I admit it. I have a love/hate relationship with the Proverbs 31 Woman. At times she inspires me to no end. Yes, who can find a more virtuous, capable woman? She is an exquisite portrait of a truly remarkable and lovely woman, wife and mother. At other times I want to know where she lives so I can toilet paper her front lawn. Anyone who makes Martha Stewart look like a slacker has serious issues. I am sure she has never had a bad hair day. She probably doesn’t even know what cramps are. Her foot never finds its way into her mouth, repeatedly, like mine. The meticulous woman would almost certainly be aghast at my dusty floors then would give me pointers on housecleaning. I am sure she would then wash my floors herself like some deranged Mary Poppins. What a show-off!
I have often compared myself to this epic woman whom we will call Prov. She is like that tall, beautiful model trying on the exact same clothes as you. You compare your assets with hers and find yourself seriously lacking. As you gaze in the mirror, your reflection looks pitiful next to hers, like a speck of sand against the breathtaking superstar. According to the Bible, not only does Prov do everything perfectly, but all around her think the same. Plus she has the husband and children surrounding her. For us single ladies, we feel even more inept. We hope that our singledom gives us the blessed loophole from trying to be everything Prov is. Does my empty ring finger give me a Get-Out-of-Proverbs-31-Free card? As I read and study about Practically Perfect Prov (her formal name), I am inundated with questions. What is a woman’s worth? What is my value? Does a woman have merit if no one is there to acknowledge her capabilities? Why does she have to be so flawless? And why is God pressing on me to examine her?
A mother wrote this discourse on the most excellent of women in the hopes her son would recognize a Godly wife when he saw one. Generations later and these 22 verses have become a checklist for some and for others a carnival mirror that distorts perception. I read about Prov and grow tired as I remember the dirty dishes in the sink and the spider webs in the corners of the ceiling. I tell myself that I don’t want to be like her, but secretly I crave to have someone say those things about me. Someone determined she was of great importance and value. I think that is what I am most jealous of. The Bible says Prov has excelled over all other women. She has surpassed Deborah, Ruth and Esther. She has outdone Miriam. She outshined them all and she is the ideal that I am to live up to. Are you serious? “Susan?” “Yes, God?”
Obviously He was tired of me talking smack about Prov. “Do you even know what it means to be a virtuous woman?” “Pure, perfect, capable, high morals, quiet, and always polite.” On a good day, I am maybe two out of five. “That is what the dictionary says.” “Dig deeper, Susan. You might actually like her.” “Wait, God, I have so many questions.” “You usually do.” “God, what is my worth?” “You will figure it out. Susan, meet Prov.” And so began my character study of this exceptional and highly irritating woman that had taken up residence on a pedestal.
Like any difficult person, once you get to know them and what makes them tick, your opinion softens and you see something of yourself in them. Or in this case, you discover components that are missing in yourself. I have found myself housecleaning my soul and spirit and she is the tool God is forcing me to use. How convenient that this investigation started during the days of Omer. The second day of Passover is the beginning of Firstfruits and the counting of the Omer which lasts the next 49 days leading to Shavuot or Pentecost. The Israelites would take the omer or grain, and divide it before it was winnowed and sifted. Then it was parched over a fire. After the heat, came the refining and grinding followed by another thorough sifting. Eventually the best of the best grain was brought before the Lord and waved in His Presence as an offering. It was a declaration that everything came from God.
It was also a spiritual assessment of where each person needed to examine themselves. They took stock of their lives, emotions, choices and habits. Was their life a pleasing and sweet fragrance to God? The Israelites had left behind their physical and spiritual bondage in Egypt on Passover. Those first days in the wilderness were opportunities for them to improve and upgrade who they had been. They didn’t know the particulars, but they understood God was taking them where preparation was paramount. Those days of counting their lives and actions were the biblical version of a makeover show. God calls us to be a holy nation. Do we look holy? Do we act like we are set apart for His use? Being holy is about being separated and elevated from all that would pull us down and take our focus of the Lord.
Comparing myself to Prov, I know my habits and actions need to be examined. Where do I fall short? The omer of my life needs to be sifted and refined. So I am choosing to take stock of me. Am I a pleasing aroma to the Lord or with one good whiff do I clear out the heavenly realms? Have I concealed areas of my life that stink with air freshener in order to disguise them? I’m pretty sure I will find things that I don’t like about myself, but this house needs a transformation. Like the grain offering, I will be sifted and ground then toasted on a relentless fire. I want to present myself as a new offering to God. As I look in the spiritual mirror before me, I am seeing the ways I don’t measure up. There are a few blemishes in my heart that have been covered. Sometimes the hardest person to study is the one in the mirror. Maybe Prov isn’t as a difficult woman to know as myself. “This is me, God. For better or worse, I am Yours. I am nothing like Prov. Maybe that is why she gets on my nerves. I want to be like her, but don’t know how. There is a lot of distillation and mending to do, but this is my start. Have Your way, Jesus. Make me over.”
The Israelites were safely situated in the unfamiliar wilderness. God had confirmed His covenant with Moses. The commandments had been given. The golden calf incident was still a smarting sting in their minds and Moses had seen God’s glory through a cleft in the rock. Now the building of the tabernacle, God’s dwelling place, had begun. God had given specific instructions for each piece and the blueprints were divine. God even anointed the people to do the work. Once it was completed, the temple work began. The priests would come to the bronze laver. They washed their hands and feet in the basin in preparation to meet God. The washing bowl was made with the mirrors of the women who served the tabernacle. They weren’t pretty, clear mirrors made of glass, but were polished brass. The imperfect surface did not give a smooth likeness Give Us Life.
As a tabernacle priest would wash, he saw two reflections. One was in the stand and one in the cleansing water. The laver is where they truly looked at themselves with all the bumps, bruises and imperfections in plain sight. Then they looked into the water that washed them. This is where they became the reflection of Jesus and left the old likeness at the door. Like the women who gave up their mirrors so a priestly nation could see who they really were, God asks us to do the same. He says, “Give up what you think you look like to the world and focus on what I look at.” So often we concentrate on the inadequate image that we forget there is a sanctified figure in the Living Water.
How hard it must have been for those women to give up their mirrors. Let’s face it; mirrors are sacred properly to us females! Women have always been described and categorized by how they look. All women, no matter the era, have some degree of vanity within them. God moved them to surrender their airs by giving up control of their pride. Looking at ourselves in the mirror can be one of the hardest things to do. Mornings can be especially difficult since we more than likely have gunk in our eyes, smeared makeup and unkempt hair that has a mind of its own. Once we see what is amiss, we begin to put it back together again. How many times do we check our appearance throughout the day? Every potty break includes inspecting the mirror. We walk past department store windows and cast a sideways glance at the image just to ensure that we haven’t left the house with our skirts tucked into our underwear.
There is one woman who would be more than happy to give up her mirror. I can only imagine how hard it was for her to look at the face staring back at her. She didn’t need to be reminded of what the world saw; she had been hearing it her whole life. Look at how she is depicted in the Bible: “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful.” Can you imagine the wound to a woman’s heart if she knew that her less than attractive appearance was still being talked about a few millennia after she walked on the earth? Ouch! I freak out when people talk about me the next day not to mention the next millennium.
What did it mean that Leah’s eyes were weak? Some Jewish scholars say her eyes were pathetic because she cried so often about her circumstances. Perhaps she was ill, or maybe she was just plain ugly. The word used for “weak” means to be liable to give way under pressure. It comes from a Hebrew word meaning to faint, to have a dismal and weak appearance. There was no sparkle or breathtaking quality to Leah. She was less than average. Saying she had “weak eyes” was the polite way of saying she had a good personality. No man would choose her. Her father Laban was probably very vocal about his burden to offload his first born daughter.
Leah might have already accepted her fate as a spinster when in walks Jacob. Everyone knew he was head over heels in love with the striking Rachel. It was no secret that he had been working for the past seven years to marry her. Finally the day had come that would pay off for Jacob. All the back-breaking work in the hot sun was a distant memory as the thought of his bride filled his heart and mind. Laban threw a wedding feast for the big event. One can’t help but wonder how long he had been plotting the next events. Laban lead his new son-in-law to the bridal chamber. Jacob was probably skipping with anticipation and nervousness. Seven years of daydreams were coming true.
Who knows where Rachel was kept or if she was even made aware of the dastardly plan. Leah had taken her younger sister’s place either by choice or by a father’s forceful hand. Maybe Leah felt guilt for stealing her sister’s moment, but then again a lifetime of being jailed in someone’s shadow may have helped her overcome any momentary remorse. Rachel captured every gaze as she entered a room while Leah was inconspicuous and unremarkable. She was not easily seen; someone had to choose to see her and no one had. This was her moment to be noticed even if it was stolen attention. Feelings of pitiful sadness had to be flowing in her heart. “The only way I can get a man to choose me is by my father tricking him.” A bride is to feel so beautiful on her wedding day, but this was probably the ugliest she had ever felt.
Jacob did not detect the switch. Maybe it was the veil covering Leah’s face, the amount of wine in his system, or a combination of both that made him unaware of the true identity of the bride lying in his bed. Not realizing it wasn’t the love of his life, Jacob treated Leah like beautiful, stunning Rachel. For one night the unsightly woman was deemed remarkably exquisite. Perhaps in the course of the night, Jacob called out the name of Rachel in ecstasy, but Leah chose to ignore it. Leah was finally touched by hands that coveted her. She was whispered to by lips that craved her. Leah was beautiful that night. She was no longer invisible, but the totality of one man’s attention. She didn’t want the truth that comes with the dreaded morning light to ever show its repulsive face. If only time could be stopped.
Jacob woke to find the weak eyes of Leah and not the remarkable face of Rachel lovingly gazing upon him. He was anything but tactful. With shock and anger he shouted, “What have you done to me? I served for Rachel, not Leah! Why did you deceive me? I have been cheated!” The pleasure and acceptance she embezzled in the night was replaced with the reality of her worth to Jacob. She was unsolicited and undesired. She was once again the ugly woman who only looked good after enough wine and a veil. Leah knew she was the raw end of the deal. His love was so great for Rachel, Jacob chose to work another seven years for her. He was willing to work a total of 14 years for her sister. No one had even offered to work a single day to win Leah. A week after her momentary joy, she witnessed Jacob marry Rachel.
Leah was not the one who was loved most. She held on to a brief ray of hope within her because Jacob still came to her bed. Leah was probably the backup when Rachel was considered unclean every month. God saw that she was unloved and opened her womb. With the birth of her first son Reuben, she was sure her husband would love her, but nothing had changed. With the next two sons Leah continued to hold onto the fantasy of being treasured. By the fourth son something in her had changed. She gave birth to Judah and cried out, “Now I will praise the Lord.” It stopped being about a man’s love and about loving God. Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel were barren until their prayers succeeded in changing their nature. Leah’s barren heart was altered after her praises unto the Lord succeeded in transforming her soul. She still battled Rachel in the offspring race, but her heart was settled.
She didn’t know her worth, but God blessed Leah more than she would ever know. Rachel might have been the wife of Jacob, but Leah was the wife of Israel. From her son Levi came a tribe of priests that would man the tabernacle and temple. Israel was built in the house of Judah. Through Judah came the line of David and eventually Jesus. Through all the pain, toil, and heartbreak, God was planning to redeem her. God loved her where Jacob failed. In God’s eyes, Leah was precious and had value.
As women, we have worth. It might be hidden, but it is there. The Bible says the price for Prov was far above rubies. Everything in this world has a price tag. An amount has been determined and set. From towels to people, everything has a decided fee. In Uganda, a bride’s price is set by the number of cows a family thinks their daughter is equal to. In some cultures it is the number of children a woman bears for her husband that decides her estimation. Jacob’s price for Rachel was 14 years, but God’s value of Leah was priceless. She became the mother of God’s chosen people. If God uncovered Leah’s inestimable value, He will also expose ours. What is our value and worth? What is God seeing that we miss? What did Jesus see in us as He was on the cross? So much of our value is assessed by how we look. Some men also look at our housekeeping and cooking skills to accurately price us, but let’s be honest. A man will marry the world’s sexiest and most beautiful woman if given the chance even if she keeps a messy house and can’t cook soup from a can.
As women, beauty can control our life. It did for Leah. It determined her marital status for years before Jacob came in the picture. What happens when we are not a physically beautiful woman or we don’t fit the world’s definition of good-looking? How do we get past the world’s ruling on our significance and focus on the importance God places on us? I struggled for the majority of my life about my appearance. Somewhere about the age of 15, I encountered the world’s snobbery when it came to beauty. For the next few years, well into college, I was truly a geek. I was overweight, self-conscious, and completely believing the enemy’s lies. At school I heard boys tell me I was ugly, but then my Mom would tell me I was beautiful. I stopped trusting my Mom’s opinion because she obviously was either blind or lying to me. On days when I knew pictures would be taken, I would get dressed up and do my hair and makeup. When I looked in the mirror I felt somewhat self-assured, but when the pictures came back I cringed, “This is how I look?” So many mornings were spent in front of the mirror in hopes that something would change. I excelled in school subjects while my sisters surpassed in attractiveness. I would have traded my A’s for just one day of prettiness. The mirror became my prison and my perceived value was worthlessness. Then I became Born Again and had to confront my feelings of inadequacy.
First of all, who do we belong to – the world or God? The world didn’t create us; it merely influenced the opinion of ourselves. God fashioned us and it is His estimation that matters and should define ours. God doesn’t make mistakes and He doesn’t make ugly. Yes, some of us are not the picture of a model. We do not have the hourglass figure and the flawlessly proportioned face and flowing long hair not to mention that come hither look, but we have something better. God will make beautiful the humble with His salvation (Psalm 149:4, KJV). That kind of beauty transcends time. The world’s version of loveliness is conditional and can fly away at any moment. Imagine the most beautiful model in the world. Every magazine wants her ideal image on the cover. Men all over the world desire her. What if she was in a disfiguring accident? The covers would be gone and the men’s attention would gravitate to her successor. That kind of beauty lost its conditions.
In describing Prov, Proverbs 31:29 says that outward beauty has no real significance or value. It is fleeting at best. Godly beauty has no conditions to be met or lost. When Psalm 149:4 says God will beautify us, picture the opening of a seed to reveal the magnificent interior. Inside a seed is potential for greatness. Inside of us, no matter the outward appearance, there is magnificent promise and capability that God has planned to reveal through Jesus Christ.
Inside of us is Godly beauty. I know, I know. We all want, at least once, to feel like the most beautiful woman in a room. My fantasy is walking into a ballroom in a splendid dress. I imagine every eye turned towards me, this breathtaking creature, and I hear over the chords of music, “Who is that?” That is my Cinderella fantasy that gets me through the last 10 minutes of every workout. What I truly want is to be the stunning woman that enters heaven to worship my Creator. The world’s opinion only lasts for a moment, but Jesus’ estimation lasts for eternity. That is where I try to keep my focus.
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