If you are sick of hearing how you need to be a Proverbs 31 woman or have more sex with your husband like the Song of Songs “says”…read Rachel’s chapter called January: Valor. She reminds all of us (especially those of us who are seminary trained and love to exegete the Word to death) to read the text according to its genre. Poetry is meant to be read different than narrative. And perhaps we have had Proverbs 31 and Song of Songs interpreted in ways that as Rachel suggests, “turn{ed} an anthem into an assignment, a poem into a job description.” (Held, 89)

First, let me pause because some of you may not be aware that the Hebrew word for “a good wife,” or ” a wife of noble character,” or as some translations say, “a virtuous woman” is eshet chayil.Many scholars argue the best translation for eshet chayil isvalorous woman or woman of valor. In a minute you’ll understand why that’s important.

Rachel goes on to show how there’s an “empire” of books, conferences and products by Christians who interpret Proverbs 31 as commands … a way to live as a biblical woman. Most of us have heard this interpretation that’s why we grumble when we hear the “Proverb 31 Woman” mentioned.

UGH (facial expressions and all!)

You’ve got to be kidding me 🙁

I hate her!

You can hardly keep a woman’s ears open to hear a preacher speak on Proverbs 31. And we go home “and it became just another impossible standard by which to measure our failures.” (Held, 89)

Later in the chapter we read of how the Jewish community thinks of the poem. Rachel made friends with a Jewish woman who helped her understand the Jewishness of the Bible. “Seeing as how the Jews have several thousand years on us when it comes to interpreting Scripture, Christians might consider listening to them more often,” says Rachel. (Held, 86)

Here’s what Rachel learned …
– in Jewish culture it is not the woman who memorize Proverbs 31, but the men. Husbands commit each line of the poem to memory, so they can recite it to their wives at the Sabbath meal, usually in song.

-they sing in front of their children and guest “A valorous woman, who can find? Her value is far beyond pearls.”

-eschet chayil is at its core a blessing- one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given, unconditionally. (Held, 88)

Now how would that change how we hear the poem?

What if all this time we’ve been teaching commands when in reality it might be more about poetry … more about a husband unconditionally singing a poem as a blessing to his wife in front of his children and guests? Perhaps Rachel is right, maybe we have “turned an anthem into an assignment, a poem into a job description.”

I say, “Men it’s time to start memorizing Eshet chayil.”

(My next blog will comment on Song of Songs)