My wife and I recently went to the library to pick out a few books to read. While browsing the shelves, I came across a copy of Flannery O’Connor’s novel, A Good Man Is Hard to Find. I thought about the title of that book when I read Proverbs 31:10:
A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
Proverbs 31:10-31 is an acrostic poem. Each of its twenty-two verses begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet: aleph, bet, gimel, dalet, he, etc. The proverb writer is outlining the characteristics of the ideal wife. And the first thing he says about her is that she is hard to find.
Before I go any further, let me remind you that the Book of Proverbs presents itself as a book of advice from parents to their sons (e.g., 1:8, 10, 15, etc.). It looks at marriage from the male point of view. Psalm 112 outlines the characteristics of the ideal man, and interestingly, it is also an acrostic poem. So, while Proverbs 31:10-31 may be written from a male point of view, the Bible elsewhere takes into account the female perspective.
While written from a male point of view, Proverbs 31:10-31 chooses not to focus on characteristics that most young men look for in a wife: beauty and – for lack of a better term – sex appeal. Of course, beauty and sex appeal are part of the total package, as the Song of Songs makes clear. But they’re not the most important part of the total package. What’s most important is nobility.
Tremper Longman has this to say about the Hebrew word for nobility, hayil:
The word…has military overtones but is not restricted to military use. The basic meaning of the term is “strength” and “power;” and it “can be applied to a variety of people, including a warrior (powerful), a functionary (able), and a landowner (wealthy).” While this indicates that “noble” language here may not be military, the fact that the poem will associate military language with this woman in the following verses suggests that the composer intends the reader to recognize warrior imagery here. In what follows, we see a woman who is engaged in the battle of life, dealing with people and winning an advantage for her family.
Now, it is easy to see why nobility trumps beauty and sex appeal in the ideal wife. On the one hand, beauty fades. It is of little value in fighting life’s battles, rearing children, investing income wisely, or securing a good reputation in the community. On the other hand, nobility is of great value in accomplishing these things. So, instead of looking for a pretty young thing as a wife, a young man should look for an equal partner in life’s enterprise and a fellow soldier in its battles. And if he’s lucky, like I was, he’ll marry someone who’s both noble and beautiful.
A noble wife hard to find, but well worth the search.