Uncertain who King Lemuel was – some declare it must have been Solomon, the mother Bathsheba; others say that’s impossible, it’s not even necessarily a Jewish king. No certain indication in the text who it was; simply presented as a king who had a godly mother still involved in instructing him as an adult. She doesn’t mince words, speaks directly to those things hardest to resist for someone inexperienced and new to power – pleasures, but of the sort that will entangle and cloud judgment.
Lemuel’s mother warns against the dangers of wine and loose women; she reminds him of the need for wise and just government. Then she gets intensely personal: who he should pick for a wife. This portion of the text is useful not only as portrait of the ideal woman; it has value for parents of both daughters and sons, for those already wives, for those who have wives.
Verses 10-31 are structured as an acrostic – 22 verses, each beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Probably intended by his mother this way: If you want to marry a girl who’s a perfect 10, here’s what to look for. Mom then assigned a statement or virtue to the 22 letters, maybe to make it easier for her son to remember.
A. What are major qualities of the ideal woman?
Notable by their absence: appearance, charm, swimming ability (wink, wink) – things that are transient, surface, able to be pretended. What is included: things that are expressions of character, that reflect inner rather than external qualities and beauty. This is godliness in action, lived out in all the details of every-day life.
See v.30a, also1 Pet. 3:3-4
energetic v.15a, 17, 18b, 25, 27b
arises before dawn to prepare herself and those in her care for the day ahead, setting the example for them to follow.
begins the day vigorously, energetically, “tucking up her skirts” so they won’t be a hindrance to activity and duties
puts in a full day’s work, not stopping until after dusk; she exemplifies the injunction to “redeem the time” (Col. 4:5)
maintains good health and strength, necessary to keeping up physical activity demanded by her daily schedule
is not characterized by laziness nor does she tolerate it in any of her household; requires similar diligence and energy from her servants as she expects from herself
capable v.13, 14, 15b, 16, 18a, 19, 22, 24
enjoys working with her hands at a variety of occupations and does so skilfully
keeping herself and family well-clothed v.13, 18a, 19, 21b-22
procuring material in the most suitable and cost-effective form, then producing high quality clothes for her family, linens for the home
skilled at spinning and weaving complex patterned fabrics; that means she has an eye for colors, how they would work together in visually pleasing designs
the colors referenced indicate a measure of wealth; the fact that she can sell at wholesale what she produces indicates the quality of her work v.24
acquiring and preparing food for the family v.14b, 15b
staying within the food budget, purchasing that which is sufficient and truly nourishing (so as to maintain her health, etc.), preparing it in ways that are enjoyable
competent in business, making provision for future family needs v.16
recognizes a wise investment opportunity, a property that can be used to generate income
uses income earned from other business dealings to improve the property, increase the return on investment, make it more valuable for future sale
she’s not just a pretty face; there’s a real brain behind those eyes. All her activities are done with purpose – busyness with a goal in view, generally the betterment of others in her care or within her sphere of influence
compassionate v.12, 20, 26, 28
her purpose is to be a helpmeet, an asset to her husband, not a liability
care of her husband extends outside the home, reflecting well on him, influencing his standing and respect in the community (see verse 23)
the result is – she inspires confidence in her husband; he is content to leave management of household affairs to her
her profit-making is not self-centered; out of the abundance she acquires through her own diligence, she gives liberally to those in need while still providing for her own family
conversation characterized by wisdom foremost, secondarily it is wisdom expressed with loyal kindness – the best interests of the other person in view, desiring to maintain a good relationship and seek their improvement
in v.28 her children praise her, in v.29 her husband praises her
v.30 explains why she is to be praised and rightly so: she fears the Lord
the characteristics described ideally and eloquently are the outward evidence of true godliness, exercising her God-given gifts and abilities for the blessing of her family and others
B. Why included in the Bible?
what to look for v.10
if you’re single like King Lemuel
God is concerned that relationships be established on right principles. Relationships based solely on transient things do not endure either. This is a reminder – make enduring qualities the ones on the short list.
treasure v.11, 28b
if you’re married to her
recognize the great blessing God has given and treasure her. Cherish the gift, praise her to others – the husband of our text was a leader in the community yet he made the effort to praise her publicly
train up v.28a
if she’s your daughter – the goal
the standard applies regardless of spiritual condition; we must recognize that regeneration is necessary for her to meet God’s standard. However,… even the natural person can and should strive to develop qualities and abilities presented here.
if he’s your son – the desired mate
needs to understand to the greatest extent possible
why these and not other considerations are on the short list
how godliness will result in good for him and his family
that he will be disappointed if he settles for surface and transient qualities
if you’re her
this is the ideal; it’s important to remember not every individual matches all the characteristics of the ideal. God has gifted and equipped each with a different set of qualities matched to their particular circumstances and future place of service. Your responsibility is to use what God has given you to the best of your ability, for the good of others, in a way consistent with “the fear of the Lord”.
Really, it’s about being like Jesus, being conformed to his image so that others see him when they look at us and how we conduct ourselves in the world. Approaching the ideal, teaching the ideal, properly treasuring the ideal is only possible when we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to be Christ-like and have the desire to follow him.