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The virtuous woman?
a closer look at Proverbs 31

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Virtuous: "having or showing high moral standards; chaste"

There is certainly nothing wrong with that, right? Nothing except that this is not actually the meaning of Hebrew word used in the most famous passage from Proverbs 31: 

"Who can find a virtuous woman?

For her price is far above rubies."


The word translated as virtuous is chayil in Hebrew. The definition of chayil is “Strength, power, might, valor.” I’m a big advocate of letting the Word speak for itself, so let’s look at how else chayil is used in the Old Testament. 161 times this word is translated as army, military host or force, man of valor, valiant, and strength. All of these refer to a man or men. But on 5 occasions, it is translated as virtuous, which happens to be every time it refers to a woman. Hmmm... Of course. Cue the eye rolling...  

OK, let's think for a minute about the time period that the King James Bible was being translated into English. In the 1600's, if a woman exhibited the traits of chayil: strength, power, might, and valor it most likely would have gotten her arrested, beaten, or killed. It was not a friendly time period for a strong woman. So instead of translating this word the same across the board, they gave it a different, more palatable word when it referred to a woman. Virtuous. Who would argue with that? I mean virtue and valor are practically the same, right? No. No, they are not. I mean these two words are Snow White and Mulan. Both are princesses in their own right, but no one would confuse the two. 









   Eshet chayil = a woman of valor


OK so now that we have that cleared up. Let's talk about this ideal Proverbs 31 woman that hangs heavy over us, as the example of the perfect woman all Christian women should emulate. Talk about intimidating and out of reach! 

10 Who can find a virtuous wife?

For her worth is far above rubies.

11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her;

So he will have no lack of gain.

12 She does him good and not evil

All the days of her life.

13 She seeks wool and flax,

And willingly works with her hands.

14 She is like the merchant ships,

She brings her food from afar.

15 She also rises while it is yet night,

And provides food for her household,

And a portion for her maidservants.

16 She considers a field and buys it;

From her profits she plants a vineyard.

17 She girds herself with strength,

And strengthens her arms.

18 She perceives that her merchandise is good,

And her lamp does not go out by night.

19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,

And her hand holds the spindle.

20 She extends her hand to the poor,

Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.

21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,

For all her household is clothed with scarlet.

22 She makes tapestry for herself;

Her clothing is fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is known in the gates,

When he sits among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them,

And supplies sashes for the merchants.

25 Strength and honor are her clothing;

She shall rejoice in time to come.

26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,

And on her tongue is the law of kindness.

27 She watches over the ways of her household,

And does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;

Her husband also, and he praises her:

29 “Many daughters have done well,

But you excel them all.”

30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,

But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.

31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,

And let her own works praise her in the gates.


First, let's understand that this is a poem. An acrostic poem, to be exact, to teach the Hebrew ABC's. To see what it looks like as an acrostic in Hebrew, go here:  Proverbs 31 Acrostic

We are told that this poem was taught to King Lemuel by his mother. There is debate about who this mysterious king is, but many think that it is none other than Solomon himself. But I digress, the point is that this wise Queen Mother, taught this poem about an eshet chayil (woman of valor) to her son. The intended audience is a man, men in general. We have been led to believe that this passage is for us women, this unattainable ideal woman that only serves to show us how we aren't enough... was never actually meant for that. This ancient poem was used to show value and respect to women for all that they do. The point isn’t to emulate this ideal woman; the point is that this ideal woman represents all women, collectively.


In traditional Judaism, the man of the house will recite or even sing this poem before the Shabbat meal to honor his wife. He will say “Eshet chayil” to his wife and daughters to recognize their accomplishments. His daughter aced the exam she's been studying for... "Eshet chayil!" His wife completed the marathon she's been training for... "Eshet chayil!" Imagine what it would do for your spirit, if the man of the house; the husband, father or grandfather, sang a poem honoring you for all you do, demanding that the entire home take a minute and show respect to you before they begin their meal. I don't know about you, but that would go a LONG way in contributing to my feelings of self-worth and value. Which is exactly opposite of how this chapter has always made me feel! The Proverbs 31 woman has taken on a whole new meaning...   

My dear sister, you don’t bear the weight

of striving to be the perfect Proverbs 31 woman.    

Because she actually represents YOU.  

You are exactly enough, eshet chayil,

Woman of valor.     

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