“She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle.
“She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy.”
When I first looked at these two verses I would not have put them together. Even in my Bible the second verse, verse 20, is underlined and the one before it is not. I’m not sure when it was that I first read and thought through this chapter of Proverbs, but on returning to this passage I wanted to make sure that I caught the big picture before teaching on it. I’ve been thinking about these verses and the context for almost three days now and it finally clicked. What you are looking at is a comparison. You may have noticed the similar language but in Hebrew the matching verbs of verses 19 and 20 would be the equivalent of marking in bright red. The writer is so obviously connecting the meaning of these two verses together that it is almost easy to miss, and I thought I almost did.
The distaff and spindle are still used today as instruments of spinning, and, having tried it, it takes a LOT of practice to get the thread even and to keep the spindle going. The entire get up uses hand-eye co-ordination and gravity to turn common flax and wool into fine threads. For more details check out this blog link http://ferrelljenkins.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/the-distaff-and-the-spindle/ . If you haven’t yet thought in this study, “Wow, these tasks would be time consuming,” now would be the time. We read a few verses later that she makes clothing both for herself and to sell, another small business on the side. This completes the picture of weaving that is intertwined from the beginning of the Proverbs 30 Woman; she gathers the fibers of flax and wool, prepares them to be spun to thread, spins them, and spins enough to weave clothing for her whole family and some to sell. This is another typical Hebrew illustration, the process of weaving comes full circle, communicating a BIG PICTURE image of what it means to be diligent. This woman not only finishes her work, she is so diligent that she has created a demand for her labor through the sale of fine clothing, and so the process begins again, she must go gather more flax and wool. I should say that she GETS to go, or has the pleasure of going to get more wool and flax because verse 13 says that she does it with pleasure, or delight. Do you see the connection I’m making in the verses? Let this sink in a bit, read through the entire chapter again following the pattern and process of weaving and read the blog above. We often are in such a rush, even to learn, that we don’t take the time to slow down and really think through things.
Now, inter-woven with the web of weaving in these verses is the little comparison made in verse 19 and 20. In order to understand what these verses intend to say you absolutely must see the entire puzzle, or at least be looking for it. We found the connection, above, with a cyclical process of weaving. A circle is a symbol of something that is eternal and un-ending and so I have applied the word “diligence” as a key point that the author is trying to make. In verse 20, using the similar verbs stretchins, grasping and extending of the hands, the author links diligence to ministry, which is another word for service.
“She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle.
“She extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy. “
This looks like two verses, it is actually just as much one verse as it is two. In Hebrew this would be called an echad, a unity. All the meaning and inference that you gain in the pattern of weaving can and should be applied to understanding verse 20. Just as this woman delightedly and diligently spins her thread, so too does she have diligence and delight in caring for the poor and needy. How often do you delight in caring for the poor? If you are at all like me then you may have cringed at it sometimes. Not because of the person who needs you, but because of the inconvenience it is to us. We have SOOOO much to do, right? Our lives are SOOOO important, our ministry is SOOOO important…. Ministry means service, and it is both convicting and compelling for me to read about this woman’s delight in serving the poor. This is why short term mission trips are so powerful in our lives because they force us away from our habitual life styles and compel us to interact with different people, cultures, and languages; they show us the delight of service. But it is by far more challenging and more rewarding to engage in a long term missions lifestyle because that is exactly what service and ministry must become: A LIFESTYLE. Speaking from experience, it takes at least one whole year for habits to build to the point where they are your lifestyle, how you live normally without even thinking much about it. Many habits take much longer.
In our homes, in our own towns and cities, learning to delight in serving and ministering takes the diligence of the Proverbs 31 Woman. She has a pattern of rising early to make bread for her family, a habit of searching for flax and wool and preparing it to be ready. She has made the necessity of weaving into, not only a JOY, but a profit that aids her family financially, by turning a tedious, necessary into a desirable and delightful habit. She not only has her regular household habits like caring for the lamps (a symbol of life, perhaps the lives of her family and household?) and cooking, she runs an agricultural business and a sewing business on the side, and there is NEVER EVER any mention of her husband or children being neglected. In fact as we come to find, her husband praises her name in the gates to all of the other wealthy and learned men who gather in the gates to pray and talk. Husbands, do you brag about the talents and abilities of your wives in public? Do other men and women know how special and wonderful she is in your eyes? And yet to all this we must add even more. In all of our household duties, our businesses, our cares and delights, we must put all of the energy, wisdom, valor and diligence of that labor into a HABIT of caring for the poor and needy. More than that we must become talented at it, we must practice it daily as this woman practices her weaving.
Do you have a habit of ministry outside of your home? Something that occupies your time on a regular daily basis that is NOT your family? This may anger some of you, and I understand and agree that raising our children in the Lord and serving them and our husbands (and husbands your wives and children) is very demanding and time consuming. But our ministry cannot be confined to our children if we ever expect them to reach out to others in need and learn habits of service as well. This is a tough one for me, taking more time to get out and spend time with people is difficult and exhausting, add however many children probably have to go with you and the effort doubles or quadruples. I hope that you have a church out there that demonstrates these kinds of habits and can support and encourage your family to build them too. A wise mother posed this rhetorical question to me that inspires me: “How can I expect my children to know Christ if I don’t know Him? How will they learn the Word of God if I don’t know it?”
As an assignment I thought about having you write out all of the attributes of the Proverbs 31 Woman, but I changed my mind. I want you to write out YOUR attributes. I want you to sit down tomorrow and make a list of your talents, attributes and abilities. If someone has complimented you on something and you’re not even sure you believe it, write it down! They saw it in you perhaps it’s time to start seeing it in yourself. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, this is a valuable thing to do. Share your list with your spouse and talk about it, then ADD something to their list that is new 😀 If you are not married, find a friend and do this with them.
Remember, you are made in the image and likeness of God and with Him ALL things are possible!