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Deeper Commentary

Pro 31:1
The words of king Lemuel; the oracle with which his mother warned him-
Bathsheba was a spiritual woman, married to a man of faith (Uriah). Solomon (the Lemuel of the book of Proverbs) was brought up by a very spiritual mother. The spiritual woman of Prov. 31 whom Solomon likens to his mother is a cameo of the sort of woman Bathsheba was. Note how Lemuel’s mother (Bathsheba) warns her son not to give his strength to women, to those relationships which destroy kings. She surely said this with a sideways glance back at her own failures with David.

The poem is an acrostic, each verse starting with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In terms of style, it's been observed that this was typical of  the “heroic hymn.” "It is the kind of hymn that typically would celebrate a soldier’s mighty deeds and his victory in battle" [Waltke]. Domestic work is being lifted up to heroic status, which was not at all how the male based societies of the time saw it. Her "strength" (:17,25), fearlessness (:21,25) etc. are praised, and the Hebrew word translated "virtuous" is elsewhere translated as army, [military] company, band of soldiers, valiant, strong, war etc. (Ex. 14:4, 9, 28; Num. 31:14; 2 Sam. 8:9; Is. 10:14; Mic. 4:13). The military sense there in the word is clear. The word is used three times in Ruth; Boaz was a man of "power"(Ruth 2:1), and Ruth is called a "virtuous" woman who would "do mightily" (Ruth 3:11; 4:11). She appears to be the prototype of the woman of Prov. 31, but she is given the same title as the powerful Boaz. The point is, the strength was in different ways, but none the same, the power was joint between them, they were in a spiritual and psychological sense as equals. It appeared, of course, that Elimelech was the man of power and Ruth was the powerless female Gentile. But the record is making the point that they were equals.

LXX removes all reference to "Lemuel": "My words have been spoken by God—the oracular answer of a king, whom his mother instructed". In this case, Solomon is claiming that he is inspired by God because his mother was.

Pro 31:2 Oh, my son! Oh, son of my womb!-
LXX "What wilt thou keep, my son, what? the words of God. My firstborn son, I speak to thee". Solomon was Bathsheba's firstborn son by David; perhaps because she was more of a daughter to Uriah, he had not had children by her (2 Sam. 12:3).

Oh, son of my vows!-
GNB "the answer to my prayers". After the loss of her first son by David, she would have prayed and vowed to God to give any other son to God.

Pro 31:3 Don’t give your strength to women, nor your ways to that which destroys kings-
Prov. 31  was perhaps written by Bathsheba  as advice to her son Lemuel (Solomon). In it she seems to be rebuking Solomon for his ways; or giving him commands which he broke, despite all his emphasis in Proverbs upon obeying the law of ones mother:  "What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to them that destroy kings (i.e. women and adultery;  surely this was said with a sideways glance at her own relationship with David)" (Prov. 31:3 RVmg). Prov. 31 goes on to describe the ideal wife for Solomon, based upon his mother; exactly the opposite of the women  Solomon married. We are left to imagine Bathsheba's grief of  mind, especially  recalling  her husband's special pride in Solomon. This was not just a case of protective mother checking out  Solomon's  girlfriends  in a disapproving manner. She knew, through  the  inspiration  of  the  Spirit  as  well  as her own personal  experience, the seriousness of messing with women. And she could see her ever so spiritual son going wrong in this.

He praises his mother for teaching him not to give his strength, “nor to them [women] who destroy kings” (Prov. 31:3 RVmg.), and yet he must surely have perceived that this was just what he had done. But he praises his mother for having taught him this truth; all the emphasis was upon academic teaching and acceptance of positions, rather than upon personalizing these things.

Pro 31:4 It is not for kings, Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes to say, ‘Where is strong drink?’-
Her warnings against  alcohol were totally  disregarded   by  Solomon  in  his  later  search  for fulfilment  in  the  flesh (Ecc. 2:3). Despite condemning those who ignore the teaching of their mother, Solomon did just that. He was a stellar example of a man who does the very opposite of the truth he has received from God. This is a stage beyond mere hypocrisy; it is the narcissism of someone playing God, who considers themselves personal obedience to the Divine principles they teach. And this is for all time an acute temptation to those who have God's truth, especially in the area of sexuality and addiction.   

Pro 31:5 lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the justice due to anyone who is afflicted-
She pleads with him not to drink  lest he “pervert the judgment of any that is afflicted” (:5 AV). And yet on his death, the complaints about his hard oppression of the people indicate that he did just this (due to his taking to drink, according to Ecc. 2:3?). And yet Prov. 31 has Solomon praising his mother for her wisdom; he was proud of his mum, and yet he so miserably disobeyed her. He seems to have a mindset in which he felt it was impossible for him to be disobedient. The all important thing for him was who his parents and pedigree were.  

LXX "forget wisdom, and be not able to judge the poor rightly". Perhaps he has this in mind when he protests in Ecc. 2:9 that his wisdom remained with him. He didn't forget it, in that he still remained aware of it on a theoretical, intellectual level. But he was not thereby justified; and he failed to judge the poor rightly in that he whipped them and abused his people (1 Kings 12:11).  

Pro 31:6 Give strong drink to him who is ready to perish; and wine to the bitter in soul-
Bathsheba's appeal is for Solomon not to act like one who has no hope for future life, nor as one "bitter in soul". But he takes to alcohol in Ecc. 2:3 exactly because all his wisdom had taken no personal lodgment within him and he failed to have the perspective of eternity in God's Kingdom. It was those who followed David who were described as "bitter in soul" because of their sharing David's afflictions (1 Sam. 22:2; 2 Sam. 17:8). But David himself despaired of his men being like that; Solomon was to act as king, assured of God's love and final salvation, and not as David's initial followers and those condemned by Divine judgment (Ez. 27:31 s.w.). Uriah, Bathsheba's first husband, would have been amongst them and she knew their mindset. Hezekiah uses the same phrase about himself in his final 15 years of life (Is. 38:15), when as often noted (see on Prov. 25:1), he followed the sad path of Solomon. 

Pro 31:7 let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more-
By taking to drink (Ecc. 2:3), Solomon was acting as if he was a poor, miserable man with no wealth. This is the basis of so much destructive behaviour; a refusal to accept what God has blessed us with. Solomon repeatedly sees poverty as being the fault of the poor, making it parallel here with "misery" as if poverty is the worst calamity. He sees poor people as poor due to their refusal of his teaching of wisdom (s.w. Prov. 6:11; 10:4,15; 13:7,8,18,23; 24:34; 28:19; 31:7). Many of these passages are effectively mocking the poor, which Solomon condemns in Prov. 17:5. He fails to take his own wisdom, as we also see in his behaviour with foreign women. Again we see Solomon's works based approach to righteousness, and lack of grace; refusing to accept that we are all poor men before God, as David himself exemplified when he cried to God as a poor man (Ps. 34:6). But his much beloved father David was unashamed to say he was a materially "poor man" (1 Sam. 18:23); and Uriah, whom he wronged, is described also as a "poor man" (2 Sam. 12:1). The poor were to be defended and given to (Ps. 82:3), and the Bible is clear that poverty isn't necessarily a result of sin or unwisdom. But Solomon fails to appreciate this, so obsessed is he with works, and the idea that obedience to his anthology of Proverbs will make the poor prosperous, as if God's truth is a kind of wealth creation scheme. 

Pro 31:8 Open your mouth for the mute, in the cause of all who are left desolate-
LXX "Open thy mouth with the word of God, and judge all fairly". Solomon initially did this, as shown by his judgment of the two prostitutes. But Solomon finally departed from his mother's command to care for the poor and desolate (:9) by abusing and whipping his people (1 Kings 12:11), considering them all fools.

Pro 31:9 Open your mouth, judge righteously, and serve justice to the poor and needy-
Solomon liked to imagine that he was perfectly obedient to his mother's command to open his lips in right judgment. But he went further, to assume that whatever he spoke in whatever context was right and true (see on Prov. 8:6-8, where the same words are used). Bathsheba speaks as David does in Ps. 72, where he fantasizes that Solomon will be the Messianic king characterized by righteous judgment for the poor and needy. But she realizes that Solomon must consciously act like this, he must be obedient to her command about this matter. Whereas David, and Solomon, assume that merely by being the favourite son of David he is going to automatically be like this.

Pro 31:10 Who can find a worthy woman? For her price is far above rubies-
"More precious than jewels" is the very phrase used about wisdom in Prov. 3:15. The virtuous woman here is portrayed as the embodiment of the 'woman wisdom' with which Proverbs starts. Indeed Prov. 1:8 begins with an appeal to heed our mother's teaching, and concludes with Solomon claiming to have done so himself. Solomon respected Bathsheba his mother (1 Kings 2:19) and appears to be justifying her as the most wonderful 'wise woman' ever- and he did so in he context of the sons of David's other wives pretending to the throne and being his political opponents.
"An excellent wife who can find?" (ESV) is perhaps Solomon cynically observing that none of his wives were like her, similar to his comment to this effect in Ecc. 7:28, which uses the same word for "find": "... which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found". And yet, as noted throughout Prov. 31, he finally disobeys all the commands him, to the letter. He becomes like the man who for ever upholds his mother's Christian wisdom and grace, but acts in the opposite way.

Pro 31:11 The heart of her husband trusts in her; he shall have no lack of profit-
No need of spoil" (AV) could imply that he will not be tempted to go looking for other relationships because he trusts in his wife. And that feature of trust in our partner is a unique glue which binds a relationship together. But I noted on Prov. 30:18,19 that Solomon was sceptical of his 1000 wives; he suspected them of adultery, but couldn't prove it. His heart didn't trust in them, and so he looked for other women. He tool whoever he fancied, slept with them, and thereby the girl became his wife, entered the harem, was maybe hardly ever called for again. And thus she was left without children and bitter against Solomon. This was all a direct result of Solomon departing from the teaching of his mother on this matter. 

Pro 31:12 She does him good and not harm all the days of her life-
A swipe at David's other wives from the household of Saul? Solomon speaks in Ecc. 2:3 as if he were on a journey of discovery as to what would be "good" for a man "all the days of his life"; and yet in Prov. 31:12 he spoke of how the way of wisdom and having a wise wife will bring "good" for a man "all the days of his life". Perhaps this is a tacit admission that Solomon had not had a wise wife; and it is also an admission of the way the wisdom he taught had taken zero lodgment in his own heart. It was all just theoretical truth. This is such a warning to us. Solomon, the apparently powerful over women, becomes ensnared and deeply harmed by them, as he laments in Prov. 30:15,18,19; Ecc. 7:26. This was all a direct result of Solomon departing from the teaching of his mother on this matter.   

Pro 31:13 She seeks wool and flax and works eagerly with her hands-
The ideal wife for Solomon is presented as someone like him, hard working and industrious. This fits in with the obsession with works and achievement which fills the Proverbs. There is nothing wrong with it of itself, but there is no emphasis here upon faith in God and spirituality as the lead characteristic a man should look for in a woman. 

Pro 31:14 She is like the merchant ships; she brings her food from afar-
GNB "She brings home food from out-of-the-way places, as merchant ships do". The idea may be that she prepares a wide range of dishes for her husband; something unusual in a society which basically ate the same kind of food each meal. Solomon appear to allude to this when he likens his wives to merchant ships who leave no trace of their path, in that he suspects them of adultery but can't prove it (see on Prov. 30:19). He is admitting that his wives were simply not as his mother had suggested; but she had taught him to focus upon one wife, and he had ignored this.

Pro 31:15 She rises also while it is yet night, gives food to her household and portions for her servant girls-
Despite having female servants and a husband "in the gate" (:23), presumably wealthy, this woman gets her hands dirty with making things with her own hands (:19 etc.). The "portions" are really things to do, assignments. She becomes the basis of the Lord's parable of how He gives His servants tasks when He goes away. He was unafraid to take the description of a woman as a role model for Him as a male.

Pro 31:16 She considers a field and then buys it. With the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard-
The Lord Jesus spoke of the wise man buying a field with hidden treasure in it; and it is God who planted the vineyard of Israel. Again we see how the Father and Son are unafraid to take the description of a woman as a role model for themselves. 

Pro 31:17 She arms her waist with strength and makes her arms strong-
Her body is characterized by muscles, with strong arms and waist. This is not what Solomon finds attractive when we find him praising his Gentile lover in the Song of Solomon. He finds attractive the very opposite of the woman presented here by his mother. The lover of his Song appears to be the very antithesis of the virtuous woman.

Pro 31:18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp doesn’t go out by night-
GNB "She knows the value of everything she makes, and works late into the night". LXX continues Solomon's emphasis upon justification by works: "And she finds by experience that working is good". Solomon's romance with the Gentile woman of the Song of Solomon contains only praise of her outward appearance and choice of cosmetics and jewellery; there is no mention of her work or industrious characteristics, which his mother tells him to be attracted to.

Pro 31:19 she lays her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle-
The idea may be as GNB that "She spins her own thread and weaves her own cloth", rather than buying it ready made. Again, the woman of the Song of Solomon is absolutely different, arrayed in the clothing of Egypt and other imported  adornments, rather than in clothes she has homespun.

Pro 31:20 She opens her arms to the poor; yes, she extends her hands to the needy-
She is to support her husband in his focus upon the needy (:8,9). But Solomon's Gentile girlfriend of the Song of Solomon is not at all characterized by this. David had seen himself as "poor and needy", needing grace after his sin with Bathsheba and its consequences (Ps. 40:17; 70:5; 86:1; 109:16,22). He wished Solomon to likewise have pity on the "poor and needy" amongst the Gentiles, those who had likewise repented (Ps. 72:13). And David was especially desirous to himself see the "poor and needy" blessed and accepted as he had been (Ps. 82:3,4; 113:7). It is our personal experience of needing grace which leads us to have a heart for those like us, the poor and needy. Any other motivation will ultimately not abide. Solomon appears to glorify his mother Bathsheba for likewise pitying the poor and needy (Prov. 31:9,20).

Pro 31:21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet-
LXX "Her husband is not anxious about those at home when he tarries anywhere abroad: for all her household are clothed". This again would be the basis of the Lord's parable about Himself as the householder who goes abroad "to a far country". As noted on :15,16, the woman is given a very high status; she is presented as completely managing the household herself in the husband's absence, rather than a household manager assuming that responsibility.

Pro 31:22 She makes for herself carpets of tapestry, her clothing is fine linen and purple-
LXX "She makes for her husband clothes of double texture, and garments for herself of fine linen and scarlet"- rather than buying ready made clothes. But this contrasts with what Solomon found attractive in his illicit Gentile girlfriend in the Song of Solomon. There may here be allusion to the materials of the tabernacle, as if domestic life is but an extension of life in the tabernacle and formal worship of Yahweh.

Pro 31:23 Her husband is respected in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land-
An allusion to Ruth and Boaz. The implication is that this respect is largely due to his wife and his domestic situation under her good care. This contrasts with attitudes then and now, where a man's domestic life and relationships aren't seen as significant compared to his performance in the job. But the qualification of New Testament elders likewise takes into account domestic life, because this is the litmus test of spirituality in practice.

Pro 31:24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and delivers sashes to the merchant-
LXX "She makes fine linens, and sells girdles to the Canaanites: she opens her mouth heedfully and with propriety, and controls her tongue". The impression is that rather than buying ready made clothes from foreigners, she makes her own clothes, and also sells her produce to other nations. This all contrasts with the woman Solomon falls for in the Song of Solomon, who comes over as a painted doll, clothed in ready made clothes from other lands.

Pro 31:25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, she laughs at the time to come-
LXX "and rejoices in the last day". Unlike Solomon, his mother Bathsheba realizes that life is to be lived in the perspective of a "last day" of judgment, when there will be eternal outcomes for how life is lived today. It was Solomon's failure to realize this which led him to so much arrogance, and the hypocrisy and disobedience which comes from assuming that judgment day will not come at the last day.

Pro 31:26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, faithful instruction is on her tongue-
She is to likewise teach as her husband does. Again, a very high view of women is presupposed here, quite different to that held in society at the time. But we note that David so often talks about God's "law", using the word torah. But Solomon so often speaks of his own torah, and that of his mother and his wife, the mother of "my son" (s.w. Prov. 1:8; 3:1; 4:2; 6:20; 7:2; 13:14; 31:26). Yet elsewhere in the Bible, the well over 200 occurrences of torah are always about God's law. Solomon applies the word to his own teachings and that of his wife, and thereby plays God. whilst it could be argued that Solomon's teachings were Divinely inspired, all the same he ought surely to have spoken of them as God's torah rather than his own torah. This kind of playing God is seen so often in the teachers of God's people.

Pro 31:27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and doesn’t eat the bread of laziness-
To eat the bread of laziness was and is a particular temptation for the wife of a wealthy leader. But Solomon was to look for a woman who would not be like that. Yet the impression we get of the girl he fell for in the Song of Solomon is that she was a "prince's daughter" who was not at all a hard worker.

Pro 31:28 Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her-
LXX "And her kindness to them sets up her children for them, and they grow rich, and her husband praises her". The 'setting up' of their children would be because of the wife. There may be some reference to the repeated emphasis upon God 'establishing' the line of David- if they were faithful. There was no way that a Gentile wife could achieve this, and yet Solomon married hundreds of them. He hardly praises his wives; Prov. 30:16-19 is full of suspicion of them regarding their possible adultery. In fact, Solomon is very down on women in Proverbs, assuming many of them are adulterous and no better than prostitutes. But it was his sleeping with whoever he chose and thereby making them his wives which led to this situation.

Pro 31:29 Many women do noble things, but you excel them all!-
Again we note the positive view of women by Bathsheba, noting that many women do noble things. This was all the more radical, being said at a time when men dominated the public arena and were typically associated with doing noble deeds. LXX "He says, "Many women are good wives, but you are the best of them all"". This is quite contrary to the spirit of Solomon's experience in Ecc. 7:26,27, where he as it were goes through all his "many women" one by one, and can't say that a single one of them is "good". Bathsheba clearly has in mind that Solomon would have but one wife, whom he would praise as the best of all women. He totally rejected this ideal.

Pro 31:30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain; but a woman who fears Yahweh, she shall be praised-
Yet Solomon fell for the external beauty of the Gentile woman in the Song of Solomon. David fantasized about Solomon's marriage in Ps. 45:11, where he says that Solomon would greatly desire his Gentile bride because of her "beauty" (s.w.). But Bathsheba here says the opposite; that such beauty is vain, and her fear of Yahweh should be the basis of Solomon's attraction to her. Solomon took David's perspective, which was simply wrong.

Pro 31:31 Give her of the fruit of her hands! Let her works praise her in the gates!-
LXX "Let her husband be praised in the gates", as in :23. This is another allusion to Boaz, whose marriage to Ruth produced the line which led to David and Solomon. She is asking Solomon to continue in that spirit; but he didn't. Solomon failed to be the true spiritual seed of David because he didn't at all live in the family spirit which began with the marital example of Boaz and Ruth.