In the early chapters of the book of Proverbs, we are introduced to two contrasting female types: lady wisdom and lady folly. Though these two ladies are personifications of what we should pursue (wisdom) and what we should avoid (foolishness), both have flesh-and-blood examples in Proverbs. The strange woman, whom Solomon warns his son about several times, is the best real-life example of the allure of destructive folly. It isn’t until the very last chapter of Proverbs that we are presented with a flesh-and-blood example of lady wisdom: Solomon's mother. For this reason, I have entitled Proverbs 31 “Wisdom’s Mother.”
Bible commentators debate the identity of King Lemuel; however, most conclude that “Lemuel” is a pseudonym for Solomon. If that is true, his mother is Bathsheba. Whether that the case or not, it is true that Proverbs 31 is a mother’s wise advice to her son. Here, a mother who has lived a life full of lessons learned, who has experienced mountains and valleys, is now imparting heavenly wisdom to her son.
Notice how this mother refers to King Lemuel in verses 1-2. The mother says “my son,” "the son of my womb,” and “the son of my vows.” He is her son, and therefore her responsibility. By writing these instructions to him, she is not shirking her responsibility as a parent; instead she embraces it. In verse 1, we see that Lemuel (Solomon) has also embraced his mother’s wisdom. He refers to this chapter as “the prophecy that his mother taught him.”
He belongs to her: this is his mother. She belongs to him as well, for he is her son. The strength of their relationship is seen as she embraces her role as a parent in his life, and she teaches him in the hope that he will “not forsake the law of his mother” (Prov. 1:8; 6:20; Eph 6:1) that she presents so clearly.
I summarize this royal mother’s instruction to her son this way: “Son, I want you to have 1) a strong body, 2) a clear head, and a 3) pure heart.”
In verse 3 she presents instruction for preserving her son’s physical strength. “Give not thy strength unto women,” she says. Very likely the “women” she is warning against are loose women. “Solomon,” she says, “don’t give your wealth and your physical body to those promiscuous enticements.” She then follows this warning with another: “nor [give] thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.” The verses following indicate she is specifically addressing the matter of wine and “strong drink.” This mother knows that wine would affect not only her son's physical body, but also his mind and eventually his heart. She wants her son to stay away from strong drink, “lest he forget the law [in his mind] and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted” (verse 5).
By stating her counsel this way, she says in effect, “Wine and strong drink is not for you, Lemuel. I want more for you than a life of hedonism. I want you to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves (v. 8). I want you to open your mouth and plead the cause of the poor and needy (vs 9). You stay away from promiscuous women, and you let those that are about to perish have that strong drink (maybe for medicinal reasons). Let the winos that lay in the streets and have heavy hearts have it. They are the ones that drink strong drink and try to escape their reality, and forget their misery (v. 7) but not you. You’re my son. I want to see God do great things with you.”
To avoid confusion about verses 6-7, we should understand that this mother’s statements in verse are not promoting strong drink, but they are in every way promoting the good of her son. What she is saying can be summarized this way: “Other people will imbibe, but those people are not my son. That’s their business. You belong to me, and I want you to have a bright future. You’re not in a desperate situation, “ready to perish” (v. 6) like someone on death row. No, you have your whole life ahead of you. Son, stay away from the seductress and the strong drink because, as your mother, I want you to have a strong body, and a clear head, and a pure heart to help others with. You’ve got something to live for.”
From the persuasiveness of this wise mother’s words, we see firsthand that few things on this earth will help a man acquire and maintain a strong body, a clear head, and a pure heart more than a good woman. This is true not only for mothers, but also for wives. A godly wife can be an invaluable companion. Solomon’s mother understands this, and so she spends the remainder of her words—verses 10-31—describing the invaluable companion that is a wife.
I say that she’s “invaluable” because, as verse 10 says, “her price is far above rubies.” It is interesting that something else is described in the book of Proverbs as more valuable than rubies: wisdom. Proverbs 8:11 says that “wisdom is better than rubies.” Proverbs 3:15 likewise says that “wisdom is more precious than rubies.” A virtuous woman, a wise wife, is a high-value female.
And, just like how wisdom must be found, sought after, and pursued—and how valuable things must be sought after and acquired—so also does this invaluable companion need to be pursued. “Who can find a virtuous woman?” the royal mother asks rhetorically. A wise woman is not like the strange woman who makes herself easily accessible. Instead, a man must find her. He must pray for her. He must pursue her. Wise ladies are not cheap and easy; they are invaluable and precious.
Solomon’s mother goes on to describe in detail the type of woman she wants for her son. This woman is trustworthy (v. 11). She will do him good all the days of her life (v. 12). She works hard to provide clothing and prepare food. She gets up early and works hard into the night if necessary. She doesn’t eat of the “bread of idleness” (v. 27); instead, she is diligent.
A wise woman looks outward as well, to help others. She cares about the poor and needy (v. 20). She is fearless, because she is prepared (v. 21). She makes her husband look good (v. 23). She adorns herself with strength and honor, and she’s not afraid of the future (v. 25). When she speaks, it’s wisdom and kindness (v. 26), not contentious and brawling.
The fruit of this wise companion’s life is presented beginning in verse 28. The greatest fruit is that her family recognizes her value. “Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.” Why does her husband praise her? Because “a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised” (vs 30).
Just as Proverbs 31 recapitulates the lady wisdom/lady folly types from early in the book, the end of Proverbs 31 references the foundational aspect of wisdom introduced in Proverbs 1:9, “the fear of the Lord.” The great personification of wisdom, the virtuous woman, must have as part of her character the fear of the Lord, because the fear of the Lord is the foundation for true wisdom. Where there is no fear of the Lord there is no wisdom. Bathsheba, Wisdom’s Mother, understood this truth, and the Lord inspired her motherly words to her son not only so he would learn wisdom, but also that we, thousands of years removed, might learn wisdom also.
The above article was written by James C. Johnson. He is the pastor of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at email@example.com.
Every Tuesday, SFL publishes relevant Bible-based content. Check back next Tuesday to read the next SFL article.
More Strength for Life...
NorthStone's recent Outreach Conference included a Q&A with Pastor Johnson and veteran ministers of the gospel. In this video, they answer questions including: Are some sins worse than others? Where was Jesus in the three days between his death & resurrection? How can husbands earn their wife's respect?