A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Proverbs 31:1."The sayings of King Lemuel — an oracle his mother taught him"
Women have sometimes been used to write Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Deborah and Lemuel's mother were honored to be the composers, under the direction of God, each of them of a chapter in the Bible; and the prophecy of Lemuel's mother will make every woman who governs her life by it an ornament to her gender. It is the duty of mothers, as well as fathers, to instruct their children. Although Lemuel was a king — yet his mother was directed by God to give him instruction and admonition.
Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, was renowned for the pleasure she took in the education of her children. When a certain lady was one day showing Cornelia her jewels, and desiring a sight of Cornelia's jewels — she told her that her children were her jewels. Certainly the richest diamonds cannot give so much luster to a lady, as the proper discharge of this duty to her children.
Cornelia was an unenlightened heathen — but why should Christian mothers blush in her presence? If we were as great as kings, it would be a scandal to us to despise the instructions and counsels of a mother. King Lemuel remembered, and wrote the prophecy that his mother taught him, and transmits it to posterity. Whoever he was, we have reason to believe that he practiced the instructions which he so much respected. Lemuel shall be forever held in honor for the respect which he showed to his mother, and his mother's name will be renowned for her part in forming her son to virtue, and religion, and public usefulness.
Proverbs 31:2."O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows"
When this venerable lady was instructing her son, her heart was overflowing with inexpressible tenderness of affection to him. Parents often take a very absurd method of expressing their fondness for their children — but when they gratify every one of their humors, and allow them to live without restraints and admonitions — they do not truly love, but hate their children. He who spares the rod hates his child. The love of parents to their children is best showed by doing their utmost endeavors to make them good Christians, and useful to their generation. For this purpose they ought to dispense their instructions and their reproofs in the language of love, and to let their children see that everything they say to them is dictated by the warmest affection.
"O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows." This fond mother considered and pondered in her mind what way she should express her tender regard, and she could find no better way of showing it than by teaching him who wisdom which befits his station; for what greater testimony of love can any mother give to the son of her womb? Every mother loves the son of her womb. If she does not, she is not a mother — but a sister to the ostrich, to which God has denied understanding.
The love of a mother to the son of her womb is so fervent, that God is pleased to use it as an illustration of his own love to his people. Although the love of a mother bears no proportion to it — yet that is one of the best emblems of it which the world can afford.
Lemuel was the son of her vows, as well as of her womb. Every son of the womb should be a son of the mother's vows and prayers. And the instructions of a parent must be joined with prayers for their success. For mothers may plant, and fathers may water — but it is God who gives the increase. When Monica was shedding tears for her beloved son Augustine, at the time that he was a debauchee, and a heretic — one of her friends told her that the child of so many prayers could not be lost, and perhaps no mother since the days of the Virgin Mary had in the end, greater comfort in a son.
Proverbs 31:3."Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings."
Whoredom, as Solomon tells us, is the ruin of any man — but none are in greater danger of being ruined in their bodies and fortunes by this vice than kings, who have too often the misfortune to need a check or a reprover, while the temptations that lead to sensuality are ever surrounding them. David and Solomon involved themselves in great distress by the love of women; and it is well known, that in later times, the kingdom of Spain was totally ruined, and the Saracens introduced into the possession of it, through the unbridled lust of King Roderick.
Proverbs 31:4."It is not for kings, O Lemuel — not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave strong drink."
Wine, as well as whoredom, takes away the heart when it is drunk to excess — but other men cannot do so much hurt as kings or magistrates when they are drunk.
Proverbs 31:5."Lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights."
When Nadab and Abihu were destroyed by fire from the Lord, for their unhallowed incense, it is probable they were drunk; and therefore a law was made on that occasion that priests should drink no wine when they went in before the Lord, lest they should blunder in any part of the sacred service. The more important any man's work is, he is the more obliged to be temperate in all things. Drunkenness, which is a damning sin in any person, is attended with prodigious aggravations in those men who dispense the mysteries of the gospel, or administer the public affairs of the nation.
The most oppressive and execrable laws that Scotland was ever plagued with, were made by a parliament called the drunken parliament. Alexander the Great, when he was drunk, killed one of his best friends, who had, on a former occasion, saved his life in battle; and when Alexander recovered his judgment, he had almost killed himself. His father Philip was less unfortunate. He once forgot the law in his cups, and passed an unrighteous sentence upon a poor widow — but soon recovering his senses, he condemned himself to refund her damages.
Some think that drunkenness is an excuse for the faults that are committed by men under the influence of it. Lemuel's mother, under the influence of the prophetic spirit, was of another mind — and even unenlightened heathen have been sensible how frivolous this excuse is. Zaleucus made a law among the Locrians, that if any person committed a crime when he was drunk, he should be punished for both crimes — for he did not judge that one crime was a proper excuse for another. If men are insane without any fault of their own, they are not accountable for their actions — but a voluntary madness has no excuse for itself, and will be no excuse for anything else.
To pervert judgment in any case is not good. To pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted, is such a complication of injustice and inhumanity, that none but a man who is drunk, or is of a disposition that makes him perpetually like a man in liquor, will be guilty of it. The wise woman knew that her beloved son could never commit this unpardonable iniquity while he was sober.
It is not for ministers, or teachers; it is not for parents, or masters, or mistresses, to drink wine to excess, lest they forget their duty and commit some pernicious error, in the discharge of that trust which lies upon them, and corrupt their inferiors by their example.
But is wine useless? Why then did God create the fruit of the vine? It is not useless. Mahomet reproached his Creator, when he prohibited the use of it without restriction. It is useful for the refreshment of any man, when his labors, or the dejection of his mind, or the state of his body requires it. It is peculiarly useful to those who are oppressed with calamity and grief.
Proverbs 31:6-7."Give strong drink to those who are perishing, and wine to those who are in anguish. Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more."
We must not give wine in immoderate quantities to any person, however dejected, for sin is never to be chosen rather than affliction — but wine moderately used is of great use to revive the languishing spirits of the disconsolate; and it may be a piece of as real charity, to bestow this generous liquor upon them, as it is to give bread to the hungry. The Psalmist mentions this among other instances of God's bounty, that he gives not only bread to strengthen us — but likewise wine to cheer our hearts, and oil to make our faces shine.
Some of the people that were present at the crucifixion of our blessed Lord, gave him wine mixed with myrrh to render his sufferings more tolerable to him — but our Lord, who allows and requires us to bestow cordials on those who are ready to faint under their sorrows — refused them in his own severest sufferings, for he was not disposed to decline the bitterest dregs of that cup of sorrow which was put into his hands by his father. But when his people are made partakers of the sufferings of Christ, he puts the cup of consolation into their hands, and calls them to drink of that generous wine which goes down sweetly, and causes the lips of those who are in the deepest distress to sing. "As the sufferings of Christ abound in us," said one who was pressed with affliction above measure, "so our consolation also abounds by Christ." We ought to be followers of Christ in the exercise of compassion to the sorrowful and the distressed. It is devilish to add to the sorrows of the afflicted — but it is Christ-like to wipe away the tears from the eyes of the fatherless and widows, and to deserve the blessings of those who are ready to perish.
Proverbs 31:8-9."Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."
Job was an excellent pattern to all princes. He was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame, and a father to the poor; and no doubt he was a mouth also to those who cannot speak for themselves. Such a prince the mother of Lemuel wishes her son to be. She exhorts him to do judgment and justice to his people — but to regard with peculiar tenderness those unfortunate men who were in danger of losing their estates or lives, by reason of accusations brought against them. If they were unable, through ignorance, or awkwardness, or fear, to plead their own cause, she would have him to be their advocate, and to plead everything that truth and equity would allow on their behalf.
The appointment of advocates to plead for prisoners at the bar, agrees with this instruction. Those who are appointed to this charitable office should open their mouths, and interest themselves in the cause of their distressed clients, with all the warmth that justice can admit — that none may be condemned, unless the evidence against them clearly overbalances every argument that can be adduced on their side. It is certain that charity to the poor, and clemency to the accused, must not interfere with the due administration of justice. For a poor man is not to be countenanced in his cause — but there is less danger of erring in this, than in the contrary extreme. It is the business of princes to take care, that, in the administration of justice, the poor may not suffer by their unacquaintedness with law, or their lack of ability to take the benefit of it when they are oppressed, or to defend themselves against their wealthier adversaries.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is at once our king and our advocate. He saves the poor and needy, and breaks their oppressors in pieces. He stands at the right hand of the poor and needy, to save them from those who would condemn their souls. Princes, as they have opportunity, should imitate him by whom kings reign, and princes decree justice. The mother of Lemuel having instructed him in the virtues of purity and temperance, justice and mercy — proceeds next to instruct him in the choice of a wife.
As a bad wife is one of the worst things in the world — and a good wife one of the best things in the world. Men cannot be too cautious about entering into the relation of marriage, which death only (or what is worse than death) can dissolve. Those who are in public stations have peculiar reason, for their own sakes, and for the sake of their connections, to consider well who those whom they take into such close connection with themselves. Paul gives directions about the wives of deacons; and the instructions about the choice of a virtuous wife are here addressed to a king. Although his instructor was his mother — yet she says nothing about high birth, or wealth, or great alliances. For these things were trifles to her view, compared with virtue. Besides, the spirit of God designed these instructions not merely for kings — but for all who have wives to choose, and for the whole female gender. The last part of this chapter should be learned with great care by all women. The spirit of God was pleased, in the composition of it, to begin every verse with different, letters, according to the order of the alphabet, like the 119th Psalm, which would render it more easy to be retained in the memory.
Proverbs 31:10."Who can find a virtuous woman? She is worth far more than rubies."
Those who wish to have a good wife, ought to consider that one who deserves this character is not easily to be found; and therefore they ought to be very cautious in their choice, to be well acquainted with the disposition and behavior of those women who are to be their constant companions through life, and to address fervent supplications for the favor of him from whom alone a prudent wife is to be had.
But why are virtuous women so rarely to be found? Is the female gender more corrupted by the transgression of their first mother, than her sons? This cannot be supposed.
Women were so ill used in ancient times, that it is not to be wondered at if there were few virtuous women to be found. In our times, when the yoke of marriage is become much lighter on the woman, it may be reasonably supposed that it would be to dishonor to the female gender to be compared with the male, and that the virtues in which they are inferior, are abundantly balanced by those more lovely accomplishments in which they excel.
Men have no reason to reflect that virtue is rarely to be found in women. The imputation is not just, if it is meant to state an odious distinction between the sexes — but if it were, the fault lies as much in men as in women. Virtue is not duly esteemed — but riches and beauty are preferred to it. "Who can find a wife that will bring a large portion?" is the general question. Were the judgment of the princess by whom this character of a good wife was drawn, to be followed by the generality of men, parents would alter in a great measure their plan in educating their children; and women would endeavor to recommend themselves, not by setting off their beauty to advantage, or giving themselves out for great fortunes — but by the practice of religion and of every praiseworthy virtue.
The price of a virtuous woman is far above rubies and diamonds. Although she has no portion but her clothes, she will be preferred by a wise man, to one who is destitute of her qualifications, although she were possessed of all the riches of the east. He is a fool who marries the woman who is dressed in silk and rubies — if he would refuse the same woman in rags.
Proverbs 31:11."The heart of her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value."
She behaves in such a manner as to be above all suspicion of anything inconsistent with strict virtue.
All Christians ought to walk so inoffensively, that the adversary that wishes to defame them may find no evil thing to say — but wives in a special manner ought, for the sake of their husbands and themselves, to keep at a great distance from everything that might sully their character, because it is easily stained, and not easily cleared. Some husbands will suspect their wives of indiscretions without the least shadow of reason — but such brutes are so rare, that the prophetess takes no notice of them. She takes it for granted, that the husband of the virtuous woman will trust to her fidelity and prudence, when she merits it so well at his hands. To give cause of suspicions, is bad in a woman; to suspect without any cause, is extremely ungrateful in a man.
Confidence in a virtuous wife is a piece of duty to herself, and pleasant to her husband. The harmony of hearts arising from mutual esteem in husband and wife, affords the most delightful pleasure which anything less than religion can give; and when true piety in them both is added, it makes a kind of Heaven upon earth.
The heart of the virtuous woman's husband rejoices not only in his present pleasures — but in his agreeable prospects of future happiness and contentment. He knows that his house is managed with such frugality and prudence that he can entertain no apprehensions of poverty. He is under no temptation to injustice, to make up any waste in his substance. For every part of it is managed to the best advantage.
The virtuous woman does good to the soul of her husband as well as to his body. For her behavior is a preservation from those temptations to iniquity, by which others, not blessed with the like happy marriages, have been drawn to sin, and to disgrace, and to a gibbet.
Proverbs 31:12."She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life."
There are some wives who are a constant plague to their husbands, vexing them with their ungodly and perverse behavior, every day and every hour of their life. There are others who do some good to their husbands — but at the same time do them so much evil that they cannot with any propriety be called virtuous wives. They take good care of their substance, and will not spend a penny without necessity — but they irritate their husbands, and eat the very life out of all their comforts, by perpetual contentions, and by fretting at every trifle and every nothing. But the virtuous woman does good and not evil to her husband, and that not only at particular times — but every day.
Some wives are like the days of April; at one time they are serene and pleasant — but at other times they are all tempest and fury, and at another time they are like a continual dripping.
The virtuous wife is as careful to please her husband, by an even and sweet temper — as she is to manage his affairs with discretion. She is the same today, and will be the same tomorrow, that she was yesterday. She is the same twenty or fifty years after marriage, as she was the first month. Neither sickness, nor poverty, nor old age, nor even the errors into which her husband may fall in managing the business of his family, will dampen her love. The more he needs — the more he enjoys her tender sympathy. If he should sometimes, through the frailty of human nature, be so ungrateful as to speak harshly to her — she will bear with him, and forgive him. When he is dead, she will cherish his memory; and when the relation is loosed by the parting stroke, she will still do him good, by showing kindness to his children for his sake.
Proverbs 31:13."She seeks wool and flax and works with eager hands."
Some women will rather sit idle while they live, than seek wool or flax. If their husbands do not provide them proper materials for their work, they will consider it as a very sufficient excuse for idleness. But the virtuous woman abhors idleness, and loves her duty; and therefore she takes care to provide every necessary material and implement for work, that she may employ her time to the best advantage. It is not enough for a wife to manage the fruits of her husband's industry with frugality, or to keep her servants at work; the virtuous woman works with her own hands; and it is not a burden, but a pleasure to her to work with her hands.
When Abraham's wise servant sought a wife for his master's son, he prayed to God to direct him to a woman who would give proof of her virtue, by her industry and politeness. Men and women have different tasks assigned them, and each must employ themselves in their proper work. She is not a virtuous woman who neglects the work of a woman, and intrudes herself into her husband's affairs. The good wife employs herself with cheerfulness about her wool and flax, and leaves others to mind their own affairs. At the same time, if there is anything necessary for the family which cannot be provided at home, she will take proper care that it shall not be lacking.
Proverbs 31:14."She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar."
She does not contract a narrow habit, by her close application to labor, nor employ her endeavors to amass a heap of useless treasure. She grudges no expense that may contribute to the happiness of her family — but cheerfully exchanges the fruits of her own labor for those necessities and conveniences that are fetched from distant countries. While slothful wives can scarcely provide necessary clothing for their own families — the virtuous woman provides by her labor and good management, something to sell, that the price may serve for the purchase of other commodities.
By the wise management of providence, distant countries are rendered useful to one another, by the supply of their mutual needs. No country enjoys every advantage — but there is no country where industry will not procure both the commodities which the soil affords, and those which must be fetched from afar. The virtuous woman enjoys the fruit of other people's labor, and the produce of other climates. For divine providence bestows its blessing on her industry, and there is no lack of any good thing endured in her house.
Proverbs 31:15."She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls."
Slothful women will not rise when day is come — but allow the sun to run a great part of his daily race before they can think of shaking off their slumbers. The virtuous woman often arises before the dawning of the day, for she loves her duty more than her sleep. But it is to be remembered, that in the country where this inspired woman lived, the days and the nights were almost equal through the whole year, so that her meaning is, the virtuous woman rises before six in the morning.
But how is she employed when she is out of bed? David speaks of rising early to praise God; and no doubt the virtuous woman will not neglect her devotions, for she is a woman who fears the Lord — but she does not, under pretense of religion, forget what she owes to her family. She is a good steward in the house of her husband, and takes care that none of her servants lack their necessary portion of food. It is a happy thing to live under her roof; and her maidens are encouraged by her kindness as well as excited by her example, to perform the tasks assigned them with cheerfulness.
Proverbs 31:16."She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard."
Some of the female gender will consider every trinket that comes in their way, and spend more money than ever they gained by their work, in purchasing every trifle that can minister to their vanity, or gratify a capricious humor — but the virtuous woman employs her money in useful purchases. She will not, however, buy anything without considering it, that she may judge whether it is worth the money demanded for it — but when she has considered, she buys. For she is not of a capricious and inconstant humor, like some whose mind changes more quickly than the wind. What she buys, she improves to advantage. For she has abundance of money — the fruit of her labor and godly management, and with it she plants a vineyard in the field which she has bought, that her family may be well supplied with the conveniences of life in time to come.
Proverbs 31:17."She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks."
As rust gathers on metals that are seldom used — so slothfulness of disposition contracts a rust on the powers of the body and mind. Idle people by degrees realize those excuses for their conduct which were at first mere shams. The virtuous woman is of a very different temper. She does not decline any part of her duty through aversion to toil; and by exerting her strength with a cheerful mind, she improves it. Her labors give her health and vigor, and alacrity for new labors; so that she can with great ease and tranquility go through those businesses which appear impossibilities to other women.
Proverbs 31:18."She sees that her merchandise is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night."
Notwithstanding her activity, she is never in such a hurry as to do her work in a slight and superficial manner. Her merchandise is known to be good, and brings a ready market and a good price; and her knowledge of this is a sufficient reward of itself for her toils. For when the lazy are perpetually uneasy by their reflections on their own conduct, the consciousness of having done her duty, and the prospect of the advantages arising from it, are a constant source of satisfaction and cheerfulness to the virtuous woman. She does not deny herself of the necessary refreshments of sleep and rest. This would be a piece of foolishness. When the inspired moralist tells us that her lamp does not go out at night — her meaning is, that she never wearies of her labors, nor indulges herself or her maidens in sleep, beyond the call of reason and nature. In this sense Paul speaks of warning people day and night. For no virtuous woman ever labored so diligently for the good of her family, as the great apostle for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ.
There are some fashionable ladies who keep their candles burning almost the whole night — but they make up for it abundantly, by sleeping away the one half of the day, as if a candle were better than the sun. The virtuous woman rises early in the morning — but she can bear sitting late also, when her business requires it, although she would by no means spend her candles, or her time upon vanities.
Proverbs 31:19."In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers."
Very good employment for a servant maid — but will any lady spoil her white hands, and consume that time which might be employed so much more agreeably, in the vulgar trade of spinning? Did Lemuel's mother expect that his consort would employ herself in such work? Why not? She was to be a woman as well as a queen; and where is the law that forbids queens to be virtuous women, or to make use of their hands for those purposes for which the Creator designed them?
Alexander the Great, and Augustus Caesar, wore clothes that were made by their own sisters; and our amiable queen is pleased to set a royal example of industry to her subjects. If the female gender must not be idle, although their rank might seem to exempt them from the drudgery of working — then how inexcusable is it in men, who boast superior strength, to trifle away their days without doing anything; especially, considering that their sphere of labor is so much wider, and their opportunities so much greater, of choosing some profession suited to their dispositions. Do they allege that their patrimonies set them above the need of doing anything? This is the same thing with saying that God has been so good to them, that they are under no obligation of serving God, by serving their generation according to the will of God.
Proverbs 31:20."She opens her arms to the poor, and extends her hands to the needy."
Although she is very careful of her family — yet she does not confine her attention to it. She labors with her hands, working that which is good, that she may have something to give to him who is in need. Some wives are of such a perverse disposition that they have nothing for the poor, and will even grudge if their husbands bestow a little of the fruits of their labor upon them — but virtuous wives do not think that anything is lost which is bestowed in works of charity. They would not wish to encourage idleness, by extending their liberality to those impudent beggars who come to their doors, when they might be earning their livelihood by some useful employment — but they are kind to those whom they know to be really in need, and unable to work, and will bestow, as much, at least, upon them, as some others of their gender bestow upon their own pride and luxury.
The husband of the virtuous woman has no reason to find fault with her for her goodness to the poor. For she is serving her family as well as herself by it, and bringing down the blessing of God upon her labors, which could not be successful without it. They were blessed women who had the opportunity to minister unto Christ of their substance; and they enjoy the like happiness who take delight in relieving the distresses of the indigent for Christ's sake. Whatever is done unto the least of his brethren, in his name, he considers as if it were done to himself.
Proverbs 31:21."When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet."
She deserves not the character of a virtuous woman, who is not concerned for the happiness and comfort of those who dwell under her roof. Although a virtuous wife attends, in the first place, to the happiness of her husband, as well as her own, and in the next place, to the welfare of her children — yet she extends her care to her servants also, and interests herself in their prosperity. But her kind and feeling temper is not the source of vexation, but pleasure. She takes care that every member of her happy family is well fed and well clothed; therefore she is not afraid that any of them will be hurt by the snows and cold of winter. The care of providing clothes for servants does not come so much within the province of those who keep none but hired servants — yet a virtuous woman will still see to their welfare in every article of importance. The scarlet clothes that are here spoken of were not costly and fine ornaments, as they are with us, otherwise it cannot be supposed that all her household would be clothed with them. Some translators make them to signify double garments. Convenience and health are studied by the virtuous woman, far above ornament and fashion.
Proverbs 31:22."She makes coverings of tapestry; she is clothed in silk and purple."
Although the virtuous woman is liberal to the poor — yet she is not impoverished. Some have been made poor by selfishness and narrowness; millions have been impoverished by pride and profusion — but none have been impoverished, and many have been enriched, by charity. The virtuous woman after reaching forth her hands to the poor, has enough remaining to provide proper and elegant furniture for her house, and a dress for herself suitable to her station.
There is no part of the character of a virtuous woman who will please some ladies so much as this part of it, which seems to allow some scope for finery. And it is not to be denied, that ornaments of a decent kind may very lawfully be used by those who can afford them — but Isaiah and Zephaniah, Paul and Peter, testify against that vanity of dress which is too much coveted by some of the gender.
The adorning recommended to women by the apostles, does not consist in gold, and pearls, and costly array — but in modest apparel, humility, sobriety and good works, and a meek and quiet mind. And Lemuel's mother says nothing inconsistent with this doctrine. If the virtuous woman has coverings of tapestry for her house, she makes them to herself; if she is clothed with silk (or fine linen, as it may be rendered) and purple, she earns it by her labors and godly management. She does not starve her charity by her finery, nor spend upon her dress that which might support a poor family. She does not reckon herself superior to the duties of a wife, nor exempted by wearing silk and purple, from using her spindle and distaff. From all this it appears, that the inspired writer allows the use of costly array to none but those who can afford it in a full consistency with the duties which they owe to their families, to the poor, and to all men.
Proverbs 31:23."Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land."
The character drawn in this passage is that of a virtuous woman, who is in such a station of life that her husband has a right to a seat in the gate, among the elders of the land, who meet in that public place to transact public business, or to decide in causes that are brought before them. The wife of such a man may be allowed to wear silk and purple — but she is as careful to have her husband, as herself, dressed in a manner suitable to their rank. A man who sees him in the gate may easily judge that his wife is a virtuous woman. His clothes are decent, though not gaudy; his looks are cheerful; and the happiness which he enjoys at home appears in his face abroad.
Women are for the most part jealous of their husband's honor, and it lies in their power to procure them a great deal of respect. For it is a greater honor to have it said that a man has a virtuous wife, than to be admired for riches and titles. Phocion's wife, when she was asked about her jewels, said that her husband was her jewel; and a man who is married to a virtuous wife has Solomon's warrant to say that he is possessed of a crown!
Proverbs 31:24."She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes."
It is astonishing to think what industry will accomplish. We think that the virtuous woman has done great things, when she has provided her house and her family with every convenience: but besides all this, she makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. When other women impoverish their husbands by buying — she enriches her husband by selling those valuable commodities for which there is a constant demand.
It is only modern pride and laziness, which has introduced the idea that it is inconsistent with the dignity of a fine lady to make profit from her own accomplishments. This virtuous woman, although her husband sits among the elders, does not think it a discredit — but an honor to herself, to make linen garments and sashes for sale; and the wise will praise her on account of it.
Proverbs 31:25."She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come."
"The virtuous woman is clothed with silk and purple;" but she has much nobler ornaments than anything of that sort. She possesses a greatness of soul, an inward vigor and resolution of mind, which sets her above all those little and tormenting fears which keep many of her gender in perpetual uneasiness. The strength of her mind displays itself in her behavior, and gains universal esteem from men; and she wears those ornaments which are of great price in the sight of God himself.
Those ladies that wear gold and jewels, dazzle the eyes and draw the regard of ordinary understandings — but how much brighter are the ornaments of a meek and quiet spirit, of strength and honor, which are the constant dress of the woman of virtue! Those who wear costly array, rejoice for the present, because they think themselves the object of all men's admiration — but they are often preparing future sorrow for themselves by their extravagance, and their neglect of those accomplishments which would gain them respect in old age.
The virtuous woman is not only cheerful at present — but she shall rejoice in time to come. It is a pleasure to her to reflect on her past conduct, and when she looks forward, she is not afflicted at the thought of the fading and uncertain nature of all earthly enjoyments. Besides that, she has made all the provision that human wisdom can reach against future contingencies, she can place a quiet confidence in the providence of God, who will not allow the righteous to be moved. She knows that her beauty must wither by old age — but the regard of her husband, and the esteem of others, is founded upon other motives that will never perish. The virtuous woman is one who fears the Lord, and light is sown for such people, and gladness for the upright in heart.
Proverbs 31:26."She speaks with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness."
As a sandy hill is to the feet of the aged, so is a wife full of words to a quiet man. But the virtuous woman plagues neither her husband nor any other man with her talk. She has learned that silence and subjection which the Apostle Paul recommends to wives. She does not lock up her lips in a sullen silence — but when she speaks it is a pleasure to hear her, for she opens her mouth with wisdom.
Besides her other labors already mentioned, she rises in the morning, and finds time to read the Bible, and other instructive books. She meditates and reflects, and receives instruction from what she hears, and prays to her heavenly Father. And so she improves daily in knowledge and prudence; and when she opens her mouth, she says nothing but what is well worthy of being heard. She says nothing that savors of levity, or deceit, nothing that is unseasonable, nothing to gain herself the reputation of wit. All her words are expressions of that wisdom which adorns her mind, and that virtue which warms her heart, and regulates her conduct.
There are some who gain a character for smartness at the expense of their reputation. They will speak the crudest things without provocation, and applaud themselves for it, as an evidence of their wit and boldness. But the virtuous woman abhors the thought of making any person uneasy. And when there is a necessity for reproving, and even then, she will be as gentle as can possibly consist with the efficacy of her admonitions.
Kindness is painted on her countenance, and flows from her tongue. For it possesses the throne of her heart, and gives law to all her words and actions. She is a living explication of that beautiful description of charity which the Spirit of God gives us by the pen of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.
Proverbs 31:27."She watches over the affairs of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness."
She carefully inspects the behavior of her maidens and children. She is not idle when she is not working with her hands — but promoting the welfare of her family, by doing the duty of her place as mistress of the house. Her authority cannot fail of being respected in her family, when she sets such a noble example of diligence before them. She will take care that nothing indecent or offensive stains the honor of her family. When she is served by the labor of her maidens, she will not allow them to neglect the service of God. She will be very careful of the behavior of her children in their tender years, and will not see them trained up in idleness, or indulged in any vanity which may afterwards grow up into a vice. Lying, and evil speaking, and corrupt communication, are banished from every place where her influence extends. Her bread is well earned by her labors — and therefore she eats it with pleasure and appetite, and derives from it health and vigor to her body, and cheerfulness to her mind.
The bread of idleness has a very contrary effect; it is eaten without relish, and produces indigestion, and an innumerable train of lingering diseases. He who eats it, sins against God, who commands every man to work at his business with quietness, and to eat his own bread.
Proverbs 31:28-29."Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."
Were women to consider their own interest and satisfaction — they would all endeavor to be virtuous. Every person counts it a great happiness to enjoy the esteem of those whom he loves — and the virtuous woman finds herself blessed in the tender affection and high esteem of her dear children, and her dearer husband. Her children are constant spectators of her virtue, and experience the sweet fruits of it. They cannot forbear to express their sense of it, by pouring out blessings upon her.
A mother deserves the tender regard of her children, although she cannot lay claim to the character of a virtuous woman. If an imperious mother is entitled to respect — then how can children express sufficient regard to one who is the ornament to them, and a happy instrument in training them up to piety and virtue? If their tongues were silent in her praise — then their dress, their cheerfulness, their good behavior, when they follow her precepts and example, would be a constant eulogy on her virtues.
The praises of her husband will be still more delight fill to her ears than those of her children. What earthly happiness can a good wife desire, like the affection and approbation of her husband? And this a virtuous woman can scarcely fail of possessing, for what heart has so much marble in it, as to be able to resist those virtues which every hour appear in his other self? He cannot refrain from bestowing praise on one whom he finds . . .
the sweetener of all his cares,
his faithful adviser in perplexities,
his comforter in every distress,
the instrument of a great part of his earthly felicity,
his best friend,
his unceasing joy, and
his brightest crown.
No wonder if the experience of such goodness and happiness makes him eloquent in her praise, and draws commendations from his tongue. He prefers her to every other woman who ever lived upon earth; and he is sincere in doing it, for she ravishes his heart by the beauties of her mind and conduct. Piety will dispose a man to think lowly of himself, in comparison with other men — but highly of his wife, when he compares her with other women.
Proverbs 31:30."Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."
Why is not beauty mentioned in the character of the virtuous woman? Is not beauty a bright ornament to her virtue? But there is no mention made of it in this description, because it is a lowly quality in comparison of those which are here enumerated. It is but a flower that fades in a day; and the love produced by it is but a transient passion. When beauty is not sweetened by virtue, the woman who possesses it is but like a swine with a golden jewel in its snout, as Solomon tells us. At the best, beauty cannot secure that love which it raises, for when it becomes familiar to the lover, it palls upon his sight; and sometimes tempts him to curse that enchanting influence which blinded his eyes to more solid virtues.
But a woman who fears the Lord, whether she has beauty or not — shall be praised. For true piety is the beauty of the soul, and excels that which lies in complexion and features, as much as Heaven is higher than the earth, or eternity is longer than time.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the most essential part of the virtuous woman's character. It is this which sanctifies every other part of it, and makes her all glorious within. The pleasant effects of the fear of the Lord spread themselves into every part of her behavior, and cannot but excite the admiration of all beholders.
The flowers of poetry have been exhausted in dressing out beauty to the greatest advantage — but this one verse of Scripture is sufficient to give us just notions of its real value. It is indeed a lovely trait when it is joined with piety and humility — but without them it is a snare and a trap. In choosing a wife, fools will follow their imagination — and the wise will act according to reason and the Word of God.
Proverbs 31:31."Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate."
Her children praise her, her husband praises her — and let every man join to commend her virtues, and to hold her up to public view, that she may be imitated by all her gender. There are multitudes who never fail to trumpet abroad the faults of their neighbors — but it would be much better to conspire in spreading abroad the virtues of those who are an ornament to human nature, and models for the behavior of all their neighbors. She is entitled to honor; and if no tongue should give it to her, the works of charity and wisdom, which she is constantly practicing, will be a monument to her name. She is praised by all the wise who know her, and she shall have praise of God on the day when the seal shall be set to every character.