Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thirty One Thursdays - The Value of Virtue

New to Thirty One Thursdays?  Start by reading the Intro Week.

Proverbs 31:10
"Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies."


Have you ever casually glided into a high-end jewelery store just to oggle the diamonds? You find yourself staring through the top of the case at that ring/necklace/bracelet that you will only ever wear in your imagination, when you notice a small puddle of saliva collecting on the glass underneath you. "Good afternoon, may I be of assistance to you today?" A condescendingly tall, gem-strewn woman appears, ruining your tastefully lustful moment, offering you her assistance and a cup of hot tea. Quick, lean on the drool pool before she notices. "No thank you," you say, unsure of why you're speaking in an English accent, "I'm just browsing today." She smiles politely and walks on, as you wipe your moistened sleeve across the glass top.  You move on to the next case, aching desire returning to your chest as your admire the beautiful gems.

Proverbs 31:10-31 tells us about the Virtuous Woman, and right off the bat we're let in on just how valuable she is.  No one is quite sure of her identity, or if it's even an actual person being written about.  Chances are we're reading about an ideal to be pursued.  If verses 10-31 are an extension of verses 1-9, then the writings on the Virtuous Woman are an admonition to King Lemuel from his mother.  She is advising him in the way of seeking out a wife and counseling him in the qualities he should look for.  It is almost certainly not, as we often assume, a biography of a specific woman.

It is also good to know that the series of verses is a poem; an alphabetic acrostic.  Each verse (or line of the poem) corresponds to a letter in the Hebrew alphabet, in order.  Here's a picture of the Hebrew alphabet (sometimes called the Alef Bet after the first two letters) just so you have something to identify with.


Remember, Hebrew is written and read right to left, so the first letter is Alef.  There are also a few repeated letters here, because they are written differently when used in different contexts (in case you were wondering why you were counting more than 22 letters).  Because the writing on the Virtuous Woman is a poem, we can assume that some words were chosen for the sake of the poetry.  We can also rest in the fact that the series of verses itself is intended to be beautiful, and also intended to be remembered.  It may have been written in the form of an alphabetic acrostic to provide for easy memory for a young man.

So we begin with Alef, verse 10.












Let's go back to that feeling you got in the jewelery store, when looking at a beautiful, unattainable piece of jewelery.  Well that is just the beginning of how the world feels about this Virtuous Woman.  We learn that her value, or what she is worth, is far above these beautiful jewels.  The word virtuous comes from the Hebrew word chayil, actually meaning strength, ability, or efficiency, and could be comparable to the strength of an army or the wealth of a city.  It is often used to describe strength of character, and is translated this way in only two other places in the Old Testament.  The first, in the description of Ruth found in Ruth 3:11.  The second, in Proverbs 12:4; "An excellent wife is the crown of her husband."  The words far above come from the Hebrew word rachowq, meaning remote or distant.  It is often used in the context of being very far off but still able to be seen.  It makes me think of how God is distinguished from mankind in His holiness, or how Wisdom is distinguished from foolishness in its perfectness.  In a similar way, a woman of virtue is distinguished from other women of the world in her beauty.  This verse is actually telling us that a woman who has strength of character is a very rare find indeed.  She is set far apart even from the most beautiful thing you've ever laid your eyes on.  Wow.  It's humbling for me to even think about assuming that I could attain this rare beauty in my own life.

But it's crucial for us to remember that we are not the ones who attain it for ourselves.  God is the one who will turn us into these rare gems only when we submit ourselves to Him.  I've been going through a study called Following God; Life Principles from the Women of the Bible. I think the authors of the study state it perfectly:
"[These women are not rare] because God is unable to make many women like this, but because few stay consistently yielded to Him as to attain this level of excellence."
The virtuous woman is not rare because of God's selectivity; she is rare because of mankind's quickness to rebellion.  If I look into my own life and find that I am lacking these rare qualities of strength and efficiency, before complaining to God about it I have to be willing to also look honestly at my level of functional daily surrender to His will.  Becoming a woman of virtue requires submitting to God above and before all else.  Nothing else will get us there.  Nothing else will instill in us the described value.

As we read past verse 10, we will begin to look in detail at the varying traits of the Virtuous Woman.  The list is not intended to make us feel bad about ourselves (remember, it was probably written to a man in the first place!), so I want to encourage you to lower the shield of pride as you read.  The purpose of the Proverbs, this poem included, is to give wisdom and instruction, not to bring condemnation.
"To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth-
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance"
Proverbs 1:2-5
Let's read this poem about the Virtuous Woman as simple instruction that we can see with fresh eyes and be guided by from this point forward.  Let's resolve to read it no longer as that unachievable, guilt-laden to-do list.  If we can come with honesty, humility, and willingness to let God be the teacher, then we will surely learn new truths here.  And we will be transformed into women who are beautifully rare indeed.

THIS WEEK'S ACTION STEP:  Print off a picture of the most beautiful piece of valuable jewelery or pile of gems you can find. Gotta love google image!  Find something that is attractive to you. Tape it to your bathroom mirror, the one you look in every day while getting ready (ya know, the one you've looked into so many times and seen a less than beautiful reflection in). And while you throw on your make-up and tie back your hair, remind yourself that the steps you're taking today in submitting to God, however small they might be, are turning you into something more beautiful and more coveted than that piece of jewelery. Let the image be a visual reminder of what God has destined you for and called you to.

NEXT THURSDAY'S VERSE:
"The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain."
Proverbs 31:11


Citations:
Blue Letter Bible. "The Proverbs of Solomon 31 - (NKJV - New King James Version)." Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 30 Dec 2010. < http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Pro&c=31&t=NKJV >

1 comment:

  1. Tasha,

    Hi, I really like your photo of the hand with the scripture on it. I was wondering if you own that image if it would be ok If I printed it off? If so, do you know if it would print off on a 4x6?

    Thanks!

    Teresa

    ReplyDelete

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