Author: Taylor Abigail
The shade was much needed after a morning of trekking. In Israel, the heat is dry and deceiving - often it is much hotter than you think. We had just explored a replica of a biblical town - complete with houses, wheat fields, and even meandering goats! I was touring all over Israel with a group hungry to learn. Our topic of study was women in the Bible. After walking the town, our guide brought us to the shade and asked us to open to Proverbs 31.
Over the years, Christian women have attached baggage to this particular passage. Whether teaching has abused the text or not, for me, Proverbs 31 is the description of the woman I could never be, yet, the one I am expected to be. My adrenaline began to pump at my guide's request, but I decided to trust him.
Our guide was a 70-year-old Messianic Jew who had lived in Israel all his life. A Hebrew- speaking and Hebrew-Bible-reading man of God, I hoped that he would shed new light on this worn (in my mind) passage. I wanted to find the truth from Proverbs 31. I want to be at peace with all things in The Word. I humbled myself and let the Holy Spirit move as our guide began.
Hebrew reads from right to left. It's reminiscent of chiseling words into stone. The mason would hold the chisel in the left hand, and come down with the hammer in his right hand. This forced the movement across the stone from right to left. The permanence and force with which this language had been recorded for centuries can also be found in the words themselves. Each word is richly nuanced, specific, and poetic.
Line by line from the Hebrew Bible our guide drew out truth, mercy, and grace from Proverbs 31. A concept that is much more present in the Hebrew is the sense of partnership between the husband and wife. But not the partnership we might think of today. In Jewish culture, the men were out studying the Torah, while the women were truly the child-rearers/bearers, and managers of the house. If their husbands were well respected in the city, their homes would be large; filled with many children and servants. Their partnership was much more about the encouragement they gave one another in their respective duties rather than splitting the work evenly. Solomon, the writer of Proverbs, a wealthy king, wrote chapter 31 about the ideal Jewish woman - a woman who from her youth understood that she was (quite literally) going to be the lone queen of her castle while her king waged war and ruled in the city.
As Solomon wrote about this ideal Jewish woman - complete with strong arms and the ability to stay up late AND rise up early day after day - he starts and ends the chapter with the most important things. He begins, "A wife of noble character who can find?" and ends, "Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." These bookends are timeless. Solomon, king of 1000 women in his palace, knew that the "ideal Jewish woman" whom he described could not be found. But what he did find among the 1000, was that those who feared the Lord - not those who started and owned multiple business, not those who had 10 children, not those who kept every crevice of the palace clean, and not even those who were the most beautiful - but those who feared the Lord - were worthy of praise.
While we tend to teach Proverbs 31 as the way to be a godly Christian woman, the true wisdom and message of Proverbs 31 is that amidst the impossible standards for women, that the fear of the Lord frees us from them all. A woman of wisdom will remember these bookends and cling to them for their freedom. We do not need to be found perfect, we need only fear the Lord.
Like the dry heat, an English translation of a Hebrew Bible can veil the truth. I'm so thankful that I experienced a taste of the fullness of Hebrew. As my guide finished his teaching on the chapter, my anxiety ceased and a new relief washed over me. No longer does this chapter represent standards to be met and surpassed. It now stands to remind me to continually stand in the grace of Christ who has called me worthy by His blood.
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