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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Proverbs 31


Lemuel's lesson of chastity and temperance. The afflicted are to be comforted and defended. The praise and properties of a good wife.

Verse 1

Proverbs 31:1. The words of king Lemuel This chapter, say the generality of commentators, contains Bathsheba's words to Solomon, and his commendation of her. Some, however, have doubted whether Lemuel was not a different person. "I know," says Dr. Delaney, "that some modern critics, contrary to the unanimous judgment and tradition of all antiquity, have raised some scruples upon this head, as if Lemuel were not Solomon, but some other king, they know not who. I have examined them with all the care and candour I am capable of, and conclude upon the whole that their objections were such as my readers of best understandings would be little obliged to me either for retailing, or refuting. I shall barely mention that of greatest weight; it is this, That his mother, thrice in this chapter, when the calls him her son, makes use of the word בר bar, to express it by: a word no where used throughout the whole Old Testament, except in the second psalm, at the 12th verse. This then is the strength of the objection; that Solomon cannot be Lemuel, because Lemuel's mother calls him son, by a word which no sacred writer ever made use of before, except Solomon's father upon a like occasion. Besides, the very name sufficiently shews Lemuel to be Solomon; for Lemuel signifies belonging to God; and to whom can this possibly be applied so properly, as to Solomon, to whom God expressly declared he would be a father." See Delaney's Life of David, book 4: chap. 21 and Calmet on the place. Grotius conjectures, that Hezekiah was the person here meant, and that these proverbs were collected by his mother Abiah, the daughter of Zechariah, a person illustrious for his wisdom; and taught him as the precepts of his father. Houbigant renders it, The words of Lemuel, king of Mesha, with which his mother instructed him. See Genesis 10:30.

Verse 2

Proverbs 31:2. What, my son, &c.— Solomon tells us, chap. Pro 4:3 that he was tender and only-beloved in the sight of his mother. The reader cannot have a finer comment upon that passage, than the beginning of this lecture to Lemuel, where his mother breaks out at once into this excess of tenderness, What, my son, &c.

Verse 3

Proverbs 31:3. Give not thy strength, &c.— David had admonished his son, chap. Proverbs 6:20, &c. to keep the commandment of his father, and not forsake the law of his mother; for the commandment, said he, is a lamp, and reproofs of instruction are the ways of life, to keep thee from the evil woman: and can there be a greater uniformity than betwixt that monition and this, Give not thy strength unto women, &c.? And may not the reproofs which follow be justly intitled, proofs of instruction? When these reproofs of instruction are recited, then follows, Proverbs 31:10 a regular poem in praise of an accomplished woman; each verse beginning with a different letter, in the series of the alphabet; and certainly nothing can be more natural than the judgment of the best critics upon it, that Lemuel characterises his mother in a poem written in honour of her. See Delaney as above. We may just remark, that as the first nine chapters of the proverbs are considered as a preface to what is commonly called the Book of Proverbs; the attentive reader will find all the precepts from the beginning of the 4th chapter to the end of the ninth, to be only recitals of David's instruction to his son Solomon.

Verse 8

Proverbs 31:8. Open thy mouth for the dumb Open thy mouth for the dumb; give judgment to those who have experienced the vicisstudes of human affairs. The latter clause may be rendered, In the cause of all strangers, or all children of change.

REFLECTIONS.—We have here,

1. The address of Bathsheba to her son Solomon: What, my son? Either it intimates the tender concern with which she spoke; or, as if she wanted words to enforce the lesson she was about to deliver; or, as designed to awaken his attention; or as an expostulation, having observed in him a tendency to the evils from which she would dissuade him, and which were so unbecoming a prince: and hereunto the following words seem most suited: What, the son of my womb? have I brought thee forth with sorrow, and educated thee with such parental care? and shall it be fruitless? hear what the tenderest affection dictates; and grant me (it is all I ask) this small return for all my pains: and what, the son of my vows? devoted to God from earliest infancy; the son of many prayers; and doubly criminal it would be in such to be unfaithful. Note; (1.) That mother shews true tenderness to her children, who labours to bring them up from earliest infancy in the discipline and admonition of the Lord; and the more exalted their station, the more carefully their education deserves to be attended to. (2.) We must plead with our children the many prayers which have been offered for them, and the obligations they are under of being early devoted to God, and acquainted with his word, as what will render their unfaithfulness more ungrateful and inexcusable.

2. Her warning. [1.] Against lewdness: one false step had nearly ruined his father; and by this sin kingdoms have been overturned. [2.] Against drunkenness: the moderate use of wine and other good things, is not forbidden; but all excess in a king were doubly criminal and scandalous; it is a profanation of their dignity, disqualifies them for the discharge of their high estate, gives the most pernicious example to their subjects, makes God's law forgotten, and lays them open to exercise wanton tyranny and cruel injustice. Note; If drunkenness be so unbecoming a king, how ought those who are anointed kings and priests unto God to be especially careful of excess, and shun whatever should lead them to so dishonourable a deed.

3. Her advice: To be liberal, compassionate, the advocate of the oppressed, and the upright magistrate: these are the things which exalt a king. Instead of abusing affluence, employ it for the use of the needy, give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, to support his fainting spirits, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts, to revive them when dejected, low, and in distress. Let him drink moderately and forget his poverty, his spirits being cheered and refreshed, and remember his misery no more. Wine thus employed is well bestowed. How much better thus to put our bottle to our indigent neighbour's mouth to revive his fainting soul, than in excess to drown his senses? Spiritually, this represents the state of a sinner's soul, distressed under a sense of guilt, perishing under the apprehension of the divine wrath, conscious of his abject spiritual poverty: to them the sweet wine of gospel-promises should be freely given, that a sense of the love of God in Christ may cheer their drooping hearts; and by faith, drinking in a rich supply of mercy and grace, they may forget their poverty, and no more consider their misery, God having forgiven their iniquity, and promised to heal all their infirmities. Instead of negligence or oppression, open thy mouth for the dumb, be the advocate of the disconcerted or ignorant, who cannot plead their own cause; and rescue them from their cruel persecutors, who seem bent on their destruction. Open thy mouth with boldness and zeal, judge righteously, without respect to persons, unawed by any consideration, and plead the cause of the poor and needy, whose meanness might expose them to be trampled upon, their cause neglected, or their right over-ruled.

Verse 10

Proverbs 31:10. Who can find a virtuous woman, &c.— The versions in general agree in reading this, a strong woman. The word חיל chaiil, signifies firmness of body or mind; and is applied to strength of different kinds, agreeably to the context; and therefore may with great propriety be rendered, a virtuous woman, or a woman of a strong and excellent mind. See on chap. Proverbs 12:4.

Verse 13

Proverbs 31:13. Worketh willingly with her hands From which she forms that which her hands require. Houbigant. The LXX render it, She maketh precious or useful work with her hands.

Verse 14

Proverbs 31:14. She is like the merchant ships The woman of oeconomy is, with regard to her husband, like a ship which comes from foreign countries freighted with all kinds of wealth. She brings to her husband an abundance of goods of all sorts. Under the name of food, or bread, is comprehended provision in general. This verse might be paraphrased, "She lays up in her house all sorts of provisions, like a vessel, which, arriving from a long voyage, brings all kinds of precious merchandize." The LXX render it, She is like a merchant-vessel, which bringeth riches from afar. Calmet.

Verse 15

Proverbs 31:15. She riseth also while it is yet night She doth not indulge herself in too much sleep, but is an early riser, before the break of day, to make provision for those who are to go abroad to work in the fields, and to set her maidens their several tasks at home. The reader will observe, that the ideas here refer to those modest and ancient times, when female occupations were far different with those even of highest rank, from such as are usual in modern times. The employments of Penelope, in Homer, are similar to those here referred to; and the following comparison of Virgil will throw some light on the present description:

He rose refresh'd impatient from the bed, When half the silent hours of night were fled; What time the frugal and laborious dame, Who plies the distaff, stirs the dying flame; Employs her maidens by the winking light, And to their daily labour adds the night: Thus earning frugally her children's bread, And keeping uncorrupt her nuptial bed. AEN. viii. ver. 410.

Verse 16

Proverbs 31:16. She considereth, &c.— With the fruit of her hands, means, With the fruit of her works;—her oeconomy, her gain. She finds means by her industry and labour to make acquisitions of land, and to plant a vineyard. It is not without design, that Solomon says, She considereth a field which she intends to purchase: herein he gives advice to those who apply themselves seriously to oeconomy, not to spare their pains in visiting and considering the land which they wish to purchase. "See it as often as you can," says Cato; "the oftener you go to it the more it will please, if it be good:" Quoties ibis, toties magis placebit, quod bonum erit. See Cato de Re Rustic. cap. II. who observes of the farmer, that he is the first of his family to arise from bed, and the last to go to it.

Verse 17

Proverbs 31:17. She girdeth her loins with strength It is not sufficient for the mother of a family to command, to exhort, to pray: if she would be well obeyed, and have her work well done, she must put her hand to it. The servant finds nothing too difficult, in which his master or mistress join their labours with him. To gird herself, signifies to put herself in a condition to labour. The LXX render this verse, She girdeth herself tight about the waist, and setteth her arms to work; more pleased with this girdle about her loins, than with one the most rich and precious worn by luxurious dames; with this fortitude and industry on her arms, than with the richest bracelets of prouder females.

Verse 18

Proverbs 31:18. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good She perceiveth that her merchandize is advantageous. Houbigant. The LXX read, She finds that it is good to work. "Finding by sweet experience not only how wholesome labour is, but what profit her traffic yields, she doth not conclude her work with the day, but continues it as much in the night as can be spared from necessary sleep." See the next verse. Very similar to this is what Penelope says to Ulysses:

Nec mihi quaerenti spatiosam fallere noctem, Lassaret viduas pendula tela manus.

Nor, seeking to deceive the tedious night, Would the worn distaff tire thy widow'd hands.
"See Ovid's Epistle of Penelope to Ulysses, and Pope's Odyss. book i. ver. 455.

Verse 21

Proverbs 31:21. For all her household are clothed with scarlet This seems an inconsistent translation; for, will scarlet keep a person warmer than any other colour? Would it not have been more consistent with the context to have said, Because they are clothed in warm raiment? The margin of our Bible, agreeably to this remark, reads, double garments; and I think it is universally agreed, that the marginal readings are always nearer the original; and so I find it in the present case. For the word שׁנים shanim, is not only plural, but comes from the root שׁנה shanah, which signifies to repeat, to do again, to double; and is often rendered by the LXX, διπλουν and διβαφον double-died, and by the Vulgate, bistinctum; and in this place the Vulgate renders it by duplicibus, or double garments. Schultens and Houbigant agree in the above translation. We may observe, that in consequence of this excellent woman's oeconomy, her house is not only well provided for, but she herself is enabled to excel in works of benevolence, Pro 31:20 and to appear according to her station, Pro 31:22 while her husband finds with his wealth his dignity and honour increase; chosen to sit among the judges, and distinguished among the first men of his city; Proverbs 31:23. Who that compares the different descriptions given in this book, of adultery and virtuous love, of the good wife and the ruinous harlot, but must admire the propriety of the description, and rejoice in the pleasing superiority which virtue hath in this respect also over vice and debauchery.

Verse 24

Proverbs 31:24. Delivereth girdles unto the merchant Herodotus, it seems, thought that the carrying on of commerce by the Egyptian women was a curiosity which deserved to be inserted in his history: it can hardly be thought an impropriety to take notice of this circumstance in a work calculated for the illustration of the Scriptures, and especially in a country where the women indeed spin, but the men not only buy and sell, but weave, and do almost every thing else relative to our manufactures. The commerce mentioned by Herodotus is lost, according to Maillet, from among the women of Egypt in general, being only retained by the Arabs of that country who live in the mountains. The Arabian historians say, that the women used to deal in buying and selling of things woven of silk, gold, and silver, of pure silk, of cotton, of cotton and thread, or simple linen-cloth, whether made in the country or imported; the men, in wheat, barley, rice, and other productions of the earth. Maillet, giving an account of the alteration in this respect in Egypt, affirms, that this usage still continues among the Arabs who live in the mountains; and, consequently, he must be understood to affirm, that the things which are woven among the Arabs, and sold, are sold by the women, who are indeed the persons that weave the men's hykes in Barbary, according to Dr. Shaw, and who doubtless weave in Egypt. Now this is precisely what the present passage supposes the Israelitish women who were industrious anciently did. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it, and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. However this may seem to our manners, it is what perfectly agreed with the simplicity of the most ancient times, and is accordingly retained by the Arabs, who are noted for keeping to old usage. See the Observations, p. 402.

Verse 31

Proverbs 31:31. Give her of the fruit of her hands In these latter verses, the sacred writer expresses the felicity of this virtuous woman, dutiful children, a grateful and affectionate husband (Proverbs 31:28.); general esteem and approbation (Pro 31:30). Some render this verse, Men reward her from the fruit of her hands; her works shall celebrate her in the gate. i.e. "The single recital of her good works will "compose her sufficient eulogy."

Behold here, then, the picture of a virtuous woman, according to Solomon; a person of no ordinary rank, or obscure condition; her husband appears with distinction in the midst of princes and senators; he has no need to apply himself to his domestic concerns; her house is full of riches, and she is surrounded with maidens. She is not urged by parsimony and meanness to make profit of her labour, and that of her people: simple elegance shines in her vestments and those of her husband, in her furniture, and in her beds, and in her whole house. Piety, the fear of God, and wisdom, constitute her character. Vigilant, active, laborious, she remains at home, assiduous to conduct her household, and to bring up her children. Despising superfluous gewgaws and frivolous occupations, gentle towards her domestics, liberal to the poor, and prudently confining and limiting herself to the employments suitable to her: She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. In her life we see neither gaming, nor diversion, nor high living, nor idleness, nor useless visits; no quarrels, or slanders, or those other abuses which form the most serious employment of women of the world, who are not under a necessity of earning their livelihood. Calmet is of opinion, that Solomon gives us in this portrait the picture of his mother Bathsheba. See the first note on this chapter. It must, however, be acknowledged, that there are some traits which cannot with strict propriety be applied to the wife of David; and perhaps the sacred writer had only in view to give us the general character of a virtuous matron and mistress of a family.

REFLECTIONS.—Let us, for a few moments, take a review of this beautiful description of what good wives should be. It is a pattern that they ought all to copy according to their respective stations. We have,

1. The inquiry made after such a virtuous woman. Many appear well at a distance, set off with every genteel accomplishment, and in person and manners engaging, who, when proved, often deceive men's expectations, and leave them without remedy to mourn the rashness and folly of their choice: but where God in mercy is pleased to bestow on us a helpmate, truly excellent, whose amiableness appears greatest the nearer she is viewed, and the more she is tried; her price indeed is far above rubies.

2. Her description:

[1.] She behaves so as to engage and deserve the entire confidence of her husband: she never gives him the least occasion for jealousy, or reason to doubt her discretion in the management of his domestic affairs; has no separate interests, nor ever wastes on herself in needless expence his substance; so that he shall have no need of spoil, driven to extortion to supply her extravagance. She will do him good; study his temper, make it her delight to please him, seek his advantage, and do every thing which may contribute to his comfort, profit, and honour in this world and in the next, and this all the days of her life.

[2.] She is active and industrious, and looks narrowly into her affairs; neither eats the bread of idleness, nor loves the bed of sloth: her house is the scene of order, diligence, and frugality. She does not love to dress, and visit, and card, and saunter at public places; her house is her happiness, and her domestic employments her delight. Her family is up before the day, and breakfasted, ready for their work as soon as the light arises; and each have their allotted portion, and know their proper employment; herself in the midst of them sets the encouraging example; and, having provided wool and flax at the most advantageous market, worketh willingly with her hands, not regarding it as a burden, but counting her duty her pleasure. Her work is not some foolish finery, which may be more properly called idleness than labour, but will be of use to her family. She is not ashamed of the spindle and the distaff, and with the candle-light lengthens out the day, till the fit time of repose arrives.

[3.] She is wise in the disposition of what she has wrought, and knows how to turn it to the best advantage, whether for domestic uses, or to exchange with the merchants.
[4.] She is charitable. Though she lays up a provision for her family, it is not at the expence of the poor; her hands are open to relieve their necessities, and the indigent ever find in her a bountiful friend: her diligence and oeconomy enable her both to provide for her own, and to have much besides to spare for the poor.
[5.] Her family appears in the greatest credit. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land; her good conduct advances his reputation; his wealth increases by her management: even his very dress, and that of his attendants, bespeak her care of his honour.

[6.] To enhance her character. She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness; never haughty, assuming, sullen, peevish, contentious; but her language is tender endearment, and dutiful submission; she would rather hear than speak: when she offers her advice to her husband, she pretends not to dictate, but refers herself to his determination; avoids every occasion of dispute, or wisely yields to his superior judgment; and all her family are hearers of her gracious discourse. As she wishes to govern her household by love, not by threatening, her very commands are obliging, and her corrections tempered with gentleness.

[7.] To crown the whole: she is truly religious: she feareth the Lord; is governed in all her conduct by the principles of his word, and a regard for his glory; and this adds double lustre to all her other excellencies. Beauty of person is pleasing, but it is a fading transient thing, compared with the more substantial beauty of the mind: disease may soon crop, and age must quickly wither this fair flower; but time shall more improve the graces of the soul, and render the union of kindred spirits, heirs together of the grace of life, more intimate and endeared.

3. The blessedness of such conduct will be great.

[1.] It will procure praise and honour from all around: her husband will thank God, and count himself happy in such a partner; her children will bless her care, and grow up to acknowledge and adorn her gracious instructions: every eye will own her virtues; and she shall be praised, as worthy a name among the most excellent and honourable of women; whilst her own husband will not allow her equal to be found, and admires her as the flower of her sex.

[2.] She will have cause to rejoice in all time to come; her works continuing to speak her excellence, she shall reap the fruit of her hands; strength and honour shall be her constant clothing in this world; and in the world to come she shall receive the reward of fidelity, and rejoice eternally there, where there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, but the souls of the glorified saints are advanced to a state of higher blessedness than mortality ever knew, and are made like unto the angels.

Some have thought that this description is mystical, and applicable to the spouse of Christ, the church, whose inviolable purity and fidelity render her dearer to him than rubies; yea, he proved how highly he valued her, when he bought her with his blood: he trusts her with his gospel, his ordinances, his children, assured of her care over them: his honour and interests are her constant concern for ever. The external garments of profession, and the white linen, the righteousness of saints, are, through grace, her constant labour. By prayer and communion with God, she goes out, as merchant-ships, to heaven, and returns, fraught with the bread of life, from that far country. The stewards of her mysteries, rising early, dispense to each their portion, feeding each member of the family with those words of truth which are suited to their state and condition. The scripture is the field that she purchases, and she is enriched thereby: a purchase, indeed, made without money, and without price, Matthew 13:44.Isaiah 55:1; Isaiah 55:1.; and in her vineyard new converts are daily planted, and grow up to bring forth fruit unto God. She labours for the glory of her Lord, and the good of the souls in-trusted to her, with all her might. Her merchandise of grace is better than silver; her lamp of profession ever burning; and in the darkest night of adversity her hope is never extinguished. She is incessant in well-doing, and her spirit is charity itself. Her house is decently adorned, and her ordinances administered with dignity. Her husband, the great Bridegroom of souls, is known, honoured, and adored both by his saints below, and by angels above. Her ministers, receiving of her stores, make a rich return of precious souls. Strong in grace, and honourable, she shall rejoice in all the ages of time and eternity. The doctrines of divine wisdom, and gospel grace, are by her dispensed. Her discipline is exact, and no idleness suffered under her roof. The members of Christ, her children, bless God for their mercies, and pray for her peace and prosperity; and the Lord himself approves her fidelity, and gives her the highest commendation. All other beauty, and human glory, shall fade; but to eternity shall the church of the faithful-redeemed be for a praise; when her works follow her, and Christ shall bestow upon her the promised recompence of eternal bliss.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Proverbs 31". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.