Monday, February 26, 2007
Most of us know and love this line from Proverbs 31, "Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies."
I was reminded of it this morning as I glanced through the January/February issue of Southern Lady. It has an article entitled The Radiance of Rubies. The article was accompanied by eye-catching photos of ruby and diamond jewelry. The tag line says, "Prized throughout the ages, these jewels dazzle with their brilliant fire."
Many of you may know that the Hebrew word translated as rubies is paniyn (pronounced pawneen). It really means a precious jewel, and it's possible it could refer to valuable red corals or rubies or perhaps even other jewels.
Most of us also know that in Hebrew, this passage is an acrostic. Each verse begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It would be as if we had a poem in which the first verse started with A, the second with B, the third with C, and so on. For this reason, the passage was easily memorized and Jewish girls probably recited it a number of times as they grew up.
Isn't it interesting that this verse is written by a queen who sought to teach her son what to look for in a wife? This woman is not named, but her son is called Lemuel. Since this passage appears in a wisdom book, which is full of poetic imagery, there is some debate about just who this queen was. Some suggest that she was a figurative personification, rather than an actual person. Others believe that there was a king named Lemuel.
Many believe that Lemuel is another name for Solomon, since Solomon recorded Proverbs. If so, then the queen is, of course, Bathsheba.
At any rate, the queen asks her son, "Who can find a virtuous woman?" I don't think she's down on women, here. I think she's saying that many people follow the crowd, but a person who genuinely clings to God's word as his or her standard is rare. It takes uncommon faith to survive the pressures and persecutions of life without compromising our convictions.
I also think the queen is saying that there is much more to a woman than her appearance. A woman may or may not look beautiful to the eye. However, you must look beneath the surface to find what a woman is really made of.
After all, rare jewels require some mining. You have to search for them. You have to evaluate them to see if they are genuine or fakes.
Not only that, but diamonds and rubies in the raw aren't pretty to the untrained eye. They must be refined and polished and cut before their true loveliness appears.
So, the queen is using this comparison to warn her son. She is saying, "Don't fall for the first pretty face to come your way." She is also saying, "Don't overlook a woman just because her features may be less than perfect." Just as a jeweler uses a special lens to appraise gemstones, she wants her son to look at a woman through spiritual eyes.
She says, "Look for that woman -- that rare and precious woman -- who fears the Lord."
Isn't that what we all want for our children? Don't we all pray for God to provide them with mates who have a genuine faith. I am so thankful for my son in law, whose heart is devoted to the Lord. He has character and integrity. I am convinced that he is a gift from God to our family.
Interestingly, the queen draws for Lemuel (and for us) a picture of what a girl who trusts the Lord will be like as a mature woman. The woman she describes is old enough to have children who rise up and call her blessed. This would indicate to me that our example of the virtuous wife is not a new bride. The queen wants her son to look for a girl with the heart and the skills that will enable her to mature into being a capable wife. She also wants him to marry a woman with whom he can build a lasting love, rather than a relationship based on temporary infatuation.
The queen wants her prince son to marry someone who has the knowledge and the skill to manage his estate. She describes what it takes for a woman to manage a home and an estate in her time and day. To that end, she describes the many pursuits and accomplishments of the virtuous wife.
If we don't remember that the key to the virtuous woman's ability (See verse 30) is her fear the Lord, we can become intimidated by her example. On our way to becoming women above rubies, ourselves, we see our faults and our failings. We may even lack some knowledge of what is needed to manage a home and family in our time. We can feel that we are more like cracked concrete than we are like the woman whose worth shines above rubies.
The key is to depend on God. We must remember His promise that perseverance will yield character. God will mold the woman who truly fears the Lord into the woman whose worth is above rubies. Such a woman will bear the fruits of wisdom and ability, qualities that are more solid than ornamental charm and beauty. I've been married 26 years, and I still have a lot of growing to do to be more like the virtuous wife.
If Lemuel really is Solomon, sadly, he didn't learn his mother's lesson. Solomon accumulated a quantity of foreign political wives -- seven hundred wives and princesses and three hundred concubines. He went against God's warning when he married these pagan women, all of whom brought to Israel the idols of their various homelands. Solomon clung to these women in love. I Kings 11 tells us the sad results. These wives turned away Solomon's heart from God.
From what we know of Solomon's riches, we can assume that the women in his harem were decked to the hilt in precious stones. Imagine how breathtaking these women must have been! We can assume they were pampered and groomed and that their skin was soft and smooth. They may have had royal duties to perform. But, they would also have had plenty of time in their schedule to plan their wardrobes and try out new hairdos and otherwise attend to their appearance.
Surely, these women had access to the finest, most nourishing foods in the land, and they most likely benefited from expensive cosmetics and perfumes, as well. They must have been privy to whatever medical care was state of the art for the time.
As daughters of foreign kings, these women would have come to Solomon having learned charm, culture, and etiquette from birth. While their innocence would have been fiercely protected, they may have been taught how to please a future royal husband. And, once in Solomon's palace, they would have used whatever arts were at their disposal to attract and to keep the king's interest. After all, each one was competing against 999 other women for Solomon's attention!
I'm just speculating here, but I wonder if many of these women even had an agenda to get the great King Solomon to recognize whatever false god her people believed in. They may have also received pressure from home to curry favors for their homeland. If so, these women would have been even more earnest about enticing the king.
How these sparkling jewels of womanhood must have adorned Solomon's palace! Yet, where was the woman whose inner character was above that of jewels? Where was the woman whose heart was more precious than the glittering stones around her neck? Where was the woman who feared the true Lord? Where was the woman whose own faith would have inspired her husband to stay faithful to God? Where was the woman who would have stood beside Solomon as an example to the Isarelites of pure devotion to Jehovah? Sadly, such a woman was either rare or even non-existent among the myriad women of Solomon's harem.
Ecclesiastes tells us that Solomon eventually grew tired of his harem, as well as of other vain pursuits that took him away from God. We can happily assume from the end of the book that he came back to a relationship with the Lord. He sums up the essential concern of life with these words, "The end of the matter is this. Fear the Lord and keep his commandments." Despite his repentance, his 1,000 pagan marriages still yielded bitter consequences for both himself and his kingdom.
In my opinion, this passage isn't saying that its wrong to be pretty or to speand any time at all making ourselves look presentable. After all, it was God who gave us physical beauty. He created us in such a way that we take delight in our spouse's physical attributes. Just as we prefer for our husbands to tale care of basic grooming, our husbands enjoy it when we do, as well. Since men are even more visually oriented than women, a neat and feminine appearance is a gift that we can give to them. Being kind and fun to be around doesn't hurt, either.
However, this passage does re-direct our values. Our worldly tendency is to place more emphasis on what is outside, rather than what is going on within our hearts. We cross the line from enjoying an attractive appearance to valuing other people and ourselves according to how we look.
Other ways our focus on the outward shows up are when we value achievement rather than character, a religious appearance rather than true faith, and superficial relationships over deep friendships. In II Timothy, Paul tells us that the last days are marked by people who have a form of godliness, but deny its power. They look deceptively godly, but they aren't.
God knows our penchant for focusing on the outside of the cup, rather than the inside. That's why he reminds us that as beautiful as precious stones are, virtue is of higher valuable.
Precious stones, such as rubies or red coral, are exquisite creations of God, and they attest to his glory. In tomorrow's post, Lord willing, we'll spend some fun time just learning about rubies and corals.
Because of their beauty and their rarity, jewels come with high price tags according to how we humans measure economy. People pay incredible amounts of money to possess the most valuable stones. In fact, there have been cases where people have lied, stolen, or murdered in order to acquire a valuable diamond or a ruby. Rather than enjoying rubies in their proper place, as God meant us to, we have elevated them above their sphere.
Imagine what would happen if we could gather all of the rubies in the world into one warehouse. In God's eyes, the whole lot of those glittering, expensive, beautiful gems would pale in comparison to the value of one, single human soul. He doesn't measure us according to the world's superficial values, but He looks at the heart. And, He teaches us not to regard each other from a worldly point of view, but from a spiritual one.
He teaches us not to be insecure about our beauty, but to trust in Him. And, he teaches men to value women for who they are, and not for how they look. If we follow the example of the queen in Proverbs 31, we will pass God's values on to our children, so that they will not be overcome by the world's value system.
The jewelry companies have it wrong. Diamonds are not forever; souls are.
Thus, the message of Proverbs 31 is, "Go for the substance. Go for that which will last for eternity. Attain to that which is above rubies."