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Why the Proverbs 31 Woman is a Woman of Valor

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Some women love the Proverbs 31 virtuous woman and some hate her. For the latter, she is an unreachable ideal and this section of scripture leaves them feeling inadequate. But we may have completely mischaracterized this woman all along and that will be good news for my friends who have a hard time living up to her ideal. While traditionally she may be seen as a woman of virtue or a woman of noble character, biblically she is a woman of valor. If we add to that knowledge context, this is a poem written by a woman for a man found in a book about wisdom, then we will move away from seeing this poem as to-do list of all the things we need to do to be a good wife or a good mother.

The Hebrew Word Chayil in Proverbs 31

To appreciate the meaning behind the Proverbs 31 woman, we must place it in the proper context. First, we must understand that Proverbs 31: 10-31 is written as an acrostic poem in a book about wisdom. The first verse sets the tone for the entire poem.

I will not go through it verse by verse. Instead, I want to focus on that first verse. This will help you set a framework by which you can take it verse by verse later on.

The first verse of this poem is…..

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“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” Proverbs 31:10 ESV

The term excellent, as found in the ESV, is also as translated as noble character, virtuous, worthy, and good in other English versions of the Bible. (I looked at fourteen versions to be exact by doing a quick survey in the Blue Letter Bible ). In other words, when you read this verse in your English Bible you will likely walk away with the idea that this ideal woman is virtuous and/or noble. Unfortunately, that is not what the verse is talking about at all.

These words (excellent, noble, virtuous) are translated from the ancient Hebrew word pronounced as “chayil.”  Chayil is what appears in the ancient versions of the manuscripts the Bible is based on. It is the Hebrew word behind our current English translation. The problem? It is erroneously translated. Why do I know this? By looking at how this same word is translated in other parts of the Bible, it doesn’t even come close to excellent nor noble nor virtuous.

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The True Meaning of a Chayil Woman

If you click here, you will find a Biblical outline of how the word chayil is translated throughout the Bible. It is translated as army 56 times, as man of valor 37 times, as host 29 times (as in a military host that is), as forces 14 times, as valiant 13 times, as strength 12 times, as riches 11 times, as wealth 10 times, and so on. The Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon says that the meaning of this word is strength, power, might (especially warlike), and valor. Below are some examples of how chayil is translated in other sections of scripture.

Chayil in Other Parts of the Bible

II Chronicles 17:17  Of Benjamin: Eliada, a mighty man of valor [chayil], with 200,000 men armed with bow and shield. ESV

Exodus 14:9 The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army [chayil], and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon. ESV

II Samuel 17:10 Then even the valiant [chayil] man, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will utterly melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and that those who are with him are valiant [chayil] men. ESV

Do you see the disconnect with the English translations of Proverbs 31:10?

Chayil is a Military Term

Proverbs 31:10 is not talking about an excellent or noble wife. It is talking about a strong, valiant, or even warrior-like wife, a woman of valor. Not that there is anything wrong with being excellent or noble or virtuous. Those are all good things but we have to be true to the scripture and interpret the verse in light of the true meaning of the Hebrew word behind its English meaning. The use of a military term here also resonates with another military-like term used to refer to women during Creation, the Hebrew word ezer (See my article The Powerful Meaning of Help Meet).

When I first discovered this consistent use of military terms, it impacted me greatly. It redefined how I viewed myself as a woman and how I would raise my daughters. Yes, I want them to grow up showing the love of Christ and having noble and virtuous qualities. But I also want them to be strong, brave, and warrior-like in their faith and spiritual walk. I want them to be tenacious and bold. I want them to be chayil women, women of valor.

Proverbs 31:10 is not talking about an excellent or noble wife. It is talking about a strong, valiant, or even warrior-like wife. Share on X

Proverbs 31 Was Not Written for Women

Another error we make as women when we read Proverbs 31 is that we think it was written to us. Whilere there is so much we can glean from this poem, the reality is that Proverbs 31 was written to a man. A mother wrote it for her son. Verse 1 of Proverbs 31, identifies this son as King Lemuel. This was first brought to my attention in a blog I read, Eshet Chayil: A Hebraic Perspective, as I researched this topic. Other commentaries also agree that the intended audience was a man.

Why does this matter? Because as women, when we read everything that the Proverbs 31 woman was able to do, we sometimes get discouraged and feel like there is no way we can live up to this incredible woman. She was a businesswoman, she planted her own fields, she gave to the poor, and so on. It is overwhelming to think about. However, rest easy women, the point of this section of scripture is not about how we are to live up to it (although there is certainly lots of wisdom to be gleaned from it). Rather, I believe that the point is for men to appreciate all that God-fearing women do.

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This takes us back to the word chayil. God doesn’t do anything half-heartedly. Every word in scripture has a purpose and a place. This poem about this woman, written for a man, was spirit-inspired and made it into our Bibles for a reason. Why would God use this military word chayil that was usually used to refer to men of war? What would a man reading this get out of it?

Chayil is a Word a Warrior King Could Understand

While meditating and praying through these questions, my husband came to mind. He is a retired Marine. He is a man’s man. Men easily gravitate to him. Why? I think it is the warrior in him. I also thought about the men my husband admires. They are valiant warriors. They are the guys that will battle through enemy riddle streets against all odds. They are the Chesty Pullers and the Chris Kyles of the world. As a student of war, I have also found that warriors are bound to other warriors and King Lemuel was likely a warrior. Out of necessity, kings from ancient history were seasoned men of war (or at least trained to be).

So here is this king with a warrior’s heart. He receives a poem from his mother that refers to a highly praised woman as valiant, as chayil. Why? Because the intent is to get the king to appreciate this woman and her efforts to the same degree that he would value any mighty man of war. Western culture, with its romanticized view of marriage, will ignore that in times past kings didn’t marry women out of love. It was usually for political expediency and/or lust. The life of King David demonstrates both. Therefore women, generally, didn’t have a place of honor in their husbands’ lives like a fellow warrior would (see Jonathan, Brave Warrior, Humble Prince).

But in this poem, God, through the king’s mother, is elevating this woman to a place of honor. What she does day in and day out is just as brave as a soldier at war. Ladies, if that doesn’t give you goosebumps, I don’t know what will.

If you ever wondered if God notices what you do, reading Proverbs 31 should put that to rest. He wants men to see you and give you the same respect they would give their war brothers. God sees you, the woman who loves Him and who fights for her family, her church, and her community, as valiant, strong, and as a warrior. You are a woman of valor.

Digging Deeper into Proverbs 31

Now that I have laid out this framework it is time for an exercise. I invite you to reread Proverbs 31 with your new understanding of the meaning of the word chayil. The word appears at the beginning of Proverbs 31:10 but also towards the end in Proverbs 31:29. All of her works are encapsulated by these two verses that speak of her valor and strength. (Feel free to also read my blog on Proverbs 31:17, Woman, Gird Up Your Loins.) With that in mind consider the following questions.

Proverbs 31 Study Questions

How does the true meaning of chayil change your understanding of this section of scripture?

How does knowing that this poem was written for a man change your perception of this section of scripture?

As you read the poem, what in each verse demonstrates her strength and valor?

Do you see other military terminology used? Where?

Do some of these other verses in Proverbs 31 now take on a different light?

—Which ones?

—And how?

How does it change how you view yourself as a woman and a wife?

If you have daughters, how does this change how you want to raise your daughters?

—Does it change how you want them to see themselves?

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