Proverbs 31 and the Working Mother – Part 1


proverbs 31 working mom

This is the first in a three-part series looking at The Wife of Noble Character from Proverbs 31 in the context of the contemporary working mom.  Check back Wednesday and Friday for other posts in the series!

I’ve got a bunch of things I’m going to work on “someday.”  I’m sure you do, too.  Way in the back of my mind is a list of very worthwhile projects I’d love to find time to tackle.

One of those efforts I’ve been longing to take on has been to study the Proverbs 31 woman in-depth to get a clearer sense of her income-generating efforts and how that fits into the whole “working mom” discussion in Christian circles.

Turns out, it’s completely unnecessary. 

First, if you’re not familiar with it, take a quick peek at the passage.

Seriously, there’s nothing bad in there.  I’m not sure anyone would argue that this lady wasn’t a rock star.

But with all the emphasis Christian women place on the value of this passage, I’ve always been perplexed at how the line where she is purchasing property from her earnings seems to be overlooked.  {Please know that for the sake of this discussion I’m absolutely not generalizing everyone, but rather acknowledging that there are some women in the faith who feel very strongly that mothers should not be in the workforce.}  So I hoped to set about the business of investigating whether or not she was a celebrated working mom, right there in the middle of this well-known Biblical passage popularly used as an example of the ideal woman.

That project never got underway, but then last week I happened to stumble across the blog A Virtuous Woman.  Though there’s a fair amount there that I agree with, I couldn’t get past this as one of the 10 virtues of the Proverbs 31 woman:

From "A Virtuous Woman" blog
From “A Virtuous Woman” blog

Not only did I not see all of that detail in the original passage, I also felt he whole inference that the Proverbs 31 woman generates an income through whatever business or work she’s involved in was completely glossed over.

And so, it sparked my desire anew to learn more about this mysterious superwoman.  And not in a way to add fuel to the Mommy Wars (because we’re done with that, right ladies?) but because I genuinely wanted to know the answer.  If I was mistaken in my impressions of this woman, I wanted to be set right.  I really wanted to understand the heart of this Wife of Noble Character.  Because if I could be a better one myself, I wanted to know how.

Enter, of course, the internet.  While not the optimal theological resource, it’s where I decided to start because it was late and I didn’t have any other tools at my immediate disposal.

And so I Googled something to the effect of “did the Proverbs 31 woman work?

{Brilliant, I know.}

What I discovered was equally brilliant.  As it turned out, my research had already been done for me.  {This is where it gets good.}

I had initially been introduced to the idea that the Proverbs 31 woman wasn’t necessarily a model to aspire to by my friend Tash, who I trust because she’s smart and reads stuff.  But this confirmed it.  People who know much more than I agree – rather than intended as a laundry list of all the stuff women should do, how they should act, and what they should achieve, the poem in Proverbs was a written by a mother to her son as a reminder to choose a wise woman (as opposed to a fool) for a wife.  And in Jewish culture it’s used a blessing that the husband recites over his wife.  Not as a list of things she’s done or she’s should be doing, but just words that express his deep appreciation for her.  (Read more here.)

So it turns out that the passage is not intended to be literally prescriptive, but rather generally instructional.  Wait.  Doesn’t that basically sum up the whole book of Proverbs anyway?

Looking at it this way, the passage should just be taken at face value as a beautiful representation of a righteous woman, but not necessarily deconstructed the way we do today.

Isn’t that exciting?  Mamas, the pressure is off.  Come back on Wednesday to delve a little further into why we don’t need to beat ourselves up over not being able to check every box on the “Wife of Noble Character” checklist – but also why we shouldn’t discount the entire value of the passage, either.

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