She makes for herself, coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple (vs. 22)-
Moving on to the next verse revealing what the Proverbs 31 woman does with her hands, we find that after blessing others, after looking after her household and servants, she makes something for herself. This is notable because it is the only time in the entire passage about her life that we see her ever doing something for herself. When reading this verse, I wondered what all it implied? What are coverings of tapestry?
From Matthew Poole’s Commentary,
Coverings of tapestry, for the furniture of her house.
Silk and purple, which was very agreeable to her high quality, though it doth not justify that luxury in attire which is now usual among persons of far lower ranks, both for wealth and dignity. (3)
Other translations say “bed coverings,” and it more than likely was both that she made. Rugs, wall tapestries, coverings for her furniture, as well as coverings for their beds. This verse confronts a topic many Christians feel a little uncomfortable in talking about: the value of outward appearances and beauty.
What is the importance, if any, in our virtuous woman beautifying her house? There must be some hidden virtue here, for it wouldn’t be mentioned in the Bible otherwise. The secret? Beauty shows us an element of the divine artistic Creator, Himself. Yes it can be misapplied or become an idol, but the artistic skill of creating beauty, seeking to make one’s home a beautiful place, is another essential character trait of our virtuous woman that reveals the character of God!
Of course we know that the Proverbs 31 woman doesn’t go into debt in order to buy merchandise to furnish their home, she makes it herself, for herself! We know she would never harm her husband buy spending more than they have in order to achieve a beautiful home, and this can be applied even to wives with little extra spending money in their budgets! For several years, I was able to beautify our home with choice pieces I’d find from thrift stores, things my Grandma or mother didn’t use anymore and wanted to give away, and I was amazed to find how easy it was to create a look of elegance without hardly spending anything at all! It was too easy, and you can do it, too! Creating a beautiful place for your husband and children to retreat to, is an extremely valuable character trait as a wife.
Elizabeth George has a perfect quote on this subject,
“Wherever home is for you, it’s an expression of you – your virtues, your abilities, your love. You may not be able to determine the kind of home you have, but you can determine its beauty. You control whether it’s clean, organized, and orderly. You also choose your favorite colors, styles, and moods.” (5)
Our homes are a kind of blank slate of the kind of culture we want to present to our children. Do we want them to be familiar with a culture of order and beauty, or of constant mess and clutter? Consider the kind of music we play in our homes that serves to create the atmosphere which will give our children culture. It’s been a goal of mine that our sons grow up hearing and being familiar with music that transcends our time with it’s beauty. They listen to many different genres such as classical, jazz, European styles, French music, Brazilian music, Spanish music, Mexican music, as well as kid music that they dance around to. Whatever music we have on at the time, it permeates through the house and has the power to completely transform a mood with it’s particular beauty. The visual beauty is no less important, so let’s think about how we’ve spending time on the appearances of our homes.
You may think this all sounds just a little too Martha Stewart for you, and in a way I agree. The Proverbs 31 woman is a little like Martha Stewart on steriods! There’s a reason Martha Stewart has become so popular, as well as so hated, for the success and beauty she’s created for years. Women who desire to beautify their homes and become proactive in learning to create and develop their own particular home beauty, love her. Women who feel like they don’t have the time or energy, or who just don’t want to feel like beauty of their home matters, feel ashamed when they see what she’s done. It is the same reactions we see in how women choose to respond to the Proverbs 31 woman: they either use it as something to model their life after, to challenge themselves to be better, or they discount her virtues and claim it’s not possible, that she never existed, or choose to ignore the passage in the Bible.
You can choose to ignore verse 22 on the Proverbs 31 woman, but you ignore it at a peril of misunderstanding God’s heart. He Himself is the Master Creator and Appreciator of beauty. When we engage in activities that beautify our homes, we’re employing a gift God displays Himself, in everything He has created. Let’s not diminish how important outward appearances really are in this case. If they’re that important to God, that He spent time creating such beautiful things – sunrises, sunsets, the ocean, lush and beautiful gardens of plants, rivers and streams, mountains, the clouds, fields of flowers, birds, fish, and animals and humans – everything so detailed and perfectly done.
If all this beauty is so important to God, may it also be just as important to us.
Her clothing is silk and purple –
The “silk” mentioned in this verse is not silk as we know it – but Egyptian byssup, which was a beautiful, white (as close to white as they could obtain then), linen. It was light and airy, perfectly tailored to wear in their arid environment for their comfort.
This purple mentioned here is extremely significant both historically and biblically. It was a color achieved from only one source available for creating the vibrant and beautiful hue in that age. Tyrian Purple, or sometimes called, Phoenician Purple, it was a mysterious purple-red color that actually deepened and shown more radiantly when aged or exposed to the sun, rather than fade like most dyes still are known to do.
“The purple was manufactured by the Phoenicians from a marine mollusk (shellfish). The shell was broken in order to give access to a small gland which was removed and crushed. The crushed gland gives a milky fluid that becomes red or purple on exposure to the air. Piles of these broken shells still remain on the coast at Sidon and Tyre” (The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. IV, p. 2509).
Purple was prized by the ancients and exported far and wide. “Great labor was required to extract the purple dye, and thus only royalty and the wealthy could afford the resulting richly colored garments” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 904).
A total of 250,000 mollusks was required to make one ounce of the dye, which helps us to understand how valuable this dye was (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 288). (2)
Henry Pliny, or Pliny the Elder, described the production of Tyrian purple in his Natural History, which although an incredible insight into the process, was not considered to be a “complete recipe,” of sorts:
The most favourable season for taking these [shellfish] is after the rising of the Dog-star, or else before spring; for when they have once discharged their waxy secretion, their juices have no consistency: this, however, is a fact unknown in the dyers’ workshops, although it is a point of primary importance. After it is taken, the vein [i.e. hypobranchial gland] is extracted, which we have previously spoken of, to which it is requisite to add salt, a sextarius [about 20 fl. oz.] about to every hundred pounds of juice. It is sufficient to leave them to steep for a period of three days, and no more, for the fresher they are, the greater virtue there is in the liquor. It is then set to boil in vessels of tin [or lead], and every hundred amphoræ ought to be boiled down to five hundred pounds of dye, by the application of a moderate heat; for which purpose the vessel is placed at the end of a long funnel, which communicates with the furnace; while thus boiling, the liquor is skimmed from time to time, and with it the flesh, which necessarily adheres to the veins. About the tenth day, generally, the whole contents of the cauldron are in a liquefied state, upon which a fleece, from which the grease has been cleansed, is plunged into it by way of making trial; but until such time as the colour is found to satisfy the wishes of those preparing it, the liquor is still kept on the boil. The tint that inclines to red is looked upon as inferior to that which is of a blackish hue. The wool is left to lie in soak for five hours, and then, after carding it, it is thrown in again, until it has fully imbibed the colour.” (5)
The process was difficult and daunting, and the length of approximately two weeks alone shows the devotion the Phoenicians had to making this lucrative dye! It was famous for centuries, and mentioned throughout the entire Bible.
We could completely disregard the literal sense of fine linen and purple cloth in this verse, and instead take it for spiritual symbolism. The problem with that, however, is they are used throughout the Bible as both literal pieces of clothing and garments, as well as symbolic. The fine linen was spun by the “wise-hearted women” who were moved to create the fabric of the Tabernacle we read about in Exodus. Fine linen is also presented to the woman who represents Israel (and us) in Ezekiel 16:3-14, before she turned away from God:
“You are to say: This is what the Lord God says to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth were in the land of the Canaanites. Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your birth, your umbilical cord wasn’t cut on the day you were born, and you weren’t washed clean with water. You were not rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one cared enough about you to do even one of these things out of compassion for you. But you were thrown out into the open field because you were despised on the day you were born.
I passed by you and saw you lying in your blood, and I said to you as you lay in your blood: Live! Yes, I said to you as you lay in your blood: Live! I made you thrive like plants of the field. You grew up and matured and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, but you were stark naked.
Then I passed by you and saw you and you were indeed at the age for love. So I spread the edge of My garment over you (redeeming her) and covered your nakedness. I pledged Myself to you, entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine.” This is the declaration of the Lord God.
“I washed you with water, rinsed off your blood, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth and provided you with leather sandals. I also wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with jewelry, putting bracelets on your wrists and a chain around your neck. I put a ring in your nose, earrings on your ears, and a beautiful tiara on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was made of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey, and oil. You became extremely beautiful and attained royalty. Your fame spread among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor, which I had bestowed on you.” This is the declaration of the Lord God.”
The fine linen here is meant to be both literal in the story, and also symbolic in Him making her clean, purified, and glorious because she is His. Biblically, we also see the specific purple color mentioned in verse 22, all through the Old and New Testament, giving us a biblical understanding of the uses and symbolic glory this color means.
“Purple cloth was used in the furnishings of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:4), in Solomon’s temple (2 Chron. 2:14; 3:14) and in the high priest’s dress (Exodus 25:4; 26:21). It was a royal garment worn by kings (Judges 8:26). It was a symbol of luxury and wealth, worn by the rich man of Luke 16:19 and by the luxurious harlot woman of Revelation 18:16. In Mark 15:17,20 our Saviour was mockingly dressed in purple when a kingly robe was put around Him. Lydia was a seller of purple (Acts 16:14).” (2)
Let’s look at when this specific purple is mentioned throughout the Bible again:
- Purple cloth furnished the Tabernacle
- Purple cloth furnished Solomon’s temple (workers who were from Tyre were brought in who specifically knew how to work with purple threads and fine linen)
- Purple cloth was part of the high priest’s dress
- Purple clothing was a royal garment worn by kings
- Purple fabric (and also fine linen) was present at the king’s banquet in Esther 1:6
- Purple robes of fine linen covered Mordecai when he left the king’s presence in victory in Esther 8:15
- Purple was made into clothing and worn by the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31
- Purple and fine linen from Egypt covered the ship from Tyre written about in Ezekiel 27
- Purple and fine linen was worn by the rich man in Luke 16:19 who didn’t want to give up his possessions
- Jesus was mockingly given a purple robe when crucified – to mock His being “king” of the Jews
- Lydia was a seller of purple – of the cloth or dye, and more than likely both, (but not mentioned as worn by her) in the New Testament
- Purple was worn by the luxurious harlot in Revelation 18:16
We also know from history that in Rome, it was restricted by law, who could wear this color. Only the Emperor was allowed to don this much coveted, vibrant and extravagant hue in their society. This history surrounding the use of Phoenician purple is so rich, it threw me even more in trying to understand why it is mentioned here as being something our Proverbs 31 woman dressed herself in.
This purple dye was so incredibly expensive, and such a status symbol when worn, that different societies put restrictions around who was even able to buy or wear it!
Women were supposed to dress in an unassuming way, not bringing attention to themselves – why does the Proverbs 31 woman dress in clothing that resembles what royalty would wear? Why would she dress in something that was such a status symbol and so extremely expensive?
In contemplating the virtuous woman’s wearing of this purple, 1 Peter 3:3-4 came to mind,
“3 Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. 4 You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”
At a cursory glance, one could read this passage and interpret it to mean that we aren’t to be “concerned” about our outward beauty at all, or wear expensive jewelry (some women are convicted that they shouldn’t wear their wedding rings), or braid our hair – as some translations say “braided hair.” It’s important to always go back to the Greek wording for understanding and also to consider the context through the use of a good concordance of where the words are used elsewhere in the Bible. The word here for “beautiful,” in this version, is actually kosmos in Greek. It is where we get our words for cosmopolitan (a person who has lived in and knows about many different parts of the world), or cosmetic (of, relating to, or making for beauty especially of the complexion, done or made for the sake of the appearance), and cosmetology (the job or skill of giving beauty treatments to women by washing and cutting hair, applying makeup, etc.). The Greek meaning itself translates to “worldly” or “of the world,” but in the case of this particular verse, most biblical scholars agree it is translated as “adornments,” or “adorning,” (6).
It’s easy to take this passage too far and announce that a woman should never adorn herself with worldly beauty, but that is not the main point of the passage itself. The main point is that her beauty should come from within, the beauty of a peaceful and quiet spirit that is so hard to obtain for most women. If we only adorn ourselves with outer beauty, we may look wonderful, but our spirits (where are true beauty should be residing) may be as repelling as if we had dressed ourselves in trash! I’ve always believed that inner beauty is capable of giving a woman radiance, and this radiance itself affects the outside, making her beautiful and captivating the more she reveals it. It still bothered me, though, to wonder at such expensive apparel adorning our virtuous woman. It didn’t bode well to know that a “luxurious harlot,” in Revelation, or the young rich man in Luke 16:19 also wore these same garments. Weren’t his fine linen and purple an outward symbol of his love of material things, the main reason he could not become a true follower of Christ?
As I was asking myself these questions, talking it over with my husband and friends, I had to concede that maybe I have a somewhat puritanical view of worldly things that doesn’t completely line up with a holistic biblical view. My own views are not much different from the woman who decides her wedding ring should not be worn, just of a different flavor. We all come to God’s Word with different experiences, see through different lenses, and bring our own colored perspective – but in searching for truth and wisdom, we have to be able to be able to pray and ask questions around issues that look controversial.
Here are some questions I thought were valid in searching out why this was mentioned in the Bible, maybe you have some these, too.
Was it a pride issue?
No, really. I’m asking if the Proverbs 31 woman had an issue with pride. Bear with me here. Aside from 1 Peter 3 warning against expensive clothing, isn’t it just a tad bit prideful or wrong to wear something so expensive, so out of reach for the common woman? I grew up in a little town that often seemed completely absorbed and enraptured with status symbols, owning multiple expensive cars, wealth, and accumulation of material things. In one area close to where I lived, the people who owned the mansions there, were so in debt that they had the highest suicide rate in the surrounding area for a time. Pride and the desire to be seen with such signs of material “wealth,” were what drove this town’s people to failed relationships and destruction. My parents raised my brother and I knowing these things, being aware of the perils of spending more than you could afford, and lived with a more “millionaire next-door,” mentality. My parents taught me to never buy clothes unless they were on sale. It was almost like a sin to me to pay full price for anything. Sometimes this meant only buying jeans at the one time a year they were offered at a price of $10 (these were high dollar jeans, too!). My parents were extremely unassuming, overly modest in dress and appearance, at one time, my dad was even mistaken for a homeless man! This was something I adored about them, but not everyone understood or felt the same way.
So admittedly, I’m coming to this verse with a very peculiar background of constantly being taught that to spend large amounts of money, no matter your position in society or wealth, was wrong and a display of a lack of wisdom. In our house, being frugal in all things was equated with wisdom. It was a mindset passed down from my paternal Grandfather who had weathered the Great Depression successfully, and eventually accrued great wealth.
It’s very likely that the Proverbs 31 woman was wealthy. We saw before, when looking in depth at all it took to plant and run a vineyard, that only the wealthy could manage something like that. The Bible frequently makes it clear that it is not wrong to have wealth, in fact, in Post 8 we saw that “wealth is the crown of the wise.” It’s a wise woman that is able to provide her husband “gain,” which meant material possessions equivalent to the spoils of having gone to war in verse 11, and great investments like planting a vineyard. It’s also not wrong to be known among others as someone who is wealthy – Job was a wealthy and blessed man, and so was Abraham; Boaz was known as the wealthiest man in Bethlehem at his time. I imagine Ruth dressed in beautiful, fine linen after they became married, because she reflected her husband and her respect for him. She was called a “virtuous woman,” and her strength and virtue came from within. Joseph became wealthy and prominent in Egypt; Queen Esther quickly became the wealthiest woman among several provinces, and dressed in clothing probably much like what verse 22 is describing of our Proverbs 31 woman. King Xerxes himself owned robes of this famous purple color, it makes sense that he would desire his wife Esther, to be dressed in the same way.
Did she have a modesty problem?
Our virtuous woman wears colors that are bright and signify what the rich, wealthy, or even royal of that time wore – was this just her way of saying “Look at Mee!”? Was she too confident in her work, that we see her confidence over-displayed through her choice of such a bold, symbolic color in the clothing she made for herself? Was she trying to get attention from others as being the best dressed, having the most expensive clothing money could buy, or to be most beautiful woman in their area?
Is it wrong for us to wear clothing that is nice and of high quality and with rich, vibrant colors? If our outfits are drawing attention to us, or causing people to compliment how we look, should we feel bad or try to dress a little more shabby? The obvious answer is no.
Modesty is a heart issue. We know she was humble and pure in her attitude and heart, sacrificially putting her husband and children first, caring so much about the poor and needy, and employing a continual ministry of hospitality. She had the inner beauty that 1 Peter 3:3-4 talks about, her adornment didn’t truly come from her clothing, but from the qualities of gentleness and peace in her spirit.
When researching on this topic of the balance of wearing such an expensive and famous purple dye, with having an inward spirit of beauty and godliness, I stumbled upon Ezekiel 27:7. Ironically describing a ship from Tyre, covered in it’s famous purple hues and fine linen. Matthew Henry’s Commentary confronts the questions I was asking concerning the worldly trade and possession of this dye:
“Those who live at ease are to be lamented, if they are not prepared for trouble. Let none reckon themselves beautified, any further than they are sanctified. The account of the trade of Tyre intimates, that God’s eye is upon men when employed in worldly business. Not only when at church, praying and hearing, but when in markets and fairs, buying and selling. In all our dealings we should keep a conscience void of offence.
God, as the common Father of mankind, makes one country abound in one commodity, and another in another, serviceable to the necessity or to the comfort and ornament of human life.
See what a blessing trade and merchandise are to mankind, when followed in the fear of God. Besides necessaries, an abundance of things are made valuable only by custom; yet God allows us to use them. But when riches increase, men are apt to set their hearts upon them, and forget the Lord, who gives power to get wealth.” (7)
So it is God who blesses us with the ability to harvest such things as the radiant purple dye for “comfort and ornament of human life!” And it is God who allows us to use them. He keeps His eye upon us as we have to live in the world, but His eye isn’t so much on our outward appearance, but rather on the inside of our hearts, and our consciences. It is clear the Proverbs 31 woman, although she dressed in fine linen and purple, did not set her heart upon her adornments, and didn’t forget God who gave her and her husband power to gain wealth.
Is she an “envy inciter?”
Wearing this specific Phoenician, brilliant purple was considered extravagant, in fact, purple color in general was not available to the masses or commonly worn by people of lesser ranks until less than 200 years ago.
“You have probably heard the term “mauve” in decorating and design before; this is short for “Mauveine, which was first synthesized in 1856 by William Henry Perkin.
The creation of this dye was done on accident when its inventor was trying to synthesize quinine. Noticing the gorgeous purple color that the black tar he created left as a stain, he realized that it was the perfect agent for a synthetic purple dye. This invention made owning purple dyed fabrics and cloths affordable for almost everyone in the world. Mauve enjoyed a glorious era after it was released, with much of Europe clamoring to be seen in purple clothes, and have purple cloths adorning their homes.” (9)
So she was wearing a color that hardly anyone had access to, and one that particularly symbolized wealth and status, much like that of a Rolls Royce. Was she making the other women in the neighborhood feel bad about their own clothes on purpose, or even by accident? Was she a temptation that men had to warn their own wives about because somehow our virtuous woman’s clothing may cause other women to compare or feel discontented? If her desire really was to cause others to envy, then it is coming from an unhealthy motivation.
But this being a biblical example of all that is virtuous and pure, the model of what God sees as beautiful, her heart’s desire was not to cause others to envy, and she was not responsible when someone else allowed their heart to envy, or to feel discontented in their own clothing.
Envy is a sin of a person’s own heart that eventually can lead to cynicism and bitterness; it is capable of completely destroying a woman’s faith. It is only to be curbed by understand Paul’s “secret” of contentment that with whatever gifts or lack of gifts, positive or negative circumstances, blessings or trials that God has given us.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13
Like we saw when we looked at in Post 6, it is our own responsibility for our spiritual growth – this means taking responsibility for the subtle pangs of envy or discontent when we feel them, not shifting blame to other people. This means we “take every thought captive,” when it comes up and we feel those feelings of sinful emotions. Envy is simply not a sin we can blame others for, if there is a woman trying to “incite envy,” she bears the weight of her own sins. We are, however, wholly responsible for how we react to other people or temptations around us. Any person who accuses her of being an envy inciter is allowing themselves to shift the blame of their own sin, and refusing to do the work required to become content in the circumstances God’s given them.
Overall, I think these are questions that highly mischaracterize and misunderstand the beauty of the heart behind the Proverbs 31 woman, but they are ways that Christianity has been jerked around throughout the ages. The short answer to all these at once? No. God Himself clothed His bride in fine linen and royal garments in Ezekiel 16. God’s example of what He clearly condones and views as beautiful femininity is not her displaying pride, being immodest in her character, or trying to incite others to envy. That doesn’t mean that other people won’t see these things from the outside and judge her character based on their own feelings, or sin nature, however.
“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b
Let’s examine what the virtuous woman is really doing here: she makes all the family clothing and furnishings for their house herself, nothing wrong with that, although one could argue that it could have “shamed” the women back in her time that were too busy or didn’t care enough to do this. Like we saw before, this is the same argument women use against people like Martha Stewart. But our virtuous woman does not live her life by fearing the opinions of other men and women. We know that “fear of man is a snare” (Proverbs 29:25), and so she is not concerned if others project onto her their displeasure at her fine linens and purple clothing.
She seeks after good quality raw materials, and uses her profits to purchase things that will bless her family. She works and creates as though she is working for God. When she purchases the purple dye that is so expensive, we have to see this in light of the entire passage – she is not spending more than they can afford, she is not doing something her husband wouldn’t be ok with her doing. She is not doing something that would bring him (and his finances) harm. When she wears the beautiful fine linen, and shows off the dazzling and precious purple clothing she makes for herself with her hands, she is a walking advertisement for her home business and gifted talents. The bottom line is: Our virtuous woman was so caught up in her duties, in the work of the Lord, in blessing her family through the work of her hands, that her outer dress and beauty was not the focus of her life.
Her focus was on being the best wife to her husband she could be. Her focus was on raising up her children in the Lord. She was busy reaching out to the poor and doing good works. She didn’t give in to idleness as a habit – she’d learned to not eat the bread of idleness and learned to use all her time wisely. She was others-focused, not self-absorbed.
Given all these things, it’s clear that her intentions were pure. Wearing such expensive and elusive clothing wasn’t due to some flaw in her character, it was simply coming from a part of who she was. Her adornments and beautiful clothing was a byproduct, even a symbol, of the blessings coming from the work of her hands!
Applications coming out with the third portion of this post