Proverbs 31 Work Wisdom for Women AND Men

Reprinted from the Salt & Light Australia Daily Devotional.

Proverbs 31:10, 14, 16–17, 19–20, 30–31:

10 A [valiant wise worker] who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Hey men! Before you switch off this devotion, you need to know that this passage is probably a summary of the learning of Proverbs about Lady Wisdom – that is, how to be wise. It is therefore not a checklist, but a commendation of wise work.
It refers to good work, and there are plenty of surprises here. Three affirmations:

God Loves Work

We have to be careful about the context of this poem historically and culturally compared to today: this was a domestic work situation, that is, most people worked out of the home. This culture was much more integrated than we are today. There was no concept of going out to work for eight hours and coming home. Work, play and rest all happened in the same area. [I do want to note, that is precisely what many are doing in lockdown!]

However, one thing we can see clearly is that there is celebration of all aspects of working. There is being a partner, parenting, caring for the poor, sewing…

But perhaps the most surprising thing is the entrepreneurial activity celebrated here. This woman is involved in commercial transactions involving land, and trading in markets (verses 16-18).

This is not something we expect in a patriarchal society. But in fact, it was something that happened among the wealthier class at this time. Scholars have identified records, especially in Persia, where women were involved in such activities.

What is unusual here is that this woman also sews, which was traditionally the activity of a slave, meaning she also practiced humility, one of the qualities of wisdom.

God Loves All Work

I love that Lady Wisdom is so integrated, you will notice there is no division between different activities here and what might please God. There is little reference to spiritual or ritual, and yet it is clear that she “fears the Lord” in verse 30. Every activity is done and offered equally, as worship.

Our society functions very differently in the way it separates and values the work we do:

  • There is unpaid work and paid work.
  • Your status as a human being is actually tied to the level of your remuneration for work.

What is more, our churches impose their own hierarchy:

  • Gospel work/ministry versus secular work
  • Eternal work versus temporal work

What honours God is the faithful way we do our work, and the way we steward all our opportunities and gifts and skills.

Notice what happens at the end of the chapter. The wise worker is to be esteemed for their work, verse 31.

God Calls Us to Multiple Roles

Sometimes I think we get sucked into thinking we have one great calling that God is drawing us to, and that our role is to guess what that calling is. In fact, I believe we have a calling to many different roles, in private and in public life, and the most important thing is that we honor God in all those roles.

One thing that challenges me in this Proverbs passage is that the Valiant Wise Worker “laughs at the time to come” in verse 25. There is a freedom in this passage, not exertion; Wisdom is working from strength, not from exhaustion, weakness or desperation. The things Wisdom does, she does because she wants to, not because she has to; the passage doesn’t read like compulsion.

Think It Through

  • Which of the affirmations did you need to hear today? Why?
  • How does this help you to reframe all the different work that you do?

Loving Lord,
Thank you for giving us good work to do.
Thank you for enabling us with gifts and abilities to be part of your mission of stewarding the creation, filling the earth, bringing shalom, and reconciling all things under Christ.
Guide us as we seek our callings.
Thank you for the example of the Proverbs 31 Valiant Woman, which opens up so many possibilities for good work.
Help us to work hard to honor you and serve others, while enjoying the benefits of using all their gifts, passions and experience.
Help us to value equally all types of work.

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Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to Use Your Work to Worship God, and Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work. She is also a lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organizations, and as a consultant. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, and helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is currently conducting research on how to effectively equip workplace Christians to integrate their faith and work.

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