“A pretty wife who can find?” – is not praised in the Bible as a virtue. But neither is, “An ugly wife who can find?” True, “An excellent wife who can find?” is found in the Bible (Prov. 31:10). And furthermore, out of all 20+ accolades that you read from verse 10 through 30, not one verse even gets close to describing the outward beauty of a woman as a thing to be praised. In fact, as men, we are to heed the warning: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (vs. 30). So this begs the question:
Is it right for a godly Christian man to notice the physical beauty of a woman and let that outward, temporal appeal be a reason for an introduction? Or should we as godly men pursue a woman that was beaten with an ugly stick and say, “wow, what an ugly-yet-godly woman!”? Does Proverbs condemn outward beauty? I think not. What it does condemn is equating outward beauty with inward beauty. Not every woman who is deliriously gorgeous is a fine catch. And counter-wise, not every hag is a catch-and-release: you just might be a happier man married to a clock-stopper who yet is the most wonderful, dependable, godly, intelligent, wise, hard-working, gentle woman in town.
Proverbs, and all Biblical poetry assumes that physical beauty will be the first attraction for a man – it’s a given. That’s why wisdom goes over-board on seeking the inner qualities rather than the outward. The outward is easy: women are beautiful to men. But! Don’t let that beauty blind you from looking further, lest you find yourself married to a Victoria Secret cat-walk model but dread every nagging day of your miserable life; not one single night with a hottie can compensate for a week of “shut up – it’s all about meeeee.”
“The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. . . her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land . . . her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (Prov. 31:11, 23, 28). Cheryl has been my wife for almost 33 years now. I praise her by expressing my thanks to the Lord for giving me such a lovely companion. But there is something deeper going on here: she complements me and I her. It’s a dance of leading and following, of honoring each other for the place that we each have submitted ourselves to. I have submitted to “love her as Christ loves the church,” and she has submitted to “respect me” as the “church does Christ” (Eph. 5:21-33). As we each take our cue from Christ and his bride, we communicate to a culture that Jesus is so loving his bride that he will one day “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:27).
The honey-suckle lilac that is at Cheryl’s side is from her grandma Robinson’s old homestead in southern Indiana. Its fragrance is mesmerizingly delightful, even erotic I might say. This is not gutter talk:
“Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil . . . Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely . . . your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle that graze among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense . . . you are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you . . . how beautiful is your love my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! Your lips drip nectar, my bride; nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices . . . Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow”
(various verses in Song of Solomon 4).
The reason why God created human marriage between a man and woman is so that there would be language and a picture to present to the world: Christ, the husband, is madly in love with his bride, the church. Any re-arrangement of human marriage away from a man and a woman becoming a one flesh union is an insult and a distraction from the original one made in heaven before the world was created.
Therefore, let all husbands say, “isn’t she lovely” – for that is the song of Christ singing to his bride, the church.