Life Lessons: A Proverbs 31 Woman: A Productive Woman
“She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.”
(Proverbs 31: 13-19)
You may not know this about me but I LOVE domestic history and the next seven verses are a beautiful picture of typical domestic tasks a woman would undertake in the ancient world. These duties were required for the daily running of a household and often a woman was in charge of and depended upon by dozens of people not just her family. Her efficiency was necessary for the survival and success of all involved so let’s look at what her life entailed.
“She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.”
Up until the industrial revolution clothing was handmade and for the average working woman it was made by HER hands. If your family was going to be clothed and kept warm you had to not only do the work but have the skills to make you capable. Beyond her own household a spinner could sell cloth for a nice price if she could create a quality piece. In verse 13 we see the woman selecting wool, which we are all used to, and flax, which maybe you have never heard of before. Flax is actual a plant that has a fibrous inner being that can be twisted together to create thread. It takes an extreme amount of work to transform this plant into a workable material but once completed the tensile strength of the cord would be incredible. In fact, during the Second World War when Britain was pushed to their limits with rationing they had farmers grow flax that was then turned into parachute cords and rope works for the navy. Pretty impressive!
We also see that our woman works with eager hands. Another way it can be termed is that she is enthusiastic in her working. This isn’t just a task she has to get on with but something she takes pride in as she is doing it. This tells me that she isn’t doing just enough to get by but rather is working to create something that will be satisfying when completed.
“She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a woman referred to as a ship and to be quite frank, I think that sounds more like an insult but if you think about the service or convenience that a merchant ship would provide in the ancient world you can see how it could be a great thing. (Maybe the modern equivalent would be to say she was like Amazon Prime?) Ships brought spices, fruits and materials from all over the known world thus giving people more provisions.
It also says that she gets up while it is still night to provide food for her household. This is one of a million reasons why I’m thankful to live in the modern age. Once again, up until the advent of labor-saving devices the number one kitchen appliance was a woman or women if she was lucky enough to have daughters or servants. Need flour to bake bread? You ground it yourself. Need butter for said bread? You milked the cow, skimmed the cream, churned the butter, salted the butter and pressed it. Need beer to wash that bread down? You went to the stream and hauled the water back. You boiled that water and added yeast. You went through the entire fermentation process and “bottled” it to keep it safe. All those days and hours of work for a simple snack of toast with some butter and a flagon of beer. Can you imagine? I’m exhausted just thinking about it and yet that was the reality if you wanted to eat or feed your family.
Maybe now days you don’t have to grind your own flour but it may just seem like that after eight hours at the office and soccer practice and helping with Algebra I homework. Why do mothers (and fathers) do it? Why did my parents drive me to dance practice and cook hot meals and let me have a sleepover with 15 girls on a Friday night after a full week of work? I can only imagine that we looked less like angelic beings with bows in our hair and more like chirping, screaming bulldozers but they ordered the pizza and made the pallet of blankets probably while dragging their tired bodies from one end of the house to the other.
They did it because they loved me. Love makes taking care of someone not seem quite as arduous. It makes getting out of bed a 5:00 A.M. a little easier and gives those extra weekend shifts a purpose. Did this woman HAVE to provide food? Historically, yes, if she wanted a roof over her head and food in her belly it was her job but the way the author describes her throughout the passage it seems that she most likely did her work from a place of pride, dedication and love.
“She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.”
This is no ordinary lady we are reading about. No, ma’am, she is a savvy business woman who is prudent with her money. It may seem strange to you that a woman in the ancient world had the power to buy and sell property but this wasn’t unusual in some cultures. I think what is very telling in this passage is that she doesn’t just buy a field...no, she considers it or as the New Living Translation says, “She inspects it…” She wanted to make sure this piece of land was worthy of her investment. Then she takes her profits and plants a vineyard and we all know that wine was the drink of choice in ancient times. This is a woman who obviously knows how to be productive and profitable. If she has a vineyard she has people to work the vineyard. She is capable of managing the land and the labor to create a profitable venture. This creates stability and security for the future which is something I think we are all still striving to attain.
“She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.”
To work vigorously creates images of enthusiastic and excited hands. A woman who is not trudging but undertaking a task with briskness and certainty. Our woman’s arms are strong. Strong for kneading dough and carrying children and using the weaving loom. In fact, at the end of the passage it speaks of her holding the distaff and grasping the spindle which is a reference to the tools she uses to spin the wool and flax she carefully chose in verse 13. Once again we see that she is a hardworking and successful business woman but we see it goes beyond her physical strength or her mental capacity.
We see that the strength of her character is also to be praised. Her diligence is commended in the keeping of her light. In the past, the fire was the center of the home. Light represented safety from predators, warmth and comfort, the preparation of food and the ability to cleanse. It was obviously of great importance but it was also a booger to acquire at times. We are so used to flipping a switch or striking a match. In fact a match seems quite antiquated compared to the ease of a lighter but that was not always the case. There was a time when tending a fire or lamp was of utmost necessity to the function of the household on a daily basis. Remember what happened to the virgins in Matthew 25 who let their lamps run out of oil. They were eventually left behind a barred entrance into the wedding feast. Our woman is responsible for everything down to the smallest detail.
Ultimately, she is an integral part of the household to which she belongs. She is not dead weight but rather an asset that is being honored. She knows her responsibilities and completes them to the best of her ability with a joyful heart and positive attitude.
My Take Away
The effort you put forth tells a lot about your character.
Love can be shown in the tangible everyday tasks of life.
You should be wise with your investment of time and money to benefit you in the future.
You should use your God-given skills for the betterment of yourself and others.