Virtous Woman or Virtual Slave?
by Patricia Backora
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Recently I read a blog posted by some poor woman who seems to be in bondage to the Virtuous Woman described in Proverbs 31. Whenever you read scripture, ask God to help you rightly digest it for proper application (if any) to your own life. I qualify this statement because some scriptures you wouldn’t apply to your own life, like “Judas went out and hanged himself (Matt.27:5b).”. You could even misapply scripture to try to build a case for copying this example by combining it with “Go and do thou likewise (Luke 10:37b).”
Ridiculous, but tragic. It’s even possible for two scriptural concepts to seem to clash with one another, as when God commands His chosen people to forever be at enmity with certain ethnic groups and not to seek their good (Deut.23:6), but later you read in the New Testament where Jesus teaches His people to love even their own enemies and do good to those who hate them (Luke 6:27). Taking the Gospel to ALL nations as Jesus commanded IS doing good to them. Seemingly contradictory concepts are found in Scripture, but which has the final say in your own life? Are you under Law or under Grace?
Did the Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31 live under Law or under Grace? She lived under Law! Just like the Law of Moses was inspired by God, Proverbs was also inspired by God, though it was believed to have been penned by King Solomon many centuries before the death of Christ ushered in the New Covenant. The Virtuous Woman “ate not the bread of idleness”. This lady was always busy, scarcely even taking time off to sleep. She felt that she had no right to eat unless she was constantly working and producing things. Although her husband praised her in the gates (verse 28), it was all about her WORKS, period (verse 31). This speaks of a relationship based on works, not grace. Can you see the INEQUALITY in this marriage? The husband sits in the gates chitchatting while his poor wife knocks herself out cooking, sewing, embroidering, haggling with merchants and running a business on the side, to provide for her household. She doesn’t seem to get a rest break either. Instead, she gets out of bed while it’s still dark, before her husband does!
Women DID find time to rest, even in the Old Testament. It was a necessary “health and safety” custom because of the hot sun. Ruth went out to glean grain to feed herself and her mother-in-law Naomi. But she still took a rest during the hottest part of the day like the other workers (Ruth 2:7). She even sat down to eat with Boaz’ men (verse 14).
Jesus’ body needed to be properly prepared for burial after His brutal death. But the women did the bare minimum and rested according to the commandment until after the Sabbath (Luke 23:56). Unless it was necessary to preserve life, all work had to be put on hold till after the Sabbath ended.
Jesus Himself took a nap during a terrible storm which threatened to sink His disciples’ boat (Mark 4:35-41). He must have been utterly exhausted. Yet was it “virtuous” of Jesus to be napping when other people’s lives were in danger? The disciples had to shake Jesus awake. He stilled the storm but rebuked them for being afraid.
Jesus said He came to give rest to His people and that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt.11:28-30). However much you try to limit Christ’s promise of rest only to SPIRITUAL rest in order to justify killing yourself with overwork or working someone else to death, perpetual tiredness and ill health resulting from it is still a heavy burden to bear. Proverbs 31 must be given lower priority than the teachings of Christ and the teachings of the New Testament epistles to the Church.
Far from being a virtue, it is vain (useless) for you to rise up early, stay up late and eat the bread of sorrows (toil). God gives His beloved sleep (Psalms 127:2). Are women included among God’s beloved? If so, this scripture surely applies to them, whether married or not.
The woman blogger bemoaned the fact that she ALWAYS had to work, every minute of every waking hour of every day of the week. No time to rest or study, or even to relax and enjoy her own husband once in awhile. Up before dawn, this dear lady kept toiling way past her family’s bedtime until she dropped from sheer exhaustion. She even felt guilty about taking time off to eat! She actually thought it was “eating the bread of idleness” to sit down at the table with her own family and benefit her own tired, depleted body with food prepared by her own hands! Well, I have news for her. Even the government requires rest and meal breaks for minimum wage workers and restricts the hours they can work in a week. Even under the Old Law of Moses, MAIDSERVANTS were among those who were required to rest on the Sabbath Day (Deut.5:14). Was a man’s wife to be denied the same rest breaks his female slaves were entitled to?
What does such a viewpoint say about this lady’s concept of her own relationship with God and His Word? From all appearances, she feels He is a taskmaster who doesn’t want her to ENJOY her life, and that He isn’t pleased with her unless she’s being “productive”. How would your own son or daughter feel toward you if you were constantly threatening to punish them if they didn’t fulfill their work quota for the day? Doesn’t it grieve our dear Heavenly Father that some women (and men) associate Him with pain and toil instead of joy and happiness?
The poor exhausted blogger wrote that she couldn’t wait for the Rapture to come to end the whole miserable cycle of exhaustion she was subjected to. Far from being a delight, her married life was unmitigated, miserable slavery! It makes me wonder why her husband doesn’t pitch in with the dishes if she’s got too much to do, or express more concern for his own wife’s health and well-being. Could it be this man, even if he’s a Christian, is using her as an appliance, or as a maid so he doesn’t have to expend his own energy? If so, I marvel that she’s been patient with such selfishness for so long! If a man loves his wife, he’ll nourish and cherish her, not exploit her (Eph.5:29). If God has made the two of them one, why doesn’t it bother him that she feels unworthy to go to bed when he does?
The close “one flesh” relationship between wives and husbands didn’t used to be acknowledged by people of Biblcal times. Women were considered unequal in all ways to men, barely human. Did you know there was a time every respectable Jewish man would offer up this “prayer” first thing in the morning: “God, I thank thee that thou hast not made me either a beast, a Gentile, or a woman”. Back in Christ’s time, most married woman did not feel secure in their husband’s love. If a woman lost her looks or even burned her husband’s food, she knew she could be divorced in the wink of an eye. These poor women were on lifelong probation, never sure about whether they’d still be married to the same man a year later. Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage was revolutionary for His time and its fairness toward women made His male disciples grumble. He allowed divorce and remarriage ONLY for marital unfaithfulness (Matt.19:9).
Unquestionably all of Proverbs was inspired by the Spirit of God. But consider who wrote it down for future generations. King Solomon, the biggest womanizer of all time, a man who had 300 wives and 700 concubines (I Kings 11:3). Did King Solomon follow the same godly advice he wrote down for others? How did his own wives live? Were THEY up before the dawn, grinding grain, knitting socks, sewing tapestries, weaving wool, cooking, cleaning, etc.? Did THEY stay up all night toiling like donkeys, or did they lounge around their luxurious harem painting their eyes and being waited on by slaves? What about Solomon? How hard did HE work? Oh, I know he did lots of mental work and study, but who actually did the muscle labor of constructing his building projects and caring for his fruit orchards? His poor slaves did.
In her anxiety about copying the life of the Virtuous Woman, the overworked lady forgot that the Virtuous Woman had maidservants (Prov.31:15). I doubt that this poor blogger has a maid to pitch in with the chores. Does she think she’s greater than God, Who rested from all His own works on the Seventh Day (Gen.2:3)? Does God require more endurance from His creatures than from Himself? Surely not.
The masters of the Old South varied greatly in how they treated their poor black slaves. Some provided the bare minimum in food, clothing and shelter to keep their cotton pickers alive. When they died, other slaves were available to replace them. The wisest of slave masters treated their slaves humanely enough to let them rest on Sundays and go on an occasional picnic to keep their morale up. Slaves could never be truly happy as slaves, but the most fortunate of them could at least have a few fun times to lighten the burden of their dreary days.
In the New Testament all believers are commanded to lead responsible, holy lives. But Paul primarily addresses MEN as being responsible to work with their own hands to provide for their families (I Tim.5:8). Paul worked with his own hands to provide his own living instead of soliciting offerings. Even under the Old Covenant it was the HUSBAND who was held responsible by God for providing the necessities of life for his wife (Ex.21:10). Paul emphasized EQUALITY of well-being in the Body of Christ. He urged that no one be burdened while others have it easy at the expense of those who contributed more (2 Cor.8:13-14). The distinction between male and female often brought unequal treatment under the Old Law, but in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal.3:28). All believers are to look out for each other’s welfare on an equal basis as being members together of Christ’s own Body (I Cor.12:25). Under the New Covenant, no provision is made for the unfair exploitation of women. If this blogger would rightly divide the Word of God (2 Tim.2:15) she would realize that even the best of Old Testament teachings are superseded by the liberating truths of the New Covenant.
Before Christ came to set women free, they were usually valued ONLY as bearers of children, objects of male desire and laborers. It was even debated whether or not a woman had a soul. Consider Mary and Martha, a study in contrasts. Martha was the dominant, energetic sister. Scripture plainly states it was HER house Jesus came to (Luke 10:38). Martha had a brother, Lazarus, who was probably too weak and sickly to take charge as head of the household. So it was Martha who had to do most everything. Her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet with the male disciples, something unheard of back then. Martha had a huge feast to prepare. There was far too much work for just two hands. She was overstressed and overworked. Martha came to Christ and demanded that He banish Mary back to the kitchen where she belonged. Jesus refused. Instead He said that Mary had chosen the good part which would not be taken away from her (Luke 10:42).
Instead of commending Martha for being highly productive, Jesus says she is “troubled and careful (anxiety-filled) about many things”(verse 41). But only ONE thing was needful, to allow Him to feed her spiritually. I’m sure they could have managed well enough with a much simpler meal, like a pot of stew and a bit of bread. But Martha probably realized that Jesus didn’t get a decent meal very often and she wanted His dinner to be extra special. Down through the ages elaborate meals might consist of many courses, all of them very time-consuming to prepare. Even with all the modern kitchen gadgets I own I find that it sometimes takes whole days to pull off a special meal for birthdays or other celebrations. Think of poor, busy Martha, who had to draw water from the well, build cooking fires and create everything from scratch.
Who better fits the profile of the Virtuous Woman, Martha or Mary? Martha, the gal who never slowed down. The tireless workhorse who barely took time to eat and NEVER took time to sit at Jesus’ feet. Nothing is written in Proverbs 31 about the Virtuous Woman sitting quietly beside a brook to meditate and pray. She’s always churning out products and denying herself rest in order to meet the material needs of others. We can’t always sit quietly and pray. Sometimes we MUST go to the kitchen to tackle that big pile of dishes. But which example would the Lord have us, as women, follow? That of the Virtuous Woman (and busy Martha), or Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus to hear His Word?
Gal.4:7: Wherefore thou art no more a servant (slave), but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
I Pet.3:7: Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
Heb.4:10: For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
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