Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Opposite of Proverbs 31?

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about this a few days ago, and in my sleepy state I thought about delving more deeply into it later. Like, not at 4 AM. (Hope you didn't want me to do it right then, Lord!)

We all are familiar with the Proverbs 31 Woman. She's an ideal in some ways--we could discuss whether ALL of her attributes are attainable for one woman with some difference of opinion, I am sure--but she represents, at least in my mind, a beautiful goal for a woman who follows the Lord. I quote the whole passage here, and have highlighted some parts I particularly love or aspire to, and that will apply to the point I'm making in this post:

Proverbs 31:10-31

An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.

She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.

She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
'Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.'
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.

I believe there is a woman in the Bible whom we could examine as the Proverbs Wife's opposite. Sure, there are other examples, and it'd be interesting to look at Jezebel or Michal and contrast them, too.

But I woke up thinking about Job's wife.

Quick refresher on Job's situation: Job is wealthy, prosperous, and righteous, with a large family. Satan gets permission from God to attack Job's circumstances (and eventually, his body), with the caveat that Satan cannot kill Job. Job loses house, herds/livestock, children, and health, and is left with nothing but the boils on his body...and his wife. All this has happened to test Job; he's done nothing against the Lord that has caused his pain.

So what does his sweet, loving wife have to say to him? What words of comfort does she bring at his worst hour?

Job 2:8-10
And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die." But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job wonders at the distance that's suddenly between them:

Job 19:17
My breath is strange to my wife,
and I am a stench to the children of my own mother.

Every wife--every woman--will be remembered somehow. What memories of you will your closest relatives keep or your children inherit? A legacy is crafted not just by what I do in the good times, when everything is going well for me, but in the worst of times, when what I truly hold to, be it selfish pride, anger, or the Word of the Lord, will be tested.

The Proverbs Wife's husband could count on her; his heart "safely trusts in her" through the experience that comes with time and, inevitably, hardship as well as ease. That's how (mature) trust is developed. Job's wife demolished any trust he may have had in her with her bitter speech and her angry abandonment.

"She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life."

I woke up struck by the contrast between these two women, and the consciousness that in my reactions to and attitude toward my husband every day, I resemble one or the other. I've seen my negative or scornful attitude crush him, and I've seen my gentleness soften him. Women in any household, married or unmarried, mother or daughter, hold so much responsibility for the household's ethos. Of course, we don't hold that responsibility alone (!), but we can't make others' decisions for them: we must say to ourselves daily, "As for me, I will serve the Lord."

I pray with all my heart that the Lord will help His daughters, who love His name, to be like the gentle and industrious woman whom King Lemuel's mother extolled, and not like Job's angry, frustrated harpy.