00 02 Sermon Proverbs 31
Sermon Pasadena February 19, 2000
The Book of Proverbs – Another Perspective
In the current Bible Study series we have been going through the Book of Proverbs. There comes a point when it’s necessary to summarize the book. When we began the series we noted that in the first chapter there are a number of comments about the purpose of the book. The chapter summarizes the book in a way.
The last chapter also gives a summary, though it does it in an unusual way.
The chapter focuses on the roles of a man and a woman.
These are important verses for us as future rulers. They define certain aspects of our ultimate responsibilities. There is information here about what we should be doing now in everyday life.
The Book of Proverbs is “wisdom literature” – designed to give us very valuable information distilled over the centuries by others.
The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him:
The chapter opens with the words of a mother to her son. Her advice covers three aspects:
Wayward women, alcohol, and compassionate care for those in need.
The son in this case is a ruler, who must govern in righteousness. In that respect he is typical of all of us who are traveling down the road to positions of responsibility in the Kingdom of God.
9 And they sang a new song, saying:
1 “You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
10 And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.”
26 “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—
So it’s clear that there are high level responsibilities ahead. Now the advice that is given to Lemuel by his mother is advice for all of us, men and women, in the sense that rulership’s responsibilities come to all of us.
3 Do not give your strength to women,
Nor your ways to that which destroys kings.
The king’s mother warned him that adultery has a debilitating effect on the mind and body. That’s true for men and women.
This is reminiscent of Solomon’s warnings against adultery in several places. First he says that we should acquire wisdom:
16 To deliver you from the immoral woman,
From the seductress who flatters with her words,
17 Who forsakes the companion of her youth,
And forgets the covenant of her God.
18 For her house leads down to death,
And her paths to the dead;
19 None who go to her return,
Nor do they regain the paths of life—
My son, pay attention to my wisdom;
1 Lend your ear to my understanding,
2 That you may preserve discretion,
And your lips may keep knowledge.
3 For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey,
And her mouth is smoother than oil;
4 But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
Sharp as a two-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death,
Her steps lay hold of hell.
6 Lest you ponder her path of life—
Her ways are unstable;
You do not know them.
7 Therefore hear me now, my children,
And do not depart from the words of my mouth.
8 Remove your way far from her,
And do not go near the door of her house,
9 Lest you give your honor to others,
And your years to the cruel one;
10 Lest aliens be filled with your wealth,
And your labors go to the house of a foreigner;
11 And you mourn at last,
When your flesh and your body are consumed,
12 And say:
“How I have hated instruction,
And my heart despised correction!
13 I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers,
Nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me!
14 I was on the verge of total ruin,
In the midst of the assembly and congregation.”
My son, keep my words,
1 And treasure my commands within you.
2 Keep my commands and live,
And my law as the apple of your eye.
3 Bind them on your fingers;
Write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
And call understanding your nearest kin,
5 That they may keep you from the immoral woman,
From the seductress who flatters with her words.
6 For at the window of my house
I looked through my lattice,
7 And saw among the simple,
I perceived among the youths,
A young man devoid of understanding,
8 Passing along the street near her corner;
And he took the path to her house
9 In the twilight, in the evening,
In the black and dark night.
10 And there a woman met him,
With the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart.
11 She was loud and rebellious,
Her feet would not stay at home.
12 At times she was outside, at times in the open square,
Lurking at every corner.
13 So she caught him and kissed him;
With an impudent face she said to him:
14 “I have peace offerings with me;
Today I have paid my vows.
15 So I came out to meet you,
Diligently to seek your face,
And I have found you.
16 I have spread my bed with tapestry,
Colored coverings of Egyptian linen.
17 I have perfumed my bed
With myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.
18 Come, let us take our fill of love until morning;
Let us delight ourselves with love.
19 For my husband is not at home;
He has gone on a long journey;
20 He has taken a bag of money with him,
And will come home on the appointed day.”
21 With her enticing speech she caused him to yield,
With her flattering lips she seduced him.
22 Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter,
Or as a fool to the correction of the stocks,
23 Till an arrow struck his liver.
As a bird hastens to the snare,
He did not know it would cost his life.
24 Now therefore, listen to me, my children;
Pay attention to the words of my mouth:
25 Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways,
Do not stray into her paths;
26 For she has cast down many wounded,
And all who were slain by her were strong men.
27 Her house is the way to hell,
Descending to the chambers of death.
14 The mouth of an immoral woman is a deep pit;
He who is abhorred by the Lord will fall there.
27 For a harlot is a deep pit,
And a seductress is a narrow well.
28 She also lies in wait as for a victim,
And increases the unfaithful among men.
Next Lemuel’s mother warns about the wrong use of alcohol.
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
It is not for kings to drink wine,
Nor for princes intoxicating drink;
5 Lest they drink and forget the law,
And pervert the justice of all the afflicted.
This is advice that is found elsewhere in the book.
Wine is a mocker,
1 Strong drink is a brawler,
And whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
20 Do not mix with winebibbers,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
21 For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags.
29 Who has woe?
Who has sorrow?
Who has contentions?
Who has complaints?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
30 Those who linger long at the wine,
Those who go in search of mixed wine.
31 Do not look on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup,
When it swirls around smoothly;
32 At the last it bites like a serpent,
And stings like a viper.
33 Your eyes will see strange things,
And your heart will utter perverse things.
34 Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
Or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying:
35 “They have struck me, but I was not hurt;
They have beaten me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?”
The danger in wrong use of alcohol is that it can pervert judgement. You may be required to make a judgement and if you have had too much to drink or drink too much habitually, you will be unable to make good judgements.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary says:
The particular danger of drunkenness to a king lies in its tendency to cloud his memory and judgment, resulting in injustice to the oppressed. (18:5 It is not good to show partiality to the wicked, Or to overthrow the righteous in judgment).
Next in Proverbs 31, there is a note about right use of alcohol in certain circumstances.
6 Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
And wine to those who are bitter of heart.
7 Let him drink and forget his poverty,
And remember his misery no more.
The next two verses deal with the king’s responsibility to be a defender of the helpless, to stand for justice in such cases. It speaks to our responsibility to be compassionate to the less fortunate and to judge righteously, not according to another’s wealth or position in life.
8 Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
9 Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy.
The most well known section of Proverbs 31 begins in verse 10. We have covered this from a different point of view before. Today we will look at its broader application to men and women and not just in marriage.
10 Who can find a virtuous wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
This section of scripture is an acrostic – a poetic form where each verse begins with a different verse of the alphabet, here the Hebrew alphabet. So there are 22 verses corresponding with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
This phrase “a virtuous wife” comes from the Hebrew,
Chayil ishshah, which is a woman of valor, or strength, or ability, -- a noble woman.
It’s interesting that we have just been reading about a noble man – what the king should be.
The BKC says:
The wife of noble character (h\ayil) is also mentioned in 12:4 (An excellent wife is the crown of her husband,
But she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones).
Clearly these are attributes that are wonderful to find and to emulate in men and women. Any one who would cause shame to either man or woman is like a disease within.
The word for “noble” is also found in verse 29 of this chapter:
29 “Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.”
Here it’s translated, “well’ or “virtuously” in the KJV.
Ruth was called “a virtuous woman” or “a woman of noble character” (Ruth 3:11).
The Book of Ruth is interesting for us in the context of this sermon, in that it tells the story of two noble people -- a man and a woman. God used them both as wonderful examples of a right attitude.
Again the BKC says:
The question who can find (a virtuous woman)? does not suggest that such women are nonexistent but that they should be admired because they, like noble men, are rare. Also they are more valuable than rubies….
There is a reference to the rarity of noble men in:
6 Most men will proclaim each his own goodness,
But who can find a faithful man?
The Book of Proverbs then promotes the most essential and important qualities of men and women.
The husband of the virtuous woman is mentioned three times in this section and once by inference.
11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
The adulterous woman that we read about in the first section of this chapter bears no resemblance to this woman. Here husband has no fears about her faithfulness. As a result she does him good all her life --what a blessing for faithfulness in marriage.
The result is that he is a man of stability and reputation – not from her faithfulness alone, but as they say, behind every great man is a great woman. We see this in verse 23.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
The BKC says:
A noble woman enhances her husband’s standing among those who transact legal and judicial affairs at the city gate (cf. v. 31) among the elders. Though she is obviously aggressive and competent, she functions in a way that honors her husband’s leadership rather then denigrates it. She respects him and builds him up.
Such a woman is going to be praised, acknowledged by her family, her children, and her husband.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
And willingly works with her hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
She brings her food from afar.
15 She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
And a portion for her maidservants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms.
Here we see some of the characteristics that should be emulated by everyone. Here we are talking about industriousness – the willingness to work hard and to be diligent. There are references to her work with sewing and weaving as follows:
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hand holds the spindle.
22 She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.
There are various proverbs about hard work and diligence as well as the opposites -- laziness and lack of diligence. So again the chapter reminds us of what has gone before.
4 He who has a slack hand becomes poor,
But the hand of the diligent makes rich.
5 He who gathers in summer is a wise son;
He who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame.
24 The hand of the diligent will rule,
But the lazy man will be put to forced labor.
4 The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing;
But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.
The virtuous woman conducts wise business dealings:
18 She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
This is to say that she is prepared ahead of time for emergencies.
She’s also concerned for those in need.
20 She extends her hand to the poor, Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
The book of Proverbs teaches us a lot about generosity.
25 The generous soul will be made rich,
And he who waters will also be watered himself.
25 The desire of the lazy man kills him,
For his hands refuse to labor.
26 He covets greedily all day long,
But the righteous gives and does not spare.
9 He who has a generous eye will be blessed,
For he gives of his bread to the poor.
The noble woman is clothed with something far more valuable than fabric – character.
25 Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.
Next a very telling comment. One of the characteristics of the noble woman is something that has a continuous effect on all her communications. Here is a quality that is central to her character. It’s something about which there is much said. And even though this is said of the woman, it is equally necessary for the man.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
There are a number of scriptures in this book that reference the difficulties of controlling the tongue.
2 The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly,
But the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.
23 Whoever guards his mouth and tongue
Keeps his soul from troubles.
23 The north wind brings forth rain,
And a backbiting tongue an angry countenance.
9 Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop,
Than in a house shared with a contentious woman.
15 A continual dripping on a very rainy day
And a contentious woman are alike;
Of course in the book of James the tongue is not singled out as a unique problem of women. There we learn that the problem is universal:
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
This last chapter of the book of Proverbs is yielding a lot of other connected teaching.
The secret of the virtuous woman is of course that she is godly.
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.
The BKC again:
She is physically charming and beautiful but those qualities may not last. But as a woman who fears the Lord, she is praised by her husband (v. 28) and others (v. 31). Appropriately here near the end of Proverbs, the book concludes the way it began, by referring to fearing the Lord (1:7).
The writer urged his readers to recognize and reward the faithful diligence and kindness of such a woman. She along with her husband (v. 23) should be honored publicly. Honoring a woman at the . . . gate was not normally done in Israel. But an unusual woman called for unusual recognition.
The virtues of a noble wife are those that are extolled throughout the Book of Proverbs: hard work, wise investments, good use of time, planning ahead, care for others, respect for one’s spouse, ability to share godly values with others, wise counsel, and godly fear (worship, trust, service, obedience). As Proverbs has stated repeatedly, these are qualities that lead to honor, praise, success, personal dignity and worth, and enjoyment of life. In the face of the adulteress’ temptations mentioned often in Proverbs, it is fitting that the book concludes by extolling a virtuous wife. Young men and others can learn from this noble woman. By fearing God, they can live wisely and righteously. That is the message of Proverbs.