I was browsing through the newly-released second edition of Old Testament Today by John. H. Walton and Andrew E. Hill. The numerous sidebars are packed with useful and reliable information on a host of topics. Here’s the one titled “The Ideal Wife?”

“Proverbs 31:10-31 is an acrostic poem illustrating wisdom in the woman’s world. The woman who is described sounds wonderful. She also sounds impossible! For centuries many women have read this passage and aspired to be that woman. They often have experienced a sense of frustration and failure–even damaged self-esteem–when they felt unable to ‘rise to the Bible’s standard.’ How could they ever succeed at becoming a ‘Proverbs 31 woman?’ Men have exacerbated this situation by using the passage as the basis for their expectations of their wives (not to mention by delivering guilt trips from the pulpit) Whether men are looking for suitable candidates or making demands of their wives, the ideal always seems far removed from reality. It is a sad state when they finally marry, ‘resigned to settle for something less.'”

“Is Proverbs 31 giving guidelines for an achievable ideal? Is it a job description? Does it represent what women should aspire to and what men should seek? We would suggest not and propose an alternative suitable to the literature. Consider rather than using the label ‘ideal,’ understanding the portrait as ‘composite.’ In this view, the chapter contains twenty-two (one for each letter of the alphabet) observations or illustrations about wise or productive women. What are some of the forms wisdom will take in female guise? That is what the chapter explores.”

“A woman should aspire to be wise. To the extent that she is engaged in activities addressed in this chapter, wisdom will give an idea of how to conduct herself. Men should find wisdom in a woman attractive. But this is not a checklist; neither does it exhaust all of the forms that wisdom could take. It represents ‘the ABCs of womanly wisdom.” (380)

Old Testament Today