There is a descriptive word in Hebrew that captures the essence of strength and godly masculinity. Chayil is used 243 times in the Old Testament, and 104 of those times it is translated as “army,” “host,” “forces” or related phrases referring to military groupings—as armies of Israel or Judah, or hosts of Gentile forces from Egypt to Babylon, and one time, for example, as Ethiopia’s million-strong host.
It can also refer simply to a large number of people—when Isaiah talks about Gentiles flowing into Jerusalem after the Messiah’s coming, when Ezekiel 37 describes his vision of a great resurrection, or as the “very great train” (including animals) that accompanied the Queen of Sheba when she visited Solomon.
Similarly it is used around 50 times as “valiant” or “valor.” It can refer to the valor of one, like the teenaged David facing Goliath, or a valiant group of soldiers serving King David. It can refer to one man with the “heart of a lion” (2 Samuel 17:7-10), and it certainly doesn’t have to refer to soldiers at all, as some priests and Levites were also described this way.
Chayil is translated as “power,” “might,” “strong,” “strength” or “able” about 35 times—whether the strength of a man, a group, God Himself or even that of a vine or fig tree.
Another category of definitions in this broadly defined word has to do with wealth: 32 times it is translated as “riches,” “wealth,” “substance” or “goods.” Boaz is called a “mighty man of wealth [chayil]” (Ruth 2:1).
But that word is not just confined to the men. One of the most remarkable uses of this word—given all the above usages—is found in Proverbs 31: “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” (verse 10).
What an amazing woman to be found—for God to inspire the same word to describe her as is connected with militaries, valor and abundance. It would be better rendered: Who can find a valiant woman, or a woman of valor?
A Proverb for Men
These attributes certainly describe the Bride Jesus Christ wants to “find” in His Church. But consider, on the human level, that this verse is emphasizing the one looking and finding. It is not, Who can BE a woman of valor?, though that can obviously be taken from this. Actually, Proverbs 31 is more directed at a man than a woman.
Verse 1 shows as much: “The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.” The King Lemuel (a name literally meaning “for God”) is most certainly Solomon, and his mother was Bathsheba. She “taught him,” it says, which here means to chastise or reprove. Biblical chronology shows that Solomon married Naamah the Ammonitess and had Rehoboam before David died. Bathsheba was still alive for this marriage (Song 3:11 places her at one of his weddings). By the time he became king, Solomon was known for how much he heeded his mother’s advice (see 1 Kings 2:17-20).
Whenever Proverbs 31 was penned, Bathsheba felt her son needed some stern advice when it came to finding a woman of valor. The verses that proceed the actual “virtuous woman” poem show some firm admonition: “Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings” (verse 3). Interestingly, the king is told not to give hischayil to a woman, but in verse 10 is told to find a woman of that caliber of strength. If a man brings his God-inspired valor to a relationship involving a woman of godly valor, then God has something powerful to work with!
Bathsheba could well have been pointing Solomon to another valiant woman of history—his great-great-grandmother Ruth. Though chayil is used in a few places throughout the Proverbs to describe great women in general, the only woman expressly named in connection with this word is Ruth (Ruth 3:11).
An Alphabetical Argument
To detail this kind of woman’s valor, Bathsheba frames her admonishment in the form of an alphabetical acrostic. This doesn’t translate well into English, but try to grasp this poetic device. If someone were making a case to you in this fashion—stating all the benefits of something in English by going A, B, C, etc., you would get the sense that their argument is 1) complete: that is, thorough and comprehensive, as well as 2) logical: meaning, it is speaking to an intrinsic order, rather than subjectivity and emotion. This proverb is appealing to a typical male rationale in approaching and considering major life decisions.
Another aspect of an acrostic poem is that the first word of each verse—being in alphabetical order—is fundamental to what’s being said. In English, the first word of most verses here is “She ….” That has no mnemonic value. So consider the first word of each verse!
א The first Hebrew word of verse 10 (the first verse of this acrostic) is woman—a word that starts with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The ordering of words in English would be better rendered: “Woman of valor, who can find?” The question is followed up by “her price is far above rubies,” meaning, this kind of marriage far exceeds any physical wealth.
The famous British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: “A female friend, amiable, clever, and devoted, is a possession more valuable than parks or palaces; and without such a Muse few men can succeed, and none can be happy.”
In Proverbs 3:15, 8:11 and 20:15, rubies are said to barely compare with godly wisdom. The implication here is that finding a woman like this is an act of great wisdom.
ב Husband is the first word of the next verse—which starts with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. “Husband’s heart trusts her ….” Not only has he trusted her with his heart, her trustworthiness also means “he shall have no need of spoil.” Here is another advantage put in fiscal terms. You could have rubies; you could have the spoil of war. Or better yet, you could find a valiant woman!
ג Reward is how the Hebrew for verse 12 begins: “She will do him good [i.e., she will recompense him with good] and not evil all the days of her life.” Here is yet another verse stressing to the man what an investmentshe is! After a verse describing rubies, and then great spoils of war, this verse underscores the return on the investment. In fact, the remaining verses expound in elaborate detail on that return.
An Invaluable Investment
ד Seeks is the first word of verse 13: “She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.” There is a drive to her character and what she seeks for her household. The rest of the verse adds that she does so willingly—she takes great delight in it!
ה Merchants or “trade ships” is the first word of verse 14: “She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.” This would have resonated with Solomon who had a massive navy collecting gold of Ophir from far reaches of the known world (1 Kings 9:26-28).
ו Also begins verse 15: “She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.” This verse begins with the idea, “Plus,” she will get things done after daylight is spent!
ז Considers is the opening to verse 16: “She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.” That Hebrew word means she can act with logical purpose—she has some sense!
ח Girds opens the next verse: “She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms” (verse 17). She is strong for a woman.
ט Perceives is the first word of verse 18: “She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.” She is an informed consumer and knows how to put products to the test.
י Hand starts verse 19: “She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.” That means she is willing and able to make things by hand if something cannot be purchased.
כ Palm, as the Hebrew reads, begins the verse that says: “She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy” (verse 20). The image that palm gives shows that her hand is open.She is charitable—which the Bible says is the way to receive real blessings. Her giving nature is a priceless asset to any household.
ל Verse 21 begins with a negative: Not afraid (“She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet”). This courage is connected to the fact that she has clothed her family, and there is confidence in the work she has done for them. There is also a faith implied here, which involves a confidence in the great God.
מ The Hebrew for verse 22 begins: Coverings of tapestry (“She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is [fine linen] and purple”). She is creative. The references to fine linen (as the original Hebrew reads) and purple evokes images of the tabernacle in ancient Israel. She is clothed in the same fabrics found there. That is also how God clothed the elegant priests who served in that exquisite environment.
נ Known is the first word of verse 23—in the sense of being well-known: “Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.” She can bring you great honor and even fame! Remember Loma Armstrong’s words: “They say a wife either makes or breaks her husband. Well, you just watch me make mine!”
ס Verse 24 opens with fine linen: “She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.” In this instance of fine linen, we see that she can make it herself to a degree it can be sold for a profit.
ע The English of verse 25 begins with the same word as the Hebrew: “Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.” She truly has strength and honor. The second half of that verse emphasizes her optimism, and the phrase “in time to come” carries a meaning of uncertainty. Again, she is filled with faith regardless of how the future looks.
פ Mouth is the first word of verse 26—her mouth, that is: “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” In the spirit of looking at the return on an “investment,” what her mouth yields is wisdom and kindness, which far exceed any monetary gain.
צ The Hebrew words beginning verse 27 is rendered in the English as looks well—which means to keep watch: “She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” She is alert to the needs of the home.
ק Rise begins verse 28—speaking of the respectful children she rears: “Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.” Her whole family recognizes what a blessing she is.
ר The English of verse 29 begins with the same word as the Hebrew: “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.” “Virtuously” is the Hebrew chayil! This man can recognize chayil in a lot of godly women, but he sees his wife as excelling them all!
An Act of Wisdom
Consider the pricelessness of this woman of valor! What a woman of wealth! She far exceeds any monetary measurement. What advantages there are for a man who gives his heart to a woman like this!
Remember the question in verse 10: “Who can find” this valiant woman? In God’s Church, we have scores of single women who have God’s indwelling Holy Spirit. So in God’s Church—the affianced Bride of Jesus Christ—it is not as rare to find this kind of woman. After all, Christ Himself is engaged to her. As verse 29 says, Many are chayil. The responsibility is on the man to find her.
Proverbs 12:4 states: “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.” Here again is chayil for virtuous, which suggests that Solomon may have already studied his mother’s poem about this “woman of valor.” And how interesting that her poem is saved to be the closing concept in a book about wisdom! Pairing chapter 31 with Proverbs 12:4, you could conclude that one of the crowning achievements of a man’s wisdom in this life could be finding a spiritually valiant woman!
Note. Proverbs 31 emphasizes the benefits of a wife, rather than providing an unattainable checklist against which a man should measure a potential wife. Yes, a man must discern whether those qualities are generally there (as the latter half of Proverbs 12:4 bears out). But where a godly woman falls short in these qualities, Christ will continually perfect her. The “Proverbs 31 woman” is no unattainable fantasy for a man to hold against every woman he dates. God inspired Bathsheba to show what a woman of valor is and what she will bring into your life.
When you attend a singles event in God’s Church, you are in a room full of women of valor. Of course, every woman can embody Proverbs 31 more. But do the men really see the value, the profit, the unquantifiable wealth in finding one of these precious rubies?
Speaking of “checklists,” consider what Proverbs 31 lists about physical beauty. To this point, there is nothing about her appearance. There is also nothing in Ruth about her physical appearance, only her industriousness and loyalty. There is some in Proverbs 31 about her physical strength. But that too is largely about work ethic and wisdom. There is some about her wardrobe (more what it represents in her character). But the only body parts mentioned are the arms, hands, palms, mouth and tongue (the latter two in terms of speech), as well as a girding of the loins.
Now let’s read the last two verses.
ש To put verse 30 in the correct word order, it would read: Deceitful is favor. “Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.” Watch out, men, for things that are fake or temporary. This is the only verse in Proverbs 31 that addresses her beauty, and it says that beauty is like a vapor. Beauty did not factor in to the “cost-benefit analysis” that is Proverbs 31. Why? All the benefits—all the returns on the “investment”—are permanent characteristics. Beauty in the physical realm changes: it fades, sags and wrinkles. But a woman who fears God—that is where your praise should be!
ת The English of the final verse begins with the same word as the Hebrew: “Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates” (verse 31). Again, this is directed to the man. He does not lack anything by giving to a woman like this! The end of the poem rings with a bit of a warning: You can praise her or not; either way, her own works will speak for themselves—“in the gates,” or the same place where she can make you well-known, as verse 23 emphasized.
Ruth—Becoming the Bride of Christ, by Gerald Flurry, states: “When we live righteously, God is fully aware—and many other people are as well. If somebody is doing good work, serving the Church and Work, stepping out and taking action, he or she cannot hide that. Good works are out there where people can see them. Not that you are trying to get people to see your works, but they are going to see them in many cases. This is what happened with Ruth. She is our example.”
Let us conclude with one other use of this Hebrew word chayil. We saw it used in the context of large military organizations, to describe individual soldiers known for their valor and bravery, and to express great wealth. And in Ruth 4:11, we see it used in the context of marriage itself—the very marriage Bathsheba was likely referencing in her acrostic masterpiece: “And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The Lord make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily [Heb. chayil] in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem.”
This is a blessing on Boaz—may YOU do valiantly and be famous in Bethlehem. Though that word was used earlier in the account to describe Boaz’s wealth, and though it was used by Boaz to describe Ruth, here it describes what Boaz is now able to do because of this marriage. He—as all godly men who find a godly wife—could really act worthily (valiantly, with great substance, power and bravery) because he had found this woman of valor!