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She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar. –
Proverbs 31:14 (ESV)
Solomon’s Proverbs include the lengthiest and most detailed description of a wife’s role found in the Bible. Written by a queen mother, it is inspired wisdom for men to marry an industrious and productive woman. After the fear of the LORD, which is the crucial trait for a virtuous she must be diligent in her life.
While we read of sewing and cooking, I think we must look more broadly to show her heart, worth more than rubies.In Proverbs 31:10-31, we learn of King Lemuel’s mother sharing her description of the type of wife that her son should look for. While we read of sewing and cooking, I think we must look more broadly to show her heart, worth more than rubies.
Merchant Ships and a Godly Wife
But what’s this about merchant ships and a godly wife? Huh? How can those two even be in the same sentence? Seems crazy, right, but bear with me, friends. In Proverbs 31 verse 14, we read “She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.”
We know that for hundreds, or even thousands, of years, merchant ships brought food from other countries. Even today, most countries import food from around the world and much of it arrives on merchant ships.
In our homes, however, we bring our food from the supermarket or, sometimes even our own gardens. In most cases (of course, not all), the wife does the food shopping. Some wives go from market to market looking for the best deal or best items, others, like me, choose to shop at only one place for convenience. We also have a very large garden and can our vegetables each year.
In Biblical times and even just a few decades ago, most food was not purchase prepared. The flax was ground, the dough was kneaded, and the bread baked.
The virtuous woman is the epitome of excellence. She does not seek shortcuts but looks for ways to best take care of her family and serve them well. For this she seeks only high-quality food that will nourish everyone in their home so they can enjoy all aspects of life with good health and happiness – anything less than excellent would be unacceptable to her.
Today, much of what we buy all of that has been done for us. Does that mean that because we buy store-bought instead of homemade we are not godly wives? Absolutely not!
Proverbs 31:14 compares a godly woman to a merchant ship. This means that she is diligent in providing what her family and others need, even if it requires a difficult journey or many trips to stores to do so. This is only one of the essential roles she plays in the family.
This woman provides sustainment and nourishment to those around her. She knows that bringing the best is often a hard task, but desires to do so anyway.
In verse 13, the Proverbs wife focuses on providing clothing and linens for her family. Now she makes it her task to provide nourishing food and drink for them each day.
This virtuous woman is compared to the merchants’ ships. Merchants are traders who buy or sell commodities for profit, and their ships are commonly filled with items from far countries. Most likely, this isn’t suggesting that she walked hundreds of miles to find food (or bought food and other goods from China and other places like we do today) but that instead, she either traded or purchased food from others in exchange for her own merchandise, like the clothing spoken of in the previous verse.
The Proverbs wife certainly grew her own food according to the climate of her homeland. But this verse also seems to suggest that she provided a variety of foods for her family from different lands.
In the land of Israel and its surrounding countries, families snacked on fruits and vegetables such as dates, figs, pomegranates, beans, leeks, and lentils. They gathered eggs, honey and many varieties of barley and wheat. Depending on the climate a family could grow corn, gourds, cucumbers and olive trees. They raised pigeons, lamb, calves, oxen and goats and used their milk for cheese and butter.
The woman portrayed in these verses is hard-working and practical. She is a smart planner, wisely using the money and goods of her household. In this way, not only does she take care of her family, but she provides for them as well. She works! Not in the conventional sense of working but using her talents while still at home with her children to add to her family’s source of income.
There is much we can learn from this woman.
As we follow in the footsteps of Christ, we can detect what is needed and bring sweet nourishment to those around us. This can be something practical, like food, or something in the spiritual, like prayer.
The good news? We are not left alone in this endeavor. He promises to refresh and nourish us as we do this!
I strive to be a Proverbs 31 woman, but I often fall short, as many of us do. However, I am inspired and encouraged that God left us practical, clear examples of what it means to live a life after His heart. I am even more encouraged to see that we are not at this alone. God is the one forming His character in us!
This is perhaps the most important part: God Himself is at work in us. His spirit is the one convicting us, shaping us and making us more like Him.
As we take even the smallest of steps towards living in a way that pleases Him, God smiles.
He gives so much grace and love in the process, that it’s almost worth it just because of that!
So, how do we become like a merchant ship? How is this practical?
We can ask Him for ideas!
We can ask: God, how can I bring nourishment to those around me?
We can ask for our eyes to be open to the needs of others, and for the way to be used by Him to meet those needs.As we persist in prayer, He will give us ideas and provide opportunities so we can be a blessing to others. Count on it!
As we persist in prayer, He will give us ideas and provide opportunities so we can be a blessing to others. Count on it!
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life.
Blessing others benefits us as well, taking the focus off ourselves and giving us a servant’s heart that reaches out in unselfish love to our families. Serving is not a burden, but instead gives us joy in becoming what God has individually created us to be. “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13
Another way that you can be like merchant ships is by meal planning and preparation. In this post on my sister site, A Virtous Home, we shared the basics of meal planning. By meal planning and preparation, you will save money (less on takeout), time and stress. Adding meal planning was the single thing that made our home run smoother and saved me time, money and headaches. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
There are many verses in the Bible about storing food for the future, I like to remind myself of these as I food shop and plan meals for my husband. Here are some of my favorites:
“Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it.
‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘
So your barns will be filled with plenty And your vats will overflow with new wine.
You may enjoy this sweet video of two lovely Christian wives discussing the meaning of this verse:
How are you like merchant ships? Do you meal plan? How else do you provide for your families and others? Do you see yourself as a merchant ship in some ways now? Tell me about your experience with this.
If you want to dig deeper into what it means to be a woman of noble character today, check out my book, The Complete Proverbs 31 Wife: A Verse by Verse Exploration of What it Means to Be a Proverbs 31 Woman in Today’s World.