Growing up, I’ve always had a fascination with optical illusions. One of the most well-known optical illusions is a portrait illustrating both an older and younger woman. At first glance some will see the older woman, while others will see the younger. However, with time and revelation, both images can be seen. Though the portrait never changes, the viewer’s perception does.
In the same way the viewer is eventually able to capture both illustrations depicted in one portrait, the same can be true for a biblical passage you probably know—Proverbs 31.
At first glance, many will see a picture of one particular woman in Proverbs 31—an earthly, ideal bride. But if you look intently over time, you may see another—the spiritual bride of Christ (Eph. 5:27).
1. To whom is Proverbs 31 addressed?
Contrary to popular opinion, Proverbs 31 is not addressed to women and is also not written to all men. Though we as believers today can find encouragement from this passage, Proverbs 31, in its original context, is addressed to a king. Before we learn of an ideal bride, we first learn of her ideal bridegroom and king.
The first nine verses in Proverbs 31 give exhortation to a king to abstain from the indulgences of wealth, women and wine, urging him to live faithfully according to the requirements set for a king found in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. The later 22 verses paint a portrait of his ideal bride.
2. Who should pursue the character qualities found in Proverbs 31 today?
Single? Married? Divorced? Widowed? All believers. This passage is not limited to earthly wives, but intended to encourage and exhort all believers (Rom. 14:4, 2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Cor. 11:2).
Let’s consider how Proverbs 31:10-31 paints a portrait of an ideal bride of Christ (Eph. 3:10). (You can see, also, that these descriptions of the bride of Christ aren't just limited to this passage but extend throughout the New Testament.)
Read the following descriptions replacing “she” for “the Church”:
- She keeps her lamp shining (Prov. 31:18, Matt. 5:16, John 1:5)
- She is trustworthy (Prov. 31:11, Luke 16:9-15, Luke 8:15)
- She is wise (Prov. 31:26, James 3:17, James 1:5,)
- She extends help to the poor and needy (Prov. 31:20, James 1:27, James 2:17)
- She fears Yahweh (Proverbs 31:30, 1 Peter 2:17)
- She is a faithful steward (Prov. 31:15-20, Matt. 25:14-30,1 Peter 4:10)
- She is clothed in the armor of strength (Prov. 31:25, Eph. 6:10-18)
- She is not idle (Prov. 31:27, 2 Thess. 3: 10-12)
- She bears fruit (Prov. 31:16, 28, John 15:5, Col. 1:10)
- She is blessed (Prov. 31:28, Eph. 1:3, Rev. 19:9)
Pause. Can you imagine what would happen if churches across the globe radically began to pursue this kind of beauty found in Proverbs 31—not merely individually, but collectively as the Bride of Christ? What if you and I began to see this description of a woman as one that not only encourages earthly brides, but the spiritual bride of Christ?
3. How can believers find encouragement from Proverbs 31?
He is our King. As believers today, we are privy to behold this portrait through a gospel lens. To see not merely a set of requirements for a king presented in Proverbs 31:1-9, but a foreshadowing and fulfillment of the perfect, true King to come—Jesus.
A king who would not be overcome by wealth, women or wine but instead would overcome the power of sin and death (Prov. 31:4-6).
- A king who would not only speak up for the mute, but would give speech to the mute (Prov. 31:8).
- A king who would judge justly, and defend the rights of the poor (Prov. 31:9)
- A king who while perishing would refuse to ease his bitter distress with wine (Prov. 31:6) but instead fully absorb the bitter cup of God’s wrath.
And Christ the King isn’t merely looking for the kind of bride described in the next several verses of Proverbs 31; He is creating and bringing to perfection His bride—the Church—to present her pure and undefiled (Eph. 5:25, Rev. 19:7).
We are His bride. Proverbs 31 isn't just a passage for and about women, but a passage for the whole bride of Christ. In fact, if I could frame this Proverbs 31 portrait, it would be titled “a wife of many parts.” We, as the bride of Christ, are in some respects a “wife of many parts” (1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4 and Acts 2). So consider what unique gifts has God given you for the purpose of furthering His Kingdom. God has given you and me gifts as individuals so that we, His bride, might collectively reflect Him more fully to a broken and lost world (1 Pet. 4:10-11, John 17:21, Eph. 2:10).