–Originally published on FWB21 January 22, 2013–
Ladies and gentlemen, here is a Hebrew phrase you need to know: eshet chayil.
I lived 30 years without ever hearing these words, and now they’ve come up multiple times in different places in the span of a week. Here’s what I’ve learned:
The Hebrew eshet chayil is translated, variously, as “a wife of noble character,” “a virtuous and capable wife,” “a worthy woman,” and “an excellent wife.” It’s found in Proverbs 31, which goes on to describe this kind of woman. (Please stop and read it!)
The Hebrew phrase is of particular interest to me for three reasons.
First, eshet chayil intrigues me because of its etymology. Chayil is used in the Bible multiple times with the following meanings: strength, might, ability/efficiency, wealth, force/army. It comes from the root chuwl, which has various meanings of interest. We discussed in our Bible study the picture of a woman whirling about in efficiency, as is implied in the rest of Proverbs 31 describing all of this woman’s activities. She is one busy lady!
Second, eshet chayil strikes me because it is used only one time in scripture outside of Proverbs: Boaz uses this phrase to praise Ruth. In the Hebrew arrangement of the Old Testament, the book of Ruth comes right after the book of Proverbs. So Proverbs ends with this beautiful description of an eshet chayil, and Ruth then follows with an example of a real life eshet chayil. (Also of interest is the fact that Song of Songs then comes right after Ruth. What a focus on marriage!)
Third, eshet chayil catches my attention because of the way it is used today. In Jewish culture, it is not the women who memorize Proverbs 31, but the men. Every Sabbath, during the meal, Jewish men sing or recite the Proverbs 31 poem to their wives. The praise found in it is meant to be unconditional. As a result, Jewish women honor one other with this expression. They are words of blessing and praise.
Ladies, if you had this poem pronounced over you as a blessing each week, wouldn’t that make you want to become just such a woman? If you feel like you don’t measure up to the eshet chayil, stop and thank God for what He has enabled you to do! It may be more than you think. Then ask God to help you become that capable, excellent, noble woman more fully. (We all have ways we need to grow!)
Also, please remember that the key to being an eshet chayil is a matter of the heart and begins with sitting at the feet of Jesus. I believe Martha was trying hard to be this eshet chayil, but her heart was anxious about many things. It was Mary who chose the better portion–Christ Himself.
Men (if you happen to be reading this), there is a great emphasis in scripture on the value of an excellent wife (and warnings against choosing poorly). If you are already married, thank God for your wife and praise her for the ways she is an excellent helper and companion to you. If you are single, be wary and choose wisely. Find an eshet chayil and you will not regret it.