Besides Mary as the New Ark of the Covenant, which I have written about in a previous post, the image of her from Proverbs 31 as the Esheth Yahil or Woman of Valor has to be one of my favorite Old Testament Marian types.
I first learned about Proverbs 31 as a graduate student at Franciscan University of Steubenville in the fall of 2008. I can remember thinking the whole time as I was reading Proverbs 31 for homework that although this chapter was speaking about an ideal woman in the scriptures, it had to also speak of the Blessed Virgin Mary herself.
So how do we read this poem?
As it always with the literal sense of the scriptures, words point to things, in this case the literal words are pointing to a woman. This poem is modeled after a literal ancient woman. As it is with the spiritual sense, the things, in this case the ancient woman is pointing to other things or references.
First, the woman is pointing to the Church. The Church is always feminine for she is the Bride and Christ the Bridegroom. Second, the woman is pointing towards Mary, who is closely related to the Church for she cares and intercedes for it (we shall see this more clearly soon). Third, the woman in this poem is the everyday woman or women in general. Fourth, the woman points towards Wisdom, which in the scriptures has a feminine quality to it. And lastly, the woman is pointing towards Lady wisdom, which in turn points to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, who directs and guides the Church.
Proverbs 31 incarcerates all the other Proverbs. This Hebrew poem is the exalted point for woman in the Scriptures for we see the ideal woman that runs throughout. What also runs through this poem is a strong nuptial (marriage) theme that we see in verse 10 – “Who can find a good wife? She is more precious than jewels.” This good wife is a woman [esheth] of valor [yahil]. She is not a warrior maiden, but a mother of valor, an image we can clearly see the Blessed Virgin Mary holding.
When we think of the word – “force” or “valor”, our mind automatically thinks of a battle or a fight, but this is not what the sacred author is giving to us. The woman in Proverbs 31 is not a warrior; she is the ideal wife and mother. The sacred author, possibly King Solomon himself, is challenging our assumptions of valor and heroism. The woman of Proverbs 31 is a woman who is faithful to her daily duties and performs them well, without complaint. The woman who does is a witness of true valor and heroism.
So now that we have a basic understanding of this poem, let us turn our gaze to how the Blessed Virgin Mary fulfills Proverbs 31. There are quite a few Marian references here, so lets take a look at a few.
1. In verse 12 it states: “She does him good and not harm, all the days of her life” – in regards to Mary this verse speaks of her perpetual lack of sin which derives from her Immaculate Conception.
2. In verse 15 it says: “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and tasks for her maidens” – here we see Mary as the Morning Star, which rises while others are still sleeping. As the Morning Star, she is Christ’s true herald of his word to the Church, the world, and all who will hear it.
3. In verse 20 it professes: “She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy” – The Blessed Mother as the Queen of Heaven cares for the spiritually poor. She brings the needs of the faithful to Jesus Christ, and as Mediatrix, grace flows from her hands. The grace initially comes from Christ himself then Mary dispenses that grace to the faithful.
4. In verse 22 it reads: “She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple” – although Mary while on Earth probably did not dress with fine linens, as the Queen of Heaven, she is now adorned with purple, a color of royalty.
5. In verse 26 it states: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” – here we can see that Mary’s fiat at the Annunciation and words at the Wedding Feast of Cana, “do whatever he tells you” are guided with wisdom. With God’s grace, she knows the right words for each situation.
6. In verse 27 it says: “She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness” – Mary surpasses all woman for she is the tower of complete womanhood. The Blessed Mother is the true feminist. She stays busy maintaining her house, both in Nazareth, and now as the Mother of the Church.
7. In verse 28 it reads: “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” – from the moment of her Visitation with her cousin Elizabeth, Mary has always been venerated as the Blessed Virgin. By praying the Hail Mary and the Rosary, we ask the Blessed Mother to intercede on our behalf with Jesus.
8. In Verse 31 it states: “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” – here we see the evolution of Christians toward their Mother. As Christians, she brings her children’s needs to the gates of Heaven.
For all the faithful and all humanity, Mary stands as our mother of valor. Without strapping on battle gear as would a warrior, the Blessed Mother, our Queen Mother, advocates for us to our Son and Our Lord Jesus Christ on a daily basis. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the one true Esheth Yahil.