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An Excellent Wife

Proverbs 31:10 (ESV) … “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.”

A good wife who can find?: This opening line announces the theme of the poem, A good wife. This expression is the same as that used in 12:4; the sense of the Hebrew is “woman of ability,” which includes an element of strength and efficiency, and probably also moral worth. All this is spelled out in the character that is described in the verses that follow. Many versions in English use the word “capable” here. Who can find? has the form of a question; but this is a rhetorical question conveying the meaning that it is hard to find a woman like the person described here. In translation it is often good to express the meaning as a statement; for example, “A capable wife is a rare find” (Scott) or “How hard it is to find a capable wife!” (tev).

She is far more precious than jewels: This is literally “Her value is far beyond pearls [or, corals].” This is expressed in English as “Her worth is far greater than …” (Scott) or “She is worth far more than …” (niv, tev). The term rendered jewels is of uncertain meaning in Hebrew; different English versions have “corals,” “pearls,” or “rubies,” but the more general term jewels is quite satisfactory in this context.

In some languages it is not easy to express comparisons in the same way as in English, and translators may have to restructure the second line. One example of how this can be done is: “A woman like this beats all kinds of precious stones [in value].” It is probably a good idea to avoid any reference to “price” here, since for many people this can bring in the idea of a “bride price” or “dowry,” which is not in the meaning of the text. Another good model is cev, which combines the two lines of this verse to get:

• A truly good wife is the most precious treasure a man can find.[1]

[1] Reyburn, W. D., & Fry, E. M. (2000). A handbook on Proverbs (pp. 653–654). New York: United Bible Societies.

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