New English Translation
The Words of Lemuel
2 O[c] my son, O son of my womb,
O son[d] of my vows,
3 do not give your strength[e] to women,
nor your ways[f] to that which ruins[g] kings.
4 It is not for kings,[h] O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,[i]
or for rulers to crave strong drink,[j]
5 lest they drink and forget what is decreed,
and remove[k] from all the poor[l] their legal rights.[m]
6 Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,[n]
and wine to those who are bitterly distressed;[o]
7 let them[p] drink and forget[q] their poverty,
and remember their misery no more.
8 Open your mouth[r] on behalf of those unable to speak,[s]
for the legal rights of all the dying.[t]
9 Open your mouth, judge in righteousness,[u]
and plead the cause[v] of the poor and needy.
The Wife of Noble Character[w]
10 Who can find[x] a wife[y] of noble character?[z]
For her value[aa] is far more than rubies.[ab]
11 Her husband’s heart has trusted[ac] her,
and he does not lack the dividends.[ad]
12 She has rewarded him[ae] with good and not harm[af]
all the days of her life.
13 She sought out[ag] wool and flax,
then worked[ah] happily with her hands.[ai]
14 She was[aj] like the merchant ships;[ak]
she would bring in[al] her food from afar.
15 Then she rose[am] while it was still night,
and provided[an] food[ao] for her household and a portion[ap] to her female servants.
16 She considered[aq] a field and bought[ar] it;
from her own income[as] she planted[at] a vineyard.
17 She clothed[au] herself in might,
and she strengthened[av] her arms.
18 She perceived[aw] that her merchandise was good.
Her lamp[ax] would[ay] not go out in the night.
19 She extended[az] her hands[ba] to the spool,
and her hands grasped[bb] the spindle.
20 She opened[bc] her hand[bd] to the poor,
and extended[be] her hands to the needy.
21 She would not[bf] fear[bg] for her household in winter,[bh]
because all her household were clothed with scarlet,[bi]
22 because[bj] she had made[bk] coverings for herself;[bl]
and because her clothing was fine linen and purple.[bm]
23 Her husband is well-known[bn] in the city gate[bo]
when he sits with the elders[bp] of the land.
24 She made[bq] linen garments[br] then sold[bs] them,
and traded[bt] belts to the merchants;[bu]
25 her clothing[bv] was[bw] strong[bx] and splendid;
and she laughed[by] at the time[bz] to come.
26 She has opened[ca] her mouth[cb] with wisdom,
with loving instruction[cc] on her tongue.
27 Watching over[cd] the ways of her household,
she would not eat[ce] the bread of idleness.[cf]
28 Her children[cg] have risen[ch] and called[ci] her blessed;
her husband[cj] also has praised[ck] her:
29 “Many[cl] daughters[cm] have done valiantly,[cn]
but you have surpassed them all!”
30 Charm[co] is deceitful[cp] and beauty is fleeting.[cq]
A woman who fears the Lord[cr]—she makes herself praiseworthy.[cs]
31 Give[ct] her credit for what she has accomplished,[cu]
and let her works praise her[cv] in the city gates.[cw]
- Proverbs 31:1 sn Nothing else is known about King Lemuel aside from this mention in the book of Proverbs. Jewish legend identifies him as Solomon, making this advice from his mother Bathsheba, but there is no evidence for that. The passage is the only direct address to a king in the book of Proverbs—something that was the norm in wisdom literature of the ancient world (Leah L. Brunner, “King and Commoner in Proverbs and Near Eastern Sources,” Dor le Dor 10 : 210-19; Brunner argues that the advice is religious and not secular).
- Proverbs 31:1 tn Some English versions take the Hebrew noun translated “oracle” here as a place name specifying the kingdom of King Lemuel; cf. NAB “king of Massa”; CEV “King Lemuel of Massa.”
- Proverbs 31:2 tn The form מַה (mah), normally the interrogative “what?” (so KJV, ASV, NAB, NASB) is best interpreted here as an exclamation. Tg. Prov 31:2 has “Woe!”
- Proverbs 31:2 tn In all three occurrences in this verse the word “son” has the Aramaic spelling, בַר (bar), rather than the Hebrew בֵּן (ben). The repetition of the word “son” shows the seriousness of the warning; and the expression “son of my womb” and “son of my vows” are endearing epithets to show the great investment she has made in his religious place in God’s program. For a view that “son of my womb” should be “my own son,” see F. Deist, “Proverbs 31:1, A Case of Constant Mistranslation,” JNSL 6 (1978): 1-3; cf. TEV “my own dear son.”
- Proverbs 31:3 sn The word translated “strength” refers to physical powers here, i.e., “vigor” (so NAB) or “stamina.” It is therefore a metonymy of cause; the effect would be what spending this strength meant—sexual involvement with women. It would be easy for a king to spend his energy enjoying women, but that would be unwise.
- Proverbs 31:3 sn The word “ways” may in general refer to the heart’s affection for or attention to, or it may more specifically refer to sexual intercourse. While in the book of Proverbs the term is an idiom for the course of life, in this context it must refer to the energy spent in this activity.
- Proverbs 31:3 tn The construction uses Qal infinitive construct לַמְחוֹת (lamekhot, “to wipe out; to blot out; to destroy”). The construction is somewhat strange, and so some interpreters suggest changing it to מֹחוֹת (mokhot, “destroyers of kings”); cf. BDB 562 s.v. מָחָה Qal.3. Commentators note that the form is close to an Aramaic word that means “concubine,” and an Arabic word that is an indelicate description for women.
- Proverbs 31:4 tn Heb “[It is] not for kings.”
- Proverbs 31:4 sn This second warning for kings concerns the use of alcohol. If this passage is meant to prohibit any use of alcohol by kings, it would be unheard of in any ancient royal court. What is probably meant is an excessive and unwarranted use of alcohol, or a troubling need for it, so that the meaning is “to drink wine in excess” (cf. NLT “to guzzle wine”; CEV “should not get drunk”). The danger, of course, would be that excessive use of alcohol would cloud the mind and deprive a king of true administrative ability and justice.
- Proverbs 31:4 tn The MT has אֵו (ʾev), a Kethib/Qere reading. The Kethib is אוֹ (ʾo) but the Qere is אֵי (ʾe). Some follow the Qere and take the word as a shortened form of וַֹיֵּה, “where?” This would mean the ruler would be always asking for drink (cf. ASV). Others reconstruct to אַוֵּה (ʾavveh, “to desire; to crave”). In either case, the verse would be saying that a king is not to be wanting/seeking alcohol.tn Here “strong drink” probably refers to barley beer (cf. NIV, NCV “beer”).
- Proverbs 31:5 tn The verb means “change,” perhaps expressed in reversing decisions or removing rights.
- Proverbs 31:5 tn Heb “all the children of poverty.” This expression refers to the poor by nature. Cf. KJV, NASB, NRSV “the afflicted”; NIV “oppressed.”
- Proverbs 31:5 sn The word is דִּין (din, “judgment”; so KJV). In this passage it refers to the cause or the plea for justice, i.e., the “legal rights.”
- Proverbs 31:6 sn Wine and beer should be given to those distressed and dying in order to ease their suffering and help them forget.
- Proverbs 31:6 tn Heb “to the bitter of soul.” The phrase לְמָרֵי נָפֶשׁ (lemare nafesh) has been translated “of heavy hearts” (KJV); “in anguish” (NIV); “in misery” (TEV); “in bitter distress” (NRSV); “sorely depressed” (NAB); “in deep depression (NLT); “have lost all hope” (CEV). The word “bitter” (מַר, mar) describes the physical and mental/spiritual suffering as a result of affliction, grief, or suffering—these people are in emotional pain. So the idea of “bitterly distressed” works as well as any other translation.
- Proverbs 31:7 tn The subjects and suffixes are singular (cf. KJV, ASV, NASB). Most other English versions render this as plural for stylistic reasons, in light of the preceding context.
- Proverbs 31:7 tn The king was not to “drink and forget”; the suffering are to “drink and forget.”
- Proverbs 31:8 sn The instruction to “open your mouth” is a metonymy of cause; it means “speak up for” (so NIV, TEV, NLT) or in this context “serve as an advocate in judgment” (cf. CEV “you must defend”).
- Proverbs 31:8 sn The instruction compares people who cannot defend themselves in court with those who are physically unable to speak (this is a figure of speech known as hypocatastasis, an implied comparison). The former can physically speak, but because they are the poor, the uneducated, the oppressed, they are unable to conduct a legal defense. They may as well be speechless.
- Proverbs 31:8 tn Or “of all the defenseless.” The noun חֲלוֹף (khalof) means “passing away; vanishing” (properly an infinitive); in this construction “the sons of the passing away” means people who by nature are transitory, people who are dying—mortals. But in this context it would indicate people who are “defenseless” as opposed to those who are healthy and powerful.
- Proverbs 31:9 tn The noun צֶדֶק (tsedeq) serves here as an adverbial accusative of manner. The decisions reached (שְׁפָט, shefat) in this advocacy must conform to the standard of the law. So it is a little stronger than “judging fairly” (cf. NIV, NCV), although it will be fair if it is done righteously for all.
- Proverbs 31:9 sn Previously the noun דִּין (din, judgment”) was used, signifying the legal rights or the pleas of the people. Now the imperative דִּין is used. It could be translated “judge,” but in this context “judge the poor” could be misunderstood to mean “condemn.” Here advocacy is in view, and so “plead the cause” is a better translation (cf. NASB, NIV, NRSV “defend the rights”). It was—and is—the responsibility of the king (ruler) to champion the rights of the poor and needy, who otherwise would be ignored and oppressed. They are the ones left destitute by the cruelties and inequalities of life (e.g., 2 Sam 14:4-11; 1 Kgs 3:16-28; Pss 45:3-5; 72:4; Isa 9:6-7).
- Proverbs 31:10 sn The book of Proverbs comes to a close with this poem about the noble wife. A careful reading of the poem will show that it is extolling godly wisdom that is beneficial to the family and the society. Traditionally it has been interpreted as a paradigm for godly women. And while that is valid in part, there is much more here. The poem captures all the themes of wisdom that have been presented in the book and arranges them in this portrait of the ideal woman (Claudia V. Camp, Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs, 92-93). Any careful reading of the passage would have to conclude that if it were merely a paradigm for women what it portrays may well be out of reach—she is a wealthy aristocrat who runs an estate with servants and conducts business affairs of real estate, vineyards, and merchandising, and also takes care of domestic matters and is involved with charity. Moreover, it says nothing about the woman’s personal relationship with her husband, her intellectual and emotional strengths, or her religious activities (E. Jacob, “Sagesse et Alphabet: Pr. 31:10-31,” Hommages à A. Dont-Sommer, 287-95). In general, it appears that the “woman” of Proverbs 31 is a symbol of all that wisdom represents. The poem, then, plays an important part in the personification of wisdom so common in the ancient Near East. But rather than deify Wisdom as the other ANE cultures did, Proverbs simply describes wisdom as a woman. Several features will stand out in the study of this passage. First, it is an alphabetic arrangement of the virtues of wisdom (an acrostic poem). Such an acrostic was a way of organizing the thoughts and making them more memorable (M. H. Lichtenstein, “Chiasm and Symmetry in Proverbs 31,” CBQ 44 : 202-11). Second, the passage is similar to hymns, but this one extols wisdom. A comparison with Psalm 111 will illustrate the similarities. Third, the passage has similarities with heroic literature. The vocabulary and the expressions often sound more like an ode to a champion than to a domestic scene. Putting these features together, one would conclude that Proverbs 31:10-31 is a hymn to Lady Wisdom, written in the heroic mode. Using this arrangement allows the sage to make all the lessons of wisdom in the book concrete and practical, it provides a polemic against the culture that saw women as merely decorative, and it depicts the greater heroism as moral and domestic rather than only exploits on the battlefield. The poem certainly presents a pattern for women to follow. But it also presents a pattern for men to follow as well, for this is the message of the book of Proverbs in summary.
- Proverbs 31:10 sn The poem begins with a rhetorical question (a figure of speech known as erotesis). This is intended to establish the point that such a noble wife is rare. As with wisdom in the book of Proverbs, she has to be found.
- Proverbs 31:10 tn The first word in the Hebrew text (אֵשֶׁת, ʾeshet) begins with א (ʾalef), the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The word אֵשֶׁת, (ʾeshet) can refer to a wife or to a woman. Ruth is called an אֵשֶׁת חַיִל (ʾeshet khayil) “worthy woman” while still a widow. While the term need not refer to a wife, that was certainly the most common status of the adult woman in ancient Israel and the following description portrays a woman who is both wife and mother.
- Proverbs 31:10 tn Heb “a woman of valor.” This is the same expression used to describe Ruth (e.g., Ruth 3:11). The term חַיִל (khayil) here means “moral worth” (BDB 298 s.v.); cf. KJV “a virtuous woman.” Elsewhere the term is used of physical valor in battle, e.g., “mighty man of valor,” the land-owning aristocrat who could champion the needs of his people in times of peace or war (e.g., Judg 6:12). Here the title indicates that the woman possesses all the virtues, honor, and strength to do the things that the poem will set forth.
- Proverbs 31:10 sn This line expresses that her value (Heb “her price”), like wisdom, is worth more than rubies (e.g., 3:15; 8:11).
- Proverbs 31:10 tn Heb “gems.” It is not known which particular gem the term refers to or whether it means gems in a generic sense.
- Proverbs 31:11 tn The first word of the second line begins with ב (bet), the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet.tn The verb בָּטַח (batakh) means “to trust; to have confidence in.” With the subject of the verb being “the heart of her husband,” the idea is strengthened—he truly trusts her. Cf. NCV “trusts her completely”; NIV “has full confidence in her.” The verb בָּטַח (batakh) may be stative or dynamic (the evidence is inconclusive). The perfect form of a stative verb could be past tense or present tense, while a dynamic verb would be past or perfective. Given the context of past time verbs throughout the description, it is best to understand this verb as perfective, “has trusted.”
- Proverbs 31:11 sn The Hebrew word used here for “dividends” (שָׁלָל, shalal) usually refers to “plunder, spoil,” primarily from war (e.g., Isa 8:1-4 and the name Maher Shalal Hash Baz). Here it refers to gain in a more broad sense, but a gain that has come through the work of another. Having unleashed her capabilities through his trust, her work has enriched the husband and family.
- Proverbs 31:12 tn The first word of the third line begins with ג (gimel), the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet. tn As the perfect form of a dynamic root, the verb (גְּמָלַתְהוּ, gemalatehu) should be understood as past or perfective. It represents prototypical behavior whose effects continue. The verb means to “repay; reward.” This is how she has rewarded her husband’s trust.tn The passage begins a description of the woman given in the past tense, predominantly with perfect verbs (past tense or perfective for dynamic roots) and preterite verbs (past tense). The few participles and imperfect verbs (here past habitual) derive their time frame from context and are also past time. Most translations have rendered all the descriptions of the woman in the present tense, perhaps out of the habit of changing the Hebrew past tense verbs to present tense in English in the short proverbial sayings. (Most English proverbs are in the present tense, some in the future, the fewest in the past, e.g. “curiosity killed the cat.”) The Hebrew verb forms were considered to have a present tense in proverbial sayings, but proverbial sayings do not need to be in the present tense and the understanding of the Hebrew forms has been corrected (M. Rogland, Alleged Non-Past Uses of Qatal in Classical Hebrew [Assen, Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 2003]; J. Cook, “Genericity, Tense, and Verbal Patterns in the Sentence Literature of Proverbs” in Seeking Out the Wisdom of the Ancients, ed. Ronald Troxel [Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2005]; B. Webster “The Perfect Verb and the Perfect Woman in Proverbs” in Windows to the Ancient World of the Hebrew Bible, ed. B. Arnold, N. Erickson, J. Walton [Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2014]).
- Proverbs 31:12 sn The Bible frequently joins these two words, “good” and “evil,” (or “benefit” and “harm”). They contrast the prosperity and well-being of her contribution with what would be devastating and painful. The way of wisdom is always characterized by “good”; the way of folly is associated with “evil.”
- Proverbs 31:13 tn The first word of the fourth line begins with ד (dalet), the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.tn The verb דָּרַשׁ (darash) means “to seek; to inquire; to investigate.” The Hebrew perfect form of a dynamic verb should be understood as past or perfective; here it is part of listing her past accomplishments. She was proactive in obtaining these products and perhaps had inspected them for quality so that she could work with them with satisfaction rather than frustration.
- Proverbs 31:13 tn The verb וַתַּעַשׂ (vataʿas) is a preterite, conveying the next thing she did in a past time sequence.
- Proverbs 31:13 tn Or “with the pleasure of her hands.” The noun חֵפֶץ (khefets) means “delight; pleasure” and the form may be either construct “delight of,” or absolute “delight.” BDB suggests it means here “that in which one takes pleasure,” i.e., a business, and translates the line “in the business of her hands” (BDB 343 s.v. 4). But that translation reduces the emphasis on pleasure and could have easily been expressed in other ways. The prepositional phrase “with delight” describes the manner in which she worked. If the noun is absolute, then the second noun “hands” is an adverbial accusative of means. If “delight” is part of the construct relationship, then “delight” is first applied to “hands” (genitive of specification) and then back to the verb. In either case, she worked with her hands and in an eager or happy manner. Tg. Prov 31:13 has, “she works with her hands in accordance with her pleasure.”
- Proverbs 31:14 tn The first word of the fifth line begins with ה (he), the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.tn The verb הָיָה (hayah) is stative, so theoretically its perfect form could be present tense or past tense. But the context gives her past accomplishments, so it is past tense here.
- Proverbs 31:14 sn The point of the simile is that she goes wherever she needs to go, near and far, to gather in all the food for the needs and the likes of the family. The line captures the vision and the industry of this woman.
- Proverbs 31:14 tn The imperfect verb (תָּבִיא, taviʾ) is used in its past habitual sense. The verbs describing the woman from verses 12-29 include 19 perfects and 9 preterites which describe actions with past time references. Thus the four imperfect verbs that describe her (vv. 14, 18, 21, 27) should be understood as modal and operating in a past time frame.
- Proverbs 31:15 tn The first word of the sixth line begins with ו (vav), the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.tn The verb וָתָּקָם (vattaqom) is a preterite and therefore is past tense.
- Proverbs 31:15 tn The verb וַתִּתֵּן (vattitten) is a preterite and therefore is past tense.
- Proverbs 31:15 sn The word for “food” is טֶרֶף (teref, “prey”; KJV “meat”), another word that does not normally fit the domestic scene. This word also is used in a similar way in Ps 111:5, which says the Lord gives food. Here it is the noble woman who gives food to her family and servants.
- Proverbs 31:15 sn The word חֹק (khoq) probably means “allotted portion of food” as before, but some suggest it means the task that is allotted to the servants, meaning that the wise woman gets up early enough to give out the work assignments (Tg. Prov 31:15, RSV, NRSV, TEV, NLT). That is possible, but seems an unnecessary direction for the line to take. Others, however, simply wish to delete this last colon, leaving two cola and not three, but that is unwarranted.
- Proverbs 31:16 tn The first word of the seventh line begins with ז (zayin), the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet.tn As the perfect form of a dynamic verb, זָמְמָה (zamemah) should be understood as past tense or perfective. A simple past tense translation is particularly well suited here. Her past actions are collected in this portrait to typify her character whether she did those actions frequently or rarely. Although she bought a field, that does not mean that she regularly traded in real estate or even that she bought more than one field in her lifetime. It also does not mean that a woman has to make a real estate transaction to be a good wife.tn The word “considered” means “to plan carefully” in accordance with her purposes. The word is often used in the book of Proverbs for devising evil, but here it is used positively of the woman’s wise investment.
- Proverbs 31:16 tn The verb וַתִּקָּחֵהוּ (vattiqqakhehu) is a preterite and therefore is past tense.
- Proverbs 31:16 tn Heb “from the fruit of her hands.” The expression employs two figures. “Hands” is a metonymy of cause, indicating the work she does. “Fruit” is a hypocatastasis, an implied comparison meaning what she produces, the income she earns. She is able to plant a vineyard from her income.
- Proverbs 31:16 tn As the perfect form of a dynamic verb, נָטְעָה (nateʿah) should be understood as past tense or perfective.
- Proverbs 31:17 tn The first word of the eighth line begins with ח (khet), the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.tn Heb “she girded her loins with strength.” As the perfect form of a dynamic verb, it should be understood as past tense or perfective. The verb חָגָר (khagar) means to strap something on in the area of the waist. (The related noun [חֲגוֹר; khagor] means “belt.”) When only “loins” (hips and waist) are mentioned, the idea is that of gathering up the long robes with a sash or belt so that they do not get in the way of the work. With another direct object or with the preposition ב (bet), it states what is strapped on (e.g. a belt, the ephod, sackcloth; cf. Lev. 8:7; 1 Kgs 20:32). The figure here is putting strength on the “loins” (מָתְנַיִם; motnayim), the muscles that tie the abdomen to the hips. It is a metonymy for hard work. But it can be debated whether it refers to preparation for hard work, which would seem typical, or whether it works off of a literal understanding of putting strength on these muscles, which would be the result of hard work.
- Proverbs 31:17 tn The verb וַתְּאַמֵּץ (vatteʾammets) is a preterite and therefore past tense.sn The expression “she made her arm strong” parallels the first half of the verse and indicates that she gets down to her work with vigor and strength. There may be some indication here of “rolling up the sleeves” to ready the arms for the task, but that is not clear.
- Proverbs 31:18 tn The first word of the ninth line begins with ט (tet), the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.tn As the perfect form of a dynamic verb, טָעֲמָה (taʿamah) should be understood as past tense or perfective. The basic meaning of the word is to “taste.” By extension it means to “perceive; discern; evaluate” (cf. Job 12:11; 34:3). It either refers to evaluating the quality of her merchandise (that she sells) or to being sure that she is making a good and profitable trade.
- Proverbs 31:18 sn The line may be taken literally to mean that she is industrious throughout the night (“burning the midnight oil”) when she must in order to follow through a business deal (W. McKane, Proverbs [OTL], 668); cf. TEV. But the line could also be taken figuratively, comparing “her light” to the prosperity of her household—her whole life—which continues night and day.
- Proverbs 31:18 tn The imperfect verb יִכְבֶּה (yikbeh) is used in its past habitual sense. The verbs describing the woman from verses 12-29 include 19 perfects and 9 preterites which describe actions with past time references. Thus the four imperfect verbs that describe her (vv. 14, 18, 21, 27) should be understood as modal and operating in a past time frame. Technically this verb does not describe her directly, though it refers to her lamp.
- Proverbs 31:19 tn The verb שִׁלְּחָה (shillekhah) is the Piel perfect of the root שָׁלַח (shalakh) “to extend; send.” As the perfect form of a dynamic verb, it should be understood as past tense or perfective. The Piel stem is commonly plurative for dynamic verbs. Applied here, the plurative notion refers to the repetition of reaching to the spool while working cloth.
- Proverbs 31:19 tn The first word of the tenth line begins with י (yod) the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.sn The words for “hands” are often paired in poetry; the first (יָד, yad) means the hand and the forearm and usually indicates strength, and the second (כַּף, kaf) means the palm of the hand and usually indicates the more intricate activity.
- Proverbs 31:19 tn As the perfect form of a dynamic verb, תָמְכוּ (tamekhu) should be understood as past tense or perfective.
- Proverbs 31:20 tn The verb (פָּרְשָׁה, pareshah) is a perfect form of a dynamic verb. As such, it should be understood as past tense or perfective.sn The parallel expressions here underscore her care for the needy. The first part uses “she spread her palm” and the second “she extended her hands,” repeating some of the vocabulary introduced in the last verse.
- Proverbs 31:20 tn The first word of the eleventh line begins with כ (kaf), the eleventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
- Proverbs 31:20 tn This is the same verb form that began verse 19, the Piel perfect of שָׁלַח (shalakh). It may have the same plurative notion emphasizing that she often ministered to the poor. As the perfect form of a dynamic verb it should be understood as past tense or perfective.
- Proverbs 31:21 tn The first word of the twelfth line begins with ל (lamed), the twelfth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
- Proverbs 31:21 tn The imperfect verb (תִירָא, tiraʾ) is used in its past habitual sense. The verbs describing the woman from verses 12-29 include 19 perfects and 9 preterites which describe actions with past time references. Thus the four imperfect verbs that describe her (vv. 14, 18, 21, 27) should be understood as modal and operating in a past time frame.
- Proverbs 31:21 sn “Snow” is a metonymy of adjunct; it refers to the cold weather when snow comes. The verse is saying that this time is not a concern for the wise woman because the family is well prepared.
- Proverbs 31:21 tn For the MT’s “scarlet” the LXX and the Latin have “two” or “double”—the difference being essentially the vocalization of a plural as opposed to a dual. The word is taken in the versions with the word that follows (“covers”) to mean “double garments.” The question to be asked is whether scarlet would keep one warm in winter or double garments. The latter is the easier reading and therefore suspect.
- Proverbs 31:22 tn The word “because” does not occur in the Hebrew in this verse, but continues to apply from the end of verse 21. It is added to both halves of this verse for clarity.
- Proverbs 31:22 tn The verb (עָשְׂתָה; ʿasetah) is the Hebrew perfect form of a dynamic verb. It contains background material in a causal clause and so is past perfect in English translation.
- Proverbs 31:22 tn The first word of the thirteenth line begins with מ (mem), the thirteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The word rendered “coverlets” appears in 7:16, where it has the idea of “covered.” K&D 17:335 suggests “pillows” or “mattresses” here. The Greek version has “lined overcoats” or “garments,” but brings over the last word of the previous verse to form this line and parallel the second half, which has clothing in view.
- Proverbs 31:22 sn The “fine linen” refers to expensive clothing (e.g., Gen 41:42), as does the “purple” (e.g., Exod 26:7; 27:9, 18). Garments dyed with purple indicated wealth and high rank (e.g., Song 3:5). The rich man in Luke 16:19 was clothed in fine linen and purple as well. The difference is that the wise woman is charitable, but he is not.
- Proverbs 31:23 tn The first word of the fourteenth line begins with נ (nun), the fourteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.tn The form is the Niphal participle of יָדַע (yadaʿ); it means that her husband is “known.” The point is that he is a prominent person, respected in the community. While the description of the wife’s work is given in the past tense (primarily through perfect and preterite verbs), the husband is described in the present tense with a participle. Her husband’s status has resulted to some degree from her faithful work and was not confined to the past but continues into the present time frame of the passage.
- Proverbs 31:23 tn Heb “gate”; the term “city” has been supplied in the translation for clarity.sn The “gate” was the area inside the entrance to the city, usually made with rooms at each side of the main street where there would be seats for the elders. This was the place of assembly for the elders who had judicial responsibilities.
- Proverbs 31:23 tn The construction uses the infinitive construct with the preposition and a pronominal suffix that serves as the subject (subjective genitive) to form a temporal clause. The fact that he “sits with the elders” means he is one of the elders; he sits as a judge among the people.
- Proverbs 31:24 tn The verb (עָשְׂתָה, ʿasetah) is the perfect form of a dynamic root and should be understood as past tense or perfective.
- Proverbs 31:24 tn The first word of the fifteenth line begins with ס (samek), the fifteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.sn The poet did not think it strange or unworthy for a woman of this stature to be a businesswoman engaged in an honest trade. In fact, weaving of fine linens was a common trade for women in the ancient world.
- Proverbs 31:24 tn The verb וַתִּמְכֹּר (vattimkor) is a preterite and therefore is past tense. The preterite normally portrays a sequential action in the past.
- Proverbs 31:24 tn The verb (נָתְנָה, natenah) is the perfect form of a dynamic root and should be understood as past tense or perfective.
- Proverbs 31:24 tn Heb “to the Canaanites.” These are the Phoenician traders that survived the wars and continued to do business down to the exile.
- Proverbs 31:25 sn The idea of clothing and being clothed is a favorite figure in Hebrew. It makes a comparison between wearing clothes and having strength and honor. Just as clothes immediately indicate something of the nature and circumstances of the person, so do these virtues.
- Proverbs 31:25 tn Or “strength and splendor have been her clothing.” This is a verbless clause so it takes its time frame from the context. It may be a comment on the goods she traded to the merchants. Or it may be a word picture about her character, in which case “dignity” may be a better rendering than “splendor.”
- Proverbs 31:25 tn The first word of the sixteenth line begins with ע (ʿayin), the sixteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
- Proverbs 31:25 tn The verb וַתִּשְׂחַק (vattiskhaq) is a preterite and therefore is past tense.sn Here “laugh” is either a metonymy of adjunct or effect. The point is that she is confident for the future because of all her industry and planning.
- Proverbs 31:25 tn Heb “day.” This word is a metonymy of subject meaning any events that take place on the day or in the time to come.
- Proverbs 31:26 tn The Hebrew verb (פָּתְחָה, patekhah) is the perfect form of a dynamic verb and should be understood as past tense or perfective. Most of the Hebrew perfect verbs in this description of the wife have been translated as simple past tense because in this portrait her actions are examples that typify her character whether she did then often or rarely. For example, although this woman bought a field (vs 16), that does not mean that she regularly traded in real estate or even that she bought more than one field in her lifetime. However it would be outside the character developed in this portrait to think that she only once said something wise. The Hebrew verbal construction is not specifically modal (“would open her mouth with wisdom”). However the word picture of opening the mouth is one that pictures the start of an activity that continues. For example in Ps 109:2, when the Psalmist complains that the wicked have opened (Hebrew perfect of פָּתַח, patakh) their mouth with deceit, he does not mean that they told only one lie. The opened mouth pictures talking, in contrast to the closed mouth which pictures silence (cf. Isa 53:7).
- Proverbs 31:26 tn The first word of the seventeenth line begins with פ (pe), the seventeenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.sn The words “mouth” (“opened her mouth”) and “tongue” (“on her tongue”) here are also metonymies of cause, referring to her speaking.
- Proverbs 31:26 tn The Hebrew phrase תּוֹרַת־חֶסֶד (torat khesed) is open to different interpretations. (1) The word “law” could here refer to “teaching” as it does frequently in the book of Proverbs, and the word “love,” which means “loyal, covenant love,” could have the emphasis on faithfulness, yielding the idea of “faithful teaching” to parallel “wisdom” (cf. NIV). (2) The word “love” should probably have more of the emphasis on its basic meaning of “loyal love, lovingkindness.” It also would be an attributive genitive, but its force would be that of “loving instruction” or “teaching with kindness.”
- Proverbs 31:27 tn The first word of the eighteenth line begins with צ (tsade), the eighteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. tn This is the only participle used in the description of the woman. Since participles receive their time frame from context, this should be understood to be part of the past time frame of the passage. Here it provides the contrast to the idleness mentioned in the latter half of the verse.
- Proverbs 31:27 tn The imperfect verb (תֹאכֵל, toʾkel) is used in its past habitual sense. The verbs describing the woman from verses 12-29 include 19 perfects and 9 preterites which describe actions with past time references. Thus the four imperfect verbs that describe her (vv. 14, 18, 21, 27) should be understood as modal and operating in a past time frame.
- Proverbs 31:27 sn The expression bread of idleness refers to food that is gained through idleness, perhaps given or provided for her. In the description of the passage one could conclude that this woman did not have to do everything she did; and this line affirms that even though she is well off, she will eat the bread of her industrious activity.
- Proverbs 31:28 sn This is certainly not an activity of infants and toddlers and probably refers to her grown children. In addition to the past tense verbs that describe her, this is another indication that this passage is giving us a retrospective view of her life and not a glimpse at her day-planner.
- Proverbs 31:28 tn The first word of the nineteenth line begins with ק (qof), the nineteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.tn The verb (קָמוּ; qamu) is the perfect form of a dynamic verb and should be understood as past tense or perfective. It is implied that her children have done this on more than one occasion.sn The deliberate action of “rising up” to call her blessed is the Hebrew way of indicating something important is about to be done that has to be prepared for.
- Proverbs 31:28 tn The verb וַיְאַשְּׁרוּהוּ (vayeʾasheruhu) is a preterite and therefore is past tense.
- Proverbs 31:28 tn The text uses an independent nominative absolute to draw attention to her husband: “her husband, and he praises her.” Prominent as he is, her husband speaks in glowing terms of his noble wife.
- Proverbs 31:28 tn The verb וַיְהַלְלָהּ (vayehalelah) is a preterite and therefore is past tense.
- Proverbs 31:29 tn The first word of the twentieth line begins with ר (resh), the twentieth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
- Proverbs 31:29 tn Or “women” (NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT).
- Proverbs 31:29 tn The word is the same as in v. 10, “noble, valiant.”
- Proverbs 31:30 tn The word חֵן (khen) refers to “charm, gracefulness, graciousness, favor.” It frequently occurs in the phrase to “find favor in the eyes” of someone. So it appears to have a broad meaning that includes whatever may have the effect of eliciting a favorable response from someone else, something that they find charming (“pleasant, agreeable qualities” HALOT, 322).
- Proverbs 31:30 tn The first word of the twenty-first line begins with שׁ (shin), the twenty-first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The graphic distinction between שׁ (shin) and שׂ (sin) had not been made at the time the book of Proverbs was written; that graphic distinction was introduced by the Masoretes, ca. a.d. 1000.tn The noun שֶׁקֶר (sheqer) means a “lie; breach of faith” (HALOT, 1648). While it is not true that everything that incites favor is a lie (e.g. Boaz responded to Ruth’s character and Naomi’s need when Ruth found “favor” in his eyes), this is a strong declaration against relying on the emotional impulse of attraction. Many messages in Western culture and media to “follow your heart” actually amount to little or no more than “follow whatever gives you a charmed feeling while ignoring moral constraints and potential consequences.”
- Proverbs 31:30 sn The verse shows that “charm” and “beauty” do not endure as do those qualities that the fear of the Lord produces. Charm is deceitful: One may be disappointed in the character of the one with beauty. Beauty is vain (fleeting as a vapor): Physical appearance will not last. The writer is not saying these are worthless; he is saying there is something infinitely more valuable.
- Proverbs 31:30 sn This chapter describes the wise woman as fearing the Lord. It is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom—that was the motto of the book (1:7). Psalm 111:10 also repeats that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
- Proverbs 31:30 tn The verb תִתְהַלָּל (tithallal) is a Hitpael imperfect. This is not the passive form (to “be praised,” so KJV, NIV, NASB, ESV, ASV, Holman) as occurs in Prov 12:8. The Hitpael of הָלַל (halal) is reflexive with meanings like “to boast; take glory in.” It is sometimes parallel to terms for rejoicing (Pss 34:2; 63:11; 64:10; Isa 41:16), being exultant over accomplishment or victory. In the context of contrasting misleading and fleeting external qualities, the reflexive translation “makes herself praiseworthy” emphasizes her character. The imperfect form could also be understood as modal “she can boast.” This would not mean a selfish bragging since the term is used to boast in the Lord (1 Chr 16:10; Isa 41:6; Jer 4:2; Ps 34:2). Rather it would mean she has a sound basis for being proud of her accomplishments achieved under the umbrella of the fear of the Lord.sn The last two verses of the chapter have shifted from the past tense description of the woman to commentary. This section began by asking who can find a wife/woman of noble character. It then described such a woman in past tense terms that are only fully evident in a retrospective of her life. The commentary at this point serves to remind that the fear of the Lord is the quality to look for rather than merely external beauty. While there is certainly an implication for women to develop good character, the direct teaching is to men. The issue before fathers is how to direct their sons to value the right things in a woman against the pressure to emphasize outward appearance or perhaps even aspects of personality.
- Proverbs 31:31 tn The first word of the twenty-second line begins with ת (tav), the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
- Proverbs 31:31 tn Heb “Give her from the fruit of her hands.” The expression “the fruit of her hands” employs two figures. The word “fruit” is a figure known as hypocatastasis, an implied comparison, meaning “what she produces.” The word “hand” is a metonymy of cause, meaning her efforts to produce things. So the line is saying essentially “give her her due.” This would either mean give her credit for what she has done (the option followed by the present translation; cf. TEV) or reward her for what she has done (cf. NAB, NIV, NLT).
- Proverbs 31:31 sn Psalm 111 began with the imperative הָלְלוּ יָה (halelu yah, “praise the Lord”); this poem ends with the jussive וִיהָלְלוּהָּ (vihaleluha, “and let [her works] praise her”). Psalm 111:2 speaks of God’s works and most of the Psalm describes his works; this verse speaks of the woman’s work that deserves praise and most of this section describes her works. Psalm 111 ends with reference to “the fear of the Lord” and Prov 31 ends with reference to “the fear of the Lord.”
- Proverbs 31:31 tn “Gates” is a metonymy of subject. It refers to the people and the activity that occurs in the gates—business dealings, legal transactions, and social meetings. The term “city” is supplied in the translation for clarity. One is reminded of the acclaim given to Ruth by Boaz: “for all the gate of my people knows that you are a noble woman [אֵשֶׁת חַיִל, ʾeshet khayil]” (Ruth 3:11).