The Wife of Noble Character in Proverbs 31:10-31 -- By: Tom R. Hawkins

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 153:609 (Jan 1996)
Article: The Wife of Noble Character in Proverbs 31:10-31
Author: Tom R. Hawkins

The Wife of Noble Character in Proverbs 31:10-31

Tom R. Hawkins

[Tom R. Hawkins is President of Restoration in Christ Ministries, Altoona, Pennsylvania.]

Proverbs 31:10–31, the closing pericope of the Book of Proverbs, beautifully describes and praises a woman who is said to be of “noble character” (NIV). However, interpreters differ on how to understand this passage. Does the description refer to a wife and mother who may have actually lived, or is the passage describing qualities every woman should aspire to attain, or is the “noble wife” a personification of wisdom, or is she the epitome of wisdom?

The Noble Wife as a Role Model

Proverbs 31:10–31 displays numerous qualities of the noble wife (שֶׁת־חַיִל), including trustworthiness, resourcefulness, foresight, industriousness, generosity, domestic and business skills, and fear of Yahweh. Her husband’s praise at the conclusion of the poem includes his evaluation that she surpassed all her contemporaries, even others who were described as “noble” (חַיִל, v. 29). This means that the main character of the poem is presented in superlative terms regarding her extraordinary character.

While some have elevated her to a type of Christ or the Holy Spirit, von Hoffmann views her as a diligent housewife.1 He is correct in not ascribing to her any “supernatural” status. However, his limiting her to being only a housewife does not adequately explicate either the immediate passage or its place in the Book of Proverbs. She is at least a “role model” and in fact seems to be more, as will be shown.

Because the poem begins with a rhetorical question about finding a wife, some argue that the poem was written as a “paradigm for a prospective bride.”2 Crook goes even further and sees it as “a memorandum from a school answering to the needs of young women who will shortly be assuming positions of wealth and importance in their communities.”3 No evidence has been found, however, that such a school ever existed. Whybray takes a third option and says the passage was written from a man’s viewpoint and hence is “a handbook for prospective bridegrooms.”4

Some of these hypotheses rest on or would be strengthened by the assumption that the poem is related in ...

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