Mothers’ Day has been celebrated in very different ways for the last few year because of safe distancing measures. Instead of having lunch together, many had virtual online gatherings. Although these involved more effort than before, it is only right that we honour all mothers today for a very simple reason: They deserve it!
In ancient Israel, children had to honour both mother and father alike. In fact Leviticus 19:3 says, “Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father,…” putting her first. Let us remember some of the praiseworthy characteristics of the virtuous mother by looking at Proverbs 31:10-31. This passage, written in the form of a poem with eight stanzas, was quite important to the Jews as it was recited by Jewish husbands and children at the Sabbath meal every week on Friday night.
It has 22 verses, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This made memorization easier and also served to organize thought. We may say then, that the poem is an organized arrangement of the virtues of a wise mother. It presents a pattern or example for godly mothers to follow if they want to develop a life of wisdom. It is also useful as instructions for the bride-to-be, and it gives a biblical perspective about career women.
Thus it speaks primarily to women who intend to marry, or who are already married or working. This does not mean that it is irrelevant to the rest of us. Many of its principles are actually universal and apply not to women alone but to men as well: Faithfulness in the stewardship of time and talents that God has given to us, the virtue of being productive and beneficial to others, and the need to balance family, work, and social responsibilities well. Thus, there are precious lessons for all of us to learn from it.
Good Character (vv.10-12)
“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.” (vv.11,12)
The first virtue that is highlighted here about the virtuous mother is her trustworthiness – “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her.” Trust is one of the most important elements in a marriage relationship. It is a deep sense of confidence one has in one’s spouse. If you want to be a good wife, be someone that your husband can take into confidence, and do not betray his trust.
In the Old Testament we have a negative example in Rebecca. She schemed against her aged and blind husband, Isaac, so that her favourite son, Jacob would receive his blessing instead of Esau (Genesis 27:1-17). Nothing is mentioned about their marriage relationship after that, but we can imagine that Isaac’s level of confidence in his wife was not quite the same from that time onward. Both husbands and wives should never be doing things behind their spouses’ backs. This is one sure way to spoil their spouses’ trust in them.
The second virtue about the virtuous mother is her faithfulness. “She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.” (v.12) On her wedding day the bride makes the vow of faithfulness to the groom. She says to him that she takes him to be her husband, “to have and to hold from this day forward for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part.” That vow must be remembered and kept no matter what happens in the marriage.
Industrious Efforts for the Family (vv.13-15)
“She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.”
The virtuous mother takes her responsibilities as a home-maker seriously, even to the extent of working when the rest of the family are fast asleep. The comparison with merchant ships suggests that she brings a continual supply of abundance. Through her efforts there is always cooked food on the dining table at mealtimes, and there are always freshly washed and ironed clothes in the closets.
Let us not take these daily home-making tasks for granted. We truly salute all mothers who have been excellent home-makers, as they are the heart of the Christian home! Unlike their husbands who get paid according to the work they do, and paid more for overtime work, these hardworking mothers receive nothing but the satisfaction of seeing their loved ones happy and contented. Husband, if you have a wife like that, consider yourself to be very blessed, and be sure to show your great appreciation to her. While you fight your daily battles in the stress and strain of the outside world, she is faithfully holding the fort at home!
Financial Enterprise (vv.16-18)
“She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.”
This portrays the virtuous mother as a businesswoman, making wise investments with her earnings. This passage makes it clear that God has nothing against mothers who go out to work for a living, to supplement the family’s income. What God disapproves of are those who neglect the needs of the household as a result of their work or career.
The important question that all working mothers should ask is: “Why do I go out to work?” If economic survival is the answer, then the choice is right. But economic survival and a better standard of living are not the same.
Some mothers work outside only to find self-fulfilment and self-worth. “I don’t want to be just a housewife.” Others dislike the drudgery of washing, ironing and cooking, and work so they can employ a maid to do these things. But let all working mothers always bear in mind that the more time they spend away from home, the less time they have with their husband and children. Please be careful not to sacrifice the precious time you can spend nurturing your children at present, just to provide all that they will ever need for their future. You may end up having affluent but alienated children.
Provision for the Family and for the Poor (vv.19-21)
“She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. 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.”
The spindle and the distaff are the instruments used to weave cloth. This was part of the wife’s tasks in those days. Today, the modern wife would just buy material or readymade clothes at a department store. And that takes effort also – to do shopping, compare prices, and get the best value for money. Instead of holding a spindle and distaff she holds a smartphone and a discount card!
The virtuous mother’s concern goes beyond the four walls of her home. She also cares for the poor and needy.
Distinction by Industry (vv.22-24)
“She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.”
This section reveals that the virtuous mother’s work is of the finest quality because she puts her heart into all that she does. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) She applies herself fully to whatever she does, be it housework, motherhood, or being a helpmeet to her spouse.
And the excellent supportive role that she plays at home creates the kind of conditions that help her husband to do his best as well. As v.23 says, he is known in the gates. The “gates” here refer to the gates of the city, which in those days was the place where all the city’s elders and leaders would assemble each day for judicial or legislative purposes. For anyone to be known by them, means that that person is someone of good repute and accomplishment. There is a saying that behind every great man, there is a woman (or rather, a devoted wife) whose untiring efforts have enabled him to attain to greatness!
Wisdom and Kindness (vv.25-27)
“Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.”
Verse 26 tells us how this virtuous mother uses her tongue – not to break down, but to build up. What a contrast she is to the habitual gossiper or talebearer. James chapter 3 tells us what great damage this little part of our body can do: “The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (v.8) Let us be careful how we use the tongue. Let us be like this virtuous mother: Her words are carefully thought through before they are said. They are designed to edify and encourage, not to criticize and discourage.
Merits Recognized (vv.28-31)
“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.”
The key word here is ‘praise’ which is found three times. The virtuous mother earns not only the praise of her own family, but also the praise of society. But the most important praise of all that she gains is the praise of the Lord! And what is she praised for? Not for her charm or beauty, but for her godly character, and the enduring accomplishments of her life.
May the Lord help all mothers in our midst to make this virtuous mother their pattern to emulate. How desperately we need such mothers today, in the midst of a changing world – mothers who are women of spiritual and moral distinction, who earn the praise of man and of God, because they are bold enough to fulfill their God-given roles well, so that our Lord will be glorified in and through them.