In this verse, King Lemuel's prophecy tells us that the Proverbs 31 woman's husband can have "absolute confidence in her faithfulness" 1 (see Notes) to his and their family's well-being. Because she has wisdom, her husband knows she will be ever cautious about any and all matters pertaining to their household -- economical, emotional, or spiritual -- and will exercise discretion in her relationships with those outside of their home. She is thrifty, not wasteful or a spendthrift; she is skillful in carrying out her responsibilities; and she is not covetous of more material things than what her husband can comfortably provide. Here is what is meant by his not having need of "dishonest spoil" -- he need not deal unfairly or unlawfully in his endeavors in order to earn more to meet his wife's demands, or make up for her lack of economy. This absolute confidence in her is his heart "trusting in her safely." He can be sure that all areas of her life are handled well, without his intervention or supervision.
Two points are significant here. First, in reading this verse and interpreting it, we have a tendency to picture a poor household with meager furnishings and supplies, and barely enough money to get by. We might also picture an overworked and overtired wife who is quietly doing her best to make ends meet each day. As we study further on, we'll see that this is not the case at all, and is not what the writer intended to imply. A husband's and wife's life together, their faith in God, their obedience, their giving -- so many factors -- all affect the economic condition of a household; and what the writer is telling us in this verse is that whatever their economic situation is at the time, she works within its limits without complaint. If more is needed or wanted, they go to the Lord and ask for His help and blessing. This sort of heart towards God, in absolute faith, will always net results and answers to prayer. Prosperity is relative; but whether abased or abounding, the Proverbs 31 woman makes the very best of her resources.
A second implication in this verse is that he, the husband, is the main breadwinner of the family. In the first three chapters of Genesis we learned that God's intended role for a wife was to be her husband's helpmeet, his undergirding, his support in his efforts to provide for and lead their family. Remember, it was Adam who was assigned the task of tending the garden in which they lived. A wife's main focus and responsibility is sustenance and nurturing: for her husband, her home, and her family.
Those who might criticize this idea have missed an important factor, which is that this responsibility extends way beyond basic homemaking. We'll see this in detail further on in our study. The Proverbs 31 woman does more, much more, than just "housework," and within the framework of her role she transcends her limitations and expands her mind and abilities just as her husband does in his own work. Also, this woman in particular is not running a small home; rather, she is managing a large household with a full-time staff, as well as overseeing at least some of the family's agricultural activities, which includes managing help and decision-making responsibilities for expansion and expenditure of capital. We'll see that she is also involved in some commercial activity outside of her home that is a direct extension of what she already does for her family, and she is able to do so with her household still being properly cared for and supervised each day. She is also involved in some charitable activities. It takes an intelligent, capable, disciplined woman to manage time and energy so well.
If a couple decides to live beyond the husband's means and begins to leverage two incomes, this is where the balance begins to break down. A vicious cycle of debt-servicing can set it in, where a wife ultimately finds that she has to work in order for the family to continue to make ends meet. If and when children arrive, she cannot stay at home to care for them, and her children must be looked after by others -- even well-meaning others -- who might not impart the principles she wants them to learn. Their household lacks order, because she hasn't the time to administer it properly. This wife and mother is tired and stressed, and over time might even begin to feel resentment towards her husband for his not being able to meet their financial obligations without her help. Such a couple might find themselves living more as roommates rather than husband and wife, and the building and maintenance of their home's foundation will suffer with no one to tend the hearth. It seems almost any husband would admit that, somewhere deep down, he feels a sense of loss if his wife is out working or pursuing her own career, no matter how strongly he supports her; and even a sense of inadequacy if they need her additional income. Ultimately, this wife might find herself wishing she had a "wife at home" to tend to the necessities of daily life.
This isn't to say that a wife should never work outside of her home. On the contrary: a wife should do and be for her husband whatever he needs in the way of help and support. The point to bear in mind, however, is the support factor, and a husband and wife should not overextend the household budget to where her income is permanently required. This is most important while their children are still in school, and in the teenage years it becomes even more crucial.
If you are a young wife or wife-to-be with a job or career path and no children yet, be smart and don't begin leveraging your income in addition to your husband's for home mortgages, car payments, and other fixed capital expenditures. Instead, let those be your husband's responsibility and use your income -- no matter how large or small -- for those things outside of your normal necessities. These might include things that will enhance your life, or maybe savings and investments, but not for items involving long-term or revolving (read credit card) debt. Out of control debt can destroy your marriage, your family and your life.
A wise woman will support her husband in his career, love him and nurture him, and not take on any activity, including a career, which might consistently take time and mental energy away from their life together and thus divide her focus too strongly. This attentiveness will be great for his self-esteem and will help him excel, which helps both of you. Excessive credit, along with the crutch of a wife's additional income, keeps a man from really striving to reach his absolute, fullest potential.
A study done in the mid-90's showed that "top male managers in dual-income families earned 20% less over five years than those with homebound wives." 2 (see Notes) The researchers attributed this to patriarchal attitudes and "corporate prejudice" against men whose wives were employed outside of their home. Granted, the workplace has dramatically changed in the last 25 years, along with continual new regulations that protect workers at all levels. But the late Phyllis Shlafly, an advocate of traditional family values, interpreted the data the opposite way. In her opinion, a wife who remains at home, or available, to tend to children's needs and to the distractions of daily life, "is a big asset to a man." 3 (see Notes) A wise wife and mother will gladly take on the role of being the foundation, the "foreman," the source of daily love and strenth for her household and family. She will do it well, and will always strive to keep herself in the position of being financially able to eliminate an outside job whenever it becomes necessary, for any reason. Remember, we're not referring to a short-term crisis that requires a wife's additional income, but rather to a long-term way of life.
In Proverbs 31:12 (see above), the word "comfort" is derived from the Latin word confortare, which means to strengthen, or literally, to "make brave." The Proverbs 31 woman strengthens, or em-bravens, her husband to face the world and his responsibilities within it. The word "encourage" means to embolden, to support, to inspire and help forward. She helps sustain and keep healthy her husband's self-image. She fills him with courage and the drive to go forward.
Imagine the strength and confidence a husband would feel in being able to count on his wife doing him only good, and no evil, all the days of her life. This would include her thoughts, her words, and her actions; everything in her life would be measured against the barometer of how it will affect her husband and her relationship with him. Such a husband could surely entrust his heart safely and confidently in his wife, and with this freedom, would be able to utilize all his time and energy in providing a good life for his family and excelling in every area of his life.
The implication of verse 12 is that the Proverbs 31 woman's goodness towards her husband is an inherent facet of her nature. If he has some negative personality traits, or if undesirable past experiences exist between them, she as a wife makes a choice -- as an act of her will -- to be and act in agape love towards her husband. Just as God doesn't do for His children based on feelings, the Proverbs 31 woman puts her "self" aside and does only what God would have her do and be. God will then work in her life, on her behalf, based on her prayers, to manifest changes and improvements in the circumstances of her household and in the lives of all of its members.
God said in Ezekiel 36:26 that, as part of His people's conversion and ingathering, He would impart unto them a new heart and a new spirit, taking away the "stony hearts" from within their flesh. If a wife asks the Lord to do this for her in faith regarding any difficult areas with her husband, or in her life with him, making the agape choice before it "feels" easy and natural, God will honor her prayer and obedience and her life will reap the benefits. And of course, we as wives should always check ourselves for areas where we may be lacking in our marital relationship. Overall it's important to remember that a wife and mother is the fulcrum, the balance, of a household. It's a big responsibility, for her family's well-being ultimately depends upon her own.