The Excellent Woman of Proverbs 31
HER HUSBAND IS KNOWN IN THE GATES
WHEN HE SITTETH AMONG THE ELDERS OF THE LAND.
It is indeed a high praise of a woman, that her husband should be known and honoured for her sake; that in the places of public resort he should be recognised as the husband of a wife, who so arranged the household duties, and took so practical a part in the concerns of the family, that he was enabled to devote his time to public business. His dress, too, ever becoming his station, and wrought with industrious skill in his own home, would be noticed in an oriental assembly; while an unspotted reputation, gained by a virtuous and consistent life, reflected its lustre on all connected with the Jewish women.
And as it was in the days of old, so is it now, that whatever position in life we may occupy, we cannot, stand alone. Whether individual conduct bring disgrace, or win respect, others must share in it. So, too, we all must influence others; and of all means of moral influence, none is greater than that of a good reputation. Without it, indeed, all good influence is lost. The Scripture proverb says, “A good name is rather to be chosen than precious ointment;” and for the preservation of this good name, a woman’s conduct must not only be marked by integrity and simplicity, but it must be steady and uniform. The very shadow of ill, the very appearance of evil, is to be shunned by every woman professing godliness; and in the eye of the world she should be blameless, approving herself not only unto God, but also unto men.
When we find it implied that a woman’s character brought an honour to her husband, we are quite sure that it was marked by consistency. This can be the result only of the possession of good principles, and of a determination, by the grace of God, to make these principles the basis, not only of every important duty, but of the lesser acts of life. It must proceed from a high and enlarged sense of responsibility, and was never yet attained by any who had not seriously studied her own particular duties, and cultivated also the duty of firmness. We all rely fully on a consistent person, and instinctively value his opinion. Every one must have seen that there are some, who without attempting to gain influence over others, yet possess it to so great a degree, that even vice stands abashed in their presence: the swearer will fear to utter his oath; the drunkard will feel ashamed of his sin; and the frivolous will stay his folly. Even the little child recognises consistency, and feels the force of reproof or praise uttered by its possessor. It is remarkable, too, that our characters are generally read fairly, and well understood by those around us. Weight of character never fails to make its due impression. We are judged, not only by the expression of our sentiments—for in these we might deceive—but by the hourly acts which make up human life, the impulse which prompts the unconsidered word, the very look which betrays the thought; the little things, which, in their individual manifestation, seem nothing, yet the amount of which make up our character and cause it to be rightly read.
The ancient custom of holding meetings for public justice under the gateway of the town, as well as the reference to the elders, leads us to the conclusion, that the husband of the Jewish woman held some office of public trust. As early as the time of Abraham, we find business transactions performed in the gate, when the patriarch purchased the cave of Machpelah, in the audience of the children of Heth; and the silver was weighed in the presence of all them that went in at the gate of the city (Gen 23:10-16). And Boaz bought of Naomi the land of his family, in the presence of the witnesses at the gateway, and of the elders (Rth 4:9). The convenience of the gate, as being not only a regular place of thoroughfare in and out of the city, but a public place of resort, rendered it peculiarly suitable for the transfer of property, at a time when written documents were little known, and the transaction had consequently to be attested by several of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. Homer states of the Trojans, that their elders assembled in the gate to judge of the rights between man and man.
In the law of Moses we find direct reference to the practice of holding law‐courts in these entrances to towns. “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment” (Deu 16:18). And when Job looked back on more prosperous days, and compared with them his state of present sorrow, he says: “When I went out to the gate through the city, when I prepared my seat in the street: the young men saw me, and hid themselves: and the aged arose, and stood up:” (Job 29:7-8), while the mournful Jeremiah predicted as one of the signs of desolation on his native land, that the elders should cease from the gate.
But besides the business of judging the people of Israel, and of conveying estates or other property, the gateway was often a market‐place; and there were assembled the merchants who trafficked in the various goods of the East. Thus we find Elisha announcing to the famished people of Samaria, “To‐morrow shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria” (2Ki 7:1).
It can easily be imagined that a place of such great concourse would become a resort, not only for men of business, but for men of leisure; and the oriental gateway held the same place in the town, which is now occupied by the coffee‐house. There neighbours met to talk over the affairs of the city, to speak of the past, and to speculate on the future; to dwell on the faults of their fellow townsmen, or to expatiate on their worth. If any man wished to meet with his neighbour, he went up to the gateway; if he had public news to communicate, he carried it thither. If he wished to attract the notice, or to win the ear of the governor of the city, he would sit day by day, as Mordecai did, in the king’s gate. So, too, we find Isaiah speaking of him “that reproveth in the gate” (Isa 29:21); and Jeremiah delivered his solemn warnings and commands “in the gate of the children of the people” (Jer 17:19); and it was when the psalmist felt that he had become the object of the unjust reproaches of his neighbours, that he said, “They that sit in the gate speak against me.” (Psa 69:12)
It does not appear that the assembly of people who thus met in the gateway formed any hinderance to the passing of the townspeople in and out of the city. In eastern gateways, in the present day, there is a slightly raised seat on both sides of the arch; and, under the pleasant shadow of the wall, the man of the East still lounges and chats, and receives company. Such accommodation no doubt belonged to the Hebrew gate. There are, besides, on each side of some gateways open rooms or cells in the walls of the gate, in which a number of people sit during the greater part of the day.
It was because of the publicity of the Hebrew gateway, that the Lord commanded the ancient Israelite to write upon it the words of his holy law. Texts of the sacred book were ordered to be transcribed upon the posts of their houses, and upon their gates, that all Israel might continually be reminded of the Great Jehovah, and of his high and holy commands. The labourer, as he went forth to his fields and his vines, looked up to the written words, and the merchant’s busy thoughts of gain were sometimes arrested and brought into a different course. Many a pious Israelite regarded them with love and reverence, and perhaps, like David, thanked God for them, and could exclaim, “Thy word is very pure; therefore thy servant loveth it:” and often they suggested thoughts of prayer, or led the mind of the pious Jew forward to the Great Messiah, who should come one day to fulfil all those solemn types and shadows which the law now set forth, and who should, under a more glorious dispensation, himself magnify the law, and make it honourable.