The typical woman
I. HER SPHERE . This is domestic.
1 . In marriage. The typical woman is a wife and mother, not a St. Agnes, the mystical bride of Christ, nor even a Virgin Mary. We see her in Sarah, in Naomi, in Hannah, in Eunice. There is invaluable service for the world which only women who are free from the ties of home can accomplish; there is a noble mission for single women. But there is nothing in Scripture, reason, or conscience to suggest that virginity is more holy than marriage, that the maiden is more saintly than the matron.
2 . In the work of the home. Moreover, for unmarried women household cares and quiet home duties usually have the first call. Some women may be called to more public positions. A queen may adorn a throne. A Florence Nightingale may live as an angel of mercy to the suffering. But these are exceptional persons. Every Jewess was not a Deborah, and even the martial prophetess, unlike her French counterpart, Joan of Are, was "a mother in Israel."
3 . Therefore with domestic responsibility. The typical woman will be judged primarily in regard to domestic duties. The true wife is the helpmeet of her husband. Her first aim will be to "do him good" ( Proverbs 31:12 ). If she falls here, her public service is of little account.
II. HER CHARACTER . This is described in a graphic picture of her life—a picture which is in striking contrast to the ignorance, the indolence, the inanity of an Oriental harem. Observe its chief features.
1 . Trustworthiness. The true wife is her husband's confidant. She must be worthy of confidence by icing
2 . Industry. Nothing can be more foolish than the notion that a "lady" should have no occupation. The ideal woman rises early and busies herself with many affairs. In old days, when the spinning was done at home and most of the family garments were made by the women of the house, the clothing of husband and children bore testimony to the industry of the wife. Machinery has destroyed this antique picture. Yet the spirit of it remains. The true wife still finds an abundance of domestic occupations.
3 . Thrift. The wife of the Proverbs is quite a business woman, selling the superfluous work of her hands to merchants, and buying land with the proceeds. Yet by her foresight she provides warm clothing for the winter, and therefore she can afford to laugh when the snow cometh.
4 . Strength. "She girdeth her loins with strength." The physical education of women is just now receiving especial attention, and rightly so. It is a woman's duty to be strong, if by means of wholesome food and exercise she can conquer weakness. No doubt the ailments of many women spring from lassitude, indolence, and self-surrender. But eve, when bodily trailty cannot be conquered, strength of soul may be attained.
5 . Charity. The strong and thristy with might be hard, cold, and selfish. But the true woman "stretcheth out her hand to the poor" (verse 20).
6 . Gracious speech. So energetic a woman might still be thought somewhat unlovable if we had not this final trait: "in her tongue is the law of kindness" (verse 26). How much may the tone of a woman's conversation do to keep peace in a household, and shed over it a spirit of love and gentleness!
7 . True religion. This is the root of the matter. The typical woman "feareth the Lord" (verse 30).
III. HER REWARD .
1 . In her influence. "Her husband is known in the gates." She helps him to honour. Herself too busy in the private sphere to take her part directly in public life, yet indirectly she is a great force in the large world through her influence over her husband.
2 . In the success of her energies. We have here a picture of a wife in affluence—not of a poor domestic drudge in the squalor of abject poverty. Nevertheless, the prosperity of the home largely depends upon her. Her thoughtfulness, energy, careful oversight of others and kindness of heart and words, are the chief causes of the welfare of her happy, comfortable home.
3 . In the honour of her family. "Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her" (verse 28). Surely this is a better reward than public fame.
4 . Continued influence. This true woman deserves to have "the fruit of her hands." If she is to be spoken of "in the gates," it should be in praise of her domestic duties, which cannot but be known to her neighbours, however modest and retiring her manners may be.
The words of Lernuel
The fear of God is the leading thought in these meditations; and this in a twofold relation—to the king in his rule in the state, and the woman in her rule in the house.
The virtuous housewife
I. HER INFLUENCE IN THE SPHERE OF HOME . ( Proverbs 31:10-22 .)
1 . Her exceeding worth. ( Proverbs 31:10-12 .) A costly treasure not everywhere to be found; no commonplace blessing: an ornament and a joy above all that earth affords of rare and beautiful. A treasure on which the heart of the possessor ever dwells with delight.
"Continual comfort in a face,
The lineaments of gospel books."
She is the rich source of revenue to her husband in all good things.
"All other goods by fortune's hand are given;
A wife is the peculiar gift of Heaven."
"If women be good," said Aristotle, " the half of the commonwealth may be happy where they are." "The greatest gift of God is a pious, amiable spouse, who fears God, loves his house, and with whom one can live in perfect confidence" (Luther).
2 . The picture of her domestic industry. ( Proverbs 31:13 - 22.) It is an antique picture, the form and colouring derived from ancient custom; but the general moral effect is true for all times. The traits of the housewifely character are:
II. FURTHER TRAITS AND DETAILS OF THE PICTURE , ( Proverbs 31:23-31 .)
1 . She reflects consideration on her husband. Her thrift makes him rich; her noble character gives him additional title to respect. His personality derives weight from the possession of such a treasure, the devotion of such a heart. Her business capacity, her energy, and the quiet dignity of her life and bearing; the mingled sense and shrewdness, charm and grace of her conversation ( Proverbs 31:24-27 );—are all a source of fame, of noble self-complacency, of just confidence to the man who is blessed to call her "mine."
2 . Her life and work earn for her perpetual thanks and benedictions. ( Proverbs 31:28 , Proverbs 31:29 .) Her children, as they grow up, bless her for the inestimable boon of a mother's care and love. She has revealed to them God; and never can they cease to believe in goodness so long as they recollect her. She basks in the sunshine of a husband's constant approved. "Best of wives!" "Noblest of women!" is the thought ever in his heart, often on his lips.
3 . It is religion which gives enduring worth and immortality to character, ( Proverbs 31:30 , Proverbs 31:31 .) Beauty is a failing charm or a deception of the senses. But religious principle gives a spiritual beauty to the plainest exterior. Being and doing from religious motives, to religious ends,—this is a sowing for eternal fruits. And the works of love for God's sake and man's fill the air with fragrance to the latest end of time, and are found unto praise, honour, and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.—J.
If Solomon did write these words, we need not he surprised that he speaks of the rarity of the ideal woman; for she is hardly to be found in a crowded harem. It is the Christian home that contains her. We look at—
I. HER CHARACTERISTICS . And these are:
1 . Piety. "She feareth the Lord" ( Proverbs 31:30 ). She has within her the spirit of reverence, and the life she lives is one in which worship and the study of the will of God have no small share. She has a seat and is at home in the sanctuary; she is also constant and earnest in the quiet chamber of devotion; she knows well that the happiness of her home and the well being of her household depend upon the favour of the heavenly Father.
2 . Purity. She is a "virtuous woman" ( Proverbs 31:10 ). She gives her whole heart to her husband, and enjoys his full confidence ( Proverbs 31:11 ).
3 . Industry. The writer dwells upon the labours she puts forth for the sake of her husband and her household.
4 . Wisdom. ( Proverbs 31:26 .) Her conversation is far removed from mere idle gossip or the vanities of an empty curiosity. She is familiar with "the Law of the Lord;" she knows what is the secret of lasting happiness. She can guide her sons and daughters in the way of life; and she instills her heaven born wisdom into minds that welcome it and will never lose it.
5 . Kindness. "The law of kindness is on her lips." She is one that does not rule by the "constant droppings" of censure, hut by the never-failing stream of gentleness and encouragement. Love, not fear, is the sceptre which she holds, and is the source of her strength.
6 . Beneficence. ( Proverbs 31:20 ).
II. HER REWARD .
1 . Affection and honour on the part of those who are nearest to her. Her husband trusts and praises her ( Proverbs 31:28 ), and her children "rise up and call her blessed."
2 . Strength and dignity in her home. She is "clothed upon with" the tributes woven by love and esteem. Her influence is felt much oftener than it is recognized, and long after her face and her voice are no longer seen and heard.
3 . Security against future want. She "laugheth at the time to come," while those who lack her prudence and her skill have reason to shrink from the thought of it.
4 . The prosperity of her relatives. Her husband, relieved of care and worry at home, is able to do his proper work, and succeeds in his sphere ( Proverbs 31:23 ).
III. HER COMMONNESS IN THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST . It might be difficult to find "the virtuous woman" in the land and the time when Lemuet dwelt ( Proverbs 31:10 ); but she may be found today in any number of Christian homes. Holding the faith of Jesus Christ, governed by his principles, living his life, animated by his Spirit, fulfilling his law of love, the wife and mother is to be seen taking an honored place, filling her home with the sweet fragrance of purity and affection, exerting her benign and gracious influence on her husband and her children. You have not to take a long journey to reach her, nor to take much pains to find her; she is at home in "the castle of the noble, in the mansion of the wealthy, and in the cottage of the poor and the lowly."
1. Let us freely acknowledge our great indebtedness to her. Those who have had the priceless advantage of a mother possessed of the Christian virtues and graces have more to thank God for than if they had inherited a titled name or an ample fortune.
2 . If it be open to us, let us join her ranks. To be a woman living under the commanding influence of Christian principle, breathing a Christian spirit, and shedding a Christian influence in the home in which we live,—what is there, this side the gate of heaven, that any human spirit could more wisely wish to be? To be such is to be doing a most excellent work of God; it is to be filling a most honourable and useful sphere.—C.
#define abbreviation=Pulpit Commentary-Ecclesiastes_Song of Solomon
Part IX. THIRD APPENDIX TO THE SECOND COLLECTION .
This section contains an ode in praise of the virtuous woman, derived from a different source from that of the words of Agur, and belonging to a different age (see Introduction). It is an acrostic; that is, each verse begins with one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, arranged in the usual order. We may compare this mashal with the alphabetical psalms, "Psalmi abcedarii," which are, more or less, of similar structure, but of which one only, the hundred and nineteenth, is so marked in the English versions. Other examples are Psalms 9:1-20 ; Psalms 10:1-18 ; Psalms 25:1-22 ; Psalms 34:1-22 ; Psalms 37:1-40 ; Psalms 111:1-10 ; Psalms 112:1-10 ; Psalms 145:1-21 ; also Lamentations 1:1-22 ; Lamentations 2:1-22 ; Lamentations 3:1-66 . One object of this artificial construction was to render the matter easier to commit to memory. The spiritual expositors see in this description of the virtuous woman a prophetic representation of the Church of Christ in her truth and purity and influence. Thus Bode: " Hic sapientissimus regum Salomon laudes sanctae Ecclesiae versibus paucis sed plenissima veritate depingit.… Cujus ( carminis ) ordine perfectissimo alphabeti typice innuitur, quam plenissime hic vel animae cujusque fidelis, vel totius sanctae Ecclesiae, quae ex omnibus electis animabus una perficitur Catholica, virtutes ac praemia describantur ."
VAV . She riseth also while it is yet night. Before dawn she is up and stirring, to be ready for her daily occupation. A lamp is always kept burning at night in Eastern houses, and as it is of very small dimensions, the careful housewife has to rise at midnight to replenish the oil, and she often then begins her household work by grinding the corn or preparing something for next day's meals (comp. Proverbs 31:18 ). Early rising before any great undertaking is continually mentioned in Scripture. And giveth meat to her household; deditquae praedam domesticis suis, Vulgate. The word for "meat" is tereph, which means "food torn in pieces" with the teeth ( Psalms 111:5 ), and hence food to be eaten. The wife thus early prepares or distributes the food which will be wanted for the day. And a portion to her maidens. Chok, "final portion," may apply either to work or food. The Vulgate has cibaria, "meat;" Septuagint, ἔργα , "tasks." The former, which is in accordance with Proverbs 30:8 , would be merely a repetition of the second clause, the meat mentioned there being here called the allotted portion, and would be simply tautological. If we take it in the sense of "appointed labour," we get a new idea, very congruous with the housewife's activity (comp. Exodus 5:14 , where the same word is used in the ease of the enforced labour of the Israelites).