart, mind, and soul. She seeks His will for her life and follows His ways. (Proverbs 31: 26, Proverbs 31: 29 – 31, Matthew 22: 37, John 14: 15, Psalm 119: 15
2. Marriage – A Virtuous Woman respects her husband. She does him good all the days of her life. She is trustworthy and a helpmeet. (Proverbs 31: 11- 12, Proverbs 31: 23, Proverbs 31: 28, 1 Peter 3, Ephesians 5, Genesis2: 18)
3. Mothering – A Virtuous Woman teaches her children the ways of her Father in heaven. She nurtures her children with the love of Christ, disciplines them with care and wisdom, and trains them in the way they should go. (Proverbs 31: 28, Proverbs 31: 26, Proverbs 22: 6, Deuteronomy 6, Luke 18: 16)
4. Health – A Virtuous Woman cares for her body. She prepares healthy food for her family. (Proverbs 31: 14 – 15, Proverbs 31: 17, 1 Corinthians 6: 19, Genesis 1: 29, Daniel 1, Leviticus 11)
5. Service – A Virtuous Woman serves her husband, her family, her friends, and her neighbors with a gentle and loving spirit. She is charitable. (Proverbs 31: 12, Proverbs 31: 15, Proverbs 31: 20, 1 Corinthians 13: 13)
6. Finances – A Virtuous Woman spends money wisely. She is careful to purchase quality items which her family needs. (Proverbs 31: 14, Proverbs 31: 16, Proverbs 31: 18, 1 Timothy 6: 10, Ephesians 5: 23, Deuteronomy 14: 22, Numbers 18: 26)
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7. Industry – A Virtuous Woman works willingly with her hands. She sings praises to God and does not grumble while completing her tasks. (Proverbs 31: 13, Proverbs 31: 16, Proverbs 31: 24, Proverbs 31: 31, Philippians 2: 14)
8. Homemaking – A Virtuous Woman is a homemaker. She creates an inviting atmosphere of warmth and love for her family and guests. She uses hospitality to minister to those around her. (Proverbs 31: 15, Proverbs 31: 20 – 22, Proverbs 31: 27, Titus 2: 5, 1 Peter 4: 9, Hebrews 13: 2)
9. Time – A Virtuous Woman uses her time wisely. She works diligently to complete her daily tasks. She does not spend time dwelling on those things that do not please the Lord. (Proverbs 31: 13, Proverbs 31: 19, Proverbs 31: 27, Ecclesiastes 3, Proverbs 16: 9, Philippians 4:8 )
10. Beauty – A Virtuous Woman is a woman of worth and beauty. She has the inner beauty that only comes from Christ. She uses her creativity and sense of style to create beauty in her life and the lives of her loved ones. (Proverbs 31: 10Proverbs 31: 21 – 22, Proverbs 31: 24 -25, Isaiah 61: 10, 1 Timothy 2: 9, 1 Peter 3: 1 – 6)
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