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PROVERBS 31:10-31

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 8, 2011

There’s a story about a teacher who gave her second grade class a lesson on the magnet and what it does - demonstrating how magnets pick up metal objects.  The next day in a written test, the teacher included this question, “My full name has six letters.  The first one is M.  I pick up things.  What am I?”

When the test papers were turned in almost 50% of the class answered the question with the word M

Would you please turn with me to Proverbs 31.  If you need a Bible - there should be one someplace under a chair in front of you.  In your bulletin are Message Notes which should be helpful as well.

This morning we’re going to be looking at
Proverbs 31 - starting at verse 10.  Our focus is on motherhood - and wives - and especially this - what it means to be a woman of God.

Walk with me through
Proverbs 31 - starting at verse 10 - and what is the ultimate description of the perfect wife and mother.

Proverbs 31:10: 
An excellent wife, who can find? - excellent here means ability - strength - character - having what it takes.  An excellent wife, who can find?  For her worth is far above jewels.  The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.  She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.  She is her husbands partner - contributing to his success in the things of life.  There’s a trust between them.  Like Adam and Eve before sin messed up their relationship.

She looks for wool and flax and works with her hands in delight.  She is like merchant ships; she brings her food
from afar.  She rises while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens.  She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard.  In other words - she’s managing her household.  And yet she’s got a full time business going on the side.  She’s into commodities.  Maybe a seat on the Jerusalem stock exchange.  She’s a shrewd wheeler and dealer.

Verse 17: 
She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong.  She’s programmed in time for physical fitness.  She’s into aerobics.  Maybe a little Taekwondo.  She senses that her gain is good; her lamp does not go out at night.  She loves work - 24/7/365 she’s working - burning the midnight oil.

She stretches out her hands to the distaff
- the distaff is the straight rod on a spinning wheel - and her hands grasp the spindle.  Meaning, if she’s not doing Taekwondo she’s pumping up her biceps on the spinning wheel.

Verse 20: 
She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy.  She helps the poor and needy.  She’s not just by occupying a seat on the Let’s Help The Poor Committee.  But, she extends her hand - personal contact.  She’s one of those rare behind the scenes people who you can count on to actually roll up their sleeves and do the work.

Verse 21: 
She is not afraid of the snow for all her household are clothed in scarlet.  She makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple - quality clothing - tastefully and seasonally appropriate.  She dresses sharp - not frumpy.  Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.  He’s known because of what she does.  She enhances his reputation. 

Verse 24: 
She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies belts to the tradesmen.  Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.  She laughs at what’s coming because she’s got it all under control.

She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 
She’s wise.  She speaks kindly as she teaches.  She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.  The day ends and she can’t wait to get up and do it again.

The problem with this description is what?  Are they nuts?  Who in God’s creation could possibly live up to a list like that?  It just wears you out thinking about it.

This passage - the whole book of Proverbs - was written for
who?  Young men.  It’s an instruction manual for young men on how to do life.  Proverbs 31 is the chapter that deals with what to look for in a wife. 

through this section in Hebrew - the first letter of the first word in each of these verses - verses 10 to 31 - the first letter of each first word of each verse forms an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet.  Are we together on that?  If we just wrote down each first letter we’d end up with the Hebrew alphabet.  It’s a tool for memorization.

We can just see Hebrew young men walking around Jerusalem - looking at the young girls - reciting these verses
- going down a check list - comparing the girls in town to the list.  This is what an excellent woman looks like.  This is the kind of wife I want. 

Jill Briscoe, in a book called
Queen of Hearts, writing about this passage of Proverbs - Jill Briscoe wrote this:  The Proverbs 31 woman has long stood as the Statue of Liberty at the harbor of the City of Womanhood, welcoming all who flee from being anything less than perfect.  But, what if I have runs in my stockings; consistently lose one of my husband’s socks in the washing machine; and regularly misplace my car in the supermarket parking lot?  Is there any hope for me if I dream of writing a book about my small children called, From Here To Insanity?  And if I’m shaped like a pillow instead of a post? (1) 

I started adding up the qualifications - making a list.  When I got to 40 items I quit. 
How is a women - a wife and mother - suppose to juggle family, work, kids, schedules, putting up with their husbands, etc. etc. and still have quality time left for themselves and even their own personal time with God?  How do you keep all those balls up in the air?  What happens if just one falls?

a huge potential for fear here.  Fear of failure and inadequacy - in trying to be this excellent wife and mother. 

The question in verse 10 is what? 
“Who can find one?”  “Who can find an excellent wife?”  Maybe it helps to read that question rhetorically.  “Who can find one?”  “You can’t.”  Someplace in all that there’s got to be a reality check.  The list - all these qualifications of an excellent wife - this list is not a check list.  Its an example - an illustration - of what a godly women should be striving for.  Not a measurement of failure.  Are we together on that?

Proverbs 31 is an example of where God can take us not a measurement of how far we fall short
.  Everyone breath a sigh of relief.  Whew!

Let’s go on.  Join me at verse 28.  These next 4 verses are what
puts all this into the realm of reality.  Starting at verse 28:  Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying, “Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.”

How?  How does she excel them all?  For what reason - out of 40 plus on the list - for what reason does her husband and her children - bless and praise her.  Verse 30: 
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.  (S4) Underline that.  We’ll come back to it.  A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. 

Verse 31: 
Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.  What this woman does testifies of her.  Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.  She’s not known just as an appendage of her husband.  She is real woman who is valued for who she is.  Let her be recognized for her excellence.

Look back with me at verse 30.  Do see what lies under all of this?  The whole foundation of her life?  What makes all - or any - of this possible?  What the true source of excellence is?  What is it?  Read it with me: 
A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.

Please hear this.  So many women have this backwards.  They’re trying to do all these things -
charm and beauty - to somehow be this excellent wife - this Godly woman by doing this list - and they can’t.  There’s a reason for that.  Which is?  It can’t be done.  Its impossible.

Maybe you’ve tried
and given up.  Maybe you’re trying.  So many woman end up going along through life burdened - feeling like they’re failing - that they’re failures.  And men - we can add to that burden by expecting the impossible.

But, it’s the
fear of the Lord - that God uses to enable you as women - to lead you - to accomplish the excellent things that God has called you - created you - to do.  To become women of God - valued for who you are.  Are we together on that?

The Fear of the Lord is the foundation of excellence
.  Let’s say that together.  “The fear of the Lord is the foundation of excellence.

History question.  Who’s this?  Nikita Khrushchev.

During his years as premier - absolute ruler - of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin.  I’ve read that once, as Khrushchev was censuring Stalin - tearing him apart - in a public meeting - Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. 
“You were one of Stalin’s colleagues.  Why didn’t you stop him?”

“Who said that?”
roared Khrushchev.  An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle.  Then Khrushchev replied quietly, “Now you know why.” (2)

That’s fear.  But
that’s not the “fear of the Lord.”  The fear of the Lord is not trembling and cowering before God.  Its crucial that we understand what it means to “fear the Lord.”

This is Mount Carmel - and the view from Mount Carmel - looking down towards the coast of the Mediterranean Sea - at what is today the city of Haifa.

Do you remember Elijah - high up on Mount Carmel - overlooking the coast of Israel?  God calling His people to repentance
?  850 prophets of Baal and Asherah?  The two altars - one for Baal and one for God?  The contest to prove which God was greater - more powerful - sovereign?

The prophets of Baal build their altar - put on their sacrificial bulls - and then spend the better part of the day
doing what?  Dancing around - tearing their clothes - cutting themselves - screaming and calling out to Baal - this perverse god who controlled fire - to send down fire and light the altar.  The result is what?  Nothing.  Nothing happens.

hen Elijah has God’s altar drenched with water - not once - but how many times?  Three times.  Filling a trench around the altar with water - so that there was no known way any human could have lit that fire.  Then without screaming, or dancing, or cutting himself, Elijah does what?  Prays to the one and only living God and asks for God to reveal Himself to His people that they would understand who He is and return to Him.

God’s fire falls from heaven - consumes the burnt offering - consumes  the wood - melts the stones of the altar and the earth around it - evaporates the water in the trench - and when God is done, there’s nothing left.
 (1 Kings 18:20-40)

“fear the Lord” means to Respect God For Who He Is.  Can we say that together?  “Respect God for Who He is.”

He is the Almighty Sovereign Creator God Who we are to come before in awe - Who alone is worthy of all of our adoration and worship.  He is the God Who is to be first - the priority in every part of our lives.

Isaiah is taken in a vision to the throne room of God.  He sees the Lord sitting on His throne - high and exalted.
  We sing this song together - trying to get a mental grip on what Isaiah saw.  Impressive Who God is.  Worthy of respect.

God’s presence fills the throne room.  Angels fly about - in worship calling out,
“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of the legions of heaven.  The whole earth testifies of who He is.”  As they call out the very foundations of the throne room shake by the awesome power of the words.

Isaiah cries out,
“Woe is me, for I am ruined. - I’m toast - I’m a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

An angel takes a burning coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips - a sign of purification.  The angel tells Isaiah,
“Your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:1-7)

Holy is our God.  Sinful are we.  Worthy of His wrath and condemnation.  But, by
God’s grace - Jesus on the cross taking God’s wrath - which should have been leveled at us - Jesus taking our place - God’s wrath upon Himself - God offers salvation to us - forgiveness of our sin - the very righteousness of Jesus - an eternal relationship with Him. 

“fear the Lord” means to Honor God For What He Does.  Can we say that together?  “Honor God for What he does.”  

The Almighty Sovereign Holy God who is loving - gracious - merciful is the God Who deserves the surrender of our lives - the honoring of Him by giving to Him all of who we are - being given to Him to be used for His purposes - for His honor and glory.

The fear of the Lord - bottom line - is our response to Who He is and what He does - that is that we’re His.  In response - in respect - in honor - we give God everything that we are.  Can you say that this morning? 
“I’m His.”  Say it only if you mean it.  “I’m His.”

Proverbs 1:7 tells us: 
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”

Proverbs 15:33 says,
“The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom.”

Today we have more knowledge at our finger tips than ever before in history.  Children today have more knowledge in their heads by the age of 5 than
most of us had by the time we turned 18.  The problem is they don’t know what do with that knowledge.  How do you process that kind of information overload?

There’s a story about a man who was driving down the highway and he had a flat tire.  So he pulled over to the side of the road and as it happened he was parked in front of an insane asylum
- a mental care facility.  As this man was changing his tire one of the men from the asylum was standing behind the fence watching what was going on.  He didn’t say anything.  He just stood there and watched.

The man - who was mechanically inclined
- this wasn’t the first tire he’d ever changed - the man took the wheel off the car and placed the lug nuts he’d taken off onto the hub cap.  As he put the new tire on he accidentally hit the hub cap and the nuts rolled down into the sewer where he couldn’t get to them.  The man stood there for a while scratching his head and wondering what to do.

The man who was behind the fence
- the patient at this mental care facility - the man who had been watching him said, “Why don’t you take a nut off of each of the other wheels and put them on that wheel?  You could drive safely to the garage and then buy nuts so you can fix your wheel.”

The man looked at him in amazement.  He asked,
“Why didn’t I think of that?  You’re in an asylum and I’m out here.”

The man behind the fence said,
“I may be crazy.  But, I’m not stupid.”

When we begin to grab onto Who God is and What God does - that knowledge leads us to fear Him - knowledge that guides our response to God. 
Wisdom is what we do with that knowledge - what we do with that fear.  Are we together?

isdom - God inspired wisdom - takes the knowledge of Who God is and what God does and who we are before God and applies that knowledge practically to the day to day circumstances of our lives.

In thinking through all th
at and how we can do just that - how “the fear of the Lord” applies to our lives - to Godly womanhood - I’d like to invite you to turn with me to 1 Samuel 1 - and to look with me at what is a familiar moment from the life of Hannah.

Remember Hannah?  Walk with me through this.  H
annah was one of two wives of who?  Elkanah.  She’s one of two wives in a polygamist relationship - a relationship far from God’s ideal - filled with misery and unhappiness - especially for Hannah.

Hannah was b
urdened with a very difficult relationship with the “other” wife - Peninnah.  Peninnah who was jealous because Elkanah loved Hannah more.  Peninnah who found every opportunity to taunt Hannah - to ridicule her - to provoke her - to humiliate her.

Adding to th
at sorrow - Hannah - in all the years that she had been married to Elkanah - she had yet to bear one child - let alone a male child.  For many women - unable to have children - Mother’s Day is emotional torture.  For Hannah this is ongoing pain.

Imagine Hannah - in a society where barrenness was seen as a curse of God - how she struggled - isolated - despised - wounded. 
The Bible says that - because of the weight of her circumstances - Hannah was unable to eat and she wept bitterly from the depths of her heart.  That’s pain.  Yes?  Ever experience that kind of deep emotional pain?

Yet, Hannah was a Godly woman
- a woman who feared the Lord.  When Hannah cried out - she cried out to God.  Look with me at 1 Samuel 1 - starting at verse 10.  Listen to how this Godly woman - in the midst of her circumstances - how Hannah expresses her “fear of the Lord.”

1 Samuel 1:10
:  She - Hannah - greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.  She made a vow and said, O Lord of hosts - grab the meaning of the title - “O Lord of hosts” means Lord of the armies of Heaven - Sovereign - Almighty - God - Who You are - who I am before you.  Grab the fear of the Lord in that.

O Lord of hosts if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son - grab the relationship there.  The appeal of the maidservant to the God who cares about her affliction.  God Who is the loving - gracious - merciful God.  What God does.  Grab the fear of the Lord in that. 

then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.” 
Give me a son and I will return him to you.  All I am - all I have - its all yours. 

In her barrenness Hannah knew where to go. 
She knows - she can’t do this on her own.  She’s not even going to try.  But, she is going to lay out her life and her future before God and let Him give the answer - leading her in His way and in His time.  Her fear of God - knowledge of Him - is shaping her request - giving wisdom to her actions.  Are we together on that? 

e know that God enabled Hannah to conceive.  Right?  She gave birth to a son - Samuel the great prophet of God.  True to her vow - when Samuel was 3 years of age - Hannah took Samuel to Eli - the High Priest in the house of Lord - and gave Samuel back to God.

1 Samuel 1
- down at verse 27 - Hannah tells Eli:  “For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him.  So, I have also dedicated him to the Lord.”  

And, she left Samuel
- her only male child - the miracle child that she had nurtured and loved for 3 years - she left him there in hands of the sovereign God - and she went home.  That’s humbling.  Isn’t it?  How could she do that?

A barren woman - ridiculed - and despised
- at home and in the community.  Finally bearing a child - a son.  Finally having some kind of respect.  Finally being known for having some kind of excellence as a wife - as a woman.  Finally there’s something to praise Hannah for.

ow she must have loved Samuel - raising him - changing his diapers - watching him roll over and crawl and stand and walk - hearing him speak his first words.  Think about all those great moments that go on in the first 3 years.  For 3 years she’s loved him as only a mother could love a child - her only son - her only child.  And yet, she kept her vow to God - she gave Samuel to God.

of us might be tempted to say, “Well God, when I made my vow I didn’t really understand just what the cost would be - how much this child would mean to me - what it would feel like to give up my son.  Surely you can’t expect me to give Him up?  Maybe I’ll just raise Him for you...”

This was no easy thing Hannah did.  But, she was a woman who
feared the Lord - respected Him - honored Him - and so she acted.

The account doesn’t end there.  Right?  We know that down the line God blesses Hannah with 3 more sons and 2 daughters and she still gets to enjoy time with Samuel as he’s growing up.  In the next chapter of 1 Samuel - Hannah offers up a prayer that is so full of joy - that flows out of a heart - out of the core of who she is - a heart that’s been royally totally blessed to overflowing by God. 

In Proverbs 31 - in the list - there are examples of what it means to be a women who fears the Lord in relationships - with her husband - her children - the community - the poor and needy.  There’s a celebration of her accomplishments - her industry - all that this women of excellence does - this women who fears the Lord.  But behind all that - we need to see the character of who this woman is - who she’s become because she fears the Lord.

Look at verse 25: 
Strength and dignity are her clothing.  She smiles at the future.  She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

If we had all of those expectations put on us - someplace within wouldn’t there be just a tad of bitterness?  Or some complaining - whining - anger - resentment - depression - regret.  Maybe even some pride and expectation of recognition. 

Instead we see a woman who’s not being weighed down with all that she’s moving through.  Instead of being weighed down she’s rising up - not weak but strong.  She’s attacking life - excited about what’s coming - looking forward to the future.

Bottom line: 
She’s full of joy.  The kind of depth of joy that we see in Hannah’s life.  That comes to a woman or a man who learns to live life fearing the Lord.  The kind of depth of joy that only God can create with us.  The kind of joy that overflows her life and soaks into everything she does and splashes all over the people around her.  True Godly excellence from within.

That’s what happens when we learn to fear God - when all that we are becomes His.

What issue weighs heavy on your heart today?  What list of endless responsibilities?  Expectations?  Burdens?  What churns within you?  Where are you trying to do it on your own - being the Godly woman - the excellent wife - the loving mother?

The fear of the Lord -
the pursuit of Godliness - the intimacy of a deepening relationship with Him - learning to respect and honor Him first with our lives and the decisions we make - when we’re willing to go there with God - as a women or a man - God enables us and leads us to accomplish the things that He has called us to do
- to true excellence.  And, He blesses us - giving us the depth of joy that can only come from Him. 


1. Quoted by Steve
Zeisler in “Mother Knows Best
Today in the Word, July 13, 1993

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.