The Sayings of Lemuel[a]
A Splendid Program for a King
1 These are the words of Lemuel, king of Massa, which were taught to him by his mother:[b]
2 O my son, O son of my womb,
O son of my vows!
3 Do not surrender your vigor to women
or consort with those who cause the ruin of kings.[c]
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
not for kings to drink wine,
not for princes to crave strong liquor,[d]
5 lest in their stupor they forget what has been decreed
and pervert the rights of those who are in distress.
6 Give strong drink to someone about to die,
wine to someone in anguish.
7 Let him drink and forget his misfortune
and no longer remember his misery.
8 [e]Speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves,
and defend the rights of the destitute.
9 Speak out and pronounce righteous judgments;
defend the rights of the wretched and the poor.
In Praise of the Valiant Woman or the Perfect Homemaker[f]
10 Who can find a worthy wife?
She is far more precious than pearls.
11 Her husband entrusts his heart to her,
for in her he has an unfailing blessing.
12 She works to give him good and not evil
all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with skillful hands.
14 She is like merchant ships,
accumulating a store of food from far off.
15 She rises while it is still dark[g]
and apportions food for her household
while assigning tasks to her servant girls.
16 She carefully chooses a field to purchase,
and out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.[h]
17 She girds herself to work
and plies her arms with vigor.
18 She ensures that her dealings are profitable;[i]
her lamp remains undimmed throughout the night.
19 She sets her hands to the distaff,
and her fingers grasp the spindle.[j]
20 She holds out her hands to the poor[k]
and opens her arms to the needy.
21 When snow arrives, she has no fear for her household,
for all of her servants are warmly clothed.
22 She makes her own bed quilts
and wears fine clothes of linen[l] and purple.
23 Her husband is well respected at the city gates
as he takes his seat with the elders of the land.
24 She weaves linen garments and sells them,
and she supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she can afford to laugh at the days to come.[m]
26 When she opens her mouth, wisdom issues forth,
and on her tongue is kindly advice.[n]
27 She keeps close watch on the conduct of her household,
and she does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children stand up and proclaim her blessed,[o]
and her husband joins them in praising her:
29 “Many are the women who have done admirable things,[p]
but you outdo them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive[q] and beauty is fleeting,
but the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her a share in what her hands have accomplished,[r]
and let her works bring her praise at the city gates.
- Proverbs 31:1 Lemuel is the unknown (and possibly legendary and imaginary) leader of a foreign tribe. The fact that words of wisdom are attributed to him proves that wisdom is found everywhere.
More than other people, kings are exposed to the danger of loose women and drunkenness. A prince who is sober and vigilant, humane and just, is the ideal of the desert chiefs. He is set against the fake refinement of overly civil princes.
- Proverbs 31:1 His mother: the queen mother had great influence (see 1 Ki 1:11-13; 15:13). The whole chapter brings out the huge role played by wise women in society.
- Proverbs 31:3 A warning against sexual misconduct (see Prov 5:9-11; 1 Ki 11:1; Neh 13:26).
- Proverbs 31:4 A warning against drunkenness (see note on Prov 20:16; see also Eccl 10:16-17; Hos 7:5).
- Proverbs 31:8 As the defender of the poor, the king is a representative of God (see Prov 16:10; Job 29:12-17; Ps 82:3; Isa 1:17).
- Proverbs 31:10 The entire family gathers together to heap praise on the mistress of the home. The husband, a considerate man, devotes himself to his public life. Without fear he can leave to his wife the care of directing the household, providing for domesticity, taking care of the marketing, the fields, and the vine. This golden woman joins to her practical qualities and her sense of work a discreet and communicative piety, the gift of education, the efficacious foresight for all, and attentiveness to the poor. These are natural (but nonetheless attractive) qualities for her. She deserves to be celebrated.
This short poem is better known under the title “Praise of a Strong Woman.” Each verse has two parallel members and begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet; there are as many verses as there are letters in that alphabet. The passage has therefore been carefully and artfully composed; there is nothing improvised about it. But in the person of the virtuous woman it is ultimately Wisdom herself that is extolled. Wisdom, a profound force in a people, was presented to us at the beginning of the Book as a person who actively intervenes in the human world; the end of the Book harks back to the beginning. The picture drawn is meant to leave us with an attractive ideal of life.
- Proverbs 31:15 She rises while it is still dark: in this respect, she is the exact opposite of the idler (see Prov 6:9-10; 20:13).
- Proverbs 31:16 She carefully chooses a field to purchase, and . . . she plants a vineyard: she shows good judgment.
- Proverbs 31:18 Her dealings are profitable: like wisdom, she is “far more precious than pearls” (v. 10; see Prov 3:15; 8:11). Her lamp remains undimmed: a lighted lamp in a family is a sign of prosperity and life; an unlighted lamp is a sign of calamity and death (see Prov 13:9 and note; 20:20; 24:20; 1 Sam 3:3; Job 18:5; 21:17).
- Proverbs 31:19 Distaff . . . spindle: she takes care of work that was assigned to women at the time.
- Proverbs 31:20 She holds out her hands to the poor: see Prov 14:21; 22:9; Job 31:16-20.
- Proverbs 31:22 Fine clothes of linen: a sign of nobility (see Prov 7:16; Gen 41:42). Purple: a sign of royalty (see Jdg 8:26; Song 3:10) or wealth (see Lk 16:19; Rev 18:16).
- Proverbs 31:25 She can afford to laugh at the days to come: i.e., she is without anxiety or worry (see Job 39:7).
- Proverbs 31:26 She dispenses wisdom and good advice (see Prov 1:8; 6:20).
- Proverbs 31:28 Blessed: the happy state of life in fellowship with God, revering him and obeying his laws (see Prov 3:13; 8:34; 28:20; 29:18; Pss 72:17; 94:12; 112:1; 119:1f; 128:1).
- Proverbs 31:29 Many . . . have done admirable things: see Isa 32:20.
- Proverbs 31:30 Charm is deceptive: see Prov 5:3. Beauty is fleeting: see Job 14:2; 1 Pet 3:3-5. Who fears the Lord: see note on Prov 1:7.
- Proverbs 31:31 Share in what her hands have accomplished: see Prov 12:14. Bring her praise: because of her “humility and fear of the Lord” (Prov 22:4).