Today’s post is aimed at determining the qualities that Scripture says a man should look for in a potential wife. I first started this post some months ago, but put it on hold because it didn’t feel “right.” Something was off with it, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Occasionally I worked on it to add a quote or two, but mostly it has lain fallow. Then I wrote my post Adult Man Defines “A Real Woman,” and it clicked for me what I was doing wrong. This line by commenter Feather Blade was particularly important in helping me understand where I was going wrong:
No one is going to find a young woman with all the virtues that only an entire lifetime of faithful service to God can endow on one.
That comment plus a few others (and my own thought on the matter) helped me understand that I was making two mistakes with my post.
The first mistake is that I was mixing up character traits with life skills. They are not the same, and mixing them up creates the problem that Feather Blade warns about: you start looking to find in a young woman what only an older woman would have had time to acquire and possess. Character traits are essential qualities of moral character- qualities that are less a matter of training than they are of personal discipline and willpower. Examples include fear of the Lord, courage and kindness. Life skills, on the other hand, are qualities that are acquired as a result of training, eduction and practice. This includes skills such as cooking, good business sense and tailoring (to name but a few). These take time to develop- in some cases, a whole lifetime.
The second mistake is that I was simply going through the bible line by line, looking for positive qualities in a woman. This approach is problematic because there won’t be any context for these qualities. As you will see, running Proverbs 31 line by line, or in small chunks, obscures the fact that it is talking about an older, more mature and more experienced wife.
Rather than simply delete everything and start over, I’m going to leave some of what I wrote so you get a sense of how the picture isn’t very clear when you search for qualities line by line or even passage by passage. That will encompass Part 2 of this post, which is a rather ugly affair. Part 3 will be different- it will directly explain what the character traits to look are, and why they should be sought. Part 4 will conclude.
…[previous lines were deleted to make way for the new intro] I tracked down as many verses as I could that offered advice and mentioned women who were/would be quality God-fearing wives. I will be quoting them below, and include some commentary, mostly focusing on what is held as valuable or important in each verse/passage. Many of these passages are ones that I’ve covered before, but I am hoping to consolidate as many as I can in this post.
A gracious woman gets honor,
and violent men get riches.
Here graciousness is held to be trait worthy of honor, and thus recognition, in women.
Like a gold ring in a swine’s snout
is a beautiful woman without discretion.
Other translations use wisdom or sense in place of discretion, but they all capture the essence of the same trait. This is, in my view, a very important passage. The analogy places something of great value in a position where it is utterly wasted. The overall lesson here is that beauty in a woman is an utter waste if she has no discretion- if she isn’t wise. Two points are made: the first is that beauty is indeed, a valuable thing (else why compare it to a gold ring?), and the second is that sensibility in a woman is of even greater value than beauty.
A good wife is the crown of her husband,
but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.
The compare and contrast here makes it clear that a proper woman, a “good” one, is something to be esteemed, as compared to her improper or shameful counterpart. Essentially, a good wife is one who raises a husband’s stature in the eyes of others, and a bad wife is one who lowers it.
House and wealth are inherited from fathers,
but a prudent wife is from the Lord.
Prudence, being a gift from the Lord, is a valuable thing indeed to have in a wife.
And this of course brings us to Proverbs 31. I will include only parts of it:
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
Trustworthiness is valuable trait in a wife.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from afar.
15 She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her maidens.
A good wife is one who is a hard worker. She is diligent and skilled with her hands. She can provide food for her family and keep the household well run.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
Good business sense is a sign of a good wife.
17 She girds her loins with strength
and makes her arms strong.
A wife who keeps herself healthy, and stays fit and strong is truly worthy.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
Once again emphasizing good business sense, along with foresight and skill with her hands.
20 She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
Charity is a sign of a good wife.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
A good wife plans ahead for tough times.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers girdles to the merchant.
Business sense and initiative are once again emphasized.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
A good wife is joyous and always demonstrates strength and dignity.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
A good wife always speaks wisely and kindly.
Then there is this last part-
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Charm from a woman is not to be trusted. My understanding of the use of the word vain in the Bible is to indicate that it is fleeting, something one can only be proud of for a short time, before it is gone. Hence beauty is fleeting and not something that can be counted on in the long run. In contrast is fear of the lord, or faith, which is to be praised- that is, something of great worth that should be recognized as such.
Do not deprive yourself of a wise and good wife,
for her charm is worth more than gold.
Wisdom is once again mentioned as a valuable thing in a wife. As is good- which probably means God-fearing in the eyes of the author.
[I am ending this section here. You have an idea now what I was doing, and where I was going- or not going, as the case may be.]
In this section, rather than track down quotes/passages and then draw out valuable qualities from them, I will lead off with the valuable qualities to look for in a potential wife. The key character traits that a man should look for in a wife are as follows (and in what I perceive to be the order of importance):
If someone disagrees about the order I have, feel free to express your position in the comments. Now to explain a bit why each is important.
- God-fearing- This character trait, encompasses both faith and devotion, is of paramount importance. Proverbs 31 makes it clear that fear of the Lord is above all else in valuable qualities found in a good wife. The rest of scripture backs this up. Throughout scripture we can see the cost to a man married to a woman who doesn’t fear the Lord, and we can see the benefit to one who is married to a god-fearing woman. Moreover, fear of the Lord is the only real safeguard against the worst of female behavior- a man married to a non-believing woman is at the mercy of her capriciousness. This trait includes a number of manifestations of faith, including chastity.
- Sensible- Other words fit, depending on translation: Prudence, discretion, wisdom. But all signify the same essential character quality- the ability to exercise sound judgment. Of course, a woman’s ability to exercise this will depend heavily on her circumstances. A younger woman will almost certainly be less wise than an older one- something to keep in mind. Look for if a women is willing and able to learn from her mistakes (or errors), or if she is insistent on obstinacy.
- Courageous- Bravery may seem like a masculine trait, not a feminine one, but that isn’t so. Courage is essential to face the many travails of life, as well as to really live your faith as required. Standing up for you and your interests may require a lot of courage from her at times. So be wary about picking someone who will always fold in the face of difficulty or danger.
- Trustworthy- Does she keep her word? Will she do what she promised, or will she “forget” or make excuses for failing to do as promised? You want a woman you can trust. Without that, nothing, including your marriage itself, is secure. Keep in mind this is the woman who will be spending more time with your children than anyone else. Trust is huge.
- Diligent- Is she a hard worker? Most life skills take a long time to develop. Years, or even decades are required to learn trades, or to acquire the “instincts” to be good at something like real estate, or to recognize a good business deal from a bad one. Instead of focusing on those, look instead to see if a woman is a hard worker. Does she work until completion on a task, however annoying or minor? If so, then there is a strong chance she will demonstrate that same diligence inside your household.
- Kind- Encompassing graciousness, charity and a quiet, gentle spirit, kindness is a quintessential feminine trait. It is also one of the most valuable for a woman to posses. Now, not every woman will be able to express easily all forms of kindness, or graciousness. Some are developed over time. But even early on in life you can usually tell if a woman is inclined towards kindness or cruelty. Keep in mind that in a long marriage you will be with a woman for far longer than her beauty will last- make sure to pick a woman whose personality is one that is warm and inviting, and not contentious or quarrelsome. Else you might find yourself living on a rooftop….
Something that it is important to remember is that individual women will demonstrate these qualities in different ways. Just as every woman is unique, so too is how each woman demonstrates her possession (or lack thereof) of these qualities. You cannot simply ask a woman if she is, say, diligent, and get an accurate answer. Instead you must observe her. See what she does, and what she doesn’t do. Just as you know a tree by the fruit it bears, you know the qualities of a woman by what she does.
Note: I drew from many Books of the Bible to support this list. Proverbs and Sirach were especially prominent. However, other women were valuable sources of positive traits to look for, including Ruth, Abigal, Sarah (from the Book of Tobit), Esther and Judith. Also, Titus 2 and 1 Peter 3 also contributed.
[Update: Not all of these character traits are alike in how someone acquires them. Some, like diligence and trustworthiness, must be nurtured carefully from a young age in order to mature properly. Others can be acquired later in life. I think you can break them down into three categories in terms of how late in life they can be developed.
The first group, Fear of the Lord and Courage, are both amenable to change later in life. While someone can be taught the tenets of the faith throughout their life, the conscious decision to submit to God and to fear/revere Him as we should is an intensely personal choice. Such a choice is based on personal willpower and discipline, and is something that can manifest at any stage of life. A woman might have grown up an atheist, but can be convicted at some later point (such as when she turns 21) and become just as sincere in her faith as someone who was born to it. Likewise, courage is a matter of willpower. You cannot teach courage- you can give examples of it, but someone ultimately makes the choice for themselves to be courageous or not. This is something that can morph a lot during a lifetime.
The second group includes Kindness, Sensibility and Diligence. These are qualities that tend to require some nurturing to develop in a healthy manner. While not impossible, it is unlikely for a woman to have them without having had their seeds planted while she was young. Those who do change their ways and develop these traits later in life tend to be, in my experience, those women who had been reared properly but rebelled against it. Still, not impossible or unheard of for someone to acquire them without that foundation.
The last “group” is just Trustworthiness. I have never, in all my life, encountered someone who has ever changed in this regard. Either they can be trusted, or they can’t. Perhaps some folks will disagree with me here, but I can’t personally think of any examples which run counter to this. Whether someone can be trusted or not seems to be a fixed trait.
One last point- while these traits might be acquired later in life, one should never marry a woman expecting or hoping that she develops them. It is best, when one considers marrying a woman, to believe that she is at her best the day of your wedding, and will only get worse from there on out. While a cynical approach, I think it wise. It is simply folly to expect a woman to develop any of these traits after marriage. So only marry one who already has them- when she acquired them is less important than their presence and/or intensity.]
In summary, Scripture seems to indicate there are six qualities that a man should look for in a woman to determine if she will likely make a good wife: god-fearing, sensible, courageous, trustworthy, diligent and kind. Be careful not to mix up these important character traits with various life skills that can take years or decades to acquire or hone. I expect to expand on some of the ideas introduced in this post with follow-up posts down the line, and also to respond to any disagreements that arise in the comments. So expect that this won’t be the last word on the subject. Furthermore, I will probably update this post to correct mistakes and to fill in anything I’ve forgotten.
Final note- there is no such thing as a perfect woman. I rather doubt any of my readers need reminding of this. But it is important to mention all the same. None of us is perfect, and if we wait for perfection none of us will ever marry. So don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Look for a woman who has a good, solid foundation in these character traits and the capacity, and willingness, for growth.