A Proverb a day, with commentary from H.A. Ironside, a great Bible teacher from the mid-20th Century.
The final chapter of the book of Proverbs is designated as “The words of King Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.”
It is generally believed that Lemuel was the name Solomon’s mother used for him. There was no King Lemuel among those who sat on the thrones of either Judah or Israel; nor do we have any record of a king by that name among the surrounding nations. This title occurs only in this chapter and is probably intended for the son of David and Bathsheba. The name simply means “Unto God,” or, “With God.”
It is most interesting and deeply affecting to be permitted to listen to a part of the instruction given to the young prince by his mother. It is also precious to note how grace had worked in her soul, if she was indeed Bathsheba, so that she, whose history had been so sadly blotted, could be her son’s guide and counselor in matters of such great importance. No doubt the loss of her first-born, taken away in the Lord’s discipline, made Solomon (also called Jedediah, “Beloved of Jehovah”) all the dearer to her heart (2Sa_12:24-25). He was probably in her company often, learning to value greatly her instruction and her loving care. How much he was indebted to her for that godliness which marked his early reign, will never be known until the records are read at the judgment seat of Christ. The influence of a God-fearing mother is beyond all telling.
The opening verse of her prophecy seems to imply her deep concern that she give her son the appropriate counsel.
The thrice-repeated “what” has the force of “what shall I say?” She desired to have the mind of God concerning that which she endeavored to impress on his young heart. Words were sacred things with Lemuel’s mother; for she felt keenly the need of instructing her son correctly and feared lest she in any way should mislead him.
The expression “son of my vows” speaks volumes. Like Hannah, she had doubtless been much in prayer for her child both before and after his birth. She was humbled, repentant, and deeply exercised over the recent sin in which she had participated; there would be cause for much concern as to the future of the child whose mother had so sadly failed. This keenly felt concern would seem to have resulted in pious vows concerning her son. They expressed the purpose of her heart to bring up her child in the fear of God.
Some might seek to use such a passage as authority for making vows now, and especially baptismal and confirmation pledges. But this passage does not address this issue. Though none can doubt the sincere piety and the good intentions of many who make these vows, such a practice is thoroughly opposed to the letter and spirit of the New Testament. In a legal age making vows was quite in keeping with God’s ways, and He gave full instruction concerning them and the necessity of paying them. He made known also how a wife or a minor might be released from such a vow, if on the day of the promise, the husband or father disallowed them. See Leviticus 27. But nothing like this is known in the Epistles, which were written to unfold the doctrine and practice pertaining to the church of God.
Undoubtedly, Christian parents can and should bring their children to God in prayer. They must seek divine wisdom to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. In the present age of grace, this exercise replaces the vows and pledges made by godly parents of the previous dispensation.
If, through ignorance and legality, one has made a vow which he afterwards learns is opposed to the truth of God, he should go at once to the Lord in contrition of heart confessing his error. To go on as though this vow had really bound his soul would be a serious mistake. For instance, a Roman priest takes a vow of celibacy. If, after discerning more clearly the will of God, he leaves the apostate system wherewith he has been connected, his vow is in no sense binding once he repents. Such a case is contemplated in 1Co_7:25-28; 1Co_7:36. He who has pledged himself to perpetual virginity, if he finds later that he has made a mistake and put himself under severe restraint, is free to marry, and the Word says, “He sinneth not.” The solemn words of Ecc_5:4-6 do not affect the question at issue. What is contemplated there is a vow made in accordance with the law, in the legal dispensation. “Ye are not under the law but under grace” (Rom_6:14).
Lemuel was faithfully warned against the snare of licentiousness. How well would it have been for Solomon if he had ever persevered in the path of temperance and self-control advised in this verse. He should have remembered the admonition, “Neither shall he multiply wives to himself (Deu_17:17). His early life seems to have been marked by obedience to this command of God and by heeding his mother’s warning. But in his later years he cast discretion to the winds, and the sad result was, “his wives turned away his heart” (1Ki_11:3).
He who would rule well over a nation must first be master of himself. It was in this area of self-control that Noah failed when set over the renewed earth (Gen_9:20-21). Earnestly Bathsheba warns her son of the evil effects that follow intemperate indulgence in wine and strong drink. It is not for kings to be given to inebriation, for drunkenness clouds the understanding and desensitizes the mind. Drinking immoderately, they are likely to forget the law, and thus be rendered unfit to try a case in righteousness.
Kings of the past ages were the representatives not merely of the executive power but, in a large sense, of the judicial and the legislative sides of government as well. The afflicted and the oppressed would not receive justice from a drunken king, therefore it was extremely important that his mind remain clear.
If any drink to the point of intoxication let it be those who are ready to perish and those who are disheartened and bitter of soul. There is a tinge of undisguised irony in the sixth and seventh verses that must not be overlooked. Strong drink might help the despondent to forget their poverty and to remember their misery no more. But the true remedy is for the temperate judge of the oppressed to hear their cause patiently and render a decision in righteousness. He is to open his mouth for those who cannot speak for themselves and deliver any who would be in danger of undeserved destruction. See Pro_24:11-12.
From Pro_31:10-31, the subject is the virtuous woman. This section is an acrostic poem. In the original language, each verse begins with one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It was a favorite form of composition among the Hebrews and is used frequently in the Psalms and in the Lamentations of Jeremiah.
Virtuous is used in the sense of thrifty and devoted. Of course the devoted wife would be faithful to her husband; but chastity is not what is particularly before the mind. The virtuous woman is a dependable woman, one who can be counted on in every emergency. She is capable and energetic, with a high sense of the dignity and importance of administering the affairs of the home. Her worth is beyond that of the most valuable jewels.
In such a wife the heart of her husband may safely confide. In her love and unselfish affection he finds treasure so vast that, whatever his circumstances, he will never be in poverty. Her influence is for good and not evil all the days of her life. It is a lovely picture of the mutual relationship of Christ and the church. The church acknowledges Him as Head and delights to love and serve Him; while He finds His joy in her and sees in her an inheritance of untold value!
Finding her deepest joy in loving service, the virtuous wife takes delight in weaving with her own hands the wool and the flax which are to be the clothing for her household. The picture is an Eastern one, but nonetheless lovely to Western eyes. Kitto says, “In the state of society to which this description belongs, every kind of drapery for the person, the tent, or the house, is manufactured at home by the women, who make it a matter of pride to be able to boast that their husbands and children are entirely clad by the labor of their hands; and the man’s robe clings the more sweetly to him,- is warmer in winter, and cooler in the heat, from his knowledge of the dear hands by which every thread has been prepared.”
Dainty delicacies or coarse fare when provided by her hands become sweet indeed to her family. She is not content with slipshod service but is constantly finding new things, as the merchant ships bring to us the treasures of distant lands.
She shames slothfulness by her early rising, even before the first beams of the sun begin to light the horizon. In Syria, the women are up long before the dawn to prepare the morning meal; this enables the men to go to work early, so they can rest during the hottest part of the day.
Only love can make such diligent service sweet and delightful. Where love is lacking, this work will be the worst drudgery. Paul exemplified this attitude of loving commitment when he called himself and his fellow-laborers bondservants of Jesus Christ. This should be the church’s happiness-to serve the living and true God, while waiting with eager expectancy for His Son from Heaven.
The wife described here is secure in her true state in the home. Unless that is settled all would be fear and anxiety. So it is with the Christian. Service springs from the knowledge of an established relationship. It is not a price paid to win the favor of an unreconciled God. But believers, having been reconciled to Him, serve in newness of the spirit, not in the oldness of the letter. All uncertainty is gone, and willing hands work as a result of the power of Christ’s constraining love.
Unlike the unfaithful servant, who wrapped his talent in a napkin and hid it away where he could not use it, the prudent wife is continually adding to her husband’s possessions by her economy and foresight. She enlarges her territory and becomes keeper of a vineyard, which indicates joyful service; for the fruit of the vine throughout Scripture symbolizes gladness. The bride in the Canticles had to acknowledge, “mine own vineyard have I not kept” (Son_1:6); but it is blessedly otherwise with the virtuous wife described in this chapter.
The girding of the loins for service may well remind us of that obedience to the truth of God which characterizes the devoted soul (see Eph_6:14). The truth of God’s Word equips us with strength and fitness to perform our daily tasks. No believer can render proper service unless his mind is controlled by the unerring Word of the Lord. The virtuous woman wraps her loose flowing garments tightly about her, drawing them up to leave the feet free to go about her work, doing with her might what her hands find to do.
She finds profit in her labor; her lamp does not go out by night, for she realizes the importance of being ever watchful as well as energetic. How many a soul has sadly failed because, while very active in the Lord’s work he has not maintained watchfulness. The lamp of his testimony has been allowed to burn very dimly or to die out. Forgetting his responsibility as a child of light, the careless soul has been found a child of darkness, sleeping among the dead.
The nineteenth verse has reference to the ancient custom of spinning without the use of a wheel; this practice is still prevalent among some Eastern peoples. They hold the distaff in one hand and twirl their long wool spindles with the other, stopping to wind the thread on them as fast as it is drawn out. Thus, by diligence and economy, the virtuous woman is able to minister with loving care to the lowly and the needy. Her charity begins at home, for she watches solicitously for the comfort of her family. By her own skill she makes scarlet garments of warm wool for their covering in time of cold and snow.
Some prefer the rendering “double-garments” to “scarlet,” as they do not see what the color has to do with keeping out the cold. But the Hebrew word used in this verse is never so translated elsewhere in Scripture. It is the scarlet obtained from the Tola, a cochineal-like insect. When crushed, it produces a fine deep red, or rich crimson dye, much admired by the orientals. It is the “worm” of Psa_22:6, to which our Lord likens Himself; He who was bruised and slain that all His redeemed might be clothed in splendor for eternity.
It is noteworthy that to the present day, the mountain Nestorians and other Eastern tribes clothe their households in a scarlet or striped fabric, much like Scottish tartan in texture and material. Our text refers to garments such as these. Even in the smallest details the Word of God is absolutely correct.
The kjv uses the word silk in describing the clothing of Pro_31:22. However it is now well-known that silk was not brought to the Mediterranean region from China until the reign of Justinian. Fine, white linen, glistening like silk, such as the bride is arrayed with in Revelation 19, is what is undoubtedly intended. As elsewhere in Scripture purple and fine linen are used together to describe the attire of the well-clothed. See Luk_16:19.
The purple was obtained from “the juice of a certain species of shell-fish found on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean sea. The juice of the entire fish was not used, but only a little of its liquor, called the flower, contained in a white vein, or vessel, in the neck.”
Typically, the fine linen and purple picture practical righteousness and royal glory, as in the tabernacle hangings. In the rich man referred to in Luk_16:19 we see an example of how one could be outwardly covered with that which represents uprightness and privilege, while actually being “poor, and wretched, and blind, and miserable, and naked.” On the other hand, the virtuous wife is clothed in what portrays her true character and dignity.
Her husband too is honored and esteemed. His place as sitting among the elders of the land implies that he occupied a seat in the gate of the city as a judge or a magistrate. See notes on Pro_22:22; Pro_24:7. His wife’s thrift and good judgment reflect credit on him, adding to the respect in which he is held. His wife is indeed “an help meet for him” (Gen_2:18).
Not only has she enough to clothe her household and herself, but her unwearying industry enables her to produce linen garments and girdles for the caravan merchants. They readily purchase the work of her hands to carry them to distant places. Thus she is bearing fruit through her good works, and her abundant labors provide clothing for those far removed from her own dwelling. The spiritual lesson is easily seen. She who is faithful in ministering at home and clothes herself in a garment of practical godliness and righteousness will have enough and more to spare for the blessing of others.
Every clause here is of the deepest importance. The fine linen and purple of Pro_31:22 are explained symbolically in Pro_31:25 – “Strength and honour are her clothing.” That is of course strength of character, or uprightness of heart and conduct, coupled with that gracious dignity which belongs to one who walks with God. No wonder it is written, “she shall rejoice in time to come.” Godliness and joyfulness are inseparable. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh_8:10). There is no real happiness apart from righteousness, and vice versa. Where the conscience is at rest, the heart sings for joy. When David sinned, he did not lose his salvation, but the joy of it. It did not return until his sin was confessed in the presence of God, and he became once more a man “in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psa_32:2). Then he could call on the upright in heart to join with him in songs of rejoicing. Contrast Psalms 51 and 32.
As long as the soul has any controversy with God-if persisting in any known sin, refusing to confess evil doing, or failing to walk in any truth revealed in the Word-there will be only unrest and lack of peace and joy. The secret of a happy Christian life is very simple. It consists in walking in the power of an ungrieved Spirit. Compromise with unholiness, grieves the Spirit of God who dwells in every believer, thereby robbing him of peace of mind and joy of heart. But when all that is contrary to His holy will is dragged out into the light and judged, then the confiding saint can lift up his voice in song and make melody to the Lord in his heart. Nor will this gladness fade away while daily reckoning oneself “to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Rom_6:11).
Fittingly the next verse shows that the words of the virtuous woman are gracious. Like Priscilla instructing Apollos, she opens her mouth with wisdom, and the law of kindness is in her tongue. What a contrast to the shrewish and contentious woman, condemned several times in earlier chapters (see Pro_21:19; Pro_27:15-16). Because of the pureness of her heart, she delights to utter words of grace and truth (see Pro_22:11). Who does not prize fellowship with such a rare saint as this! When, instead of petty complaints and wretched, slanderous tales, the lips speak words of lovingkindness and truth, conversation becomes profitable. By such well directed wisdom and tenderness, the hearers are edified and refreshed.
The twenty-seventh verse (Pro_31:27) emphasizes something that is unspeakably precious in a wife and mother. She looks well to the ways of her household. Solicitously she notices the habits and actions, as well as marking the speech, of her children. Without nagging and ill-temper, she exercises a firm but loving discipline over each one; checking here and encouraging there as she sees either to be needed. Never too busy to seek to win an erring one from the snares of worldliness and pride, she does not eat the bread of idleness. By both example and precept she endeavors to guide her offspring in the way of peace. How poignant is the grief of this mother’s heart, how strong the reprovings of her conscience, if the feet of any of her household go astray for a time in paths of sin!
As the children of the virtuous wife mature they recognize the wisdom and love demonstrated in her firm but tender discipline and attribute their well-being and blessing to her godly training and instruction. They rise up and shower praises on her. While her husband, rejoicing in such a partner of his joys and sorrows, exclaims in honest praise, “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.” He has found in her what the heart craves-one whose comeliness of soul and mind excel even beauty of face and form.
In his admiration and delight we see a picture of the tender love with which our heavenly Bridegroom will regard His bride, the church. He will present her to Himself in the soon-coming day of glory, “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Eph_5:27).
In these verses we read the secret of her devoted, virtuous life: She fears the Lord. This fear of the Lord, which the book of Proverbs has declared to be the beginning of wisdom, is her abiding characteristic. Her words, her ways, her dress, and her household discipline are all ordered as in His presence.
Others may pride themselves on their beauty or endeavor to obtain favor by winning words and pleasing manners; but if there is no true character behind such charms, the day will soon come when praise will give place to contempt. However, she who fears Jehovah will be honored by all who appreciate virtue and excellence of spirit. Her beneficent labors also will receive their public and well-merited recognition.
We who have the light of New Testament revelation can see in this last verse more than a hint of what awaits the Christian at the judgment seat of Christ. When the mists of earth have gone forever, its pride, folly, and iniquity eternally past, such a virtuous woman will appear in her Lord’s own presence with rejoicing, bearing her sheaves with her. At His feet she will cast down the fruit of her hands and the works accomplished through His grace to have all surveyed by Christ. How sweet to hear His words of approval in the gate, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.. .Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Mat_25:21).
At that moment who will regret the days of toil and nights of watching? Who then would exchange the saint’s path and portion, with all its responsibilities as well as privileges, for a place of ease and careless enjoyment of a few fleeting hours on earth? Not one.
Living in view of that sacred hour when all our works will be inspected by Him who has won our deepest affections, may we purposely and earnestly cling to Christ. May we hold fast to His faithful Word, not denying His name, while we wait here for His return.
If these notes and meditations assist any to do so, they will have accomplished the author’s most cherished desire