King Lemuel's Mother: The Other Proverbs 31 Woman

When Christians mention 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

A woman who taught inspired and wise sayings

King Lemuel’s mother is mentioned in Proverbs 31:1. This woman taught her son with an inspired message[1] that is contained in the sayings of Proverbs 31:2-9.[2] Lemuel was a grown man and he was a king,[3] but this didn’t stop him from receiving and appreciating instruction from a woman. He recognised and respected the wisdom of his mother’s words.[4]

Her 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.[5] (Many Christians believe that Scripture has the highest level of spiritual authority.) Furthermore, by being 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.[6]

Anna the Prophetess

A woman who spoke about Jesus in the temple

Anna was a prophetess. In Luke 2:37b-38 it says that Anna never left the Temple, “worshipping with fasting and prayer, night and day.” When Mary and Joseph went to the Temple with baby Jesus, Anna was there. When she saw Jesus she began giving thanks to God, and continued speaking about him “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Surely this “all” included men.

Did the men have a problem with the fact that a woman was speaking to them about God and about theology to do with the redemption of Jerusalem? Apparently not. As a pious and respected prophetess, one who had seen the Messiah with her own eyes, Anna and her words were influential and significant. Otherwise Luke would not have mentioned her and her speaking ministry in his gospel. [More on Anna here.]

Priscilla

A woman who explained theology to Apollos

Another Bible woman who spoke about theology to men was Priscilla. Priscilla, with her husband Aquila, explained “the way of God” (i.e. theology) more accurately to a Christian minister named Apollos. Apollos was an educated and well-spoken teacher, but he did not know about Christian baptism. Priscilla and Aquila, seeing this lack, invited him into their home and explained to him the doctrine of Christian baptism. Neither Aquila, Apollos, nor Luke (who records this event in Acts) seem to be concerned that Priscilla was involved in explaining “the way of God more accurately” to a male teacher.[7]  (See Acts 18:24-26.)

Priscilla and Aquila led a house church in their home Ephesus, and later in Rome. So Priscilla would have had many opportunities to minister and teach in this setting where, presumably, both 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 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: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (Prov. 31:26)

Many women have worthwhile and wise words to share and to teach—practical, spiritual, and theological words—and their instruction and advice is trustworthy and faithful. (Despite what some people have assumed, 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.[8] 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 teaching and leadership 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 and theological messages. 


Endnotes

[1] King Lemuel’s mother’s 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 massaMassa is used frequently for Isaiah’s prophecies (e.g. Isa. 13:1). The same word 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] Some believe that Proverbs 31:10–31 is another inspired message of King Lemuel’s mother.

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

[4] 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.

[5] The inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of Miriam (Exo. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judg. 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.

[6] 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.

[7] 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.)

[8] 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.


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