Saturday, August 17, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (72)

As mentioned in previous posts, the specific details of the wife’s labors in Proverbs 31 are largely unimportant. It is the character qualities they show us that matter most. The fact that these verses speak of fields and vineyards does not limit wifely excellence to the spouses of farmers. Let’s not discourage ambitious, creative married women living in modern urban settings. An excellent wife today might write or edit books, give music lessons, provide after-school care for neighborhood children or popularize her own YouTube channel.

Okay, maybe not YouTube. These days, anything excellent on YouTube is guaranteed to get demonetized.

The Oracle of King Lemuel (Proverbs 31:16-19)

An Excellent Wife Operates Independently
“She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.”
We have already established that an excellent wife is adept at turning a little into a lot. When entrusted with resources, she does not fritter them away. Here we see her expanding her influence by purchasing a new piece of property. And she seems to be doing this quite independently.

An excellent wife does not need to be micromanaged. She may make use of her husband’s experience, but she does not need her hand held every step of the way. In the case of the field in question, her husband does not seem particularly involved either financially or in the necessary deliberations; this is her venture (“She considers ...”). She is moving ahead and reinvesting the proceeds of her earlier successes. It is with “the fruit of her hands” (in other words, the profit from previous ventures) that she can afford to purchase a field and plant a vineyard. If for some reason this new project flounders, she can cut her losses and move on to something else without negatively impacting her family’s primary income stream.

A secondary implication is that she is adept at saving rather than squandering. The money to buy the field is available because it hasn’t been wasted here, there and everywhere. There are only so many working hours in a day. This woman knows the value of her own time, so she is coming up with ways to generate passive income while she works away at her other projects.

An Excellent Wife is Self-Controlled
She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.”
The Hebrew reads literally “She girds her loins with strength.” Girding the loins is a common figurative expression in Hebrew, and it is surely used in that sense here. It does not take physical prowess to make a wife excellent. Girding oneself means preparing for action. Here the excellent wife does not merely “gird up her loins”, but she does so with determination. She “makes her arms strong.”

The picture is one of self-control and readiness to respond to whatever may come her way. This woman has resolved that she will not be intimidated by anything the world may throw at her. Later we will read that she is a woman who “fears the Lord”, which strongly suggests her internal fortitude is not merely a matter of effectively mustering her own willpower. Rather, the source of her strength is God himself. As Paul puts it in New Testament terms, women “will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Or as Peter says to Christian women, “You are [Sarah’s] children if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

Throughout history, excellent wives have figured this out with or without specific apostolic instruction. A woman of such character will not press her husband to overreact to adverse circumstances. She has reserves to draw on that help her maintain her equilibrium in hard times.

An Excellent Wife is Analytical
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.”
The excellent wife is not the sort of woman to set a project in motion and let it meander on indefinitely without first establishing criteria for success or failure. Other verses suggest she is operating a business on the side; this one tells us she is shrewd enough to notice business is booming and double down on her efforts while the market is working in her favor: “Her lamp does not go out at night.” An excellent wife is not necessarily a risk-taker, but she does not let a good opportunity pass her by.

An Excellent Wife is Hands-On
“She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.”
Why would a woman with female servants (the “maidens” of verse 15, as we established last week) bother to do her own spinning? Well, she probably doesn’t do all of it, but the excellent wife is sufficiently hands-on that when she starts a project, she goes at it from the ground up.

This is an exceedingly wise move, and one that I wish the excellent wives of the world would whisper in the ears of upper management where I work. As in other struggling companies, management has a regrettable history of rolling out new initiatives untested, never having put in the hours needed to understand how the changes they are mandating impact the production side of the business. As a result, most of these initiatives fail quickly and catastrophically.

The best managers — in or outside of households — are those who have spent enough time doing real labor that they are able to anticipate and prevent problems before they happen, whether it’s a supply chain issue, a question of using the right kind of wool, or doing a cost/benefit analysis.


  1. I have forwarded this article to my excellent wife. Not sure though she will read it although a little flattery like this might come in handy ;-).

    1. She might be too busy "considering a field" and buying it ... have you checked your bank balance?