“What, O my son?
And what, O son of my womb?
And what, O son of my vows?”
These opening lines of Proverbs 31 are questions reflecting a mother’s heart as she ponders what wisdom to pass on to her son. She speaks passionately calling this man the son of her womb and son of her vows. The “son of my womb” is a direct statement that this is indeed her son, born of her womb and raised by her, and therefore there is all motherly affection and authority in the coming oracle. The “son of my vows” can relate both to marriage vows and to the vows between the mother and the Lord. Hannah’s son Samuel was the son of her vows. She prayers to the Lord and commits Samuel to Him should He grant her her request for a child (1 Samuel 1-2). The sense of commitement and covenant between King Lemuel’s parents and between his parents and God is very strong in this phrase.
Verses 4-9 are outlined as follows to make them easier to discuss. The similar colors are used to show how the literary structure of the verse transitions from one part of the topic to another, notes in brakets are my own, added for clarification.
Do not give your strength to women,
or your ways to that which destroys kings. (The next lines are an explanation and conclusion)
It is not for kings to drink wine (get drunk), or desire strong drink
For they will drink and forget what is decreed,
and pervert the rights of all the afflicted
[therefore] Give strong drink to him who is perishing and wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more.
The statement “do not give your strength to women” is both strong and pointed. It might worded today, “Don’t go sleeping around, don’t waste your time with trivial things like dating and uncommitted relationships when you could be learning how to run your kingdom and spending time seeking after wisdom and understanding”. This single verse presents a strong CONTRAST to the end of the chapter in which the mother devotes enough content for 21 verses about a very different kind of woman. The opening words of wisdom concern false women and/or false relationships with women on her sons part, the final words of wisdom concern a virtuous women in a virtuous relationship; “An excellent WIFE who can find?”
The second line of verse 3 uses a poetic synonym for the word “strength” from the first line, and that is “ways”. “Raise your child in the WAY he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). In Strong’s concordance this word, deh’rek, means a course of life or mode of action, and a mode is the result of ones motivation. If your motivation is to do evil then your mode of action, the method by which you act, will also be evil. Dr. Wilson makes another observation concerning ones deh’rek, that your WAY is your own, your own manner or bent, so to speak. I am naturally inclined, or bent, towards music and artistic things; this, therefore, could be called my WAY, my deh’rek. Therefore, the mother is cautioning her son not to let his WAYS become as she describes. It is not simply an admonishment not to drink, it is a clear warning against being consumed by that desire and taking on the likeness, or nature, of a drunkard. This principle is very applicable to us today because there are all sorts of influences in our lives and choices that we can make that are not wrong in moderation, like eating or sleeping, but when indulged in in excess become a part of our very nature, and can quickly become sin as the mother describes in her narrative of what drunk kings do.
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate.
Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
Part 1 gives the reader the “what not’s”, don’t do this, don’t do that. Part two concludes this section with the opposite, a directive or command TO DO something. The text communicates very clearly the responsibilities of leadership.
PART 3: The Proverbs 31 Woman, verses 10-31. Stay tuned!