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Open your mouth, judge in righteousness,[a]
and plead the cause[b] of the poor and needy.

The Wife of Noble Character[c]

10 Who can find[d] a wife[e] of noble character?[f]
For her value[g] is far more than rubies.[h]
11 Her husband’s heart has trusted[i] her,
and he does not lack the dividends.[j]

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  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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 [1982]: 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.
  9. Proverbs 31:11 tn The first word of the second line begins with ב (bet), the second letter in the Hebrew 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.”
  10. 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.