Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Non-series Sermons . A woman to die for - Proverbs 31

. A woman to die for - Proverbs 31

The following sermon is not in any way an attempt to expound the full contents of the text, but to challenge each and every generation of men, to sing the praises of their wives, realising that the praises of every Godly woman will be unique, based on context and time. The principles of Proverbs 31 remain forever, but we need to face it, that she was a unique woman who did not even exist, but the principles are cusihioned  in an unique, context in an unique time with unique challenges and joy. May God use this sermon to cause celebration for the wives He has given us insteand of discontentment.



Proverbs 31 (ESV) The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:

The Woman Who Fears the Lord

10 An excellent wife who can find?

She is far more precious than jewels.

11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,

and he will have no lack of gain.

12 She does him good, and not harm,

all the days of her life.

13 She seeks wool and flax,

and works with willing hands.

14 She is like the ships of the merchant;

she brings her food from afar.

15 She rises while it is yet night

and provides food for her household

and portions for her maidens.

16 She considers a field and buys it;

with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.

17 She dresses herself with strength

and makes her arms strong.

18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.

Her lamp does not go out at night.

19 She puts her hands to the distaff,

and her hands hold the spindle.

20 She opens her hand to the poor

and reaches out her hands to the needy.

21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,

for all her household are clothed in scarlet.

22 She makes bed coverings for herself;

her clothing is fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is known in the gates

when he sits among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them;

she delivers sashes to the merchant.

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,

and she laughs at the time to come.

26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,

and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

27 She looks well to the ways of her household

and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;

her husband also, and he praises her:

29 “Many women have done excellently,

but you surpass them all.”

30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,

but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,

and let her works praise her in the gates.



Over time, many women have asked me about my understanding of the ‘Proverbs 31 woman’ as it is often referred to. Some Bibles have a heading ‘the virtuous woman’, others ‘the Godly woman’, others ‘the woman who fears the Lord.’ Now most of those who have asked me my opinion of the text are from women who somehow feel that they are not making the grade because they are not like this woman.

I thought therefore that the best time to say something about this woman that the King Lemuel’s mother taught him about in this oracle was on a mother’s day, so today is my attempt to share a little something from this text. One sermon will not allow me to do an in depth exposition of all the key words, phrases and their meanings, so I pray that somehow this sermon will be helpful to our women here today, as well as their husbands, and of course those who are still seeking their spouses.

I also want to be careful by being as honest with the text as possible, because I believe that sometimes we as pastors are trying to be too clever and stretch the meaning of the text to say what we want it to say even though we know that deep down in our hearts we are forcing the meaning. I have read sermons on this section that would cause just about every woman I know to end up in a state of depression because she just can’t make the grade. On the other hand I do not want to be is a pop psychologist who simply tells all our women that they are doing okay and therefore there is no room for improvement. I believe there is a lot to learn from the text and there are many places many of our wives and mothers can improve so that they can be faithful to teaching our younger women how to live as they are instructed to do according to Titus 2. In relationship to this super woman, I do believe that we have many ladies in our churches who are too idle and not busy, but busy bodies, who spend their time in doing things of little value for who she is as a wife and mother. Then there are ladies who are so busy in this world in their work, even in the church and in everything else that they also do not value who they are as a wife and mother. I further believe that we have women who should be praised because in the midst of everything they have the balances right, with everything under God.

One of the rules of interpretation is to always understand the text in its context and to arrive at its message for that day before we arrive at the message for today. A critical method of interpretation is what is called the grammatical-historical method of interpretation. So what do we see in the grammatical structure and what do we know of its history and context.

Grammatically, verses 10–31 are an acrostic poem, each verse beginning with the successive 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Why do people write acrostics? It is to help bring the contents of the information to easy remembrance. Let me give you an example:

W – Worthy and most valued as a wife and mother.

E – Excels in her commitment to being a responsible wife, mother, friend and employee.

N – Near to her creator in her personal walk with Him.

D – Down to earth, easy to please and not extravagant in her demands.

Y – Yahoo, I found her and the rest of men missed out.


Because there is something in us that loves to praise what we enjoy and love, we like to pile up the praiseworthy attributes in a way that can be remembered. Well, that is what was happening in Proverbs 31. Sadly, you just cannot translate it to keep the acrostic alive in English.


is for woman full of virtue,


refers to trust her husband shares,


is for work she does to help you,


stands for how she seeks her wares etc.

Now because we are dealing with wisdom literature and in particular an acrostic we must be careful to approach the text as if it is presenting us with an in depth theological argument like Paul will do in Romans or Ephesians. This is simply 22 praiseworthy things that Lemuel’s mother could give him about a woman to die for.

Now just as far as the historical background is concerned, we have no idea who King Lemuel was or when and where he lived. He obviously was one of the sons of a King of one of the tribes or people groups whose Father passed away and left the Kingship to him. These young Kings could according to some records have been king when they were as young as eight years of age. We do not know when his mother taught him this oracle, or when he revealed it and how, so that it could have been entered into the book of Proverbs, but by God’s grace it had.

I believe that the key verse in Proverbs 31 is verse 30 but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised,” and that is exactly what this oracle is all about. It is about the praise of a woman to die for.

I also believe that the aim of this text should be to accomplish three things. Firstly, it should aim to inspire our women present here to fear the Lord and be like this woman in the way she fulfilled her role (and that is possible for all women, married or unmarried). Secondly, it should inspire others, especially husbands and children to praise women who fear the Lord. Thirdly, it should elevate the need for our younger generation to seek out Godly spouses, whether it is a man or a woman. While this Proverb is aimed at women, we need to realise that it is just as important for men to be Godly so that they too can be praised.  I hope that this morning will produce those results in our hearts and minds. I am not going to provide any points, so I pray as we continue in this sermon that somehow you will pick up these three elements in my preaching.

Sadly this oracle is so often abused to put many good women down, and it somehow becomes a set of rules created by clever pastors and authors of  books on the subject to be used as a whip against many wives and mothers, and instead of a text of inspiration it becomes a text of degradation. The problem is that too few interpret the text, but they rather read their own culture and preferences into the text. The picture that is created by many and proven with clever textual gymnastics is of this Godly mother who is up early in the morning while it is still dark to have a quiet time, so that she can then do her household chores and prepare food for her family and hand out instructions to her maids. Then somehow in the midst of this she works with her hands only at home to make belts and items of fine linen which she then somehow without spending much time away from home sells them to a merchant who in turn sells them, so that she makes enough money to take care of her household, which includes a bunch of servant girls, as well as the poor and she even has enough left to purchase a vineyard. This women in the modern day culture of many who manipulate this text for idealistic purposes would be home schooling her children as well. Many use this text to tell our women of today that they are not allowed to work away from home, because the woman in this oracle worked at home, or at least so some theologians say. One well known commentator says that all this lady had is what we will call “a  home cottage industry”. I am not so sure that the text proves it.

Now hopefully for Lemuel’s sake he found such a wife, if so good for him. But let me say to you young men here today. Please do not turn this into a checklist that you are going to hand to the young lady so that she can tick the appropriate blocks before you marry her. Rest assured, you will be in for some surprises during the cause of marriage. For our ladies here today, I want to dare say that I do not believe that this text is filled with imperatives, but rather principles. When I read commentaries on this section, you would think it is a bunch of commands.

I read one commentary that takes verse 15 that says: “She rises while it is yet night…” and says that it was obviously to have a quiet time. He then uses cross references to the Israelites picking up manna early in the morning as well as Jesus who got up early in the morning and went to a quiet and solitary place to pray as proof texts to state what this lady would have done. But verse 15 tells us what she did so early – she made food. Verse 15 quoted in its entirety says: “She rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.” Food for her household needs no explanation. Portions for the maidens would have been each one’s instructions for their daily tasks. This section actually says very little about her spiritual walk. All we know about her spiritual walk we read in verse 30-31 “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31 Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” Now I believe we are accurate in implying that this statement about fearing the Lord is to be applied to this same woman, even though the text translates more broadly. But it is interesting that she is applauded at the gates of the city for her ‘works’ and not her ‘walk’, for her ‘fervour’ and not her ‘fear’. Now even though the text does not say it, we can concur that works and walk go hand in hand. Both Paul and James gives us clear teaching on the matter.

I believe it will be unfair, to fit all women in the same mould when studying this text. Even the text refuses to do so. 29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” So based on Proverbs 31 she is the only one who makes this grade, but remember she does not even exist. I believe that when it comes to spiritual standards all women are to strive to the same standard. Some of the standards set in the text before us are idealistic, but remember that all women are just not wired in the same way, physically, health wise, mental strength, giftedness etc. Circumstances differ greatly.

How many ladies have a bunch of servants like this woman, how many while even being employed can just say, well I saved up and bought a vineyard with my savings? While I believe it is the ideal for every woman and should be the desire of every woman to stay at home and for the family to survive on a single income, we also know that some couples battle to scrape through on two salaries. Some have inherited money and can stay at home, others have husbands who are earning extremely well and can stay at home, and others again have had the privilege of an education that has produced a job where she can work from home. Others again are missionaries and are well taken care for by the support of others and therefore the woman in this context does not have to work. This woman in Proverbs 31 was rich. Verse 22 says: “She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.” Purple was extremely expensive and therefore was the royal colour. David Jacoby remarks[9] that "twelve thousand snails of Murex brandaris yield no more than 1.4 g of pure dye, enough to colour only the trim of a single garment." We are living in a society where there are godly, hard working women who wonder where there clothes will come from tomorrow and in some cases the wife could even be the only bread winner in the home.  There is not a one size fits all situation out there, and I am not talking about the clothes, okay! Our women are different.

How do you preach this text and apply each verse to a lady sitting in a village in Mozambique where they have a 90% unemployment rate? How does she seek “wool and flax” according to verse 13? The interpretation would be that she sought wool for winter clothing and flax for summer clothing. Many Godly women in Mozambique are praying for hand outs. Dr John MacArthur rightly or wrongly says that verse 14 that says 14 She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar”, would be like a women today doing bargain hunting or shopping with coupons. So she will go far to make the best purchase to save the family money. Again, how do I apply such a statement to a family in Mozambique who do not know where tomorrow’s food is going to come from? All of these principles will apply to all women in some degree, but the overarching verse is simply again verse 30 and that is which pertains to Godliness. The outworking and the necessary praise will be different in each context. You might find a Godly mother in one of these villages who outshines this woman in her love for her family and her God, but yet will not receive any of the praise given in Proverbs 31.


So in preaching this text this morning, I am not even going to go through each verse in an attempt to extract some spiritual truth from every verse regarding this women’s life. Praise God, if you find a wife like this, praise God if you are woman like this. Hopefully you have the humility not to even think this about yourself.

I hope for Lemuel’s sake that he could have rewritten this proverb and said: ‘such a women I have found’.

For our men today, I believe that many of us can sit down today and write our own Proverbs 31, and say ‘this kind of woman I found’. But our lists will differ. When I look back at my mom who today is bedridden and suffering of the dreaded Alzheimer disease, I can write a Proverbs 31 on her life and say, ‘such a woman my dad found’. I had a mother who was Godly in spite of having to work all her life so that my dad could be in the ministry. But let my dad write that chapter.

Let me tell you about my chapter of Proverbs. I found a wife, she came from Zimbabwe. I called her Brownie because her surname was Brown. When I met her she was already a God-fearer and in many ways a spiritual example to me. We got married in 1983, so she has been faithfully alongside me for 29 years now. She came from a poor background, and has subsequently lost both her parents who went home to be with the Lord. There was no inheritance. From the beginning we as a couple had to make ends meet, but fortunately she was blessed with an education and could become a teacher. Being in the ministry together was a challenge, especially in the early years and if she did not work I would have had to step out and go back into secular life where I came from. I remember when we accepted a call to Pietersburg Baptist Church, my salary alone would have us being in the red on a monthly basis and going down further every month. I praise God for my wife, who worked hard alongside me. She did not make belts or clothes of fine linen but earned through the equipping of 1000’s of children and teachers through education. Her willingness to work enabled many others to enter into the pastorate with starting salaries effectively much higher that mine in comparison to when I started, and their Proverbs 31 would look different to mine because of my wife’s hard labour. In spite of having to work she did not neglect being a wife and a mother in every sense of the word. My Proverbs 31 woman has stood by my side during 2011 which was the most trying year of my life during which I lost 22 years of a pastorate and God’s glory was much tarnished due to my own sins and the sins of others. Now, she stands alongside me in this new glorious ministry called Logos Community Church. My Proverbs 31 woman is quiet by nature, not pushy, loves the Lord, does not slander and is far too humble and says ‘sorry’ too much. She is a true confidant. Whatever I have shared with her over the years as far as ministry matters have been concerned remained in her confidence. She has been a great mother to our daughters, and they both love her dearly. She has been a listener and an encourager to them and me. She still cannot buy a vineyard but has assisted so that we could clothe and feed our children, take them on an annual holiday and provide for their education and needs. Because she worked we were able to take care of the needs of many others.

On the spiritual front she has been a quiet giant, not pushy and not always having to be the teacher. In the past she has played a major role in leading women’s ministry at our previous church until some missionaries arrived from across the waters and literally kicked her out of the women’s ministry that she was faithfully committed to. One lady in 1998 literally told her in her face that she was not a Proverbs 31 woman and therefore was not fit to lead the ladies ministry as she worked and did not home school her children and to crown it all she was taking antidepressants. She accepted this humbly and stepped back completely so that they could take the lead and be the great examples of ‘stay home’ – ‘home schooling moms’ that the rest of the ladies in the church so desperately needed according to them.

No, my Proverb 31 woman is not perfect and has never claimed to be. She like every women here have lessons to learn from this woman in Proverbs 31. Her light however does burn early in the morning, no, not to make food for her children in that dark hour and neither to hand out jobs to her servant girls. Her labours in the Department of Education, helps to put food on the table for our children and our domestic servant and gardener and allows us to help others. She has done me good and no harm. Let me quote Proverbs 31 and apply it to my woman: 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.  26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.  27 She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:”

And now, on this good Mother’s Day, if we had the time, it would be appropriate for me to sit down now and allow all our men and children one by one to come and sing the praises of their wives and mothers.

Proverbs 31 is a great section to learn from, it is not an all-inclusive list of all the qualities of a good wife, it is written within a context that is unique and must be understood as such. Ladies, read it regularly whether you are married or not and learn from it and strive to become more and more like this woman. But please be guided by the principles and do not be intimidated by those books that turn this section into a set of rules that steal your joy from your spiritual walk, marriage and life.

Above all, strive to be a woman of God and harness the spiritual principles of Scripture and you will be called blessed in all the other areas as well.


Logos Community Church: - 13 May 2012