A fellow blogger mommy posted this on Facebook the other day. She is a Christian woman, relating what she learned about Proverbs 31 from a Jewish friend. This passage apparently has a very different context in the two traditions. In Judaism, this is the source of the song Eshet Chayil ("Woman of Valor"), which men traditionally sing to their wives for Shabbat, celebrating them and their accomplishments. In Christianity, many apparently take it as a to-do list for women..... Very different!
Well, as I often do when people reference the Bible, I went to look it up in context. I found it interesting that the famous acrostic poem does NOT start at the beginning of the chapter, but only on the tenth verse. The skipped verses are:
The first verse announces that this entire section is the King's mother instructing him in being a good king. It is, start to finish, a woman's voice speaking to a powerful man, lovingly guiding him in reaching his full potential as a powerful, spiritual being. And what is it that she tells him?
1. Don't be a womanizer!
2. Learn from the examples of others to avoid ruin.
3. Don't get drunk. You are a powerful man, and alcohol will undermine your ability to fulfill your duties honorably.
So far, pretty straightforward advice. but she pushes on:
4. Rather than drinking yourself, give drink to the poor and suffering, to help them forget their misery.
5. Speak up for those who have no voice, who have been written off by society.
6. Speak up for justice, for all those who are poor and needy.
While the first three can be seen as selfishly good advice for living a happy, wholesome life, this set of instructions admonish the King to go beyond living honorably. As one who is in a position of power, he must be proactive in using that awesome power for good. He must seek out those who are suffering and have no voice, alleviate their suffering, speak up for them, and act on their behalf.
And how is he to do all this? The King's mother knows full well both the temptations of the world (1-3) and the daunting magnitude of standing up for the downtrodden (4-6). Don't try to do it alone, she tells him:
And THAT is the context for Eshet Chayil.