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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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PROVERBS 31

Prov. 31:1


 
Verse 1
The words of king Lemuel; the oracle which his mother taught him.

This verse is rendered differently in some translations: "The word of Lemuel, king of Massa, which his mother taught him."F1 "These are the solemn words which King Lemuel's mother said to him."F2 If these renditions should be allowed (and we seriously doubt it), then Lemuel was not even an Israelite. "Massa was an Arab tribe descended from Abraham through Ishmael (Genesis 25:14)";F3 but there is no record whatever of any such thing as a state called Massa ruled by a king. See the comment on Prov. 30:1 regarding the importance of translating the word here as "oracle," indicating the authority of the passage. "There is no need to suppose that Lemuel was the author of that beautiful poem on the perfect wife that follows."F4 That Lemuel himself was indeed a king appears in his mother's words, although, "king of what," no one knows.

McGee and others have supposed that Lemuel was the same as King Solomon. "Lemuel was Bathsheba's `pet name' for her son Solomon."F5 There's nothing in this passage that sounds like Bathsheba to this writer.

THE WORDS OF LEMUEL

What, my son? and what, O son of my womb?

And what, O son of my vows?

Give not thy strength unto women,

Nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine;

Nor for princes to say, Where is strong drink?

Lest they drink, and forget the law,

And pervert the justice that is due to any that are afflicted.

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish,

And wine unto the bitter in soul:

Let him drink, and forget his poverty,

And remember his misery no more.

Open thy mouth for the dumb,

In the cause of all such that are left desolate.

Open thy mouth, judge righteously,

And minister justice to the poor and needy."


 
Verses 2-9
What, my son? and what, O son of my womb? And what, O son of my vows? Give not thy strength unto women, Nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; Nor for princes [to say], Where is strong drink? Lest they drink, and forget the law, And pervert the justice [due] to any that is afflicted. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, And wine unto the bitter in soul: Let him drink, and forget his poverty, And remember his misery no more. Open thy mouth for the dumb, In the cause of all such as are left desolate. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, And minister justice to the poor and needy.
(Proverbs 31:2). This suggests that, He was given to his mother in response to her vows, as was Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11).

Give not thy strength unto women
(Proverbs 31:3). The parallel line suggests that failure to heed this warning is indeed the way that destroys kings.

It is not for kings. it is not for kings to drink wine
(Prov. 31: 4). This is not a double warning against excessive drinking of wine, but against drinking wine. Furthermore, the warning is just as valid for private citizens as it is for kings and for everyone else who is not ready to perish.

Drinking alcoholic beverages, "Opens all the sanctuaries of nature, exposes all its weakness and follies, multiplies sins and uncovers the nakedness of both soul and body. It takes a man's soul into imprisonment more than any other vice, completely disarming a man of his reason and wisdom. More and more, those who thus indulge become less and less a man and more and more a fool!"F6

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish
(Proverbs 31:6). The proper use of alcohol appears here. In the Bible, Alcohol is considered to have its proper use, not as an intoxicating drink, but for medicinal and restorative purposes (1 Timothy 5:23).F7

Fritsch in the Interpreter's Bible wrote, "These words deprecate overindulgence";F8 but Harris wrote more wisely, "This is not an allowance of moderate drinking, as Fritsch suggests. It recommends alcohol as a drug."F9 "Upon the basis of this proverb, the noble women of Jerusalem gave a potion of strong drink to malefactors condemned to death, a potion which Jesus refused (Mark 15:23)."F10

These nine verses taken as a whole are primarily concerned, on the part of Lemuel's mother, that her son should avoid the pitfalls of sex and liquor. After all, as Harris said, "Wine, women and song are the old debasing trio";F11 and if one wishes to stay innocent in this regard, it is not nearly enough to "quit singing"!

There follows next in this final chapter an acrostic, "An alphabetical poem on the Virtuous Woman; and the alphabet here is regular, unlike the acrostics in Lamentations and Psalm 119, where minor reversals of certain letters and a few other irregularities are found. The most important thing to remember about these alphabetical portions of the Bible, is that according to recently discovered Ugarit writings using this format during the fifteenth century B.C., alphabetical writings are no longer any evidence whatever of a late date."F12

THE VIRTUOUS WOMAN

'aleph='


 
Verses 10-31
A worthy woman who can find? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband trusteth in her, And he shall have no lack of gain. She doeth him good and not evil All the days of her life. She seeketh wool and flax, And worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchant-ships; She bringeth her bread from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, And giveth food to her household, And their task to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it; With the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, And maketh strong her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is profitable: Her lamp goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the distaff, And her hands hold the spindle. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; Yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household; For all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh for herself carpets of tapestry; Her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, When he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh linen garments and selleth them, And delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing; And she laugheth at the time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; And the law of kindness is on her tongue. She looketh well to the ways of her household, And eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children rise up, and call her blessed; Her husband [also], and he praiseth her, [saying]: Many daughters have done worthily, But thou excellest them all. Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; [But] a woman that feareth Jehovah, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; And let her works praise her in the gates.

beth=b,v

The heart of her husband trusteth in her, And he shall have no lack of gain…

gimel=g,gh

She doeth him good and not evil All the days of her life…

daleth=d

She seeketh wool and flax, And worketh willingly with her hands…

he=h

She is like the merchant-ships; She bringeth her bread from afar…

waw=w

She riseth also while it is yet night, And giveth food to her household, And their task to her maidens…

zayin=z

She considereth a field, and buyeth it; With the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard…

beth=k,kh

She girdeth her loins with strength, And maketh strong her arms…

teth=T

She perceiveth that her merchandise is profitable; Her lamp goeth not out by night…

yodh=y

She layeth her hands to the distaff, And her hands take hold of the spindle…

kaph=kF5,kh

She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; Yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.

lamed=l

She is not afraid of the snow for her household; For all her household are clothed with scarlet…

mem=m

She maketh for herself carpets of tapestry; Her clothing is fine linen and purple…

nun=n

Her husband is known in the gates, When he sitteth among the elders of the land…

camek=c (with an "s" sound)

She maketh linen garments and selleth them, And delivereth girdles unto the merchant…

`ayin=`

Strength and dignity are her clothing; And she laugheth at the time to come…

pe=p,f

She openeth her mouth with wisdom; And the law of kindness is on her tongue…

tsade=ts

She looketh well to the ways of her household, And eateth not the bread of idleness…

koph=q

Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying,

resh=r

Many daughters have done worthily, But thou excellest them all…

sin=s

shin=sh

Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; But a woman that feareth Jehovah, she shall be praised…

tav=t,th

Give her of the fruit of her hands; And let her works praise her in the gates…

This poem needs no explanation. It is a brilliant description, not only of the ideal Jewish wife of Israel's ancient history, but also of the typical wife of those American pioneers who built our nation, for this ideal was generally adopted by that whole generation of Bible-reading, God-fearing people who built a civilization in the wilderness of North America. This truth is illustrated by the fact that this poem has been publicly read at the funerals of thousands of women during this century and the last, many occasions having been those in which this writer read the chapter.

"This beautiful poem is a fitting climax to the Book of Proverbs."F13 Throughout Proverbs, we have had all kinds of warnings against women who are prostitutes, adulterous, contentious, nagging, etc., but here we have emphasis upon the woman who is truly noble.

Her many wonderful qualities are thrift, industry, kindness, compassion, efficiency, business sense, discretion, discernment, true love, faithfulness and all the other graces and virtues of true womanhood. However, her crowning glory is mentioned in the concluding verses: "A WOMAN THAT FEARETH JEHOVAH"! There is no ability or achievement that surpasses the sacred worthiness of a truly Christian woman. Blessed be her name for ever! Those who fail to find salvation and fulfillment in Christ Jesus, regardless of other so-called achievements and successes, have failed totally.

The worthy woman in view here was wealthy, having servants of her own, money to purchase a field; and her husband was one of the "city fathers," sitting in the gates; and she stands as a paradigm of the Old Testament ideal of womanhood. This Old Testament ideal needs the enhancement of New Testament values, in which the poor widow who cast her last two mites into the treasury was awarded the praise of the Head of our holy religion, and in which the destitute woman with the issue of blood, a Gentile dog in the eyes of her contemporaries, exhibited a faith which Christ found, "No, not in Israel."

Nevertheless, this ideal of the "Worthy Woman" is exactly the one which was exhibited by the vast majority of the pioneer women of America who, in a very real sense, were the architects of our current civilization. This writer's mother, and both his maternal and paternal grandmothers, as well as those corresponding ancestors of this writer's wife, fully measured up to what is stated here of the "Worthy Woman." They were THAT KIND OF WOMEN. There's altogether a new breed of women in vogue today; and it is far too early to give an accurate appraisal of the consequences. However, we are sure, as Jamieson stated it, that, "Upon the ability of the women of this generation to measure up to the ideals of this marvelous portrait of the Worthy Woman, there rest untold results in the domestic, civil and religious welfare of our nation."F14 GOD HELP THE WOMEN OF OUR DAY TO RECOGNIZE IN JESUS CHRIST THEIR TRUE LIBERATOR!


Footnotes for Proverbs 31
1: The Bible, An American Translation; Revised Standard Version.
2: The Good News Bible.
3: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 549.
4: Ibid.
5: J. Vernon McGee, Vol. III, p. 102.
6: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 598.
7: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), Vol. 5, p. 97.
8: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 4, p. 954.
9: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 582.
10: Delitzsch in C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), Vol. 6b, p. 322.
11: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 582
12: Ibid.
13: George DeHoff's Commentary, Vol. III, p. 308.
14: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 402.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 31". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=pr&chapter=031>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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