The way we read scripture matters. Proverbs is a book about wisdom, but it is not simply good principles to apply that we might live well. These words paint us a picture of God’s heart, his idea of wisdom, righteousness, and how he originally designed us to live. As Proverbs 31 brings us to the end of this book. It’s fitting that we are left with two pictures of people that embody wisdom: a king and a noble wife. These two portraits sum up the book in a beautiful way.
1The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:
2 No, my son! No, son of my womb! No, son of my vows!
3 Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings.
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink;
5 or else they will drink and forget what has been decreed, and will pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
6 Give strong drink to one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress;
7 let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.
8 Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.
9 Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Kings wield power. They have authority and sway over people, politics, and justice. King Lemuel’s mother see this, and urges him to be mindful of his character. She calls him to not give his life, strength, his vigor and vitality to the chase of women. In this context, it’s safe to think that she didn’t have in mind pursuing a woman to make his wife. The women she speaks of here are probably of the adulterous/temptress kind. Possibly prostitutes. Either way, her cry is for Lemuel to not abuse his power in pursuit of sexual conquests and sensual pleasures.
She goes on to call Lemuel away from pursuing drink. Her admonishment here is not against beer or wine, but rather calling Lemuel away from drink being a defining character of his life. If the king, the one with authority and responsibility, is always drunk, how can he be trusted to do justice? If the king, the one others look to for justice and guidance, is always asking, “where is my drink?” and trying to (in one sense) escape his life, what hope do others have in trusting that life has purpose and can truly be enjoyed?
If the king is to be a wise man, then his power must be wielded with responsibility. Yes, the Spider-Man saying is true: with great power comes great responsibility. Those with power must speak out for the powerless. Those with authority must be the advocate for those who have no voice. This is what wisdom calls us to: using what we have to see God’s good and right ways find other people. Abusing the positions we have been given, using what we have to pursue selfish (and pointless) desires and to try and live for only our immediate pleasure is not what we were made for. We were made to speak out for others, to defend the rights of the defenseless, to act out justice in whatever sphere we find ourselves with power.
10 A noble 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.
12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away.
15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.
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.
20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson.
22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with 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 call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her:
29 ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.
Rather than viewing this section as some sort of prescription for the ideal Godly woman, I think we need to view this as a poetic personification of the wisdom of God.
Proverbs 1.20-33 presents wisdom as a woman calling out in the public streets for us to find her, and thus to find life. The entire book is (in many ways) an expansion of those early verses. Here at the end, we are given a picture of lady wisdom as a noble wife, as something we should find and bind ourselves to.
I know that for many this is a different way of interpreting these verses. But I think that this view gives us a full, rich capstone to the book, as well as helps us understand that ultimately Proverbs is a book about following the one who truly embodies the full wisdom of God, namely Jesus.
1 Corinthians 1.21-25 tells us that even though it is foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others, in Jesus we find both the completeness of the power of God and the fullness of the wisdom of God. Stop and think about that for a moment. Jesus, the Son of God, the one who came to die and live again that we might find life… in Jesus we see the full embodiment of both the power and wisdom of God.
Now, as we read this final chapter in Proverbs, we are left with two pictures: the king of justice and the lady of wisdom. Jesus is the only human I know that has ever been fully able to live out the pictures painted in Proverbs 31. Who is more just than Christ? Revelation 19.11-16 tells us that at his second coming, we shall see Christ reigning with justice. Finally the poor and the oppressed will have the one with power speaking out for their cause, judging with truth and setting all the wrongs right. Who is more wise than Jesus? Hebrews 3.6 tells us Jesus is faithful over all of God’s house because he is the builder. Here we see the noble wife faithful over the house she is building, caring for, and providing for. I believe these two pictures point us ultimately to Jesus alone, for in him God’s justice and wisdom are fully embodied and expressed.If we are going to be people of wisdom and justice, we need to be like Jesus. And that is exactly what the life of discipleship is about. We follow Jesus to become like him, to learn and express the justice, wisdom, and love of God fully in this broken world.
Proverbs 31 contains two beautiful pictures of Jesus, and a call to us to be people of justice and wisdom as we are transformed more and more into the image of our savior.
Aaron Smith is on Twitter @culturalsavage, He is a Christian, a photographer & designer, a thinker, a poet and musician, a striving artist, a writer, a coffee lover, a beer drinker, and a wine imbiber at large. Married to an amazing woman and the father of a beautiful boy. They abide in the Portland, OR area and are a part of the Evergreen Community. Check out his blog Cultural Savage – http://culturalsavage.com/