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

Anne Pratt :: Proverbs 31 Verse 21

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We are so accustomed to hear of the serene skies and genial warmth of the climate of Palestine, that we are, in our thoughts, apt to invest that interesting land with a perpetual sunshine. The flowery heights of the fragrant Carmel; the magnificent and enduring vegetation of Lebanon; the smiling plains of the still lovely and verdant Sharon; the grapes of Eshcol-these are the features of the landscape most familiar to our mind. Although the cold of winter is not so severe as in some other parts of Syria, still it is scarcely less than that experienced in our own country. The autumnal shower is the early rain, for which the "husbandman long waited," that he might sow his seed: and in December, which is the first winter month, the rain falls in torrents, and the snow covers the plains occasionally, and lies on the elevated mountains long after spring has made considerable advance; while hoar‐frost scatters its diamonds, or a mist, like that of our northern climates, obscures the face of nature.

Owing to the great inequalities of surface in the Holy Land, there are some sheltered and favoured spots which are free from the cold of winter. Here the season is soft and mild, snow is seldom seen on the plains, and the orange‐tree and the citron, and the goodly palm, contrast with the white summits and glittering icicles of Lebanon. On the mountains the snow is peculiarly deep from December, and scarcely decreases before the month of July. Dr. E. D. Clarke, speaking of one of the hills which forms a part of the majestic Lebanon, says: "The snow entirely covers the upper part of it; not lying in patches, as I have seen it, during summer, upon the tops of very elevated mountains, for instance that of Ben Nevis in Scotland; but investing all the higher part, with that perfect white and smooth velvet‐like appearance, which snow only exhibits when it is very deep: a striking spectacle in such a climate, where the beholder, seeking protection from a burning sun, almost considers the firmament to be on fire."

We have various other instances in Scripture, besides that quoted at the head of the chapter, of the cold and snow of Palestine. The psalmist of Israel sung of the fleeces which the Creator "giveth like wool," and prayed that he might be purified and made "whiter than snow." We infer the cold from the statement of the prophet Jeremiah, when he described Jehoiakim, king of Judah, as sitting with his nobles around the hearth, and daringly cutting with his penknife, and casting into the fire, the scroll which contained the denunciations of the Almighty. So again, in that sad hour, when the affectionate but frail apostle denied the Master whom he loved, we read that they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and that Peter and others sat down together by it, "for it was cold."

The writer of the "Pictorial Palestine," describing the severe weather of January, says: "Major Skinner, who states that he traversed this country in a season unusually severe, speaks much of snow and cold. He mentions a village under Mount Carmel, in which many houses had been destroyed by the great quantities of snow which had fallen. He spent a night in that village, and on the morning of the twenty‐eighth, found the court‐yard full of snow, which had fallen during the night. Snow was then resting on the ridge of Mount Carmel. Penetrating to the interior of the country, the same traveller reached Nazareth on the thirtieth. The heights around the town, and many of the houses, were covered with snow; large heaps of which were piled up in the court‐yard of the convent. Many of the smaller houses had been destroyed by it; and the next day he found that the deep snow in the streets rendered it impossible to quit the city, and difficult to move about in it. A thaw had, however, commenced. The snow falls thick, and lies long on the mountains and high and intervening plains and valleys of Jebel Haouran, which may be said to bound eastward the country beyond Jordan. Madox found it so at the end of January. The same traveller, on the thirteenth, found Damascus covered with snow, as well as the mountains and plains round it."

Most commentators think that the Hebrew word rendered "scarlet," would be more correctly translated by the marginal reading, "double garments." It is thus rendered by Boothroyd in his version of Scripture, and the Septuagint and Arabic versions give it thus. The twice dyeing, which formed part of the process used in obtaining the brilliant scarlet of the East, caused this colour to be expressed in the original language, by the verb to redouble, and thus leaves the rendering in some measure doubtful. Dr. Adam Clarke states, in his commentary, that his old manuscript Bible renders this part of the passage "ben clothed with double;" and adds that Coverdale, with equal propriety, translates it, "For all hir household folkes are duble clothed." Whether we regard this double clothing as relating to an additional number of garments, put on during the winter season; or whether we consider it as relating to a double stock of clothes, suitable for the winter, as well as the summer, it still marks the care of her household shown by the mistress and the mother.

There are, however, some commentators who consider scarlet as the right rendering of the word from the original. Dr. Gill remarks, that if the word here used had been designed to be "double," it would have been in the dual number; and as this is not the case, he considers that in this, and similar instances, it is used for the scarlet colour. He adds that both the Targum and Aben Ezra thus interpret it.

Supposing the word scarlet to be the correct translation in this passage, it would refer to the clothing provided by the Jewish matron for her husband and children only, and would not include the dress of her servants. Scarlet was a colour much esteemed in the East, and the Jewish nobles and courtiers were accustomed, on state occasions and festivals, to wear robes of this brilliant dye. In that exquisitely touching lament, uttered by David over the fallen king, he exclaims, "Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel" (2Sa 1:24). So, too, Belshazzar was decked in the robe of scarlet; and when the prophet meant to contrast the wealth and luxury of Israel with its deepest degradation, he said, "They that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills" (Lam 5:5). And now, in the land endeared to us by holiest associations, the bright colouring of the scarlet robe still attracts the eye of the traveller, in the winter season; and Lamartine speaks of the picturesque scarlet mantles of the Druses of Lebanon, and of the brilliant vests of scarlet velvet sometimes adopted by the Arab women.

If we keep to the latter rendering of the word, the passage would leave us simply to infer, that as the ordinary clothing of the family was that of the wealthier classes, there would not fail to be a provision of warm raiment prepared for the inclement season.

The ancient scarlet appears to have been sometimes a vegetable dye, obtained from the berries of a tree common in Canaan, and at others to have been procured from an insect, resembling the American cochineal, though of a less brilliant tint. This insect, which was found chiefly on the leaves of the evergreen oak (ilex aculeata), was called by the Greeks and Romans coccus, but by the Arabs kermes, and from this latter word we derive our crimson and carmine. This scarlet dye is supposed to have been common in Egypt before the time of Moses, and to have been brought by the Israelites from that land. It is considered by most writers to be the scarlet named among the colours of the hangings of the tabernacle, by the cunning (or skilful) workman and embroiderer (Exd 35:35).

In the national character of the Hebrews, we can, through all ages, perceive the virtue of forethought-a characteristic which appears the more striking if we contrast it with the carelessness of the future exhibited by our warm‐hearted neighbours, the Irish, or with the love of mere present gratification which marks the people of some continental nations. In the long series of cruel and oppressive acts, to which, in comparatively modern times, the ancient people of God have been subjected, this forethought has, in many instances, degenerated into a spirit of covetousness; and the love of hoarding has been censured in the Jew, by the very men whose rapacious tyranny turned this characteristic virtue into a vice. But the bright example of this pious woman, as portrayed by the Hebrew writer, under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, is not that of a mean selfishness, not

That strict parsimony
Which sternly hoarded all that could be spared
From each day's need, out of each day's least gain:"

hers was an enlarged and bounteous providence, one which, while it sought to guard against the ills, and provided for the comforts of the coming days, while it gathered for her family enough and to spare, yet could have an open hand for the poor and needy. She acted on the principle of the charge given by the wise man to the sluggard, when he bade him consider the ways of the ant, "which provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest." She could give liberally to those who had nothing, while she avoided the censure afterwards pronounced by the apostle, "If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (1Ti 5:8). We have sometimes need to be reminded, that prodigality is not generosity; that there is a prudent care for ourselves and others, which may consist in economising present provision, so as to afford future comfort: and which is, as in the beautiful illustration of womanly virtue now before us, the result of a generous and enlarged thoughtfulness, which forgets not to consider the poor, nor neglects the enjoyment of present good.

Prudence is that necessary part of wisdom, which while it adapts its means to the end, refers chiefly to the prevention of ill. In looking to the future, we must see that evil of one kind or other waits us, if not met by a careful prudence. Even the warm and pleasant days of Palestine-its myrtles and roses-its many‐tinted hues of sky-all had to yield to the winter's snows, and coldness, and barrenness; and thus it is with our life itself. The "prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished" (Pro 22:3); and the wretched fate of the imprudent man, whose want of consideration for the future leads him to poverty and ruin, is too often before us to be forgotten. But there is a worse evil to be prepared for than mere earthly poverty, and cold, and want, and suffering. Death is in itself an evil. Even the apostle could say, when speaking of the disunion of soul and body, "Not for that we would be unclothed" (2Cr 5:4). And if the Christian naturally shrinks from the prospect of death, though his life has been a preparation for heaven, and he knows that God will be with him in dying, oh! how fearful must it be to him, who in life never looked forward to his dying hour! The infidel is an imprudent man, for he hideth himself not from coming evil, but boldly defies the wintry hour of life. The worldly man is imprudent, for he sends forward no careful thought into the long future; and though even our ages are but as a few waves from the great sea of Eternity, which ebb back again into the boundless ocean, yet he lives as if all our interests belonged to Time. The profligate man who despises God, and loses in the sense of present gratification all consciousness of the evil which lies beyond, laments bitterly on his dying bed his neglect of the duty of forethought.

Forethought, however, must be distinguished from foreboding; that cheerful calculation on future events, and providing against the vicissitudes of life, which are exemplified in the text, are wholly different from the dread of coming evil, the anxiety about sorrows which may never happen, which arises from a mistrust of the providence of God. Some people build castles in the air; others seem intent on building dungeons. The over‐anxious mind is distrustful, and makes its owner miserable, when he ought calmly and happily to wait on God, and rely on his promises. To such might be applied the words of the poet:

"Does each day upon its wing
Its allotted burden bring?
Load it not beside with sorrow
Which belongeth to the morrow.
Strength is promised-strength is given
When the heart by God is riven:
But foredate the day of woe,
And alone thou bear'st the blow."

Proverbs 31 Verse 20 ← Prior Section
Proverbs 31 Verse 22 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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