Proverbs Chapters 29-31: Reflecting God’s Character at Work
Note: PRS.work is a plug-and-play video Bible Study. Everything you need to connect the Bible to your work is in the video above. Feel free to press play and just listen. Or follow along with the transcript below.
Welcome to PRS.work, a video series that helps us hear the Bible together at work. In this video you'll hear a brief introduction, a Psalm read as an opening prayer, a long passage from the Bible, and a commentary about what this means for work, workers, and the workplace. When the video ends you can discuss how this applies to your work.
Today’s Pubic Reading of Scripture comes from the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament’s wisdom section.
The book opens with a father telling a son about listening to Lady Wisdom. It concludes with an acrostic poem describing Lady Wisdom in human form. The wise worker is a faithful family leader, and a successful entrepreneur who provides examples of how faith in God can permeate all of one’s life work.
Before reading along to a dramatic recording of Proverbs Chapters 29-31, we will open with Psalm 146 in prayer.
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 While I live I will praise the Lord;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
4 His spirit departs, he returns to his earth;
In that very day his plans perish.
5 Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6 Who made heaven and earth,
The sea, and all that is in them;
Who keeps truth forever,
7 Who executes justice for the oppressed,
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners.
8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the strangers;
He relieves the fatherless and widow;
But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.
10 The Lord shall reign forever—
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!
He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck,
Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
2 When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
But when a wicked man rules, the people groan.
3 Whoever loves wisdom makes his father rejoice,
But a companion of harlots wastes his wealth.
4 The king establishes the land by justice,
But he who receives bribes overthrows it.
5 A man who flatters his neighbor
Spreads a net for his feet.
6 By transgression an evil man is snared,
But the righteous sings and rejoices.
7 The righteous considers the cause of the poor,
But the wicked does not understand such knowledge.
8 Scoffers set a city aflame,
But wise men turn away wrath.
9 If a wise man contends with a foolish man,
Whether the fool rages or laughs, there is no peace.
10 The bloodthirsty hate the blameless,
But the upright seek his well-being.
11 A fool vents all his feelings,
But a wise man holds them back.
12 If a ruler pays attention to lies,
All his servants become wicked.
13 The poor man and the oppressor have this in common:
The Lord gives light to the eyes of both.
14 The king who judges the poor with truth,
His throne will be established forever.
15 The rod and rebuke give wisdom,
But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
16 When the wicked are multiplied, transgression increases;
But the righteous will see their fall.
17 Correct your son, and he will give you rest;
Yes, he will give delight to your soul.
18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint;
But happy is he who keeps the law.
19 A servant will not be corrected by mere words;
For though he understands, he will not respond.
20 Do you see a man hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
21 He who pampers his servant from childhood
Will have him as a son in the end.
22 An angry man stirs up strife,
And a furious man abounds in transgression.
23 A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honor.
24 Whoever is a partner with a thief hates his own life;
He swears to tell the truth, but reveals nothing.
25 The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.
26 Many seek the ruler’s favor,
But justice for man comes from the Lord.
27 An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous,
And he who is upright in the way is an abomination to the wicked.
The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, his utterance. This man declared to Ithiel—to Ithiel and Ucal:
2 Surely I am more stupid than any man,
And do not have the understanding of a man.
3 I neither learned wisdom
Nor have knowledge of the Holy One.
4 Who has ascended into heaven, or descended?
Who has gathered the wind in His fists?
Who has bound the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name, and what is His Son’s name,
If you know?
5 Every word of God is pure;
He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.
6 Do not add to His words,
Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.
7 Two things I request of You
(Deprive me not before I die):
8 Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
9 Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.
10 Do not malign a servant to his master,
Lest he curse you, and you be found guilty.
11 There is a generation that curses its father,
And does not bless its mother.
12 There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes,
Yet is not washed from its filthiness.
13 There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes!
And their eyelids are lifted up.
14 There is a generation whose teeth are like swords,
And whose fangs are like knives,
To devour the poor from off the earth,
And the needy from among men.
15 The leech has two daughters—
Give and Give!
There are three things that are never satisfied,
Four never say, “Enough!”:
16 The grave,
The barren womb,
The earth that is not satisfied with water—
And the fire never says, “Enough!”
17 The eye that mocks his father,
And scorns obedience to his mother,
The ravens of the valley will pick it out,
And the young eagles will eat it.
18 There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Yes, four which I do not understand:
19 The way of an eagle in the air,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the midst of the sea,
And the way of a man with a virgin.
20 This is the way of an adulterous woman:
She eats and wipes her mouth,
And says, “I have done no wickedness.”
21 For three things the earth is perturbed,
Yes, for four it cannot bear up:
22 For a servant when he reigns,
A fool when he is filled with food,
23 A hateful woman when she is married,
And a maidservant who succeeds her mistress.
24 There are four things which are little on the earth,
But they are exceedingly wise:
25 The ants are a people not strong,
Yet they prepare their food in the summer;
26 The rock badgers are a feeble folk,
Yet they make their homes in the crags;
27 The locusts have no king,
Yet they all advance in ranks;
28 The spider skillfully grasps with its hands,
And it is in kings’ palaces.
29 There are three things which are majestic in pace,
Yes, four which are stately in walk:
30 A lion, which is mighty among beasts
And does not turn away from any;
31 A greyhound,
A male goat also,
And a king whose troops are with him.
32 If you have been foolish in exalting yourself,
Or if you have devised evil, put your hand on your mouth.
33 For as the churning of milk produces butter,
And wringing the nose produces blood,
So the forcing of wrath produces strife.
The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him:
2 What, my son?
And what, son of my womb?
And what, son of my vows?
3 Do not give your strength to women,
Nor your ways to that which destroys kings.
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
It is not for kings to drink wine,
Nor for princes intoxicating drink;
5 Lest they drink and forget the law,
And pervert the justice of all the afflicted.
6 Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
And wine to those who are bitter of heart.
7 Let him drink and forget his poverty,
And remember his misery no more.
8 Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
9 Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy.
10 Who can find a virtuous wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
And willingly works with her hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
She brings her food from afar.
15 She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
And a portion for her maidservants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hand holds the spindle.
20 She extends her hand to the poor,
Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
For all her household is clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.
25 Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
27 She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.
Pause for Reflection
Now we'll take a moment to reflect silently on what we have just read and heard in Scripture.
Reflecting God's Character at Work
From the Theology of Work Bible Commentary on Proverbs
A remarkable connection between the book of Proverbs and the world of work occurs at the end of the book. Lady Wisdom reappears in street clothes in the final 22 verses of the book of Proverbs as a living, breathing woman, termed “the virtuous woman” in the King James Version. Some translators use “wife” instead of “woman,” and both “wife” and “woman” are possible translations of the Hebrew ishshah. But the text focuses on the woman’s work as an entrepreneur with workers to manage. Proverbs 31:10-31 does not merely apply to the workplace; it takes place in the workplace.
The book of Proverbs is summarized, then, in a poem praising a woman who is the wise manager of a diverse enterprise ranging from weaving to wine making to trade in the market. To describe the woman’s character, translators variously use the words “virtuous” (King James Version), “capable” (New Revised Standard Version), “excellent” (New American Standard Bible), or “of noble character” (New International Version). But these terms fail to capture the element of strength present in the underlying Hebrew word (chayil). In a majority of its 246 appearances in the Old Testament, chayil applies to fighting men (for example, David’s “mighty warriors” in 1 Chronicles 7:2). Translators tend to downplay the element of strength when the word is applied to a woman, as with Ruth, whom English translations describe as “noble” (in the New International Version and Today’s New International Version), “virtuous” (in the New Revised Standard Version, and the King James Version ) or “excellent” (in the New American Standard Bible). But the Hebrew word is the same, whether applied to a man or a woman. In describing the woman of Proverbs, its meaning is best understood as strong or valiant, as further indicated by the description, “She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong” (Proverbs 31:17).
The high importance of this section in the book of Proverbs is signaled in two ways. First, it is in the form of an acrostic poem, meaning that its lines begin with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in order, making it memorable. Second, it is placed at the climax of the entire book, so the poem can be seen as a summary to the book of Proverbs. A wise worker, according to Proverbs, is trustworthy, diligent, shrewd, and generous. She is just, modest, and guards her tongue. The Valiant Woman embodies all these traits.
To some people in the ancient near east, and even to some now, portraying a woman as a model of wise entrepreneurship would be surprising. Despite the fact that God gave the gift of work to men and women equally in Genesis 1 and 2, women’s work has often been denigrated. In the book of Proverbs, God's wisdom is available equally to men and women. The valiant woman functions as an affirmation of the dignity of every person’s work.
As always in the book of Proverbs, the way of wisdom flows out of the fear of the Lord. After all the Valiant Woman’s virtues are described, the poem reveals the source of her wisdom in Proverbs 31:20. “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”