Supportive relationships between spouses became the rare exception rather than the norm, evidenced clearly throughout the rest of Genesis—Sarah, Rachel, Leah, Tamar, and so forth. The Proverbs 31 wife reflects back to the first woman created in perfection, and also reflects forward to the wife of Ephesians 5 who, redeemed by Christ, is equipped to reclaim the image of God in her relationship with her husband.
In Paul's beautiful discourse on the gospel in Ephesians, he tells first of God's plan before time began to redeem back all that was lost in the fall of man (Eph. 1 and 2). We see that, in Christ, we are now equipped to be "imitators of God" (Eph. 5:1), once again living as the image bearers of God that he created us to be. In that context, Paul paints a picture at the end of Ephesians 5 of what marriage looks like between husbands and wives who are IN Christ and IMAGE BEARERS of God. Both are tasked with gospel love for the other.
Though the husband is called on to give a special example and manifestation of this love, make no mistake that both the husband and the wife are commanded to love. Similarly with submission. Ephesians 5 tasks everyone in the Body of Christ with submission—submit therefore to one another out of reverence for Christ. Just as the husband is called to give a specific example of love, the wife is called to give a specific example of submission. This is all in the context of what it looks like to be IN CHRIST and IMITATORS OF GOD in marriage.
Proverbs 31 gives us a similar picture of the kind of love and support that a woman who is in Christ and an image bearer of God can provide in her home. She is a precious gift to her husband, valued far above earthly riches.
Some translations refer to this woman as the virtuous or capable woman rather than the virtuous or capable wife. The Hebrew word can mean either, but wife seems the better translation in context. Otherwise, the chapter makes it seem that the pathway to virtue for a woman is singularly through a husband and children. But Scripture is the best commentary on itself. And it gives us the story of Ruth among others to clarify this false notion.
Ruth's virtue and capable nature are most clearly evident as a single widow with no children. Well before Boaz came into the picture, Ruth is everything in character that God has called her to be. Rather than serving as a taunting, unattainable goal to single women who love and serve Christ, receive the virtuous wife of Proverbs 31 as a model to those who are in marriages tainted by the fall who long for a practical vision of what is possible in their marriage and home through Christ.
The author of this proverb paints a picture of a woman who is FOR her husband. She does him good, not evil, all his days. She is also FOR her family. She is aware of their needs and is diligent to support, protect, and encourage them. The great summary statement of the entire section is found in verse 30, "a woman who fears the Lord will be praised." Her horizontal relationship with her husband and family is based on her vertical relationship with God. She remains in close relationship with her God, for without him, she can do nothing (John 15:5). That is what equips her to be virtuous.
Adapted from Wendy Alsup's blog, theologyforwomen.org. Wendy has authored three books including By His Wounds You are Healed: How the Message of Ephesians Transforms a Woman's Identity. She is also a wife, mom and college math teacher who loves ministering to women.
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