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

Anne Pratt :: Proverbs 31 Verse 18

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The regular and constant industry for which the excellent woman is commended, gives every reason for the conclusion that the work which she wrought, or which she superintended, would be of a good and valuable description. Diligence and perseverance in any pursuit give skill and taste in its performance, and enable the worker to excel one who is little interested in his work. Such a matron would, in time, become known and confided in for promptness and regularity, and for durable and beautiful workmanship; and as Boothroyd renders the passage, would see "that her traffic is profitable." The tapestry, and girdles, and garments, all carefully woven and beautifully ornamented, would not disappoint the purchaser, who expected them, perhaps, to last a life‐time; and the maker would soon gain an established reputation among those who bought, and thus in every way her merchandise would be good.

Archbishop Cranmer renders this verse: "If she perceives that her merchandise is good, her candle goeth not out by night." This might signify, that if, on any particular occasion, this Jewish lady saw some desirable objects of purchase, she and her maidens would work long and diligently-even till night was far advanced, in order to procure it in exchange for her manufactures. Be that as it may, however, it is no uncommon thing, either in our own or other lands, for those engaged in manufactures to fulfil any large order by occasionally spending even a part of the night in its execution. In those eastern dwellings in which stuffs are made, there is great attention to business; and It sometimes occurs, that not only a busy group work from before the dawn till day is over, but that parties of workers are employed through the night, one party rising to work when the other retires to repose.

Dr. Clarke suggests that this burning of the lamp, however, implies rather a careful vigilance than a perpetual industry, in the Hebrew mistress. He suggests that it was probably burned on account of the numerous banditti and lawless men, from various wandering tribes, who might come suddenly and endanger the family during the hours of darkness; and this caution to avert an ill, rather than to suffer it, well corresponds with the general character given by the description of the poem.

It appears to have been a very common practice among the ancient Hebrews, as it is now with nations of the East, for careful persons to burn a lamp by night in their dwellings. Candles are not burned in any oriental country, and therefore the word thus rendered refers to the lamp, of which we have so many notices in Scripture. Even as early as the time of Abraham we find a "burning lamp" mentioned, which appeared to him as a revelation from God (Gen 15:17). Gideon, when he led out his men against the host of Midian, bade them take their lamps in their pitchers; and from these early records of patriarchal times, even to the days of those whose pens concluded the pages of holy writ, we find the lamp and the oil continually referred to. Lamps were used in the tabernacle, and at marriage festivals were hung around the room, and cast down their light from above. Herodotus describes the lamps of the ancient Egyptians, as "small vases, filled with salt and olive oil, in which the wick floated and burned during the whole night;" and as this description of the lamp exactly accords with the eastern lamp of modern usage, it seems probable that it was also a common form of the Jewish lamp. Many lamps, too, appear, like that of our engraving, to have had a small handle for the convenience of removing them from place to place. Vegetable oil of some kind, and most probably exclusively olive oil, was burned by the Hebrews. Thus we find Moses commanding the Israelites to prepare the lamp for the tabernacle, which was to burn from evening to morning before the Lord: "Thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always" (Exd 27:20). The wicks of the lamps were made of the coarser fibres of flax; and the Rabbins record, that the old linen garments of the priests were unravelled, to furnish those of the sacred lamps in the tabernacle.

The general use of the lamp naturally made it a frequent subject of metaphor and simile among ancient writers. Thus the wise man says, "The light of the righteous rejoiceth; but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out" (Pro 13:9); and again, the sudden extinction of the lamp served as a figure to express the wrath of God against him who cursed father or mother; for "his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness" (Pro 20:20). Many writers think that the expression "outer darkness," often used in Scripture, refers to the contrast of the outward darkness of night, when compared with that of the chamber in which it was so customary for the light to be burning. Our Saviour, addressing those who were accustomed to the highly poetic imagery of the East, spoke of the professor of piety under the figure of a lamp; and in the well‐known and beautiful parable of the wise and foolish virgins, showed the danger of a careless and unwatchful profession of religion, commanding his followers to have their lights always burning.

In all ages, the lamp beaming from the chamber window on the dimness and gloom of the outward world, has awakened pleasurable and poetic associations in the mind of the traveller; and whether we are attracted by the small light of a cottage candle, seen from afar, or the still fainter lustre of an eastern lamp, yet our minds form some picture of the home within. The writer of the book of Proverbs, whose eye might rest on such a lamp, would imagine a home of industrious application. To him it would speak of care and vigilance, of the mistress and maidens gathered round it at their work; of children striving to lend a helping hand; and of a domestic scene of cheerful employment. To all of us such a lamp might seem like the hope which burns in the breast of one who loves and fears God. Now, perhaps, it burns feebly: some passing object dims its brightness, and suggests the idea of the worldly anxiety, or the sinful infirmity, which shadows that hope in the human bosom. Again, it rises into abright and steady flame, cheering and gladdening all around it; and so the Christian's hope, soaring above these passing shadows, burns with its holy and life‐giving lustre, shining brighter and brighter, till that perfect day of pure and unshadowed light. Perhaps it was after wandering in some lonely spot in the dimness of night, that David came upon some household lamp, and exclaimed as it guided him onwards, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psa 119:105); and while he blessed God for his holy word, added, "Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory" (Psa 73:24). Our blessed Saviour said to his disciples, "Ye are the light of the world" (Mat 5:14), and bade them, and us for whom also his blessed words were spoken and afterwards written, so to let our light, shine before men, that they, seeing our good works, might glorify our Father which is in heaven.

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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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