“A woman of valor who can find? Far beyond pearls is her value…She seeks wool and flax, and her hands work willingly. She is like a merchant’s ships; from afar she brings her sustenance.” Proverbs 31:10, 13-14
This week we begin a 3-part series on a truly remarkable character, the woman of valor. With this study, we close out our examination of Proverbs.
What an amazing journey it’s been. We have encountered some of the most valuable wisdom that can be found anywhere. Often, this has been a wisdom that guides us specifically in how we should act in a variety of settings and circumstances. But, even better, it’s been a wisdom that teaches us how to think and how to fashion the best decisions for our actions.
One feature of Proverbs that may be its most extraordinary is the arc that spans from beginning to end. We start with Lady Wisdom, who, as a child and “spokesperson” of God, calls us to follow in her ways. We close the book with the woman of valor, who, as a flesh-and-blood human being, shows us how to live wisely in the real world.
The first thing we learn of this woman we newly encounter in Chapter 31 is that she’s a person of valor whose value is far beyond pearls.
It’s very cool to know that the word translated as valor means much more than that. The Hebrew word is chayil. Yes, it can mean valorous. But it can also mean noble, capable, accomplished, virtuous, wealthy, and strong. Plus, it’s related to a word that means army.
Wow. What do we make of that?
Surely, no one person can be expected to have all those qualities. But a person might be able to have a solid mix of them. So, perhaps we should keep all of them in mind, as a holistic sense of the ideal. In that way, we could endeavor, as best we can, to emulate the qualities of this person Proverbs models as one who lives in wisdom.
Next, we’re taught that being like this woman yields greater value than the most precious material objects in the world. In a sense, then, if we’re motivated to find things of greatest value, we should turn away from the material and seek instead to be like her and be with others who are.
Now, in the text, we begin to see this woman in action. What do we notice first? She seeks wool and flax, and her hands work willingly.
The first part of her work is to obtain the ingredients she and her companions will use. These ingredients are to be of great utility and variety, as are wool and flax. And we presume that since she seeks them out herself, they will also be of high quality.
Isn’t it so, too, that our character traits – and our lives more generally – are largely determined by the elements of which they’re made? One could say that our teachings and our values are our core fibers, and we should seek them out as carefully as does the woman of valor, her wool and flax. As the Malbim teaches, we work willingly and purposefully to weave together “garments” for our souls such that our “attire” is goodness composed of the threads of virtue.
The woman of valor is like merchant’s ships that bring sustenance from afar. What does this mean?
It could mean that she goes to great lengths to provide the best sustenance for her family, both from her estate and beyond.
At a deeper level, it may mean more than physical sustenance. Perhaps she looks, too, for the best ideas and the best influences to nourish her community, and she’s willing and able to travel and trade to bring them home.
In other words, she seeks to “import” wisdom from afar. This could be that she brings to bear in her own world ideas and inspiration from heaven, from God. It may be that she studies sages and wise men and women from far away, both in time and place, and uses their teachings as sustenance for those who live in her midst.
Well, friends, we’ll stop here for now. Next week our heroine will show us how vision, entrepreneurship, business success, and caring for others, including the poor, can go very well together.
See you then!