"An excellent wife, who can find?" ~Proverbs 31:10
King Lemuel asks a question for the ages. It has been considered by wise men of every generation. Perhaps the words are simply a poetic lamentation: "A good wife is hard to find." While that simple reading can certainly prove true, I think there is more to the wise king's question. Consider the ways in which we might understand the question and its answers!
What are the qualities which make an excellent wife? A summary of the king's description in verses 11-28 makes a fairly exhaustive list: She should be trustworthy, productive, benevolent, hard-working, diligent, generous, wise, and strong. She should also be able to make decisions, be able to manage provisions for her household including food and clothing, and be prepared for future needs of her family. Additionally, she must bring honor to her husband, be wise in her speaking, and able to teach in kindness... and the list goes on. Perhaps some readers (ladies, in particular?) are beginning to question whether anyone could ever live up to King Lemuel's standard!
There are two possible reactions to the Proverbs 31 list. One reaction is to denounce the list itself: The standard is useless if no one can ever measure up to it. The other reaction is to ask the question: "If no one can live up to it, then what purpose does the standard serve?" That is an important thought- and I believe the answer to that question indicates a foreshadowing of the gospel here in Proverbs 31. Lemuel's reckoning of the excellent wife functions in a similar way to that of the Law: it exists to show that no one can keep it! I'm not arguing that Lemuel's list and the Law are essentially the same. Rather, that Lemuel's list drives a woman to grace similarly to the way the Law drives sinners to a savior. Certainly, we know that no one other than Christ has kept the Law perfectly. And while it may be possible for a woman to fulfill Lemuel's qualifications, it would be very hard for her to do in her strength alone. So the woman who reads these words is forced to consider her own shortcomings and to depend upon grace, just as a sinner reads the law and sees his need for grace and mercy. So the standard serves two purposes: to provide the lofty goals that every wife should strive for, and to be the reminder that excellence as a wife only comes as a gift from God - by His grace!
Notice the way King Lemuel concludes his description of the wife of noble character: "a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised." For Lemuel, the issues are bound up together: fearing and following God is the way of wife will have success in these things. Interestingly, even if she does all these other wonderful things Lemuel listed, but doesn't fear the Lord, she isn't praiseworthy. If she doesn't do all these things perfectly, but does fear the Lord she is praiseworthy still! The excellent wife isn't a woman who has accomplished all these things, and who is out there waiting to be found. She's not a woman who is plucking away at an abstract standard in her own strength. She is a woman who fully embraces her dependency on God. And it is her God who makes her an excellent wife. Day by day, moment by moment, challenge by challenge.
I know many women who are striving to be godly wives, and I am overwhelmed by their example. I also know many young women who are diligently preparing for the time they will become a wife. To all these sisters, I offer my humble thanks and appreciation for what you are trying to do! Be encouraged! Remember that it is your walk with God that makes you praiseworthy and empowers you to successfully grow in becoming "the wife of noble character." God's grace will give you strength in the difficulties and will cover your shortcomings when you fail. And don't forget your value in God's eyes: as Lemuel says, "her worth is far beyond jewels!"
Today marks 10 years since my bride and I embarked on the journey of becoming a godly husband and wife. I am so grateful that God provided her for me. I honestly believe she is much more accomplished in becoming an excellent wife than I will ever be in becoming an excellent husband. I'm sure there are many ways she would say she doesn't live up to Lemuel's list. But all I see is a beautiful, godly woman who I could never deserve. But there we go again: it's a grace thing. At any rate, today I say with Lemuel, "Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all." Congratulations on 10 years, Nell. I love you.