It’s hard to imagine anyone reading this that isn’t familiar with the “Proverbs 31 woman." There is no shortage of commentaries, devotionals, sermons, and blog posts on the topic. But there is more to the passage than a handbook for women. There is an important portrait that men need to see.
Most interpreters have viewed the passage as an ideal: something for women to strive to attain, as an archetype of womanhood, being the assistant and helper to her husband. Others have viewed the passage as nothing more than ancient poetry. Then there are those who view it negatively because of the prior listed reasons. It has, at times, been weaponized against women, a measuring stick that many (perhaps most? All?) feel to which they cannot measure up. (Note: for a brief but good discussion on this aspect, see Derek Leman’s Messianic Commentary on Proverbs).
The text is treated by many as a guidebook for how women should behave, how they should be industrious homemakers, how they should bring honor to their husbands. It’s also often treated as a positive instruction manual for keeping peace in marriage. On this note, Wiersbe even says, “Husbands occasionally create problems for their wives, but Solomon doesn’t mention any of them. However, he does name some of the problems a wife might create for her husband.”
While we have all no doubt heard numerous sermons and devotionals about the Proverbs 31 woman, there is another player in the text that has been largely neglected: the Proverbs 31 man. This present article is not intended to add to the noise of what women should know, how they should behave, what they should think, or who they should emulate. No, there is quite enough of that material out there already. The present article seeks to address the man - the husband - featured in Proverbs 31.
Nary a Bible-believing man alive (or since passed) has ever thought, “I sure don’t want a Proverbs 31 wife.” Quite the opposite, men are taught in Torah study and Sunday school alike to desire a virtuous wife as found in Proverbs 31. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that is a bad goal. After all, none of us desire to marry a narcissist. A virtuous spouse is important. But for all the emphasis that is placed on women measuring up to the standard of the Proverbs 31 woman, let’s take a look at the Proverbs 31 man as well.
First, note that Proverbs 31 is not itself addressed to a woman. This should be telling right off the bat: it is addressed to King Lemuel, as taught to him by his mother. After all, who better to understand women than a wise queen-mother? The king’s mother issues two warnings for Lemuel, both of which are congruent with the prior royal warnings seen in Proverbs, and both of which refer ultimately to practicing self-control. On the one hand, the king is instructed to stay away from being given to alcohol (as it dulls the senses and intellect), and on the other to avoid “giving strength to women.” This is, in keeping with the theme found in numerous places in Proverbs, a warning against the scandalous woman, who stands opposed to Lady Wisdom. It is likely that the instruction being given by the king’s mother is, itself, an echo of Lady Wisdom’s instruction. In this way it could perhaps be understood as Wisdom guiding a man in finding Wisdom.
The husband found here in this final Proverb is one who is taught and guided by a wise woman to make good decisions. There is no room for misogyny here; there is no room for ignoring the teaching and instruction and direction of women. Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of the attempt to weaponize this passage to control and shape a woman’s behavior is that the instruction itself comes from a woman.
The first 9 verses of the chapter are instructions to the king before transitioning to a discussion of the “excellent wife” (as the NASB2020 puts it). Much metaphorical ink has already been spilled by others to address the phrase eshet chayil, and to understand it as “woman of valor” rather than the common "virtuous wife" or even the NASB's "excellent wife" so I will not go further into that here. Instead, we will begin with verse 11.
“The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” (31:11)
The husband here is not the suspicious sort; he is not the controlling sort. He trusts her to tend to her tasks and her responsibilities, and he does not micromanage her. The next 11 verses describe this industrious behavior, and in all of it, the woman's accomplishments and dedication are the focus, not the husband's. This is the sort of husband who is paired to an “excellent wife.”
“Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.” (31:23)
The husband here is not only respectable at home, but well respected among the community. Not just any man is capable or well-suited to be an elder in the city. A lazy or foolish man does not attain this position. If we compare the instructions for establishing courts and judges in the cities from Deuteronomy 16:18-20, then we see that those who are appointed as judges are those that are trustworthy: they do not distort justice, they do not show partiality, they are not swayed by bribery, and they do not distort “the words of the righteous.” (Deut. 16:19) The Proverbs 31 man is just such a man. He does not distort the wife’s words by twisting them, nor does he attempt to manipulate her. He does not pervert justice by gaslighting her, and his affections are not swayed by the prospect of wealth and fame.
“Her children rise up and bless her; and her husband, he praises her, saying: 'Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.’” (31:28-29)
Lastly, we turn to the words and the treatment that the Proverbs 31 husband should have for his wife. The husband here praises his wife. His words are crucial to the picture of the responsibilities of the noble husband. He is intentional and careful with his words: he does not demean her, he does not demand of her. He praises her excellence, he speaks well of her. This man recognizes her value and her virtue. She is noticed, she is seen, she is appreciated. You cannot praise someone for work and contributions that you do not notice. The husband here is intentional, he doesn’t overlook her.
All too often men want to make demands of their wives, without holding themselves to the same standard. You do not deserve a Proverbs 31 wife if you’re not willing to be a Proverbs 31 husband. So for the men reading: don't cop out of the full picture. If you want the "Proverbs 31 wife" then you need to be the sort of husband that deserves a woman of valor. Be the sort of honest, righteous man that is befitting a woman of valor. We need more of this in the Body and in the world.