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Proverbs 31: Transmitting the Principles of Biblical Self-Government to the Next Generation

Many women who come to faith later in life initially find it difficult to view Proverbs 31 as anything but an indictment against us. It is like a mirror reflecting how poorly we measure up to this Biblical standard. It is the glorious fact of redemption in Jesus Christ that our former thoughts, words, and deeds have been buried with Christ and we emerge from His resurrection in a newness of life that makes becoming the virtuous woman attainable.

Andrea G. Schwartz
  • Andrea G. Schwartz,
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But I had something very important. I had a mother who believed in me. And I had a mother who would never allow herself to be a victim, no matter what happened. Never made excuses and she never accepted an excuse from us. And if we ever came up with an excuse she always said, "Do you have a brain" and if the answer was "yes" then she said "Then you could have thought your way out of it. It doesn't matter what John or Susan or Mary or anybody else did or said." And it was the most important thing she did for my brother and myself. Because if you don't accept excuses pretty soon people stop giving them and they start looking for solutions. And that is a critical issue when it comes to success.
~ Dr. Benjamin Carson
~ Neurosurgeon and the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.1

Dr. Ben Carson is an American success story, in spite of his early life of poverty coupled with his own anger and laziness. He credits his mother's influence on his life as the most important grace bestowed on him by God. This illiterate woman with only a third grade education understood her responsibilities in the lives of her sons.

She Who Rocks the Cradle

William Ross Wallace (1819-1881) authored the famous poem, "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Is the Hand that Rules the World," in which he praises dedicated motherhood. Each of the four stanzas of the poem repeats the title as a refrain, making the point that a mother's role is vital to the advancement of civilization itself.

The parallels between this poem and Proverbs 31 are most likely intentional given the author's background. Proverbs 31 highlights the attributes of a virtuous woman (vv. 10-31) by demonstrating the fruits of righteous living. The first ten verses of this chapter (often overlooked in discussing the Proverbs 31 woman) demonstrate the kind of influence that a mother sways over her children by instruction and example.

Although there is controversy over the actual identity of King Lemuel, who is addressed in the opening verses of Proverbs 31,2 the interesting part, for the purpose of this discussion, is that these words were taught to him by his mother. Verse 2 is the speaker quoting a mother's words to her son, instructing him in the way of being a righteous ruler. Verses 3-9 are warnings against promiscuity, debauchery, irresponsibility in one's calling and the potential aftermath of such behavior, and a strong appeal to righteous judgment, especially as it relates to those who are poor and/or afflicted.

King Lemuel's mother presented a blueprint outlining the kind of man her son should become and the type of woman he should marry. To teach these things, Lemuel's mother had to embrace and live out (however imperfectly) the portrait she paints.

The question arises, How can sinful women ever live up to the standards of this "perfect-beyond-words" woman?

Many women who come to faith later in life initially find it difficult to view Proverbs 31 as anything but an indictment against us. It is like a mirror reflecting how poorly we measure up to this Biblical standard. It is the glorious fact of redemption in Jesus Christ that our former thoughts, words, and deeds have been buried with Christ and we emerge from His resurrection in a newness of life that makes becoming the virtuous woman attainable.

Proverbs 31 provides us with a standard by which we can evaluate our progress in becoming the sanctified persons God wants us to be. It has been said that Proverbs is a commentary on the law-word of God applied to life. So the necessary prerequisite to attaining the status of a virtuous woman must be learning and understanding the law of God.

God's Law-the Key to Self-Discipline

Critics and opponents of Christianity often cite the Bible's view of women as chauvinistic, yet quite the opposite is true. The distorted view of women that we see today is a product of the Enlightenment rather than Biblical law applied.3 God's Word gives women an exalted status with the responsibility to manage the home and shape the next generation. It is hard to imagine a higher calling than this.

But the authority of the woman as help-meet is no less real than that of a prime minister to a king; the prime minister is not a slave because he is not king, nor is the woman a slave because she is not a man. The description of a virtuous woman, or a godly wife, in Proverbs 31:10-31 is not of a helpless slave nor of a pretty parasite, but rather of a very competent wife, manager, business-woman, and mother-a person of real authority.4

Because of such a high calling, it is obvious that the wife/mother must be prepared to pursue her calling as a chosen profession rather than relying on the "figure-it-out-as-you-go-along" method. As I've stated elsewhere, too many women spend more time planning their wedding day and the flower arrangements than they do preparing themselves for the Biblical duties that marriage entails. This is no job for amateurs, as Rushdoony notes,

From beginning to end, the Bible makes clear that the Lord requires a total obedience, and that, having given us His covenant grace and law, and climaxed it with the gift of the Spirit, He expects great things from us. The Lord does not call amateur Christians, only full-time professional ones. Nothing is more ridiculous than the idea of many that "full-time Christian service" means the mission field, a pastorate, or some like calling. We are all, whatever we are or wherever we are, called to a full time Christian life and service.5

It is the purposeful training in the law-word of God that gives a woman the wisdom to become virtuous. Far from a helpless, weak, and irrational individual, as is often her depiction in romantic literature, with God's law as the foundation of her thoughts, words and deeds, the self-disciplined, self-governing Proverbs 31 woman has a genuine foundation by which to demonstrate to her children that she practices what she preaches.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Note what is not mentioned in verses 10-31. The virtuous woman is not commended for her quiet times of prayer, her Bible study, or her attendance at church functions. Rather, all that is praised is the evidence of her commitment to God by her actions. This highly commended woman is a working woman, self-consciously transmitting by her deeds what is hidden in her heart. In other words, her faith is not a dead one.

As Rushdoony highlights in his Institutes of Biblical Law in his section "Marriage and Woman,"

1. Her husband can trust her moral, commercial, and religious integrity and competence (v. 11-12, 29-31).
2. She not only manages her household competently, but she can also manage a business with ability (v. 13-19, 24-25). She can buy and sell like a good merchant and manage a vineyard like an experienced farmer.
3. She is good to her family, and good to the poor and the needy (v. 20-21).
4. Very important, "She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness" (v. 26). The useless woman of the Age of Reason, and the useless socialite or jet-set woman of today who is a showpiece and a luxury, can and does speak lightly, and as a trifler, because she is a trifle. The godly woman, however, has "in her tongue the law of kindness." People, men and women, who are not triflers avoid trifling and cheap, malicious talk. Loose talk is the luxury of irresponsibility.
5. She does not eat "the bread of idleness" (v. 27); i.e., the godly woman is not a mere luxury and a pretty decoration. She more than earns her keep.
6. "Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her" (v. 28).

This is the kind of woman who will oversee the future generation, and the product of the work of her hands will be evidence of the godliness transmitted. She is the one who day-in and day-out instills in her children the principles of Biblical self-discipline and self-government. She is the one who is ready, willing, able, and present, to instruct, correct, guide, and inspire her children to prepare themselves to be active in their service to the Kingdom of God. She is the one who has a vision for an aristocracy of submitted believers actively proclaiming the Crown Rights of Jesus Christ!

The founders of the United States believed in an aristocracy, but not an hereditary one but in the natural aristocracy of ability and talent. Such an aristocracy always rises to the top: the best attitude of a country should be to further its progress to the top rather than to impede it. In other words, superiority asserts itself and governs. If the moral character, if the faith of a people is defective, then the superiority which prevails is of an evil sort, but, if the character be godly, then a godly superiority prevails.6

Since the Word of God calls all who bear the name of Christ as members of a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9), the words from King Lemuel's mother are applicable to any son or daughter in the context of their calling. The mother's role is vital in incorporating within the family culture the most important aspects of serving the living God. The call to exercise godly leadership in these verses has a strong parallel to Michah 6:8

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

James 1:27 also echoes these sentiments:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

The Crisis of Our Time

With the certain collapse of the humanist state, there is a great need for self-governing individuals, families, and communities to be ready to establish the law of God as the standard for living and governance. God did not fully deliver the Promised Land to the Children of Israel before they were ready to inhabit it (Deut. 7:22). Likewise, we need to be prepared to lead as the opportunities come. As Martin Selbrede notes in his essay in this issue of FFAOL, "Reinventing Leadership," we begin this task in our own homes, consistently working to unfetter ourselves from the chains of civil government solutions and handouts.

This practice must begin in the home and give more than lip-service to Biblical principles and mandates. Children should witness the faithfulness of their parents in paying their tithes, refusing to live in debt, valuing and sacrificing to provide a Christian education, and refusing to vote for those things the law of God forbids. When children see their father and mother cheerfully obeying God's commands and teaching them to do likewise, they will grow to become the kings and queens of a reconstructed society that looks first to the law of God to remedy problems and crises.

Rushdoony encourages us to take heart in our task of Christian reconstruction. His words especially should encourage the woman of the house to silence the belittling voices that whisper to her, telling her that rearing children is below her ability level and she can farm it out to others.

The crisis of our time is a hopeful and heartening fact: it means emphatically that the world is under God's law, that what a man sows that shall he also reap. True, it means times of crisis and judgment, but how else is history cleared of the debris of man's sin and folly? What takes place on television is pale and lifeless when compared to the excitement and development of the world around us. History is the work of God, and it has a good beginning and ending.7




1. This tribute to his mother was part of his address to the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast.

2. Some believe King Lemuel is a pseudonym or other name for Solomon. Some adhere to the idea that it was meant allegorically, applicable to all kings. Others hold to the idea that King Lemuel is a distinct person and king in another realm.

3. See my article:  "Putting Women in Their Place" in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of FFAOL.

4. R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law (n.p.:The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973) 164.

5. R. J. Rushdoony, Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991), 1070.

6. Ibid., 661.

7. Ibid., 883.