Guest Lecturer: Tamara Hall
For those of you fortunate enough to hear this tremendous speaker and her amazing message, I have a treat for you! She forwarded me her talk from WOMENS CONFERENCE and asked that I share it with you! So here it is! A hard copy for you to study and ponder. Happy reading!
Proverb of a Virtuous Woman
Five years ago I began my study of the Hebrew language. I had hit a milestone in my life when my youngest went to pre-school and I had three hours, three days a week all to myself. I was quite delirious with excitement at the prospects of all that I could do, by myself, and for myself. I was going to reinvent me and figure out what “my thing" was-what I enjoyed, what I could do just for me. I experimented with running, biking, scrapbooking, digital scrapbooking, PTA, and even aerial yoga. None of which were, “my thing.”
I was perplexed. I even prayed for help. Several months went by when one Sunday after church this brilliant woman in my ward- who is mature in years- and whom I have always admired, but assumed was too smart be my friend approached me and said "Hey, do you want to take a Hebrew class with me?" "Really?" I asked. It sounded a lot less painful than what I had been trying to do, so I accepted her invitation and we signed up for the class.
And five years later I think I can say that I found "my thing."
I have a deep admiration and reverence for the Hebrew language. The seminary teacher in me loves what it has done for my scripture reading. It has never failed to amaze me how the Hebrew translation can take a seemingly simple word, or verse of scripture and completely alter my understanding of it, and at the same time strengthen my testimony. This is what led me to read and study the Proverb of a Virtuous Woman in Hebrew. As a result I have come to understand in a whole new way –perhaps what the Lord always wanted to say to his daughters; beautiful truths about who she is and why she is so important to Him. The proverb is more than a list of things a woman needs to do to be virtuous. It is actually 22 verses of what a virtuous woman has already done and what she has become. As a woman who has her own struggles and personal demons this proverb in Hebrew made me feel as if Heavenly Father had put his arms around me, told me he loved me and that I was doing a good job. Proverbs 31 is eloquent prose written to show how the Father feels about his daughters. Women who are armed with this knowledge and knowledge of the scriptures are a force for good in a world that is in desperate need of good.
So grab your scriptures.
And something to mark them with.
Let's open to Proverbs 31.
This chapter contains the Proverb of a Virtuous woman. Every time I taught this to my seminary students I would think, "Someday I will be virtuous...someday!" because the very first thing in the long list of virtuous qualifiers is that a virtuous woman has to be married.
Then I read it in Hebrew and that line from The Princess Bride came to me ...."I don't think it means what you think it means."
The Proverb of Virtuous Woman taken at face value is very overwhelming and puzzling which is probably why we seldom reference it in our lessons and talks. Taken literally, Proverbs 31:10-31 defines a virtuous woman as one who is: married, makes her husband happy, makes her own cloth for the material she will use to sew her own clothing, saved enough money to purchase, own and work in a vineyard, is an incredible cook and feeds a lot of people, is strong--really strong, wakes up very early or more than likely never goes to sleep because her candles burns all night long, is charitable, helps the poor, is married to someone amazing and well known, is kind, wise, not afraid of the snow, dresses really well, works outside the home to help bring in extra money, is not idle, is loved and blessed by her children, fears the Lord and… probably fears a nervous breakdown too! Forget comparing her to rubies, it should really read “Who can find a virtuous woman? Let me know because she has probably passed out from utter exhaustion!" Lowell L. Bennion, a celebrated educator and philanthropist shared his opinion on this proverb:
“It seems likely to me that this passage could have been written by a man who wanted to be well provided for by a hard-working wife but who perhaps was less willing to expend the same effort himself. It also seems to me that this ancient ideal lacks any sense that women also need intellectual, social, and spiritual fulfillment. I am not sure, looking at the average congregation of Latter-day Saint mothers, that they need to be told to stay up later, get up earlier, or work harder than they are already doing.
The standard interpretation of this proverb is often only viewed as being relevant to married women who have children. But what if the proverb is so much more? We believe and teach that all scripture is open to interpretation, revelation, and meaning, yet for some reason the Proverb of a Virtuous Woman has remained immune has not been entirely explored. I find it curious that one of the only commentaries on this proverb starts out by saying it is a, "description of desirable virtues and capabilities of a good wife" and has nothing to do with the Savior and his gospel, but everything to do with staying busy. Satan is the only being who has anything to gain from the literal translation. In the same talk, Patricia T. Holland went on to say, "If I were Satan and wanted to destroy a society, I think I would stage a full-blown blitz on women. I would keep them so distraught and distracted that they would never find the calming strength and serenity for which their sex has always been known." It's high time for a spiritual translation to be explored.
The Proverb of a Virtuous Woman is deeply immersed in symbolism. Once understood, the proverb not only becomes beautiful, but also achievable! The reader can see that a virtuous woman is so much more than a dutiful homemaker, she is a devoted daughter of Heavenly Parents who loves her and she loves them. The proverb is about her personal relationship with her Savior and becoming centered in Christ. It is more about the overall outcome than it is about the process. The words are an individual call for every woman to recognize that now is the time for her, "to work toward [her] personal conversion, toward becoming what [her] Heavenly Father desires [her] to become.
A virtuous woman’s price is far above rubies, but not because of all of the amazing, alleged, outward, physical things she "should" do as taken from the literal meaning, her price would be far above rubies because of who she has spiritually become. The proverb of a virtuous woman is about a covenant keeping woman’s relationship with her Savior. In the October 2015 General Conference, President Nelson insisted that, "A converted, covenant keeping woman increasingly will stand out.”
In Proverbs 31:1 we read, “The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.” The entire revelation is attributed to a woman. It is sage advice from a mother to her son ending with a mother's words about a prospective wife beginning in verse 10.
In order for us to better understand this proverb; let's look at the format in which it is given. In Hebrew this proverb is a poem written in acrostic format. Do you remember doing this in grade school? It's the type of poem where you write your name vertically down the side of the paper and then write a sentence or word that begins with each letter in your name? The acrostic style in Proverbs 31:10-31doesn't spell out anything, but instead is the Hebrew alphabet in order using all 22 of its letters.
A hand (closed or closing upon), to work, a deed done, a finished work
Behold, to show or reveal
A nail or peg, joining together, making secure, becoming bound to
Behold to show or reveal
When it comes to this type of symbolism, Proverbs 31 is no different.
10. Who can find a virtuous woman for her price is far above rubies
The first verse of this proverb reads sort of like a challenge. It implies that finding a virtuous woman (for men) and being one (for women) is all but impossible. Thankfully the Hebrew translation gives everyone hope,
Who can find a virtuous woman
The word virtuous in Hebrew is חַיִל chayil, which is not only defined as virtuous, but also as someone with strength, power and might. Another interpretation that expands the ancient meaning of the verse has been translated as, "a woman of might, power or capacity.” This is the same power the Savior felt leave him when the woman with an issue of blood touched his hem, Greek Dynamis, which means “power” or “strength.” Joseph Smith taught that this is the Power of Christ or "The spirit of Life" Now, add the suffix “-ous" which means, "possessing or full of" a given quality. This ending would then make the word virtuous signify, "possessing or being full of Christ's power, the spirit of life". A virtuous woman is one who possesses Christ’s power.
Today, we have unfortunately limited the word virtuous strictly to matters of modesty and chastity, but this proverb teaches us that a virtuous woman is filled with the Christ’s power. No wonder she is so valuable.
for her price
This proverb, given by a mother to her son is entirely about a marriage, making "her price" a direct reference to a bride price, bride token or in Hebrew a "Mohar." This is the price the bridegroom pays the bride's father for her hand in marriage and it seals or acts as a covenant between the two parties prior to the upcoming nuptials (Hosea 2:18-19). How the dowry was decided upon usually was in accordance to the wealth or standing of the bride. In eastern countries the dowry would usually be gold, silver, or precious things such as jewelry or gems. A perfect biblical example of this is found in the joining of Rebekah to Isaac. Prior to the marriage, Abraham's servant offered her a bride price: "And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things" (Genesis 24:53). Sometimes the bride token can be a service rendered, as in the case of Jacob (Genesis 29:18); deeds of valor might also be accepted in place of dowry (Joshua 15:16, 1 Samuel 18:25).
The price for a virtuous woman is far above rubies. This proverb is written to demonstrate the value the husband puts upon her and the esteem he has for her. She is preferable to the purest gold and choicest silver. She is his peculiar treasure and is more valuable than the most precious stones. By working and suffering on her account to obtain the woman, the price the husband will pay for her is far above rubies. But who would pay such a steep and seemingly exorbitant price to the father for his bride? The only man who could afford to--the Savior Jesus Christ.
is far above rubies.
The King James Version of this verse uses the word rubies to describe a virtuous woman’s worth. This powerfully sets the tone for our day because, like my story with the jeweler demonstrated, we know how costly and expensive rubies are today. However, in Hebrew the word for ruby is פָּנִין paniyn and means pearl. During Old Testament times, “Pearls were considered among the most precious stones in the ancient world” “Who can find a virtuous woman for her price is far above pearls.” She is the “pearl of great price” spoken of in Matthew 13:45-46: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (Matthew 13:45-46). The Merchant Man is Christ. She is the goodly pearl. And after finding only one he was willing to sell all that he had, even his own life. “For ye are bought with a price” 1 Corinthians 6:20 teaches us, and Peter tells us, “But not with "corruptible things, as silver and gold...but with the precious blood of Christ"(1 Peter 1:18-19).
The bride price was paid for by our Savior Jesus Christ. He bought us with the price of his own blood and because of this we or the virtuous woman is betrothed to Adonai, her Lord and master.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil
The heart of her husband
I can't imagine that a loving Heavenly Father who would exclude the majority of his daughters from being virtuous simply because they were not married. RUTH is the only woman in all of scripture who is called virtuous and she was single at the time. (Ruth 1:16) So, who is the HUSBAND? The Husband is Christ. In Hebrew, the word for husband בַּעַלּ is also master. In this verse that is exactly what the Husband is; he is the master, he is Adonai, he is Rabboni, and he is Christ. The husband is Jesus Christ. Throughout scripture the Savior is referred to as the husband or bridegroom. Isaiah 54:5 reads, “For thy Maker, thy husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name;" and, Jeremiah 3:14 reads, “Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you." The Lord used the analogy of marriage often in scripture because it was something that most people understood and could relate to. The analogy “symbolically described the covenants God made with them and them with Him. The covenant relationship between Jehovah and His people Israel was likened to the relationship between a man and his wife.” When we enter into any covenant with Christ, we symbolically become his wife and he becomes our husband. He is betrothed to the covenant people (see Hosea 2:19–20); and is called "husband", "I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord"(Jeremiah 31:32).
As Elder ElRay L Christiansen taught, "Making covenants with his people and with individuals has always been one of the principal ways in which the Lord deals with [us]...because he loves us." These sacred, priesthood ordained, two-way agreements are what help us access his power and work to bind or seal us to Him. Elder D Todd Christofferson taught, “In these divine agreements, God binds Himself to sustain, sanctify, and exalt us in return for our commitment to serve Him and keep His commandments." We enter this sacred union by loving him enough to make and keep covenants. Donald and Jay Parry wrote, “There is no sweeter or more meaningful relationship on earth than that between a holy husband and a holy wife; that is the kind of relationship (in depth of feeling and completeness of union) that the Lord is inviting us to participate in.” And this invitation begins at the age of eight.
The moment a young girl comes out of the waters of baptism she is virtuous. Not because her vast array of sins have been washed away. In fact Moroni taught that young children are not capable of sin (Moroni 8:9-14) yet oftentimes this incorrect doctrine is taught on the day of baptism. The only thing that we should be teaching on that day is that she has entered into a covenant with her Savior. That covenant is found in Mosiah 18:8-9: "willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death." On her baptismal day she makes covenants with God which in turn makes her virtuous. She is immediately filled with his power. The moment we enter into any covenant with Christ we are filled with his power. Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught this when he said, "What is the source of such moral and spiritual power, and how do we obtain it? The source is God. Our access to that power is through our covenants with Him.”
Can you imagine how this would change the way our young women feel about themselves if they were taught and believed as little girls that they were already virtuous? That they were truly powerful? That being virtuous has everything to do with her relationship with Christ and less to do with wearing a tank top? I adhere wholeheartedly to the guidelines on modesty given in “For the Strength of Youth,” but I wonder if the frequently repeated modesty lessons given in Young Women's is actually over-sexualizing and berating our young women, reducing them to their sexual, sacred parts and not encouraging them to be virtuous at all? Would we even need to give this lesson as often as we do if young women felt confident in their covenant relationship with Christ and knew exactly who they were in his eyes? If women knew from the time they were eight that they were already virtuous and loved, it would change the way they view themselves as teenagers and as adult women. These are the kind of lessons we should be teaching. This is the doctrine of Christ that our girls so desperately need.
And then on that day of baptism Heavenly Father, in his loving kindness gives us a gift, the gift of the Holy Ghost that will now help us keep the new covenants we have just entered into. “There is tremendous value in making commitments to one another and to the Lord. This arrangement becomes a fortification against the powers of opposition. The Lord, seeing our willingness to make commitments, gives us His Spirit, which strengthens us to do what we have committed to do”. Given the world we currently live in, having His spirit with us is paramount and keeping covenants is what allows for that. Now, there may be some covenants that you don't completely understand or that even seem ridiculous or unpopular. But take heart, you are in good company. When Adam was asked why he was offering sacrifices he said "I know not, save the Lord commanded me" (Moses 1:6) and Nephi admitted to not knowing the meaning of all things, but knew that God, "loveth his children" (1 Nephi 11:17). Like Adam and Moses, a virtuous woman loves her Savior so deeply that she trusts what she has been asked to do is for her good. A virtuous woman's willingness to make a covenant is enough. As she keeps her covenants she will grow in the understanding and appreciation of them.
There is NO mention of perfection in this proverb. There is plenty of talk about how we must be perfect and be perfect right now. But let's be clear, the Savior never taught that! He said: "Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father in Heaven in perfect." Did you notice he didn't even include himself in that New Testament phrase? It's not until he is among the Nephites as a resurrected being that he finally includes himself in these words, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, 3 Nephi 12:48). Perfection means “complete” or “finished” which the Savior was as a resurrected being. The perfection he is speaking of is collective and has much to do with events AFTER this life and nothing to do with beating ourselves up for not being perfect right now. Heavenly Father and the Savior only care about the direction we are going. Elder Larry R Lawrence said in a recent conference address, "to Him our direction is more important that our speed". Entering into covenants is what propels us forward.
With each covenant we make, i.e. Baptismal, Sacramental and Temple, there are qualifying questions we are asked to ensure that we are on the right path. Every Sunday we renew our baptismal covenants by taking the Sacrament. Every two years we are reminded of our covenants in the temple recommend interview. Each question requires an answer and each answer is a personal inventory of sorts to see how we are doing and where we need help.
Taking the first covenants that we made with the Savior, our baptismal covenants (Mosiah18:8-10), how would you answer the following questions: Are you mourning with those that mourn? I AM. Are you comforting those who those who stand in need of comfort? I AM. Are you standing as witness of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death? I AM. That Answer, “I AM” is Christ's Name. It is the name the Savior gave in the Old Testament when he introduced himself to Moses on Mount Sinai: “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14). The beauty of this answer is found in Hebrew. The words אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה or “I Am That I Am” translates as, “I Will Become Who I Will Become”. When it comes to falling short of being a perfect covenant keeper, we must remember that the Great I Am will perfect us, strengthen us and help us to become who we are to become if we let him. When we answer in His name, we acknowledge that it is only with his help that we are able to keep our covenants. Are you perfect at it? I AM not, and that's OK. Are you trying? I AM. We answer in his name because it is only through him that we can be perfected or complete. We acknowledge that "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me"(Phil. 4:13).
doth safely trust in her
Before Ruth was called a virtuous woman she was given a compliment of the highest order based on her works. Boaz told Ruth that, "The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust" (italics added, Ruth 2:12). Ruth could be trusted or in Hebrew, בָּ֣טַחbatach and means “to trust or have confidence in.” Ruth’s conversion and commitment to the Lord made her trustworthy and virtuous. It is this trust in her that the master will have no need of spoil.
so that he shall have no need of spoil.
The word "spoil" is a word associated with war and there are plenty of Old Testament examples of this. After a war was won and a people devastated, the victors would take what was left. Food, animals, slaves, and treasure were referred to as the "Spoils of War" and would be in excess to what the prevailing people already possessed. In reference to a virtuous woman, why does the Lord, "have no need of spoil?" because she is enough. He doesn’t need anything else from her. Her covenant relationship with her Savior IS ENOUGH. If you are a covenant minded and covenant keeping woman, YOU ARE ENOUGH. A virtuous woman is enough of everything for him. She is pretty enough, smart enough, good enough, worthy enough, thin enough, spiritual enough, kind enough, a good enough mom, a good enough wife, a good enough daughter, and whatever enough you feel lacking. You are enough for HIM. You are absolutely enough for the Savior, he doesn't need anything more.
Recognizing that we are enough empowers us. Satan spends so much of his time keeping us chained up in the idea that we will never be enough. His goal is to weaken us and keep us bound from doing what we have been sent here to do: the Lord's work. When we stay focused on the Savior and our covenants, we can free ourselves from Satan's chains and become powerful instruments in the Lord's hands.
The Savior is confident in our abilities to further his work in whatever capacity he may ask of us. President Russell M Nelson spoke of the important role of a virtuous woman: "Today let me add that we need women who know how to make important things happen by their faith and who are courageous defenders of morality and families in a sin-sick world. We need women who are devoted to shepherding God’s children along the covenant path toward exaltation; women who know how to receive personal revelation, who understand the power and peace of the temple endowment; women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly."
Once a virtuous woman believes she is enough and there is no end to the good that she will accomplish or the power she will possess to do so. A virtuous woman is filled with Christ’s power through the covenant relationship she has with him. Referring back to the start of this verse, it begins with the Hebrew letter Beth and is a symbol for the body, inside, within, the household or tent. A virtuous woman has built her foundation on covenants and her relationship with the husband. It is this foundation that allows her to; as verse twelve teaches “do him good and not evil all the days of her life,” and verses 14-15 will show us how this foundation will be necessary for her household.
The Proverb of a virtuous woman starts out being about a woman's covenant relationship with her Savior and shows us how he feels about his daughters. There is so much in this proverb and we just don't have enough time to go over it all. But I want to show you one of my favorite verses, verse 21.