If you’re a girl and you’ve spent any amount of time in church, you’ve probably heard about the mighty Proverbs 31 woman.
Just in case you haven’t, let me break it down.
In the last chapter of Proverbs, King Lemuel recounts some sage advice from his mom – including tips for recognizing a good wife. She is a woman who fears the Lord and, for that reason, she is precious, trustworthy, helpful, calculating and apparently a pretty good entrepreneur. She is thrifty but giving. She’s kind and patient. She’s a stellar mom and a respectful spouse. She’s awesome.
Anyone else have a hard time relating?
Proverbs 31 sets a beautiful standard, and one that is fitting as we consider the purpose of the chapter and the implications of being women and men who fear God. It’s an encouraging and worthwhile passage … duh.
But I think we miss the mark when we forget to also talk about other accounts of women in the Bible, accounts that put the humanity of those with totally different – and even scandalous – backgrounds and pasts on display.
Here are a few examples that can teach us lessons about Biblical womanhood beyond Proverbs 31.
Esther is brave. Indulgence is the standard during the time Esther comes on the scene in Susa, modern-day Iran. A Hebrew girl summoned away from her family to serve in the courts of a pagan king, Esther is an example of God’s favor and guidance in the midst of trials. As her people are threatened, she does what only she can do and, with cunning and wisdom, wins the favor of the king. In turn, she’s able to advocate on their behalf and rescue them from destruction. The book of Esther is a display of God’s favor and love for His people more than anything, but when we consider the heroine of the book, we see how one young girl can make a huge difference.
Ruth is devoted. In the aftermath of a natural disaster and the deaths of her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law, Ruth finds herself at a crossroads. Naomi, her widowed mother-in-law is doing the best she can and decides to venture to Moab. She’s hungry, she’s hurting, but Ruth stays loyal even through all the trials and commits to follow Naomi — and her God – regardless of circumstance.
“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (1:16).
Ruth gives up life on her own, hopes of a family and children, and clings to Naomi. By the end of the book, Ruth reaps salvation and provision at the hands of her kinsmen redeemer, Boaz. The purpose of the chapter is really to show God’s faithfulness to his people (are we seeing a pattern?) but still we can glean lessons from the devotion of Ruth.
The Shunammite woman is generous. In 2 Kings, yes 2 Kings, we see a short story of a woman who goes out of her way to show generosity to God’s prophet, Elisha. The Shunammite woman was wealthy, but looking for ways to serve. So, she resolved to provide for all his basic needs when he passed through town – food, shelter, etc. In return she was promised a son, despite her and her husband’s old age. I don’t believe she was thinking “I’ll be nice so I can get stuff.” Instead, she was generous out of her devotion to God and because she attributed much worth to the work Elisha was doing. There’s much more to be explored in this account, beyond character traits of the woman to be sure, but it just got me thinking … how generous am I to other believers, particularly those working in ministry? How much do I value the work of the Lord?
Mary Magdalene is humble. Mary Magdalene has always intrigued me. Saved from tormenting demons and often linked to prostitution, she’s in a helpless state when she meets Jesus. But throughout the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) she’s everywhere; ever-near to her savior, she understood her great need and the gift of salvation and her loyalty conveyed her devotion. She has a correct perspective, of herself and of God, that shines through in the accounts where she’s mentioned. She never leaves His side. She follows Him no matter what. It’s not so much that she didn’t think much of herself, instead I say she’s humble because to me, humility is about having a correct and high value of others, recognizing their worth … and Jesus’ worth was immeasurable in her eyes. Like us, she was saved from much, and she knew it.
Yes, Proverbs 31 is awesome. May we be men and women of great wisdom, the focal point of Proverbs. But let’s also take some nods from these accounts, where it’s struggle and redemption, not perfection, that stand out.