Blessed Alliance: Marriage and the Proverbs 31 Couple

July 25th, 2011
This article is featured in the Men's Church/Women's Church (Aug/Sept/Oct 2011) issue of Circuit Rider

For the six months leading up to the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) the topic generating the most speculation and putting hundreds of reporters on high alert for leaks was the bride’s wedding dress. Which designer would Kate choose? Modern or traditional? The length of the train? Even on the wedding day, anticipation of the bride’s appearance and the unveiling of “the dress” kept onlookers in suspense and trumped excitement over a non-stop parade of royals, dignitaries, and celebrities arriving at Westminster Abbey, including Prince William and the Queen herself.

In the end, no leak spoiled the surprise. The glowing bride made her long-awaited appearance, looking elegant and stunning in a long-sleeved, ivory lace and satin gown with a modest (by royal standards) eight-foot-long train, and a simple lace-edged veil held in place by a sparkling diamond tiara. And for the second time in thirty years, the world believed in fairytales, all the while crossing their fingers that Kate will not outshine Will, that their union will soon produce an heir, and above all with a wish and a prayer that, unlike with the marriage that gave birth to Will, this time the knot will hold.

Not every girl’s wedding dress conjures up fairytale visions of a “happily ever after” story, however. Reem Al Numery of Yemen wanted to burn hers. At the tender age of twelve she was forced by her father to marry her thirty-year-old cousin. Her so-called “husband” beat and raped her to consummate the marriage. The last thing Reem wanted was for the knot to hold. Later she recalled, “While my hair was styled for the ceremony, I thought of ways to set fire to my wedding dress. When I protested, my dad gagged me and tied me up. After the wedding, I tried to kill myself twice.”[i] Her desperation and fierce defiance earned her freedom along with worldwide admiration for her stubborn refusal to surrender to a frightening and appalling relationship.

Two marriages—one a dream come true, the other a nightmare. Both are wide of the mark of what God intends for relationships between men and women. When God created his male and female image bearers, he was naming them as a key kingdom strategy—his A-Team to speak and act on his behalf and to build his kingdom together. God crowned them with his blessing, then spread before them the whole earth, commissioning them to multiply image bearers, to live fruitful, productive lives, and to rule and subdue creation on his behalf. He gave them a world to explore, cultivate, and utilize and a kingdom to build. From the beginning, God chose male and female to be a Blessed Alliance to get the job done.

The Enemy’s first assault on humanity targeted the two strategic relationships on which God means to build his kingdom. With a single blow, the Enemy severed the relationship between God and his image bearers and drove a wedge between male and female. This has shaped the story of the human race ever since.

God never abandoned his vision for the world. He mobilized a rescue effort, sending Jesus to restore the relationship between himself and his prodigal image bearers and to rebuild the strategic alliance he originally intended between male and female. Yet even before Jesus comes, the Bible gives us powerful examples of this Blessed Alliance in action. One comes in a private conversation between a mother and her son. She is coaching him as he formulates criteria in his search for a bride. Her advice encompasses marriage, but (as marriage is intended to do) extends well beyond marriage to open our eyes to the kingdom potency God unleashes when his sons and daughters serve him together.

The Proverbs 31 conversation between King Lemuel and his mother is earthshaking. With shockingly counter-cultural brush strokes, the queen mother dismantles the world’s ways of valuing women. Instead she paints a portrait for her son of a bride who embraces her image bearer calling. Full-throttled kingdom living results, and the first to benefit is her husband.

I know a professor who would welcome the Queen Mother’s influence on young men at the well-known Christian college where he teaches. He was deeply disturbed to discover that submission was the quality young men were prizing most in women they dated, alarmed that the bright, gifted, promising young women in his classes were expected to bring less of themselves to relationships with men. But, as one young man sheepishly admitted, “Men generally feel threatened by the strength of a woman. If she is weaker and dependent, that makes it easier for him to lead.” [ii]

Leave it to a mother to shake things up. This mother redefines “submission” from a marital tie-breaker to a deep oneness forged by centering on God and his purposes in the world. The Proverbs 31 bride forms the magnificent grand finale of the book of Proverbs. She embodies wisdom. Like our own modern world, Ancient Near Eastern literature was preoccupied with a woman’s physical and sexual appeal. Historically, in patriarchal cultures, a woman’s value is determined by counting her sons. Lemuel’s mother quickly discards physical beauty as a deceptive, even hazardous, distraction from the qualities a man needs most in a wife. Even more shocking, she makes no mention of sons as a requirement for the ideal wife.

Instead, the king’s mother employs powerful military language, portraying a woman who is a force to be reckoned with for all the right reasons. Military language links the Proverbs 31 bride to Israel’s ancient heroes as a champion of others through her diligent employment of wisdom. She is a woman of “valor” (v. 10), language that links her with Israel’s ancient heroes and their mighty righteous deeds. Beginning at home, her influence eventually blesses the entire community. Like a conqueror gaining plunder (v. 15), she provides materially for her household and her servants. She girds her loins with strength, and her arms are powerful (v. 17). She laughs fearlessly at the future, for she is prepared (vv. 21, 25). A savvy businesswoman, she engages in profit-making ventures (vv. 18, 24), “opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (vv. 19-20). She counsels wisdom (v. 26) and merits public praise among city leaders (v. 31).[iii]

Meanwhile, what becomes of the Proverbs 31 man? Won’t a strong, high-achieving, successful woman emasculate her husband? And isn’t this the unspoken fear—​that a strong, competent, bread-winning wife will diminish her husband and cause him to look bad or withdraw? Does the Proverbs 31 man shrink in stature if his wife takes care of everything? If women are thriving, will men be diminished?

The Proverbs 31 man would do some laughing of his own at such a notion. God calls both male and female to live fully and use their gifts wholeheartedly for his kingdom. Both are called to love him with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind. When they do, a win-win results. Proverbs 31 is Exhibit A. Her husband stands taller in the community because he has such a wife. Her significant community-wide contributions are a source of pride for him. He relies on her wisdom—​not simply in managing her own widening spheres of influence, but as his best sounding board and wisest advisor. “She does him good, not harm, all the days of her life. . . .. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (vv. 12, 26).

Together they are stronger and more potent for God’s kingdom than either would be without the other. Far from merely hoping the knot will hold, this pair forges a kingdom alliance that is making a kingdom difference in their community. Not a threat or his competitor, she is his greatest ally. Their combined efforts multiply kingdom work, and both of them are flourishing.

Breathtaking as Kate Middleton looked when she arrived at Westminster Abbey to wed her prince, her dress is nothing compared to the bridal dress revealed at the glorious marriage of the Lamb. Yes, even the Bible is obsessed with the dress to be unveiled at the end. “For the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” The description of the fabric makes it clear that Jesus’ bride is active, fully engaged, and a solid contributor, for “fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev. 19:7-8). Jesus wants an active partner who embraces his vision for the world and gives her all to advance his purposes, bringing justice, mercy, compassion, and grace to a lost and hurting lost world.

Jesus is forging a Blessed Alliance with his bride. He is going to finish the job and he enlists her full participation in finishing it. The bride’s gown reminds us that our efforts make a difference, that heaven keeps score, that anything and everything we do for the kingdom is being woven into the mother of all wedding gowns, and that Jesus is calling his daughters to join his sons in building his kingdom together.


Read a Q&A with the author about her book, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women.

[i] Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 119.

[ii] James, 124.

[iii] Mark D. Futato, The Book of Psalms, and George M. Schwab, The Book of Proverbs (gen. ed., Philip W. Comfort; Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 7; Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2009), 661.

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