If you click today’s Google doodle you are going to find a bunch of links to International Women’s Day. You are going to find people looking back on the political gains women have made over the years. You are going to find people looking forward to the challenges women continue to face all over the globe. You are even going to find some people criticizing the idea of having an International Women’s Day. What is harder to find amidst all the gender politics is an appreciation for womanhood.
It’s not easy being a woman. I don’t speak from experience. I speak as someone who respects and appreciates the women in my life and yet simultaneously has caused them pain. This is why the best I have to offer on International Women’s Day are not my words, but words from the Bible.
When it comes to gender it is easy to dismiss the Bible as archaic and irrelevant. I’d like to suggest that it is far more progressive and relevant than anything else we are going to read today because it transcends culture and politics.
The Proverbs 31 Woman
One of the most well known passages about womanhood in the Bible is an acrostic poem in Proverbs 31:10-31. Each verse of the poem begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, suggesting that this poem pictures the complete woman. She is loved, respected, influential, industrious, courageous, honorable, kind, faithful, and spiritual. She is more beautiful on the inside than she is on the outside. In a word, she is excellent.
The Proverbs 31 Curse
If you are progressive you might think that Proverbs 31 is a curse because it sounds pretty traditional. But if you read it closely you have to recognize that it is just as much a curse for those with traditional values.
Proverbs 31 is not trying to answer the modern debate of traditional versus progressive gender roles. To read it that way is anachronistic. It is speaking to the far more universal struggle of measuring up to an unattainable standard of excellence.
There is a lot for both traditionalists and progressives to admire about the Proverbs 31 woman.
She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.
She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.
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.
It’s hard to argue with any of these qualities. We all inherently believe there is a standard of womanhood out there; and it is completely unattainable to us all.
There is something about the Proverbs 31 woman that condemns women. This is why women struggle with feeling condemned and with condemning others. This is why men admire the women in their lives, yet get disappointed by them at the same time – wooing them then neglecting or hurting them.
Women, if you try to measure up to the Proverbs 31 woman you are guaranteed to fail. This is not because there is something wrong with the standard. It is because there is something wrong with us all as human beings.
Men, if you are looking for a Proverbs 31 woman you are guaranteed to be disappointed. You are going to demand things from the women in your life that they can not give you. You are going to condemn them and in the process condemn yourself.
The Proverbs 31 Blessing
If Proverbs 31 is nothing more than a picture of a perfect woman, it can only curse us all. But it does not stand alone. Proverbs 31 is part of a larger collection of wisdom called The Book of Proverbs (in Hebrew The Proverbs of Solomon).
In Proverbs 8, wisdom is described as a woman who participated in God’s act of creation (Proverbs 8:22f). Wisdom is described as a relationship. Wisdom is not about what we know, but whom we know. This fits with the larger theme of Proverbs that wisdom is ultimately about knowing God (The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, Proverbs 1:7). Knowing God is more important than knowing what to do.
Proverbs 31 is also part of the larger book called The Bible. In 1 Corinthians 1:30, wisdom is given a name.
He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
This means that Proverbs 31 is not actually an unattainable standard of excellence but the way God sees you in Christ right now. If Christ is your savior, God says that are excellent. You are far more precious than jewels. Many women have done excellently, but in Christ you surpass them all. In the gates of heaven all Christ’s works praise you.
Being a woman is hard. It is hard not to compare yourself with other women. It is hard not to feel bad about yourself when the men in your life discourage you. Remember who you are in Christ.
Women, God celebrates you in Christ. If you are in Christ, you can do nothing wrong to lose his approval. More importantly, you can do nothing more to enhance his approval. Read Proverbs 31 and listen to God praise you.
Men, celebrate the women in your life by learning to see them as God sees them in Christ. Stop telling the women in your life that they need to be better. Tell them that they are more precious than jewels. Give them grace, not demands.
Husbands, praise your wives when you are with the fellas. Children, rise up and call your mothers blessed.
Happy International Women’s Day!