Let’s continue on reading this passage with our new perspective of praise. “She is worth far more than rubies,” verse 10 continues. Let me ask you this: from where, exactly, does this woman’s value come? From where, exactly, does all women’s value come?
I can see your Bible-educated, culture-educated, and self-educated wheels churning out the expected answers like a factory line of machines. But stop – I want you to seriously, deeply consider this question. This is not a touchy-feely-make-sure-you-feel-good-about-yourself question like we’ve been led to believe, ladies. This is important. This is enormous. Do you know that the way you truly answer this question – the deepest held conviction of your heart about this particular truth – is written all over your life from top to bottom? From where does YOUR value come?
If you want to know the real answer, look at how you spend your time, what you choose to grow and cultivate in your own soul – what you are trying to be. It usually takes me all of five minutes with you to know where you think your value comes from.
And I cannot express to you how grieved I am at the lies women believe about this.
Because at the top of the list – pounded by the media, embedded in human cultures all throughout the world, what I believe to be the devil’s most effective weapon for the oppression of women everywhere – is that a woman’s worth comes from her sex appeal.
Let me get something straight: I am not some sort of Victorian prude. I am not pressing for the removal of sex from our lives, or insinuating that I feel that women are not sexual creatures, too. And I like to look good, and I like turning my husband’s head, and I don’t find anything wrong in making an effort to do so. But it is a favorite pastime of this world to deprive from women the right to be anything else but a mindless, soulless toy for men. And women – you are so much more. The good men know that.
But look around you next time you’re at the mall, or the movie theater, or the beach. Tell me if anything – anything – else a woman can be is praised so highly as this one thing, sexy.
In pursuit of this one kind of value, millions of women neglect to become anything else – and beauty is fleeting! If you want to know how many women derive their value from beauty in this country, visit a hair stylist and ask her how many of her customers chose not to cover up their gray.
And here’s another thing: women work so much harder than they need to. Ladies, seriously, you have no idea how easy it is to turn a man’s head. SERIOUSLY. Lighten up, you look gorgeous! Stop wasting your time working on something that’s already done.
Sub-truth #1: Woman, you are beautiful, and so much more.
But that is not where your value comes from.
Despite culture’s best attempts, there are still plenty of gorgeous, strong women who do not accept this view of themselves as a sex object and nothing more. For a long time, I have been one of them. But finding our value in beauty is not the only trap women face; our world has many more traps for those who escape the first. Charm, or that winsome personality. Physical strength. A successful career. Creating beautiful things. Taking good care of husbands and children. Having friends. Being popular. Even cooking well. Women value themselves for all kinds of different things. For me, it is intelligence, and ‘success’ as the world defines it, prestige. The desire to prove myself smarter than others is one that is being quite patiently and diligently removed by God a little more every day – and let me tell you, it is wedged in there tight. See, for years, almost my whole life, I have valued myself based on my intelligence, because I’m pretty smart, or so the tests say, and so it is quite a paradigm shift to see that God does not view human ‘intelligence’ as such a valuable thing. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools,” (Rom. 1:22) He says, and “the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 1 Cor. 1:19 That’s about what He thinks of human ‘intelligence.’ What I have valued myself for my whole life – spent myself on at times – is just as futile and probably three times as dangerous as beauty for looking “safe.”
Now, this woman in Proverbs is praised for being wise, strong, and kind, and she is a very capable, very successful woman. She has a head full of brains and shoes full of feet, as Dr. Seuss would say. But that is not where her value comes from.
Her success does not arise from her intelligence, but her diligence. Her diligence arises from her character. And her character? Her character was formed on one premise alone: “A woman who fears the Lord.”
That is what makes her mighty.
So what does it mean, then, to fear the Lord?
It’s a phrase thrown around frequently in the Old Testament, and makes a particular show of force in Proverbs, which begins with the assertion that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” (Proverbs 1:7) preceded by a father’s urgent plea to his son to seek after wisdom and knowledge above all else. Clearly this thing is important.
I had a Bible teacher once tell me that “it’s not really fear as much as respect,” with which I will respectfully disagree. The more I learn about God, the more He terrifies me. Not in the way that makes me run from Him, but run to Him, because only through Him do I have any chance at all!
Think of this: Do you not realize, broken, faulty soul, that He is perfect? Do you not realize that He does not live in contradiction to Himself – that He is perfectly consistent even to His deepest parts, the depths of Him no one else can understand? Do you not realize that in this perfection, in this consistency,He perfectly and consistently loves every soul you have ever harmed (and you have harmed souls, whether you intended to or not), and He will not stand for your crime, but will have justice for them all? Think of a person who has deeply hurt someone you love – and does not the same love in you that God has for them burn in anger?
Do you not realize He knows every way to cause you pain, the way you have done to others? Do you not realize He has the ability to dismantle the atoms of your body, and the building blocks of your soul as well? Every person you have ever harmed, intentionally or not, He loves. He has spoken you into existence, and He can speak you out of it.
Hebrews 10:30-31 puts it (much better) this way: “For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I WILL repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
And do you not realize that the only thing that keeps Him from doing so – is Himself?
Because after all you have done, His love for you is great enough to offer you redemption by the blood of one who never sinned, His own Son. This is the God you say you believe is real, and my dears, He is – He is terribly real. Oh, yes, fear Him! Then, and then alone, will you begin to really know the truth. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”
That is what the fear of the Lord means – as Jonathon Edwards put it, that we are “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” and without His Son, we are hopeless.
But we are not hopeless – so long as our hope is in Him.
That is what the woman in Proverbs 31 knows to be true. That is what makes this Proverbs 31 woman who she is. She fears God – and because she fears Him, she seeks Him, because her hope is in Him, not in herself. Everything she does – everything for which she is praised in this passage – it’s all just the evidence. It is the outward trail of an inward journey into the heart of God. It’s only the runoff of an overflowing heart. Her life is the overflow of her faith.
And the funny thing is, this is the one thing about ourselves we tend to neglect the most. Not just women, of course, but people; there are too, too many people in this world who do not know what they believe, or who.
Now, women of God, you who believe Him – that is why you deserve praise.
Let everything else fall away. Everything you run after – Your beauty. Your success. Your clean house and well-behaved children. Your dreamy marriage. Your perfect hair. Let it all fall away.
Let your value rest on whom you have believed, and you will have begun to be this Proverbs 31 woman.
It’s that much easier to be her than you could have ever dreamed.
Oh – and, er, well – that much harder. But that’s a post for a different day.
Truth #2: Woman, your value comes from what you seek – or more accurately, Whom you seek.