Among the many women whose imperishable records the Bible possesses there are a few who are conspicuous for their chaste and commendable characters. They are examples of womanhood at its best, and as nothing is said of any failure they might have had, it would seem as if theirs was “the white flower of a blameless life.” In fact, by way of comparison, the women of the Bible come out better than its men. It is satisfying to find very few despicable female characters portrayed in the pages of Holy Writ. In the last days and death of the Saviour, not one woman among those mentioned, acted in any harsh way, hurtful to Him who was born of a woman. Accustomed as they were to pain and sorrow they wept for Him.
In the “Foreword” of his Studies of Famous Women, H. T. Sell remarks that—
The best Bible women are well worth the most careful study as they are the acknowledged trail-blazers for the larger freedom of thought and action.
Then in his study of 21 of the most typical women, Dr. Sell considers aspects of their lives and careers which bring out in clear light their important contributions to the present high status, destined to go higher, of womanhood. Of the worst Bible women the same writer says that “human nature does not change—save to mark the dangerous shoals, quicksands and rocks of life, where their lives are wrecked, and which still exist as death traps.”
No man has ever lived who has had as much experience with women as King Solomon, who “loved many strange women.” Having 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines, all of whom it would seem were idolaters, we can readily understand how they turned away his heart from God (1 Kings 11:1-8). It was because of Solomon’s gross adultery and idolatry that the kingdom he had raised to illustrious heights was so tragically rent in twain. Cleaving unto his hundreds of heathen wives in love (none of whom are named, apart from Naamah, mother of Rehoboam), Solomon could be expected to say something about the vices and virtues of women, as he does, particularly in the Book of Proverbs.
The strange women Solomon loved were “foreign” women, or women who were not Israelites. When men of Israel took wives out of lands not their own, they trespassed against the Lord. In Proverbs, however, the strange women Solomon writes about were actually harlots. “The son of a strange [rv ‘another’] woman” (Judges 11:1, 12) is parallel to “the son of a harlot.” In no other book in the Bible do we find so many references to loose women and grim warnings against any association with them, as in Proverbs (Proverbs 2:16; 5:3, 5, 20; 7:5; 20:16; 23:27, 33). Solomon knew to his own cost that “the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil.”
Cognizant that woman was bone of Adam’s bone and flesh of his flesh (Genesis 2:23), Israel’s spiritual leaders always advocated respect for women, and were ready to praise their diligence, piety and qualities, which they valued more highly than their beauty. It is to be regretted that a notorious polygamist like Solomon did not illustrate his own proverb in his own life that, “He who finds a wife, finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). Had he found a godly wife out of Israel, and remained the husband of one wife, he would have been more signally favored of the Lord. But because of the multiplicity of wives, his reign ended in tragedy and the forfeiture of divine favor. What a mightier spiritual force Solomon would have been had he had one prudent wife from the Lord! (Proverbs 19:14). It is interesting to trace Solomon’s references to women in Proverbs. Having hundreds of women around him he learned a great deal about their influence for good or evil.
A man should always rejoice in the wife of his youth (5:18).
A man should not be enticed by an evil woman’s beauty (6:25).
A man should never tamper with his neighbor’s wife (6:29).
Clamorous, foolish women are empty-headed (Proverbs 9:13).
Gracious women retain their honor (11:16).
Lovely women without discretion are like jewels in a swine’s snout (11:22).
Wise women build substantial homes (14:1).
Foolish women destroy a home (14:1).
Contentious women are like a continual dropping on a rainy day (19:13; 27:15).
Brawling women are not easy to live with (21:9; 25:24).
Angry women are never good company (21:19).
Adulterous women can be self-righteous (30:20).
Odious women ruin the peace of a home (30:21, 23).
Loose women are like snares and nets (Ecclesiastes 7:26; Proverbs 7:10).
A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband (12:4).
The chapter on a virtuous woman (Proverbs 31) whose price is far above rubies, is a eulogy unsurpassed in classical or religious literature. In the original form it appears in acrostic form to render the portion more easy for committal to memory. Such a method is characteristic of some of the Psalms didactic in character (Psalms 25; 36; 37; 119). Mystical interpretations of the virtuous woman have been made to signify the law, the church, the Holy Spirit. Here is Dr. Richard Moulton’s arrangement of the delineation which Lemuel, king of Massa, gives us of a good wife &--;
A. A virtuous woman who can find? For her price is above rubies.
B. The heart of her husband trusteth in her. And he shall have no lack of gain.
C. She doeth him good and not evil, All the days of her life.
D. She seeketh wool and flax, And worketh willingly with her hands.
E. She is like the merchant-ship, She bringeth her food from afar.
F. She riseth also while it is yet night, And giveth meat to her household, And their tasks to her maidens.
G. She considereth a field and buyeth it: With the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
H. She girdeth her loins with strength, And maketh strong her arms.
I. She perceiveth that her merchandise is profitable; Her lamp goeth not out by night.
K. She layeth her hands to the distaff, And her hands hold the spindle.
L. She spreadeth out her hand to the poor: Yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
M. She is not afraid of the snow for her household; For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
N. She maketh for herself carpets of tapestry; Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
O. Her husband is known in the gates, When he sitteth among the elders of the land.
P. She maketh linen garments, and selleth them, And delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
R. Strength and dignity are her clothing; And she laugheth at the time to come.
S. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; And the law of kindness is on her tongue.
T. She looketh well to the ways of her household, And eateth not the bread of idleness.
U. Her children rise up, and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praiseth her.
W. Many daughters have done virtuously, But thou excellest them all.
Y. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: But a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
Z. Give her of the fruit of her hands; And let her works praise her in the gates.
From the above picture of a queen among women these prominent features of her character are noticeable and could be expanded by the preacher or teacher.
Some time ago the following excellent paraphrase of this portion in Proverbs by William J. Krutza was used in The Sunday Times. We acknowledge our indebtedness to such a strong, evangelical weekly for the reappearance of Krutza’s most unique treatment.
Who can find a virtuous woman? for the value of her life is beyond monetary calculations. Her husband has absolute trust in her so that he has no need of satisfaction from other women. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She keeps his clothing up-to-date, clean and tidy. She willingly works around the house. She provides variety at mealtime by wise selection and nutritious and delicious foods. She gets up early each morning to make his breakfast and sees that her children also eat properly.
She knows a bargain when she sees one and is always concerned about the future stability and supply of her home. The strength of her character is shown in her attitude toward her household tasks. She takes pride in a job well done even if she must work late hours to accomplish it.
She knows how to use a sewing machine and needle. She has a compassionate heart and hand toward those who have great needs. Those in her home especially benefit from her domestic talents. Her own clothing shows good taste and modesty. Even her husband is known by her concern for his wearing apparel. She often uses her household talents to provide extra income for her family.
She is known as a woman of honorable character. The humble expression of this character gives her an inner joy.
She is wise in her speech and especially knows how to say kind words. She is concerned about the interests and problems of all in her house. She is not a gossip or kaffee-klatscher. Her children are happy to talk about her to their friends. Her husband also praises her to others.
Other women have done great deeds, but this type of a mother and wife ranks highest.
Popularity is deceitful and glamor is shallow, but a woman who has personal contact with the holy God, she shall be praised. She shall receive great satisfaction from her labors and others shall talk about her good deeds wherever they go.
Matthew Henry in his comments on Proverbs 31:10-31 says that “this description of the virtuous woman is designed to show what wives the women should make and what wives the men should choose.... We have the abridgement of it in the New Testament (1 Timothy 2:9, 10; 1 Peter 3:1-6), where the duty prescribed to wives agrees with this description of a good wife.” We heartily agree with Dwight M. Pratt in his article on “Women” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia that, “Literature contains no finer tribute to the domestic virtues and spiritual qualities of women than in the beautiful poem dedicated to the gifted mother by King Lemmuel,” who some writers affirm is but another name for King Solomon.
The Apocrypha at greater length praises feminine virtues and beauty as the writer of Proverbs does.
Happy is the husband of a virtuous wife,
The number of his days is doubled.
A worthy wife is the joy of her husband,
And he passes his years in peace.
The virtuous wife is a good gift;
She shall be given to those who fear the Lord.
Rich or poor, her husband has a joyful heart
And gaiety shines from his face at all times.
And again from Ecclesiasticus—
Happy is the husband of a virtuous wife,
And her understanding fatteneth his bones.
A silent woman is a gift from the Lord
And a well instructed woman is above worth.
Grace upon grace is a modest wife
And there is no price of a chaste woman.
The inner and outer beauty of a good woman is praised thus &--;
As the sun arising in the highest places of the heavens,
So the beauty of a good wife shines in her well-ordered home;
As the lamp shining on the holy candlestick,
So is the beauty of a face on a stately figure.
Like golden pillars upon silver bases,
So are elegant feet upon firm heels.
From the Jewish Mishnah we have similar tributes &--;
A man owes great respect to his wife, for it is only through his wife that prosperity comes to a man.
The death of a good wife is for him who loves her a misfortune as great as the rain of Jerusalem.
A man should love his wife as himself and honor her more than himself.
J. R. Green, in his History of the English People, in the section dealing with “The Puritans” speaks of how the meanest peasant felt himself ennobled as a child of God. Green cites the portrait of a John Wallington, a turner of Eastcheap, who has left us this comment of his mother, a London housewife around a.d. 1600.
She was very loving and obedient to her parents, loving and kind to her husband, very tender-hearted to her children, loving all that were godly, much misliking the wicked and profane. She was a pattern of sobriety unto many, very seldom seen abroad except at church; when others recreated themselves at holidays and others times, she would take her needle-work, and say, “Here is my recreation.” ... God had given her a pregnant wit and an excellent memory. She was very ripe and perfect in all the stories of the Bible, likewise in all the stories of the Martyrs, and could easily turn to them; she was also perfect and well seen in the English Chronicles and descents of the Kings of England. She lived in holy wedlock with her husband twenty years, wanting but four days.
Much as the Puritanism of the sixteenth century is scorned by many in our age of loose morals, society today could do worse than return to some of the Puritan principles, the adoption of which would make for a better world.
Praising as it does the value and virtues of noble womanhood, the Bible is not silent as to its condemnation of a debased womanhood. Judgment against unworthy women is most severe because of the influence they exert. Thus: Amos vigorously attacks the dissolute women of Samaria (Amos 4:1); Isaiah mocks and threatens the coquettes of Jerusalem (Isaiah 3:16); Ecclesiasticus strongly condemns wicked women—
There is no poison worse than the poison of a snake,
And there is no wrath greater than the wrath of a woman.
I would rather dwell with a lion and a dragon,
Than keep house with a wicked woman ...
Grief of heart and sorrow is a jealous wife,
And the whip of tongue that tells its grief to all the world.
An evil wife is like a yoke of oxen in disaccord;
He that takes hold of her has seized a scorpion.
—Ecclesiasticus 25:15, 16; 26:6, 7
In this sex-mad twentieth century, when women, generally, are sacrificing their characteristic femininity and nobility and are as nicotine-doped as men, it is encouraging to know that there are those Christian women—spinsters, wives and mothers—who strive to keep themselves unspotted from the world. Books are not written about their true love, loyalty, sacrifice and uncomplaining days. These precious women are writing their history in the lives of those around them whom they love and serve. Although often weary in their task—for theirs is no forty-hour week job—they are never weary of their task. They spend their lives unknown by the world in the narrow circle of their home within which they labor unceasingly for God and others, but they will not lose their reward. God’s eye is upon them as they live out their lives in the orbit of His will amid all the cares, trials and sorrows of the home. One day, when the books are opened, their devotion will be commended by Him who sees and knows all. We can apply to them the expressive verses of Alfred Tennyson on Mary of Bethany in In Memoriam—
Her eyes are homes of silent prayer,
Nor other thought her mind admits
But, he was dead, and there he sits.
And he that brought him back is there.
Then one deep love doth supersede
All other, when her ardent gaze
Roves from the living brother’s face
And rests upon the Life indeed.
All subtle thought, all curious fears,
Borne down by gladness so complete,
She bows, she bathes the Saviour’s feet
With costly spikenard and with tears.
Thrice blest whose lives are faithful prayers,
Whose loves in higher love endure;
What souls possess themselves so pure,
Or is there blessedness like theirs?
In keeping with all we have said regarding the characteristics of “The Ideal Woman,” how apropos are the verses of Wordsworth on—
I saw her upon nearer view,
A spirit, yet a woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
And step of virgin liberty;
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
A creature not too bright or good
For human nature’s daily food,
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears and smiles.
And now I see with eyes serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A being breathing thoughtful breath,
A traveller 'twixt life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength and skill;
A perfect woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort and command;
And yet a spirit still, and bright
With something of angelic light.