So what characterizes a person of strength? The first characteristic of a wise woman is that she is trustworthy. In verses 11 and 12 we read: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” It is clear that this woman’s husband can trust her, knowing that she won’t blow the budget or run off with the mailman. She is trustworthy.
Are you a trustworthy person? Can you be trusted to do good, not harm, all the days of your life? If so, you are on your way to being a full-fledged Proverbs 31 wise person of strength.
In verses 13 through 18 we discover that this valiant, strong, committed, wise person is also shrewd. Most of us don’t like the sound of that word, but the dictionary tells us that it simply means someone who is intelligent or clever. A shrewd person is not someone who takes advantage of other people, but who takes advantage of opportunities. This is what shrewdness looks like in verses 13-18: Verse 13 states that this wise, strong woman “selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.” She doesn’t grab just anything that is handy but chooses her tasks and her materials with care.
Verses 14 and 15 liken this wise strong woman to “merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.” This wise woman looks ahead and prepares for the future, not just for the present. She goes about her work so that everyone in her household has what they need.
Verse 16 shows us this woman’s acumen: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.” She is shrewd about purchasing property, and then sets about making it produce a profit. She thinks through her projects carefully and plans how to carry them out successfully.
Verse 17 tells us that “she sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.” The Hebrew actually means that she makes her arms strong for her tasks so that she can do her work with vigor. The shrewd person improves her knowledge and skills in order to work smarter, not harder.
Verse 18 is clear that “she sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” This wise woman makes quality products that she can sell to the merchants without shame or fear.
In short, a chayil person is shrewd. So ask yourself: How shrewd am I in my daily activities? Do I think through my projects so that I can carry them out successfully? Do I plan ahead? Do I commit myself to do good work? If you can answer yes to these questions, you have the second characteristic of wisdom in the book of Proverbs. You are shrewd or intelligent or wise.
In verses 19 and 20 we move to the third characteristic of a chayil person: “In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.” The third characteristic of a wise person is generosity. That may not be immediately obvious in the text because our English translations do not catch the link between verse 19 and verse 20. But in Hebrew the two verses cannot be separated for this reason: the first half of verse 19 and the last half of verse 20 have the same grammatical structure and the same verb; the same is true for the last half of verse 19 and the first part of verse 20—the same structure and the same verb. When that happens, we have what is called a chiasm (which looks like a big X). This wise woman spun thread and wove sashes and made garments to sell to merchants so that she could be generous to the poor and needy. Shrewdness must always be tempered by generosity. Otherwise it becomes greed. And the Bible doesn’t say nice things about greedy people. So a shrewd person takes advantage of opportunities in order to have something to give to those in need.
The fourth characteristic of a chayil person is found in the next five verses (21-25), showing us that a wise person is also diligent: Verse 21 states that “when it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.” How often does it snow in the Middle East? Not that often. But when it does snow, this diligent wise person has made provision for her household. The translation of the final word in that verse is a bit amusing. Apparently the Hebrew word translated scarlet can also be translated lined garments. If it’s snowing outside, I am more interested in wearing clothing with linings that keep me warm than something that is merely red in color.
Verse 22 tells us that “she makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.” “Fine linen and purple” attests to the fact that this woman is diligent in caring for her own needs as well as the needs of others. She dresses well.
Verse 23 connects her diligence to her husband’s position in the community: “Her husband is respected at the city gate [the community center], where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.” This wise woman’s handling of life earns respect for her husband from the leaders of the community.
Verse 24 explains some specifics of this wise woman’s earning power: “She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.” Her work with distaff and spindle isn’t merely a hobby; it is a means of producing income for her family in order to help those who are in need.
As a result, verse 25 concludes that “she is clothed (not just in fine linen and purple but) with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” Some people dismiss diligence as workaholism or obsessive-compulsiveness. But diligence is a necessary part of wisdom.
Verse 26 gives us the fifth characteristic of a wise person: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” The strong, wise person always speaks wisely and kindly. A wise person not only walks the walk, but she also talks the talk.