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This chapter contains the last part of the book of Proverbs; which some reckon the fifth, others the sixth. It contains the instructions of the mother of a prince, whose name was Lemuel, which she gave unto him; and which are so valuable, as to be annexed to the proverbs of Solomon. The preface or introduction to them is in ( Proverbs 31:1); the address to her son, ( Proverbs 31:2). The vices she cautions him against are uncleanness and intemperance; which she dissuades from, because of the pernicious consequences of both to kings and to their subjects, ( Proverbs 31:3-5).
Advises rather to give wine and strong drink to poor people, such as are in distress; as being more useful to them, at least less prejudicial, ( Proverbs 31:6,7); and exhorts her son to the duties of his office; by pleading the cause of the poor and injured, and administering justice to them, ( Proverbs 31:8,9). And then at large describes a virtuous woman; perhaps designed as an instruction to her son in the choice of a wife, ( Proverbs 31:10-31); though more than that may be intended by it.
Ver. 1 . The words of King Lemuel , etc.] Not what were spoken by him, but what were spoken to him; or declaring what his mother said, as what follows shows; of this king we have no account elsewhere under this name.
Grotius thinks that King Hezekiah, whose mother Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah, whom he supposes to be a wise man, from whom she had learned much, instructed her son in the following manner; but gives no other reason for this conjecture but that this chapter follows the collection of proverbs made by the men of Hezekiah; but they are expressly said to be Solomon’s, and the words of Agur more immediately follow them; and besides Hezekiah does not appear ever to be addicted to the vices this prince was; much more probable is the conjecture of Bishop Patrick, that he was a prince of another country, perhaps in Chaldea, since a Chaldee word is three times used in his mother’s address to him, and another word in a Chaldee termination; and he supposes his mother to be a Jewish lady, that taught her son the lessons herein contained. But the general sense of Jewish and Christian writers is, that Solomon himself is meant; whose name Lemuel is either a corruption of his name Solomon, a fond pretty name his mother Bathsheba gave him when young, and he thought fit to write it just as his mother spoke it; as mothers often do give such broken names to their children in fond affection to them: or it was another name of his, as it appears he had more than one; it signifies “to God”, one that was devoted to him, as he was by his parents and by himself; or one that belonged to God, was his, as Solomon was; he was beloved of God, and therefore called Jedidiah, ( 2 Samuel 12:24,25); one to whom God was a father, and he a son to him; and he was chosen and appointed by him to succeed his father David in the kingdom, ( 2 Samuel 7:13 Chronicles 28:5). Hillerus makes the word to signify “over against God”, or “before the face of the first”, or of God and was a type of the “angel of faces”, or of God’s presence, ( Isaiah 63:9); the prophecy that his mother taught him ; either in his youth, or when he was come to the throne; to whom she had access, and with whom she used freedom; and particularly when she saw he was inclined unto, or going into, the vices she cautions him against. Her instruction is called a “prophecy”, because she delivered it on a foresight of the sins her son would be tempted with, and liable to fall into; and this foresight was either through her natural sagacity, or under a spirit of prophecy; or rather it is so called, because any wise saying, or doctrine of moment and importance, and especially if it was by divine inspiration, was so called; (see Proverbs 30:1); as Solomon tells us what his father David taught him, so here what his mother Bathsheba instructed him in; and it would have been well if he had taken the advice she gave him, and he gave to his son; (see Proverbs 4:3,4 1:8).
Ver. 2 . What, my son ? etc.] What shall I call thee? though thou art a king, can I address thee in more suitable language, or use a more endearing appellative than this, and what follows? permit me, thy mother, to speak unto thee as my son: and what shall I say to thee? I want words, I want wisdom; O that I knew what to say to thee, that would be proper and profitable; or what is it I am about to say to thee? things of the greatest moment and importance, and therefore listen to me; and so the manner of speaking is designed to excite attention: or what shall I ask of thee? no part of thy kingdom, or any share in the government of it; only this favour, to avoid the sins unbecoming a prince, and to do the duty of a king, later mentioned. The Targum and Syriac version represent her as exclaiming, reproving, and threatening; as, Alas my son! is this the life thou designest to live, to give up thyself to wine and women? fie upon it, my son, is this becoming thy birth, education, and dignity? is this the fruit of all the pains I have taken in bringing thee up? consider the unbecoming part thou art acting; and what, the son of my womb ? whom I bore in sorrow, brought forth in pain, and took so much care and trouble to bring up in a religious way, and form for usefulness in church and state? not an adopted son, but my own flesh and blood; and therefore what I say must be thought to proceed from pure affection to thee, and solely for thy good; see ( Isaiah 49:15); and what, the son of my vows ? whom I asked of God, and promised to give up to him again, and did; for which reason she might call him Lemuel, as Hannah called her son Samuel, for a like reason, ( 1 Samuel 1:28); a son for whom she had put up many prayers, for his temporal and spiritual good; and on whose account she had made many vows, promises, and resolutions, that she would do so and so, should she be so happy as to bring him into the world, and bring him up to man’s estate, and see him settled on the throne of Israel.
Ver. 3. Give not thy strength unto women , etc.] Strength of body, which is weakened by an excessive use of venery with a multiplicity of women; see, ( Proverbs 5:9); and strength of mind, reason, and wisdom, which is impaired by conversation with such persons; whereby time is consumed and lost, which should be spent in the improvement of knowledge: or “thy riches”, as the Septuagint and Arabic versions, thy substance, which harlots devour, and who bring a man to a piece of bread, as the prodigal was, ( Proverbs 6:26 Luke 15:30); and even drain the coffers of kings and princes; nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings ; do not give thy mind to take such courses, and pursue such ways and methods, as bring ruin on kings and kingdoms, as conversation with harlots does; (see Proverbs 7:26).
Some think the design of this advice is to warn against any ambitious views of enlarging his dominions by invading neighbouring countries, and making war with neighbouring kings, to the ruin of them; but the former sense seems best. The Targum is, “nor thy ways to the daughters of kings.”
Ver. 4 . [It is] not for kings, O Lemuel , etc.] It is not fit for them, it is very unbecoming them; it is dishonourable to them, to such as Lemuel was, or was likely to be; or far be it from kings, let no such thing be do ne by them, nor by thee; [it is] not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink ; it is lawful for kings to drink wine in a moderate manner, and for princes, counsellors, and judges, to drink strong drink; meaning not such as is made of malt, which in those times was not used; but of honey, dates, pomegranates, and such like things; but then it was very unbecoming for either of them to drink any of these to excess; it is very disgraceful to any man to drink immoderately, to make a beast of himself, and much more a king or judge, who, of all men, ought to be grave and sober; both that they may perform their office well, and maintain the grandeur and dignity of it, which otherwise would become useless and despicable, yea, pernicious, as follows. Solomon, notwithstanding this advice, gave himself unto wine as well as women, ( Ecclesiastes 2:3). The Targum is, “take care of kings, O Lemuel, of kings who drink wine, and of princes that drink strong drink.”
So the Syriac version, keep no company with them, nor follow their example; (see Ecclesiastes 10:17 Hosea 7:5); The last clause may be rendered, “nor for princes [to say], where is strong drink” f920 ? where is it to be had? where is the best? as drunkards do; which is according to the marginal reading; but the “Cetib”, or writing, is wa , “or” f921 ; but some render it as a noun, “the desire of strong drink” f922 : it does not become princes to covet it.
Ver. 5. Lest they drink, and forget the law , etc.] The law of God by Moses, which the kings of Israel were obliged to write a copy of, and read over daily, to imprint it on their minds, that they might never forget it, but always govern according to it, ( Deuteronomy 17:18,19); or the law of their ancestors, or what was made by themselves, which through intemperance may be forgotten; for this sin stupefies the mind and hurts the memory, and makes men forgetful; and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted ; a king on the throne, or a judge on the bench, drunk, must be very unfit for his office; since he must be incapable of attending to the cause before him, of taking in the true state of the case; and, as he forgets the law, which is his rule of judgment, so he will mistake the point in debate, and put one thing for another; and “change” and alter, as the word signifies, the judgment of the afflicted and injured person, and give the cause against him which should be for him; and therefore it is of great consequence that kings and judges should he sober. A certain woman, being undeservedly condemned by Philip king of Macedon, when drunk, said, “I would appeal to Philip, but it shall be when he is sober;” which aroused him; and, more diligently examining the cause, he gave, a more righteous sentence f924 .
Ver. 6. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish , etc.] Thou, O Lemuel, and other kings and judges, rather than drink strong drink yourselves, least to excess; give it out of your great abundance and liberality to poor persons in starving circumstances, who must perish, unless relieved; it will do them good, moderately used; and should they drink too freely, which they ought not, yet it would not be attended with such bad consequences as if kings and princes should; and wine to those that be of heavy heart ; of melancholy dispositions, under gloomy apprehensions of things; pressed with the weight of their affliction and poverty: or, “bitter in soul” f925 ; such as God has dealt bitterly with, as Naomi says was her case, and therefore called her own name Marah, which signifies bitter; of such a sorrowful spirit, and one thus bitter in soul, was Hannah; and so Job, and others; persons in great affliction and distress, to whom life itself is bitter; see ( Ruth 1:20 1 Samuel 1:10 Job 3:20 10:1); now wine to such is very exhilarating and cheering; (see Judges 9:13 <19A415> Psalm 104:15).
Ver. 7 . Let him drink, and forget his poverty , etc.] Which has been very pressing upon him, and afflicting to him; let him drink till he is cheerful, and forgets that he is a poor man; however, so far forgets as not to be troubled about it, and have any anxious thoughts how he must have food and raiment f926 ; and remember his misery no more ; the anguish of his mind because of his straitened circumstances; or “his labour” f927 , as it may be rendered; so the Septuagint and Arabic versions, the labour of his body, the pains he takes to get a little food for himself and family. The Targum is, “and remember his torn garments no more;” his rags, a part of his poverty. Such virtue wine may have for the present to dispel care, than which it is said nothing can be better f928 ; and to induce a forgetfulness of misery, poverty, and of other troubles. So the mixed wine Helena gave to Telemachus, called Nepenthe, which when drunk, had such an effect as to remove sorrow, and to bring on forgetfulness of past evils f929 ; and of which Diodorus Siculus and Pliny speak as of such use. The ancients used to call Bacchus, the god of wine, the son of forgetfulness; but Plutarch thought he should rather be called the father of it. Some, by those that are “ready to perish”, understand condemned malefactors, just going to die; and think the Jewish practice of giving wine mingled with myrrh or frankincense, or a stupefying potion to such that they might not be sensible of their misery f933 , such as the Jews are supposed to otter to Christ, ( Mark 15:23); is grounded upon this passage; but the sense given is best: the whole may be applied in a spiritual manner to such persons who see themselves in a “perishing”, state and condition; whose consciences are loaded with guilt, whose souls are filled with a sense of wrath, have a sight of sin, but not of a Saviour; behold a broken, cursing, damning law, the flaming sword of justice turning every way, but no righteousness to answer for them, no peace, no pardon, no stoning sacrifice but look upon themselves lost and undone: and so of “heavy hearts”; have a spirit of heaviness in them, a heaviness upon their spirits: a load of guilt on them too heavy to bear, so that they cannot look up: or are “bitter in soul”; sin is made bitter to them, and they weep bitterly for it: now to such persons “wine”, in a spiritual sense, should be given; the Gospel, which is as the best wine, that, goes down sweetly, should be preached unto them; they should be told of the love of God and Christ to poor sinners, which is better than wine; and the blessings of grace should be set before them, as peace, pardon, righteousness, and eternal life, by Christ, the milk and wine to be had without money and without price; of these they should drink, or participate of, by faith, freely, largely, and to full satisfaction; by means of which they will “forget” their spiritual “poverty”, and consider themselves as possessed of the riches of grace, as rich in faith, and heirs of a kingdom; and so remember no more their miserable estate by nature, and the anguish of their souls in the view of that; unless it be to magnify and adore the riches of God’s grace in their deliverance.
Ver. 8. Open thy mouth for the dumb , etc.] Not who are naturally so, but who cannot speak in their own behalf, either through want of elocution, or knowledge of the laws; or who are bashful, timorous, and fearful, being overawed by the majesty of a court of judicature, or by their prosecutors; or who, as they have not a tongue, so not a purse, to speak for them, the fatherless and the widow; which latter has her name, in the Hebrew language, from dumbness. Here Lemuel’s mother advises him to open his mouth freely, readily, boldly, and intrepidly, and plead for such persons.
Even in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction ; whose destruction is resolved on by their accusers and prosecutors; and who are in danger of it, being charged with capital crimes; unless some persons of wisdom, power, and authority, interpose on their behalf. It may be rendered, “in the cause of all the children of change”, or “passing away” f934 ; the children of the world, which passeth away with all things in it, as Kimchi; or orphans, whose help passeth away, as Jarchi; or rather strangers, as others, who pass from place to place and whose state and condition is liable to many changes who may be ignorant of the laws of the country where they are, and may stand in need of persons to plead for them.
Ver. 9 . Open thy mouth, judge righteously , etc.] Having heard the cause, pronounce a righteous sentence; deliver it freely and impartially, with all readiness and boldness, not caring for the censures of wicked and unjust men; and plead the cause of the poor and needy ; who are oppressed by the rich, cannot plead for themselves, nor fee others to plead for them; do thou do it freely and faithfully. Thus as Lemuel’s mother cautions him against women and wine, she advises him to do the duties of his office in administering impartial justice to all, and particularly in being the advocate and judge of the indigent and distressed.
Ver. 10 . Who can find a virtuous woman , etc.] This part of the chapter is disjoined from the rest in the Septuagint and Arabic versions; and Huetius thinks it is a composition of some other person, and not Lemuel’s mother, whose words he supposes end at ( Proverbs 31:9); but it is generally thought that what follows to the end of the chapter is a continuance of her words, in which she describes a person as a fit wife for her son. Some think that Bathsheba gave the materials, the sum and substance of this beautiful description, to Solomon; who put it in the artificial form it is, each verse beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order till the whole is gone through; though rather it seems to be a composition of Solomon’s, describing the character and virtues of his mother Bathsheba. But, be this as it will, the description is drawn up to such a pitch, and wrote in such strong lines, as cannot agree with any of the daughters of fallen Adam, literally understood; not with Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon; nor with the Virgin Mary, as the Papists, who, they fancy, was immaculate and sinless, of which there is no proof; nor indeed with any other; for though some parts of the description may meet in some, and others in others, yet not all in one; wherefore the mystical and spiritual sense of the whole must be sought after. Some by the “virtuous woman” understand the sensitive soul, subject to the understanding and reason, as Gersom; others the Scriptures, as Lyra, which lead to virtue, contain much riches in them, far above rubies; in which men may safely confide as the rule of their faith and practice; and will do them good, and not evil, continually. Others, “Wisdom”, who in the beginning of this book is represented as a woman making provision for her household, and said to be more precious than rubies; and is to be understood of Christ; which I should have readily given into, but that this virtuous woman is said to have a husband, ( Proverbs 31:11,23,28); which cannot agree with Christ, who is himself the husband of his church and people, which church of his, I think, is here meant; nor is this a novel sense of the passage, but what is given by many of the ancient Christian writers, as Ambrose, Bede, and others; and whoever compares ( Proverbs 31:28,29), with ( Song of Solomon 6:8,9), will easily see the agreement; and will be led to observe that Solomon wrote both, and had a view to one and the same person, the church of Christ, who is often represented by a “woman”, ( Isaiah 54:51:5,6 Galatians 3:26 Revelation 12:1); a woman grown and marriageable, as the Gospel church may be truly said to be, in comparison of the Jewish church, which was the church in infancy; a woman actually married to Christ; a woman fruitful, bringing forth many children to him; a woman beautiful, especially in his eyes, with whom she is the fairest among women; a woman, the weaker vessel, unable to do anything without him, yet everything through him: a “virtuous” one, inviolably chaste in her love and affection to Christ, her husband; steadfast in her adherence, to him by faith, as her Lord and Saviour; incorrupt in doctrine, sincere and spiritual in worship, retaining the purity of discipline, and holiness of life; and holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience: or a “woman of strength” f936 , valour, and courage, as the word signifies, when used of men, ( Samuel 16:18 Psalm 76:6); The church is militant, has many enemies, and these powerful and mighty, as well as cunning and crafty; yet, with all their power and policy, cannot overcome her; the gates of hell cannot prevail against her; she engages with them all, and is more than a conqueror over them; she is of great spiritual strength, which she, has from Christ, to fight the Lord’s battles, to withstand every enemy, to exercise grace, and do every good work; and all her true members persevere to the end: or a “woman of riches” f937 ; that gets wealth and, riches by her wisdom and prudence, so Aben Ezra; a woman of fortune, as is commonly said: such is the church of Christ, through his unsearchable riches communicated to her; riches of grace she now possesses, and riches of glory she is entitled to. But “who can find” such an one? there is but one to be found f938 ; though there are many particular churches, there is but one church of the firstborn, consisting of God’s elect, of which Christ is the head and husband, ( Song of Solomon 6:9); and there is but one that could find her: even her surety, Saviour, and Redeemer; compare with this ( Revelation 5:3-5). This supposes her lost, as she was in Adam; Christ’s seeking of her, as he did in redemption, and does in effectual calling; and who perfectly knows her, and all her members, and where they are; and whom he finds out, and bestows on them the blessings of grace and goodness; for her price [is] far above rubies ; showing the value Christ her husband puts upon her, the esteem she is had in by him; who reckons her as his portion and inheritance; as preferable to the purest gold, and choicest silver; as his peculiar treasure; as his jewels, and more valuable than the most precious stones: this appears by his undertaking for her; by doing and suffering what he has on her account; the price he has paid for her is far above rubies; she is bought with a price, but not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ; the ransom price paid for her is himself, who is more precious than rubies, and all the things that can be desired, ( 1 Peter 1:18,19 1 Timothy 2:6 Proverbs 3:15).
Ver. 11. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her , etc.] Christ her Maker is her husband, who has asked her in marriage, and has betrothed her to himself in righteousness; and of whose chaste love, and inviolable attachment to him, he is fully satisfied, as well as of her fidelity in keeping what he commits unto her; he trusts her with his Gospel and ordinances, which she faithfully retains and observes; and with his children born in her, who are nursed up at her side, to whom she gives the breasts of ordinances, bears them on her sides, and dandles them on her knees, as a tender and careful mother does, ( Isaiah 60:4 66:11,12); so that he shall have no need of spoil ; he shall never want any; by means of the word preached in her, prey and spoil shall be taken out of the hands of the mighty, and he shall divide the spoil with them; or have souls snatched out of the hands of Satan, and translated into his kingdom, ( Isaiah 53:12). The Septuagint version understands it of the virtuous woman, and not of her husband; “such an one as she shall not want good spoils”; now, prey or spoil sometimes signifies food, as in ( <19B105> Psalm 111:5); and so Jarchi interprets it here; and then the sense is, she shall not want spiritual provisions; she shall have plenty of them from her husband, who reposes such confidence in her; or shall not want excellent treasures, as the Arabic version, which also understands it of her; such are the word and ordinances, and particularly precious promises, which are more rejoicing than a great spoil, ( <19B9162> Psalm 119:162); and so Ambrose interprets it of the church, who needs no spoils because she abounds with them, even with the spoils of the world, and of the devil.
Ver. 12 . She will do him good, and not evil , etc.] Or, repay good unto him, give him thanks for all the good things bestowed by him on her; will seek his interest, and promote his honour and glory to the uttermost; all the good works she does, which she is qualified for, and ready to perform, are all done in his name and strength, and with a view to his glory; nor will she do any evil willingly and knowingly against him, against his truths and ordinances; or that is detrimental to his honour, and prejudicial to his interest, ( 2 Corinthians 13:8); all the days of her life ; through which she desires to serve him in righteousness and true holiness; and to be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in his work, ( Luke 1:74,75).
Ver. 13 . She seeketh wool and flax , etc.] To get them, in order to spin them, and work them up into garments; she stays not till they are brought to her, and she is pressed to take them; but she seeks after them, which shows her willingness to work, as is after more fully expressed. It was usual in ancient times for great personages to do such works as these, both among the Grecians and Romans: Lucretia with her maids were found spinning, when her husband Collatinus paid a visit to her from the camp f941 :
Tanaquills, or Caia Caecilia, the wife of King Tarquin, was an excellent spinster of wool f942 ; her wool, with a distaff and spindle, long remained in the temple of Sangus, or Sancus, as Varro relates: and a garment made by her, wore by Servius Tullius, was reserved in the temple of Fortune; hence it became a custom for maidens to accompany newly married women with a distaff and spindle, with wool upon them f944 , signifying what they were principally to attend unto; and maidens are advised to follow the example of Minerva, said to be the first that made a web f945 ; and, if they would have her favour, to learn to use the distaff, and to card and spin f946 : so did the daughters of Minyas, in Ovid f947 ; and the nymphs, in Virgil f948 .
When Alexander the great advised the mother of Darius to use her nieces to such employments, the Persian ladies were in great concern, it being reckoned reproachful with them for such to move their hands to wool; on hearing which, Alexander himself went to her, and told her the clothes he wore were wrought by his sisters f949 : and the daughters and granddaughters of Augustus Caesar employed themselves in the woollen manufacture by his order f950 ; and he himself usually wore no other garment than what was made at home, by his wife, sister, daughter, and granddaughter f951 . The Jews have a saying f952 , that there is no wisdom in a woman but in the distaff; suggesting, that it is her wisdom to mind her spinning, and the affairs of her household: at the Roman marriages, the word “thalassio” was often repeated f953 , which signified a vessel in which spinning work was put; and this was done to put the bride in mind what her work was to be. Now as to the mystical sense of these words; as of wool outward garments, and of flax linen and inward garments, are made; by the one may be meant external, and by the other internal, acts of religion; both are to be done, and not the one without the other: outward acts of religion are, such as hearing the word, attendance on ordinances, and all good works, which make up a conversation garment that should be kept; and they should be done so as to be seen of men, but not for that reason: and internal acts of religion are, the fear of God, humility, faith, hope, love, and other graces, and the exercises of them, which make up the new man, to be put on as a garment; and these should go together; bodily exercise, without powerful godliness, profiteth little; and pretensions to spirituality and internal religion, without regard to the outward duties of religion, are all vain. Hence Ambrose, on the text, observes that one may say, “It is enough to worship and serve God in my mind; what need have I to go to church, and visibly mingle with Christians? Such a man would have a linen, without a woollen garment, this woman knew not; she does not commend such works.”
She sought all opportunities of doing good works externally, as believers do; and sought after the kingdom of God, inward godliness, which lies in peace, righteousness, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Not that such garments are to be joined with Christs robe of righteousness, to make up a justifying one; a garment mingled with linen and woollen, in this sense, is not to come upon the saints, ( Leviticus 19:19); and worketh willingly with her hands ; or, “with the pleasure of her hands” f954 ; as if her hands took delight in working, as the church and all true believers do; who are made willing in the day of the Lord’s power upon them, to serve him, as well as to be saved by him; in whose hearts he works, both to will and to do; and these do what they do cheerfully: these do the work of the Lord, not by the force of the law, nor through fear of punishment, but in love; not by constraint, but willingly, having no other constraint but the love of God and Christ; and not with mercenary selfish views, but with a view to his glory; and they find a pleasure and delight in all they do; Christ’s ways are ways of pleasantness; his commandments are not grievous, his yoke is easy.
Ver. 14 . She is like the merchant ships , etc.] Not like a single one, but like a navy of them, that cross the seas, go to foreign parts, and come back laden with rich goods: so the church of Christ, and her true members, like ships of burden, trade to heaven, by prayer and other religious exercises, and return with the riches of grace and mercy, to help them in time of need; and though they have often difficult and dangerous passages, are tossed with tempests, and covered with billows; yet, Christ being their pilot, faith their sail, and hope their anchor, they weather the seas, ride out all storms, and come safe home with their merchandise; she bringeth her food from afar : from a far country, from Egypt particularly, from whence corn for bread, as the word here used signifies, was fetched and carried in ships to divers parts of the world f955 ; to which the allusion may be: in a spiritual sense, it may mean that the church brings her food or bread from heaven, the good land afar off; where God her father, Christ her husband, and her friends the angels are; with whom she carries on a correspondence, and from hence she has her food for her family; not from below, on earth; not dust, the serpent’s food; nor ashes, on which a deceitful heart feeds; nor husks, which swine eat; but the corn of heaven, angels’ food, the hidden and heavenly manna; the bread of life, which comes down from heaven; the Gospel of the grace of God, the good news from a far country.
Ver. 15 . She riseth also while it is yet night , etc.] That is, before the ascent of the morning, as Aben Ezra explains it, before break of day; a great while before day, as Christ is said to rise to pray, ( Mark 1:35); while it was yet dark; so the church here: which shows her affection for her family, her care of her children, and fervent zeal for her husband’s interest and good; a different frame of spirit this from that of hers in ( Song of Solomon 5:2,3); and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens ; in allusion to a daily stated allowance of food given to such; and spiritually may be meant, by her “household” or family, the same with the family of Christ, that is named of himself, which consists of various persons, fathers, young men, and children; and by her “maidens” the ministers of the word; (see Proverbs 9:3); who are stewards in the family, and have the food for it put into their hands to dispense; it is by these the church gives meat to her household feeds them with knowledge and understanding, with the wholesome words of Christ, with the good doctrines of the Gospel; these have a certain portion given them, and they rightly cut and divide the word of truth, and give to everyone their portion of meat in due season, according to their age and circumstances; milk indeed to babes and meat to strong men; see ( Luke 12:42). The Targum renders the word for “portion [by] service”: understanding not a portion of food, but of work, a task set them, and so the word is used in ( Exodus 5:14). The Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions, render it, “works”, which may be very well applied to the work and service of the Gospel ministry, and the several parts of it.
Ver. 16 . She considereth a field, and buyeth it , etc.] The field are the Scriptures, in which are hid the rich treasures of Gospel doctrines and promises; and the church, and all truly enlightened persons, consider to what use this field may be put, to what account it will turn; how profitable the Scriptures are, for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness; what a rich mine and valuable treasure is in them; things more desirable, and of greater worth, than thousands of gold and silver; and therefore will buy this field at any rate, and not sell it; will part with all they have before they will part with that; even life itself, which in an improper sense is called buying of it, though it is without money and without price; (see Matthew 13:44); with the fruit of her hand she planteth a vineyard ; her own vineyard, whose plants are an orchard of pomegranates, ( Song of Solomon 1:6 4:13); who through the ministry of the word, are planted in the house of the Lord, and flourish there; this the church is said to do by her ministers, who plant and water, as Paul and Apollos did, ( 1 Corinthians 3:6,7).
And it is observable, that in the Hebrew text there is a double reading; the “Keri”, or marginal reading, is feminine; but the “Cetib”, or writing, is masculine; to show that she did it by means of men, she made use of in her vineyard for that service; it being, as Aben Ezra observes, not the custom and business of women to plant vineyards, but men. It may be rendered, “he planted”, and be applied to her husband, Christ; who, through the ministry of the word in his church, plants souls in it; and happy are they who are the planting of the Lord! trees of righteousness, that he may be glorified, ( Isaiah 61:3).
Ver. 17. She girdeth her loins with strength , etc.] Showing her readiness to every good work; and with what cheerfulness, spirit, and resolution, she set about it, and with what dispatch and expedition she performed it: the allusion is to the girding and tucking up of long garments, wore in the eastern countries, when any work was set about in earnest, which required dispatch; (see Luke 17:8 12:35); the strength of creatures being in their loins, ( Job 40:16); the loins are sometimes put for strength, as in Plautus f957 ; and the sense is much the same with what follows; and strengtheneth her arms ; does all she finds to do with all her might and main, as the church does; not in her own strength, but in the strength of Christ; to whom she seeks for it, and in whose strength she goes forth about her business; by whom the arms of her hands are made strong, even by the mighty God of Jacob; and because she thus applies to him for it, she is said to do it herself, ( Genesis 49:24 Philippians 4:13); here she plays the man, and acts the manly part, ( 1 Corinthians 16:13).
Ver. 18. She perceiveth that her merchandise [is] good , etc.] That it turns to good account; that her trading to heaven is of great advantage; that she grows rich hereby; that her merchandise with Wisdom, or Christ, is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereby than fine gold; and though her voyages are attended with trouble and danger, yet are profitable, and therefore she is not discouraged, but determined to pursue them; she is like the merchant man, seeking goodly pearls, who finds a pearl of great price, worth all his trouble; (see Gill on “ Proverbs 31:14”) and see ( Proverbs 3:14 Matthew 13:45,46); her candle goeth not out by night ; or “lamp” f958 ; her lamp of profession, which is always kept burning, ( Luke 12:35); or the glorious light of the Gospel, which always continues in the darkest times the church ever has been in; or her spiritual prosperity, which, though it may be damped, will never be extinct; when the candle of the wicked is often put out, ( Job 21:17); It may denote her diligence in working; who, as she rises early in the morning, ( Proverbs 31:15), so sits up late at night, and is never weary of well doing, night and day. Ambrose interprets it of the lamp of hope, which burns in the night, and by and for which men work, ( Romans 8:24 1 Corinthians 9:10).
Ver. 19. She layeth her hands to the spindle , etc.] As Penelope and her maidens did f959 . Or spinning wheel, more properly, the wheel itself, which is laid hold on by the right hand, and turned round; and her hands hold the distaff ; the rock, stick, or staff, about which the wool is wrapped, which is spun, and is held in the left hand; for though hands are mentioned in both clauses, yet it is only with one hand the wheel is turned, and the distaff held with the other. Not only wool and flax were sought by her, ( Proverbs 31:13); but she spins them, and works them up into garments her web is not like the spider’s, spun out of its own bowels, on which it hangs; to which the hope and trust of a hypocrite are compared, and whose webs do not become garments to cover them, ( Job 8:14 Isaiah 59:5,6); but the church’s web is both for ornament, to the adorning of her profession, and for defence and protection from the calumnies of the world; for by these are meant good works, as Ambrose interprets them.
Ver. 20 . She stretcheth out her hand to the poor , etc.] Her liberality is very extensive, reaches to many, and at a distance; it is done with great cheerfulness and readiness; to do good and communicate, she forgets not, it being acceptable to her Lord and husband, ( Hebrews 13:16); yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy ; she gives with both hands, liberally and largely. It may be applied to the church, giving spiritual food by her ministers to those who are poor in spirit, spiritually poor and needy, and who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Ver. 21 . She is not afraid of the snow for her household , etc.] That her family should suffer through the rigour of a cold season, when it is frost and snow; for all her household [are] clothed with scarlet : the Vulgate Latin version renders it, “with double” f960 , that is, with double garments; and so the Septuagint and Arabic versions, joining the words to a following verse; and this, by some, is thought to be the better rendering of the words; since the scarlet colour is no fence against cold, no more than any other, whereas double garments are; and which may be applied to the garment of justification, or the robe of Christ’s righteousness, as one; and to the garment of sanctification, internal and external, as the other; the one, even the righteousness of Christ, or Christ the Lord our righteousness, is an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the storm; a sufficient shelter from the cold of snow, and all inclemencies of the weather; by which the vindictive wrath and justice of God may be signified: and the other is a screen from the malicious insinuations and reproaches of men. But had the word been designed to signify “double”, it would have been in the “dual” number; as it is not, and is always used in this form for “scarlet”; and so the Targum, Jarchi, and Aben Ezra interpret it; which colour is an emblem of the blood of Christ, by which the church is justified, ( Romans 5:9); and all the household of faith, the whole family of Christ and household of God, are all justified by the same righteousness of Christ, consisting of his active and passive obedience, for the whole of which his crimson blood is put; it is a garment down to the feet, which covers all his people; they are all made righteous by the one obedience of Christ; they are all clothed in scarlet alike, all kings and priests unto God, all alike justified, and shall be glorified alike. The literal sense is, that if her household are clothed in scarlet in common; much more may it be thought that coarse and suitable garments would be provided for them, to protect them from the cold in winter f961 .
Ver. 22. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry , etc.] For the furniture and ornament of her house, or for her bed; which may signify the ordinances of the Gospel, and the decent, orderly, and beautiful administration of them, wherein the church has communion with her Lord; (see Song of Solomon 1:16). The Vulgate Latin version renders it, “garments of divers colours”, such as was Joseph’s coat, ( Genesis 37:3); and, in a spiritual sense, may be applied to the above mentioned garments, and agrees with what goes before and follows; her clothing [is] silk and purple ; the Tyrian purple, which, Strabo says f962 , is the best; or purple silk, silk of a purple colour: or rather fine linen of this colour; a dress suitable to a queen, as the church is, who is represented as clothed with clothing of wrought gold, with raiment of needlework, ( Psalm 45:9,13,14); (see Ezekiel 16:10,13). This is not her own natural clothing, for she has none by nature that deserves the name; nor of her own working, not works of righteousness done by her; nor of her own putting on, but what Christ has wrought out for her, and clothes her with; and which is very rich in itself, the best robe, very ornamental to her; her wedding garment, and which will last for ever; (see Isaiah 61:10).
Ver. 23 . Her husband is known in the gates , etc.] Of the city, where courts of justice were kept, and causes heard and tried by the judges, the elders of the land, later mentioned; among whom the husband of the virtuous woman was, where he was known, taken notice of, and celebrated; not so much for the beautiful garments she made him, as Jarchi; but rather for his wisdom, as Gersom, and for being the husband of such a woman; who, taking such care of his domestic affairs, he was more at leisure to attend public business, and transact it with reputation. Christ is the husband of the church in general, and of particular churches, and of every private believer; he fell in love with them, asked them of his Father, and betrothed them to himself; and is a kind, tender, loving, and sympathizing husband to his church and people; that nourishes and cherishes them, and provides all things for them, and interests them in all he has: and he is “known” by them, in the dignity of his person, in the excellency of his offices, and the fulness of his grace; he is known by them in the relation of an husband; he is well known in the church of God, in the assembly of his saints, ( Psalm 76:1); he is known in the gates of Zion, in the public ministering of the word and ordinances; his name is celebrated, it becomes great and famous, wherever his Gospel is preached in the world; he is, “known in the provinces,” as the Targum; or, “among the cities,” as the Syriac version; among the nations of the world, in the cities of the Gentiles; as he will be, even from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, ( Malachi 1:11); when he sitteth among the elders of the land ; when he sits in his house, at his table, circled by his saints, his ancient ones; or as King, head, and husband of his people, on his throne in the church, encompassed with, the four and twenty elders, the representatives of Gospel churches, ( Revelation 4:2-4). And especially when he shall take to himself his great power, and reign gloriously before his ancients, the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, and all his saints, which will come with him; whom he has loved with an everlasting love; who were chosen in him before the foundation of the world; and had grace given them, in him, before the world began, ( Isaiah 24:23); and when he shall come to judge the world, and will appear in great glory, and be seen and known of all; and shall sit on his throne of glory, and his elders also, sitting on twelve thrones, judging the tribes of Israel, ( Matthew 19:28); so Ambrose interprets it of the universal judgment.
Ver. 24 . She maketh fine linen, and selleth [it] , etc.] She not only seeks wool and flax, and spins it, but makes it up into fine linen, which she disposes of to advantage to herself and family. Kimchi says f963 , the word signifies coverings for the night, as well as day he seems to design linen sheets: the Arabic version adds, and “sells it to the inhabitants of Bosra.”
This, in the mystic sense, may signify either the good works the church does, and which she proposes as a pattern and example to her members; or divine instruction, as others, the preaching of the Gospel, and the truths of it; which she sells, and others buy, though both without money and without price; for, as she freely receives, she freely gives: or the righteousness of Christ, which is called fine linen and white raiment; which, properly speaking, is made by Christ, and sold by him, or bought of him, as before, without money; (see Revelation 19:8 3:18); yet this the church makes her own, by laying hold upon it by faith, and which she holds forth freely to others in the Gospel; which is therefore called “the ministration of righteousness”, ( 2 Corinthians 3:9); and delivereth girdles unto the merchant ; to dispose of them for her; either to sell to others, to the Egyptian priests which wore them; or for their own use, to put their money in, girdles being used for that purpose, (see Gill on “ Matthew 10:9”). Or, “a girdle to the Canaanite” f964 ; the Canaanites or Phoenicians being generally merchants, the word is put for one. By these may be meant ministers of the word; for, as the priests of Rome are called the merchants of the earth and false teachers are said to make merchandise men, ( Revelation 18:3 2 Peter 2:3); so faithful ministers, who trade for the good of souls, and seek not theirs, but them, and not their own things, but Christ’s, may be called merchants: and to these “the girdle of truth” is given; and these the church exhorts to gird their loins with it, as well as all her members, that they may be ready to every good work, and particularly prepared to preach the Gospel of peace, ( Ephesians 6:14,15).
Ver. 25 . Strength and honour [are] her clothing , etc.] Strength, not of body, but of mind. The church is clothed with strength, as her Lord, head, and husband, is said to be, ( Psalm 93:1); and which she has from him; for though she is the weaker vessel, and weak in herself, yet is strong in him; and is able to bear and do all things, with a fortitude of mind to withstand every enemy, and persevere in well doing: and she is clothed with “honour”; with honourable garments, suitable to her rank and dignity; in cloth of gold, in raiment of needlework; with the garments of salvation, and the robe of righteousness; and she shall rejoice in time to come ; Aben Ezra interprets it of old age, or of the world to come; and Jarchi and Gersom of the day of death: having fulness of food and clothing, she is not afraid of want in old age, or in any time of distress that may come; and having a good name, laughs at death, and departs in peace; so these interpreters. The church of Christ fears no want at any time, nor need any of her members; they have a clothing that never waxes old, a righteousness that will answer for them in a time to come; their bread is given, and their waters are sure; they shall want no good thing; all their need is supplied from Christ; they have hope in their death, and rejoice then and sing, “O death, where is thy sting?” ( Corinthians 15:55); they will have confidence in the day of judgment, and not be ashamed; shall come to Zion with everlasting joy; and shall rejoice with Christ, angels and saints, to all eternity.
Ver. 26 . She openeth her mouth with wisdom , etc.] When she opens her mouth, for it is not always open, she expresses herself in a discreet and prudent manner; as well as speaks of things not foolish and trifling, but of moment and importance, and of usefulness to others: or “concerning wisdom” f965 ; the church and people of Christ talk of the wisdom of God in the works of creation, providence, and redemption; of Christ, the Wisdom of God, and as made so to them; of the Gospel, the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom; and of wisdom in the hidden part, or the truth of grace in their souls; of their gracious experiences; nor will they suffer any foolish, filthy, and corrupt communication to proceed out of their mouths, but speak the pure language of Canaan; what is for the use of edifying, and being taken out of the Scriptures is profitable for instruction in righteousness; (see Psalm 37:30); and in her tongue [is] the law of kindness ; or “the law of love” f966 , grace and mercy; which is the law of Christ, ( Galatians 6:2); speaking kindly and tenderly to everyone, exhorting to acts of mercy and kindness, and doing them herself: or “the doctrine of grace [is] in her tongue” f967 ; the Gospel, which is called the Gospel of the grace of God, and the grace of God itself; it is the doctrine of the grace and love of God the Father towards men in Christ, as it appears in their election in him and redemption by him; of the grace of Christ in his incarnation, sufferings, and death; and of the grace of the Spirit in regeneration, conversion, and sanctification; and which contains various doctrines of grace, as of justification, pardon of sin, and effectual calling; and of salvation itself, which is all of grace: and this doctrine of grace, in the several branches of it, the church, and all gracious souls, cannot forbear speaking of; it is often in their mouths, it dwells upon their tongues; and careful are they in other respects that their speech be seasoned with grace, and be such that ministers grace to the hearers, ( Ephesians 4:29 Colossians 3:6).
Ver. 27. She looketh well to the ways of her household , etc.] The business of her house, her domestic affairs; that her children and servants have convenient food, and in due season; that they have proper clothing, and keep their garments close about them, and unspotted; that everyone does the business of his calling, her several officers, and private members; that a good decorum is kept, that all things are done decently and in order; that the rules of her lord and husband are observed; that the conversations of all in her house are according to the word of God, and becoming their character: she takes care of the sick and weak, comforts the feeble minded, and supports the infirm; she cannot bear them that are evil, whether in principle or practice; that are immoral in their lives, or unsound in their faith; but admonishes them according to the nature of their offences, and casts out the obstinate or incorrigible. The words may be rendered, “she looks well to the ways of her house” f968 ; that lead unto it, so Gersom; either her house below, the way or entrance into which is by faith in Christ, and a profession of it; and she takes care that none be admitted but such who have it: or the ways in it, the commands, ordinances, appointments, and constitutions of Christ, called the ways of Zion; and concerned she is that all in her family walk in them, and observe them: or her house above, which is eternal in the heavens; Christ’s Father’s house and, hers, in which are many mansions, and everlasting habitations; the way to this also is Christ, who is the true way to eternal life, the strait gate and narrow way that leads to it; without his imputed righteousness, and the regenerating grace of his Spirit, there is no entrance into it: besides this, there are lesser paths which agree and coincide; as the paths of faith, truth, and holiness, and the ways of Christ’s commandments, which issue in it, and which the church and her true members are careful to look unto and observe. The Arabic version renders it, “the paths of her house are strait”; with which compare ( Matthew 7:13,14). Jarchi interprets these ways of the law, which teaches the good way, and to separate from transgression; and eateth not the bread of idleness ; of an idle woman, as Aben Ezra; or she being idle does not eat bread; she does not eat it without labour; it is “the bread of labour”, of many labours she eats, as in ( <19C702> Psalm 127:2); she labours for the meat which endures to everlasting life, ( John 6:27); the Gospel, that bread which strengthens man’s heart, refreshes his spirit, is made of the finest of the wheat, contains the wholesome words of Christ, and by which men are nourished up unto everlasting life; and which particularly directs to Christ the true bread, the bread of life, of which if a man eat he shall never die, but live for ever; and on which true believers feed by faith; but though this is prepared for them, and is the gift of God to them, yet must be laboured for; it is not eaten without labour: believers read, hear, and pray, and diligently attend all ordinances for the sake of this food.
Ver. 28. Her children arise up , etc.] As olive plants around her table; grow up to maturity of age, and ripeness of judgment, and so capable of observing things, and doing the work here ascribed to them: or they rise up in reverence of her, and respect to her, suitable to the relation they stand in to her: or rather it signifies their readiness to show a regard unto her, and their setting about the work of commendation of her in earnest: or else their earliness in doing it; they rise in the morning, as Aben Ezra’s note is; her lamp not being extinct in the night. Jarchi interprets these “children” of disciples; but they are to be understood of regenerate persons, young converts, born in Zion, and brought up by her; the children of that Jerusalem that is the mother of us all, ( Isaiah 54:1 Galatians 4:26); and call her blessed ; bless God for her, for such a mother, and wish themselves as happy as she is; they pray for her blessedness, peace, and prosperity, as all Zion’s children should, ( <19C206> Psalm 122:6-9); they pronounce her blessed, as well they may, since she is blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ; and so are all in her family that truly belong to her, her children and her servants, ( Psalm 84:4 1 Kings 10:8); see ( Song of Solomon 6:9); her husband [also], and he praiseth her ; that is, he is ready also to rise up and speak in her praise and commendation. Jarchi says this is the holy blessed God. Christ is the church’s husband, who is her Maker; (see Gill on “ Proverbs 31:23”); he praises her for her beauty, though she owes it all to him; for her comely parts and gracefulness, which he describes with wonder; for her dress, her garments, though they are his own; for her faith, love, humility, and other graces, though they are his gifts; (see Song of Solomon 1:8,10,15 4:1-11 7:1-7).
Ver. 29 . Many daughters have done virtuously , etc.] This, according to Aben Ezra and Gersom, is what was said by her husband and children, and which seems to be right; especially they may be thought to be the words of her husband. By these “daughters” may be meant false churches, such as the church of Rome and her daughters, who is the mother of harlots, ( Revelation 17:17). These are “many”, when the true church of Christ is but one, to whom she is opposed, ( Song of Solomon 6:8,9). These may do many virtuous things externally; may make a great show of religion and devotion; may have a form of godliness, without the power of it; and a name to live, and be dead. The Vulgate Latin version renders it, “many daughters have gathered riches”; or “have possessed riches”, as the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions, and so the Targum; and in this sense the phrase is sometimes used for getting riches and wealth; see ( Deuteronomy 8:17,18 Ezekiel 28:4); and may well be applied to the false churches, the church of Rome and her daughters, who possess great riches and large emoluments, which yet in a short time will come to nothing, ( Revelation 18:17); but thou excellest them all ; in real beauty, in true riches, in purity of doctrine, in simplicity of worship, in holiness of life and conversation, in undefiled religion, in doing good works, properly so called. Christ’s church is “the fairest among women”, ( Song of Solomon 1:8). So Ambrose interprets the daughters of heresies and heretics.
Ver. 30. Favour is deceitful, and beauty [is] vain , etc.] A well favoured look, a graceful countenance, symmetry and proportion of parts, natural or artificial beauty, are vain and deceitful; oftentimes under them lies an ill natured, deformed, and depraved mind; nor is the pleasure and satisfaction enjoyed as is promised along with these; and particularly how do they fade and consume away by a fit of illness, and through old age, and at last by death? And so vain and deceitful are the favour and beauty, the artificial paintings, of Jezebel, that whore of Rome; all her meretricious deckings, dressings, and ornaments; her gaudy pomp and show in her worship, and the places of it; see ( Revelation 17:4). Jarchi interprets this of the grandeur and glory of the kings of the nations; [but] a woman [that] feareth the Lord, she shall be praised ; any single individual, man or woman, that fears the Lord; or a collective body of them, a society consisting of such persons, as the true church of Christ does; who have the grace of fear in their hearts, which is the beginning of wisdom, and includes the whole of religious worship, internal and external, private and public: such are taken notice of and highly valued by the Lord; his eye is upon them; his hand communicates to them much grace; and many benefits are bestowed upon them here, and great honour is conferred upon them, and great goodness is laid up for them.
Ver. 31 . Give her of the fruit of her hands , etc.] According to Aben Ezra, these are the words of her husband to her children; exhorting them to give her the praise and glory that is due unto her. Jarchi interprets it of the world to come; at which time, it is certain, the graces of the church, and of all believers, which are the fruits of the Spirit in them, and of their hands, as exercised by them, such as faith, hope, love, humility, patience, and others, will be found to honour and praise; and every such person shall have praise of God, ( 1 Peter 1:7 1 Corinthians 4:5); and also of men and angels; to whom these words may be an exhortation to give it to them; and let her own words praise her in the gates ; where her husband is known, in public assemblies; before angels and men, in the great day; when her works will follow her, and speak for her, and she will be publicly praised by Christ, as all the faithful and righteous will, ( Revelation 14:13 Matthew 25:21, 34-40). The Septuagint and Arabic versions render it, “let her husband be praised in the gate”; (see Proverbs 31:23); so Ambrose, who interprets it of the happiness of the saints in heaven.