A closer look at Proverbs 31:1-9
Proverbs 31 is typically known as the “wife” chapter for some very obvious reasons. Today, however, I want to focus on the first nine verses which are often overlooked due to the popularity of verses 10-31..
Beginning in verse one, we read “The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him:” vs1. NKJV
There are a couple ways this could be read differently when looking at the Hebrew text. The first phrase easily reads “The words (words/speech [as in, command] /cause/counsel)” – Here we are receiving a command or a testimony of promise, spoken by a qualified orator.
Whose words are they? King Lemuel’s? Well, sort of. There is no King Lemuel known in biblical or secular history outside this reference in Proverbs. So while Lemuel could certainly be a real king, he never possessed enough notoriety to be recognized by any historical civilization.
More likely, King Lemuel is a pseudonym or an allusion. Lemuel most likely means “for God” or “devoted to God”, or possibly “God’s own”. So King Lemuel is “God’s devoted (or own/chosen) King”. The most likely interpretation is that the literal King alluded to in the text is none other than King Solomon. Other candidates, such as King David or even the sons of Solomon possibly qualify, yet Solomon himself (if this is in fact referring to a literal king) makes the most contextual sense given its inclusion in the Proverbs. I do lean towards this passage referring to a literal king, due to the prophetic nature of the passage which we will examine in a moment. While biblical prophecy includes metaphors at times, the prophetic scriptures are always pointing us to something of a more literal and vital importance, often catalytic to God’s redemptive plans.
If we read Proverbs 31 as a prophecy concerning the line of Davidic kings, as well as a proverb, it changes some of the perspective. Yes, these are true biblical words of wisdom, and their value is not diminished by being such. However, if they are also words of prophecy concerning David’s throne we can begin to see the Messianic importance of this passage as something to be fulfilled through Jesus and His bride.
Why not just say King Solomon then? Well, probably because this passage teaches us to not get drunk and chase after women, something Solomon failed at miserably. There are other promises concerning David and Solomon which would only be later fulfilled by Jesus as well. I think by expositing this passage simply to give instruction to women actually does us a disservice. First of all, by doing so we miss out on the prophetic lesson being taught. Second of all, we miss out on the promised work of Messiah, who will exert the grace of God by the Holy Spirit upon His bride to accomplish the work of fashioning for Himself a “wife whose worth is far above rubies.” Does this mean there are no lessons here for wives? Of course there are. Yet, maybe there are bigger lessons here that apply to all of us.
Let’s develop the idea of Proverbs 31 as a prophecy a little further. The next phrase in verse one “the utterance”, is the Hebrew word maśśā. The word means “burden, utterance, oracle”. We’re talking about a burdensome prophecy. This makes some sense in the natural as well as the spiritual. The words may belong to King Lemuel, but they are based upon the prophetic burden of the king’s mother. What mother wants their son to turn into a drunkard who chases after many women? The important thing for us to see here is the burden of a mother who is laboring in a prophetic and intercessory burden for her son. We see a mother contending for her son’s future and destiny.
For what it’s worth, Maśśā is also a geographic region located in northwest Arabia, named after a descendant of Abraham through Ishmael by the same name. The ambiguity of the first verse could lead to a different reading, possibly “The words of King Lemuel, of Massa, which his mother taught him.” There is not much grammatical support to read the verse this way, and I do not believe it is the correct interpretation, but for the sake of transparency I wanted to make note of this and at least include it here.
Verse two appears to reinforce the notion that Lemuel is in fact a reference to a real person, whoever it may be. Three times the interceding mother appeals to the identity of her son. He is her son (relationally), her son naturally (born of her womb), and her son according to covenant (she bore him to her husband). This teaching prophecy comes from a real woman to her real son, and we are to take her words as a sincere, humble, and personal lesson.
Verse three employs the king to a life of meekness and honor towards women, not to give his strength – that is to endeavor to satisfy emotionally, physically, and covenantally a multitude of women. Secondarily, he is warned against a lifestyle that would destroy his noble calling and identity.
In verse four and five we see further explanation. Kings are responsible for everyone under their care. Their noble responsibility is one which requires judgment, prudence, and a sober mind. Justice and equity cannot be achieved through drunkenness. A drunk king perverts justice and law because they are not in their right mind to judge according to truth.
I want to pause on this for a moment because there are a few lessons here. First, while King Solomon may have not heeded this lesson, being given over to drunken orgies and many wives, there is a better King and Messiah – Jesus our Lord – who set down the cup of strong drink, not to take it up again until He sits with His beloved in the age to come. For personal application, this can be applied to the Christian identity of being His kings and His royal priesthood. As the representatives of His rule and authority, how can a Christian render truth from lie if we are given to drunkenness? Only a sober spirit and mind can affect the justice and the laws of our King Messiah, Jesus.
Verses six and seven contain a peculiar exhortation. Drunkenness is poverty and misery. In a state of mercy, we may allow for drunkenness in part for those subject to a perishing or bitter spirit, but verses eight and nine show us a better way. Drunkenness is not intended to be a perpetual state. Kings are appointed to be the mouthpiece of the mute, who plead the cause of justice for those covenanted to death, poverty, and misery. A true ruler who acts justly will contend for those who cannot help themselves, but will do everything in their power to deliver them from their bonds of darkness and injustice. Did not Jesus accomplish this very purpose by setting down the cup and going up to the cross?
This leads us into verse ten and our passages about the “virtuous wife”. Could it be that these words are a prophetic instruction to Kings, not brides to be? What if verses 10-31 are intended to be the work of grace in the life of the believer, showing us exactly where Jesus is redeeming us from our inner beings outward. He is taking us from a drunken, dull, impoverished spirit into a life of value and virtue. The best part is, He is the perfect and just king, who sees these virtues in us long before anyone else other than maybe our own mothers.
For the sake of understanding your own worth and value to Him, let us consider that while you were yet a sinner Jesus considered your worth as more valuable to Him than rubies, and before there was any cause to trust you, Jesus longed to place His own trust in you. Is He not confident in the grace that flows through Him to make a new creation out of you? And here is the point, your worth and value is derived from His love and faithfulness. Your human value to Jesus as His covenant new creation and co-inheritor speaks prophetically to the person you are becoming as one who is being sanctified and renewed daily by His own loving grace.
Finally, at the end of the journey we see a peculiar view into the tearing down of one of the last enemies of the christian who seeks both the kingdom and the righteousness – I am speaking about false humility. The end of your road leads to your own works (and no one else’s) bringing you praise within the gates of your Lord’s community. Jesus longs to bless and praise you for your devotion and your faithfulness to Him. He wants to talk about you to His father and before the heavenly host. He wants to lift you up and put you on a hill, so that your light may shine before all mankind, that they may see your good works and praise your Father who is in heaven.
Oh, and husbands, love your wife as Messiah loves His Church.