I wont stress your exhausted minds with deep theology or detailed logic tonight. Here are a few simple devotional thoughts centered around four simple words. Isn’t it interesting how words can be arranged one way and they teach or bless, but then they can be rearranged telling us something else? Or if we replace one of those words there is another lesson? Those preachers who care little for words – even the little ones – are often making a huge mistake.
The verse says, “A gracious woman retaineth honour: and strong men retain riches.” By the way, the word “and” is not in the Hebrew, leaving the door open to other connective words. And John Gill says that some people like to use “as” instead of “and.” “A gracious woman retaineth honour, AS strong men retain riches.” That certainly makes sense and doesn’t change the effect of two clauses very much. But it does make us focus on the gracious woman with the strong man helping us to understand her. Once again we are reminded how important even little words can be. But it’s always best to leave our English Bible alone, letting it speak for itself. We have four primary words in this verse, which I will mix up just a bit.
Let’s start with the strong man.
Being honest with you, I have to point out that technically, this might be an evil sort of word. It is often translated in a very negative sort of way. It is used in the Bible twenty times and only once is it translated “strong.” It is most frequently rendered “terrible” “oppressing” and even “violent.” For the sake of our devotional let’s think of this man as strong, while keeping in mind to what lengths he might go to protect his wealth.
And in that light let’s remember that there are a dozen different ways to be strong. There is the man who has great personal physical strength – able to lift great weight. And there is the man who is strong because he has lots of weapons. A business executive might be strong in laws, lawyers, and layers of protection. And another person may be strong simply because he has wealth. I’m not particularly strong in any of these areas, and maybe you aren’t either, but don’t fret. There is strength of other kinds. There is moral strength – the knowledge of what is right and wrong, with scriptures to sustain us. And there is another moral strength – the ability to stand for what is right, even when there is pressure for us compromise. There is spiritual strength.
You’ve been asked to pick up some milk on your way home, and you have to get some gasoline as well. So you stop at your favorite gas station, pump the gas you need, and in order to save some time you go into the little store to buy that milk. Just before you, a 240 pound body builder goes in. You are both confronted with a blinking sign which says that this week’s lottery stands at $2.4 million. The muscle man simply can’t say “no” so he gives up $10 for a ticket. But that thought doesn’t even cross your mind. Who is the stronger person? He also picks up a girlie magazine, and again, you aren’t even slightly tempted. Who is stronger? That man has now wasted $20 or $25, but you spent much, much less, on something you really need.
“A gracious woman retaineth honour: and strong men retain riches.” The Hebrew word translated “riches” is always translated “riches” except in one case. But as we’ve noted several times recently, riches mean various things to various people. The farmer may not have a penny in his bank account, but he has $4 million in land and equipment. Another man may not have anything in his retirement fund, but he has his health. And another has a quiver full of wonderful children and grandchildren. A morally weak man may loose all his riches – from his wife to his silver coins and his house, by gambling it away, or by chasing skirts. Morally strong men retain their riches, without the use of laws, banks and lawyers. So the point is, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” May God “grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.” “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”
Apparently Solomon uses the strong man retaining his riches as an illustration of the gracious woman. Oh, and by the way, if we switched the genders of these people, the lessons would remain the same. The application is universal. A woman may be as strong as a man in the things of the Lord. And there is no reason why a man can’t be gracious.
“A gracious woman retaineth honour.” The dictionary says that “gracious” means “kind,” “courteous” and “pleasant.” That may be the modern definition, but isn’t it obvious from where that word comes? Am I completely off base when I think that a gracious person actively shows grace toward others? And what is the Biblical definition of “grace”? Isn’t it unmerited favor? Actually, Webster’s 1828 dictionary begins its definition of “gracious” with the word “favorable.”
It might be argued that a good mother can teach her daughter to be gracious. A hospitable mother can teach her children to be hospitable, and children can be taught to be generous. Children can learn to be kind to others. They can have good manners, and all the other things which might be connected to good character.
But isn’t it a fact that the true source of grace is our gracious God? I doubt that Solomon was thinking along this line…. But isn’t it by the grace of God that a woman is truly gracious? Might we say that this gracious person is a child of God, regenerated by the Spirit of the Lord?
“A gracious woman retaineth honour: and strong men retain riches.” This Hebrew word “honour” is used exactly 200 times in the Bible. And it is always translated in some form of either “honour” or “glory” – with “glory” as the most common. Not withstanding the scripture which says a woman’s hair is her glory, this scripture says it takes more than long hair to make a woman honorable and glorious. God honors sinners through His saving grace. But if that Christian does not live graciously, he or she will not retain that honor and glory – at least before the eyes of the outsider.
I think we can apply Solomon’s words as exhortations to be spiritually and morally strong. And to live our lives in a fashion commensurate with the grace which has been freely given to us. Remember, “Favour is deceitful, beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.” “Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, retaineth honour.”