I’ve been thinking lately about conservative values and conservative roles for godly women who want to live a married life aligned with the Scriptures. I know you’ve heard the same complaints that I have about women’s changing roles in modern culture. Who is this “woman” of the 21st century? Can you still call her a woman? What happened to ideals she aspired toward in the golden days of the 1950s?
I wasn’t born in the 1950s. Neither was my mother, who escaped that decade by a couple years. Still, Planet Earth Noobie that I am, I would like to paint a portrait for you. A portrait of a woman, one who might intimidate you. One you might not like much. She’s one hundred percent 21st century:
You know the type. She’s unflinching, she’s pretty tough. Dresses great. You check her out, guys, but you can tell right away, she’s not accessible at the level of paycheck you’re pulling in.
But that doesn’t matter, because she’s taken.
She’s one of those high-powered working mothers, the sort who claims she can balance a life at the office and a full life as a mother at home. She brings in as much money as her husband, maybe even more. She’s equally comfortable talking about high-level business transactions as she is about get-your-hands-dirty mothering practices. One second she’s discussing vendor management skills and international procurement strategies; the next she’s knitting sweaters for the baby. She’s out of town all day performing a site assessment for expansion efforts of the manufacturing business she oversees ... but she’s up late at night, finishing the bills, since she handles much of the family finances.
She treats her family like royalty, and she treats her office staff like a second family. She’s a manager, but she’s hands-on, willing to do all the daily tasks her staff does. She runs that office. She runs that house. Check out her husband … Doesn’t he even care that she’s making herself look like the breadwinner? He even brags about it at some of those Boards of Trustees he sits on. He tells them all about the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit entity she spun off to handle corporate charitable outreach and community payback. He’s proud of her extra money and how she doles it out to grubbing strangers!
It grates you just to see her. You can tell she works out, she’s pretty buff – when on Earth does she find time for that? And she just won't stop … those sweaters she knits the children, and those fashionable bed clothes, quilts, throws, and covers she does as her mommy hobby … she’s talking about starting an online business to sell some of those and earn money straight from the household, too!
Above all, she just won’t shut up about how much she loves God.
Confused? Did you think I was going to be writing about some uber-feminist atheist? Or did you know that I was going to tell you that this lady, described above, is the true conservative woman, the real product of the golden age?
No, she's not a 1950’s conservative. We're talking way more conservative than that, back as far as the 900s B.C. Because the woman I described above is the Proverbs 31 wife, simply recast in modern language, but with all the same roles, essentially. And this 21st century woman – this focused, nonstop, business-running, household-organizing lady – is far more Scriptural than our modern fantasies of the stay-at-home dinner party hostess of black & white television days gone by.
Instead of saying that she was way out of your paycheck league, I probably should have said that her price was far beyond rubies (Prov. 31:10). And instead of telling you she manages overseas procurement operations, I might have simply compared her to “merchant ships, bringing food from afar” (v. 14). But before I go any further, I think I’ll have you pause and take a read through the section of Proverbs 31 I’m referencing. Keep my 21st century woman in mind as you read this selection, and see if you can uncover where her attributes match those of the Proverbs 31 wife:
10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Now that you’ve reread the passage with my 21st century woman in mind, I ask you … is this June Cleaver or Mrs. Brady Bunch? No. This Proverbs 31 woman is nowhere near as diminutive or demure as the mythological 50's woman. She is, rather, exactly the kind of woman that many so-called “conservative” males rant and rave about in the U.S. Bible Belt these days. She has her own money that she’s earning (v. 16b), negotiates both with vendors and merchants who sell the goods she produces (v. 21), and she’s a powerful capitalist who’s in it for the profit (v. 18). She makes major land purchase decisions and oversees the profit-generating operations of the new land (v. 16a), and none of this …. none of it … feels threatening to her husband. The Proverbs 31 husband is 100% behind her efforts (v. 11); he even brags about them to the other elders he hangs out with at the gates … doing, I dunno, whatever it is elders do at those gates of theirs, while BusinessMom manages the full range of affairs that keep the household and her disparate businesses in operation (v. 27).
Both her home and her business transactions are her passion. Guiding all of that is her deepest passion of all … her awestruck love and fear of the Lord, who gave her these heart-fulfilling responsibilities and the strength and drive to achieve for her family, the most precious worldly good she’ll ever know.
Closing thought: A male acquaintance once told me that he would be “interested” in me, but only if he were sure I would be a “Proverbs 31 kind of wife.” I was pretty sure he had June Cleaver on his mind, based on my past experience with him. Rather than answering in my usual quippy style (“What’s your name again?” would have been a good comeback), I instead said: “Ten staff.”
“Huh?” he wittily rejoined.
“Ten staff. Proverbs 31:15 says I would get to have serving girls living in the household with me. I was just saying that a staff of ten of them would be a good start. Can you afford that for your Proverbs 31 wife?”
He chuckled, and shuffled, and wandered away.
Okay, I was pushing, I know. But why wouldn’t he want to hire me a staff of ten?
For all he knows, my price is well above rubies.
For all he knows, my price is well above rubies.