Missio on Industry (A Broader View of Proverbs 31)

Proverbs 31 contains the famous poem in description of the ideal woman in Old Testament society.  Far from a shrinking violet without independent thought or motivation, she is a woman of remarkable breadth and capability.  Interestingly, the dominant descriptions of this woman are both ethical and mercantile.  She is generous and giving (v.20), dignified (v.25), and wise (v.26).  She is also industrious (v.15), wisely judging business opportunities (v.16), and she builds a profitable business (v.18).


Proverbs 31:10–31 (ESV)

10An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. 11The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 12She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
13She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
14She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. 15She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.
16She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.
18She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.
19She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.
20She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
22She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.
24She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
26She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
30Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

In the context of the book of Proverbs, the point is clear – whatever your gender, seek after woman Wisdom, who is all these things.[1]  And then the point for us is clear – a life of wisdom does not shun the marketplace and industry.  Quite the opposite, it flourishes in exactly that context.  God cares about the work we do, Monday through Saturday, not just how we approach a worship service on Sunday.

This week two authors reflect on a broader view of Proverbs 31:

-On Wednesday, Kate Moody reflects on how Proverbs 31 can paradoxically discourage, though it should do the reverse, in “A Heart to Have (Not and Ideal to Crush Us).”

-On Friday, Will Thompson reminds us that the poem about the ideal wife is only part of Proverbs 31, considering the broader context of the passage in “The Dependent Life (Not Wife).”

Where would God have me engage my vocation with greater industry?


Images:FreeImages.com/Carlos Sillero

[1] Note that Ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature was often framed in the context of the transmission of advice to a son, which explains the dominant motif of Proverbs being the choice between woman wisdom and woman folly.

This entry was posted in Biblical Reflections, On Culture, On Vocation, Proverbs 31 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.