The Excellent Woman of Proverbs 31
MANY DAUGHTERS HAVE DONE VIRTUOUSLY,
BUT THOU EXCELLEST THEM ALL.
It does not seem probable that this high commendation is intended to be taken by the inspired writer as the praise given by God to the Jewish matron. Commentators generally refer, it to the warm expression of affection and esteem uttered either by her husband or children, on a review of her consistent and valuable life. Nor was this expression of an overflowing affection without justice or truth for one who acted so well would far exceed in virtue the generality of wives and mothers, and would probably be superior in worth to any woman known by those who praised her. The Septuagint, Syriac; and other versions render this passage, “Many daughters have gathered riches;” and as industry seems to have been a ruling feature in the character of Hebrew women generally, at this early period, this rendering would not be unsuitable. In such case, the praise would extend not only to the number of garments which she had wrought for merchandise, but to her skill in acquiring property, and her care in preventing an unnecessary expenditure of wealth.
But although so finished a degree of excellence as that recorded in this beautiful poem must, at any period of this world’s history, have been a rare attainment, yet a great degree of loveliness and virtue marked many of the women of early days. To all the mental vigour, and industry, and noble sentiments which belong to the matron of ancient Rome, the Jewish female seems to have added a warm, enthusiastic, and gentle tenderness, which renders her lovelier than the sterner Roman lady; and which, while it commands our respect, wins a deeper and warmer love. Nor was the Hebrew woman wanting in that clear intellect, or versatility of talent, which fitted her for rivalling the Grecian dame in the lighter and more graceful accomplishments of life. The commands of Moses, the writings of the prophets—nay, the very history of the creation of the world, on which the eye of the ancient Israelite pondered, all taught that woman was not intended for the slave of man. Recognising the woman as an immortal being, providing for her protection and comfort, giving to her, as to her husband, the assurances of God’s favour and the hopes of a future life, presenting her to the Hebrew as the mother of the coming Messiah, the Jewish woman was raised above that degradation to which the oriental female was subjected; and still, even in Asia, enjoys a freedom and an importance unknown among other Asiatics. “The singular beauty of the Hebrew women,” says an interesting writer, “and the natural warmth of their affections, having conspired to throw gems of domestic loveliness over the pages of the Bible. In no history can there be found a greater number of charming female portraits. From Hagar, down to Mary and Martha, the Bible presents pictures of womanly beauty that are unsurpassed and rarely paralleled. But we should very imperfectly represent, in these general remarks, the formative influence of the female character as seen in the Bible, did we not refer these amiable traits of character to the original conceptions of which we have spoken, and to the pure and lofty religious ideas which the Biblical books in general present. If woman, then, appears as the companion and friend of man, if she rises to that noble position which is held by the mother of a family, she owes her elevation in the main to the religion of Moses and to that of Jesus. The first system, as a preparatory one, did not, and could not, complete the emancipation of woman.” Let British females remember what Christianity has done for them, and that their responsibility is consequently greatly increased.