Monday, June 25, 2007

Business Lessons from the 'Wife of Noble Character'

The final passage of Proverbs describes this "Wife of Noble Character":
Proverbs 31:10
A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. 14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. 15 She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. 16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. 18 She senses that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. 19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. 20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. 26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness...

Women in Business
Contrary to many Christian stereotypes of proper female behavior, this passage does not depict the virtuous and praiseworthy wife as a submissive homebody whose sole purpose in life is to raise children and do dishes. No, this noble wife is a shrewd and profiting businesswoman! Even the Hebrew word for "noble character," often translated as "excellent" or "virtuous" literally means "power" or "strength." Of the 244 times this word is used in the Bible, it almost always means "strength", "army", or "wealth." The woman in Proverbs 31 is described in this manner, as is the Queen of Sheba in 1 Kings (10:2) and 2 Chronicles (9:1). Her strength is mentioned several more times throughout this passage.

So what makes her so strong and noble?
As is obvious from the passage, women engaged in business as well as men in Biblical times. This particular woman profits from her skills (19), selective buying of imported raw materials (13), wise trading (24), hard work (15,17,27), managing of servants (15, 26) and money sense (18). As an effective businesswoman, this wife has a successful business plan. She creates her own wealth, not by taking advantage of the poor, but out her smart choices and hard work. After buying cheap raw materials, she sews them into linen garmets and belts and then sells them to merchants for a profit. But that' not all! After accumulating wealth with the work of her hands, she spends her
seed money on an asset: land. She then proceeds to improve this asset by planting a vineyard, and she continually expands her money-making enterprise. She is "like the merchant ships" and brings riches to her household. Because she is so diligent and trustworthy in managing these affairs, the husband is free to serve in the political and judicial affairs at the court in the city gate (23,31), as is customary in those times .

Her noble use of money.
Part of what makes this virtuous wife so praiseworthy is what she does with her wealth. She provides for her family and servants, but then she helps the poor and needy out of her excess. Her wise use of time and money enables her to be charitable, just like Lydia in the New Testament.

After she has provided for the needs of many, she still has the means for a little luxury. She clothes her entire household with the finest scarlet linens and purple bed coverings. She is in a position of confidence, and doesn't need to stress about the future (25). Her household is prepared for variable conditions and disasters, such as a blizzard hitting Judea (21). While "she can laugh at the days to come," she wont let her wealth make her too comfortable. The wife of noble character will never "eat the bread of idleness" and she "fears the Lord."

Because of these characteristics, this wife gains the praise of her husband and those at the city gate (28,31). Even her
children called her blessed (28).

Pictures above: 1. A depiction of business women traveling in the ancient Near East 2.The Queen of Sheba conducts business with King Solomon 3. A coin from New Testament Judea, under the reign of Vespasian.

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John Block said...

I love this. It is a home run. You should expand this and teach to other women. Good job.

SierraSojourner said...

Thanks, this is a fun topic!

Matt Page said...

Thanks for this. I came across via the latest Biblical Studies Blog.

I've been meaning to do something similar with this myself ever since I was asked to read it at my grandmother's funeral last year. It really struck me then that it's a model for today - for both women and men.



Dewey said...

I recently read a post elsewhere about an interpretation of the Bible that portrays men and woman as equals in marriage, to the contrary of current stereotypes. I thought you might find it interesting. It's at and if you scroll down, it's called Redemption of Love.

Deep Thought said...

I am not sure where you are finding the "many Christian stereotypes of proper female behavior" that call for women to be passive homebodies. As a pretty-darned Conservative guy with a more Conservative wife and a circle of Conservative friends (and, to be clear, I mean socially Conservative, not financially)the way for a modern woman to be a "Proverbs wife" consumes a LOT of mailing list and forum bandwidth! And we men wonder how we can best support our wives in their striving.

I like to point out that in the typical American frontier home of the early 1800's the husband built things, raised food, etc., but so did the wife. While the husband produced the majority of goods and food for *internal* use by the family, the wife generated the majority of *cash* or hard currency with her work. Luxury goods, critical-but-rare goods, and those things that could not be produced locally were all secured (in the average home) by the efforts of the *wife* and her labor until the late 1800's though most of America (at least, by territory).

SierraSojourner said...

Thanks for all the comments. In response to Deep Thought on "Christian stereotypes of proper female behavior": I guess their are a lot of different stereotypes/ideas on how Christian women should behave. I am just responding to my own experiences, and not accusing anyone in particular. Your comment on culture in the 1800's is very interesting.

roblog said...

Thanks for the modern day interpretation. I haven't really considered a more modern take of these particular scriptures. I think your take on the "business like qualities" surrounding the wife of noble character is very sound and very applicable to today's world.
I agree with John, maybe you should wirte for a Christian Women's Zine and take your thoughts on the road.

Cristine said...

Hmmm... you make some very good points here.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I think you conveyed the passage well. It seems that the wife in this passage is overlooked by some and there are instances where still today a better use of a woman's talents are not entertained by the men in their lives. I think women become of noble character when they are allowed to grow.

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