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The Proverbs 31 Wife Sounds Like a Prime Candidate for ‘Burn Out’

This Sunday my Bishop (yes, David. I have a Bishop!) mentioned in passing that the wife of a certain predominant preacher was at a conference and decreed that the gathering of the saints was for our personal pleasure, not for God’s. He intimated that she intimated that our happiness was of greater import than that of God’s. When you whittle it all the way down, she was saying live to please yourself. Naturally, my Bishop vehemently disagreed with that line of reasoning for lack of foundational scripture to support it.

I don’t know who this woman is and I haven’t bothered to do the heavy lifting to search out the video on the Internet. I mention her because her alleged utterances coincide with a tweet I saw the following day got me to thinking: Does my happiness – as a woman, specifically – matter to God, my children, my husband…anyone? I urge you to read the tweet in question and decipher for yourself what is glaringly obvious according to him and millions of other people who think likewise: That mother’s greatest value is when she is being sacrificial.

(Note the glee with which he recounts how he thwarted her second chance at companionship and love.)

Just about every woman in Christendom has heard about the Proverbs 31 Woman: the noble wife as described by King Lemuel by way of recollections from conversations with his mother. The Proverbs 31 woman has been pandered and paraded to women of faith since their first youth camps. Different denominations have their own interpretations about who this woman was and what functioned she served. Some tout her as the ultimate boss chick; an entrepreneur who runs several businesses and an efficient household. Others explain that she her fundamental duty is to bring glory to her husband so that he can sit at the gate with the elders and boast. (She’s more of an admin not a boss, you understand. No woman is greater than her husband.) Still some see her as the perfect housewife. She can spin wool/cotton, she can sew, she’s the consummate interior decorator! Aaaaand she ALSO has servants, which means she’s rich.

The Proverbs 31 Woman is Every Woman! But was she happy?


My dear e-friend Sefakor revealed an observation about her grandmother that honestly broke my heart. She said:

She never smiled. And NO ONE even noticed. Is this really a life pleasing to God – dutiful drudgery in the service of people who take no note of your physical (or mental) well-being? I highly doubt that. Or at least, I hope it’s not true. I’ll have to ask God when I see Him/Her.

I read Proverbs 31: 10-31 again this morning and instead of feeling that fire of inspiration that I have in the past, I felt nothing but sympathy for this woman. In my 20s, I would read this scripture and get completely amped up! Those were the days when I was convinced of my invincibility and buoyed by my youth, was sure that I could be Dorothy Do-It-All. But today, all I could focus on were the following phrases, which inspired nothing but weariness:

She gets up while it is still night;

She sets about her work vigorously;

She makes…

She gets…

She goes…

Lawd have mercy. Can you imagine 30,40, 50 years (because them Biblical gals married young!) of fetching, stepping and carrying without taking a break for a vacation? Nowhere in here does it mention where she takes time for herself.

No mention of her friends.

No mention of her feelings towards her gate-sitting husband.

No mention of how she feels about her children.

This is honestly very concerning to me, now that I am approaching 40, for I know one day my children will grow up and leave me just as the Proverbs 31 woman’s own surely did. And even though I have nary a servant, I imagine that once her household became smaller, there would be no need for that much staff to cater to. And now my/her husband – now also elderly (and possibly senile) – would have no place at the gate and no reason to praise my name. What then becomes my present function, since I have lived in the service of others for most of my life? Indeed, you rarely hear messages directed at women over 50 in services. Once they’ve crossed “marrying age”, they are no longer a point of focus.

I ask these questions seriously because I truly believe that women have been groomed to see themselves through the eyes of other people, rather than encouraged to commit to self-reflection and introspection. So far as our husband/my children/my boyfriend, my co-workers/my parents think of us as a good and worthy person, then we must be so, right? And like so many women I know today, The Proverbs 31 woman did everything right. In today’s society and economy, she might be a degreed woman who owns/runs several properties or an online business. She may even be a self-made millionaire or an academic. And yet so many women just like this, who seem to have it “all together” or “have it all” are depressed. The number who have revealed their depression to me in private chats is alarming.


I have written in the past about my own bouts with depression as well, despite the fact that I had “nothing to be depressed about” at the time. Like much of the Bible (and just about every publication since) we have been conditioned to look at the lives of women from a male’s perspective and for the purposes of male approval. No doubt this is why we never hear from the dutiful wife herself, even though her characteristics are described from the utterances of another older woman (who was possibly in league with the dark forces of patriarchy!).

MX5 and I are supposed to get together for coffee and dissect this scripture at some point. I’d hoped to share our epiphanies with you prior to this post, but it’s not always easy to stick to a schedule when you’re out here in these streets 31 Proverbing on an day-to-day basis. In the meantime, I’d be interested to hear what you Bible-reading (or not) folk think. Do you think she was she happy – or merely conjured joy in the midst of her decades of labor? Did it matter? Does your happiness matter to your family? Does it matter to yourself?



This article has 9 comments

  1. oscar ossai

    Let. Me say it again, you keep amazing me. What’s wrong with deriving Joy from being appreciated by those you live for. You people are living in the west, let not your Africaness be compromised by the society you operate in. The Bible is written with a Jewish template. We Africans share a lit in common with Jews in terms of sociological development. Even the African man measures his success by his wife’s satisfaction, the children ‘s well being and society stamps approval on the man based on these.

  2. japhet

    Malaka, you raise a varied point(one I have to accept with reluctance being the christian that I am). It indeed is a lot of work to be that woman and it is one unfortunate result of the fall(So how women are conditioned to please the ones they love-whether an outcome of the biblical fall or society indoctrination I can not say). Although as you go on pondering on this seemingly unfair expectation what is specifically required of the man as per proverbs. The little theology I know tells me that scripture interprets scripture. And so I would recommend you look at how the man is requested to do/be towards his wife in the same proverbs. I mean if the ideal woman of proverbs met the ideal man of proverbs who among the two would derive the most happiness?. Again your writings are ever thought provoking. Kudos

  3. K. Martin

    Part I
    Over the years, I’ve learned some things about Proverbs 31:10-31 that have broadened and strengthened my understanding of the passage. Pr 31:10-31 is a composite of characteristics and duties gleaned from other virtuous women listed throughout the Bible:

    A wife of noble character who can find? (v. 10)
    Ruth was know as a woman of noble character (Ru 3:11). Like the Pr 31 woman, Lydia was a
    woman of noble character. The name “Lydia” means noble. She is clothed in fine linen and purple (v. 22b). Lydia sold purple cloth (Ac 16:14). Both Lydia and the Pr 31 woman were merchants.

    She has been like a merchant’s ship that brings its merchandise from far away (v. 14).
    The Queen of Sheba literally brought Solomon large quantities of spices from far away. (1 Ki 10:6-10). Reward her for her work— let her actions result in public praise (v. 31). The
    Queen of Sheba’s quest for wisdom brought her public praise. The Queen of Sheba is one of the few women Jesus publicly acknowledges and commends from the OT(Ma 12:42). She came from afar to hear the wisdom of a mere man. She was amazed at what she saw and heard. However, when Jesus who was greater than Solomon came, many despised, rejected, slighted and slandered Him.

    Doesn’t let her lamp go out… (v. 18b).
    In the parable, the wise virgins didn’t allow their lamps to go out. They were prepared when the Bridegroom came (Ma 25:1-12). Anna’s lamp didn’t go out at night because she worshiped God day and night by fasting and praying (Lu 2:36-38).

    Helps the poor (v. 20).
    Dorcas helped the poor (Ac 9:36).

    … speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue (v. 26).
    The Wise Woman of Abel’s instruction saved her city from destruction (2 Sa 20:19-22). Pilate’s wife spoke with wisdom and faithful instruction (Ma 27:19). Huldah spoke with wisdom and sent the king a message from God (2 Ki 22:14-20). Deborah wisely instructed the people of Israel (Ju chapter 4 & 5). Esther spoke wisely to the king and helped save the Jews from annihilation (Book of Esther). Priscilla helped her husband give Apollos wise and faithful instruction (Ac 18:26). Abigail spoke wisely to David. David recognized the wisdom in Abigail’s words, and he decided not to kill Abigail’s foolish husband and the other men in that household (1 Sam chapter 25).

    She watches over the affairs of her household (v. 27a).
    Rahab watched over the affairs of her household. She wisely and faithfully instructed the spies about how to hide and escape. She also negotiated a plan that saved her life and the lives of those in her house (He 11:31).

    Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all (v. 29).
    Like Pr 31 woman, these women were also called blessed. Most blessed among women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. May she be blessed above all women who live in tents (Ju 5:24). Mary – Thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women (Lu 1:28).

    She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life (v. 12). Because of Zipporah’s proactivity as it relates to circumcising their son, God’s anger against Moses was calmed and his life was spared (Ex 4:14-20).

    I’ve learned that the Pr 31:10-31 is a composite of traits and duties gleaned from virtuous women documented throughout the Bible. These ladies came from all walks of life: prostitution, unmarried, married, some had children and some may have been childless. Although they all had different backgrounds, each one of these precious ladies was virtuous in some way and had a positive impact on those around her.

  4. K. Martin

    Part 2
    It’s also encouraging and liberating to consider and remember that many of the core characteristics and duties listed in Pr 31:10-31 are UNISEX, collective and congregational. In other words, many of the characteristics and duties listed in Pr 31:10-31 are for men too – not just women.

    UNISEX Traits/Duties Listed in Pr 31:

    A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies (v.10).
    The phrase translated as “virtuous woman” or “woman of noble character” means Eshet CHAYIL in Hebrew. CHAYIL (Strong’s 2428) means strength, the strength of a warrior. The word CHAYIL is also used to describe mighty men of valor in the Bible: Josh 1:14, 6:2; Judg 6:12; 2 Kgs 15:20. Therefore, the Hebrew word (CHAYIL) translated noble and/or virtuous in Pr 31:10 is not a distinctly feminine description. Men can and should be noble and virtuous (CHAYIL) too.

    Do Good
    She will do him good … (v.12). As believers, men and women are admonished to “do good” to our enemies (Lu 6:27, 35). Christian men and women are admonished to “do good” and to share with others (He 13:16).

    Do No Harm
    She brings him good, not harm … (v.12). Husbands are instructed to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). Romans 13:10 tells us that “love does no harm.” Therefore, if a husband loves his wife, he will not harm her.

    Work With Your Hands
    She … works with eager hands (v.13). Christian men and women are called to live a quiet lives, mind our business and “work with our hands” … (1 Th 4:11).

    Don’t Be Idle
    She … does not eat the bread of idleness (v.27). Paul proclaimed the value of hard work and sternly warned men and women not to be idle (2 Th 3:6-12). “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” ( 1 Th 5:14).

    Speak With Wisdom
    She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue (v.26). “The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just” (Ps 37:30).

    Care for the Poor
    She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy (v.20). Christian men and women are admonished to care for the poor and needy (Ma 25:34-40).

    Fear the Lord
    … a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (v. 30). “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!” (Ps 112:1)

    Therefore, wives don’t have to shoulder all the responsibility alone; husbands are suppose to live virtuously (CHAYIL), do their wives good and not harm, work with their hands, not be idle, speak with wisdom, care for the poor and fear the Lord too, although that’s not nearly as proclaimed and propagated.

    An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels (v. 10). ‬Excellent, noble, virtuous wives are hard to find. Likewise, faithful, trustworthy men are also hard to find.
    Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find? (Pr 20:6)

  5. K. Martin

    Part 3
    Verse 23 focuses on the husband rather than the wife.
    Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land (Pr 31:23).

    The husband described in Pr 31: 23 is a man like Job. Job was known and respected in the gates and sat among the elders of the land (Jo 29:7). Many people ERRONEOUSLY tell wives that it’s their responsibility to make sure their husbands are respected at the gate. That’s a myth and misapplication of scripture. That’s not a wife’s responsibility.

    Should a wife respect her husband? Absolutely. Eph 5:33 tells us that a wife should respect her husband. However, Pr 31:23 isn’t talking about the husband being the recipient of the wife’s respect. It’s talking about the husband being respected by the people at the gates. Besides being part of a city’s protection against invaders, city gates were places of central activity in biblical times. The elders (who were generally men in a patriarchal society) made important business transactions, held court and made public announcements at the city gates. Male elders earned respected at the gate because of how they carried themselves and performed their duties. It had little to do with their wives.

    Job was respected at the gate because of HIS OWN ACTIONS. He assisted the poor and orphans. He helped those without hope. Everything he did was honest. He served as eyes for the blind and feet for the lame. He was a father to the poor. He broke the jaws of godless oppressors. People listened to his advice. We know what it means for a man to be respected at the city gate (publicly) because Job demonstrated that for us. Unfortunately, Job’s wife was not a virtuous woman, yet that had no bearing on Job’s actions because he was a man of wisdom and faith.

    In other words, while the Pr 31 wife was busy in the home, market and field, her husband was also busy at the city gate conducting important business with the elders of the land. He wasn’t carousing, being lazy or off neglecting his responsibilities to his wife, children or community.

    Suggested reading: http://cryingoutforjustice.com/2015/03/20/the-proverbs-31-wife-fact-or-fiction-part-1-of-4/

  6. Shelley

    I have read quite a bit about this woman. My take away is, make sure you are there for your family and not spread too thin. Sharon Jaynes explores the proverbs 31 woman, and she talks about the lamp and how it burns all night. I don’t believe it’s because she is up all night burning the midnight oil. She has plenty of oil to take care of her family, and is not overdone by projects and saying “yes” to things that will not be good for her family or that may wear her out.

  7. Yvie

    In short. Buchi Emecheta’s ‘The Joys of Motherhood’.

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