A lot of women in the Evangelical community are expected to live up to the ideal of Proverbs 31. It’s such a significant ideal that author Rachel Held Evans devotes a whole chapter of her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood to it. Here is the passage (Proverbs 31: 10-31).
A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
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.
When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
A noble image, but within the Evangelical subculture this ideal has been Americanized and transformed into the perfect 1950’s housewife. Certainly not what Ancient Israel had in mind, or how the the modern Orthodox Jewish community views this passage. Rachel’s friend Ahava—the wife of an Orthodox rabbi—talks about this in a extended quote in Rachel’s book.
Here’s the thing. Christians seem to think that because the bible is inspired, all of it should be taken literally. Jews don’t do this. Even though we take the Torah literally (all 613 commandments!), the rest is seen differently, as a way of understanding our Creator, rather than direct commands. take Proverbs 31, for example. I get called an eshet chayil (a valorous woman) all the time. Make your own challah instead of buying? Eshet chayil! Work to earn some extra money for the family? Eshet chayil! Make balloon animals for the kids at Shul? Eshet chayil!
The phrase soon became both a compliment and a rallying cry among Rachel and her friends. Eshet chayil!
Reading that chapter got be thinking about all the “women of valor” who use their words to make the world a little bit better for all women. As a father of an eight year old daughter, these are some of the women writers I want my daughter to read in her teens and twenties. I want her to learn from them—as she is learning from her Mom—how to be an eshet chayil.
First, five classics of Christian literature.
- Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.
- The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila.
- The Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
- The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor.
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.
And then five new voices (among the many out there).
- A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans (October, 2012).
- When We Were On Fire by Addie Zierman (October, 2013—read my review).
- Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey (November, 2013).
- Girl at the End of The World by Elizabeth Esther (Release date, March 18, 2014).
- Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler (Release date, April 22, 2014).
These are all books I have recently read (or plan to read) and would love to expand my list. Please leave suggestions in the comments. Thanks!