Why the Woman of Proverbs 31 may not be your Ideal Wife

Middle Eastern Woman, by Anthony Nold

Many men and women have a mental list describing their ideal partner.

“She’s got to be a good cook, enjoy watching sports, and not be a nag.”

“He’s got to have a steady job, a nice car, and a mother who lives far away.”

Some even invoke a Biblical basis for this sort of wish list.

“Proverbs says, ‘He who finds a wife finds a good thing’ (Pro. 18:22). I’ve got to find a good wife. It’s in the Bible!”

Okay. But what makes a good wife? Is the ideal wife a soul mate or a servant? A partner or a parlor maid?

A woman will say she’s searching for the right man and a man will say he’s searching for the right woman, but who is the right man or woman? What are they like? How would you recognize them?

“Easy question,” says the Christian man. “The perfect wife is the woman of Proverbs 31.”

For many men, the woman described at the end of the book of Proverbs represents the ideal partner. It’s not hard to see why.

This woman is wise, strong, industrious, entrepreneurial, and—this is the good part—she earns her own money.

This excellent woman is not just a homemaker; she is a merchant and a property developer. Yet somehow she finds time to make her own clothes and care for the poor.

How does she manage her busy life? She starts working before sunrise and doesn’t quit until after sundown. Then she spends her evening feeding and caring for her household.

Phew. I’m worn out just thinking about her.

The capable lady of Proverbs 31 is often held up as a role model for young women. “Be like her and you’ll make some man very happy.”

But this is a terrible message to give to our daughters.

There are a couple of good reasons why we might not want to compare ourselves or our spouses with the woman of Proverbs 31.

For starters, she is unlike any woman alive and thus presents a picture of womanhood as unrealistic as Barbie.

Then there’s her marriage which represents the sort of servile arrangement that is at the heart of patriarchal society. While this woman is working hard in the fields, her husband is sitting in the city gate jawing with his mates (Pro. 31:23).

Sure, he’s an elder, with an important ministry. But let’s face it. She’s doing the heavy lifting in this relationship.

Aristotle the sexist philosopher would have loved this marriage. The husband is governing like a king, while his poor wife is working her fingers to the bone raising the kids and running the farm.

Can you imagine Adam and Eve living like this? Can you picture Eve toiling from sun-up to sun-down while Adam basked in the sun? Eve never would have stood for it.

“Adam, I know I’m your helper, but how about giving me a hand?”

“Sorry honey, but I was born to rule. God said.”

“But you’re not doing anything. You’re just talking to yourself.”

“It’s called praying. Now be a good wife and fix me a fruit sandwich.”

If Adam had been like that, Cain might not have been the first murderer.

The wife of Proverbs 31 is an outstanding woman, and any woman who honors the Lord and cares for her family is a keeper.

But it’s a foolish man indeed who prefers a servant to a soulmate and who measures his wife by the lofty standards of Proverbs 31.

Extracted and adapted from Paul’s new book The Silent Queen: Why the Church Needs Women to Find their Voice.

29 Comments on Why the Woman of Proverbs 31 may not be your Ideal Wife

  1. I love this. The proverbs 31 woman is never the type of woman I wanted to be, it sounds grueling and exhausting, although some women may be more suited to this lifestyle and even enjoy it. But each individual is so different.
    I am curious though, WHY is this woman described in such a way in proverbs? Is this some coming of symbolism? What is the point of this passage? What do we take away from it?

    • Kevin Chayyim // December 4, 2020 at 1:23 pm // Reply

      At the end of the passage the phrase fear of God is used meaning the woman who is a good wife loves her family so much that she can’t stand to see them unattended or uncared for,but this doesn’t exempt her from finding a good husband who is a man who loves his family so much that he is willing to sacrifice everything even his life for the betterment and livelihood of his family as Christ did for us.

    • I’m glad you asked this question; I was hoping there would be the answer to it in this post, but perhaps it’s reserved for a future one. My take on this is that it’s a picture of the Church in her full glory. The true Church is the Bride of Christ, so I imagine the last chapter of Proverbs to be a prophetic description of her once she has “made herself spotless” as Revelation states. Incidentally, the same man credited with penning Proverbs (at least, most of it) is Solomon, who is also the author of the Song of Songs which is all about the love story between Jesus and His Bride. Once you start noticing this pattern of the Bride in scripture, you start seeing it everywhere! The entire book of Ruth is also a type of the love story depicting Christ’s intervening love that literally turns the object of His desire into a perfect being in absolute unity, not only with Himself, but by implication, with other members of the Church (also metaphorically described as His Body, but let’s not add another offshoot here; I bring it up merely to draw attention to the scripture’s emphasis on the importance of unity). The point is that when the Church is in surrendered obedience to Jesus, She becomes the perfect match for him. The Proverbs 31 woman is impossible for a single individual and only possible for the Church as a whole when we are perfectly unified by His love. The Bible tells us that world will know us by this love and that we will make His name famous by the same means. I hope this helps you and whoever else may read it. Blessings in His Name.

    • Amy Koenig // March 3, 2021 at 11:25 am // Reply

      Yes, Sarah, it is symbolism/allegory. Humanity is the ‘husband’ and the wife is the female nature of God, who is always preparing the way and providing the abundant life.

  2. I agree, it’s putting unreasonable pressure on women to juggle having a successful career with bringing up a family, while letting men off too lightly (though admittedly, this is an upper-class woman with servants, so it isn’t as if she has to do everything herself). But, for the time, it’s an attractive portrayal of a confident, independent woman who is a wise teacher (‘She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue,’) and is respected, rather than being criticised for daring to speak at all.

    Compare this with the people today who believe women should be silent in church (as you have discussed in previous posts), or an employer I nearly had, and decided not to work for after he informed me that ‘The Bible says that a good woman doesn’t speak, because she’s content with her lot. Proverbs 32 [which doesn’t exist],’ and refused to let me finish a sentence, on the basis that anything I said was ‘female logic’ and therefore not worth listening to. Compare it, too, with the culture of classical Athens, where it was assumed that the greatest honour a woman could receive was in NOT being spoken of whether in praise or in blame, and where citizen women were expected to stay in the home except when attending female-centric festivals. Aristotle would have found the heroine of this poem much too talkative to be a suitable wife!

    • Proverbs 32 was the virtuous husband, but the early church fathers mysteriously lost it. Just joking 🙂

      • Haha! This was the ideal husband who got up early, worked hard, listened to his wife, took the trash out, and changed the kids’ diapers occasionally.

  3. All are made equal
    Not one above or below another
    To read the Bible not as whole of is misunderstanding the truth.
    Love is the wholesome truth to each person given to us each to interpret
    To me what you have interpreted or revealed is of the flesh not the spirit of God
    Thanks Paul

  4. Samuel Langhorne Clemens AKA Mark Twain said that the character “Tom Sawyer” he wrote about was a composite of several boys – that no one boy could be such a “superboy”. Could it be that the Proverbs 31 scriptures are pointing out various strengths that people can adopt and work with as they are gifted or inclined?

    • Kent Lindsay // December 4, 2020 at 5:51 am // Reply

      I think you are on the right track. Solomon had many many wives AND concubines. My guess is Proverbs 31 is a conglomeration of “the cream of the crop”. As my first Corinthians professor once said “there is the ideal and then the real”. In my opinion proverbs 31 is the ideal not the real.

  5. I once posted something similar to this on my Facebook and I was accused of excusing laziness. Oh well. I agree with you Paul, as I’ve learned more and more about Grace, I’ve found that God has not called me to be a Proverbs 31 Woman but to be conformed to the image of His Son and to let that find expression through my femininity. Still learning but that’s where I’m at right now.

  6. Kevin Chayyim // December 4, 2020 at 1:00 pm // Reply

    Good post mr. Ellis,wish it was longer though. You know what,i don’t get why people in society see women as the ones meant to do the dishes,clean the homes and feed the kids. The only time a woman is fully devoted to care for her child is during pregnancy,then after birth they can take shifts in caring for the child. Help meet means similar in reasoning and ability in terms of doing the same thing as you which God instructed them in genesis 1,to subdue,dominate and multiply and fill the earth not to subdue and dominate each other,the only reason women even let themselves controlled and dominated by their husbands is because of the curse placed on them:that their desire would be for their husband.

  7. “But this is a terrible message to give to our daughters.” Wow, you’re advising us NOT to look to God’s word. What’s next?

    • The Athenian notion that a woman must work from before sunup until after sundown to serve and please her man is found nowhere in the Bible. It would be much better to teach our daughters what the Bible actually says (eg: Ephesians 5) rather than pass on manmade and sexist traditions.

      • Kevin Chayyim // December 5, 2020 at 1:34 am //

        Very correct mr Paul,it’s such an honor to get a reply from you,i hope to see you in person someday,you have become a light in our time,i desire to share this gospel to more people now

  8. I had never thought of the passage the way you’ve put it, but I can relate to the nightmare of being overworked and trying to be the perfect woman.

    There is way too much pressure put on women to become these perfect workers who never complain and always smile, and always look good (to attract a husband), it’s exhausting beyond words.

    And it promotes the idea that women don’t need care and rest time and support.

    And it also pretends that women shouldn’t love themselves in pursuit of this image.

    Thank you for highlighting this Paul, it needed to be said.

  9. Maybe this chapter is not about mortal woman. Like Proverbs 8, that is speaking of Wisdom, in feminine form…
    I think the Holy Spirit is the feminine part of God. The Comforter…
    Likewise, happy is the man (or woman) who find the good Spirit, who lesds every way.

    • Yes, I think you got it!
      Man sees the outer, God sees the inner.
      I think the proverbs 31:10-31 woman
      Is a woman of God, above all else.
      She will not deny God, as like Job in the book of Job, as well as the story of Ruth

  10. Mark Francis // December 8, 2020 at 7:37 am // Reply

    It seems to me that Proverbs 31 fits into the same box as the laws found in Leviticus as part of the Old Testament covenant.

    “Want to be holy and please God? Obey all this law. Want to be a godly woman? Do all these things.”

    Except, of course, we can’t. That’s why we need Jesus.

    Holding this chapter up as a model for Christian living is as misguided as requiring conformity to any Old Testament law.

  11. Come on man… Really? This is insane leaving a cliff hanger like this, if you really have a rational argument. The chapter is pretty plain in what it says. Now, if there is more of an explanation pertaining to Jewish law, along the lines of how when Christ said we should “cut off our hands, pluck our eyes” to demonstrate the extent we must go to be perfect under the law, then that makes more sense. Obviously these Proverbs 31 expectations are a bit much. But, seems to me you are a bit too comfortable with your audience accepting what you’re saying without having to validate or explain it. All you have to do is explain what the intention of this chapter was then.

    • Sorry Neil, I don’t follow your point. You seem to agree yet your tone comes across as angry. If you are looking for a deeper treatment, I encourage you to read the book from which this article is extracted.

  12. Hi Paul. Thanks for responding. Sorry about the tone of my comment. I do feel you have a good point that the expectations of proverbs 31 are unattainable. My question though, plainly, is then, what is the point of proverbs 31 then? Is it that it is directly pertaining to Jews under the old testament law, and not applicable under the new covenant? Is there anything frim a Christian to glean from it then? How does a wife serve her husband then? (Obviously a husband should serve his wife as well,but that’s another topic).
    I feel like those are the obviously questions that your article begs, but you’re leaving those cliff hangers to pitch your book. That’s fair enough I guess.

    • Thanks Neil. Your comment got me thinking and I must confess I don’t think Proverbs 31 is that mysterious. I know people read all sorts of things into it (she’s the church, she’s wisdom, etc.). But I take it at face value, meaning, it’s a view on womanhood that reflected the age in which it was written. There is much to like in this passage, but as I say, I don’t believe we should tell our daughters to use it as a performance guide if they wish to marry. Marriage is about making a good partnership rather than finding some idealized woman who ticks a bunch of boxes.

  13. I appreciate your response again, Paul. I really like your website and the material you’ve put out by the way. It’s been very helpful the last couple of years. As I read through your article again, I thought about this coworker I have. We work for a government contractor, and the work is very meticulous, yet in reality, pretty slow and easy, once you understand the drill. His wife is a stay at home Mom. They are very religious sort of people, very law oriented. She is honestly this type of woman. They have 6 kids. She takes care of all of them during the day. She takes care of the bills. Runs all the errands. Runs the finances. Cooks, cleans, etc. And all this guy does is bring the money in and hangs out at work all day and acts like he’s doing her a favor because she doesn’t have to work. And honestly, it’s one of the most pathetic religious situations I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how when someone sees something play out like this, I have believe that really deep down in their heart of hearts, they know something is off. Anyway, appreciate you being a good sport and dealing with my inquiries. I don’t mean to assume I know your motives. I’m trying to get better with my online discourse.

  14. Janet Narvel // February 7, 2021 at 8:08 am // Reply

    Story/testimony: I had an ongoing list of attributes a wanted in a husband. I’d been single for many years, after many years as a single mom. I would watch the marriages around me and take note of interactions between them. I looked at the list one day and realized I had described Jesus. I got a revelation, I already had Jesus as my heavenly bridegroom. I already knew he would meet every need so why was so desperate for a mate. I tore up the list and praised him for his faithfulness to be all I needed. 6 weeks later my now hubby of 23. Yrs asked me out on first date. 12 weeks later we were one!

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