Give Not Thy Strength To Women
July 16, 2020 · C.E. Carter
The book of Proverbs, chapter 31, is cited often for its exposition of the qualities of an excellent wife: a woman who is trustworthy, kind, strong, industrious, entrepreneurial, skilled, upright, a master of her household, and God-fearing. The sentiment of her character is summarized in the final verse of the chapter by her husband who proclaims, “Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.” She is nothing short of remarkable; a prime example of the kind of woman a young man seeking to be married should look for.
Proverbs is a unique book in the Bible. It stands among two other Old Testament books, namely Ecclesiastes and Job, and one New Testament book, namely James, as an example of what Bible scholars call “wisdom literature”. These four books have a different narrative structure than other books in the Bible, in that their aim is to glorify God by demonstrating to His creatures what is “the good and full life” and what would impede obtaining it. Proverbs is just what it says it is: a set of sayings, proverbs, and maxims intended to guide the reader to that end. With this in view it places its thesis at the beginning of the book, in the seventh verse of the first chapter, that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and understanding”. From this, we are lead to deduce that the whole of a person’s behavior, and therefore the whole of their life, will be framed by the context of their reverence for God. From the fear of God we begin our schooling in wisdom, knowing nothing but Christ, as a redeemed and yet marred slate upon which the maxims of knowledge will be carved. Education in knowledge and wisdom is unnatural for us, since we are by nature compelled to act unwisely and selfishly because of sin; the unfit life we would ordinarily live if wisdom were not to intervene must be tempered out of us by some amount of willingness to change. It is from here where our pedantry begins, first from an older man in our life who sits us down and begins to teach us: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching”. During our schooling we grow to learn the maxims of wisdom from Lady Wisdom, from King Solomon, from Agur the son of Jakeh, and finally in the last chapter of the book we learn “the words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him”. It is as if we have grown up from being a boy, having developed both in stature and in wisdom, ready to begin life on our own. The car is packed, and our mother implores us with one final word of wisdom in the driveway before we depart: “What, O my son? Do not give your strength to women, or your ways to that which destroys kings”.
The Proverbs 31 woman is a popular point of exposition, but far less often is the character of the Proverbs 31 man exemplified. He is temperate, chaste, sober, and not given to sensuality. When he is single and seeking marriage, he seeks a woman of excellent character, but not in a manner which is frantic or rash, or with any urgency that would be inappropriate for making a good decision. He seeks her with an astute and detached awareness as he carries on with the duties of his life. If a woman catches his attention, he does not let the prospect of romance with her impede him in accomplishing his God-given objectives.
A common way in which young men “give their strength to women” is by living as if singleness was an inferior state to marriage. Their strength is given away, in that their time and mental energy are spent “looking for a wife”, as if it were appropriate for it to be an active and involved pursuit. A young man ought to trust God more. If he is single, then He ought to rejoice and be content in His singleness, knowing that it gives him the opportunity to serve the Lord in ways which he could not do if he were married. If God assigns him work that requires the help of a woman, such as raising a family, then God will give him a wife so that he may do so. He need not spend his energy looking for one, or pining away for the day when he was married to someone of his liking. In Christendom, there are those who serve the Lord by being single, and those who serve Him by being married. Both are paths in life which have very different kinds of work to be done, and both are rife with different kinds of troubles and challenges and temptations. We need not think that marriage is an instrument to fix all of our various and sundry desires and weaknesses; it merely replaces them with new ones. Evangelical culture (but thankfully not Evangelical teaching) can be fairly unbiblical with respect to its attitude towards marriage, in that it views marriage as a certain kind of “goal” or “standard” of Christian living. We ought to follow Paul’s teaching in his first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter seven. Are you single, wishing to be married, and have a prospective woman to marry? Then get married. Are you single, with no prospects? Or are the circumstances of your life not conducive to being married? Or do you have a conviction to remain single? Then remain in your singleness, and do not seek a wife; commit your strength towards your daily responsibilities, living in a righteous manner, growing competent in a set of skills, developing an established life, and educating yourself in doctrine, theology, and church history. In doing these things, your priorities will be ordered properly.