Proverbs 31 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Proverbs 31
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.


(1) The words of king Lemuel. . . .—More probably this should be translated,” The words of Lemuel, king of Massâ.” (See above on Proverbs 30:1.) “Lemuel,” which most likely signifies (dedicated) “to God,” has been, like Agur, supposed to be a designation of Solomon, but with no good reason.

The prophecy that his mother taught him.—Mothers were looked upon with great veneration in the East. (Comp. Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 6:20.) The mothers of kings especially were treated with marked respect, receiving the title of “queen-mother.” (Comp. 1 Kings 2:19; 1 Kings 15:13.) This seems to be the reason why the mothers of Jewish kings are so constantly mentioned, e.g., 1 Kings 14:31; 1 Kings 15:2; 2 Kings 12:1. At the present time the mother of the Khedive ranks before his principal wife.

What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows?
(2) What, my son?—i.e., what shall I say? The question, thrice repeated, shows her extreme anxiety to give good advice to this son, who was “tender, and only beloved in the sight of his mother.”

The son of my vows.—Perhaps given, like Samuel, in answer to her prayers and vows.

Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.
(3) Nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.—A slight change in the punctuation will give a better sense, “to those that destroy kings,” i.e., women. Give not thy life to dissipation at their bidding. (Comp. Proverbs 6:24, sqq.; 1 Kings 11:1).

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:
(4) It is not for kings to drink wine.—Another of the temptations of kings. (Comp. 1 Kings 16:9; 1 Kings 20:16; Ecclesiastes 10:17.) Perversion of justice as the result of revelry is also noted by Isaiah (Isaiah 5:22-23). Comp. St. Paul’s advice to “use this world so as not abusing,” or rather “using it to the full” (1 Corinthians 7:31)

Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.
Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.
(6) Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish.—For this is not waste, but an advantageous use of God’s gift. (Comp. St. Paul’s advice, 1 Timothy 5:23.) It was out of a merciful remembrance of this passage that the pious ladies of Jerusalem used to provide a medicated drink for criminals condemned to be crucified, in order to deaden their pain. This was offered to our Lord (Matthew 27:34), but He would not drink it, as He wished to keep His mind clear to the last, and was willing to drink to the dregs the “cup which His Father had given Him.”

Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.
Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
(8) Open thy mouth for the dumb.—Who cannot from timidity or ignorance plead his own cause, and who would therefore be crushed by his antagonist.

Such as are appointed to destruction.—Certain to perish if left unaided. Comp. Job’s account of his exertions for victims of high-handed oppression, an ever recurring evil under weak despotic governments (Job 29:12, sqq.).

Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
APPENDIX (c).—THE PRAISE OF A GOOD WIFE. (Proverbs 31:10, sqq.)

This is written in the form of an acrostic, the twenty-two verses composing it each commencing with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This may have been done, as in the case of several of the psalms, which are of a didactic character (e.g., 25, 34, 37, 119), to render it more easy for committal to memory. By some writers the acrostic form has been supposed to argue a late date for the poem, but there is no evidence for this. One psalm, at all events, of which there seems no reason to doubt the Davidic authorship—the 9th—is cast in this form.

(10) Who can find a virtuous woman?—Various mystical interpretations of the person here implied have been held at different times. She has been supposed to signify the Law, the Church, the Holy Spirit.

The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
(11) So that he shall have no need of spoil.—Rather, shall have no lack of gain. His incomings constantly increase from the prudent care of his wife.

She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
(13) And worketh willingly with her hands.—Literally, with the pleasure or willingness of her hands; they, as it were, catch her willing spirit.

She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
(14) She bringeth her food from afar.—Looks for opportunities of buying cheaply at a distance from home, instead of paying a larger price on the spot.

She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
(15) And giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.—Gives out food for her household, and the allotted portion of provisions (comp. Proverbs 30:8) or work (comp. Exodus 5:14) to her maidens.

She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
(16) She considereth a field.—Fixes upon a suitable one for purchase.

With the fruit of her hands.—With her savings she buys a vineyard and stocks it.

She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
(20) She streteheth out her hand to the poor.—Either in sympathy or with alms; “yea, she reacheth forth (both) her hands to the needy;” she is keenly alive to their sorrows, and pities them and aids them with all her power.

She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
(21) She is not afraid of the snow.—Not uncommon in winter-time in Palestine and the neighbouring countries. (Comp. 2 Samuel 23:20; Psalm 147:16.)

All her household are clothed with scarlet, which by its very colour suggests warmth and comfort.

She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
(23) Her husband is known in the gates.—See above on Proverbs 22:22. Instead of being a hindrance to her husband’s advancement, she furthers it. Her influence for good extends to him also. Having no domestic anxieties, he is set free to do his part in public life.

She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
(25) Strength and honour are her clothing.—She never parts with them; they serve her, like clothing, for protection and ornament. (Comp. Psalm 104:1.)

And she shall rejoice in time to come.—Rather, smiles at the coming day; does not fear the future.

She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
(26) She openeth her mouth with wisdom.—She is not a mere household drudge, with no thought beyond providing food and clothing for her family. She cares for their higher interests, and knows how to guide them with her wisdom.

In her tongue is the law of kindness.—Kindness is the law by which she regulates all her words.

She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
(29) Many daughters—i.e., women (Genesis 30:13; Song of Solomon 6:9); a term of affection.

Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
(30) Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain.—Outward graces do not last; praise that will be real and enduring is for those only who fear the Lord, and, out of regard for Him, perform the duties of life as the “virtuous woman” here described.

Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
(31) Give her of the fruit of her hands—i.e., honour her for her noble life, “and let her own works praise her in the gates;” let them be recounted when men meet together; the mere mention of them will be sufficient, as no words could add anything to her praise.

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