When I began this, I came across this fact in one of the commentaries: this chapter isn't specifically directed towards women. Don't believe me? Read verse 1 of this chapter: "The words of King Lemuel that his mother taught him." We women can most certainly benefit from studying this chapter, and we should study this, but the original intended audience was a young man in search of a wife.
Most scholars agree that King Lemuel was Solomon, which would make his mother none other than Bathsheba. Her life had certainly taught her the importance of being a woman of virtue. All that follows in this chapter is advice that she gave her son on how to pick a woman. I believe that this is the intent of Proverbs 31. We shouldn't feel like we are failing if we can't master everything on this list. These attributes should serve as goals to work towards, not as things we must do. Not everything in this chapter is going to be attainable by every woman. However, the near-impossible nature of this chapter shouldn't cause us to ignore this list, or dismiss it as unreasonable. If this chapter is important enough to be included in the Bible, you can guarantee that we, as women, can benefit from studying this.
Who can find a virtuous wife? For her price is far above rubies.
The phrase more than rubies implies that a woman of virtue is rare. She is not just any girl in town, but a special prize. Other translations use diamonds or jewels to describe the worth of this woman. While this analogy may seem strange to us, remember that in Bible times, men had to pay a dowry for their bride. The more valuable the girl, the higher the price. For a girl to have jewels for her price, she would have been royalty. For her to be worth even more than jewels is to say that a woman of virtue is the highest treasure that a man can hope to have.
A ruby is elsewhere used in the Bible to describe how illusive wisdom can be (Proverbs 8:11). One commentary remarks that the value of this woman is placed on her character, not on her works. While her good works are to be admired, her character is what makes her noteworthy. Her character is what is deemed the most desirable. When we look to this woman as an example, we need to look first to her character. Without her character, it is impossible to achieve her works. Much like Mary and Martha, we need to choose that which is best over that which is merely good.
I don't know about other people, but I know for myself that this is difficult. I am very project-driven. I would much rather follow a checklist of things to do than to regulate my attitude. For a big-picture example, consider how easy it is to get caught up into legalism regarding dress and behavior, and how difficult it is to love our neighbor, turn the other cheek, and forgive 70 times 70. We would much rather do things that require physical action than to do things that require heart action.
It is interesting to note that the word used for virtuous (chayil) is used two other times in the Bible to reference women. Once to describe Ruth (Ruth 3:11), and also in Proverbs 12:4, when a virtuous woman is described as a crown to her husband. The rest of that verse goes on to say that the opposite of a virtuous woman, a shameful woman, serves as a rottenness to her husband's bones, a cancer.
When the word for virtue (chayil) is used in the Bible, it is dealing with strength, valor, and might. This doesn't apply only to physical strength, but also to strength of character. To be able to have all of the qualities of this woman, your moral character must be strong. You must be valiant to stand against any attempts to undermine your family. You must be able to resist temptation to take the easy way out of things.
My summary of Proverbs 31:10 - Moral virtue is more valuable than many works.
Please leave feedback as I go through this. If you think I overlooked an angle, got something wrong, or you just want to leave your opinion, please do so!