Proverbs 31:10
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
APPENDIX (c).—THE PRAISE OF A GOOD WIFE. (Proverbs 31:10, sqq.)

This is written in the form of an acrostic, the twenty-two verses composing it each commencing with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This may have been done, as in the case of several of the psalms, which are of a didactic character (e.g., 25, 34, 37, 119), to render it more easy for committal to memory. By some writers the acrostic form has been supposed to argue a late date for the poem, but there is no evidence for this. One psalm, at all events, of which there seems no reason to doubt the Davidic authorship—the 9th—is cast in this form.

(10) Who can find a virtuous woman?—Various mystical interpretations of the person here implied have been held at different times. She has been supposed to signify the Law, the Church, the Holy Spirit.

Proverbs

PORTRAIT OF A MATRON

Proverbs 31:10 - Proverbs 31:31
.

This description of a good ‘house-mother’ attests the honourable position of woman in Israel. It would have been impossible in Eastern countries, where she was regarded only as a plaything and a better sort of slave. The picture is about equally far removed from old-world and from modern ideas of her place. This ‘virtuous woman’ is neither a doll nor a graduate nor a public character. Her kingdom is the home. Her works ‘praise her in the gates’; but it is her husband, and not she, that ‘sits’ there among the elders. There is no sentiment or light of wedded love in the picture. It is neither the ideal woman nor wife that is painted, but the ideal head of a household, on whose management, as much as on her husband’s work, its well-being depends.

There is plenty of room for modern ideals by the side of this old one, but they are very incomplete without it. If we take the ‘oracle which his mother taught’ King Lemuel to include this picture, the artist is a woman, and her motive may be to sketch the sort of wife her son should choose. In any case, it is significant that the book which began with the magnificent picture of Wisdom as a fair woman, and hung beside it the ugly likeness of Folly, should end with this charming portrait. It is an acrostic, and the fetters of alphabetic sequence are not favourable to progress or continuity of thought.

But I venture to suggest a certain advance in the representation which removes the apparent disjointed character and needless repetition. There are, first, three verses forming a kind of prologue or introduction {Proverbs 31:10 - Proverbs 31:12}. Then follows the picture proper, which is brought into unity if we suppose that it describes the growing material success of the diligent housekeeper, beginning with her own willing work, and gradually extending till she and her family are well to do and among the magnates of her town {Proverbs 31:13 - Proverbs 31:29}, Then follow two verses of epilogue or conclusion {Proverbs 31:30 - Proverbs 31:31}.

The rendering ‘virtuous’ is unsatisfactory; for what is meant is not moral excellence, either in the wider sense or in the narrower to which, in reference to woman, that great word has been unfortunately narrowed. Our colloquialism ‘a woman of faculty’ would fairly convey the idea, which is that of ability and general capacity. We have said that there was no light of wedded love in the picture. That is true of the main body of it; but no deeper, terser expression of the inmost blessedness of happy marriage was ever spoken than in the quiet words, ‘The heart of her husband trusteth in her,’ with the repose of satisfaction, with the tranquillity of perfect assurance. The bond uniting husband and wife in a true marriage is not unlike that uniting us with God. Happy are they who by their trust in one another and the peaceful joys which it brings are led to united trust in a yet deeper love, mirrored to them in their own! True, the picture here is mainly that of confidence that the wife is no squanderer of her husband’s goods, but the sweet thought goes far beyond the immediate application. So with the other general feature in Proverbs 31:12. A true wife is a fountain of good, and good only, all the days of her life-ay, and beyond them too, when her remembrance shines like the calm west after a cloudless sunset. This being, as it were, the overture, next follows the main body of the piece.

It starts with a description of diligence in a comparatively humble sphere. Note that in Proverbs 31:13 the woman is working alone. She toils ‘willingly,’ or, as the literal rendering is, ‘with the pleasure of her hands.’ There is no profit in unwilling work. Love makes toil delightful, and delighted toil is successful. Throughout its pages the Bible reverences diligence. It is the condition of prosperity in material and spiritual things. Vainly do men and women try to dodge the law which makes the ‘sweat of the brow’ the indispensable requisite for ‘eating bread.’ When commerce becomes speculation, which is the polite name for gambling, which, again, is a synonym for stealing, it may yield much more dainty fare than bread to some for a time, but is sure to bring want sooner or later to individuals and communities. The foundation of this good woman’s fortune was that she worked with a will. There is no other foundation, either for fortune or any other good, or for self-respect, or for progress in knowledge or goodness or religion.

Then her horizon widened, and she saw a way of increasing her store. ‘She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.’ She looks afield, and sees opportunities for profitable exchange. Promptly she avails herself of these, and is at work while it is yet dark. She has a household now, and does not neglect their comfort, any more than she does their employment. Their food and their tasks are both set them in the early morning, and their mistress is up as soon as they. Her toil brings in wealth, and so Proverbs 31:16 shows another step in advance. ‘She considereth a field, and buyeth it,’ and has made money enough to stock it with vines, and so add a new source of revenue, and acquire a new position as owning land.

But prosperity does not make her relax her efforts so we are told again in Proverbs 31:17 - Proverbs 31:19 of her abridging the hours of sleep, and toiling with wool and flax, which would be useless tautology if there were not some new circumstances to account for the repetition. Encouraged by success, she ‘girdeth her loins with strength,’ and, since she sees that ‘her merchandise is profitable,’ she is the more induced to labour. She still works with her own hands {Proverbs 31:19}. But the hands that are busy with distaff and spindle are also stretched out with alms in the open palm, and are extended in readiness to help the needy. A woman made unfeeling by wealth is a monster. Prosperity often leads men to niggardliness in charitable gifts; but if it does the same for a woman, it is doubly cursed. Pity and charity have their home in women’s hearts. If they are so busy holding the distaff or the pen that they become hard and insensible to the cry of misery, they have lost their glory.

Then follow a series of verses describing how increased wealth brings good to her household and herself. The advantages are of a purely material sort, Her children are ‘clothed with scarlet,’ which was not only the name of the dye, but of the stuff. Evidently thick material only was dyed of that hue, and so was fit for winter clothing, even if the weather was so severe for Palestine that snow fell. Her house was furnished with ‘carpets,’ or rather ‘cushions’ or ‘pillows,’ which are more important pieces of furniture where people recline on divans than where they sit on chairs. Her own costume is that of a rich woman. ‘Purple and fine linen’ are tokens of wealth, and she is woman enough to like to wear these. There is nothing unbecoming in assuming the style of living appropriate to one’s position. Her children and herself thus share in the advantages of her industry; and the husband, who does not appear to have much business of his own, gets his share in that he sits among the wealthy and honoured inhabitants of the town, ‘in the gates,’ the chief place of meeting for business and gossip.

Proverbs 31:24 recurs to the subject of the woman’s diligence. She has got into a ‘shipping business,’ making for the export trade with the ‘merchants’-literally, ‘Canaanites’ or Phoenicians, the great traders of the East, from whom, no doubt, she got the ‘purple’ of her clothing in exchange for her manufacture. But she had a better dress than any woven in looms or bought with goods. ‘Strength and dignity’ clothe her. ‘She laugheth at the time to come’; that is, she is able to look forward without dread of poverty, because she has realised a competent sum. Such looking forward may be like that of the rich man in the parable, a piece of presumption, but it may also be compatible with devout recognition of God’s providence. As in Proverbs 31:20, beneficence was coupled with diligence, so in Proverbs 31:26 gentler qualities are blended with strength and dignity, and calm anticipation of the future.

A glimpse into ‘the very pulse’ of the woman’s nature is given. A true woman’s strength is always gentle, and her dignity attractive and gracious. Prosperity has not turned her head. ‘Wisdom,’ the heaven-descended virgin, the deep music of whose call we heard sounding in the earlier chapters of Proverbs, dwells with this very practical woman. The collocation points the lesson that heavenly Wisdom has a field for its display in the common duties of a busy life, does not dwell in hermitages, or cloisters, or studies, but may guide and inspire a careful housekeeper in her task of wisely keeping her husband’s goods together. The old legend of the descending deity who took service as a goat-herd, is true of the heavenly Wisdom, which will come and live in kitchens and shops.

But the ideal woman has not only wisdom in act and word, but ‘the law of kindness is on her tongue.’ Prosperity should not rob her of her gracious demeanour. Her words should be glowing with the calm flame of love which stoops to lowly and undeserving objects. If wealth leads to presumptuous reckoning on the future, and because we have ‘much goods laid up for many years,’ we see no other use of leisure than to eat and drink and be merry, we fatally mistake our happiness and our duty. But if gentle compassion and helpfulness are on our lips and in our hearts and deeds, prosperity will be blessed.

Nor does this ideal woman relax in her diligence, though she has prospered. Proverbs 31:27 seems very needless repetition of what has been abundantly said already, unless we suppose, as before, new circumstances to account for the reintroduction of a former characteristic. These are, as it seems to me, the increased wealth of the heroine, which might have led her to relax her watchfulness. Some slacking off might have been expected and excused; but at the end, as at the beginning, she looks after her household and is herself diligent. The picture refers only to outward things. But we may remember that the same law applies to all, and that any good, either of worldly wealth or of intellectual, moral, or religious kind, is only preserved by the continuous exercise of the same energies which won it at first.

Proverbs 31:28 - Proverbs 31:29 give the eulogium pronounced by children and husband. The former ‘rise up’ as in reverence; the latter declares her superiority to all women, with the hyperbolical language natural to love. Happy the man who, after long years of wedded life, can repeat the estimate of his early love with the calm certitude born of experience!

The epilogue in Proverbs 31:30 - Proverbs 31:31 is not the continuation of the husband’s speech. It at once points the lesson from the whole picture for King Lemuel, and unveils the root of the excellences described. Beauty is skin deep. Let young men look deeper than a fair face. Let young women seek for that beauty which does not fade. The fear of the Lord lies at the bottom of all goodness that will last through the tear and wear of wedded life, and of all domestic diligence which is not mere sordid selfishness or slavish toil. The narrow arena of domestic life affords a fit theatre for the exercise of the highest gifts and graces; and the woman who has made a home bright, and has won and kept a husband’s love and children’s reverence, may let who will grasp at the more conspicuous prizes which women are so eager after nowadays. She has chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her. She shall receive ‘of the fruit of her hands’ both now and hereafter, if the fear of the Lord has been the root from which that fruit has grown; and ‘her works shall praise her in the gate,’ though she sits quietly in her home. It is well when our deeds are the trumpeters of our fame, and when to tell them is to praise us.

The whole passage is the hallowing of domestic life, a directory for wives and mothers, a beautiful ideal of how noble a thing a busy mother’s life may be, an exhibition to young men of what they should seek, and of young women of what they should aim at. It were well for the next generation if the young women of this one were as solicitous to make cages as nets, to cultivate qualities which would keep love in the home as to cultivate attractions which lure him to their feet.Proverbs 31:10. Who can find a virtuous woman? — Here he lays down several qualifications of an excellent wife, which are delivered in alphabetical order, each verse beginning with a several letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It may be proper to observe here, that the versions, in general, agree in reading this, a strong woman, the words, אשׁת חיל, being literally, a woman of strength, or firmness: but then it must be observed, that it is equally applicable to strength of body or strength of mind: and therefore may with great propriety be rendered, as in our translation, a virtuous woman, or a woman of a strong, firm, and excellent mind.31:10-31 This is the description of a virtuous woman of those days, but the general outlines equally suit every age and nation. She is very careful to recommend herself to her husband's esteem and affection, to know his mind, and is willing that he rule over her. 1. She can be trusted, and he will leave such a wife to manage for him. He is happy in her. And she makes it her constant business to do him good. 2. She is one that takes pains in her duties, and takes pleasure in them. She is careful to fill up time, that none be lost. She rises early. She applies herself to the business proper for her, to women's business. She does what she does, with all her power, and trifles not. 3. She makes what she does turn to good account by prudent management. Many undo themselves by buying, without considering whether they can afford it. She provides well for her house. She lays up for hereafter. 4. She looks well to the ways of her household, that she may oblige all to do their duty to God and one another, as well as to her. 5. She is intent upon giving as upon getting, and does it freely and cheerfully. 6. She is discreet and obliging; every word she says, shows she governs herself by the rules of wisdom. She not only takes prudent measures herself, but gives prudent advice to others. The law of love and kindness is written in the heart, and shows itself in the tongue. Her heart is full of another world, even when her hands are most busy about this world. 7. Above all, she fears the Lord. Beauty recommends none to God, nor is it any proof of wisdom and goodness, but it has deceived many a man who made his choice of a wife by it. But the fear of God reigning in the heart, is the beauty of the soul; it lasts for ever. 8. She has firmness to bear up under crosses and disappointments. She shall reflect with comfort when she comes to be old, that she was not idle or useless when young. She shall rejoice in a world to come. She is a great blessing to her relations. If the fruit be good, the tree must have our good word. But she leaves it to her own works to praise her. Every one ought to desire this honour that cometh from God; and according to this standard we all ought to regulate our judgments. This description let all women daily study, who desire to be truly beloved and respected, useful and honourable. This passage is to be applied to individuals, but may it not also be applied to the church of God, which is described as a virtuous spouse? God by his grace has formed from among sinful men a church of true believers, to possess all the excellences here described.See the introduction to Proverbs.

Rubies - Better, pearls. See the Proverbs 3:15 note.

10-31. This exquisite picture of a truly lovely wife is conceived and drawn in accordance with the customs of Eastern nations, but its moral teachings suit all climes. In Hebrew the verses begin with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in order (compare [651]Introduction to Poetical Books).

Who … woman—The question implies that such are rare, though not entirely wanting (compare Pr 18:22; 19:14).

virtuous—literally, "of strength," that is, moral courage (compare Pr 12:4; Ru 3:11).

her price, &c.—(compare Pr 3:15).

A virtuous woman, whom he may take to wife. Such a person is hardly to be found. Compare Ecclesiastes 7:28. And here he lays down several characters or qualifications of an excellent wife, which are here delivered in alphabetical order, each verse beginning with a several and the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet; which method is used in some, and but in a few places of Scripture, to oblige us to the more diligent consideration and careful remembrance of them, as things of more than ordinary importance. And such this matter is, partly because the good or bad education even of private families, which depends much upon the mother’s qualifications, hath a mighty influence upon the welfare or misery of commonwealths; and partly because the right education of royal families is in itself a very public blessing, and therefore it is the interest and happiness of whole kingdoms that their kings should have virtuous and pious wives. Who can find a virtuous woman,.... This part of the chapter is disjoined from the rest in the Septuagint and Arabic versions; and Huetius (t) thinks it is a composition of some other person, and not Lemuel's mother, whose words he supposes end at Proverbs 31:9; but it is generally thought that what follows to the end of the chapter is a continuance of her words, in which she describes a person as a fit wife for her son. Some think that Bathsheba gave the materials, the sum and substance of this beautiful description, to Solomon; who put it in the artificial form it is, each verse beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order till the whole is gone through; though rather it seems to be a composition of Solomon's, describing the character and virtues of his mother Bathsheba. But, be this as it will, the description is drawn up to such a pitch, and wrote in such strong lines, as cannot agree with any of the daughters of fallen Adam, literally understood; not with Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon; nor with the Virgin Mary, as the Papists, who, they fancy, was immaculate and sinless, of which there is no proof; nor indeed with any other; for though some parts of the description may meet in some, and others in others, yet not all in one; wherefore the mystical and spiritual sense of the whole must be sought after. Some by the "virtuous woman" understand the sensitive soul, subject to the understanding and reason, as Gersom; others the Scriptures, as Lyra, which lead to virtue, contain much riches in them, far above rubies; in which men may safely confide as the rule of their faith and practice; and will do them good, and not evil, continually. Others, "Wisdom", who in the beginning of this book is represented as a woman making provision for her household, and said to be more precious than rubies; and is to be understood of Christ; which I should have readily given into, but that this virtuous woman is said to have a husband, Proverbs 31:11; which cannot agree with Christ, who is himself the husband of his church and people, which church of his, I think, is here meant; nor is this a novel sense of the passage, but what is given by many of the ancient Christian writers, as Ambrose, Bede, and others; and whoever compares Proverbs 31:28, with Sol 6:8, will easily see the agreement; and will be led to observe that Solomon wrote both, and had a view to one and the same person, the church of Christ, who is often represented by a "woman", Isaiah 54:1; a woman grown and marriageable, as the Gospel church may be truly said to be, in comparison of the Jewish church, which was the church in infancy; a woman actually married to Christ; a woman fruitful, bringing forth many children to him; a woman beautiful, especially in his eyes, with whom she is the fairest among women; a woman, the weaker vessel, unable to do anything without him, yet everything through him: a "virtuous" one, inviolably chaste in her love and affection to Christ, her husband; steadfast in her adherence, to him by faith, as her Lord and Saviour; incorrupt in doctrine, sincere and spiritual in worship, retaining the purity of discipline, and holiness of life; and holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience: or a "woman of strength" (u), valour, and courage, as the word signifies, when used of men, 1 Samuel 16:18; The church is militant, has many enemies, and these powerful and mighty, as well as cunning and crafty; yet, with all their power and policy, cannot overcome her; the gates of hell cannot prevail against her; she engages with them all, and is more than a conqueror over them; she is of great spiritual strength, which she, has from Christ, to fight the Lord's battles, to withstand every enemy, to exercise grace, and do every good work; and all her true members persevere to the end: or a "woman of riches" (w); that gets wealth and, riches by her wisdom and prudence, so Aben Ezra; a woman of fortune, as is commonly said: such is the church of Christ, through his unsearchable riches communicated to her; riches of grace she now possesses, and riches of glory she is entitled to. But "who can find" such an one? there is but one to be found (x); though there are many particular churches, there is but one church of the firstborn, consisting of God's elect, of which Christ is the head and husband, Sol 6:9; and there is but one that could find her: even her surety, Saviour, and Redeemer; compare with this Revelation 5:3. This supposes her lost, as she was in Adam; Christ's seeking of her, as he did in redemption, and does in effectual calling; and who perfectly knows her, and all her members, and where they are; and whom he finds out, and bestows on them the blessings of grace and goodness;

for her price is far above rubies; showing the value Christ her husband puts upon her, the esteem she is had in by him; who reckons her as his portion and inheritance; as preferable to the purest gold, and choicest silver; as his peculiar treasure; as his jewels, and more valuable than the most precious stones: this appears by his undertaking for her; by doing and suffering what he has on her account; the price he has paid for her is far above rubies; she is bought with a price, but not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ; the ransom price paid for her is himself, who is more precious than rubies, and all the things that can be desired, 1 Peter 1:18.

(t) Demonstrat. Evangel. Prop. 4. p. 234. (u) "mulierem fortem", V. L. Pagninus, Mercerus; "mulierem virtutis", Montanus, Vatablus; "strenuam", Junius & Tremellus, Piscator, Cocceius, Schultens. (w) "Mulierem opum", so Aben Ezra. (x) "Conjux dea contigit uni", Ovid. Metamorph. l. 11. fol. 6. v. ult.

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
10. Who can find] It is no easy thing to do.

a virtuous woman] The R.V. follows the order of the Heb.: A virtuous woman who can find?, giving emphasis by the arrangement of the words to the subject of the whole Section.

virtuous] Lit. a woman of might, or power, or capacity; γυναῖκα ἀνδρείαν, LXX; mulierem fortem, Vulg. The conditions of woman’s life and her social position in those times and countries must be borne in mind. Comp. Proverbs 18:22; Proverbs 19:14. The rendering virtuous is retained in R.V., and no better English representative of the Heb. word could probably be found. But virtuous must here be understood, not in the restricted sense which, in this connection, it has come to have in our language (though in that sense the phrase appears to be used in Proverbs 12:4, and perhaps in Ruth 3:11), but in the wider sense of “all virtuous living” (Collect for All Saints’ Day), or of “all virtues” (Collect for Quinquagesima Sunday). The idea of capacity (comp. men of capacity, Genesis 47:6, where the Heb. word is the same) is involved in the description which follows. Our English word honest (=honourable, as in Romans 12:17) has in like manner come to have a restricted meaning, as it is now commonly used.

rubies] See Proverbs 3:15 note.

VIII. The Virtuous Woman. Chap. Proverbs 31:10-31This short Appendix differs from the other Sections of the Book of Proverbs in having one subject throughout, and in being in form acrostic or alphabetical. Each verse begins with a letter, taken in order, of the Hebrew alphabet. There is nothing in the contents of the Section to throw light upon either its age or authorship. The alphabetical arrangement cannot safely be regarded as a proof of a late date of composition. A similar arrangement occurs in several Psalms and in the opening chapters of the Book of Lamentations; and some at least of these must be assigned to a comparatively early date. It is more probable that the arrangement in question, belonging as it does for the most part to didactic poems, was a device adopted to assist the memory. (See The Book of Psalms, Vol. i. Introd. p. xlviii. in this Series; and Bp Perowne on Psalm 25:1.)

The LXX reverse the order of two letters of the Hebrew alphabet here. The same two letters are transposed in the Hebrew in three (chaps, 2, 3, 4) out of the four alphabetical poems in the Book of Lamentations. See Comm. on that Book in this Series. Introd. pp. 354, 5.

The picture here drawn of woman in her proper sphere of home, as a wife and a mother and the mistress of a household, stands out in bright relief against the dark sketches of woman degraded by impurity, or marred by imperfections, which are to be found in earlier chapters of this Book (Proverbs 2:16-20; Proverbs 5:1-23; Proverbs 7; Proverbs 22:14; Proverbs 23:27-28, and Proverbs 11:22; Proverbs 19:13; Proverbs 21:19). Corruptio optimi pessima. We have here woman occupying and adorning her rightful place, elevated by anticipation to the high estate to which the Gospel of Christ has restored her. It is an expansion of the earlier proverb: “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22).Verses 10-31. - 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 Psalm 9, 10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 145; also Lamentations 1, 2, and 3. 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." Verse 10. - ALEPH. Who can find a virtuous woman? The expression, ishshah chayil, "woman of force," has occurred in ch. 12:4 (where see note). Mulierem fortem, St. Jerome terms her; γυναῖκα ἀνδρείαν is the rendering of the LXX., which places this section as the end of the whole Book of Proverbs. The expression combines the ideas of moral goodness and bodily vigour and activity. It is useless to try to fix the character upon any particular person. The representation is that of an ideal woman - the perfect housewife, the chaste helpmate of her husband, upright, God-fearing, economical, wise. See an anticipation of this character (Proverbs 18:22; Proverbs 19:14); and a very different view (Ecclesiastes 7:26). It is very remarkable to meet with such a delineation of woman in the East, where the female generally occupies a most degraded position, and is cut off from all sphere of activity and administration. To paint such a portrait needed inspiration of some sort. Such a one is hard to find. Her price is far above rubies; or, pearls (see on Proverbs 20:15 and Proverbs 3:15). Septuagint, "Such a one is more valuable than precious stones." There may be allusion to the custom of giving treasure in exchange for a wife, purchasing her, as it were, from her friends (comp. Hosea 3:2). At any rate, few only are privileged to meet with this excellent wife, and her worth cannot be estimated by any material object, however costly. St. Jerome, with a slight difference in the reading, has, Procul, et de ultimis finibus pretium ejus. You may go to the ends of the earth to find her equal in value. Hence there now follows a warning against drunkenness, not unmediated by the reading למחות:

4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,

   Not for kings to drink wine,

   Not for rulers to ask for intoxicating drink;

5 Lest he drink, and forget what is prescribed,

   And pervert the right of all the children of want.

The usual translation of 4a is: non decet reges... (as e.g., also Mhlau); but in this אל is not rightly rendered, which indeed is at times only an οὐ, spoken with close interest, but yet first of all, especially in such paraenetic connection as here, it is a dissuasive μή. But now לא למלכים שׁתות or לא למלכים לשׁתּות, after 2 Chronicles 26:18; Micah 3:1, signifies: it is not the part of kings, it does not become them to drink, which may also be turned into a dissuasive form: let it not be the part of kings to drink, let them not have any business therewith, as if it belonged to their calling; according to which Fleischer renders: Absit a regibus, Lemuel, absit a regibus potare vinum. The clearer expression למואל, instead of למוּאל, is, after Bttcher, occasioned by this, that the name is here in the vocative; perhaps rather by this, that the meaning of the name: consecrated to God, belonging to God, must be placed in contrast to the descending to low, sensual lust. Both times we write אל לּמלכים with the orthophonic Dagesh

(Note: Vid., Luth. Zeitschrift, 1863, p. 413. It is the rule, according to which, with Ben-Asher, it is to be written בּן־נּוּן.)

in the ל following ל, and without the recompensative Dagesh, the want of which is in a certain measure covered by the Metheg (vid., Norzi). Regarding the inf. constr. שׁתו (cf. קנה, Proverbs 16:16), vid., Gesen. 75, Anm. 2; and regarding the sequence of accents here necessary, אל לּמלכים שׁתו־יין (not Mercha, Dechi, Athnach, for Dechi would be here contrary to rule), vid., Thorath Emeth, p. 22 6, p. 43 7.

In 4b nothing is to be gained from the Chethı̂b או. There is not a substantive או, desire, the constr. of which would here have to be read, not או (Umbreit, Gesenius), but או, after the form קו (Maurer); and why did the author not write תּאות שׁכר? But the particle או does not here also fall in with the connection; for if או שׁכר connect itself with יין (Hitzig, Ewald, and others), then it would drag disagreeably, and we would have here a spiritless classification of things unadvisable for kings. Bttcher therefore sees in this או the remains of the obliterated סבוא; a corrector must then have transformed the וא which remained into או. But before one ventures on such conjectures, the Kerı̂ אי [where?] must be tried. Is it the abbreviated אין (Herzog's Real-Wrterbuch, xiv. 712)? Certainly not, because וּלרוזנים אין שׁכר would mean: and the princes, or rulers (vid., regarding רוזנים at Proverbs 8:15), have no mead, which is inconsistent. But אין does not abbreviate itself into אי, but into אי. Not אי, but אי, is in Heb., as well as in Ethiop., the word with which negative adjectives such as אי נקי, not innocent, Job 22:30, and in later Heb. also, negative sentences, such as אי אפשׁר: it is not possible, are formed.

(Note: The author of the Comm. עטרת זקנים to the ארח חיים, c. 6, Geiger and others would read אי, because אי is abbreviated from אין. But why not from אין, 1 Samuel 21:9? The traditional expression is אי; and Elias Levita in the Tishbi, as also Baer in the Siddur Abodath Jisrael, are right in defending it against that innovation.)

Therefore Mhlau vocalizes אי, and thinks that the author used this word for אל, so as not to repeat this word for the third time. But how is that possible? אי שׁכר signifies either: not mead, or: there is not mead; and both afford, for the passage before us, no meaning. Is, then, the Kerı̂ אי truly so unsuitable? Indeed, to explain: how came intoxicating drink to rulers! is inadmissible, since אי always means only ubi (e.g., Genesis 4:9); not, like the Ethiop. aitê, also quomodo. But the question ubi temetum, as a question of desire, fits the connection, whether the sentence means: non decet principibus dicere (Ahron b. Josef supplies שׁיאמרו) ubi temetum, or: absit a principibus quaerere ubi temetum (Fleischer), which, from our view of 4a, we prefer. There is in reality nothing to be supplied; but as 4a says that the drinking of wine ought not to characterize kings, so 4b, that "Where is mead?" (i.e., this eager inquiry after mead) ought not to characterize rulers.

(Note: The translation of Jerome, quia nullum secretum est ubi regnat ebrietas (as if the words were לית רזא אי שׁכר), corresponds to the proverb: נכנס יין יצא סוד :b, when the wine goes in the secret comes out; or, which is the same thing: if one adds יין ( equals 70), סוד ( equals 70) comes out.)

Why not? Proverbs 31:5 says. That the prince, being a slave to drink, may not forget the מחקּק, i.e., that which has been made and has become חק, thus that which is lawfully right, and may not alter the righteous cause of the miserable, who cry against their oppressors, i.e., may not handle falsely the facts of the case, and give judgment contrary to them.

continued...

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