Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 20:9-19; Hebrews 3:1-11; Proverbs 19:1-14; Isaiah 30
A number of proverbs refer to wives. While husbands are not explicitly mentioned, this is because the book is written as from a father to his son. Husbands are implicitly addressed when Proverbs 19:14 tells them that a prudent wife is from the Lord. We will examine a detailed description of the prudent wife when we get to Proverbs 31. The first line of Proverbs 19:13 contrasts with the first line of verse 14, and likewise the two second lines are contrasted. A prudent wife is not quarrelsome, but is from the Lord. Hebrews 3 helps us see the connection. A house is built by human hands, but God builds everything. He is the ultimate source of the materials, and the talents and abilities that allow people to build. A wife who lives according to God’s principles is building with God and brings honour to God. She is the means by which God’s blessings come to the marriage and household. Little wonder Proverbs places such an emphasis on marriage and holds godly wives in high esteem. Proverbs 18:22 (NASB) puts it this way: ‘He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord.’
The Proverbs are based in reality and use realistic imagery to describe the impact of people’s positive and negative character traits. Two sets of negative traits are described for wives: being quarrelsome or nagging (21:9, 19; 25:24; 27:15-16) and being unfaithful (23:27). The results are contrasted sharply. ‘A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones’ (Proverbs 12:4). Noble character refers to the wife’s inner strength, moral fibre and competence. The Hebrew phrase ‘noble wife’ also occurs in Proverbs 31:10 where such a woman is described in detail. Its only other use in the Bible is to describe Ruth (3:11), who exemplifies many of these traits. Such a woman is confident and competent, brimming over with energy for every area of life. The contrast in Proverbs 12:4 is with an empty woman who sucks the energy out of her husband.
Isaiah 30 provides some general principles for developing such inner strength. ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’ (Isaiah 30:15). True confidence is built on trusting the Lord’s strength, not one’s own. The Israelites rejected this way, and turned to oppression and deceit, relying on their own schemes and strategies. In a marriage, like any relationship, differences arise and need to be addressed. Spouses may take an oppressive strategy, pushing or forcing their opinion or preference on the other. Deceit offers a more subtle approach, where important details are omitted, or the truth distorted just enough to get one’s way. Quarrelling and nagging are other approaches, aimed at the other person eventually giving in, just to get rid of the irritating drip, drip, drip of a leaking tap.
The Bible calls for a different approach. When someone trusts in the Lord, they do not need to compel, control or nag. To see one’s wife as from the Lord gives her a very high standing. Who are we to mistreat a gift from the Lord, but instead should respect and honour them (1 Peter 3:7)? When a spouse fails, becoming quarrelsome or sinning in some way, as we all do regularly, we can respond as God does to us. The Israelites were neither quiet nor humble, but God’s response was filled with grace (Isaiah 30:18). He was compassionate, yet also just and fair. His voice continued to point out, ‘This is the way; walk in it’ (v. 21). Husbands are explicitly called to love their wives as Christ loved us (Ephesians 5:25). Proverbs uses colourful language to describe the misery of life lived going a different direction to God’s way. We also are shown the beauty of walking with God, which includes rejoicing in the wife of one’s youth (Proverbs 5:18).