Holding the Distaff? What Proverbs 31:19 Really Means in Modern Society

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She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her hands hold the spindle. –

Proverbs 31:19 (ESV)

This verse is one that some women glance over and move on because the tools mentioned are not those commonly used in our modern society. Distaff and spindle.

For many of us, Proverbs 31 is very familiar. I have read about the qualities of a virtuous woman many times and each time it was like reading for the first time all over again. But this verse, Proverbs 31:19, means something different to me than what I had initially thought:

The purpose of the distaff is to take a piece of wool and produce spools neatly wound yarn making that wool usable for creating coverings or clothing you need at home

The process begins with using one hand to hold onto where your fleece lays attached while pulling out some parts from another set in order create those nice little balls as we see them today. This is a common process done by women as they work with their hands spinning wool as a means of production.

image of woman spinning yarn with text overlay Holding the Distaff? What Proverbs 31:19 Really Means in Modern Society

The process of making the yarn begins by using one hand to hold the distaff, where the wool is attached. Then you pull a section of the wool out with your other free hand.

The distaff used to hold the fleece at one end while the other was used to pull out parts from it. The first hand that was used on the spindle was then able to hold onto those balls being created. It was an effective way to work on the fleece, but I can see how there could be some discomfort with it.

Proverbs 31:19 which has to do with knowledge, so I believe the Lord placed it there for us to learn how to apply this kind of practical knowledge.

A Wife of Noble Character in Biblical Times

I’ll admit, these tools mentioned in Proverbs 31:19 that are not commonly (if ever) used today, but it’s important to look at them to understand that spinning yarn was hard work on the hands.

As we’ve learned, the Proverbs 31 woman isn’t afraid of hard work and often, her hands take a beating. Hands are mentioned throughout the Bible and we’ll be discussing that in a future post but take note that hardworking hands are not enough.

A woman needs to be skillful at her tasks. In biblical times, God prepared women to be skilled in spinning the various fabrics for the complex decorating of the tabernacle (Exodus 35:25-26) The English language originally called such skillful women spinsters, though that name now has very different connotations. A woman must know how to do at least basic domestic and other hand tasks skillfully in order to be the virtuous wife described in verse Proverbs 31:19.

And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair.

– Exodus 35:25-26 (ESV)

The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 was a very competent woman at many levels. She bought and managed commercial real estate and manufacturing businesses to help build the family estate (Proverbs 31:16, 24) and she could also spin thread from raw materials. She could take a spinning wheel and loom and teach maidens how to make cloth perfectly (Proverbs 31:15). She could do the work herself, show how it should be done, and teach others.

She makes linen garments and sells them;
    she delivers sashes to the merchant.

Proverbs 31:24 (ESV)

The Modern-Day Wife of Noble Character and Proverbs 31:19

The modern-day wife of noble character does not spin cloth to make clothes. It would be a waste of her skills and time. She can buy clothes at the mall (or online!) that are made well and not terribly expensive. She makes better use of her time by learning other skills (mending, cooking, knowledge in her profession, etc.) and using her earnings to buy the clothes and other household items that she needs.

But when the situation calls for it or out of necessity, she can “do it from scratch,” whether in the closet or the kitchen. When she needs to, she can make cakes not from a boxed mix (although, sometimes, it’s the way to go!) and can cook to satisfy her husband and family. (Genesis 18:6, 27:9). This is a woman worth more than rubies!

What should a Proverbs 31:19 woman learn to do skillfully today?

  • Plan and prepare good meals for your husband and family.
  • Learn to use or improve your computer skills for research, when needed.
  • Know first aid
  • How to do basic mending of clothing. (This is one that I honestly am terrible about!) 
  • Plan her days and weeks to be productive.
  • Communicate effectively with her husband, co-workers, and fellow church congregants.
  • Know how where and how to buy food and household items at the best prices.
  • Balance her checkbooks.
  • Decorate a house for appeal, comfort, and investment.
  • Find and use the best appliances and tools inside and outside the house.

This is the perfect woman, as described by a mother for her son (Proverbs 31:1-2).

An excellent wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.

Proverbs 31:10 (ESV)

  • She fears the LORD with all her heart (Proverbs 31:30)
  • Her husband can trust in her completely, because she will do him good and right every day of her life (Proverbs 31:11-12)

The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life. –

Proverbs 31:11-12 (ESV)

After these two priorities, she is a diligent worker to provide for her family, her home, and build the family estate in any way she can. She is diligent and skillful in the use of her hands.

What do your hands do in the course of your day? What skills do you think a wife of noble character, a wife described in Proverbs 31:19, needs to be successful in today’s world?

Spiritual Implications of the Proverbs 31:19 Woman

There is a human tendency to want to classify our activities according to one of two categories: spiritual or secular. We believe that what we do at and for the church (preaching, teaching, ushering, tithing etc.) is more important than what we do elsewhere. Consequently, people tend judge spirituality by how much time they spend in church and esteem ministry careers as more important than so called “secular” ones.

But is that how God views things? I don’t believe so, at all. Why? Because God did not create a body of believers first, He first created a couple: a husband and a wife, to whom He gave stewardship of the earth. While the church is the community of believers, the basic spiritual unit is husband and wife.

The Church’s impact on the world is not in how many folks attended last week, but in the influence its membership has on their day to day living. This idea should be significant because our daily activities are what truly reflect who we are as Christians, and it helps us understand that church attendance doesn’t necessarily make someone a good Christian.

In reading Proverbs 31:10-31, we see this spiritual principle given as fact. Nowhere do we see a list of the Excellent Woman’s religious activities because her most powerful ministry is to her family and home.

God’s inspired, inerrant Word describes an excellent and perfect wife as a homemaker. Why? Because her God-given ministry is her family and home. She creates a stable refuge from the pressures of the world for her husband and children; she uses spiritual gifts to train future generations who impact others for Christ.

Young beautiful woman ironing clothes in room on grey background for the post Holding the Distaff? What Proverbs 31:19 Really Means in Modern Society

God’s inspired, inerrant word speaks about how women should be leaders at church but that they shouldn’t because their true work lies within their homes where they provide stability during difficult times while also molding young minds into strong believers by using what god gifted them with to influence these individuals positively.

We are in a day and age where the home is no longer at the center of family life. Instead, it has become an investment that houses your personal effects while you collect mail or get some quick sleep before rushing off to work, church, school, football practice, piano lessons, ballet rehearsal, garden club, etc.

Many women joke that they aren’t domestically inclined because they don’t know how to sew on a button, or that they could burn even water. However, the excellent qualities of the Proverbs 31 Woman are learned skills. She started at the same skill level as all other women do and developed what she learned into masterful abilities through her life experiences. I think we can also take those steps towards becoming more skilled in our own domestic capabilities by learning from one another!

I encourage Christian women today to recognize the value of their family and home ministry as one of great significance.

Take a look at this brief video by Angelica Duncan on Proverbs 31:19-20

If you want to dig deeper into Proverbs 31:19 and the rest of the biblical description of the Proverbs 31 woman, 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.

You may also wish to check out our sister site, A Virtuous Home’s signature course A Virtuous Home, where we focus on our family as our first ministry, the basis of Proverbs 31:19.

Because of Him,

Sue

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Susan is a writer, speaker and the creator of Women of Noble Character ministries. She is passionate about helping Christian women deepen their walk with God through Bible study and creative worship and strengthen their marriages.

She lives in rural North Central Missouri with her handsome and hilarious husband and a myriad of dogs, cats and chickens.

Susan runs on Jesus, coffee and not enough sleep.

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