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

Anne Pratt :: Proverbs 31 Verse 22

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It has ever been, in the East, customary for persons of wealth to dress in magnificent clothing, and to furnish their dwellings in a sumptuous and tasteful manner. There is indeed but little furniture in an oriental house. Couches and sofas, and hangings at the doors, are almost the only objects on which skill can be exercised, or which will admit the display of wealth in the possessor. In such a condition of society, it was certainly the duty of the wife of a Jewish magistrate, both to dress herself, and to array her house, in a style becoming the place and time. Had she done otherwise, she would have neglected the duties of her station, exposed her husband to censure, and herself have borne the reputation of a careless housewife. While to be clothed in silk and purple would be no praise of the modern female, in her it was significant of that sense of propriety which, in all ages, especially becomes the feminine character. The same duty of making home comfortable, of providing suitable furniture and clothing for the family, and of dressing according to her station, is practised by the excellent woman of modern times; and she who is not attired with a woman's neatness, and is indifferent even to the appearance of her house and family, has no claim to the reputation of a good wife, nor can she expect that her children will rise up and call her blessed.

The coverings of tapestry named in this passage refer probably to those embroidered quilted coverlets used in all parts of Asia for the divan or sofa. They might, however, signify carpets for her guests to sit upon; or those richly worked curtains often hung at the oriental door‐way, to keep the warm rays of the sun from entering the apartment; and which, separating the room from the beautiful garden into which it opens, yet admit the soft wind laden with odours from shrubs and flowers. It seems most likely that these coverings of tapestry were worked with the needle, for although in very early days the Greeks and Romans used the loom in embroidering their tapestries, yet the practice of working by the needle was not only earlier, but was continued long after the introduction of the loom, and indeed to comparatively modern times. The Hebrews derived their skill in this art from the Egyptians, and, among this people, either the loom or the hand was employed in this kind of manufacture. Until within the last few centuries much female skill and ingenuity have been bestowed on the working of tapestry, of which the celebrated Bayeux tapestry is a well‐known instance. This piece of needlework, wrought either by the hand of Matilda, the wife of the Norman Conqueror, or worked by her maidens under her direction, is a standing monument of feminine perseverance. It is twenty inches wide, and two hundred and fourteen long. It is worked in woollen threads, and resembles a large sampler: portraying, in figures somewhat uncouth, the various events connected with the Norman Conquest.

The curtains of the Jewish Tabernacle described in the book of Exodus 26-27, "made of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet," are generally supposed to have been made of needlework, in which the Jewish women are known to have excelled. Some of these curtains had precious stones, and wires of gold worked in among the threads, as we see in the "clothes of service," and "holy garments," described by Moses. "And they did beat the gold into thin plates, and cut it into wires, to work it in the blue, and in the purple, and in the scarlet, and in the fine linen, with cunning work" (Exd 39:33). That pictures describing various scenes of life or landscape were traced by female hands on their tapestries, there can be little doubt. Archbishop Cranmer translates the first and second verses of Exodus 26 (Exd 26:1-2): "Thou shalt make curtaynes of whyte twyned silke, yelowe sylke, purple and scarlet. And in them thou shalt make pyctures of broidered work." The celebrated Babylonian tapestries were wrought with the needle, and represented either the mysteries of religion, or some historical incidents; and the Greek and Roman ladies wrought embroideries, which told to the eye a tale of hunting or war, of love or sorrow, and even in those early days wove tapestry, little inferior to that which graces the halls of some of our old English castles and mansions.

The taste for brilliant colouring, so marked among the people of the East, seems a natural consequence of the bright hue of nature in the lands in which they reside; and the sober tints of our colder climate may have had their effect in moderating that taste in our own land. In countries in which the flowers are so brilliant, that the flame itself seems hardly to exceed their brightness; where insects of ruby colour or of brightest emerald unfold their wings; and birds varying in tint from every shade of purple to faintest azure fly among the trees, there is a depth of richness of colouring to which our eye is unaccustomed. The amethyst sky at sunset; the very mountain peaks, tinged as they are, in some eastern lands, with hues of rose and violet, and orange-

"For God has set his rainbows on them, while the cloud
Lies at their feet:"

These, when seen constantly, tend to impart to the taste a love for the bright and gorgeous tints which God has sent to colour this earthly home. Blue, in every variety, was a favourite colour with the ancient Hebrews. We find it mentioned continually in the decoration of the Tabernacle, and the dress of the priest; and it is generally thought to have been procured from indigo, which appears from the mummy cloths to have been used by the Egyptians, and was therefore doubtless known to the Jews. It is rather remarkable, that in modern times this colour is not esteemed in Palestine, nor admired as it once was, but has become connected with the idea of meanness, and worn only by the poorest of the people. But the purple was the colour which appears to have had pre‐eminence in ancient times, and which was so generally appropriated to kings and important personages, that even unto modern days the purple robe is emblematic of royalty. At a period early as that when Israel was ruled by judges, we find mention of this colour, as worn by royal persons; and on that eventful day,

"When grove was felled, and altar was cast down,
And Gideon blew the trumpet, soul‐inflamed,
And strong in hatred of idolatry"-

the kings of Midian appeared "clothed in purple raiment" (Jdg 8:26). It was, too, with the purple robe that Mordecai was decked, when he was promoted to honour by the Persian king; and to be clothed in purple and fine linen, was the distinction of the rich man in the parable of the New Testament.

The purple mentioned in the text, is believed by most writers to be the highly valued Tyrian dye. This colour was known in very ancient times, and prized, not only by the Hebrews, but by the Greeks and Romans. It was procured from two species of fish found on the shores of the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas: the one (buccinum) adhered to the rocks; the other (purpura) floated in the sea, and it was this species which afforded the dye most in request, and which is called in the Apocrypha, the purple of the sea. From various varieties of these two species of shell‐fish several tints of purple were obtained. The one was of a paler hue, and more resembling our scarlet; another was a deep violet tint, a colour much valued by the Roman ladies in the time of Augustus; but the hue most admired was that deep purplish crimson, which resembles clotted blood. This is said by Mr. Harmer to be the most sublime of all earthly colours, "having the gaudiness of red, of which it retains a shade, softened with the gravity of blue."

We can form some idea of the expensive nature of Tyrian purples, when we consider how large a number of shell‐fish must be collected to furnish even a small quantity of the dye. These fish were sometimes two feet in length, but the only portion which yielded the colour was a small white vein in the neck, so that a number of fishermen must have been employed, for many days, before they could obtain enough to colour even a single garment. The art of dyeing the Tyrian purple is now lost, but it is probable that its place is well supplied by the rich hues of vegetable dyes employed in modern times.

The Rev. A. Bonar and Robert M'Cheyne, who lately visited the Holy Land, on a mission of inquiry respecting the Jews, remark of the shore near the Bay of Acre: "We saw some of our neighbours seeking for specimens of the shell‐fish, from which in ancient times used to be extracted the famous purple dye. We did not find any specimens, but were told it is still to be found there. It used to be found in all parts of the Bay, and there were two kinds of it. One of these yielded a dark blue colour, the other a brighter tint, like scarlet; and by mingling these two juices, the true purple colour was obtained." "It was thus," adds the writer, "that Asher, whose rich and beautiful plain supplied viands fit for the table of kings, yielded also the dye of their royal robes, conveyed to many a distant coast by the merchants of Tyre and Sidon; and thus we see the full meaning of Jacob's blessing on Asher, 'he shall yield royal dainties.'"

The great use of the purple colour among the wealthy classes of the Hebrews gave employment to many of the Tyrian merchants. Thus we find that when Ezekiel addressed Tyrus, in the language of prophecy, he referred to it: "Syria was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of the wares of thy making: they occupied in thy fairs with emeralds, purple, and broidered work" (Eze 27:16). In later ages, we read of a very interesting character, Lydia, who was "a seller of purple" at Thyatira, whose "heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul," and whose warm and earnest love to the apostle and his companions, urged her to constrain them to dwell in her house (Act 16:14-15); and this rich colour, in which the matron of the text is said to be clothed, was probably one of those species of merchandise which she is said, "like the merchants' ships, to have brought from afar."

Proverbs 31 Verse 21 ← Prior Section
Proverbs 31 Verse 23 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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