An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.Proverbs 12:4 (ESV)
Proverbs 12:4 exhorts married women to be “excellent wives” and not bring shame to their husbands. I think most of us who are Christ-followers would want to adhere to the infallible advice of scripture. However, what does it biblically mean to be an excellent or virtuous wife? Traditionally, I think of Susie homemaker. Biblically, however, God paints a much different story.
The Biblical Meaning of the “Excellent Wife” in Proverbs 12:4
Proverbs 12:4 begins with a reference to an excellent wife in the ESV version. Other Bible versions refer to her as a “virtuous woman,” “a worthy wife,” “a wife of noble character,” “a good wife,” and “woman of worth.” Sadly, none of these translations reflect the actual meaning of the Hebrew word transliterated as “CHAYIL,” the Hebrew word behind these translations.
Better translations of the Hebrew word would be “woman of valor” or “valiant wife.” I make the case in “The Proverbs 31 Woman: A Woman of Valor” and walk you through how I came to that conclusion. My process was simple, I looked at how the word is translated in other parts of the Bible.
It is translated over 100 times as something other than the translation in Proverbs 12:4 and Proverbs 31. Common words used include, “army,” “man of valor,” “host” (as in a military host), “valiant,” “strength,” “wealth.”
Bottom line: Proverbs 12:4 should read, “A wife (or woman) of valor is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.”
What Is the Purpose of a Crown?
Why do kings and queens wear crowns? I think we all know the answer to that question. They wear it as a symbol of their power and authority. Without it, the people might confuse the king for a commoner.
Notice what God did NOT say in Proverbs 12:4? He did not say that a woman of valor is a jewel on the husband’s finger. Or the shoes that he uses to walk on. Or a robe to keep him warm. Nope. It doesn’t say any of these things. Instead, it says that she is a CROWN.Notice what God did NOT say in Proverbs 12:4? He did not say that a woman of valor is a jewel on the husband's finger. Or the shoes that he uses to walk on. Or a robe to keep him warm. Nope. It doesn't say any of these things.… Click To Tweet
Understanding the symbolism is of vital importance for the wife as well as the husband. In a marriage relationship, the husband and wife are spiritually intertwined. There cannot be one without the other. And the husband’s power and authority are intrinsically linked to his wife. How?
Remember, based on Genesis, both were created to rule, to take positions of leadership (Read, “Created in His Image: Defining Truth for Women” for more on this). They are able to do that together when they are working in harmony depending on the needs of their family, ministry, and other responsibilities before them.
In “Biblical Womanhood: A New Look at Helpmeet,” I lay out the reasons why a husband/wife relationship should resemble a Captain/Executive Officer relationship (Captain/Number One if you are a Star Trek fan) and NOT master/servant. That should give us a good start in seeing how we can be the crown to our husbands.
What Are the Characteristics of the Woman of Valor?
Proverbs 31 does walk us through many of the characteristics of the woman of valor. Although Proverbs 31 was not really written for women to “measure up” to this Bible icon, it is helpful to look at these characteristics to give us a place to work from as we seek to be a crown.
Fear of the Lord — Clearly God is central to the woman of valor, and He should be in our lives too. She is also kind, wise, resourceful, generous, a hard worker, plans ahead, she takes care of her family and gives them the best, and loves her husband well.
These are characteristics that are often written about and well covered in sermons, conferences, blogs, and other resources. But let’s talk about the characteristics that are rarely discussed.
The Characteristics of the Woman of Valor Often Ignored
Entrepreneurship — The woman of valor helps provide for her family by running her own business ventures (verses 16 and 18). It is for this reason that her husband in verse 11 has no need of “spoil,” as translated in the King James Version. Spoil or the plunder from war was a very important source of income for men of the ancient world. If his wife is helping to bring in income, it takes a huge load and stress off the husband.
Savvy — In verse 16, “she considers a field and buys it.” In the modern world, buying the wrong piece of real estate can be financially devastating. In agricultural economies, it was no different. Families depended on the land to produce their food and feed their livestock. The woman of valor was savvy enough to know how to pick the best land (and clearly her husband trusted her to do that all on her own).
Endurance — Our woman of valor wakes up at the crack of dawn, spins wool, plants vineyards, runs a business all while managing her home and the maidens that work for her. Whew! It makes me tired just to think of it. This woman has endurance.
Physical Strength — Women of ancient times were strong women and the woman of valor was no different. I know that verse 17 is often taught in allegorical terms, but there is nothing allegorical about it. To do the physical work of planting vineyards and maintaining an agricultural lifestyle required physical strength.
Not Afraid to Get Her Hands Dirty — Because verse 22 says that her clothing is fine linen and purple (and purple meant expensive in those days), the woman of valor is often portrayed as always dressing well. That is not the case. Verse 16 and 17 show us her other side, the side where she is not afraid to get her hands dirty (for a more in-depth view, read my most popular blog, “Woman, Gird Up Your Loins.”) In modern terms, I think of those amazing wives who in the morning are knee-deep in fixing a leaky toilet and in the evening dressed to the nines for a date out with their hubbies.
A woman of valor doesn’t need to have all of these qualities. Not all women will be entrepreneurs, but not all women will be traditional housewives either. However, it is important to recognize the spectrum of characteristics so we don’t find ourselves judging other wives who may embody the woman of valor in a different way than we do.
Wives Are a Representation of the Bride of Christ
While looking at other verses that use the same imagery as Proverbs 12:4, I came across Isaiah 62:3.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. – Isaiah 62:3 ESVIsaiah 62:3 ESV
In the Old Testament, Israel was often portrayed as a bride to our God. That is the imagery beautifully detailed in Isaiah 62, including verse 3 above. Now, verse 3 uses “royal diadem” instead of “crown,” but it denotes a royal head covering just the same. In the New Testament, the Church is the bride of Christ.So as you meditate on your relationship with your husband, remember there is a much grander picture. We aim to be the crown of our husbands but we also represent something more. Be a woman of valor in your marriage, but also be a… Click To Tweet
This verse in Isaiah reminded me that as wives, we serve as living symbols of the bride of Christ. How we walk as women of valor is how the church should walk in the Age of Grace.
And yes, our husbands are living representations of Christ. We see that symbolism in the New Testament, particularly in Ephesians 5:22-33. The husband is the head of the wife like Christ is the head of the church. A husband is to love his wife the way Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
So as you meditate on your relationship with your husband, remember there is a much grander picture. We aim to be the crown of our husbands but we also represent something more. Be a woman of valor in your marriage, but also be a woman of valor in the Church.