As Pastor Leithart has pointed out, the Proverbs 31 Woman is a type of Lady Wisdom. Few women do everything mentioned here, but many do take up various aspects of this description over their lifetimes. But this is the kind of woman every good woman would emulate, and every good man would seek. What is particularly striking is how the writer describes the place and calling of this “excellent woman.” Her activities and duties are described in martial terms, like a military hero, and with echoes of the tabernacle and worship of Israel. The woman’s calling is a high calling, a glorious calling. It is heroic and is a kind of holy war: it is the seed of the woman that will crush the seed of the serpent.
The Mighty Woman has thus far only been explicitly related to her husband once: “the heart of her husband safely trusts her…” (31:11-12). To this point then, her actions have been illustrations of how her husband trusts her and how she does him good all the days of her life. Meanwhile, her husband is “known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land” (31:23). This “known in the gates” could be taken in a few ways. First, given all that has preceded this, we might assume that part of what makes this man famous is his wife. He is known for having such a “mighty woman” running his household. The “gates” are where the elders of the cities sat for judgment (e.g. Gen. 19:1, Ruth 4:1, 2 Sam. 15:2, 19:8), and the whole poem closes ascribing her praise “in the gates” (31:31). She is her husband’s crown. Secondly, the fact that her husband is known in the gates and sits among the elders can also be taken as another one of this mighty woman’s deeds/characteristics. She is married to a wise man, and she was not duped by a fool or a smooth talker. She is a noble woman because she has chosen a noble man to marry. And in this sense, he is a crown for her as well, another indication of her wisdom.
This description continues to describe the ways in which the mighty woman brings blessing to her household. Here she is described as a clothing designer, making linens and selling them. She is a supplier for the Canaanites in particular. Wolters suggests that rather than this being an entirely different item, it is particularly the woman’s retail clothing business that is “known in the gates.” The gates of cities were places of transaction and trade in addition to judgment (e.g. Gen. 23:18), and the Sabbath laws particularly restricted commerce “in the gates” (e.g. Ex. 20:10, Dt. 5:14, Neh. 13). Regardless, this is another example of how she “works with her hands” and is like “the merchant ships” (31:13-14).
This wife has been labeled as “mighty” or “valiant” (31:10), and it has been previously stated that she “girds herself with strength” like a warrior (31:17). Again, it is stated that strength and honor are her clothing, and this raiment can be considered her royal apparel, even her “warrior tunic.” Here, the particular kind of strength that is her uniform is that she laughs at the future, the days to come. Waltke points out that it is this mental/spiritual clothing that makes all the other clothing possible. This laughter reminds us of Isaac, whose name literally means “he laughs” as an ironic fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to Sarah in her old age (Gen. 18:12-15, 21:1-6). In that context, the point is that time is in God’s hands, and therefore the future is not limited by what our circumstances seem to be. Old age and barren wombs are no obstacle to the Lord, and therefore wise women laugh at the future. The word “laugh” is also used occasionally to describe singing or dancing to songs of joy and praise (e.g. 1 Sam. 18:7, 2 Sam. 6:5, 6:21, 1 Chr. 13:8). Likewise, the warrior Yahweh laughs at those who plot against Him (Ps. 2:4, 37:13, 59:8). The wise woman laughs at the days to come like a warrior who knows the certain doom of his enemies. Whatever threats the future pose are nothing to her. She is like Lady Wisdom who laughs (1:26, 8:30-31).
This parallel with Lady Wisdom is one prominent reason why she can laugh and be fearless. Wisdom goes all the way back to the foundation of the world. It is the magic of the Spirit which created and rules the world. And when this wisdom is in a woman’s mouth, she laughs. The fact that she “opens her mouth” and the “law of loving-kindness” is on her tongue makes her a teacher. But it should not be missed that this “teaching” comes as the climax, the conclusion of an entire way of life full of wisdom and loving-kindness. Her life first exemplifies this, and then it comes out of her mouth. First she does, then she says. This is essentially what Jesus insists upon in His disciples: he who hears Jesus’ words and does them is wise (Mt. 7:24). This is also the requirement of true faith: it must be accompanied and proven by works of faith (Js. 1:14-26). This standard is also assumed the requirements for officers in the church (1 Tim. 3, Tit. 1). A man must prove that he does these things before he is authorized to teach others.
This position as a teacher is underlined by her authority over her home. She is a guardian, the watchman of her home (1 Sam. 14:16, 2 Sam. 13:34, 2 Kgs. 9:17), and this once again underlines the crucial, heroic, and military themes running through the whole passage. She is like the prophets, like Ezekiel who is a “watchman for the house of Israel,” listening to the words of God and giving warnings from Him (Ez. 3:17, 33:6-7, cf. Hos. 9:8, Mic. 7:4, Hab. 2:1). She is like the Lord whose eyes are in every place, keeping watch (Prov. 15:3). Titus instructs the older women to teach the younger women among other things to “guardians of the home,” “home watchers” (Tit. 2:5). One of the things that Proverbs 31 teaches us is that our language of “head of household” is somewhat of a biblical misnomer because according to Proverbs 31, the wife is the head of the household. The husband is the head of his wife (1 Cor. 11:3, Eph. 5:23), but the wife is the watcher and guardian of the household. This explains more thoroughly how Paul can insist that all saints submit to one another (even husbands to wives) (Eph. 5:21). Waltke points out that the only words Adam has for his wife prior to the Fall are words affirming his wife’s full equality with him: “bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2: 23). This is how the heart of a husband safely trusts his wife (31:11); he sees his wife as himself (Eph. 5:28-29). The fact that she does not eat the bread of idleness underlines the fact that all her activities are full of wisdom. Eating bread is frequently a sort of communion or fellowship, and the wise wife does not fellowship with idle babblers or lazy women or fools. Her companions are wisdom and strength.