Who can find a virtuous woman,.... This part of the chapter is disjoined from the rest in the Septuagint and Arabic versions; and Huetius (t) thinks it is a composition of some other person, and not Lemuel's mother, whose words he supposes end at Proverbs 31:9
; but it is generally thought that what follows to the end of the chapter is a continuance of her words, in which she describes a person as a fit wife for her son. Some think that Bathsheba gave the materials, the sum and substance of this beautiful description, to Solomon; who put it in the artificial form it is, each verse beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order till the whole is gone through; though rather it seems to be a composition of Solomon's, describing the character and virtues of his mother Bathsheba. But, be this as it will, the description is drawn up to such a pitch, and wrote in such strong lines, as cannot agree with any of the daughters of fallen Adam, literally understood; not with Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon; nor with the Virgin Mary, as the Papists, who, they fancy, was immaculate and sinless, of which there is no proof; nor indeed with any other; for though some parts of the description may meet in some, and others in others, yet not all in one; wherefore the mystical and spiritual sense of the whole must be sought after. Some by the "virtuous woman" understand the sensitive soul, subject to the understanding and reason, as Gersom; others the Scriptures, as Lyra, which lead to virtue, contain much riches in them, far above rubies; in which men may safely confide as the rule of their faith and practice; and will do them good, and not evil, continually. Others, "Wisdom", who in the beginning of this book is represented as a woman making provision for her household, and said to be more precious than rubies; and is to be understood of Christ; which I should have readily given into, but that this virtuous woman is said to have a husband, Proverbs 31:11
; which cannot agree with Christ, who is himself the husband of his church and people, which church of his, I think, is here meant; nor is this a novel sense of the passage, but what is given by many of the ancient Christian writers, as Ambrose, Bede, and others; and whoever compares Proverbs 31:28
, with Sol 6:8, will easily see the agreement; and will be led to observe that Solomon wrote both, and had a view to one and the same person, the church of Christ, who is often represented by a "woman", Isaiah 54:1
; a woman grown and marriageable, as the Gospel church may be truly said to be, in comparison of the Jewish church, which was the church in infancy; a woman actually married to Christ; a woman fruitful, bringing forth many children to him; a woman beautiful, especially in his eyes, with whom she is the fairest among women; a woman, the weaker vessel, unable to do anything without him, yet everything through him: a "virtuous" one, inviolably chaste in her love and affection to Christ, her husband; steadfast in her adherence, to him by faith, as her Lord and Saviour; incorrupt in doctrine, sincere and spiritual in worship, retaining the purity of discipline, and holiness of life; and holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience: or a "woman of strength" (u), valour, and courage, as the word signifies, when used of men, 1 Samuel 16:18
; The church is militant, has many enemies, and these powerful and mighty, as well as cunning and crafty; yet, with all their power and policy, cannot overcome her; the gates of hell cannot prevail against her; she engages with them all, and is more than a conqueror over them; she is of great spiritual strength, which she, has from Christ, to fight the Lord's battles, to withstand every enemy, to exercise grace, and do every good work; and all her true members persevere to the end: or a "woman of riches" (w); that gets wealth and, riches by her wisdom and prudence, so Aben Ezra; a woman of fortune, as is commonly said: such is the church of Christ, through his unsearchable riches communicated to her; riches of grace she now possesses, and riches of glory she is entitled to. But "who can find" such an one? there is but one to be found (x); though there are many particular churches, there is but one church of the firstborn, consisting of God's elect, of which Christ is the head and husband, Sol 6:9; and there is but one that could find her: even her surety, Saviour, and Redeemer; compare with this Revelation 5:3
. This supposes her lost, as she was in Adam; Christ's seeking of her, as he did in redemption, and does in effectual calling; and who perfectly knows her, and all her members, and where they are; and whom he finds out, and bestows on them the blessings of grace and goodness;
for her price is far above rubies; showing the value Christ her husband puts upon her, the esteem she is had in by him; who reckons her as his portion and inheritance; as preferable to the purest gold, and choicest silver; as his peculiar treasure; as his jewels, and more valuable than the most precious stones: this appears by his undertaking for her; by doing and suffering what he has on her account; the price he has paid for her is far above rubies; she is bought with a price, but not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ; the ransom price paid for her is himself, who is more precious than rubies, and all the things that can be desired, 1 Peter 1:18.
(t) Demonstrat. Evangel. Prop. 4. p. 234. (u) "mulierem fortem", V. L. Pagninus, Mercerus; "mulierem virtutis", Montanus, Vatablus; "strenuam", Junius & Tremellus, Piscator, Cocceius, Schultens. (w) "Mulierem opum", so Aben Ezra. (x) "Conjux dea contigit uni", Ovid. Metamorph. l. 11. fol. 6. v. ult. Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
Hence there now follows a warning against drunkenness, not unmediated by the reading למחות:
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
Not for kings to drink wine,
Not for rulers to ask for intoxicating drink;
5 Lest he drink, and forget what is prescribed,
And pervert the right of all the children of want.
The usual translation of 4a is: non decet reges... (as e.g., also Mhlau); but in this אל is not rightly rendered, which indeed is at times only an οὐ, spoken with close interest, but yet first of all, especially in such paraenetic connection as here, it is a dissuasive μή. But now לא למלכים שׁתות or לא למלכים לשׁתּות, after 2 Chronicles 26:18; Micah 3:1, signifies: it is not the part of kings, it does not become them to drink, which may also be turned into a dissuasive form: let it not be the part of kings to drink, let them not have any business therewith, as if it belonged to their calling; according to which Fleischer renders: Absit a regibus, Lemuel, absit a regibus potare vinum. The clearer expression למואל, instead of למוּאל, is, after Bttcher, occasioned by this, that the name is here in the vocative; perhaps rather by this, that the meaning of the name: consecrated to God, belonging to God, must be placed in contrast to the descending to low, sensual lust. Both times we write אל לּמלכים with the orthophonic Dagesh
(Note: Vid., Luth. Zeitschrift, 1863, p. 413. It is the rule, according to which, with Ben-Asher, it is to be written בּן־נּוּן.)
in the ל following ל, and without the recompensative Dagesh, the want of which is in a certain measure covered by the Metheg (vid., Norzi). Regarding the inf. constr. שׁתו (cf. קנה, Proverbs 16:16), vid., Gesen. 75, Anm. 2; and regarding the sequence of accents here necessary, אל לּמלכים שׁתו־יין (not Mercha, Dechi, Athnach, for Dechi would be here contrary to rule), vid., Thorath Emeth, p. 22 6, p. 43 7.
In 4b nothing is to be gained from the Chethı̂b או. There is not a substantive או, desire, the constr. of which would here have to be read, not או (Umbreit, Gesenius), but או, after the form קו (Maurer); and why did the author not write תּאות שׁכר? But the particle או does not here also fall in with the connection; for if או שׁכר connect itself with יין (Hitzig, Ewald, and others), then it would drag disagreeably, and we would have here a spiritless classification of things unadvisable for kings. Bttcher therefore sees in this או the remains of the obliterated סבוא; a corrector must then have transformed the וא which remained into או. But before one ventures on such conjectures, the Kerı̂ אי [where?] must be tried. Is it the abbreviated אין (Herzog's Real-Wrterbuch, xiv. 712)? Certainly not, because וּלרוזנים אין שׁכר would mean: and the princes, or rulers (vid., regarding רוזנים at Proverbs 8:15), have no mead, which is inconsistent. But אין does not abbreviate itself into אי, but into אי. Not אי, but אי, is in Heb., as well as in Ethiop., the word with which negative adjectives such as אי נקי, not innocent, Job 22:30, and in later Heb. also, negative sentences, such as אי אפשׁר: it is not possible, are formed.
(Note: The author of the Comm. עטרת זקנים to the ארח חיים, c. 6, Geiger and others would read אי, because אי is abbreviated from אין. But why not from אין, 1 Samuel 21:9? The traditional expression is אי; and Elias Levita in the Tishbi, as also Baer in the Siddur Abodath Jisrael, are right in defending it against that innovation.)
Therefore Mhlau vocalizes אי, and thinks that the author used this word for אל, so as not to repeat this word for the third time. But how is that possible? אי שׁכר signifies either: not mead, or: there is not mead; and both afford, for the passage before us, no meaning. Is, then, the Kerı̂ אי truly so unsuitable? Indeed, to explain: how came intoxicating drink to rulers! is inadmissible, since אי always means only ubi (e.g., Genesis 4:9); not, like the Ethiop. aitê, also quomodo. But the question ubi temetum, as a question of desire, fits the connection, whether the sentence means: non decet principibus dicere (Ahron b. Josef supplies שׁיאמרו) ubi temetum, or: absit a principibus quaerere ubi temetum (Fleischer), which, from our view of 4a, we prefer. There is in reality nothing to be supplied; but as 4a says that the drinking of wine ought not to characterize kings, so 4b, that "Where is mead?" (i.e., this eager inquiry after mead) ought not to characterize rulers.
(Note: The translation of Jerome, quia nullum secretum est ubi regnat ebrietas (as if the words were לית רזא אי שׁכר), corresponds to the proverb: נכנס יין יצא סוד :b, when the wine goes in the secret comes out; or, which is the same thing: if one adds יין ( equals 70), סוד ( equals 70) comes out.)
Why not? Proverbs 31:5 says. That the prince, being a slave to drink, may not forget the מחקּק, i.e., that which has been made and has become חק, thus that which is lawfully right, and may not alter the righteous cause of the miserable, who cry against their oppressors, i.e., may not handle falsely the facts of the case, and give judgment contrary to them.