The Excellent Woman of Proverbs 31:10ff

The last major section of Proverbs is a poem about an excellent, noble, strong, hard-working, wise woman. And Proverbs 31:10ff is actually an acrostic. The first word of each line in this poem starts with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet and it goes in order from beginning (A aleph, א) to end (T taw, ת). It’s quite a piece of literature to say the least!

Speaking of this poem about the wise and strong woman, I like how Gary Schnittjer explained this in Old Testament Use of Old Testament. I’ve read similar things by other authors but Schnittjer summarizes it well. Here’s what he wrote:

The excellent woman of Proverbs 31:10-31 thematically bridges Woman Wisdom and Ruth. The alphabetic acrostic begins with a rhetorical question: “An excellent woman who can find?” (Prov. 31:10a). In this case, any interpreter may doubt that the woman of excellence from A to Z (aleph to tav) should be regarded as an actual person. She embodies the ideals of Woman Wisdom known in the first collection of Proverbs.

Although rhetorical questions make points rather than asking real questions, the Scriptures answer the question. An excellent woman who can find? Boaz, of course. The book of Ruth does not disappoint. It features numerous verbal and thematic similarities. For example, the narrator describes Boaz as an ‘excellent man,’ and he affirms that everyone knows Ruth as an ‘excellent woman’ (Ruth 2:1; 3:11; cf. 4:11). The expression “excellent woman” appears three times in Scripture, Proverbs 12:4, 31:10, and Ruth 3:11. One of the traditional canonical arrangements highlights this connection by placing Ruth directly after Proverbs. The relations between Woman Wisdom, the excellent woman, and Ruth represent thematic and verbal similarities, not exegetical allusions.

Gary Schnittjer, Old Testament Use of Old Testament, p. 574-5.

Shane Lems
Hammond WI, 54015

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