May 11, 1997

THE HEROIC WOMAN

A heroic wife who can find? … a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:10,30

It’s not every day you meet a woman like Ruby. She seems to be good at everything, whether she’s making clothes, making meals, making deals, or helping poor people. She dresses well. She maintains a lovely home. She’s poised and confident, smart and hard–working. She has a happy family. Her adoring husband is a prominent man, and he has nothing but confidence in her. Her smart, well–behaved children are so grateful to her that they heap compliments on her. Even her neighbors and community honor her for all the good things that she does.

Yes, indeed, Ruby is quite a woman. In fact, she is so good that some women find her downright intimidating. When they get to know her and compare themselves to her, they feel like failures. How could anyone measure up to that? How could anybody be so perfect? Ruby has it all, everything from A to Z.

Actually, that’s exactly what Ruby has: everything from A to Z. She’s got an entire alphabet of good qualities. You see, Ruby is the woman described in Proverbs 31:10–31, a poem that goes through all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. For each letter, there’s a verse about some quality of the ideal woman. The Bible doesn’t actually give this person a name, but it does say, “She is worth far more than rubies,” and so I’m calling her Ruby.

Maybe you’re not familiar with Proverbs 31, but if you are, you know what I’m talking about when I say that women can find Ruby intimidating. I’ve had more than one woman say, “I sure don’t measure up to that. There’s no way I could ever do all the stuff that she does.” For example, some women who aren’t early risers look at a verse that says, “She gets up while it is still dark” (v. 15), and they know right away that they’ll never be like Ruby. Usually a woman can joke about something minor like that, but when she looks at all of Ruby’s other perfections and takes them as the standard for worthwhile womanhood, she can feel like a failure. How can she possibly measure up to that?

Well, the fact is that she can’t. Nobody can. Nobody can always be the ideal woman in every way. But this doesn’t mean that if you’re a woman, you should feel worthless whenever you read Proverbs 31. Obviously, if you try to compete with Ruby, you’re going to fail. But who says you have to compete with her? Instead of seeing Ruby as your competitor, why not see her as your hero? A competitor is someone you envy until you feel like a loser. A hero is someone you look up to and admire, an ideal to keep aiming for. So if you’re a woman, don’t try to compete with Ruby. Instead, make her your hero.

In fact, the word “hero” is a good word to describe Ruby. It’s the most literal translation of what the Bible says about Ruby at the beginning of the poem. Different versions of the Bible speak of “a good wife” (RSV) or “a capable wife” (TEV) or “a wife of noble character” (NIV). But the original Hebrew word here is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe valiant warriors and great heroes and people of great prominence and achievement. In fact, the whole poem is in a style and format that the Israelites would use in a hymn to a hero. So Ruby is literally a heroic woman. If you’re a woman, you can aspire to be like her, and if you’re a man or a child, you can admire her and admire her heroic traits whenever you see them in women you know.

The poem about Ruby begins by saying, “A heroic wife who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” Let me just read the rest of Proverbs 31 for you.

Her husband puts his confidence in her, and he will never be poor. As long as she lives, she does him good and never harm. She keeps herself busy making wool and linen cloth. She brings home food from out–of–the–way places, as merchant ships do. She gets up before daylight to prepare food for her family and to tell her servant girls what to do. She looks at land and buys it, and with the money she has earned she plants a vineyard. She is a hard worker, strong and industrious. She knows the value of everything she makes, and works late into the night. She spins her own thread and weaves her own cloth. She is generous to the poor and needy. She doesn’t worry when it snows, because her family has warm clothing. She makes bedspreads and wears clothes of fine purple linen. Her husband is well known, one of the leading citizens. She makes clothes and belts, and sells them to merchants. She is strong and respected and not afraid of the future. She speaks with gentle wisdom. She is always busy and looks after her family’s needs. Her children show their appreciation, and her husband praises her. He says, “Many women are good wives, but you are the best of them all.” Charm is deceptive and beauty disappears, but a woman who honors the Lord should be praised. Give her credit for all she does. She deserves the respect of everyone. (TEV)

I think you’d have to agree that this isn’t just any woman. She’s downright heroic! But even though Ruby is a picture of the ideal, maybe she’s not that far beyond what a lot of women as we might think. I know that if I took the time to write down all the things my mother does, or all the things my wife does, the details might differ a bit from Ruby, but I’d have to say, “Wow! Give her credit for all she does.” A lot of you listening out there would have to say the same about your wife or mother. And that’s exactly what you should do, especially on Mother’s Day. In keeping with Proverbs 31, children, show your appreciation for your marvelous mother. Husband, praise your wonderful wife.

Having said all that, though, let’s get back to Ruby. And let’s not just talk about this or that aspect of what she does. Let’s find out what lies at the very core of who she is. All the different details about Ruby are impressive, but what’s the real key to it all? Is there anything in particular thing that energizes her and guides her and makes her so heroic in all these different aspects of her life? Indeed there is.

What’s the key to it all? Simply this: Ruby is a woman who honors the Lord. She puts God first in her life, and she depends on him in everything. Looks and outward impressions don’t mean nearly as much as her relationship to God. As an older translation of Proverbs 31:30 puts it, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

A woman who fears the Lord and takes him more seriously and loves him more than anything else in her life––that is a heroic woman. David Feddes here again, and we’re thinking about Ruby, the woman described in Proverbs 31, a woman has everything from A to Z. The Bible lists many things to admire about Ruby, but you don’t have to be doing every last one of those things in order to be a worthy woman. That would be enough to make you give up before you even started. However, there is one thing you must have: a relationship to God.

In light of this fact, we can lay a number of myths to rest. The first is the beauty myth. All too often, a woman’s worth is measured by her looks. The fashion and cosmetics industry, the diet and exercise industry, the movie and pornography industry–all these industries keep sending the message that the only thing that matters about a woman is how she looks. This beauty myth is nasty. Not only does it judge a book by its cover, but it implies that the cover is the only thing that matters about the book. When women buy into this myth, they often end up with depression and eating disorders and other problems. And not only is the beauty myth; it is also costly. It drives women to spend billions of dollars on makeup, clothes, jewelry, implants, facelifts, liposuction, and who knows what else.

The Bible exposes this nasty and costly myth for what it is: a lie.”Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting,” says Scripture, “but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

In Proverbs 11:22 uses a touch of humor to make much the same point. It says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” What a picture: a smelly, snorting pig with expensive jewelry in her nose! You can take a pig and put a gold ring in its nose, you can even add some earings, bracelets, and a necklace, but you still have nothing but a pig. So, too, if you take a sinful, foolish woman and dress her up and make her look like a fashion model, you still have nothing but a sinful, foolish woman. So unless you want to be Miss Piggy, don’t believe the beauty myth.

Why worry so much about how you look to others? Why not focus instead on what God thinks of you? In the Bible God tells women, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as [your style of] hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3–4, see 1 Timothy 2:9–10).

The kind of person you are is far more important than how you look. You agree with that, don’t you? How could anyone not agree? But even if you say you agree with that as a general principle, what’s actually happening in your day‑to‑day life? What takes up more of your time each morning: doing your hair and putting on makeup, or prayer and meditation and Bible reading? Where do you spend more money: on God’s work of spreading the gospel, or on clothes, jewelry, makeup, and fancy furniture to impress others? What takes more of your energy: dieting and working out to have a perfectly toned body, or developing spiritual disciplines and working to help people in need? Anybody can say she cares more about the inside than the outside, but the way you spend your time, money, and energy speaks a lot louder than anything you might say.

Does this mean you should go around with unkempt hair and ugly clothes? No, but it does mean that you need to keep your priorities straight. It’s okay to take care of your appearance. In fact, Proverbs 31:22 says that Ruby, the ideal woman, wears lovely clothing. But that’s not what makes her lovely. Her charm and beauty wouldn’t be worthy anything except for the fact that she worships and loves the Lord. So much for the beauty myth.

Another myth that the Bible demolishes is the career myth. A growing number of women are pursuing higher education and finding excellent job opportunities. If you’re a woman with talent and ambition, there are more and more possibilities open to you. Once you begin to succeed and make a mark for yourself, you feel good about your abilities and accomplishments. You’re skilled at what you do, and nobody can take that way from you.

Well, if you’re a multitalented, money‑making woman, you’ve got something in common with Ruby. According to Proverbs 31, Ruby buys property and makes improvements on it (v. 16). She produces various goods and sells them at a tidy profit (v. 24). But is this what makes Ruby a heroic woman? No, it’s part of the picture, but it’s not the only thing, and it’s not the main thing. Ruby has a variety of talents and knows how to handle money, but that isn’t what makes her valuable.

The career myth teaches that your worth depends on your talent and success. Your value equals the sum total of your earnings and accomplishments. Your net worth is measured in terms of dollars. If your career and income are flourishing, you’ve got it made. If you don’t have a career, or if you’re not making big money, you’re not worth very much as a person.

You can easily see how devastating this myth can be. In the first place, if you’re a woman who doesn’t have a job outside the home, the career myth declares you to be worthless. Second, if you do have a job involving work that’s necessary and useful but not very prestigious or high‑paying, the career myth makes you feel like a failure because you haven’t made it to the top. And finally, even if your career is gloriously successful, you are still shortchanging yourself if you think your worth can be measured in terms of career accomplishments. Talent and success are good things, but it’s a cruel myth to say that such things are final measure of what you’re worth. You might get that impression from Ms. magazine, but not from the Bible.

Today, more than any other day of the year, is a fitting time to reject the beauty myth and the career myth. On Mother’s Day, we don’t celebrate what you mothers look like, and we don’t focus on your superb job skills. No, we celebrate your love and kindness to us, your family members.

Family life is important to many women, and it is surely important to Ruby. She is a faithful wife, and her husband owes much of his prominence to her. She is a superb mother, and her children owe much of their happiness and intelligence to her. But even this is not the foundation of Ruby’s dignity. Family is very important, but it is not the most important thing about Ruby.

I don’t want to be a spoilsport on Mother’s Day, but I’m afraid it’s easy for many people, especially people with traditional values, to fall into the family myth. This myth insists that a woman will discover her true value only in relationships with a husband and children. Her dignity then depends on being the perfect wife and mother.

The family myth is bound to disappoint even the best mothers. If your value depends on being the perfect mother, you’re in trouble. One mother I know a received homemade card from her young son. The boy drew a nice picture on the front. On the inside he copied a sentimental poem that he had found somewhere. The poem went on and on in flowery language, praising his mother as the best mother in the whole world. After carefully copying all of that flattering poetry, the boy decided to add one line of his own: “But sometimes you are crabby. Love, Tim.” Well, moms, that’s honesty! You may be wonderful, but sometimes you are crabby. If you focus only on your family and measure your value in terms of being the perfect mother, you’re going to feel like a failure.

Now, if the family myth hurts even those in a positive family setting, just think what it does to those in difficult situations. You will feel worthless if you happen to have a husband who doesn’t appreciate you, or if your marriage falls apart, or if your children don’t turn out the way you want.

And the family myth is even more demeaning to women who are single or childless. How can you be the perfect wife if you’re not married? How can you be the perfect mother if you’re not a mother at all? And what if you are a mother, but your children have grown up and moved out? Once you live in an empty nest, your task of mothering is pretty well finished. Now what? If mothering is all there is, what are you good for once you’re done mothering? Let’s affirm the value of the heroic woman in family life, but let’s not fall into the myth that family is everything.

Once you’re convinced that it’s wrong to base a woman’s worth on the beauty myth, the career myth, or the family myth, you might be tempted to fall for the most devastating myth of all: the superwoman myth. Instead of accepting just one of the myths we’ve talked about, maybe you combine them all together. You are worthwhile if you are beautiful and successful and have a good family and anything else you can think of. You tire yourself out trying to be everything at once, and you end up feeling like a worse failure than ever.

When you read about Ruby in Proverbs 31, it may only make matters worse. You may think she sounds like superwoman. And in a way, she is. She’s the Bible’s picture of ideal womanhood. But as I said at the beginning, it’s best to see Ruby not as your competition but as your hero. In Ruby you can see a wide range of the tasks and talents that are available to you as a woman. All of these things are worthwhile, and some of them may characterize your own life, but they are not the key to a woman’s worth.

The secret of Ruby’s worth, the thing that makes her praiseworthy and heroic, is that she is a woman who fears the Lord. She takes God seriously. The Lord matters more to her than anything else. She has many fine qualities as a woman, but this is the one that matters most.

You’ll discover your true worth as a person only when you know God. Your value doesn’t depend first of all on what you’ve done, but on what God does. When you put your faith in him, your dignity comes to you as God’s gift; you don’t have to prove anything. You simply trust God and count on him to begin touching and transforming the different parts of your life.

When you know God, you know him as the one who created you. A prominent professor once wrote that human beings are nothing but “FAT enough for 7 bars of soap; IRON enough for 1 medium–size nail;  SUGAR enough for 7 cups of tea; LIME enough to whitewash one chicken coop; MAGNESIUM enough for one dose of salts; PHOSPHORUS enough to tip 2200 matches; POTASH enough to explode one toy crane; and SULPHUR enough to rid one dog of fleas.”

Now, I don’t deny that we’re made of dust––the Bible says we are––and it’s very nice of this professor to tell us exactly what sort of dust we’re made of. But that doesn’t mean we’re nothing but dust. That would be like saying an $80 million painting by Vincent Van Gogh is nothing more than a few dollars worth of paint. The value of a painting lies not in the cost of the paint, but in the creative genius of the artist. Sure, we’re made of some basic elements, some dust, but God formed us from the dust of the ground and gave us life (Genesis 2:7). We are the greatest masterpiece of the greatest artist. In fact, God created men and women as a kind of self–portrait. The Bible says that he create male and female in his own image (Genesis 1:27). Your Creator is the source of your talents and of everything worthwhile about you.

A second thing you discover when you trust the Lord is that he paid an enormous price to save you. The Bible says that God didn’t pay for our restoration “with silver or gold … but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18–19). That’s the price God paid to redeem his fallen creatures and adopt us as his sons and daughters. Once you know that Jesus paid the ultimate price to save you, that he hung on the cross because he wanted to rescue you, that he bled and died to restore you, you’ll realize how silly it is measure your value by any other standard. The price Jesus paid to save you shows how serious your problem is, but it also shows how precious you are to God. You can be honest about your faults without feeling worthless, because you know how much Jesus was willing to pay for you, and you know that the risen Christ is in the process of making you as good as new.

And as if that weren’t enough, the Bible tells us even more.  When you become a Christian, God’s own Holy Spirit comes to live in you. God promises, “On my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit” (Acts 2:18). When you receive the Holy Spirit, God makes himself at home in you and he makes you a partner in his activity in this world. If that doesn’t give you a sense of strength and dignity, nothing will! Wouldn’t you feel important if a president or prime minister wanted to stay in your house and asked you to help in a vital project? Well, if you are a Christian, the ruler of the universe lives in your heart, and he invites you to join in his work of transforming this broken world.

What gives a woman dignity? What gives anyone dignity? Faith in the Father who created you in his image, the Savior who bought you with his blood, and the Holy Spirit who makes his home in you. This is the truth that sets you free the various myths about a woman’s dignity. Your value isn’t something you must constantly be proving; it is God’s free gift to you. And once you know the Lord as your Creator, your Savior, and your indwelling Friend, your God-given dignity begins to shine in how you maintain your appearance, in how you do your work, in how you relate to your family–in every part of your life. Your life as a daughter of God may differ from Ruby’s in some of the details. Each daughter of God is unique. But like her, your identity as a heroic woman begins and real relationship with the living God.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.