She was whisked away as fast as she entered in chapter 12. She was a blip on Solomon’s radar; but King Lemuel, he took some time to dwell on her. The structure of the end of Proverbs is unique in its formation. Two things make it stand out from the rest of the book.
First, it is a unit. For much of Proverbs, aside from pieces here and there, the author makes statements that stand on their own. The prologue to the book (1.1-9) and Wisdom’s Poem (8-9) being the obvious exemptions. For much of the book it is stuff like you find in chapter 10. Its a couple verses about obtaining wealth (10.2-5ish); the way to walk (6-9); thoughts on the tongue (10-14); then back to the wealth (15-16); verse 17 is an outlier; then back to the tongue (18-21); the wicked and the righteous (22-30); and finishes with the tongue again (31-32). If you have ever tried to outline the book of James or even the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus, you would know the frustration of trying to put an outline to the book of Proverbs. The themes bounce around, into and off of each other like particles at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. But not in this chapter and not for King Lemuel.
Lemuel wants to dwell on this topic of the Woman of Noble Character. It is shown in the number of verses she has devoted to her. Twenty-one verses are devoted to describing her character, her worth, her activity. I guess it depends on how you divide it up and how you categorize and group them, but there aren’t many topics that warrant the amount of ink as the wife of noble character. Wisdom, Righteousness, Discipline, Money are on the short list that get more press than her.
Its not only the number of verses he devotes to her, it’s the way he arranges them. The end of Proverbs 31 is an acrostic poem. Each subsequent verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. He begins in verse 10 with the letter aleph: “‘isha-chayil“. The translation is “a wife/woman of noble character”. The use of ‘isha in scripture is a bit ambiguous. Going back to a previous post of first text principle in Genesis 2.23-25. The word is used 4 times in four verses; once in 22, 23, 24, and 25. The first two times the NIV translates it as woman, and the last two wife. To say that this only applies to a married woman, rendering ‘isha as wife, would, I think be hermeneutically arrogant. I would feel safer applying this to all women.
The second word of that first verse chayil is an interesting word. It is most commonly translated as “army” or “wealth”. If you remember from the last post, the word for “helper” [‘ezer] has military implications. Those are the literal translations. The meaning, the thought, behind the word is “strength”. Kings are only as strong as their armies and their wealth. Joel and Habakkuk knew the meaning of this word. Habakkuk writes: “The Lord is my strength [chayil]…” (Hab. 3.19) and Joel adds: “The Lord thunders at the head of his armies [chayil]” (Joel 2.11).
Moving on the second verse (11) beings with batach…the hebrew letter bet, translated as “trust”. The following verse begins with a gimel. The hebrew word is “gemalathu” meaning “she will give”. Hebrew (and greek for that matter) is not as confined to sentence structure as the English language is. English sentences are usually constructed as “subject-verb”. The components are generally determined by their location in the sentence. Hebrew, on the other hand uses suffixes to words to denote their function in the sentence. That being said, the order of the sentence is not nearly as important in the Hebrew. King Lemuel utilizes this freedom. He begins verse 10 with noun-adjective; verse 11 with verse-preposition-verb; verse 12 with a verb…and so on.
He continues throughout the Hebrew alphabet, all the way through too “tav”. Twenty two letters (or 21 if you combine the letters sin and shin, which are used interchangeably as the Psalmist in 119 does as does King Lemuel) leading the verses about the woman/wife of noble character. Psalm 119 is the perfect example of this. Most NIV Bible’s even begin the sections with the Hebrew letter that will lead the sentence in the subsequent sections.
When’s the last time you composed a poem? Haiku’s not included. Have you ever tried to sit down and write one? Forget a poem. Just try a word. On the left side of a piece of paper, write the alphabet vertically with one line per letter. See if you can come up with something that starts with that letter using a theme. Pick one: animal, college, chemical element, or food. See how long it takes.
I wrote one about Taco Bell (An Ode to Taco Bell). It took me a while during last summer. To get the right words, in the correct order, to convey the meaning, to clarify thought, was a stressful and intellectually challenging endeavor…and it was about Taco Bell, something so insignificant. Can you imagine, King Lemuel agonizing over the proper words to get his point across? Can you picture, King Lemuel, being poured into by the Holy Spirit, and the words flowing from his pen as he describes the heroine of the story?
The woman of noble character was worth all of the effort. All of the time spent describing her was worth spending.
Just like a Knight who has earned the scars from battle and now gets to bask in the affection of the Damsel, he would say: “it was worth the effort.”
Just like Jacob, who worked 7 years for Rachel’s hand in marriage but they only seemed like a few days because of his love for her. (Gen. 29.20) Ask him if it was worth it?
King Lemuel would answer the affirmative. Most certainly yes! She is worth it. That is why he composes this poem to her honor.