THE VIRTUOUS WOMAN (PART FOURTEEN)

HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

Proverbs 31:22

She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.

“She makes coverings for herself”.  Apparently, these were coverings which she made for her bed.  The only other place in the Old Testament where this Hebrew word “coverings” is found is in Proverbs 7:16 where it is clearly referring to coverings for a bed:  “I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry.”  The virtuous woman took the time to decorate and adorn her bedroom with beautiful bedspreads and coverings.

Her clothing is attractive and beautiful, of the finest material.  “Silk” refers not to silk as we know it today, but to the “fine linen of Egypt” which has already been discussed (see under verse 13).  The modern translations render it “fine linen.”

“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 labour was required to extract the purple dye, and thus only royalty and the wealthy could afford the resulting richly coloured 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). Purple cloth was used in the furnishings of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:4), in Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 2:14; 3:14) and in the high priest’s dress (Exodus 25:4; 26:31).  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).

What is the meaning of this verse?   The virtuous woman did not dress in a shabby manner.  She was industrious and enterprising, and she was able to purchase the finest materials, and with her own hands make the finest of garments.  She did not consider it a mark of spirituality to go around looking impoverished, dilapidated, and threadbare.  Rather, as was often true under the former dispensation, material prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing and was not to be despised.  She wore expensive clothing, royal clothing, to match her regal and godly character. Her outward garments of beauty and splendour matched her inner beauty. “The virtuous wife is robed in what bespeaks her true character and dignity” (Ironside).  She was not vain or arrogant and she well understood that external beauty fades (as we will see in verse 30). She was not snobbish in the way she dressed. She understood that the most important clothing was the adorning of the inner man: “strength and honour are her clothing.”

It is important to remember that the wearing of costly garments did not come at the expense of her family or the poor, nor did it interfere with any of her God-given duties:

If the virtuous woman has coverings of the tapestry for her house, she makes them herself; if she is clothed with silk (or fine linen, as it may be rendered) and purple, she earns it by her labours and good management. She does not starve her charity by her finery, nor spend upon her dress that which might support a poor family, and she does not reckon herself superior to the duties of a wife, nor exempted by wearing silk and purple from using her spindle and distaff.  From all this, it appears that the inspired writer allows the use of the costly array to none but those who can afford it in a full consistency with the duties which they owe to their families, to the poor, and to all men (George Lawson, Commentary on Proverbs, pages 566-567).

The temple in the Old Testament was quite elaborate and beautifully adorned, and this adornment included fine linen and purple.  As believers, our bodies are the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Should not our “temple” express something of the Lord?   “But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Peter 3:4).  “That they may adorn the doctrine of God, our Savior, in all things” (Titus 2:10).   Dressing well, both inwardly and outwardly, is a virtue, not a vice.

The Godly Woman and Costly Array

The godly woman of Proverbs 31 was dressed in the costly array.  In 1 Timothy 2:9 Christian woman is instructed not to adorn themselves in the costly array.  How do we explain this apparent contradiction?  Is it wrong for a believing woman today to go out and buy an expensive dress?  Should she instead only shop at thrift stores where she can spend a minimal amount on necessary attire?

In the Old Testament, great wealth and godliness were not incompatible.  Abraham had tremendous wealth, as did David and Solomon, and they were not condemned for possessing riches.  They were condemned for setting their heart on their riches (Psalm 62:10). Wealthy believers in the New Testament era, though not extinct, are harder to find.  It is not easy to amass wealth while being persecuted by a Christ-hating world.  Those who are rich are not condemned for their riches but are told not to trust in them (1 Timothy 6:17) and to be generous in the distribution of them (1 Timothy 6:18).

Homer Kent explains that 1 Timothy 2:9 does not forbid the wearing of expensive clothes:

It should be clear that Paul is not forbidding the wearing of any gold or pearls or expensive garments, any more than Peter in a similar passage was forbidding the wearing of clothes (1 Peter 3:3-4).  But those things are not to be the means whereby the Christian woman makes herself attractive to other Christians.  Good taste should always prevail and display for vanity’s sake is out of place (The Pastoral Epistles, pages 111-112).

  1. C. H. Lenski agrees:

Paul is not insisting on the drab dress.  Even this may be worn with vanity; the very drabness may be made a display.  Each according to her station in life: the queen not being the same as her lady-in-waiting, the latter not the same as her noble mistress.  Each with due propriety as modesty and propriety will indicate to her both when attending divine services and when appearing in public elsewhere (The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon, p. 560).

There were certain women in Paul’s day who would flaunt their wealth and draw attention to themselves by wearing expensive clothes.

The expensive dresses worn by wealthy women could cost up to 7,000 denarii. Pliny the Elder, a first-century Roman historian, described a dress of Lollia Paulina, wife of Emperor Caligula, which was worth several hundred thousand dollars by today’s standards (Natural History 9:58). Dresses of the common women could cost as much as 500-800 denarii.  The average daily wage of a common labourer was one denarius. [An average labourer would need to work two years to be able to purchase such a dress!]  (John MacArthur, 1 Timothy, p. 80)

Albert Barnes offers a well-reasoned, balanced conclusion:

It is not supposed that all use of gold or pearls as articles of the dress is here forbidden; but the idea is, that the Christian female is not to seek these as the adorning which she desires, or is not to imitate the world in these personal decorations. It may be a difficult question to settle how much ornament is allowable, and when the true line is passed. There is one general rule which is applicable to all, and which might regulate all.  It is, that the true line is passed when more is thought of this external adorning, than of the ornament of the heart.  Any external decoration which occupies the mind more than the virtues of the heart, and which engrosses the time and attention more, we may be certain is wrong. The apparel should be such as not to attract attention, such as shall leave the impression that the heart is not fixed on it.  (Barnes’ Notes on 1 Timothy 2:9)

Author: Sir Godfrey Gregg

Sir Godfrey Gregg is one of the Administrators and managing Director of this site