SECOND APPENDIX TO THE SECOND COLLECTION (vs. 1-9)
containing “the words of Lemuel” on the subjects of impurity and intemperance.
The fear of God is the leading thought in these meditations; and this in a
V. 1 contains the superscription.
1 “The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.”
Who is intended by “Lemuel king” is much disputed. Those who connect the
“King of Massa,” as ch.30:1 (where see note). Of the country, or the king, or his
mother, we have absolutely no information. The name Lemuel, or Lemoel (v. 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 called by him Jedidiah,
“beloved of the Lord” (II 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 (
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. I Kings 2:19; 14:21; 15:2; II Kings
12:1. It is difficult to say what reading was seen by the Septuagint,
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
there is nothing incongruous in Lemuel being instructed by his mother in
A Mother’s Counsel (v. 1)
The last chapter of the Book of Proverbs gives us the picture of a mother’s
counsel to her son — wise and good and eloquent with love and yearning
anxiety. Here is a picture to suggest the inestimable advantage to a young
man of a mother’s guidance. In thoughtless, high-spirited youth this too
often passes unheeded, and precious advice is then wasted on ungrateful
ears. It would be more seemly to consider its unique merits.
pictures of women in the Bible. Inspired women have conveyed to us some
parts of the biblical teaching. Deborah (Judges 5:7), the mother of
Samuel (I Samuel 1:20-28), and now the mother of Lemuel, all help us with
great Divine truths or holy thoughts and influences. It is the gift of women
to see into truth with a flash of sympathy. The wonder is that we have so
small a part of the Bible from the tongue and pen of women.
holy women does not introduce us to the cloisters. The Hebrew heroines
were “mothers in
perfect woman, nobly planned,” is one who can think, love, and act with
the large heart of a mother.
nowhere in all creation such an image of utterly unselfish, of completely
self-sacrificing love as that of a woman for her child. She almost gives her
life for his infant existence. All through his helpless years she watches over
him with untiring care. When he goes forth into the world, she follows him
with never-flagging interest. He may forget her; she will never forget him.
If he does well, her joy is unbounded; if he does ill, her heart is broken.
Without a thought of self, she spends herself on her child, and finds her
life or her death in his conduct.
know much of the outer world; she may be quite ignorant of the most
recent dicta of science; some of her notions may seem old-fashioned to her
modern-minded son. But foolish indeed will he be if he dares to despise her
counsels on such grounds. She knows him — his strength and his
weakness, his childish faults and his early promises. Here lies the secret of
INGRATITUDE. The son may think himself wiser than his mother, but at
least, he should give reverent attention to her advice. So much love and
care and thoughtfulness do not deserve to be tossed aside in a moment of
impatience. The wise son will acknowledge that his mother’s wishes
deserve his most earnest consideration. It may be, then, that he will be held
back in the hour of temptation by the thought of the poignant grief that his
shameful fall would give to his mother. It is much for a life to be worthy of
a good Christian mother’s counsel
Here follows the exhortation (vs. 2-9), 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.
2 “What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son
of my vows?” 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 (I 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? What? The sayings of God. My firstborn son, to thee I speak.
What, son of my womb? What, son of my vows?”
3 “Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which
destroyeth kings.” This is an exhortation to chastity. Give not thy strength
unto women (compare ch.5:9). Chayil is “vigour,” the bodily powers, which are
sapped and enervated by sensuality. The Septuagint has so<n plou~ton – son
plouton - wealth; riches - 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 neighboring 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. Do all things with counsel; drink wine
with counsel.” This seems to belong to the next verse.
In vs. 4-7, we have the second admonition, a warning against inebriety, and
concerning a proper use of strong drink.
4 “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor
for princes strong drink:” 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 ch.20:1; and compare 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 counselor. 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.”
5 “Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of
any of the afflicted.” 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.”
6 “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto
those that be of heavy hearts.” There are cases where strong drink may be
properly administered. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish
(Job 29:13; 31:19). As a restorative, a cordial, or a medicine, wine may
be 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
Paul’s advice to Timothy (I 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. Ecclesiasticus. 34 :25, etc.).
7 “Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no
more.” 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.
The third exhortation (vs. 8-9), admonishes the king to judge righteously.
8 “Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are
appointed to destruction.” 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 (compare 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 (compare Job 29:12).
Septuagint, “Open thy mouth for the Word of God, and judge all men
9 “Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor
and needy.” Plead the cause; rather, minister judgment, or do right; act in
your official capacity so that the effect shall be substantial justice (compare
The Function and the Privilege of Power (vs. 8-9)
God gives to some men place and power; they may inherit it, or they may
win their way to it by the force of their talent or their merit. When they have
reached it, what should be the use they make of it? We may look first at:
been made of high station and of civil or military lower is that of
Ø indulgence; or
Ø appropriation; or
Men have used their elevation only to drink the sweet cup of pleasure; or
to secure to themselves the spoils of high office, the treasures which lay
within their grasp; or to find a mean and despicable gratification in the
enforcement of their own dignity and the humiliation of those beneath
them. This is “human,” if by human we understand that which is natural to
man as sin has dwarfed and spoilt his nature, perverting his powers and
degrading his delights. But of man as God meant him to be, and as a Divine
Redeemer is renewing him, all this is utterly unworthy, let us see:
is placed on high in order that he may “judge righteously.” Whether he be
the king, as in David’s and Solomon’s time; or whether he be the
magistrate, as in our own time; or whether he be the teacher, or the
manufacturer, or the farmer, or the master or father in the home; whatever
be the kind or measure of authority enjoyed, the function of power is to
judge righteously; it is to do justice; it is to see that innocency is acquitted
and guilt condemned; it is to take pains and exercise patience in order that
worth may be rewarded and that sin may be shamed; it is to be a tower of
refuge to those who are conscious of rectitude, and to be a source of fear
to those who know that they have been “doing evil;” it is to be a strength
to the righteous and a terror to the guilty. (Romans 13:1-4)
TO BEFRIEND THE FRIENDLESS. There are those who are too weak
to be of much service to their neighbors; there are those who are too
selfish to cherish the ambition; but the strong man who is the good man,
the man in power who has in him the spirit of his Master, will rejoice in his
power mainly because it enables him to help those who would otherwise go
on and go down without a helper;
Ø those suffering from physical privation — the blind, the deaf, the dumb;
Ø those lacking mental qualifications — the weak minded, the timid, the
Ø those too poor to purchase the aid that is sometimes essential to justice
Ø those over whom some great disaster, which is at the same time a cruel
wrong, impends — “appointed to destruction.”
To lift up those who have been wrongfully laid low, to befriend the unfortunate
and the desolate, to stand by the side of those who cannot assert their own claims,
to be eyes to the blind and a voice to the dumb, to “make the widow’s heart to
sing for joy,” to place the destitute in the path which leads up to competency
and honor, — to act in the spirit and to promote the cause of beneficence is the
true privilege, as it is the brightest crown and the deepest joy, of power.
A Mother’s Maxims (vs. 2-9)
The mother’s heart, deep in emotions of affection and urgent solicitude, is
expressed in the passionate form of the address.
weakness of this passion was one of the things, Alexander the Great was
wont to say, which reminded him that he was mortal. David and Solomon
were both warnings and beacon lights against yielding to it (II Samuel
12:9-10; compare chapters 2, 5, 7).
is a sin in close affinity to the former (“Whoredom and wine and
new wine take away the heart.” - Hosea 4:11).
Ø A vice degrading in all, drunkenness is most especially unbefitting those
in high station. Elah (I Kings 16:8-9), Benhadad (Ibid. ch. 20:16),
and Belshazzar (Daniel 5:2-4), were all dark examples of the danger
(compare Hosea 7:5).
Ø It may lead to moral perversion. (v. 5.) The woman wrongly
condemned by Philip of Macedon exclaimed, “I appeal from Philip
drunk to Philip sober.” Ahasuerus (Esther 1:10-11) and Herod (Mark
6:21-28) appear to have been guilty of arbitrary conduct under the same
besotting influence. Men “err through strong drink” (Isaiah 28:7).
Ø The true use of wine. (v. 6.) It is a medicine for the fainting. It is a
restorative under extreme depression. The Bible tolerates and admits the
blessing of wine in moderation as promotive of social cheerfulness. It
“maketh glad the heart of man,” and is even said to “cheer God”
(Judges 9:13). Hence libations were a part of the sacrificial feast
offered to the Majesty on high. As an anodyne it is admitted here (v. 7).
But all this does not exempt from close circumspection as to time, place,
persons, and circumstances in its use. The priests, when performing their
sacred functions in the tabernacle and temple, were to abstain from wine.
But here, as in other matters, there is large latitude given to the exercise of
the private judgment, the personal Christian conscience. Any attempt to
overrule the right of personal freedom creates a new class of evils. Let
those who see their duty in that light adopt total abstinence; and others
labor according to their ability to strike at the indirect and deeper causes
of what many regard as a national vice. Wherever there is a widespread
vice, it is rooted in some profound misery. The surest, though longest,
cure is by the eradication of the pain of the mind which drives so many
towards the nepenthes, or draught of oblivion.
(vs. 8, 9.) The royal heart and hand are to be at the service of those who
cannot help themselves — the widow, the orphan, the poor, and “all that
are desolate and oppressed” (Job 29:15-16). He is to be both advocate
and judge. He is to be an earthly type of God. “Let his representatives on
earth study the character of their King in heaven, and be conformed more
fully to His image of forgiveness and love.”
THIRD APPENDIX TO THE SECOND COLLECTION (vs. 10-31).
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.
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.
10 “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.”
Who can find a virtuous woman? The expression, ishshah chayil, “woman of
force,” has occurred in ch. 12:4 (where see note). Mulierem
terms her; gunai~ka ajndrei>an – gunaka andreian - is the rendering of the
Septuagint, which places this section as the end of the whole Book of Proverbs.
The expression combines the ideas of moral goodness and bodily vigor 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 (ch.18:22; 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 ch.20:15 and 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 (compare 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
11 “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall
have no need of spoil.” 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 ch.7:6-23).
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).
12 “She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.”
She will do him good and not evil (comp. Eccleiasticus 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.”
13 “She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.”
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), 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).
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 labors
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 labor is a duty for all, and that idleness is a
transgression of a universal law. Septuagint, “Weaving wool
and flax; she makes it useful with her hands.”
14 “She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.”
She is like the merchants’ ships. She is like them in that she extends her
operations beyond her own immediate neighborhood, 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 (I Kings 9:26; 22:48), and such as the Hebrews must have noticed in
15 “She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and
a portion to her maidens.” 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 (compare v. 18). Early rising
before any great undertaking is continually mentioned in Scripture (see
Genesis 19:2; 22:3; Psalm 57:8; Jeremiah 7:13; 25:4-6; 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, e]rga – erga – works; tasks. The
former, which is in accordance with ch.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 labor,” we get a new idea, very congruous with the
housewife’s activity (compare Exodus 5:14, where the same word is used
in the ease of the enforced labor of the Israelites).
16 “She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands
she planteth a vineyard.” 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.
17 “She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.”
She girdeth her loins with strength (v. 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 vigor are, as it were, the girdle which she
binds round her waist to enable her to conduct her operations with ease 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” (compare Job 38:3). Strengtheneth
her arms. By daily exercise she makes her arms firm and strong, and capable
of great and continued exertion.
18 “She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not
out by night.” 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
Some take the lamp here in an allegorical sense, as signifying life,
happiness, and prosperity, as ch.13:9 and 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 18:13-15 which speaks of the “merchandise” of the
false Church, also affirms that “the light of a candle” shall shine in her no
more (Ibid. v. 23), the two metaphors in our passage applied to the true
Church being there applied to
19 “She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.”
She layeth her hands to the spindle. rwOvyKi. (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. Ël,p, (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;” Vulgate, Manum suam
misit ad fortia. So
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.”
20 “She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her
hands to the needy.” 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 (ch.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 ch.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 to the poor.”
Like Dorcas, she is full of good works and alms deeds (Acts 9:36-39). It is
doubtless implied that the prosperity which she experiences is the reward of
this benevolence (ch.22:9).
21 “She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her
household are clothed with scarlet.” She is not afraid of the snow for her
household. “Snow,” says
Dr. Geikie (‘
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’ (II 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 μyniv; (shanim), derived from a verb meaning “to shine,” and denoting a
crimson or deep scarlet color. This color 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 burning
charcoal (see Jeremiah 36:22). The Septuagint has taken liberties
with the text, “Her husband is not anxious concerning domestic matters
when he tarries anywhere, 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.
22 “She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and
purple.” She maketh herself coverings of tapestry (marbaddim); as ch.7:16
(where see note). Pillows for beds or cushions are meant, though the translators
not of one mind on the meaning.
and Theodotion, peristrw>mata, Symmachus, ajmfita>pouv, “shaggy on both
sides;” Septuagint, “She makes for her husband double garments. Her clothing
is silk and purple. vve (shesh) is not “silk,” but “white linen” (bu>ssov, 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 (I Peter 3:3-5).
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 (Ibid. ch.1:6; 5:10).
23 “Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the
elders of the land.” 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
(v. 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 honorably
clad when he goes to the council:
Kai< de< soi< aujtw~| e]oike meta< prw>toisin ejo>nta
Boula<v bouleu>ein kaqara< croi> ei[mat e]conta.
“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.”
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).
24 “She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto
the merchant.” She maketh fine linen, and selleth it. The word
for “fine linen” is sadin, not the same as in v. 22. but equivalent to
sindw>n – sindon – fine linen - and denoting linen garments; Delitzsch
calls it “body linen” (compare 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 II 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, eijv zw>nhn dedome>nai – eis zonaen dedomenai
(ch. 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 (v. 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 imparted 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 and your lights burning”- Luke 12:35 - (‘Moral.,’ 33:33).
25 “Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to
come.” Strength and honor are her clothing (v. 17); ijscu<n kai<eujpre>peian –
ischun kai euprepeian – strength and dignity - 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 demeanor.
And thus equipped, she shall rejoice in time to come; or, she laugheth
(Job 5:22; 39:7) at the future (Isaiah 30:8). She is not disquieted by any fear
of what may happen, KNOWING 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.”
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).
26 “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law
of kindness.” 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. (Ephesians 4:29) The Septuagint
has this verse before v. 25, and the first hemistich again. after v. 27. So in
Lamentations chps. 2, 3, 4, the pe and ayin verses change places. This is also the
case in Psalm 37. In the former passage the Septuagint renders, “She openeth
her mouth heedfully and lawfully;” and in the other, “wisely and in accordance
with law.” 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
27 “She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the
bread of idleness.” 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 labor and conscientious diligence. She is of the
opinion of the apostle who said “that if any would not work, neither should
he eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10). Septuagint, “The ways of her house are
confined, 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. 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).
28 “Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and
he praiseth her.” 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 raises up her children, and they grow rich, and
her husband praises her.”
29 “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,”
which is nearer the meaning in this place. Chayil (as we have seen, v. 10) means
“force,” virtus, “strength of character” shown in various ways (compare 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 (I Timothy 5:14; Titus 2:3-5).
30 “Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the
LORD, she shall be praised.” The writer confirms the husband’s praise by
assigning to it its just grounds. Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain. Chen,
“favor,” 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
Mh< kri~n oJrw~n to< ka>llov ajlla< to<n tro>pon.
Mae krin’, horon to kallos, alla ton tropon.
“Judge not at sight 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 EXCELLENCES IS THE FEAR OF THE
LORD! (ch.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, and vain is the beauty of
woman; for a prudent woman is blessed, and let her praise the fear of the Lord.”
Rival Attractions (v. 30)
Lemuel’s mother warns her son against the fascinations of superficial
charms in his choice of a wife, and points to the attractiveness of a
Ø It is but temporary. The bloom of beauty fades with youth; but a wife is
to be a man’s helpmeet throughout life, and, if both are spared, his
companion in age. In making a choice for life a man should consider
Ø It is superficial. Beauty of face and grace of form are only bodily
attributes, They may have no corresponding mental, moral, and spiritual
Ø It is deceptive. The fascination of a pretty face may delude a man into
neglecting more important considerations in the woman of his choice.
temper may be taken for strength of character, frivolity for liveliness, mere
softness of disposition for love. But the great disillusion of lifelong
companionship will dispel all these mistakes, when the discovery is to, late
to be of any use. On the other hand, there is no need to take refuge in a
monkish contempt of beauty. All beauty is a work of God. It is the duty of
a woman to make herself pleasing to others. The finest beauty is a product
of health, good temper, and the expression of worthy sentiments — all of
them desirable things. (“Whose adorning let it not be that outward
adorning of plaiting of the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting
on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which
is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit,
which is in the sight of God of great price.” - I Peter 3:3-4 – CY – 2014).
Note: The vanity of beauty shows the mistake of pursuing “art for art’s
sake,” to the neglect of morality, duty, truth, and charity.
to be praised. Though, perhaps, less beautiful in form and countenance,
she has the higher beauty of holiness. The Madonna (It is a shame that
person known as Madonna today is the direct opposite of all the term
represents! If she had called herself Venus no one would think much
about it but there seems to be a blasphemous slap at the True Madonna –
CY – 2014) stands infinitely above the Venus. The grace of the God-fearing
woman has its own true attraction for those who can appreciate it.
Ø It is enduring. Beauty fades; goodness endures. This should ripen with
years into a more rich and mellow grace.
Ø It is deep. The prolonged acquaintanceship that reveals the utter
hollowness and unreality of those attractions which consist only in bodily
form and skin-complexion only makes more apparent the treasures of a
true and worthy character. Trouble that ploughs fatal furrows in the cheek
of the mere “beauty” unveils the tender grace of the truly godly woman.
Those scenes wherein earthly beauty fails open up wondrous treasures of
Ø It is satisfying. A feverish excitement accompanies the adoration of
earthly beauty; but the beauty of a sweet, true, generous soul is restful
Ø It is worthy of honor. Poets give us their dreams of fair women. A
higher subject would be the praises of God-fearing women. How much of
the world’s blessedness springs from the devotion of unselfish women —
the self-sacrifices of true wives, the toils and prayers of good. mothers!
31 “Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her
in the gates.” 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 honor. Septuagint, “Let her husband be praised in the gates.”
This frequent introduction of the husband is curious. 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 labor 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.” – Matthew 25:31-40 - (‘Moral.,’ 6:9).
The Typical Woman (vs. 10-31)
Ø In marriage. The typical woman is a wife and mother. We see her in
Sarah, in Naomi, in Hannah, in Eunice. There is invaluable service for
the world which only women who are free from the ties of home can
accomplish; there is a noble mission for single women. But there is
nothing in Scripture, reason, or conscience to suggest that virginity is
more holy than marriage, that the maiden is more saintly than the matron.
Ø In the work of the home. Moreover, for unmarried women household
cares and quiet home duties usually have the first call. Some women may
be called to more public positions. A queen may adorn a throne. A
Florence Nightingale (or Mother Teresa – CY – 2014) may live as angels
of mercy to the suffering. But these are exceptional persons. Every Jewess
was not a Deborah, and even the martial prophetess, unlike her French
counterpart, Joan of Are, was “a mother
Ø Therefore with domestic responsibility. The typical woman will be
judged primarily in regard to domestic duties. The true wife is the
helpmeet of her husband (Genesis 2:18). Her first aim will be to
“do him good” (v. 12). If she fails here, her public service is of little
a picture which is IN STRIKING CONTRAST to the ignorance,
the indolence, the inanity of an Oriental harem. Observe its chief features.
Ø Trustworthiness. The true wife is her husband’s confidant. She must
be worthy of confidence by being:
Ø Industry. Nothing can be more foolish than the notion that a “lady”
should have no occupation. The ideal woman rises early and busies
herself with many affairs. In old days, when the spinning was done
at home and most of the family garments were made by the women
of the house, the clothing of husband and children bore testimony to
the industry of the wife. Machinery has destroyed this antique picture.
Yet the spirit of it remains. The true wife still finds an abundance of
Ø Thrift. The wife of the Proverbs is quite a business woman, selling the
superfluous work of her hands to merchants, and buying land with the
proceeds. Yet by her foresight she provides warm clothing for the
winter, and therefore she can afford to laugh when the snow cometh.
Ø Strength. “She girdeth her loins with strength.” The physical education
of women is just now receiving especial attention, and rightly so. It is a
woman’s duty to be strong, if by means of wholesome food and exercise
she can conquer weakness. No doubt the ailments of many women spring
from lassitude, indolence, and self-surrender. But even, when bodily
frailty cannot be conquered, strength of soul may be attained.
Ø Charity. The strong and thrifty with might be hard, cold, and selfish. But
the true woman “stretcheth out her hand to the poor” (v. 20).
Ø Gracious speech. So energetic a woman might still be thought somewhat
unlovable if we had not this final trait: “in her tongue is the law of
kindness” (v. 26). How much may the tone of a woman’s conversation
do to keep peace in a household, and shed over it a spirit of love and
Ø True religion. This is the root of the matter. The typical woman “feareth
the Lord” (v. 30). It is religion which gives enduring worth and
immortality to character! Beauty is a failing charm or a deception of the
senses. But religious principle gives a spiritual beauty to the plainest
exterior. Being and doing from religious motives, to religious ends, —
this is a sowing for eternal fruits. And the works of love for God’s sake
and man’s fill the air with fragrance to the latest end of time, and are
found unto praise, honor, and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
(I Peter 1:7)
Ø In her influence. “Her husband is known in the gates.” She helps him to
honor. Herself too busy in the private sphere to take her part directly in
public life, yet indirectly she is a great force in the large world through
her influence over her husband. Her thrift makes him rich;
her noble character gives him additional title to respect. His personality
derives weight from the possession of such a treasure, the devotion of
such a heart. Her business capacity, her energy, and the quiet dignity of
her life and bearing; the mingled sense and shrewdness, charm and grace
of her conversation (vs. 24-27); are all a source of fame, of noble self-
complacency, of just confidence to the man who is blessed to call her
“MINE.” She basks in the sunshine of a husband’s constant approval.
“Best of wives!” “Noblest of women!” is the thought ever in his heart,
often on his lips.
Ø In the success of her energies. We have here a picture of a wife in
affluence — not of a poor domestic drudge in the squalor of abject
poverty. Nevertheless, the prosperity of the home largely depends upon
her. Her thoughtfulness, energy, careful oversight of others and kindness
of heart and words, are the chief causes of the welfare of her happy,
Ø In the honour of her family. “Her children arise up, and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praiseth her” (v. 28). Surely this is a better
reward than public fame. (What role of pursuit of vanity and
fame have led to the demise of the modern family? – CY – 2014)
Her life and work earn for her perpetual thanks and benedictions.
(vs. 28, 29.) Her children, as they grow up, bless her for the inestimable
boon of a mother’s care and love. She has revealed to them God; and
never can they cease to believe in goodness so long as they recollect her.
Ø Continued influence. This true woman deserves to have “the fruit of her
hands.” If she is to be spoken of “in the gates,” it should be in praise of
her domestic duties, which cannot but be known to her neighbors,
however modest and retiring her manners may be.
“If women be good,” said Aristotle, “the half of the commonwealth may be
happy where they are.” “The greatest gift of God is a pious, amiable
spouse, who fears God, loves his house, and with whom one can live in
perfect confidence” (Luther).
Those who have had the priceless advantage of a mother possessed of the Christian
virtues and graces have more to thank God for than if they had inherited a titled
name or an ample fortune. Let us freely acknowledge our great indebtedness
to her and TO GOD WHO GAVE HER!
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