June 12, 2010

Why I'm Not a Fan of the Proverbs 31 Woman

I know for some of you, this post is going to be tantamount to heresy, so I hope the title served as a sufficient warning. There's no sense in beating around the bush, so let's jump right into my heretical thoughts on Proverbs 31.

I'd be lying if I told you that I think actually becoming the Proverbs 31 woman is an attainable goal.

For. anyone.

Now if your mother is (or was) the Proverbs 31 woman, then accept my apology. If you are married to the Proverbs 31 woman, then clearly, I'm wrong about this. She must exist. So you can stop reading right now and go back to the Proverbs 31 woman in your life. If you are the Proverbs 31 woman, then you have my full admiration, and I'm sure you have lots of work you need to be back to, so don't let us keep you.

Shhhhh. Are the Proverbs 31 devotees gone now? No, I think their computers might be a little slow to close this screen due to all of the multi-tasking that they do. Let's give them just another second...

OK, for those who are still reading, I admit the Proverbs 31 woman has many, many, wonderful qualities. And that's what baffles me. How can any one woman fit all of that criteria? The whole concept looks great on paper, but holy cow, it would take a whole stinking village to do all that she does.

Perhaps we should start with the chapter's author. Proverbs 31:1 attributes the writing to King Lemuel, who was sharing the lessons of his mother.

My first thought when reading that is, "His mother? There we go."

My second thought is, "Who the heck is King Lemuel?"

The answer to that is nobody knows for sure. He is not listed among the kings of Israel. Some say that he was from Arabia, perhaps descended from Abraham's son, Ishmael. Jewish tradition suggests that Lemuel was a pseudonym for King Solomon. And, of course, King Solomon's mother was the infamous Bathsheba...and as we know, Bathsheba was no Proverbs 31 woman.

So whether it was Bathsheba or some forgotten king's mother, what was this mother's point? Was she trying to set the bar so high that no woman could ever measure up to her standards? Was she telling her son the kind of wife and mother she would have been if she had it to do over again? Maybe it was Bathsheba, and she just didn't care for Solomon's 700 wives and 300 concubines. Or maybe Proverbs 31 explains why Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines in the first place. Perhaps he was desperately seeking the perfect woman, you know, the woman his mother led him to believe existed in real life.

Why does the Proverbs 31 woman bother me? Her description seems to set the bar unrealistically high. I'm thinking the woman would have to get by on about 15 minutes of sleep a night. She is both a businesswoman and a stay-at-home-housewife. She gets up while it's still dark; she provides food for her family and servants; she buys fields and plants vineyards; she is a tireless worker; she makes a profit; she doesn't turn the light out at night (because clearly, her work is never done); she spins her own fabric; she makes her family's clothes; she makes clothing for merchants to sell; she makes linens for her bed; she makes her husband look good; she speaks with wisdom (when does she have time to talk?); and her children call her blessed, although I don't see where she has a spare minute to spend with her children. For that matter, when would she have had the time and energy to actually conceive any children?

I know many noble women who fit many of the characteristics of the Proverbs 31 woman but I don't know any one woman who fits them all. Certainly there are a number of worthy and attainable goals provided by the chapter. Making your husband look good is never a bad idea. Living your life in a way that makes your children call you blessed, is another good piece of advice. Managing your household well is a great practical tip and helps create the opportunities needed for a healthy, balanced family life.

But working all day and all night and trying to be all things to all people? Bad advice, destined to make anyone crack under pressure. I think I'm sticking with my "no one is good enough for my son" theory on the part of the king's mother.

Instead of entire books, Bible studies, and conferences built around the full chapter, which I can only assume would make any reader or participant feel like a failure, I wish we'd place more emphasis on the verse that I think was the king's mother's best advice:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Now that's the woman I want to be.

Image: Tim Seed / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  1. I've always thought the same! (The husband in this chapter sounds kinda lazy, by the way. All he does is sit with elders at the gate!)

    Spare me, Lemuel's mom.

  2. that would certainly be a verse for which to aim.

    however, if i dismissed the passages in the bibie
    that seem unattainable to me, i would have very
    few pages left.

    His grace is sufficient to make up for my deficien-

    i agree with you wholeheartedly, though, that we
    have sooooo much scripture, why do we hold that
    one up singly as the model for the Godly woman.

    i sort of like deborah, the warrior judge. :)

  3. gringationcancun - He does sound lazy. You have to wonder what his contribution to the family was.

    Lea - I know what you're saying but I think Jesus is the only person I'm called to emulate. Knowing He was fully human as He walked the earth, having chosen to give up the fully God part for those 33 years, shows us that we can be like Him, even though we all fall short. Christ never tried to do all or be all even though He could have done so. He only did that which He was called to do. The Proverbs 31 woman, on the other hand, was most likely a composite of many women. It's hard to live up to a composite, particularly one who never stops trying to do all things and be all things.

  4. "He only did that which He was called to do." What a wonderful way to put that.

    I think its so easy for us to pick passages out of the bible to use as our messuring stick. I think women are pressured to be everything to everyone. We need to remember to be who God has called us to be. Proverbs 31 not withstanding.

  5. Katy - I think the thing that really bothers me is that we do pick passages and base our theology on them, while ignoring others. The truth is that we have to take the Bible as a whole, all of it working together. My next post is on Martha, who I think tried to be the Proverbs 31 woman.

  6. Great job! I've always wonder how the Proverbs 31 woman did it all. I have made myself crazy trying to be like her. Thanks for shedding some light on the subject. I now know that I am not the only woman who gets over whelmed by her and that I don't have to be overwhelmed any more. I should focus on being a woman who fears the Lord. Thanks! :)

  7. Carol - I think a lot of women feel the same way, but most don't write it out loud. ;-)

  8. Amen, sister. I liked your clincher. That's the goal.