“She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.” – Proverbs 31:15
If you’ve been around church for a while, Proverbs 31 might provoke a bit of an eye roll. That’s because so often we treat this chapter like it’s the wife checklist. Husbands ought to look for this woman and women ought to be her. The Bible provides a particularity of gender visions that we should never flatten, but at the same time we need to know that the Bible does not permit certain groups of people (like men) to check out for specific portions. In addition, models like the Proverbs 31 woman can be helpful, but we need to bear in mind that our saving relationship with Jesus, which is the core of our faith, is a relationship of dependency, not a performance checklist.
In short, it is good to hold the highest view and vision of your spouse, but no man is married to the Proverbs 31 woman, and no woman has Proverbs 31 on her resume. That’s not how we are meant to read this. For starters, there’s no way the woman who completes this list is sleeping more than three hours a day. Then, once you get to verse 29, you find out that “many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” So, unless you are, or are married to, the best woman who has ever existed, you need to understand this chapter as a paradigm, not a prescription.
In verse 15, we see the woman, who is clearly well-to-do, is getting up before daybreak to provide for her household. In Jesus’ terms, “the greatest among you will be your servant.” (Mt 23:11-12) Throughout this character sketch we see a level of tireless diligence and industry that is exhausting to even read. But the thing we should note from this verse is that as prosperous and elevated as this woman is, (she is buying fields and managing multiple servants), her very first priority is to care for those under her. She has not slacked off. She is not merely lounging in bed until noon while she snaps her fingers for coffee and parfaits, although it is within her power to do that. Her first thought is to supply the needs of those who are supposed to supply her needs.
This is ultimately a picture of how Jesus treats us. It is the washing of his disciples’ feet. Before the meal, before anyone is served or eats, Jesus takes care to attend to the most basic, even undignified necessities of those who are his followers. These are the men who have sworn to follow and give their lives to Jesus’ cause and advancement. And Jesus stoops to attend to each one of them.
This is also how Jesus meets us. Although He is without any needs, we owe total allegiance and boundless service to God. Yet Jesus is the one who reaches out, who meets us in our needs, who gets up before sunrise, indeed who never goes to sleep, in order to watch out for and tend to us, his servants. He asks that we do the same. Some of us have wide circles, and some have smaller circles of those under us. Either way, a great woman, a great leader, a great person prioritizes the needs of those who answer to her.