The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.
Verses 1-9. - Part VIII. SECOND APPENDIX TO THE SECOND COLLECTION, containing "the words of Lemuel" on the subjects of impurity and intemperance. Verse 1. - The superscription. The words of King Lemuel, the prophecy which his mother taught him. Who is intended by "Lemuel king" is much disputed. Those who connect the following word massa ("oracle") with the preceding melek ("king"), translate "King of Massa," as Proverbs 30:1 (where see note). Of the country, or the king, or his mother, we have absolutely no information. The name Lemuel, or Lemoel (ver. 4), means "unto God," i.e. dedicated to God, like Lael (Numbers 3:24); hence it is regarded by many authorities, ancient and modern, as an appellation of Solomon, one from infancy dedicated to God and celled by him Jedidiah, "beloved of the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:25). But there is nothing in the contents of this section to confirm this idea; indeed, there are expressions which militate against it. Possibly Hezekiah may be meant, and his remarkable piety somewhat confirms the opinion; yet we see no reason why he should be here addressed under a pseudonym, especially if we consider that he himself was concerned in making this collection. On the whole, it seems best to take Lemuel as a symbolical name, designating an ideal king, to whom an ideal mother addressed the exhortation which follows. Solomon's own proverbs contain many warnings against the very sins of which this mother speaks, so that the section is conceived in the spirit of the earlier portion of the book, though it is assigned to a different author and another age. The prophecy (massa); the inspired utterance (see on ch. 30:1). This maternal counsel forms one compact exhortation, which might with more propriety be so termed than the words of Agur. His mother. The mother of a reigning king was always regarded with the utmost respect, taking precedence of the king's wife. Hence we so often find the names of kings' mothers in the sacred record; e.g. 1 Kings 2:19; 1 Kings 14:21; 1 Kings 15:2; 2 Kings 12:1. It is difficult to say what reading was seen by the LXX., who render, "My words have been spoken by God, the oracle of a king whom his mother instructed." There are many wise women mentioned in Scripture; e.g. Miriam, Deborah, the Queen of Sheba, Huldah, etc., so there is nothing incongruous in Lemuel being instructed by his mother in wisdom.
What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows?
Verses 2-9. - Here follows the exhortation, which seems to come from the same source as the "burden" of Agur above. In this section the connection and parallelism of the parts are exhibited by repetition of thought and often of words in the several clauses. Verse 2. - What, my son? Mah, "what," is repeated thrice, both to enforce the attention of the son, and to show the mother's anxious care for his good. She feels the vast importance of the occasion, and asks as in perplexity, "What shall I say? What advice shall I give thee?" "Son" is here not ben, but bar, one of the Aramaic forms which are found in these two last chapters. The word occurs also in Psalm 2:12. Son of my vows. This might mean, "son who wast asked in prayer," like Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11), and dedicated to God, as the name Lemuel implies; or it may signify, "thou who art the object of my daily vows and prayers." Septuagint, "What, my son, wilt thou observe (τηρήσεις)? What? the sayings of God. My firstborn son, to thee I speak. What, son of my womb? What, son of my vows?"
Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.
Verse 3. - Exhortation to chastity. Give not thy strength unto women (comp. Proverbs 5:9). Chayil is "vigour," the bodily powers, which are sapped and enervated by sensuality. The Septuagint has σὸν πλοῦτον; the Vulgate, substantiam tuam; but the prayerful, anxious mother would consider rather her son's personal well being than his worldly circumstances, which, indeed, an Eastern monarch's licentiousness would not necessarily impair. Nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings; or, with a slight alteration in the punctuation (and an improved parallelism), to them that destroy kings; "expugnatricibus regum," as Schultens terms them. Women are meant; and the prince is enjoined not to surrender his life, conduct, and actions to the influence of women, who, both by the dissipation and sensuality which they occasion, and the quarrels which they provoke, and the evil counsels which they give, often ruin kings and states (see the injunction, Deuteronomy 17:11). The Vulgate rendering, ad delendos reges, looks as if the warning was against making wars of conquest against neighbouring kings; but this is not a satisfactory parallel to the former clause. Septuagint, "Give not thy wealth unto women, nor thy mind, nor thy life unto remorse (ὑστεροβολίαν). Do all things with counsel; drink wine with counsel." This seems to belong to the next verse.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:
Verses 4-7. - The second admonition. A warning against inebriety, and concerning a proper use of strong drink. Verse 4. - It is not for kings; or, as others read, far be it from kings. The injunction is repeated to indicate its vast importance. Nor for princes strong drink; literally, nor for princes (the word), Where is strong drink? (see on Proverbs 20:1; and comp. Job 15:23). The evils of intemperance, flagrant enough in the case of a private person, are greatly enhanced in the case of a king, whose misdeeds may affect a whole community, as the next verse intimates. St. Jerome reads differently, translating, "Because there is no secret where drunkenness reigns." This is in accordance with the proverb, "When wine goes in the secret comes out;" and, "Where drink enters, wisdom departs;" and again, "Quod latet in mente sobrii, hoc natat in ore ebrii." Septuagint, "The powerful are irascible, but let them not drink wine." "Drunkenness," says Jeremy Taylor ('Holy Living,' ch. 3, § 2), "opens all the sanctuaries of nature, and discovers the nakedness of the soul, all its weaknesses and follies; it multiplies sins and discovers them; it makes a man incapable of being a private friend or a public counsellor. It taketh a man's soul into slavery and imprisonment more than any vice whatsoever, because it disarms a man of all his reason and his wisdom, whereby he might be cured, and, therefore, commonly it grows upon him with age; a drunkard being still more a fool and less a man."
Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.
Verse 5. - This gives a reason for the warning. Lest they drink, and forget the Law. That which has been decreed, and is right and lawful, the appointed ordinance, particularly as regards the administration of justice. Septuagint, "Lest drinking, they forget wisdom." And pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted; literally, of all the sons of affliction; i.e. the whole class of poorer people. Intemperance leads to selfish disregard of others' claims, an inability to examine questions impartially, and consequent perversion of justice. Isaiah (Isaiah 5:23) speaks of intoxication as inducing men to "justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him."
Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.
Verse 6. - There are cases where strong drink may be properly administered. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish (Job 29:13; Job 31:19). As a restorative, a cordial, or a medicine, wine may he advantageously used; it has a place in the providential economy of God. "Use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities," was St. Paul's advice to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23). It is supposed to have been in consideration of the injunction in the text that the ladies of Jerusalem provided for criminals on their way to the place of execution a drink of medicated wine, which might deaden the pain of suffering. This was the draught rejected by Christ, who willed to taste the full bitterness of death (Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23). The Septuagint has, "to those that are in sorrow;" so the Vulgate, maerentibus, but this makes the two clauses tautological. Wine unto those that be of heavy hearts (Job 3:20). "Wine," says the psalmist, "maketh glad the heart of man" (Psalm 104:15). Says Homer, 'Iliad,' 6:261 -
"Great is the strength
Which generous wine imparts to wearied men." Wine, says St. Chrysostom ('Hom. in Ephes.,' 19), "has been given us for cheerfulness, not for drunkenness. Wouldest thou know where wine is good? Hear what the Scripture saith, 'Give wine to them, etc. And justly, because it can mitigate asperity and gloominess, and drive away clouds from the brow" (comp. Ecclus. 34 :25, etc.).
Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.
Verse 7. - Let him drink, and forget his poverty. Ovid, 'Art. Amat.,' 1:237 -
"Vina parant animos, faciuntque caloribus aptos:
Cura fugit multo diluiturque mero.
Tunc veniunt risus; tunc pauper cornua sumit;
Tunc dolor, et curae, rugaque frontis abit." Thus is shown a way in which the rich can comfort and encourage their poorer brethren, which is a better method of using God's good gifts than by expending them on their own selfish enjoyment.
Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
Verses 8, 9. - The third exhortation, admonishing the king to judge righteously. Verse 8. - Open thy mouth for the dumb. The "dumb" is any one who for any reason whatever is unable to plead his own cause; he may be of tender age, or of lowly station, or ignorant, timid, and boorish; and the prince is enjoined to plead for him and defend him (comp. Job 29:15). In the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction; literally, the sons of passing away (Isaiah 2:18); i.e. not orphans, children whose parents have vanished from the earth, nor strangers from a foreign country, nor, generally, mortals, subjects of frail human nature (all of which explanations have been given), but persons who are in imminent danger of perishing, certain, if left unaided, to come to ruin (comp. Job 29:12). Septuagint, "Open thy mouth for the Word of God, and judge all men soundly (ὑγιῶς)."
Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
Verse 9. - Plead the cause; rather, minister judgment, or do right; act in your official capacity so that the effect shall be substantial justice (comp. Zechariah 8:16).
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
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.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
Verse 11. - BETH. The heart of her husband cloth safely trust in her. The husband of such a wife goes forth to his daily occupations, having full confidence in her whom he leaves at home, that she will act discreetly, and promote his interests while he is absent (see the contrast in Proverbs 7:20). So that he shall have no need of spoil; rather, he shall not lack gain (shalal). The wife manages domestic concerns so well that her husband finds his honest gains increase, and sees his confidence profitably rewarded. Septuagint, "Such a woman shall want not fair spoils." It is obvious to see in this an adumbration of the Church winning souls from the power of the enemy, especially as shalal is used for an enemy's spoils (Psalm 68:12; Isaiah 53:12; and elsewhere).
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
Verse 12. - GIMEL. She will do him good and not evil (comp. Ecclus. 26:1-3). She is consistent in her conduct towards her husband, always pursuing his best interests. All the days of her life; in good times or bad, in the early spring time of young affection, and in the waning years of declining age. Her love, based on high principles, knows no change or diminution. The old commentator refers to the conduct of St. Monies to her unbelieving and unfaithful husband, narrated by St. Augustine in his 'Confessions,' 9:9: "Having been given over to a husband, she served him as her lord; and busied herself to win him to thee, revealing thee to him by her virtues, in which thou madest her beautiful, and reverently amiable, and admirable to her husband."
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
Verse 13. - DALETH. She seeketh wool, and flax. She pays attention to these things, as materials for clothing and domestic uses. Wool has been used for clothing from the earliest times (see Leviticus 13:47; Job 31:20, etc.), and flax was largely cultivated for the manufacture of linen, the processes of drying, peeling, hackling, and spinning being well understood (see Joshua 2:6; Isaiah 19:9; Jeremiah 13:1, etc.). The prohibition about mixing wool and flax in a garment (Deuteronomy 22:11) was probably based on the idea that all mixtures made by the art of man are polluted, and that what is pure and simple, such as it is in its natural state, is alone proper for the use of the people of God. And worketh willingly with her hands; or, she worketh with her hands' pleasure; i.e. with willing hands. The rendering of the Revised Version margin, after Hitzig, "She worketh at the business of her hands," is feeble, and does not say much. What is meant is that she not only labours diligently herself, but finds pleasure in doing so, and this, not because she has none to help her, and is forced to do her own work (on the contrary, she is represented as rich, and at the head of a large household), but because she considers that labour is a duty for all, and that idleness is a transgression of a universal law. Septuagint, "Weaving (μηρυομένη) wool and flax; she makes it useful with her hands."
She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
Verse 14. - HE. She is like the merchants' ships. She is like them in that she extends her operations beyond her own immediate neighbourhood, and bringeth her food from afar, buying in the best markets and on advantageous terms, without regard to distance, and being always on the look out to make honest profit. Septuagint, "She is like a ship trading from a distance, and she herself gathereth her livelihood." The expressions in the text point to active commercial operations by sea as well as land, such as we know to have been undertaken by Solomon, Jehoshaphat, and others (1 Kings 9:26; 1 Kings 22:48), and such as the Hebrews must have noticed in the Phoenician cities, Sidon and Tyre.
She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
Verse 15. - 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. ver. 18). Early rising before any great undertaking is continually mentioned in Scripture (see Genesis 19:2; Genesis 22:3; Psalm 57:8; Jeremiah 7:13; Jeremiah 25:4, etc.; Mark 16:2; John 20:1). 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 (Psalm 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 case of the enforced labour of the Israelites).
She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
Verse 16. - ZAYIN. She considereth a field, and buyeth it. She turns her attention to a certain field, the possession of which is for some cause desirable; and, after due examination and consideration, she buys it. One is reminded of Christ's parable of the treasure hidden in a field, which the finder sold all that he had to purchase (Matthew 13:44). With the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. Her prudent management and economy give her means to buy vines and plant a vineyard, and thus to increase her produce. Possibly it is meant that she sees the field she has gotten is more fitted for grapes than corn, and she cultivates it accordingly. Virgil 'Georg.,' 2:229 -
"Altera frumentis quoniam favet, altera Baccho,
Densa magis Cereri, rarissima quaeque Lyaeo."
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
Verse 17. - KHETH. She girdeth her loins with strength (ver. 25). This seems at first sight a strange assertion to make concerning one of the weaker sex; but the phrase is metaphorically expressive of the energy and force with which she prepares herself for her work. Strength and vigour are, as it were, the girdle which she binds round her waist to enable her to conduct her operations with case and freedom. So we have a similar metaphor boldly applied to God (Psalm 93:1): "The Lord reigneth, he is apparelled with majesty; the Lord is apparelled, he hath girded himself with strength" (cf. Job 38:3). Strengtheneth her arms. By daily exercise she makes her arms firm and strong, and capable of great and continued exertion.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
Verse 18. - TETH. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; Vulgate, Gustavit et vidit quia bona est negotiatio ejus, where the paraphrase, "she tastes and sees," expresses the meaning of the verb taam here used. Her prudence and economy leave her a large surplus profit, which she contemplates with satisfaction. There is no suspicion of arrogance or conceit, The pleasure that is derived from duty done and successfully conducted business is legitimate and healthy, a providential reward of good works. Septuagint, "She tastes that it is good to work." This comfort and success spur her on to further and more continued exertion. Her candle (lamp) goeth not out by night. She is not idle even when night falls, and outdoor occupations are cut short; she finds work for the hours of darkness, such as is mentioned in the next verse. One recalls Virgil's picture of the thrifty housewife ('AEneid,' 8:407) -
"Inde ubi prima quies medio jam noctis abactae
Curriculo expulerat somnum, cum femina primum,
Cui tolerare colo vitam tenuique Minerva
Impositum, cinerem et sopitos suscitat ignis,
Noctem addens operi, famulesque ad lumina longo
Exercet penso." Some take the lamp here in an allegorical sense, as signifying life, happiness, and prosperity, as Proverbs 13:9 and Proverbs 20:20; others, as denoting a bright example of diligence and piety (Matthew 5:16). But the simple meaning seems to be the one intended. Wordsworth notes that the passage in Revelation 18, which speaks of the "merchandise" of the false Church, also affirms that "the light of a candle" shall shine in her no more, the two metaphors in our passage applied to the true Church being there applied to Babylon.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
Verse 19. - YODH. She layeth her hands to the spindle. כִּישׁור. (kishor, a word not occurring elsewhere) is probably not the spindle, but the distaff, i.e. the staff to which is tied the bunch of flax from which the spinning wheel draws the thread. To this she applies her hand; she deftly performs the work of spinning her flax into thread. Her hands hold the distsaff. פֶלֶך (pelek) is the spindle, the cylindrical wood (afterwards the wheel) on which the thread winds itself as it is spun. The hands could not be spared to hold the distaff as well as the spindle, so the first clause should run, "She stretches her hand towards the distaff." In the former clause kishor occasioned some difficulty to the early translators, who did not view the word as connected with the process of spinning. The Septuagint translates, "She stretches out her arms to useful works (ἐπὶ τὰ συμφέροντα);" Vulgate, Manum suam misit ad fortia. So Aquila and Symmachus, ἀνδρεῖα. This rather impedes the parallelism of the two clauses. There was nothing derogatory in women of high rank spinning among their maidens, just as in the Middle Ages noble ladies worked at tapestry with their attendants. We remember how Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus, was found sitting in the midst of her handmaids, carding wool and spinning (Livy, 1:57). Catullus, in his 'Epithal. Pel. et Thet.,' 312, describes the process of spinning ?
"Laeva colum molli lana retinebat amictum;
Dextera tum leviter deducens fila supinis
Formabat digitis; tum prono in pollice torquens
Libratum tereti versabat turbine fusum."
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
Verse 20. - CAPH. She is not impelled by selfish greed to improve her means and enlarge her revenues. She is sympathizing and charitable, and loves to extend to others the blessings which have rewarded her efforts. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor. "Hand" is here caph, "the palm," evidently containing alms. She knows the maxim (Proverbs 19:17), "He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord," etc.; and she has no fear of poverty. Yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. "Hand," is here yod, with its nerves and sinews ready for exertion (see on Proverbs 10:4); and the idea is that she puts forth her hand to raise and soothe the poor man, not being satisfied with dealing alms to him, but exercising the gentle ministries of a tender love. Septuagint, "She opens her hands to the needy, and reaches forth her wrist (καρπὸν) to the poor." Like Dorcas, she is full of good works and alms deeds (Acts 9:36). It is doubtless implied that the prosperity which she experiences is the reward of this benevolence (Proverbs 22:9).
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
Verse 21. - LAMED. She is not afraid of the snow for her household. "Show," says Dr. Geikie ('Holy Land,' 2:58), "covers the streets of Jerusalem two winters in three, but it generally comes in small quantities, and soon disappears. Yet there are sometimes very snowy winters. That of 1879, for example, left behind it seventeen inches of snow, even where there was no drift, and the strange spectacle of snow lying unmelted for two or three weeks was seen in the hollows on the hillsides. Thousands of years have wrought no change in this aspect of the winter months, for Bennaiah, one of David's mighty men, 'slew a lion in the midst of a pit in the time of snow' (2 Samuel 23:20)." She has no fears concerning the comfort and health of her family even in the severest winter. For all her household are clothed with scarlet; with warm garments. The word used is שָׁנִים (shanim), derived from a verb meaning "to shine," and denoting a crimson or deep scarlet colour. This colour was supposed, and rightly, to absorb and retain heat, as white to repel it; being made of wool, the garments would be warm as well as stately in appearance. St. Jerome has duplicibus (shenaim), "with double garments," i.e. with one over the other. Warm garments were the more necessary as the only means of heating rooms was the introduction of portable chafing dishes containing bunting charcoal (see Jeremiah 36:22, etc). The Septuagint has taken liberties with the text, "Her husband is not anxious concerning domestic matters when he tarries anywhere [χρονίζη for which Delitzsch suggests χιονίζ], for all her household are well clothed." Spiritually, the Church fears not the severity of temptation or the chill of unbelief, when her children take refuge in the blood of Christ.
She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Verse 22. - MEM. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry (marbaddim); as Proverbs 7:16 (where see note). Pillows for beds or cushions are meant, though the translators are not of one mind on the meaning. St. Jerome has, stragulatam vestem; Aquila and Theodotion, περιστρώματα, Symmachus, ἀμφιτάπους, "shaggy on both sides;" Septuagint, "She makes for her husband double garments (δισσὰς χλάινας)." Her clothing is silk and purple. שֵׁשׁ (shesh) is not "silk," but "white linen" (βύσσος, byssus) of very fine texture, and costly. Purple garments were brought from the Phoenician cities, and were highly esteemed (see Song of Solomon 3:10; Jeremiah 10:9). The wife dresses herself in a way becoming her station, avoiding the extremes of sordid simplicity and ostentatious luxury. "For my own part," says St. Francois de Sales, quoted by Lesetre, "I should wish any devout man or woman always to be the best dressed person in the company, but at the same time, the least fine and affected, and adorned, as it is said, with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. St. Louis said that every one ought to dress according to his position, so that good and sensible people should not be able to say you are overdressed, nor the younger under dressed" ('Vie Devot.,' 3:25). So the Church is clothed in fine linen, clean and white, even the righteousness which Christ bestows (Revelation 19:8), and invested in her Lord's royal robe, who hath made her children kings and priests unto God (Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10).
Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
Verse 23. - NUN. Her husband is known in the gates. Such a woman advances her husband's interests, increases his influence, and, by attending to his domestic concerns, enables him to take his share in public matters, so that his name is in great repute in the popular assemblies at the city gates (ver. 31; ch. 8:3). She is indeed "a crown to her husband" (ch. 12:4). When he sitteth among the elders of the land. Homer introduces Nausikaa speaking to her father of her duty to see that he is honourably clad when he goes to the council -
Καὶ δὲ σοὶ αὐτῷ ἔοικε μετὰ πρώτοισιν ἐόντα
Βουλὰς βουλεύειν καθαρὰ χροί εἵματ ἔχοντα
"For our costly robes,
All sullied now, the cleansing stream require;
And thine especially, when thou appear'st
In council with the princes of the land,
Had need be pure."
(Cowper.) St. Gregory sees here an adumbration of the day of judgment: "For the Redeemer of mankind is the "Husband" of holy Church, who shows himself 'renowned' (nobilis, Vulgate) in the gates. Who first came in sight in degradation and in mockings, but shall appear on high at the entering in of his kingdom; and 'he sitteth among the elders of the land,' for that he shall decree sentence of condemnation together with the holy preachers of that same Church, as himself declares in the gospel (Matthew 19:28)" ('Moral.,' 6:9).
She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
Verse 24. - SAMECH. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it. The word for "fine linen" is sadin, not the same as in ver. 22. but equivalent to σινδών, and denoting linen garments; Delitzsch calls it "body linen" (comp. Judges 14:12, 13; Isaiah 3:23). Delivereth girdles unto the merchant; literally, unto the Canaanite; i.e. the Phoenician merchant, a generic name for all traders (see Isaiah 23:8; Zechariah 14:21). Girdles were necessary articles of attire with the flowing robes of Eastern dress The common kind were made of leather, as is the use at the present day; but a more costly article was of linen curiously worked in gold and silver thread, and studded with jewels and gold (see 2 Samuel 18:11; Daniel 10:5). So Virgil (AEneid,' 9:359) speaks of "aurea bullis cingula." We read of Queen Parysatis having certain villages assigned her for girdle money, εἰς ζώνην δεδομέναι (Xen., 'Anab.,' 1:4, 9). Cicero alludes to the same custom in his Verrine oration (Proverbs 3:33): "Solere aiunt barbaros reges Persarum ac Syrorum plures uxores habere, his autem uxoribus civitates attribuere hocmodo: haec civitas mulieri iu redimiculum proebeat, haec in collum, haec in crines" (comp. Plato, 'Alcib. I.,' p. 123, B). Such rich and elaborately worked girdles the mistress could readily barter with Phoenician merchants, who would give in exchange purple (ver. 22) and other articles of use or luxury. On this passage St. Gregory thus moralizes: "What is signified by a garment of fine linen, but the subtle texture of holy preaching? In which men rest softly, because the mind of the faithful is refreshed therein by heavenly hope. Whence also the animals are shown to Peter in a linen sheet, because the souls of sinners mercifully gathered together are enclosed in the gentle quiet of faith. The Church therefore made and sold this fine garment, because she inparted in words that faith which she had woven by belief; and received from unbelievers a life of upright conversation. And she delivered a girdle to the Canaanite, because by the might of the righteousness she displayed, she constrained the lax doings of the Gentile world, in order that that might be maintained in their doings which is commanded. 'Let your loins be girded about'" ('Moral.,' 33:33).
Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
Verse 25. - AYIN. Strength and honour are her clothing (ver. 17); ἰσχὺν καὶ εὐπρέπειαν, Septuagint. She is invested with a moral force and dignity which arm her against care and worry; the power of a righteous purpose and strong will reveals itself in her carriage and demeanour. And thus equipped, she shall rejoice in time to come; or, she laugheth (Job 5:22; Job 39:7) at the future (Isaiah 30:8). She is not disquieted by any fear of what may happen, knowing in whom she trusts, and having done her duty to the utmost of her ability. The Greek and Latin versions seem to take the expression as referring to the day of death; thus the Vulgate, Ridebit in die novissimo; Septuagint, "She rejoices in the last days (ἐν ἡμέραις ἐσχάταις)." But it is best interpreted as above. The true servant of God is not afraid of any evil tidings, his heart being fixed, trusting in the Lord (Psalm 112:7).
She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
Verse 26. - PE. She openeth her mouth with wisdom. She is not merely a good housewife, attending diligently to material interests; she guides her family with words of wisdom. When she speaks, it is not gossip, or slander, or idle talk, that she utters, but sentences of prudence and sound sense, such as may minister grace to the hearers. The Septuagint has this verse before ver. 25, and the first hemistich Again. after ver. 27. So in Lamentations 2, 3, 4, the pe and ayin vetoes change places. This is also the case in Psalm 37. In the former passage the LXX: renders, "She openeth her mouth heedfully and lawfully (προεχόντως καὶ ἐννόμως);" and in the other, "wisely and in accordance with law (σοφῶς καὶ νομοθέσμως)." In her tongue is the law of kindness (thorath chesed); i.e. her language to those around her is animated and regulated by love. As mistress of a family, she has to teach and direct her dependents, and she performs this duty with gracious kindness and ready sympathy. Septuagint, "She places order on her tongue."
She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Verse 27. - TSADE. She looketh well to the ways of her house; the actions and habits of the household. She exercises careful surveillance over all that goes on in the family. Eateth not the bread of idleness; but rather bread won by active labour and conscientious diligence. She is of the opinion of the apostle who said "that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Septuagint, "The ways of her house are confined (στεγναὶ διατριβαὶ οἴκων αὐτῆς), and she eats not idle bread." The first of these clauses may mean that the proceedings of her household, being confined to a narrow circle, are readily supervised. But the meaning is very doubtful; and Schleusner renders, "continuae conversationes in aedibus ejus." St. Gregory applies our verse to the conscience, thus: "She considers the ways of her house, because she accurately examines all the thoughts of her conscience. She eateth not her bread in idleness, because that which she learned out of Holy Scripture by her understanding, she places before the eyes of the Judge by exhibiting it in her works" ('Moral.,' 35:47).
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Verse 28. - KUPH. Her children arise up, and call her blessed. She is a fruitful mother of children, who, seeing her sedulity and prudence, and experiencing her affectionate care, celebrate and praise her, and own that she has rightly won the blessing of the Lord. Her husband also, and he praiseth her; in the words given in the next verse. Having the approbation of her husband and children, who know her best, and have the best opportunities of judging her conduct, she is contented and happy. Septuagint, "Her mercy (ἐλεημοσύνη) raises up her children, and they grow rich, and her husband praises her."
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
Verse 29. - RESH. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. The versions and some commentators take the encomium in the mean and restricted sense of praise for the acquisition of riches. Thus the Vulgate, Multae filiae congregaverunt divitias; Septuagint, "Many daughters have obtained wealth." But it adds another rendering, "Many have wrought power (ἐποίησανδύναμιν)," which is nearer the meaning in this place. Chayil (as we have seen, ver. 10) means "force," virtus, "strength of character" shown in various ways (comp. Numbers 24:18; Psalm 60:12). "Daughters," equivalent to "women," as Genesis 30:13; Song of Solomon 6:9. Roman Catholic commentators have, with much ingenuity, applied the whole description of the virtuous woman, and especially the present verse, to the Virgin Mary. We may regard it as a representation of the truly Christian matron, who loves husband and children, guides the house, is discreet, chaste, good, a teacher of good things (1 Timothy 5:14; Titus 2:3, etc.).
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
Verse 30. - SHIN. The writer confirms the husband's praise by assigning to it its just grounds. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain. Chen, "favour," may signify either the good will with which one is regarded, or gracefulness, beauty. As being in close parallelism with the next words, it is best taken as referring to loveliness of form. Mere gracefulness, if considered as a token of a wife's work and usefulness, is misleading; and beauty is transitory and often dangerous. Neither of them is of any real value unless accompanied by religion. As the gnomic poet says -
Μὴ κρῖν ὁρῶν τὸ κάλλος ἀλλὰ τὸν τρόπον.
"Judge not at eight of beauty, but of life." But a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. So we come back to the maxim with which the whole book began, that the foundation of all excellence is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). Such, too, is the conclusion of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 12:13), "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." Septuagint, "False are charms (ἀρεσκειαι), and vain is the beauty of woman; for a prudent woman is blessed, and let her praise the fear of the Lord."
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
Verse 31. - TAV. Give her of the fruit of her hands. So may she enjoy the various blessings which her zeal, prudence, and economy have obtained. Psalm 128:2, "Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands; happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee." Septuagint, "Give her of the fruit of her lips." And let her own works praise her in the gates. She needs no farfetched laudation; her life long actions speak for themselves. Where men most congregate, where the heads of the people meet in solemn assembly, there her praise is sung, and a unanimous verdict assigns to her the highest honour. Septuagint, "Let her husband be praised in the gates." This frequent introduction of the husband is cuprous. St. Gregory thus spiritualizes the passage: "As the entrance of a city is called the gate, so is the day of judgment the gate of the kingdom, since all the elect go in thereby to the glory of their heavenly country.... Of these gates Solomon says, 'Give her of the fruit of her hands, and her own works shall praise her in the gates.' For holy Church then receives of 'the fruit of her hands,' when the recompensing of her labour raises her up to the possession of heavenly blessings; for her 'works then praise her in the gates,' when in the very entrance to his kingdom the words are spoken to his members, 'I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat,' etc." ('Moral.,' 6:9).