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Honor noble women of strength, skill, and capability

March is Women’s History Month. When did this celebration begin? Writer, Andrea Wurzburger gives us the breakdown in an article in People magazine titled, “Women’s History Month: How It Started, Why We Celebrate in March… ?” Women’s History Month was initially International Women’s Day, a day that commemorated the February 28 meeting of socialists and suffragists in Manhattan, United States, in 1909. One year later, on March 8, 1910, according to BBC, a German activist named Clara Zetkin suggested that they recognize International Women’s Day at an International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. With 17 countries in attendance, they all agreed. In March 1980, after celebrations had spread across the country, President Jimmy Carter declared that March 8 was officially the start of National Women’s History Week. By 1987, the United States Congress declared the entire month of March Women’s History Month. Since then, every president has declared the month of March Women’s History Month. Around the world, this month is recognized as a time to celebrate the great successes of women.

It is imperative that we do recognize the great accomplishments of women, because for centuries, male chauvinists and traditionalists devalued their contributions and gifts to the world. Women were some of the greatest mathematicians, physicists, scientists, teachers, inventors, medical doctors, lawyers, etc. They created instruments, tools, methodologies and local and national policies, that the world is using today. However, far too often, the credit was given to the men – their bosses.

In one of my previous columns, “She wants a leader,” I shared accomplishments of a number of outstanding women that shaped the world – Kay McNulty, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas, Ruth Lichterman, Adele Goldstine – they invented the first mother board for computers; they were gifted mathematicians. Network engineer, Radia Perlman helped make ethernet technology a household name. Called the “queen of software” by some and “Grandma COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language)” by others, Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper helped invent some of the early English-language programming languages. These are just a few examples.

Women’s History Month helps us to put women in their rightful place – on the side of men as contributors to the development of the society. However, I still ask the question – do we really want this kind of woman? I ask this because far too many women still feel as though they have a glass ceiling to break. 

In another previous column, titled, “The unwanted virtuous woman”, I explored this question. Christian pulpits have preached about the Bible’s concept of a virtuous woman. They have eloquently expostulated on perhaps the most colorful description of a woman in the Bible found in Proverbs 31: 29-31. “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

I am sure you have heard the saying ‘a woman’s place is in the home’. I am suggesting that a proper study of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 gives us the idea that a woman’s role is not only in the home. Let me conjecture that another statement to balance the picture is a man’s role includes also being in the home. Does that make us feel uncomfortable? What I am attempting to do in this column is to compare Proverb 31:10-31 with Ephesians 5:21-25, and to examine the role of women mentioned in both passages. I am doing this because for too long, ministers of the gospel, teachers, community leaders, motivational speakers, and others have talked about what a good woman should be by quoting Proverbs 31:10-31, but prefer our women to live the restricted lifestyle of Paul’s Ephesians 5. In other words, I don’t believe that we are ready for the kind of woman described in Proverbs 31.

Note that it is only in the King James Version of the Bible that the word “virtuous” is used in Proverbs to describe women. In fact, some translations say, “Who can find a good wife?” A better word as used in more accurate modern translations, is the word “noble”. The word virtuous gives us the idea that the passage may be dealing mostly with the sexual behavior of women. This is not so. When we examine the passage, we can understand why the word noble is used. The word noble forces us to think about women differently. The Hebrew word “hayil” translated into “noble” in Proverbs 31:10 has various shades of meaning. They are “capability”, “skill”, “substance”, and “valor”. In fact, it is usually used to describe military might in the Old Testament (Exodus 14:4, 9, 28; Numbers 31:14; 2 Samuels 8:9; Isaiah 10:14; and Micah 4:13). Interestingly, another common usage of the Hebrew word “hayil” is “force” and “strength”. It is usually used to describe the strength of mind and body of an individual.

With this clarification, let us see how the writer of Proverbs 31 describes a woman of skill and strength. The husband fully leans on her or fully trusts her. Not only does the man’s wife make clothing and buy food, she also engages in real estate transactions, viniculture business, and cottage industry. Both the husband and the children of this woman praise her for her industriousness. Her earning power allows her husband to be “known in the city gates and take his seat among the elders of the land” (verse 23). Here are three outstanding roles of this noble woman described in Proverbs 31:16, 26 and 27: “She considers a field and buys it…”, “She speaks wisdom…”, “She watches over the affairs of her household”. I specifically mentioned these points because these are exactly what women in Apostle Paul’s times could not do and what many are still limited to today. Men, are you ready to honor the noble woman of strength, skill, and capability? They are all around us.

• Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist. Send your questions or comments to question@soencouragement.org or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org or call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002.

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