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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Anne Pratt :: The Excellent Woman of Proverbs 31

Anne Pratt :: Proverbs 31 Verse 17

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The figurative expression here used refers to the practice of girding tightly for any great exertion. The girdle which confines the loose and flowing garments of the native of the East, is broad and long, and can, when occasion requires it, be bound several times round the waist and over the chest. This tight girding enables the men of oriental countries to perform wonderful feats of strength, especially in running; as they will make a journey of several miles, keeping pace with a horseman, or with the chariot of the great man. Sometimes the girdle is so tightly bound as to endanger life, and the editor of the "Pictorial Bible" mentions that he saw, at Ispahan, a pillar raised to mark the spot on which one of these tightly‐girded runners expired, in attempting to stoop to the ground.

Scripture contains many references to this practice of girding. Thus we read, that when the prophet Elijah accompanied the bold and wicked king, "He girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel" (1Ki 8:46). Even on occasions which demanded less exertion, it was usual to gather up the garment under the girdle, lest it might incommode the progress of the wearer. So our blessed Saviour represents the master as addressing his servant, "Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me till I have eaten and drunken" (Luk 17:8), and when urging his disciples to a constant readiness for that spiritual warfare which they must encounter, and that watchfulness which the servants of the Lord must always exercise, he said, "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord" (Luk 12:35).

This figure of girding the loins would be especially expressive to the eastern, as well as to the ancient Greek and Roman people, among whom the practice prevailed. With the latter, it was considered very effeminate for a man to be seen abroad either without his girdle, or loosely girded; and to be ungirt, became an expression of an unmanly luxury. Sulla reproached Caesar that he was ungirt; and Maecenas was blamed because he wore his girdle loosely.

Boothroyd renders the passage,

She girdeth up her loins for strength,
And by exercise giveth vigour to her arms;

and it very evidently implies that she preserved her health by the very best means, that of cheerful and earnest employment. When we look at our bodily frames, and see how they are formed for exercise; when we mark how the muscles of the active arm are firm, and those of the indolent soft and tender, we see something of the bodily ills to which indolence exposes, and are convinced that a healthy frame can be preserved only by a due attention to activity; and when we mark, too, how painful and weary a thing sickness is, and how great is the physical enjoyment of health, it seems strange that exercise is so much neglected by thousands who have the means of taking it. How much exquisite enjoyment is afforded by the mere possession of health! the pure taste, the high spirits, which render existence itself an enjoyment and a blessing; the good humour, the pleasure in innocent delights, the light and refreshing sleep, the appetite which needs no dainties, the untiring footstep, and the placid breathing, which scarcely quickens at the ascent of the mountain. Oh, if some of those of the female sex, who now spend their days on sofas, and their nights in unquiet dreams, would, like the excellent woman, strengthen their arms by exercise, and gird up their loins by some vigorous exployment, how great a change should come over their constitutions, and how great a blessing should they gain for themselves!

There are also higher considerations than those of mere enjoyment, which should induce us to cultivate the means of health. To do so is a religious duty. Health is one of the gifts which God has bestowed for usefulness-one of those talents of which he has said, "Occupy till I come;" and if it be wasted either by intemperance, indolence, or carelessness, we shall have to account for it at the great and solemn day of final retribution. If the hand of God deprive us of it, then may we calmly say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord;" and appropriate the blessed promises to sufferers, contained in holy writ; and while we remember, that they also serve God who only stand and wait, we may learn many blessed lessons, when like David we can say, "Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy word." But if God has given us a robust constitution, or at least one that might, by exertion, be rendered such, then our very sickness is a sin. "Health," says Jeremy Taylor, "is the opportunity of wisdom, the fairest scene of religion, the advantages of the glorification of God, and the charitable ministeries of men; it is a state of joy and thanksgiving, and in every one of its periods feels a pleasure from the blessed emanations of a merciful Providence. No organs, no lute, can sound out the praises of the Almightly Father so spritefully, as the man that rises from his bed of sorrows, and considers what an excellent difference he feels from the groans and intolerable accents of yesterday." Health carries us to the place of worship, and helps us to rejoice in the communion of saints.

But though the text has an especial reference to the strengthening of the body, yet that vigorous resolution, inculcated by the apostle Paul, may also be intimated here." Wherefore," says the inspired writer, "gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end" (1Pe 1:13). A holy resolution, a moral courage, a steady determination in all things to obey the voice of conscience, seems a strong feature of the character of the Jewish woman. It is true, that no resolution made in our own strength can avail us. Our hearts are sinful by nature, and ever ready to depart from God and holiness. Satan, like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, is ever watching to hinder the progress of every right resolve. The world, with its anxious cares on the one hand, and its fascinating vanities on the other, is present with us to banish every pious motive, and drive us into forgetfulness and sinful weakness. Yet, unless we resolve rightly, we cannot act rightly; and there is a way of keeping the promise made to our own hearts and to God. There is a strength given to all who humbly ask it, in the name of the Great Mediator; a strength to will, to do, and to endure, even to the death; a strength, given by God, enabling the timid to be brave, and imparting a consistent firmness, even to those who feel themselves ready to be shaken by every breeze. But unless we seek from Heaven this consistent firmness of principle, our goodness shall be but as the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passeth away. Without it, no Christian course can be a happy or a useful one. It is not enough to know and approve what is right. Principle must be acted upon, whether the world smile or condemn; and the diligent and steady cultivation of firmness be sought in humble dependence on God. And as the eastern traveller girded his garments from the dust, so, too, must Christians keep themselves unspotted from the contamination of vain intercourse, and the defilement of sin; and as the Hebrew matron girded herself for strength, so should we strive to invigorate our principles by holy determination, by steady watchfulness, and by humble prayer; so that we may say with the apostle, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phl 4:13).

Proverbs 31 Verse 16 ← Prior Section
Proverbs 31 Verse 18 Next Section →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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