We live in a fallen world in which God works redemptively. This means that nothing can be simply assumed to be in submission to God. It can only be assumed to be in submission to Him, or not. Consequently, we must consider all things as a blessing, or a curse, depending upon its relationship to the Word of God. “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones“ (Prov. 12:4). This is why women are a wonder to have around. Or a horror.
I want to conclude with a positive statement about women from Proverbs, and so we will begin with certain problem women. When women are disobedient, the dislocations in our lives are severe. One obvious problem is that of the seductive woman — “This is the way of an adulterous woman: She eats and wipes her mouth, and says, ‘I have done no wickedness’” (30:20). The wisdom of God found in Scripture brings with it as no small blessing the fact that it preserves a man from a horrible pit (2:16; 6:24; 7:5). This horrible pit is the mouth of an immoral woman; those who are hated by God will fall there (22:14). We sometimes assume that if we do certain things (like commit adultery) then we will incur the displeasure of God. This is true, but it is also true that if we incur His displeasure, we will do certain things (like commit adultery). The one who is hated by God will fall into the arms of an immoral woman. This principle must be seen by obedient faith, because an immoral woman looks good (7:10) and sounds good (5:3). Nothing is accomplished by Christians denying the obvious. But the Bible also teaches that when all is said and done, adultery is a form of suicide. “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; he who does so destroys his own soul“ (6:32). Those who only think about the good appearance of promised of sexual pleasure “all night long” do not see that the end of this is death. But those who see that the end is death sometimes try to pretend that the beginning is equally obvious. But unless we are trusting God’s word on this, it is not as obvious.
Another problem is caused by the quarrelsome woman — Proverbs has much to say about the clamor of foolish women (9:13). Better to live in the corner of an attic than to be around a contentious woman (21:9; 25:24). Better to be out in the desert than to be around a quarrelsome woman (21:19). To be in a house that leaks during a downpour is about the same (27:15). In short, the Bible teaches that quarrelsome women are a pain in the neck.
Contrasted with this kind of covenantal chastizement, what does Proverbs say about biblical women? As we have seen, a foolish woman is a destructive force. In contrast, what are the characteristics of the obedient woman? First, she is described as a sexually superior woman. Husbands are called to rejoice sexually with their wives (5:18); they are commanded to be enraptured (5:19). This is something the husband is commanded to do, and is able to do, but not alone. In other words, a biblical wife can outdo all the one-night-stands in the world. Information to the contrary is nothing more than lying propaganda. She is also described as an edifying woman. “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands“ (14:1). A godly wife builds and contributes. She blesses her husband and family in tangible ways. And we are also told that a good woman is, like our salvation, a gift of God, lest any should boast. A good wife is a tangible sign of God’s blessing (18:22). Put another way, a prudent wife is from the Lord (19:14).
But this is still a little general. When we look at some of the particulars, we may be surprised. This is because many people assume that the “biblical wife” and the “traditional wife” are one and the same. In some respects, yes, but in many, no. The book of Proverbs is about two archtypical women — Folly and Wisdom. And when we come to the end of the book, we have a particular woman described, one who embodies the characteristics of Wisdom. And many Christians know this, and refer jokingly to the “Proverbs 31 woman,” but they often do this without looking closely at what she actually does.
So when we affirm the biblical role of women, we must take care at the same time to avoid overreaction. The biblical woman and the traditional woman are not necessarily identical. Of course, there will be many areas where we see the traditional woman as being closer to the biblical norm than the “modern feminist.“ But this is not how we are to make judgments — grading on a curve. For example, let us consider in detail the ideal woman of Proverbs 31. Such a consideration is not altered at all through the recognition that a woman capable of everything in this chapter really would be a “superwoman,“ a rare find. As Elizabeth put it to Mr. Darcy, she was astonished that he knew any “accomplished women” at all. This reality is stated in the chapter (31:10) — and it is this which makes the description so helpful as a pattern for imitation. The point is not to say that anything less is complete failure, but rather to note that we have a good idea of the direction we should be thinking. Consider her work. This passage denies that a woman’s place is in the home. It affirms that her priority is the home. So what does she do? What is she like?
Her husband delegates responsibility to her (31:11), and is not foolish in doing so (31:12); she is a weaver (31:13); she shops for food effectively over long distances, making CostCo runs to Lewiston (31:14); she cooks and provides food (31:15); she buys real estate (31:16); she starts a farm with her accumulated capital (31:16); she works hard, and manufactures quality merchandise (31:17-19); she is deeply involved in philanthropic work to the poor (31:20); she thinks ahead, and clothes her family well (31:21); she makes things for herself, and dresses herself well (31:22); she poses no threat to her husband; she does not compete with him or try to overshadow him (31:23); she is a fabric and clothing wholesaler (31:24); she is a wise woman, and a teacher (31:26); she manages her household (31:27), to the praise of her husband and children (31:28-29); and she fears God, placing no trust in fleeting vanity (31:30-31).