Does the Proverbs 31 woman make you feel inadequate? Do you feel like you will never be as talented, productive, strong, caring, and fearless as this woman? If you see this chapter as a laundry list of to-dos for women, you might end up feeling guilt or resentment.
However, recently I learned that Jews see this chapter differently. Proverbs was a Jewish book for about one thousand years before Christians appeared on the scene. So today, let’s look at how they view Proverbs 31:10-31.
Verse 10, in the King James Version, reads “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.” “Virtuous woman” in Hebrew is “eshet chayil.”
Strong’s Hebrew dictionary says “chayil” means “a force, an army, wealth, virtue, valor, strength, able, activity.” Instead of translating it as “virtuous,” it could just as easily be translated as “valor.”
I googled “eshet chayil” and found thousands of references. These words were always translated as “a woman of valor,” and they refer to verses 10-31. These verses are a poem which is traditionally recited or sung by the husband at Shabbat dinners on Friday evenings. After the candles are lit, the husband sings or recites this blessing on the wife, then the children are blessed, and then the food is eaten.
This is done all over the world every Friday evening in religious Jewish homes. I’ve never heard of it before, but it’s a big deal in their culture.
When I googled images of “eshet chayil,” I found scores of pics of the poem in Hebrew and in English made into beautiful fine art to put on the wall. Apparently, this is popular to put in Jewish homes. On Etsy, there are hundreds of Eshet Chayil/Woman of Valor decorations and jewelry items you can buy.
Many people view verses 10-31 as a description of what all women should be all the time. But the Jews don’t see these verses as a list of tasks a woman must do to have worth or earn praise. They use the Scripture as a blessing to encourage each other. They say it was written as a way to underscore the importance of a woman’s skilled work in a culture that depended on it. Instead of commands for women, it is an ode to women.
The point is not that you need to do EVERYTHING in Proverbs 31:10-31. The point is whenever you do ANY of those things, you are a woman of valor. It’s the Jewish version of “You go, girl!” They even use the words “eshet chayil” in everyday life as words of praise for accomplishments.
- If you cook a meal, you are eshet chayil – a woman of valor.
- If you earn some money, you are eshet chayil – a woman of valor.
- If you give someone a ride to church, you are eshet chayil – a woman of valor.
- If you encourage someone, you are eshet chayil – a woman of valor.
In our culture, how do we determine worth? The world says that if a woman is a doctor or a business owner, she has worth. Proverbs 31 says that each time you sew on a button, care for your home, or face life with optimism, you have worth. You are a woman of valor.
The next time you read Proverbs 31, don’t let yourself get down because you are not as good as the woman in the poem. Lift up your head and know that whenever you are doing any of those tasks, you are a Woman of Valor.
Proverbs 31:10-31, KJV:
Who can find a virtuous (The Jews interpret “virtuous” as “valiant”.) woman? for her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands, she planteth a vineyard.
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
Strength and honor are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
She looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, (or valiantly) but thou excellest them all.
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her own works praise her in the gates.