When was the last time you heard this passage of Scripture discussed at a Christian conference?
The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.
Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb! Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers!
Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings.
It is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!
Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Believe it or not, this passage comes from the first nine verses of Proverbs 31.
While Christians seem utterly fixated by the part of the passage that celebrates the virtues of an excellent wife, little is said about the introduction to the oracle, which was taught to King Lemuel by his mother.
Since childhood I’ve been familiar with the so-called “Proverbs 31 Woman.” Hundreds of books have been written on verses 10-31, and thousands of women have attended conferences based the wife that is describe there. I knew that she rose before dawn each day to prepare breakfast for her family. I knew that she was a master seamstress and smart businesswoman. And I'd been told that every woman who wants to honor God and her husband should look to her as a model.
But what about speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves? What about defending the rights of the needy? What about saving wine for the poor and beer for the suffering?
It seems to me that the real woman behind Proverbs 31 is not the “excellent wife” described in the poem, but the mother of the king responsible for it And she had a lot more to say than we’ve been giving her credit for—not just about choosing a good wife, but about public policy and personal ethics…and beer.
So on Sunday I resolved that if I’m going to observe Proverbs 31 for my year of biblical womanhood, I might as well observe the whole thing. Rather than sending a case of wine to the nearest homeless shelter, I decided to write a letter to the closest thing I have to a king—the president.
Dear Mr. President,
Thank you for your service to this country and for the strong leadership you have exhibited during tough times. I am thankful for the progress that has been made in reforming the health care system, securing nuclear weapons, repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, ending the practice of torture, reforming mandatory minimum prison sentences, withdrawing from Iraq, and creating green jobs and incentives. There is more to be done of course, but I appreciate your efforts in these areas and the civility and class with which you address them before the public.
The book of Proverbs includes a poem that King Lemuel’s mother taught him. I thought it included some good advice:
Avoid flatterers and tempters.
Be careful of overindulging when so many in your country are hurting.
Speak up or those who cannot speak for themselves.
Defend the rights of the poor and the forgotten.
Honor a good wife.
I wish you, Michelle, and the girls all the best as together you take on the hardest job in the world.
Were you familiar with the first nine verses of Proverbs 31? Why do you think they aren’t taken as seriously as verses 10-31? What does this say about how we filter and interpret Scripture, especially regarding what it has to say about women?