King Lemuel’s Mother: The Other Proverbs 31 Woman

When Christians talk about “The Proverbs 31 Woman” we typically think of the idealised woman mentioned in Proverbs 31:10ff.  Myriads of messages, books and website articles have been devoted to extolling, and sometimes sentimentalising, the virtues of this woman.  And she is put forward as a role model for all godly women to follow.

I’d love to have the stamina of this woman and be able to get up before dawn every morning (Prov 31:15).  I’d love to be as industrious and productive as she seems to be (Prov 31:18, 24).  And I think we’d all like to be as rich as she is, and be able to buy our own piece of real estate and plant a vineyard (Prov 31:16-18).  But we must never forget: This woman is not real.  She is an idealised fabrication.

There is another woman mentioned in Proverbs 31, a real woman who is often overlooked but who also serves as a model for women. This other Proverbs 31 woman serves as a biblical precedent for a woman teaching a man.

King Lemuel’s Mother who Taught Wise Sayings

In Proverbs 31:1, King Lemuel’s mother is mentioned.  This woman taught her son with an inspired message that is contained in the sayings of Proverbs 31:2-9.[1]

Lemuel was a grown man and he was a king,[2] but this didn’t stop him from receiving and appreciating instruction from a woman.  Moreover, he recognised and respected the wisdom of his mother’s words.[3]  These words were recorded and included in the Canon of Holy Scripture.  This means that the teaching of King Lemuel’s mother has the authority of Scripture.[4]  (Many Christians believe that Scripture has the highest level of spiritual authority.)  By being a part of Scripture, the sayings of this woman continue to authoritatively instruct men and women, and even kings.

Other Bible women also spoke inspired, informative and influential words to men.[5]

Anna the Prophetess who Spoke to Everyone about Jesus

Anna the Prophetess

Anna was a prophetess.  In Luke 2:37b-38 it says that Anna never left the Temple, “worshiping with fasting and prayer, night and day.”  When Mary and Joseph went to the Temple with baby Jesus, Anna was there, giving thanks to God, and she was speaking about Jesus “to all who were waiting for the redemption (or deliverance) of Jerusalem.” (My underline.) Surely this “all” included men as well as women.

Did the men have a problem with the fact that a woman was informing them about the Messiah and speaking about spiritual things to do with the redemption of Jerusalem?

As a respected and pious prophetess who had seen the Messiah with her own eyes, Anna and her words would have been influential and significant, otherwise Luke would not have mentioned Anna and her speaking in his account of the gospel.  [More on Anna here.]

Priscilla who Explained the Doctrine of Christian Baptism to Apollos

Another Bible woman who spoke about spiritual things to men was Priscilla.  Priscilla, and her husband Aquila, explained “the way of God” more accurately to a Christian minister named Apollos.  Apollos was an intelligent, educated and well-spoken minister, but he did not know about Christian baptism.  Priscilla and Aquila, seeing this lack, explained to him the doctrine of Christian baptism.  Neither Aquila, Apollos nor Luke (the writer who records this event in Acts) seem to be concerned that Priscilla took the lead in this conversation and, with Aquila, explained “the way of God more accurately” to a man.[6]  (See Acts 18:24-26.)

Priscilla and Aquila led a house church in Ephesus, and later in Rome.  Priscilla would have had many opportunities to minister and teach in this house church setting where, presumably, men and women gathered (1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19).

Faithful Instruction from Wise Women

Many Christians who restrict women to certain roles and functions within the Christian community completely ignore the Proverbs 31 woman mentioned in verse 1 and concentrate instead on the second women mentioned in the latter half of the chapter.  One thing these two Proverbs 31 women have in common, however, is that both spoke and taught with wisdom and faithfulness (Prov 31:26).

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. Proverbs 31:26

Many women have worthwhile and wise words to share and to teach – practical, spiritual and theological words, etc.  And their instruction and advice is trustworthy and faithful.  (Despite what some people assume, the Bible never says that women are more easily deceived or more deceptive in their teaching than men.)

The consensus of what the Bible says about women speaking to men, and instructing men, does not support the idea that wise and godly women cannot teach men.[7]  Yet many Christian men seem content to miss out on wise and faithful instruction from their sisters.  And many Christian women seem intent on keeping their fellow sisters from leadership and teaching functions and positions within the church community.

King Lemuel valued, respected and trusted the teachings of his mother.  My hope is that the church will respect and trust her women and their abilities – including their ability to teach inspired messages. 


Endnotes

[1] Her inspired message is variously referred to in English translations as: an oracle (NASB, HSCB, ESV), an inspired utterance (NIV), a vision (WYC), a declaration (YLT), a prophecy (KJV), etc; translated from the Hebrew word massa.
Massa is used frequently for Isaiah’s prophecies (e.g. Isa 13:1).  Massa is also used for Nahum’s, Habakkuk’s and Malachi’s prophecies (Nah 1:1; Hab 1:1; Mal 1:1).
The Septuagint (LXX) emphasises that the words in Proverbs 31:2-9 are words “spoken by God”.  In the LXX, Proverbs 31:1-9 is inserted after Proverbs 24:33.

[2] Jewish tradition states that “Lemuel” was King Solomon; however this is doubtful.  The LXX translation omits Lemuel’s name.

[3] Solomon also respected the teaching of mothers (Prov 1:8-9; 6:20).  Solomon mentions in Song of Solomon 8:2a that his mother taught him. It may have been Bathsheba who instilled in Solomon a love for wisdom and knowledge.

[4] The inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of Miriam (Ex 15:20-21), Deborah (Judges 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam 2:1ff), Abigail (1 Sam 25:28-31), King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov 31:1-9), Mary (Luke 1:46ff) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff) are considered prophetic and are included in Scripture.  Ironically, according to the stance of many churches, these women would not be permitted to teach men, or preach expositively, about their own words, even though their words have the authority of Scripture.

[5] Mary Magdalene, Huldah, the wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah, and the wise woman of Tekoa also qualify as Bible women who spoke authoritatively to men.

[6] Priscilla’s name is significantly mentioned before her husband’s name in Acts 18:26.  In fact her name appears first in four of the six mentions of this couple (Acts 18:2-3; 18-19; 26; Rom 16:3-4; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:9).  Luke is careful in how he orders names in Acts.  For instance, in his account of the joint ministry of the Paul and Barnabas, Luke switches the order of the names of Paul and Barnabas, listing first whoever was more well-known or more active in ministry at that particular time. (See Acts 13:7, 42-50; 14:1, 3, 12, 14, 23; 15:2, 12, 22, 25, 35-36.)

[7] There is only one verse in the entire Bible that says a woman is not allowed to teach a man – one verse.  I have written about this verse here.


Related Articles

Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Women, Teaching and Deception
Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?
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Honour your Mother and your Father

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Posted July 19th, 2012 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, Women in Ministry, , , , , , ,

31 comments on “King Lemuel’s Mother: The Other Proverbs 31 Woman

  1. Don Johnson says:

    I want to know how many so-called authoritative exceptions does it take until the gender restrictionists repent?

  2. Marg says:

    I know it was a rhetorical question, but I guess no one can repent unless the Holy Spirit convicts them.

    I’m hoping the Holy Spirit might use my words, because without him, my arguments are useless.

  3. Heather says:

    Love your blog ! I just found you a couple weeks ago and have already learned so much from your posts . Keep up the good work .

  4. Heather says:

    I also wanted to ask you , how would I go about starting to learn biblical Greek?

  5. Marg says:

    Thanks Heather! I’m glad you’re enjoying it and learning stuff. :D

    If you’re good at learning things on your own, I’d buy Mounce’s “The Basic’s of Biblical Greek” and go through it slowly. He has extra resources here: http://www.teknia.com/

    Or check with local colleges and universities and do a few courses of Koine Greek with them.

    You’ll need a copy of the Greek New Testament, preferably not an interlinear and preferably one with a dictionary at the end. And I recommend “The New Analytical Greek Lexicon” by Pershbacher.

    I’ve bought just about all my Greek New Testaments, grammars and lexicons second hand, so they need not be expensive. (I have several grammars because each teacher-writer approaches it with slight differences.)

  6. Jonathan says:

    This is wonderful, Marg. I love the examples of wise, strong women who spoke authoritatively as they were called. Wonderful.

    If that was really the custom throughout the Bible, shouldn’t it also be ours?

    Blessings.

  7. Marg says:

    Hi Jonathan, I really can’t see why some Christians – who know the Bible – refuse to let capable women teach. I really do think it comes down to a lack of trust of women, and some men not wanting to relinquish the positions they’ve created of privilege and power.

  8. Heather says:

    Thank you so much for the information . I wanted to add that your posts have been me some clarity on the gender issues being taught in the church . I was listening to some very popular reformed pastors, and I started to feel very confused as to why the women leaders in the Bible were so blatantly being over looked to fit the agenda they were teaching . Your blog has been one of the ones that has helped me understand some of these issues better . I really appreciate it , more than you know!

  9. Marg says:

    Wow! Thanks Heather. <3

  10. Nice post, Marg! Full of good insights.

  11. Oasis says:

    Marg! Taking my cue from Heather to tell you that you are an incredible help to me, also! I already wrote you via the contact form, but not sure if it went through.

    I had showered you with love and praises, telling you that childhood abuse left my mind confused and wondering what God really thinks of women, and how he views us etc. I was convinced of ugly “truths” and desperate, praying for answers, hoping he would tell me that we were not created as mere sex toys for men. I was hoping to learn that he values us a lot more than Driscoll seems to think (could not resist…). Then I found myself on this site and on Mara’s, too. I believe God led me here. I read healing words, wonderful words that God is using to enlighten and heal me, and many others… You taught me that women are just as much created in the image of God (wow) as men are, and many other amazing things! I have never in my life felt so loved and valued by God, as a Christian and as a woman, and you are part of the reason why! So, even if you did get my earlier message, allow me to gleefully thank you here, publicly! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and knowledge, and your extremely high levels of awesomeness with the world. ♥

  12. Marg says:

    Oasis, I’m sorry I didn’t get your message through the contact page. Not sure what happened there. I’ll check to see that it’s still working properly.

    I am soooo immensely happy that you realise that you are loved and valued by God!!! <3

  13. S. Smith says:

    I am sure there were many women in that day who fit this description.

    The Cosby Show and Claire Huxtible, people said she was make believe and there were no women like her. There are a lot of women like her and she was an adaptation of these women.

    To say she did not exist or is not real is not right.

    S.Smith

  14. Marg says:

    I haven’t heard people say that Claire Huxtible. I loved the Cosby show!

    I have no doubt that there were many intelligent and articulate women in Bible times; and that these women used their abilities, as much as they could, in all sorts of situations and circumstances.

    Some Bible women taught and led men, without gender seeming to have been an issue. It’s a shame that some sectors of the Church are making a big huge issue of women teaching men as though it’s against biblical principles.

  15. […] Another Bible woman who taught a man was King Lemuel’s mother. […]

  16. […] If Deborah was in a church meeting would she be allowed to expound on the words of her and Barak’s song recorded in Judges 5:1ff? Would Hannah be allowed to preach on her prayer recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10? Would Huldah be allowed to elaborate on the advice she gave to Josiah recorded in 2 Chronicles 34:23-28? Would King Lemuel’s mother be allowed to teach on the advice she gave her son recorded in Proverbs 31:1-9 ? […]

  17. […] The inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of Miriam (Ex 15:20-21), Deborah (Judges 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam 2:1ff), Abigail (1 Sam 25:28-31), King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov 31:1-9), Mary (Luke 1:46ff) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff) are considered prophetic and are included in Scripture. […]

  18. […] King Lemuel’s Mother: The other Proverbs 31 Woman […]

  19. […] King Lemuel’s Mother: The Other Proverbs 31 Woman […]

  20. Darcy says:

    Good morning! As a homeschooling mom teaching two teenage boys, we have to remember that a moms role is different than just “any woman” also, leading an army or teaching reading is different than leading in spiritual matters. I am proud to be an educated woman, and the leader of our worship team, and Commander of our Awana club, but I am much more proud to be the mom of my two boys and wife to my husband, whom the The Lord gave me. Why do women feel the need to HAVE to teach men? Why not be happy and blessed teaching women? Doesn’t the book of Titus instruct the older women to teach the younger women? I love mentoring young women and have been very blessed…..i have also instructed young men in financial matters and matters of the heart…..God used the leadership of certain women for specific reasons. We just need to make sure we look at the whole of scripture and who God is and what His perfect plan from Adam and Eve to now is, not what we think it ought to be.

  21. Jonathan says:

    Darcy, with all due respect, why do men feel the need to teach women? Why not be happy and blessed teaching other men? God calls both men and women into ministry, and I, a male, have on a number of times been blessed, challenged, and edified by fantastic women who were following God’s call on their life to serve in ministry.

  22. Don Johnson says:

    NETTit 2:1 But as for you, communicate the behavior that goes with sound teaching.
    Tit 2:2 Older men are to be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.
    Tit 2:3 Older women likewise are to exhibit behavior fitting for those who are holy, not slandering, not slaves to excessive drinking, but teaching what is good.
    Tit 2:4 In this way they will train the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children,
    Tit 2:5 to be self-controlled, pure, fulfilling their duties at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the message of God may not be discredited.
    Tit 2:6 Encourage younger men likewise to be self-controlled,

    Titus 2 older women are to teach what is good. And, while they are doing that, they are to make sure to include younger women, but that is not the general thing, which is simply to teach.

    This is one of my concerns with those that believe in gender hierarchy, they see want they expect to see and what they are taught to see and not what is actually there. So I am egalitarian and I encourage every Titus 2 woman to teach, just like Paul did.

  23. Marg says:

    Hi Darcy,

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

    I don’t think that Titus 2:3-4 can be used to restrict older women to teaching younger women. Do these verses mean that women cannot teach a woman who is older? Does it mean that a woman cannot teach boys? I don’t think we should allow Titus 2:3-4 say more than is intended.

    Moreover, these verses are not speaking about spiritual teaching or Christian doctrine. Rather the “lessons” listed are the basics of respectable living whether a Christian Cretan woman or a pagan Cretan woman.

    I cannot find an example of a Bible woman who only taught women. In fact most of the examples taught men.

    I completely agree that we need to look at all of scripture in forming our ideas and doctrines. My views about gender come from Genesis and from Revelation, and everything in between.
    (I am currently working through the Old Testament, very slowly, and commenting here, but my speciality is Paul.)

    I have written about Titus 2:4-5 here.

    I am happy to teach whoever is interested in what I have to say, or write, male and female, young and old.

  24. […] (20) Teach theology and inspired messages: King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov. 31:1ff), Anna (Luke 2:37-38), Priscilla (Luke 18:26).  More on women who taught here. […]

  25. […] King Lemuel’s Mother: The Other Proverbs 31 Woman […]

  26. Patrick says:

    Thanks for this insightful post. Clearly, gender has nothing to do with who has something valuable to teach and share with others. The church suffers when we silence wise, faithful instruction from her women.

  27. […] The Other Proverbs 31 Woman: King Lemuel’s Mother […]

  28. […] King Lemuel’s Mother and other Women who Taught Men […]

  29. […] King Lemuel’s mother (Proverbs 31:1ff) taught her son, a grown man and a king, with an inspired message that is contained in the sayings of Proverbs 31:2-9, and possibly Proverbs 31:10ff . Her message is described in various English translations as an oracle (NASB, HSCB, ESV), an inspired utterance (NIV), a vision (WYC), a declaration (YLT), a prophecy (KJV), etc, translated from the Hebrew word massa. Massa is used frequently for Isaiah’s prophecies (e.g. Isa 13:1), and is used for Nahum’s, Habakkuk’s and Malachi’s prophecies (Nah 1:1; Hab 1:1; Mal 1:1). By being a part of Scripture, the sayings of this woman continue to authoritatively instruct men and women, and even kings. […]

  30. […] King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov 31:1-9) […]

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