Proverbs 31:1-9 is a collection of the King Lemuel’s favorite sayings. It reads like a catechism of simple truths. Three things I find interesting.
- The gender of the author.
- The meaning of chayil.
- The emphasis on compassion and mediation, namely the use of pain killers.
Who taught the King?
His mother, a woman. Verse 1 says:
The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance (KJV – prophecy) his mother taught him.
Jewish legend teaches that King Lemuel is Solomon. If this is true, then Bathsheeba is the author of this portion of Scripture. Regardless of the woman’s identity, there is no doubt its author-ity is female. And the student is royal. Since none of us are destined to rule, we cannot take the instruction literally, but we can pull principles for the commoner.
Don’t waste your chayil. Find more.
Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings. (KJV)
The word translated strength is chayil. The same word used 7 verses later to describe the type of woman the king should find: A woman of chayil. It can mean power or might in a warlike setting. It is more often translated as army than any other word, and it carries the sense of courage. It also means wealth and the power of material substance. And some translations replace “strength” in this verse with “wealth.”
Theologians interpret this verse as instruction in chastity, and I think that is a part, but it may miss the entire intent. No where else is chayil a reference to sexual prowess. It is a power term. A strength proven in battle – or with gold. Could Lemuel’s mother be warning him against strong-arming the women in his life? Or more likely, that this type of strength should have no place in his most intimate relationships? Or, if the intent of chayil is monetary power, that women should not be obtained with it?
If you believe the author is the same for the last part of the chapter (which is doubted by many translators due to the transition of style), the monetary sense goes nicely with verses 10-11. Connected together, we have a witty play on words.
Verse 3: Give not your chayil to women…
Verse 10: Find a woman of chayil.
The context of verse 10 is wealth. She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. Lemuel’s mother is concerned with what her son does with his chayil. Not only should he not give it away needlessly, he should obtain more of it by finding a wife with chayil to add to his.
Just because its not for you, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let another have it.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
It is not for kings to drink wine,
Nor for princes intoxicating drink;
Is Lemuel’s mother teaching total abstinence from alcohol or temperence? The word used for “drink” can imply either drinking or drunkeness. And for those who have no experience with alcohol…there is a difference. One glass of wine does not a drunk make. I believe her meaning is evident in the following verses when she describes the act of the miserable forgetting their misery. She is speaking of drinking with the intent to lose your rational mind.
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.
But that is splitting hairs. The intent of her instruction is clear: a king can never forget he is Justice. Why should he do anything to endanger his ability to rule fairly? But that does not mean there is no place for alcohol in his kingdom rule. She instructs him to give alcohol to dull the pain of the dying and the bitter-hearted. Not just “let them have it,” but GIVE it to them.
In the mind of this mother, there is a place for pain-killers. It is a compassionate act to allow the hurting a brief reprieve of forgetfulness.
His mother wraps the proverb with an appeal to kingly mediation. And who needs the mediation of the king? Those sentenced to die, those who have no voice, and those without money to obtain personal justice. The same folks who plead the ear of King Jesus.
Before the law, we are condemned, silenced and bankrupt. May He ever plead our case.