Proverbs begins with the king instructing his son the prince to choose wisely between the women who vie for his attention. His father warns him about Lady Folly and urges him to seek out Lady Wisdom. In the final chapter, we find that the prince has chosen well: He has made Lady Wisdom his bride. As King Lemuel’s mother urged, he has renounced the women who destroy kings (31:3) and embraces the woman who enables him to rule well.
It’s important to recognize that the woman here is not merely an individual woman. Few individual women are as active, as widely competent, as shrewd, as this woman. But we shouldn’t minimize the application to individual women. Over the course of a lifetime, many godly women have done almost everything described her – working with their hands, bringing food, rising at night to feed her family, purchasing property, shopping carefully for the best merchandise, spinning yarn or sewing clothes, helping the needy, all while their husbands sit in the gates, judging and ruling, entirely confident that their wives are managing the household well.
The woman is described in verse 10 as a woman of strength (Heb. chayil ). The Hebrew word has a wide range of uses and can refer to anything that confers power. Wealth is “strength” (cf. Genesis 34:29), a king’s armies are his “strength” (Exodus 14:4, 9, 17; 15:4), and mighty men who fight in war are men of “strength” (Joshua 6:2).
Several things can be inferred from this. First, as noted in an earlier study, this means that the woman’s domestic work has a heroic quality; what she does in the home is a form of warfare. Domestic activity is the stuff of epic poetry in Scripture, one of the main places where the Seed of the Woman prosecutes war against the seed of the serpent. This once again confirms the emphasis throughout Proverbs on the mother’s Torah and wisdom as a source of guidance for the prince. Moms are on the front because they raise princely, heroic sons and strong daughters. Men who think their wives do nothing ought to think again.
Second, the woman is strong – that seems to include physical strength, but also wealth and substance. She is a capable, competent woman. She can handle herself in a land purchase and can oversee a collection of household servants. She is no Victorian withering flower. And for the Proverbs, the strong woman is the wise woman, the kind of woman that the prince should choose.
Many men prefer otherwise; many prefer weak women whom they can browbeat and bully; many men think that a strong woman will make them weaker. On the contrary, marriage is no zero-sum game. A strong wife strengthens her husband; her “substance” and “strength” are a source of “gain” to him (v. 11), not a source of loss.
Just as God Himself isn’t proud and protective of His privileges, but shares power and kingship with His creation, delights in the amazing power of Leviathan and the strength of a man, so a husband ought not to be protective and proud in regard to his wife. He should not consider her strength a threat, but rather an enhancement of his own strength.
The second line of verse 10 describes the strong woman’s worth in economic terms. Her “price” is above jewels, and the word “price” means literally “sale price” (cf. the verb form used in Genesis 25:31, 33; 45:4-5; Leviticus 25, passim ; Proverbs 31:24). Some doubtless take this as a sign that women were considered chattel in ancient Israel, but the entire context refutes that interpretation.
The same notion is found early in the book, where the prince is exhorted to sell everything to buy wisdom – certainly not a commercialization of wisdom (cf. 3:15; 8:11). The point is that the woman is a source of gain for her husband, economically but in every other way as well. His reputation is bolstered by her competence and wisdom; his power is enhanced; the beauty and order of his house is increased.Her value is compared to that of precious stones. She enhances her husband’s life, and the other lives around her, far more than even the most precious jewel. Implicitly, it is not just her worth, but the woman herself, who is a jewel. Human beings are made from dust, enlivened and enflamed by the Spirit of God breathed through the nostrils. Dirt hardens into stones, and so men are compared to rocks, like their Father, the heavenly Rock, or their brother Christ, the Rock that followed them in the wilderness.
Through the fires of trial and persecution, some human rocks are burnished into precious stones – becoming the gold, silver, and jewels that make up the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3; Revelation 21). This woman is such a jewel. That image does not imply fragility, but glory, beauty, internal fire and light, even hardness and strength in the midst of tribulation. That is the kind of woman that is valuable to her husband.
Because of her virtue, strength, and value, her husband’s heart is at rest. The first part of verse 11 is straightforward. Her husband (ba’al) trusts her. Though the verb “trust” can be used of human beings trusting one another, it commonly refers to the trust that we are to place in Yahweh Himself (2 Kings 18:5; Psalm 4:5; 9:10). Our hearts should trust in Yahweh (Psalm 28:7; 62:8, 10). The Psalms tell us that we should put trust in Yahweh rather than in man (Psalm 118:8-9).
Yet, the strong woman’s lord, her ba’al, trusts in her, trusts in her from the heart, placing a confidence in her that is analogous to his confidence in Yahweh Himself. He knows that she will do him no wrong; he knows that she will be careful with his wealth, and will enhance rather than destroy his life.
Trust of this sort is the most precious commodity in any marriage, and its loss is the evil that lies at the root of most marital breakdowns. Once lost, it is very difficult to restore. Instead of a narrative of faithfulness and trust, husband and wife develop a narrative of betrayal and failure. Husbands begin to think that their wives are out to get them, and wives begin to think that their husbands mean them harm. Pettiness begins to dominate the marriage. Marriages can be preserved only on the basis of constant, implicit, heart-trust in one another, which is ultimately a fruit of constant, unrelenting, heart-trust in the Lord of marriage.
In the AV, the second line of verse 11 is odd. The NASB gets it better: The point is not that the man who trusts his wife won’t need to gather plunder. Rather, the man who trusts his wife will have no lack of gain, and the gain is described as “plunder” ( shalal ; cf. Genesis 49:27; Exodus 15:9; 1 Samuel 30:20). This is another of the military terms that is sprinkled throughout the chapter. The gain that the strong wife brings is like the gain of a victory in battle. Her labor “plunders” the world around, and enriches her husband. He knows that she won’t plunder and keep part of the plunder for himself. She is no Achan; she will share the plunder with her household. That is what the husband knows from the heart.
The phrase “good and evil” in verse 12 takes us back to the garden and its forbidden tree. Eve became a foolish wife, a wife who could not be trusted, wife to a man who could not be trusted either. The strong woman is no Eve who does evil. She does good for her husband rather than evil. The good she does is persistent and lifelong.