“She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants.”
Welcome back if you’re still following this series of posts about the Proverbs 31 woman! It’s been a lonnng time since the last post, but it’s been good for me to take a break in order to fully process all the things happening regarding the police and violence against them in our country. I could write many posts just about all the emotions I went through during this time, but I may save that for another lesson series in the future. For a few more weeks, this blog has the purpose of focusing on what God sees as beautiful, feminine character. We’re still zeroing-in on the virtues and powerful example of the woman talked about in Proverbs 31. For all the things that have happened during the course of writing this little series, it has still continued to prevail and change lives. I’ve had the wonderful experience of getting to hear how God’s used these posts to help open up women’s minds to new ways of looking at what truly matters, and it is so humbling to know that God is using these posts for His purpose in blessing others.
When I was researching for these verses, the image illustrated in my imagination was that of her going about their society, taking her merchandise to the ports in order to sell them to the merchants, walking through the markets buying the food she selectively picks out from them as we saw in verse 14. She moves through their city, going about doing good for her family, dressed in fine linens and yes, this strange and seemingly worldly choice of extravagant purple. She is a walking advertisement for the beauty that her hands create!
Let’s dive in fully to the meanings behind this verse.
She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants –
Another look into our virtuous woman’s talented mind for business! The word, “merchants,” used here, is literally “Cananites,” and it is talking about the Phoenician merchants.
“She delivered these goods to the merchants or traders. These were Phoenician traders, according to the meaning of the Hebrew word. Phoenicians were known for their trade and commerce and their skill as a seafaring people. Phoenicia’s two major ports were Tyre and Sidon.
The virtuous woman provided a source of income for her family through her business. “When other women impoverish their husbands by buying, she enriches her husband by selling those valuable commodities for which there is a constant demand” (George Lawson, Commentary on Proverbs, page 567).
“It is only modern pride and laziness which has introduced the idea that it is inconsistent with the dignity of a fine lady to make profit of her own manufactures. This virtuous woman, although her husband sits among the elders, does not think it a discredit, but an honor to herself, to make fine linen and girdles for sale; and the wise will praise her on account of it” (George Lawson, p. 576).” (2)
These were the same merchants she more than likely bought the purple cloth or garments, or the dye itself, from. She would take what she was able to afford, and increase it to bless others from the work of her hands!
She used her God-given talents to financially bless her family –
The woman in Proverbs 31 is much like Tabitha in that she makes clothing and looks after the poor and needy as we’ll see in verse 20; however, unlike what we know of Tabitha, she also uses her talents to gain a financial blessing in return. Let’s look in depth at what it means to use our gifts that God has given us in Matthew 25:14-30.
The Parable of the Talents the Master gives his servants:
14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.
15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more.
17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.
18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’
21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’
23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’
26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.
28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.
But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
What an incredible parable! And how convicting is it that we should be taking our callings, our gifts – our purpose so seriously. Historically, a “talent” was actually a large sum of money, however since Jesus loved to teach using parables, this was never really about the money! Still the comparison is important to understand because of how it relates to us and our relationship with God.
Here is some history regarding the setting of His story:
“The outward framework of the parable lies in the Eastern way of dealing with property in the absence of the owner. Two courses were open as an approximation to what we call investment. The more primitive and patriarchal way was for the absentee to make his slaves his agents. They were to till his land and sell the produce, or to use the money which he left with them as capital in trading. In such cases there was, of course, often an understanding that they should receive part of the profits, but being their master’s slaves, there was no formal contract.
The other course was to take advantage of the banking, money-changing, money-lending system, of which the Phoenicians were the inventors, and which at the time was in full operation throughout the Roman empire. The bankers received money on deposit and paid interest on it, and then lent it at a higher percentage, or employed it in trade, or (as did the publicani at Rome) in farming the revenues of a province. This was therefore the natural resource, as investment in stocks or companies is with us, for those who had not energy to engage in business.” (11)
The “talents” represent the gifts God’s given each of us –
“By the talents here we are to understand gifts or endowments conferred for a spiritual end, powers of body and mind, abilities natural and acquired, health, strength, long life, understanding, judgment, memory, learning, knowledge, eloquence, influence, and authority over others, wealth, privileges, or offices, civil or religious, and indeed every power and advantage of which a good or bad use may be made.” (12)
Jesus’ particular comparison of our gifts with large lump sums of money given to us, spoke to me deeply as I’ve been researching and studying for this post. It’s as if He wants us to look at what He’s already given us – our specific gifts, artistic abilities, talents, etc. as we would a hundred thousand dollars in the bank. We often feel so ill-quipped for the task, so wrongly chosen! But we forget that it’s Him who has already equipped us – if we were able to do it all on our own ability, how would He receive the glory? Throughout the ages, God has made it His signature move to call people who never thought they’d be the right one for the job. The surprise of having God call you to do something that you’ve never expected yourself to do is bewildering and even terrifying. Yet He expects us to use our gifts, skills, abilities, talents, hobbies, passions, and even connections to invest them in different avenues so that we can multiply our return on those investments for His sake! Everything we do is ultimately done for the glory of God, and can be used to further His Kingdom. Whatever impact we have in our sphere of influence, He wants us to use it to glorify Him. Whether it’s teaching children, teaching Bible studies, cooking, drawing, sewing clothes, taking care of little children, taking care of our own families, or painting, God has a unique plan for the gifts He’s given us.
In plain speak, this parable is calling us to take seriously the work we do to further His Kingdom.
Whatever we do, we must do it well, and to the best of our ability because God is our Master. It’s not acceptable to hide our talents, to squander the gifts He’s given us. We will all be called to account at the end of our lives like the servants were, when we’ll have to answer to God for what we chose to do as stewards over our lives. It’s incredible to think about the fact that we’ve all been given a specific blessing! No matter who you are, no matter if you’ve realized it or not; God has a specific and glorious work for you to do for His Kingdom!
A warning against comparison –
This doesn’t mean that all our ministries will look the same, we are different parts of the Body of Christ, fitted to do drastically different works and functions. Whatever your specific work is, be assured that it is precious and valuable in God’s sight. The servants in the parable were given different amounts of talents, each according to their ability. This is huge and so important to comprehend! Some were given more gifts than others, and some less so. One might be tempted to say that this means God isn’t fair or just – otherwise He would give everyone the same amount to work from. In my opinion, this parable actually proves how just God is: that He only expects from us what He knows we have the ability to produce! His fairness comes into play in that He never expected the servant with the one talent to be able to produce 10 like the first did. He takes into account our weaknesses and humanity. He takes into account our discipline and proven record of stewardship. If we’re faithful over a little, He promises to give us more to be responsible for. This is why we’re not supposed to look at another woman and compare ourselves with what she’s able to accomplish (more or less) than what we’re accomplishing in our lives. Our focus should be on our own spiritual development and industry of our talents.
I’m curious to know what was really going on in the last servant’s mind. Was he focusing on how he’d only been given one talent compared to the others? Did he feel disadvantaged? Ill-equipped? He said he was afraid of the Master judging him if he didn’t at least preserve what he’d been given stewardship over. Isn’t that a bit like us when we say to ourselves that we don’t want that extra responsibility? That extra liability? When we lack faith in what God’s done for and in us? That if we dare to step out in faith and teach that class, write that book, start a small business, invite those neighbors over, help when we can meet a need, make that first move toward whatever ministry we’re called into, we don’t even try because we may be judged a failure for it? That was the main excuse of the last servant, but he paid dearly for it in the end!
Comparison binds us and can prevent us from fulfilling the will of God for our life. Satan would love for us to compare ourselves to what others are given or able to do, and come up short, discouraged, and ultimately, defeated. He wants us to have a fear of failure so that we’re never brave enough to even start! He wants us to be the opposite of what God has planned out for our lives: Unfruitful, unproductive, not letting our lights shine, miserable, and taking longer, more painful routes than needed on our journey.
The devastation of a missed blessing –
Now that we’ve looked at the possibilities of why the last servant chose to bury his talent rather than use it to produce more for God, let’s focus in on the end goal of why this lesson is important. When we refuse to act on what we know God’s called us to do, when we run away from His purpose for our life, rather than embrace it whole-heartedly, when we are too insecure that God could or would ever use us, or afraid that He’ll judge us harshly if we fail along the way… we are setting ourselves up for the devastation of a missed blessing! When we use our gifts to bless our families or the people whom God puts in our path, we are actually receiving a blessing ourselves.
It’s in the giving!
‘Well done, good and faithful servant.
You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.
Enter into the joy of your master.’
Receiving those words at the end of our life when we’ve completed this marathon race with perseverance, having not given up or given way to fear, are what we’re hoping for. Setting our eyes on the “prize,” as Paul refers to it, helps us keep our focus and purpose clear, rejecting the weights that would pull us down, make us slower, and distract us from the path of righteousness.
The Proverbs 31 woman’s main ministry –
Let’s not forget what we learned about at the beginning of this series:
“Her main ministry is to do her husband good and not evil, if she succeeds at anything else, and yet fails in this area of serving her husband, she has lost everything because she’s failed to maintain the most important relationship on earth that God has given her.”
This again is so beautifully displayed within the Parable of the Talents. Not everyone will be able to handle extra ministries around their church on top of having toddlers. Not everyone will be able to manage a full-time business that brings in money to bless her family, and also have babies. There are some women can do those things and do them well, but it’s my opinion they’ve been blessed with a “talent” that is rather rare, and God knew they would be a good steward over this added responsibility because of their personality type or discipline. The more normal example to see is productiveness based on the different seasons of life, however we have to keep in mind that our main ministry is to do our husbands good (look back over that chapter if you want to refresh your memory, “good” encompasses a whole lot!). Simply just managing to be the best wife and mother to your children may be all that you are able to handle at this time, and that is totally ok! You’re working for God’s approval, not for another woman’s opinion on your life. If we’re tempted to compare ourselves with someone else able to do more, we have to keep in mind the season of life we’re in, and our own particular strengths and weaknesses. God doesn’t want to burden us down with expectations that we can’t meet, and He knows what we can and cannot do. If He had expected the servant with the one talent to produce as much as the servant given 5 talents, our God would be a harsh and cruel Master. But that’s not how the story goes, He is compassionate and takes into account our natural abilities and gifts when He judges how much we’re able to produce for Him. A woman with young children may not be able to spend her time volunteering or making substantial money, but she may have just enough time to deeply study God’s word and prepare lessons to teach it to her children. A woman in the middle of growing her family may not be able to write books and teach a woman’s Bible study, but she may be able to give to those in need when the opportunities come up, or carefully plan out how to bring extra meals when a woman in their church needs assistance. We all need different amounts of rest and sleep, just like we all have different amounts of discipline and energy. The most important thing is that we’re working on and cultivating the blessings and gifts God has already given to us, and doing our best to serve Him with them.
Lydia a woman faithful over her talents –
Let’s look again to another woman from the New Testament, a rather obscure woman like Tabitha, who was yet again, another example of a real life Proverbs 31 woman. When we looked at Tabitha, we saw a loving, kind woman who spent her time giving herself fully to mission work, and making clothing for the persecuted Christians in need and widows of Joppa. Lydia at first glance, is so entirely opposite of Tabitha it’s striking. This is a great example of how becoming a Proverbs 31 woman will look different for each of us, according to the plans God has for us. It’s not known whether Tabitha was rich or poor, and some scholars have debated either way, however, Lydia, we know, was a very wealthy woman.
According to Acts 16, Lydia was a seller of that same strange, brilliant color we learned about before; the same color that the Proverbs 31 woman dressed herself in: purple. Placed in the right region at the right time, Lydia was a resident of Thyatira, an ancient Greek city in what we now know of as modern day Turkey. Thyatira was known for it’s many “guilds,” which were medieval associations of skilled artisans or merchants, and that often had considerable power (13). Lydia more than likely belonged to one of Thyatira’s most powerful and influential guild, the Dyers Guild. Because Thyatira’s waters were so perfect for dyeing, the city produced indigo, scarlet, and purple dyes, with the latter making the city famous among the region.
Again we are faced with the strange element of where the spiritual meets the secular world. The examples of this in the Bible are always important because they teach us how to be in the world, but not of the world. Having now studied deeply in the last chapter, the sheer status symbol of this color purple, of the wealth and secular usage behind it’s being purchased, sold, or worn, it again reminds us of what truly matters to God. Lydia was immersed in the secular world of fashion, outward appearance, the arts, brilliant and costly dyes, and great wealth obtained from selling purple. And yet we’re told that this woman loved God and was capable of opening her heart to him! Let’s look at the passages to learn more about this woman:
Acts 16:12-15 (NLT)
12 From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days.
13 On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God.
As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying.
15 She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests.
“If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.
The impression Lydia made on the missionaries was so welcoming that they actually returned to her house to receive rest after their imprisonment in Philippi for preaching the gospel. Her gift of hospitality to God’s messengers was greatly needed and appreciated!
Acts 16:40 (NLT)
40 “When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town.”
Paul also writes to the believers of Philippi (Lydia being one of the prominent women of the church), in his letter written from a jail cell, at the end of his life to the Phillippians. If you read closely, you can almost hear the affection in his words for the believers:
3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
7 So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. 8 God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.
9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.
Lydia’s occupation as a seller of purple might have been a “questionable” calling to the Pharisees, but we can’t deny that her simple yet powerful example has been put in the Bible for our betterment. Blogger Heather Whidden has a unique perspective on this “unlikely meeting,”
“Consider for a moment how unlikely it is that this meeting even took place to begin with. Lydia, a seller and producer of the much-coveted color purple that can only be afforded by the wealthiest, the Roman elite, crosses paths with Paul, the most influential apostle of Christianity at a river. That’s about as likely as Billy Graham meeting Vera Wang at the local bus station. And yet, this is where God chose to open the door for the gospel to be taken to the hearts of the Roman world and beyond; in the heart of a woman who sold purple.” (14, Emphasis mine)
Because of Lydia’s unique position in society, having influence and access to multiple sellers of the dyes and clothing, as well as her belonging to the Dyer’s Guild, she would be in the perfect place to bring the gospel to people who could spread it even further through their trade. When the Lord opened her heart after hearing Paul speak at the river, we see that she grew an immediate desire to give the gift of hospitality to the missionaries.
Let’s look at a few things in common between Lydia and our Proverbs 31 woman:
- They both show the gift of hospitality
- They are both godly women with whom God is pleased
- They both are humble and pure in spirit
- They are both dealers or sellers of the expensive purple cloth
- They may both be women who wore this purple color in their clothing choices
- They both use their talents to obtain wealth that they use in turn to bless others
- They are both good stewards over their talents and skills, being mindful to use them to further God’s Kingdom
Lydia’s work brought in blessings which in turn, blessed the believers of the new church! God used the rather secular work of one woman, who was being faithful over the stewardship He had given her, to reach many others throughout the region! Let’s never discount the affect we can have when we choose to be productive servants, and use our gifts and talents for God’s glory to encourage others and bring them closer to His will for them!
Next we’ll be looking at how the Proverbs 31 woman’s proceeds are used to bless not only her family, but also paved the way for her to reach out to the poor (verse 20), and the needy.
Interesting/cited Articles –
- Adam Clarke Commentary
- The Middletown Bible Church
- Matthew Poole’s Commentary
- Tabitha: A woman who lived for Jesus
- Beautiful in God’s Eyes by Elizabeth George
- Natural History by (Henry) Pliny the Elder
- Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
- Greek Lexicon
- The History of Purple Cloth & Fabrics
- Hebrew Lexicon
- Elicott’s Commentary for English Readers
- Benson Commentary
- Lydia Bible Gateway
- The Power of Purple
Applications will be written into the individual posts during the next few weeks