Who Can Find Her?
Passage: Proverbs 31:10–31:31
Ok, Proverbs 31. How many of you have heard a sermon or gone through a Bible Study on Proverbs 31? When I mapped out this series on selected passages from Proverbs, I knew that this was going to be one of those passages. I knew I would choose this passage because it is one of the most misused and even abused passages in the whole Bible. Far too often, you will hear a Bible study teacher or even a pastor walk through this passage to show married women what they need to be. They need to be like this woman in Proverbs 31.
The problems with this are many. First, this wasn’t written to women, but to who? Young royal men. So we have an audience issue. Second, we have a context problem. This ‘woman’ isn’t a real woman. This is Lady Wisdom. This is wisdom personified in the way that would be most attractive to young royal men: the perfect wife. The purpose of this passage isn’t to put the spotlight on the woman, but to put the spotlight on wisdom.
Third, even if you didn’t know anything about the audience or context, just read what this woman does! I mean, she’s perfect. If you are a married woman, you only have to read this passage one time to feel totally under the pile. This wife wakes up before the sun is up to make food for her husband and all their servants. She stays up all night making merchandise to sell the next morning. I guess that’s after she makes breakfast for the whole household. She is both a night owl and an early bird! What’s wrong with you women?
I was at an Acts 29 conference this week and Friday morning I was leaving my house to work on this sermon and I asked Angela if there was anything I should know about a Proverbs 31 wife and she responded, “Just that you haven’t found her yet!” Then after a slight pause, she said, “Just remind everyone that she had servants. I’d like a few of those.”
I mean, if you read all this woman does, it makes you wonder what in the world the husband did? I picture this super lazy guy watching tv as the wife makes the food, the wife makes the clothes, the wife earns the money, and the wife deals with the kids. The passage starts by saying, “An excellent wife, who can find?” I wanted to title this sermon, “Seriously, who can find her?”
Whoever is going to argue that this is a real woman still has to deal with the fact that all the verbs in this passage are in the past tense. That means that even if you are going to say this is a real woman who really could do all these things, you can’t say that she did these things on a daily or even weekly or even yearly basis. The best you can do is say that she did these things during different seasons of her life. It would be like someone praising my wife in her 80s and saying, “Angela was so great. She stayed at home with four kids, she discipled an army of women, she was an accomplished writer, she made the family extra money as a licensed counselor, she maintained a beautiful garden, and traveled the country speaking to couples about marriage.” Well, yes, technically those would all be true, but in very different seasons of life. That’s why all the verbs are in the past tense. If you didn’t understand that, this statement would make her out to be some sort of super woman.
The point of this passage is to show how incredible Lady Wisdom is. The passage is saying to a young man, you should desire wisdom the way you would desire this kind of wife. And wisdom is even better. In the words of one unnamed OGC intern, “think about how weird it would be to have a whole book about seeking wisdom that concludes with “Now go marry Wonderwoman.” This is Solomon’s last and greatest plea to embrace wisdom. Now, does this mean that there is nothing to learn here about an excellent wife? Not at all. There is much to learn, but we have to understand what this passage is not doing before we can use it well.
So, I want to use this passage the way it was intended to be used. I want to take one last look at Lady Wisdom, then see what we can and can’t apply to marriage.
The beauty of wisdom
We are told a few things about the beauty of wisdom. First, we are told that wisdom is valuable. 10 4 uAn excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than vjewels. Why are jewels precious? Because you can buy things with them. You can gain security through them. Jewels can give you houses, vacations, and good clothes. Imagine a spouse so great that you wouldn’t trade all the jewels in the world for her. That’s how great Lady Wisdom is.
And when you have wisdom, you can use it to purchase things in this life and the next that no earthly jewel could ever purchase. You can purchase emotional and spiritual security that jewels can’t purchase. You can purchase decision making skills that will bless you and those around you. You can purchase praise from those who know you. You can purchase the ability to be a good father or a good mother. Verse 11 says that you can purchase a spouse who trusts you. Verse 12 says you can purchase the ability to do good to those around you and not harm them. You see people with this long line of collateral damage in their life. Wisdom can purchase you the ability to not live that kind of life. You can purchase the ability to sober up. You can purchase the ability to forgive and love more deeply. You can purchase the ability to sleep with a clean conscience at night. Jewels cannot do any of those things which makes wisdom so much more valuable.
Second, wisdom blesses her household. Verses 13-18 talk about how Lady Wisdom blesses a family financially. She works hard, but she also works willingly. She makes things the family can sell. She brings in expensive and exotic food from far off. Getting food from other countries used to be a big deal. I know it’s lost on us when we can hit a few buttons on our phone and have food from anywhere in the world show up at our door. But imagine living in the 1500s and having a wife show up with food from China. That’s a real blessing!
Lady Wisdom rises early in the morning and blesses you before you even get up. She works during the day buying and selling things.. She buys a field and then plants that field herself and makes money off that field. She has servants, but still does manual labor! Imagine your wife coming to you and saying, “Hey, just so you know. I bought a corporation today and reorganized it and it’s now making us $10,000 a month... What did you do today sweety?” And if you are here and feel like this sounds like the prosperity gospel, believe in God and you will get more money, go back and listen to my sermon on Proverbs 2.
One of the most outrageous applications made from this passage is that women are not allowed to work outside of the home. Not only is this missing the main point of this passage, it’s missing the fact that this woman works way outside the home. Now, I 100% support families who are able to have a parent at home especially when kids are small. That is a huge blessing for those who want to do that and can. But, to say that women are not allowed to work outside the home and drawing that from this proverb just isn’t possible.
Verse 17 says she dresses herself in strength. She isn’t taken advantage of and will protect you in every way. Then, at night once you go to sleep, she keeps on working and making money for you all night long. Verse 18 says her lamp does not go out at night. You have to sleep. You need breaks, but she doesn’t. Lady Wisdom puts the well being of her household ahead of herself.
Not only does she bless her household, she blesses her community. Verse 20 says she helps the poor and needy in the community. People don’t hurt or lack when she is there. We have already seen that she protects those in her household from the danger of other people, now in verse 21 we see that she offers protection from the cold weather and the snow because of the quality of the clothing she has made.
Lady Wisdom brings honor to those who embrace her. That’s why verse 23 says 23 Her husband is known in gthe gates when he sits among the elders of the land. Just knowing her and being in a relationship with her makes this man known in the gates where the most important discussions take place. Anyone who embraces her can’t help but grow in esteem in your city.
Verse 26 says she is kind and caring 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She only wants the best for those around her and she works to lift them up and restore them. Can you think of a more attractive person than Lady Wisdom? If it’s weird for you women to think of Lady Wisdom as attractive, think of her as Sir Wisdom. Take all the great qualities and place them in the perfect man. So, how can we have this person? Once we understand that Lady Wisdom is not a real wife, it becomes really clear who this person is: Jesus! Who else works for you around the clock while you are asleep? Who else offers you something more valuable than jewels? Who else works hard that you might be blessed? Who else changes the way you think and the things you desire? Who else takes on a burden that you might be praised in the gate?
Jesus is where true wisdom resides and only in him will we find Lady Wisdom. Only in Jesus are we blessed in every possible way. Wisdom brings flourishing to every part of life. Financial flourishing because of prudence, hard work, and integrity. Emotional flourishing because of a clear conscience. Spiritual flourishing because in Jesus, we have been reunited with the God we were created for. Jesus took on the shame of God’s wrath on the cross that we might be praised by God at the eternal gates. Only Jesus restores us where we need it the most. Only Jesus can inspire the kind of trust Lady Wisdom inspires. Only Jesus! All the blessings of this Lady Wisdom are offered to us in Jesus Christ. What we must do is accept him. Give him our life, give him our heart, give him our trust and let him bless us the way he wants to.
This is the climactic ending to the book. Solomon’s great plea to embrace wisdom. That is the main point. Will you embrace Lady Wisdom in Jesus Christ? Now that that is clear, what can we learn about marriage?
First, this isn’t only to be applied to women. Remember, Lady Wisdom is wisdom personified for young royal men. Because of that, Lady Wisdom is both what we should seek to emulate and what we should hope for in a spouse. It’s not just a way for men to judge women. It’s also a way for women to judge men.
Second, we can’t hold women to this impossible standard. In Ephesians chapter five, Paul is talking about marriage and he says in verse 31 that this mystery is profound (that is, the mystery of marriage), and I’m saying that it refers to Christ and his church. There is a marriage between Jesus and his church at the end of time and every earthly marriage that embraces Jesus Christ in some way displays the relationship between Jesus and his great love, his treasured possession, his bride: the church. So, we can’t hold women to this standard. No woman will live up to the standard of Lady Wisdom because no woman is perfect. No one is Jesus and we can’t hold anyone to a standard that only he can keep. Now, does this mean that there is nothing women can aspire to in this passage? No. There is much to aspire to for both men and women once the guilt of perfection is taken away.
Third, we can see what makes this woman so desirable. The reason this woman is so desirable isn’t because she is kind, strong, valuable, and industrious. She is desirable because she fears the Lord. That is the source of her power. Verse 30, 30 lCharm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Again, fearing God means loving him enough to fully submit to his will for our lives and no one has ever done this more than Jesus. Whether you follow him or not, you have to admit that Jesus is the most important figure in human history. Isaiah tells us that he wasn’t beautiful the way we would describe beauty, but he changed the world because he feared the Lord perfectly. Now, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t God, it means that he took on flesh to do what all of us have failed to do, perfectly fear the Lord.
What makes this woman so desirable is that she fears the Lord and that is something that we can apply to marriage now. When I was in college ministry, I would often be asked by young men what kind of woman they should marry and I would take them here. This applies to women as well. This passage details three qualities a woman COULD possess and prioritizes them. A woman could be charming. Charm isn’t a bad thing, but if a woman is charming enough, that charm could prevent you from seeing that she doesn’t have the most important thing. That’s why this verse says that charm is deceitful. Beauty is fine, but whatever beauty any of us have in our youth, it’s going away. That’s what this word ‘vain’ means. Beauty is futile, some translations say beauty is fleeting because the best case scenario is that you grow old together with your wrinkly skin, fake teeth, and redistribution of hair growth. There has to be something more substantive than beauty and charm to build a marriage. Marriage has to have a stronger foundation than that. And that is why the verse contrasts those qualities with something far better: a woman who fears the Lord.
This is the foundation. Young men, older boys in the room. When you look out at all the women in your life, the first question you ask yourself is if this young woman fears the Lord. Does she love God so much that the way she lives her life is completely changed? Does she prioritize her life primarily around her love for Jesus? Don't be satisfied just because she says she’s a Christian. Don’t be fooled into thinking she fears the Lord just because she goes to church. Know her well enough to know that her whole life is different because she loves God and wants to honor Him with her life. There are no ‘yeah, buts…’ here. It doesn’t mean she’s perfect. This isn’t talking about her actions, it’s talking about her heart. A heart that changes her actions. And single women, this applies to potential men in your life as well.
Fourth, we can see marriage that we will all take part in. Marriage is a main theme throughout the Bible. There is a marriage at the beginning of the Bible and there is a marriage at the end of the Bible. You could rightly say that the Bible is a book about marriage. That’s why Solomon personifies wisdom as an incredible woman, tells you to seek her, and concludes with saying, “Don’t just take her for a time, wife that woman.” Marriage displays the sort of permanent lifelong all-in kind of commitment that God desires from his people. and that’s why our earthly marriages are not the focus of the Bible. God uses our marriages to point us toward an even greater marriage.
Can I say that I believe that much of the backlash the church is getting about the confusion of sexual identities is kind of our fault. We in the church have elevated earthly marriage to the pinnacle of importance when it is not. And now that we have elevated marriage as high as it is, well, then it has become a basic human right. And when it is a right, it is an identity issue. Who we marry in this life is not an identity issue. But, what that marriage points us to, as Paul has already said, is an identity issue.
I love officiating a wedding. Last weekend I got to officiate Ben and Allison’s wedding. I can honestly say that Ben might have been the most excited groom to be I have ever seen. I know from the time I spent with them that they are deeply in love and overflowing with joy at the very thought of being married. But, what happens at a wedding is so much bigger than them.
If you look at the end of the Bible story, you see in Revelation 19 the wedding of all weddings. The marriage of all marriages. Jesus’ marriage to his great love, his treasured possession, his Bride: the church. You could say that God’s purpose in this world is to bring His wayward church to a wedding so rich and so intimate that the only way to describe it is to point to the love of a Bride and Groom on their wedding night and say...there...something like that! is the way Jesus loves His church.
Lady Wisdom is calling us to that wedding. Lady Wisdom is calling us to Jesus. This call is what caused Paul to overflow in worship of God in Romans 11. Paul was overwhelmed that God allowed the Jews to be saved in spite of their conventional wisdom that made them think they could be saved by their law keeping. Paul was also overwhelmed that God allowed the gentiles to be saved in spite of their pursuit of worldly wisdom. Both groups were judged and forgiven in Christ who is the wisdom of God. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now5 receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! tHow unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
None of us deserve this, but we are still invited. The invitation isn’t to live up to this Proverb 31 standard, but to delight in wisdom personified. Delight in Jesus Christ.