Current cultural conventions of “political correctness” make us cautious about singling out gender characteristics. An acrostic poem found in Proverbs 31 (verses 10-31) used to be read every Mothers’ Day, to the dismay of some women present who considered it too gushy–like flowers for the one with the most children– and, well, paternalistic. Of course, self-effacing persons of both genders find praise a bit hard to swallow, although the rest of us seem to sop it up rather smoothly!
This well-crafted poem, like some I’ve written to my wife, is crammed with well-deserved praise. These tributes are more than just congratulating a woman for making fine bed coverlets. Look at this paean to the perfect wife: “A wife of noble character. . . worth more than rubies (The Message, fudging a bit, reads ”diamonds”! ). . . .clothed with strength and dignity. . . she opens her arms to the poor. . . .faithful instruction is on her tongue.”
Bear in mind the book of Proverbs uses metaphoric language skillfully, that is, a particular word picture portrays a larger meaning on life’s canvas. The primary portrait exhibits a specific theme but points to a secondary, more universal, truth, to some aspect of Godly wisdom in daily life.
In this case a woman in a position of power combines domestic, professional, and philanthropic responsibilities with personal beauty, charm, and goodness. She rightly deserves and receives praise from, and equity with, her husband, the blessing of her grateful children, and public honor.
The book of Proverbs does focus upon moral instruction for young men, who, now as then, should hold a more lofty vision of femininity than what’s fed them culturally. (The book of Ruth offers a feminine counterpart). In this portion of the Proverbs, however, there is certainly no depiction of a Barbie doll, pedestal-type woman, no condescending male chauvinism. The poem portrays a good woman conforming to the image of God. How do we characterize this ancient word portrait of a noble wife? Respect for a life well lived by men and women created in the image of God and brought anew into that likeness through the sanctifying work of Christ upon body, mind, and spirit.
So, May 13 is Mothers’ Day. On this, and every day, let’s celebrate noble wives and mothers. Let’s celebrate noble husbands and fathers, too, and noble parents and children!
Peace and joy!