Proverbs 31 describes a “virtuous wife,” but when we closely examine it, we see more. We see an ideal marriage relationship—a Proverbs 31 wife and husband.
If you are a Christian woman, you may have felt overwhelmed, and even intimidated, by what may appear to be the impossible ideal of a Proverbs 31 woman. However, this passage is not a checklist for women. Instead, it is a wonderful description.
And there are lessons in it for men as well.
A deeper look at Proverbs 31
If we read Proverbs 31 carefully, we notice there are no imperatives (do this, don’t do that) except, perhaps, at the very end of the chapter. And that imperative is not even addressed to the woman, but to the reader. “Give her the fruit of her hands” (verse 31) is akin to saying, “Give credit where credit is due.”
There’s something else we might miss at first glance. Just beneath the surface of this description of an ideal wife is the picture of an ideal marriage relationship. You might say that through a closer examination of the passage, we catch a glimpse of the Proverbs 31 couple!
That’s because a husband can be empowered by the support of a good wife, and a wife can be empowered by the support of a good husband. With this concept in mind, let’s take another look at this amazing Hebrew acrostic poem.
The foundation for a Proverbs 31 marriage
The poem begins by asking, “Who can find a virtuous wife?” (Proverbs 31:10). Other translations call her a “virtuous woman” (King James Version), “excellent wife” (English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible) and “wife of noble character” (New International Version).
The Hebrew adjective ḥayil is translated “virtuous” in only two passages in the New King James Version. It is more commonly translated “valor” (38 times) or “valiant” (24 times).
The young David is described with the same Hebrew word when one of Saul’s servants calls him “a mighty man of valor” (1 Samuel 16:18). And David’s great-grandmother Ruth was recognized as a virtuous woman by the whole town of Bethlehem (Ruth 3:11) because she chose to honor and provide for her mother-in-law, even at great personal cost.
The point is, the type of virtue being considered in these passages is that found in individuals who are committed to the right course of action, regardless of how difficult their choice becomes.
This is the type of character that is foundational for an ideal marriage relationship. Husbands and wives are to have the courage and character to follow through with their commitment to one another when difficult times come—and no marriage is without difficult times.
That’s why the poem goes on to assert that when a man finds a woman of valor, he knows that “her worth is far above rubies” (Proverbs 31:10). The same can be said for a woman who finds a man of valor.
Trust and the Proverbs 31 marriage
The next verse establishes another foundational principle for marriage. Immediately after proclaiming the value of a woman of valor, the poet declares that “the heart of her husband safely trusts her” (verse 11).
Marriage works best and is most satisfying with a high level of trust. And trust is a two-way street. For strong mutual trust to exist, both husband and wife must be trustworthy. They must be people of integrity, maintaining their commitment to one another.
But trust entails more. It means letting go of some degree of control. This is particularly difficult when social and cultural expectations oppose such behavior. The book of Proverbs was written in such an environment. The ancient world was a male-dominated world.
God’s law values women, and when it is followed, it protects them from some of the worst abuses of the world around. But it wasn’t always followed, and “women’s rights were sometimes overlooked” (Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 421).
With these conditions and restrictions in mind, the woman’s activities are amazing. Not only does this Proverbs 31 woman of valor fulfill expected duties of the time, such as providing food and clothing for her household (verses 13-15), but she engages in unexpected tasks, such as purchasing property and planting a vineyard (verse 16).
What this means is that her husband trusts her with these challenges. He respects his wife’s abilities, and he allows her to apply them. And she meets the challenges, giving her husband no reason to distrust her.
Generosity and the Proverbs 31 marriage
Another trait of this remarkable woman is her generosity, especially toward the less fortunate. She is not selfish, but “extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy” (verse 20).
Another important feature of the Proverbs 31 relationship is the atmosphere of praise and encouragement.Taken at face value, this statement might seem to say nothing about her husband or their relationship. However, her ability to give implies a great deal.
First, this couple is not needy, but financially able to share with others, which implies that husband and wife are both quite industrious. The poem points out the woman’s diligence when it describes her rising “while it is yet night” (verse 15) and asserts that she “does not eat the bread of idleness” (verse 27).
Another implication of this couple’s relationship is that she has the freedom to make such decisions. When the poet describes her as extending “her hand to the poor,” it says nothing about her checking first with her husband. Clearly, the Proverbs 31 man gives her the freedom to give because he fully trusts her to make wise and generous judgments.
Her decision to give clearly represents an important characteristic of their marriage—generosity.
Generous by nature
They are generous by nature, and that generosity spills over into how they treat one another and their children. One way this woman of valor shows generosity is by creating only the finest clothing for her husband and children.
The fact that “her household is clothed with scarlet” (verse 21) is not merely a color choice. Scarlet was an expensive dye, and the indication is that the family has the best possible apparel.
This assessment is confirmed by the statement that “her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land” (verse 23). The city gate was where formal business was conducted, and for her husband to sit among the elders at the gate means that he holds a position of honor in the community.
It seems clear he has achieved this place of honor with her help and support.
Praise and encouragement
Another important feature of the Proverbs 31 relationship is the atmosphere of praise and encouragement. The poet points out that the woman’s “children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (verse 28).
The poem gives us the words of the husband. He does not merely say, “Good job.” No, he showers praise on her: “Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all” (verse 29).
His words convey a sense of deep appreciation for his wife and all that she does. Though the woman of valor is not primarily motivated by praise, as we’ll see in a moment, this type of encouragement does add to a person’s motivation to continue doing good and growing.
Finally, when we stop to consider that even “her children rise up and call her blessed,” we can infer that they learned this behavior by witnessing how their parents—both of them—praised one another. Their household was filled with praise and encouragement.
The Proverbs 31 husband and wife built a positive family environment conducive to the growth of each other and their children.
The most important element of a Proverbs 31 marriage
What is the principal motivation of the Proverbs 31 woman and her husband?
Love, of course, plays a major role, but the poet places emphasis on another element, mentioned near the end of the poem. That element, which precedes love, is a deep reverence and respect for God.
Noting first that “charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,” the poet then asserts that “a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised” (verse 30). Fear of the Lord is the most critical element in this Proverbs 31 relationship.
The book of Proverbs begins with this same concept, declaring that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). All knowledge, including what is needed for a healthy and vibrant marriage, begins with this reverence. (Study more about this vital biblical concept in our online article “What Does the Fear of the Lord Mean?”)
It is clear that both the Proverbs 31 wife and husband fear God. Verse 30 tells us directly that the wife does, but everything about their relationship suggests that her husband also fears the Lord. As a result, the Proverbs 31 couple enjoys a rich and joy-filled relationship.
If you’d like to know more about this subject, download our booklet God’s Design for Marriage.