This Sunday, May 10, is Mother’s Day. It’s an important day in that it reminds us of the love and extraordinary sacrifices mothers can make for their children.
Since the 1960s there have been significant changes in the way women see themselves: having now the sexual freedoms formally perceived to belong only to men; having the capacity to rise to high positions, professionally and politically; yet still having the unique gift to be a mother.
It may come as a surprise to many to read Proverbs 31:10-31. The woman personified here probably draws together the many aspects of womanhood applauded in the Bible.
At first glance we could say she would make a good New Yorker, given her many activities and the pace of her life! But we see here not only characteristics of an ideal wife and mother but also a picture of the Bible’s view of womanhood. Indeed, here are lessons that are applicable across cultures and across time.
Who is this woman? First, let me say that this is not one woman, but a composite picture of Godly womanhood. Let me identify some key themes.
She is a capable manager. In verses 11 through 13 we see that she is active and competent, promoting goodness and protecting those around her against life’s hazards. Indeed, she is capable of taking on a variety of significant responsibilities.
She is also an entrepreneur – a successful businesswoman. In verses 14 through 16 we see her buying and selling in the marketplace and with an eye for property and investment opportunities. Her lamp does not go out, suggesting either prosperity or long hours of work. She is physically fit and strong (verse 17) and skilled in spinning her own thread (verse 19).
She is also compassionate and caring. Verse 20 tells us that she gives a percentage of her profits to the poor, reinforcing the biblical principle that prosperity is to be shared with those who are less well off.
Furthermore, her conversation is not simply small talk about general gossip or current fashion. She uses opportunities to speak words of wisdom (verses 26, 27). She brings God into her conversation – his revelation and his wisdom for life, so essential in the home and beyond – especially in challenging times such as we are experiencing now.
What then is the key to her success? Her independence, her energy, her entrepreneurial gifts? No. In Proverbs 31:30-31 we read: Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
These verses form a fitting conclusion to the Book of Proverbs for they bring us back to the starting point. In chapter 1:7 we read: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; fools despise wisdom and instruction. This is what this woman has learned – everyone who fears the Lord is to be praised.
In the course of its wisdom, the Book of Proverbs has some salutary words about those women whose aim is to trap men. Proverbs 31 reverses this, for here is a woman who, fearing the Lord, shapes her life around his Word and his wisdom. She is also a reversal of Genesis 3 with its account of Adam and Eve and their fall.
When we view Proverbs 31 through the lens of the New Testament, we can see it as a pointer to Mary and her response to the announcement of the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:35ff). Luke’s account draws our attention to the depth of Mary’s experience of God’s mercy. My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, she says (Luke 1:46f). Mary, it is important to note, is not the bestower of grace. She is the beneficiary of God’s grace.
God says to women, as he does to men, ‘I have designed you and made you. Listen to me; turn to me, ask for my forgiveness. Trust me’.
Let’s take the time this Mother’s Day to thank the Lord for our mothers – or perhaps a mother-figure who has been our special mentor. Above all, let’s thank God for the Son that Mary bore – Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. For to fear him is the beginning of wisdom. To turn to him in repentance and in faith is to know the beginning of life.