This little ancient phrase appears often in the Bible, including in Proverbs 31. Now, Proverbs 31 has often been used to promote a traditional view of Biblical womanhood. But the use of “gird up our loins” in verse 17 of Proverbs 31 kind of flips that view on its head.
So what exactly does “gird up your loins” mean and why does its inclusion in Proverbs 31 change the Biblical definition of womanhood?
The Traditional View of Proverbs 31
In Christian literature, the images of the Proverbs 31 woman that I often see depicted are ones that are reminiscent of a 1950s housewife. She is elegant, manages her house well, and her husband rejoices to see her when he comes home from work.
She is perfectly poised, everything is always in place. And although there are elements of truth in that narrative, it glosses over some other characteristics found in Proverbs 31 that turn that image right on its head. And that is exactly what Proverbs 31:17 does.
What Does “Gird Up Your Loins” Mean?
The key to this verse is in the phrase, “She girds her loins.” If you are reading the ESV, it is translated as “she dresses herself with strength,” (which I personally think is an injustice to this verse), but the Hebrew literally says, “she girds her loins.” That phrase refers to the act of rolling up one’s tunic (the common clothing for men and women at the time) and tucking it under a belt or tying it in a knot.
A person would do this to get the tunic out of the way and be able to have freedom of movement. Men would typically gird up their loins if they were getting ready to engage in battle, travel long distances, partake in strenuous running (as Elisha did in 1 Kings 18:46), or perform hard labor. Biblically the phrase is used literally and figuratively.
What is Proverbs 31:17 Actually Saying?
The Bible uses “Gird up your loins” usually to refer to men. One of my favorites is when God tells Job in 38:3 “Gird up your loins like a man.” God is basically telling him, “Get ready to fight me” (figuratively). But here in Proverbs 31:17, God uses it to describe this remarkable woman. I have often seen this verse interpreted to mean that a woman should be strong in character, emphasizing a figurative meaning instead of literal.
Context, Context, Context
The Bible does use the phrase figuratively referring to people getting ready to do something bold, courageous, or something that takes emotional, mental strength like in Job 38:3. But that is not the case in Proverbs 31:17 if you consider the context.
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The Bible is not using this term figuratively because the phrase, “She girds her loins with strength” is immediately followed by, “(she) strengthens her arms.” And the verse before it talks about her buying a field and “with the fruit of her hand she plants a vineyard.” No, this verse is talking about actual, physical labor.
I think that the tendency to interpret verse 17 figuratively instead of literally illuminates how uncomfortable we yet are in certain Christian circles with seeing women engage in arduous labor. We assume that God must mean that this woman’s strength is emotional because we can’t bring ourselves to believe that He may actually be talking about physical labor and physical strength.
I have also seen commentaries making the case that this verse must refer to a woman keeping her body physically healthy (in other words, not letting herself become overweight). And although I am a big proponent of being good stewards of our bodies, I could not disagree more as it pertains to this verse. When we make that interpretation, we are superimposing our own thoughts and cultures to Proverbs 31:17. There is just no Biblical or historical reference that I could find that supports that.
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The interpretation as a physical action is in line with the context of the rest of Proverbs 31. Verses 10 through 31 paint a woman who is not lazy, but willing to do what is physically necessary. It is also in line with the overall meaning of the word “chayil,” the Hebrew word translated as “virtuous” in Proverbs 31:10.
“Chayil” a word that for reasons I cannot comprehend was translated as virtuous only in reference to women but in every other case in the Bible, it is translated as “army,” “man of valor,” “host,” “forces,” “strength,” “riches,” etc. You get the idea. (You can read my full analysis in, The Proverbs 31 Woman: Woman of Valor)
Practically, What Proverbs 31:17 Can Mean for Us Today?
Yes, Proverbs 31:10-31 is talking about a woman who is obviously strong in character, but she is also not afraid to be strong physically. What does this mean for us modern women in a practical sense? There is the obvious answer. Don’t be afraid of physical labor. Be willing to get your hands dirty, but I think we can take it a step further.
This verse gives us the freedom to not be conformed to a cultural stereotype of what a woman should be. Proverbs 31 is a woman that is praised by God, something to strive for. She is a woman that wears many hats. Sometimes she is doing some very “lady-like” things and other times, she engaging in the “business of men.” Sometimes she is not very lady-like at all.The Proverbs 31 woman is a woman that wears many hats. Sometimes she is doing some very “lady-like” things and other times, she engaging in the “business of men.” Sometimes she is not very lady-like at all Click To Tweet
Think about this woman in Proverbs 31:17 that has girded up her loins. Her hair will be out of place. Her dress will no longer be beautifully flowing. She will be dirty. She will be sweaty. She will essentially be dressed like a man, arranging her clothes to give her the freedom of movement she needs to get things done. But in this state, she is still a woman. She is still loved by God and she is praised because she fears the Lord.
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loin refers to strength, gird up means get ready, – so this means be on alert be ready for a task or work or anything that would require your sudden move without hampers from your clothing for you have a special work to do.
I appreciate your comments! Thank you.
Thank you for posting this!
You are welcome!
I may have reqd Proverbs 31 many times and did not fully recognize that she has a task that requires the girding of her loins. Its like a fish in water. What a beautiful catch. I like it
Thank you Shonda!
Love this! Thank you for taking your time to share wisdom on this matter! …context, context, context😉❤️🙏🏼
You are so welcome!! And yes, context is key!
Proverbs 31 used to make me cringe when I looked at it is a model for the human “wife”, but a few months ago I began to see it in a new light. At the beginning of Proverbs 31 it is written that this is a prophecy, about a King and His bride. If we apply it that way, each attritibute of this “woman” takes on a wealth of new meaning…”she” considers a field…plants a vineyard…with the “fruit of her hand”. The entire chapter is rich in symbolism and instruction for the one who fears God and desires union with Him.
Yes, it is always important to always view the relationship of wife and husband in light of the bride (the Church) and the King (Christ). Absolutely. Another thing that is helpful is to remember the message of Proverbs 31 was directed towards the husband (not so much the wife). It is like the mother is telling her son, Look at all these things your wife does, appreciate her, value her as a woman of valor.
If we consider ourselves a bride to the King, this one’s worth meditating on day and night.
My thoughts when reading that Proverbs 31 starts out presenting this as a relationship between a King and His Bride… many often may take the view that being marry to a King is going to give you opportunity to live a “cushy” “pampered” …everyone cater to me lifestyle… yet the Lord in all His perfect guidance is saying… to each separately on their own individual journey…
“I require a tenacious Spirit to develop within you … that allows you to be willing to do what must be done for your growth and for the future enlargement of the very Kingdom you co-reign… I set before you opportunity for growth and enhancement for all you desire to “add” to our relationship. Do with these opportunities what you will with your ALL and fruit will be added to our union and to our inheritance. Together we provide for children and our children’s children!”
This industrious woman orders her days and devotes her will in day to day choices of obedience…. which develops authority in her… which presents jurisdiction to her sphere of her life… which establishes liberty for discernment to go forth and “consider a field”… and then pour her ALL to work the field for the desires that hold center in her heart… that of course being her HOME … needs of her King and her Children… and her children’s children…. she IS a “Homemaker” and so is any righteous King as well… it is a co-op isn’t it… that field. Wise would be any man and women to get that point in this beautiful story.
A lot of wisdom in your words. Thanks for sharing.
Quick question, where do you get from this that she is sometimes dressed like a man? You are correct about the girding, and sometimes taking on what western society would say is ‘man’s work’, but I’d like to know where you get the different dress from.
Hi Samantha, in the sense that you mentioned above–“doing man’s work.” So she has made her clothes comfortable, to allow her to do what she needs to do. Girding your loins, biblically, usually refers to men getting ready to go off to battle. Men wouldn’t change into a uniform before war–they would gird up their loins. The Proverbs 31 woman is doing the equivalent of a woman today taking off her skirt and putting on a pair of sweat pants to work in the yard. In those days, men also wore “dresses” aka robes–not modern-day pants. So a woman in those days wouldn’t go into her husband’s closet and borrow a pair of pants—she would just gird up her loins to imitate men’s clothing for ease of movement. What I don’t mean is cross-dressing for the sake of cross-dressing. I hope that makes sense.
There was a thread on Twitter I read today that noted that many translations feminize the language here. I observed that some of this might be an aversion to the idea of a woman partially undressing and exposing her body (cf. Isaiah 47:2), since some translations switch it from “girds her loins” to “dresses for work”.
That could probably be it. It is probably the same reason why “virtuous woman” or “woman of noble character” are used as translations of “chayil” instead of “woman of valor” which is more consistent with biblical use of the term.
Wow!!! we should all be reading king james version to truly understand and look up definition if you don’t know meaning of words!!! my opinion of course!!!!!!!!!!
This is where concordances come in really handy :o)
Wow, this verse Actually makes more sense now!!! Actually, in my culture in South Asia, men still don this robe/dress called “Lungi”, essentially looks like a really really big skirt that goes all the way down to your feet. When they wanna do some physical labour or get into fights, yeah, they “gird it up”…😁😁. I’m suprised I didn’t catch this even though it happens in my culture lol.
I am so glad! Praise God!
This is so insightful! Thank you for sharing this!
You are so welcome!
As a woman from Central Asia I always read this chapter as a guideline to have an intimate relationship with God Himself. It is not about physical work, which is necessary to do and I am agree that we need to be ready to these kinds of work. But first of all, as for me, it is about my preparation to be strong and about my willing to fight and win everything on my way to reach Him. This chapter is about personality of every single women that she is welcomed to be in His presence, before His face, to look at Him. It is about identity of us, of women, who are agree to have a joy in Him.
Nurzat, thanks for your feedback. Bless you!
Well I don’t think it is saying that a woman is to gird her self literally. The things that are said here are mostly figurative. Unless you think a virtuous woman runs around without any actual clothing on. Just being clothed in only honor and strength. Because that chapter also says the honor and strength is her clothing. What that verse was saying was that a virtuous woman girdeth her self with strength. It wasn’t talking about any physical girding of clothing. Context is king. This chapter was about the qualities of a virtuous woman it wasn’t meant to be taken as literal acts. If it was keeping context intact in the chapter you must say that a virtuous woman doesn’t ware clothing but she just wares strength and honor. Because that is what that chapter says is here clothing. We all know virtuous woman do not run around without cleaning. What this verse was doing was comparing strength with the belt the men girdeth themselves with. It was saying Basically that like how men girdeth themselves with a belt literally. That a virtuous woman figuratively girdeth herself with strength instead of literally with a belt. In reality you can’t take a piece of strength and gird anything with it but you can use the strength of you and your character to provide for your family needs.
Hi Joshua, I do believe context is key as well as paying attention to how the verses are laid out. Verses 13-24 are all things she is doing-literal things unless you take the position that the whole chapter is allegorical (but that is a whole different debate). Vs 25-31 speak of her character. “She girds her loins” is smack in the middle of the whole list of things she does not the part that speaks of her character. Regardless, the point I make in the article is that the meaning is that she is not afraid of hard labor and what that may entail–not that women should run around with their loins gird just for the fun of it. Her strength of character are discussed later in the chapter.
Liz, what if the entire verse was to convey a spiritual Mystery?
I appreciate the grounding earthy explanation, feels good-but perhaps there is more, is not wisdom my bride and are we instructed to be clothed with Christ?
Wisdom of Solomon 8:2
“I loved her, and sought her out from my youth, I desired to make her my spouse, and I was a lover of her beauty.”
King James Version
13 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
14 For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
16 Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.
19 The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.
As with much in the scriptures, there can always be a literal meaning as well as a spiritual lesson. I don’t disagree with you that there is a larger lesson about wisdom here, but I believe there is also a more practical lesson for husbands and their wives in Proverbs 31.