"Momma knows best"

9 May 1999

Text: Proverbs 31

We do not know who King Lemuel was. The chapter seems to have a non-Israelite origin. And from the passage we learn much about the values and wisdom of Lemuel’s mother. In fact we know more about the values of this woman explicitly than we know of any other woman in scripture—unless you include the personification of wisdom found in Proverbs, which, as it turns out, is feminine in form.

Lemuel’s mother begins her oracle with a recognition of the twofold office of godly motherhood. Her son is both the product of her womb and the product of her vows. She is naturally and spiritually bonded to her child. She elevates marriage to a place of honor and of purity. She urges her son to be a man of purity, of self-control for this is the essence of spiritual manhood. She knows that the opposite, immorality and philandering, is ruinous for the man and for the women he contaminates. This woman is counter-cultural; she refuses to praise men for sexually acting out. She also knows that what we call euphemistically "running around," or "sowing wild oats" saps the vigor out of a man—and the women to share in such dissipation are destroyers. They are wicked and workers of evil. Recognizing the honorable estate of marriage and emphasizing the sexual purity necessary to keeping of vows, this mother begins with instruction for the intimate life. Son, be monogamous, strong and pure.

Her next word has to do with temperance. Excessive drinking and drunkenness are not comely in a man, she notes tersely. There will be pain in life, but anesthetizing oneself with wine and beer is not an option. Firstly, drinking impedes one’s intimate life—robbing the drinker of authenticity and even reality. Secondly, drinking is an impediment to righteousness. It makes a man forgetful—forget of the law and forgetful of manly duty. The law (v. 5) is the gift of God which guides us into holiness. Son, don’t forget that you have a role of spiritual leadership. Be mindful of the things that matter to God—all the time and not just when it’s convenient, or socially advantageous. Secondly, observing the law kept one mindful of his duty to the less fortunate, all the oppressed. She recognizes that a perfect social order is beyond the reach of mankind—every social system has its flaws, its costs and its downside. That is why men, real men, are quickened to the cause of social justice.

Mom knows that there is a proper place for the strong medicine of alcohol: it is to be reserved to those who are dying. It is medicinal and given to person who are suffering at death’s door as a kindness, a mercy. Then forgetfulness serves a more positive function, and easing the misery of pain is humane. Her values are informed, not narrow and prejudicial.

She moves quickly back to the office of manhood: speak up for those who have not advocate, who are incapable of defending themselves. She is particularly concerned for the destitute—those without the means to defend themselves against a richer adversary, or a party more prestigious and powerful. Judge fairly and defend the rights of others sums up a style of selfless manhood.

Men should marry. So Lemuel’s mother moves on to the most important decision of a man’s life in terms of human relationships. A man sufficiently mature, and properly manly, should look for a "wife of noble character. . .she is worth more that rubies." (v.10) Are we really looking at the profile of Lemuel’s prospective wife? I think so. It is in the form of an acrostic poem to make it more memorable. It corresponds to Proverbs 1:1-7 which elevates the "fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom." Verse 8 reads, "Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching." Proverbs 31:1-9 is plainly a mother’s teaching; my contention is simple: that the acrostic poem (vv. 10-31) is a continuation of a mother’s instruction. It sustains the same tone, the same high and elevated view of marriage and, of course, womanhood. A woman of noble character recognizes nobility in being a wife and a mother and knows that quality when she sees it in another woman. For those who hold to the view that woman were suppressed and down-trodden in the Old Testament, the amplitude of this woman’s capable life poses a major difficulty.

A wife’s first duty is to secure her husband’s absolute confidence. She does so by accruing things of value and by doing good, not harm. In other a noble wife honors her husband by what she does and what she says. She is a diligent worker, eager to bring prosperity home. She manages domestic affairs, provides a fine and varied diet, is up early and serves the whole household. A husband also serves the whole household in the New Testament model of discipleship. She is entrepreneurial, making considered investments in real estate. She saves money and spends wisely. She is vigorous and shrewd. She is compassionate and hospitable. Her household has clothing, bedding and shelter.

She supports her husband in his role as a leader in the home and the community. When his station in life, as a family man, is established he sits with the elders and rules. Perhaps this is the root of the requirement that an elder rule his own house well! Also note, his wife ascends in respectability alongside her husband, she possess the dignity and strength of acquired wisdom—it is her role to impart "faithful instruction" as a loving counselor. Just so, in the New Testament church, the elder’s wife is described as being one who instructs younger women. Her husband may be more public, or visible in religious leadership but in the home, and among her acquaintances, she partners in religious instruction and in the transmission of values. Therefore she is respected and honored by her children. Her husband’s mouth is full of her praise—not the praise of infatuation which pertains to the early stages of romancing, but praise that is rooted in her life of solid accomplishment: "you surpass all other women in noble achievements." Charm and beauty are relativized by the wisdom of the seasoned wife and mother. Wisdom is better than these outward traits, which both deceive and flee with time, because wisdom comes with age, with practice and sound instruction—noble is as noble does! A wise woman knows that while she may not be able to much about her natural endowments, she can do much in the department that matters most—she can become a woman of excellence. A wise man, who is considering marriage, needs to consider the potential of his intended to achieve excellence of character, nobility and then, if he is so fortunate as to obtain her favor, never to neglect to treat her as a lady.

Treat her like a lady, regard her as noble, as a woman of excellence. . .call attention to her surpassing accomplishments and praise her wisdom and her character. It all sounds so old fashioned and, dare I say it, wonderful. Why would a woman settle for mere equality if she could have these blessings? If we quit ourselves as men, at least they’d have an option.

Amen.