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

Anne Pratt :: Proverbs 31 Verse 13

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SHE SEEKETH WOOL AND FLAX,
AND WORKETH WILLINGLY WITH HER HANDS

Image-SHE SEEKETH WOOL AND FLAX

The whole description, given by the inspired writer, of the employments of the Jewish matron, belongs either to primitive ages, or to those pastoral regions of modern times, in which commerce with other nations has made little progress, and foreign manufactures are almost unknown. Recently the Hebrew people had been engaged continually in battle, and now the men of Israel were chiefly occupied with agriculture and pastoral employments. Trade with other lands was confined to occasional barter, and the various stuffs needful for the clothing of the household, though sometimes wrought by the professed weaver, were chiefly fabricated by the hands of the mistresses or maidens of the Jewish homes. Solomon, indeed, had fetched spices from Arabia, and fine linen from Egypt; and in his love for natural history, had assembled in his capital the birds and animals of distant countries; yet his traffic seems to have been almost confined to his own requirements, and not to have extended itself to his subjects. In such a state of society, the domestic industry of the female part of the population becomes so necessary, that it is always encouraged and valued. The ancient Romans, under circumstances somewhat similar, expected from their wives a great degree of attention to household employments, and this was enjoined by their marriage rites. So also among the Greeks, in the early ages of the world, the mistress worked with her servants, and the high‐born lady as well as the daughter of the peasant performed those humble and more active duties, generally left, in our time and country, to the poor. Homer intimates that the daughters of princes washed in the fountain the clothing of the family; while from Scripture we learn, that Rebecca, the heiress of a pastoral prince, gave drink to the servant of Abraham, and afterwards drew water for himself and his cattle. Rachel, too, the beautiful daughter of one who possessed sheep and herds in abundance, yet kept her father's flocks on the plains of Syria, exposed to the scorching heat of day, if not to the heavy dews of night. Even now in the pastoral regions of Asia, it is the glory of a woman that her own hand has wrought the clothing of her husband, son, or brother, and has decked the walls of their dwellings; and a helpless, useless woman, would be despised by the other females of her tribe.

So it was of old,
That woman's hand, amid the elements
Of patient industry and household good,
Reproachless wrought, twining the slender thread
From the light distaff; or in skilful loom
Weaving rich tissues, or with glowing tints
Of rich embroidery, pleased to decorate
The mantle of her lord. And it was well;
For in such sheltered and congenial sphere
Content with duty dwell.

And this diligent industry, so applicable to the wants of the people, had its praise of God, while the luxurious and delicate habits of the daughters of Zion, in later ages, are marked with his displeasure. It is with stern reprobation that the prophet Isaiah speaks of the rings, and chains, and mufflers, and fine linen, of the Jewish ladies, whose haughty demeanour called for the solemn threatenings of God; and all whose ornaments were to be forgotten soon, when Zion, the faithless Zion, should be full of mourning and lamentation, and "being desolate should sit upon the ground" (Isa 3:16-26).

Owing to the almost unchanging customs of Eastern nations, the people of modern Palestine are probably clothed nearly in the same manner as the ancient Hebrews, and a variety of woollen and linen garments are still worn in that land. When Hannah made the young Samuel a little coat, and brought it to him, year by year, as she came up with her husband to the yearly sacrifice, she performed the part of a mother in Israel; and in all likelihood carried to her beloved child a garment of pure white linen, or wool, for such were much worn by the ancient Jews, to whom frequent purifications and washings were commanded by Israel's God. It might have been, however, a coat, like that of Joseph, of many colours, for brilliant dyes and skilful embroidery were often used by the Israelites to ornament their dresses. One prohibition on the subject of woollen clothing had been given to the Jews. God had forbidden them to wear a garment made of woollen and linen, for in such a dress the heathen priests worshipped their false gods, in the superstitious hope of a blessing on their flax and their sheep; and the one true God, the Great Jehovah, would that his chosen race should come out from idolaters, and be a separate people.

The excellent woman whom we are considering, was evidently a person of wealth and distinction-she was the wife of one who sat among the elders of the land, and we may reasonably suppose that she gathered the flax from her own fields, as well as that the wool was the produce of her own flocks. Flax was one of the plants earliest cultivated by mankind in masses. Its bright green stalks withered before the plague of hail, which came upon Egypt, when the flax and barley were smitten; and its bright blue flower seems to have been very abundant in

That fertile land, where mighty Moses stretched
His rod miraculous.

A little later in the history of the world, we find a woman preparing it for use, for Rahab had laid the stalks of flax on the roof of her house, that the scorching sun and the damp Syrian dews might macerate its fibres, when the spies entreated her compassion, and were hidden by her among the half‐dried plants. "By comparing the several passages in Scripture," says Kitto, "in which flax is mentioned, we shall find the amount to be, that flax was cultivated to a considerable extent in Palestine; that garments of it were worn not only by the priests and Levites, but very largely by the people. The coarse linen cloths were manufactured at home by the women, but the finer were imported from Egypt; the ancient celebrity of which country, for its linen fabrics, is abundantly confirmed in Scripture. We cannot find that flax is now much cultivated in Palestine, although considerable attention is paid to the culture of cotton. It may be that the soil and climate are less suited than that of Egypt to its production."

There is a cheerfulness and heartiness in the character which the inspired writer gives of the Jewish woman. She "worketh willingly," or as some translate it, "with the delight of her hands;" and it is this willingness which lends a grace to every household employment, and infuses a spirit of alacrity into the daily duties of life. Cheerful willingness is no small virtue in a woman; for the duties performed with a smiling countenance and a ready hand, are far differently done from those which seem wrung out of necessity, and are accompanied by a mournful voice, and a languid footstep. A willing mind is enjoined, by God's word, on every performance of duty. With the Most High, the motive of the heart is regarded, rather than the outward act. So we learn that in working for God, "If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" (2Cr 8:12): while to both mistress and servant comes the exhortation respecting the humble duties of every‐day life, "Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men" (Col 3:23).

If we consider the benefits which we hourly receive from the Great Giver of all good gifts, we shall see that a willing cheerfulness is indeed but the proper response which should be given by his human family. There may, it is true, be a cheerfulness which is in no way connected with thankfulness, but never yet was there a thankful spirit which did not lead to acts of cheerful service. And notwithstanding the various sorrows which sin has brought into the world, yet how much remains to gladden the heart of one who is disposed to observe God's goodness. How do all our senses minister to enjoyment! The sense of touch, and the sense of taste, are continually gratified, and delicious odours greet us from a thousand flowers. And the eye of man, how is it an inlet to wisdom, and what beautiful forms, and what gorgeous colourings please our sight, and thus charm our imagination, till we are, lost in wonder at the sublime, or melt in tenderness at lowly beauty! And the ear, too, made as it is to receive the impression of all sweet sounds and concords, how do the tunes of birds, and the roar of waters, and the sweet tinklings of the distant bell, and the low murmuring of the pleasant brooks, and the soothing influence of kindly voices, bring through it a song of joy to the spirit, or, sweeter still, a song of softened and pensive tunefulness. And when outward nature speaks to us through the senses, then and then only is it rightly received, while it tells of God and his goodness; and when the grateful heart prompts words of thankfulness to the ready tongue, and the willing hand performs the active service, in the spirit of him who said, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his mercies?" (Psa 116:12).

And if all might render willing service to God in acknowledgment of mercies, how much more shall the child of God be ready to perform every duty with an enlightened thankfulness! To him is given the precious Bible; on him are bestowed its promises, cheering him under every sorrow, and telling him that God is with him in the darkest hour, yea, even in the valley of the shadow of death. To him is access given to the throne of grace, so that his prayers rise up to God, through the intercession of the great Mediator. For him the Saviour lived a life of sorrow and humiliation, and died a dishonoured death, that his sins might be pardoned, and his soul saved from the wrath which God denounces against the transgressors of his holy law. To him are often given holy aspirations after God's presence, and a sure sense of his love; so that he seems able to join even in the songs of heaven, and his spirit seems carried away for a while from his earthly house, up to that glorious home of rest which is eternal, and where God and the blessed angels shall at last receive him.

Every one must have remarked how pleasant is that household in which a cheerful spirit of energy is cultivated by the mistress and mother. It is a pleasant thing to dwell with one who is not troubled by trifling annoyances, who is skilled in looking at the bright side of things, and hoping for the best; with one who believes that all the ways of the Lord are right, and who attaches a deep importance to duty. Such a one will work willingly, in the belief that God has appointed both her lot and her duties, and it is surprising how many obstacles are met and overcome by such a spirit.

The wise and active conquer difficulties
By daring to attempt them. Sloth and folly
Shiver and shrink at sight of toil and trouble,
And make the impossibilities they fear.

The employments of daily life, of women especially, need often the remembrance that they are done in the sight of Him, in whose eye the lowliest act is of importance. There are many persons who do not perform them well, because they do not look upon them as part of their religious duties. Such persons could perhaps make great sacrifices for conscience sake; they could act nobly and wisely if any great service were demanded; but they do not consider that the whole progress of human life consists of a succession of small acts. It is often with lesser duties as with lesser trials, that strength to do or to bear is not sought of God. Some great trial befalls us, some important sacrifice is required, and feeling our helplessness, we fall back upon God, and support is given; but every‐day events are, by their very monotony, unimpressive; we think lightly of them, and the help of God is not sought, and they are not duly considered, and so are performed in a careless, perhaps in an unwilling spirit. But He who is the Judge of all the earth, looks down with approval on the mother whose life is one daily course of self‐sacrifice, on the daughter whose gentle smiles and willing work render home happy, rather than on her who is roused from a course of usual listlessness to some one act of great exertion, or to some one costly deed of self‐denial. The flash of lightning produces a great effect; and the clearer air, and the cloudless sky, show that it has well performed God's mission; yet who would not rather that her light should shine like that of the evening star, whose tranquil rays nightly guide the traveller home, and cheer the mariner on the deep, and smile sweetly on the shepherd who watches by his fold, till they "fade away into the light of heaven."

Proverbs 31 Verse 12 ← Prior Section
Proverbs 31 Verse 14 Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

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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