by Lois Tverberg
A woman of valor, who can find? Her preciousness is far beyond jewels. Proverbs. 31:10
What can the women of today learn from the Bible’s words for women from within its cultural perspective? How much should we see as specific to its world, and how much is timeless? This second question is difficult, with a wide variation of opinions. Nevertheless, understanding more about what the biblical world of women was like will allow us to better grasp what the Bible is saying for women today.
For instance, just looking at the passage above, most recognize it as about the “virtuous wife.” How can it be translated as “woman” instead of “wife”? Because the word in Hebrew for wife is ishah, (ee-SHAH) which does mean “woman” as well as “wife.” This is because in biblical times, it was culturally expected that every adult woman would marry. It could really not be any other way, because in that time period, no one could survive on his or her own. Large families were needed to raise enough food to survive, and without a government there was no protection from enemies, and no one to support you in illness or need but your family. To not marry was unthinkable, for both men and women.
The second word, translated as “virtuous” or “valor” is hiel, (hi-EEL) and it is often used to describe warriors, like “David’s mighty men of valor” – his elite fighting team (2 Samuel 17:10). It can mean strength, courage, power, or moral virtue. To be a woman of hiel is great indeed!
If the idea that a woman can have valor surprises you, you might also not have noticed that women made several contributions to the Scriptures. Miriam, Deborah, Hannah and Mary all composed songs that are recorded in the biblical text. And, believe it or not, Proverbs 31 was actually composed by a woman. The chapter starts with the note, “The words of King Lemuel, an oracle that his mother taught him.” We should listen to her wise words for us today.