Dear President Obama...

“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.”
—Proverbs 31:6–7 niv updated

Absent from most floral-speckled books about how to live the Proverbs 31 life are chapters related to seeking justice for the oppressed and supplying liquor to the poor. That’s because most folks skip the first nine verses of the chapter in order to get to the tenth, where the ode to the valorous wife begins. Yet it is in the most forgotten words of this highly scrutinized text that we catch the clearest glimpse of the woman behind the woman of Proverbs 31. Not the dutiful wife, but the instructive Queen Mother, whose advice to the future king demonstrates keen insight into the inner workings of royal life and an interest in social policy that suggests she may have carried significant influence.

No one knows for certain the identity of King Lemuel or his mother, but in Rabbinic tradition Lemuel is a pseudonym for Solomon, which would mean we owe the Proverbs 31 ballad to Bathsheba—the controversial fourth wife of King David. (She’s the one he acquired by murdering her husband, and the one who seemed most influential to the king’s succession policy in the last years of his life.)

According to one midrash, Solomon’s glorious temple was dedicated on the same day that he married Pharaoh’s daughter, and because the bride kept her husband up all night with, um, “music,” Solomon overslept, the keys to the temple gates hidden securely under his pillow. When Bathsheba learned that the first morning sacrifice was delayed because of her son’s idleness, she approached him with the admonition that would become Proverbs 31. It begins:

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, Lemuel— 

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.

(vv. 2–9 niv updated)

Only after this introduction does Bathsheba extol the virtues of an accomplished, industrious wife, which, if the midrash is true, kinda makes you wonder how she really felt about Pharaoh’s daughter. Considering the fact that Solomon would later boast all those wives and concubines, something tells me he wasn’t too keen on taking his mother’s advice when it came to women.

It didn’t seem fair to devote an entire month to Proverbs 31 without acknowledging these strange and neglected verses. I toyed with several ideas, the most inspired of which was to create my own line of Proverbs 31 products, complete with pastel-colored coffee mugs and desk calendars that say, “Drink and Forget Your Poverty.” But sales of Evolving in Monkey Town (my spiritual memoir about growing up in the small town made famous by the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925) proved that you can’t rely on irony when marketing to Christians. I didn’t have a son for whom to compose an acrostic poem, and no king except the one that sells me burgers and fries, so I did the next best thing and wrote a letter to Barack Obama, based loosely on the passage:

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, curbing nuclear proliferation, 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 for those who cannot speak for themselves. 
Defend the rights of the poor and the forgotten. 
Judge fairly.
Honor a good wife (especially one as classy as Michelle).
I hope you find these ancient words of wisdom as applicable today as they were so long ago. I wish you, Michelle, and the girls all the best as together you take on the hardest job in the world. 
Rachel Evans 
Dayton, Tennessee 

I sent the letter via the White House website, secretly hoping no one would read it. I couldn't have Rahm Emanuel thinking I was a religious freak; that guy doesn’t forget names! Since I never heard back, I posted the letter on my blog, where most of my readers, even the most liberal ones, agreed it was good that I left out the part about giving liquor to homeless people.