After I wrote this post, many of you commented asking about the Proverbs 31 woman. So, is there an implied endorsement in Proverbs 31 for a young mother’s pursuit of a full-time career outside the home?
Here’s the passage:
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates. (Proverbs 31:10-31)
First, it’s interesting that this example so often used comes from a passage in the Old Testament. I love the book of Proverbs, and certainly every Old Testament book contains principles that show us the heart of God. It does seem that, if the Proverbs 31 mother was a full-time career woman and if God was exalting that choice of a full-time career outside of the home, we would find some exaltation of that choice somewhere in the New Testament. It is important to note that the Proverbs were never intended to legislate, even in the Mosaic age in which they were written. On the other hand, our clear passage, Titus 2:3-5, in the New Testament is classified by the Holy Spirit Himself as sound doctrine and is to be heeded so that the Word of God will not be blasphemed. It is sandwiched between the phrases “sound doctrine,” “teach,” and “that the Word of God be not blasphemed.” It is clearly legislation and it is clearly for our dispensation, the Christian age. We must find application of all of the characteristics of Titus 2:3-5 in our lives today.
Second, this woman did buy a piece of land, she had some merchandise that was good, and she delivered girdles that she made to the merchants. She did something productive to add to the family income. With that we cannot argue. I know many women who are able to do just that even as they raise their children in the home. Everything from Etsy shops to making clothing and selling to balancing the books for their husbands’ businesses from their desks at home, to keeping children in the home, etc., all while remaining keepers of the home. To take the fact that the Proverbs 31 woman did some buying and selling and morph her into a career woman, even as the context of the Proverbs 31 woman description is overwhelmingly given to her home management, is taking liberties with that text. To call her a full-time career woman is saying something that the passage doesn’t say.
Third, the New Testament admonition is still there in Titus 2:3-5. That word “homemaker” still means “keeper of the home, mistress of the house, housekeeper, stay-at-home, a domestic” (Liddell-Scott-Jones). Thus, whatever I am, I must be that first. It is absolutely possible, even probable, that many women may be able to do something to boost the family income in or outside the home and still be primarily a keeper at home. But it is very difficult to see how a woman can work full-time, put her children in full-time daycare, be absent from them during the vast majority of their waking hours and still be primarily a keeper at home, a worker at home, a domestic, a stay-at-home, etc.. The Proverbs 31 woman was a domestic. That is clear from the context. She sewed, she gave honor to her husband, she gardened, and good home management is all over that text. But we simply do not have enough in that text to take her outside the home and make her a woman devoted to an outside career. It is just not there.
Again, let me emphasize that I know many Godly women who do something on the side to supplement the family income. I’m thinking of women like my friend Beth, who monograms clothes, towels, and handbags in her spare time, or my friend Alissa, who offers occasional tutoring for homeschooled students, or my friend Jennifer, who runs her own Etsy shop selling cool homemade crafts, or my friend Emily, who keeps a few other children in her home in addition to her own on some days. All of these women are keepers at home, homemakers, domestics, etc., but can still be financially productive on some scale, just as was the Proverbs 31 woman.
Thanks for the comments and the question. Have a great rest of the week!