Recommended by Us

This definition of a virtuous woman will remind you of your worth

Grandmother, mom and child hug in a portrait
Tamara Uzelac Hall shares a how a fresh reading of Proverbs 31 may remind you of your worth.
Solidcolours, Getty Images

Being a ‘virtuous woman’ is less about chastity, modesty, or a completed to-do list and more about our covenant relationship with God.

I think the proverb of a virtuous woman (Proverbs 31:10–31) is both amazing and overwhelming. Amazing because it is scripture about women, given by a woman. Overwhelming because for much of my life, I never felt like I measured up to those verses of scripture or ever would. When I was 34 years old and single, I was certain I was out of the running for being virtuous, because according to verse 11, the first qualifier is marriage. However, Hebrew changed all of that, and I am so excited to show you what I found.

A Virtuous Woman

The proverb is like a painting by Monet: “Viewed up close, the brushstrokes seem haphazard, but from a step or two away dots and splatters merge to become the cumulative image of a wise and valiant woman.”1 This proverb has been considered by some religious scholars to be a song, a heroic hymn, or an allegory.2 As a song or hymn, it praises a virtuous woman, but when treated as an allegory, I believe that more profound meaning and significance is found within each verse.

By taking a look at the proverb of a virtuous woman allegorically and using the original Hebrew text, there is a possibility that, like the impressionistic painting metaphor, this proverb may be a “captivating and complex portrait—one that would be reclaimed, repainted, and renamed by sages for generations to come.”

Let’s start with an up-close look at the literal translation of the proverb. At first glance, it seems to be a laundry list of “to-dos” for when you say, “I do.” It defines a “virtuous” woman as one who is married; makes her husband happy; weaves the material that she will use to sew her clothing; gardens; owns a vineyard; cooks; is strong—really strong; wakes up very early (or more than likely never goes to sleep); is charitable; helps the poor; has a well-known husband; is not afraid of the snow; dresses herself and her family very well; works outside the home to help bring in extra money; is kind and wise; is not idle; is loved, blessed, and praised by her children and husband; fears the Lord; and probably fears a nervous breakdown, too! It should really read, “Who can find a virtuous woman? Let me know, because she has probably passed out from utter exhaustion!”

This proverb has taken on multiple meanings throughout history and can be read from many points of view. To mainstream Christianity, it is a biblical portrait of an ideal, heroic woman. For Jews, it serves as a reminder of a woman’s value and honors her. I was fascinated to learn that in the Jewish faith a husband recites or sings “Eshet Hayil” (“Virtuous Woman”) to his wife every Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) for these very reasons. But what if the proverb goes beyond the literal meaning? In many instances, this proverb has been thought of as merely a “description of desirable virtues and capabilities of a good wife,”4 portraying her as a “superwoman” in almost “superhuman” terms.In reality, this proverb is not about an ideal woman but about Christ’s people.

In scripture, women are often used as a type or symbol for Christ’s Church and His covenant people (see Matthew 25:1–13, Hosea 3, Isaiah 23, Revelation 12:1–7, 17).6 The symbol of Christ as the Bridegroom and the Church as the bride is very prevalent throughout scripture. I believe that the proverb of a virtuous woman was not written to inundate women with responsibilities disproportionate to that of men but instead to wisely direct all of us, men and women, back to Him (for the purpose of this article, however, it will be addressed to women).

Now, here’s where we dig into Proverbs 31:10. Let’s see what it’s all about.

Her worth—verse 10

"Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies." Proverbs 31:10

In 1998, I was hired as a full-time seminary teacher in Salt Lake City, Utah. I can assure you that I was not hired for my scriptural intellect or spiritual prowess. I didn’t even know that Christ came to America until I was in the Missionary Training Center (MTC). So when it was time to teach the Old Testament, you can imagine how utterly clueless I was. I studied hard and ended up having a lot of fun with the books of the Old Testament that year. But when I came to the book of Proverbs, specifically the proverb regarding a virtuous woman, I was baffled. Verse 10, the first verse of the proverb, had me stumped. I knew nothing about rubies. So, I decided to go to a reliable source—I called a local jeweler to find out just how much rubies were worth. Here’s how our conversation went:

Me: “Umm, yes, I was wondering if you could tell me how much rubies cost?”

Jeweler: “Well, that depends on the size of the ruby and if it is real or manufactured.”

Woman Holding a Diamond Ring
Rubies are among the most valuable gems in the world.
Solidcolours, Getty Images

Me: “Oh, OK. How about a real ruby about the size of a quarter?”

Jeweler: “The size of a quarter? There’s no such thing. I’ve never seen a real ruby the size of a quarter.”

Me: “All right then, how about the size of a nickel?”

Jeweler (choking on his response): “A nickel?”

Me: “Well, what size do rubies come in, then?”

Jeweler: “Ma’am, if you had a real ruby the size of a quarter, you and your entire family, and maybe your extended family, could retire because it would be worth so much.”

Me: “Really? Hmmmm, then how about a real ruby the size of a dime?”

Jeweler: “Ma’am, do you know anything about rubies?”

He shared with me everything he knew about rubies, and at the end of our conversation he said, “Speaking of real rubies, I’ve never even seen one!”

That conversation changed everything for me, and it began my quest to really understand the proverb.

“Who can find a virtuous woman?”

This verse opens with a question or riddle: “Who can find?” It implies that finding a virtuous woman would be a miraculous event. Is a virtuous woman rare? Is she hard to find? When viewed as part of an allegory, verse 10 may not be pointing to an impossible superwoman. Instead, it may be highlighting what makes her virtuous, her true value, and who can afford her.

Today, we have unfortunately limited the word virtuous to refer only to modesty and chastity, but the term has a more significant value and meaning. In both Hebrew and Greek, virtue is defined as, “strength, power.”7 Alma the Younger understood this power as he served a mission among the Zoramites. He knew that the only way to convert the Zoramites was to “try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5; emphasis added). Alma didn’t try the modesty of the word of God; he tried the power or strength of the word of God. Near the end of the Book of Mormon, Mormon describes to his son Moroni the deplorable state of the Nephites. He explains that many of the daughters of the Lamanites were taken prisoners and were deprived of “that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue” (Moroni 9:9). These women were not only deprived of their chastity but also of their power.

Now, add the suffix -ous which means, “possessing or full of a given quality,” and we can see that a virtuous woman possesses or is filled with strength or power. This virtue, power, or strength that a virtuous woman has will determine her price.

“For her price is far above rubies”

The proverb is attributed to the mother of King Lemuel, who is mentioned in Proverbs 31:1: “The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.” She is advising him concerning a prospective bride. Traditional commentators have identified that this woman is actually Bathsheba speaking to her son Solomon and that “Lemuel” is a title meaning “one who belongs to God or is dedicated to God.”8 Curiously, some scholars believe an anonymous author wrote the poem for devout Jews to easily memorize and repeat on a regular basis.9 Whoever wrote it, one thing is certain: it is 22 verses of wise, biblical advice concerning the qualities that should be found in a virtuous woman.10

Since the proverb is, in one sense, given by a mother to her son and is about choosing a bride, then her price is a bride price or a mohar.11 A mohar is the bridegroom’s price that he pays to the bride’s father for her hand in marriage prior to getting married, and it seals or acts as a covenant between the two. The mohar was often decided upon based on the wealth or standing of the bride. In eastern countries, the bride price would usually be paid in gold, silver, or precious things such as jewelry or gems. A biblical example of this is found in the engagement of Rebekah to Isaac: “And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things” (Genesis 24:53). Sometimes the bride price can be a service rendered, as in the case with Jacob for Rachel (see Genesis 29:18); deeds of valor might also be accepted in place of a dowry (Joshua 15:16, Samuel 18:25).12 The bride price of the virtuous woman has been predetermined, based on the power and strength that the woman will bring to the marriage. That price is far above rubies.

▶ You may also like: Watch: 5-Minute fireside on rethinking the definition of a ‘virtuous woman’

Abalone Shell and Pearl
Pearls, like rubys, are symbolic in the Bible, representing the most precious gifts of God.
HUIZENG HU, Getty Images

The jeweler did a great job of educating me on the value of rubies; they’re worth a lot of moolah. Learning this gave me great insight into the price of a virtuous woman being far beyond rubies. But learning about the word rubies in Hebrew changed everything. Rubies in this verse is peninim and means “corals or pearls.”13 While mentioned only a few dozen times in scripture, pearls are the biblical standard for excellence and beauty, worth far more than rubies. It is believed that pearls were considered among the most precious of gems in the ancient world.14 Pearls were seen as very precious in New Testament times (Matthew 13:45–46; 1 Timothy 2:9), so precious, in fact, that the Lord implemented them in His design for the city of New Jerusalem (Revelation 18:16, 21:21).15 Verse 10 of this proverb might more appropriately read, “Who can find a woman filled with power? for she is invaluable.” Comparing the virtuous woman to pearls shows she is “truly priceless. Money cannot buy her; she is off the scale of monetary value.”16

After learning the worth of “rubies,” I immediately wondered, Wow! Then who in the world could even afford a virtuous woman? Well, miraculously, though symbolically, there is a Bridegroom that will pay this extreme and seemingly exorbitant price to the Father for His bride (the Church and His followers), and He is the only One who could truly afford to—the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Far above Rubies: The Power of Covenant-Keeping Women

Who can find a virtuous woman? This is an age-old question that can both inspire and intimidate. The saintly sister described in Proverbs 31 is nothing short of astonishing: an ideal wife and mother, a valued contributor to society, and a tireless proponent of all that is good and right. In viewing these qualities as a goal, women can often fall prey to this passage’s common outcome: feelings of discouragement and inadequacy. Many women are left to wonder, Who could possibly embody such a perfect specimen of womanhood?

With Hebrew, humor, and reassurance, author Tamara Uzelac Hall injects a much-needed dose of reality into women’s interpretation of this section of scripture with this truth: all of us are virtuous. This book teaches how to embrace the unique and impactful role you already play and will help you discover a truth that will change the way you view your life: no matter your progress on the path, thou art already a virtuous woman!


  1. Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe & Jacqueline E. Lapsley, Women’s Bible Commentary, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1991), 241.
  2. Richard J. Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999); Roland Edmund Murphy, World Biblical Commentary: Proverbs (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998); Michael V. Fox, The Anchor Yale Bible. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Proverbs 10–31, vol. 18B (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 1066; Katharine J. Dell, The Book of Proverbs in Social and Theological Context (Cambridge: University Press, 2006), 86–87. My allegorical interpretation of Proverbs 31 is not meant to question the original referentiality, rather I mean to look at its construction in terms of the “types” it utilizes. Using an “allegorical technique” when reading Proverbs 31 “does not avoid difficulties in the text ... or to allow unbridled use of the human imagination. Rather, its use functions within a rule of faith (the Theoria in Greek terminology) as the language of faith seeks to penetrate the mystery of Christ’s presence. The use of figuration (allegorical interpretation) “was assumed as a means by which the living Lord of scripture through the work of the Holy Spirit continued to address each new generation through vigorous pursuit of the deeper significance of the words of scripture.” See The Bible as Christian Scripture: The Work of Brevard S. Childs, ed. Christopher R. Seitz, and Harold, Richards Kent, Society of Biblical Literature, 2013. ProQuest eBook Central. Created from asulib-ebooks on 2018–04–26 10:41:49.
  3. Lowell L. Bennion, The Unknown Testament (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1998), 97.
  4. Ellis T. Rasmussen, A Latter-Day Saint Commentary on the Old Testament (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993), 484–485.
  5. World Biblical Commentary: Proverbs, 249; Proverbs: A Commentary, 273.
  6. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997), 298. In the Greek text of the New Testament, the word for virtue is dynamis, which also means “power” or “strength.” This word is used in Mark 5:30 when the Savior immediately knew someone had touched his clothes because “virtue had gone out of him.” Christ’s power or virtue was shared when he healed the woman with the issue of blood. Joseph Smith shared a similar experience. After giving blessings to the children of Jedediah M. Grant, the prophet turned pale and lost strength. Jedediah asked the prophet why he looked so spent. Joseph told him that in the process of giving the blessings he had seen “that Lucifer would exert his influence to destroy the children that I was blessing, and I strove with all the faith and spirit that I had to seal upon them a blessing that would secure their lives upon the earth; and so much virtue went out of me into the children, that I became weak, from which I have not yet recovered; and I referred to the case of the woman touching the hem of the garment of Jesus (Luke, 8th chapter). The virtue here referred to is the spirit of life; and a man, who exercises great faith in administering to the sick, blessing little children, or confirming, is liable to become weakened.” JS, History, 1838–1856, vol. D-1 [1 August 1842–1 July 1843]. History of the Church, 5:303.
  7. See Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm, The Tree of Life, An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002), 26–27. Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testament (New York: R. Carter & Bros., 1853) vol. 3, 779, 781. The Anchor Yale Bible. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Proverbs 10–31, vol. 18B, 275.
  8. Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testament (New York: R. Carter & Bros., 1853) vol. 3, 779, 781. “Some think it was no part of the lesson which Lemuel’s mother taught him, but a poem by itself, written by some other hand, and perhaps had been commonly repeated among the pious Jews, for the ease of which it was made alphabetical.”
  9. The Tree of Life, An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature, 26–27. The Anchor Bible. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Proverbs 10–31, vol. 18B, 2009, 275.
  10. The Anchor Bible. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Proverbs 10–31, vol. 18B, 891; The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 555.
  11. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1979), vol. II, “Dowry.”
  12. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 819. See also Proverbs 3:15. The Septuagint translates this word as “precious gems,” however, most commentators and early biblical scholars have interpreted this word as “pearl,” connecting it to Matthew 7:6 and Matthew 13:45, see: The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1958); Barnes’ Notes on the Bible (New York: Harper English, 1840); John Gill’s An Exposition of the Old Testament (1697–1771) (Philadelphia, PA: William W. Woodward, 1978), 6 v., 28 cm., English. BYU Shaw-Shoemaker Microfiche Collection. The actual word for Ruby in Hebrew is perhaps כַּדְכֹּד Kadkod: agate, ruby or precious stone as found in Isaiah 54:12 and Ezekiel 27:16, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 461.
  13. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 633; The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 1975), vol. 4, M–P, “Pearl.”
  14. Jay A. Parry, Donald W. Parry, Understanding the Book of Revelation (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2007), 296.
  15. Michael V. Fox, The Anchor Yale Bible. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Proverbs 10–31, vol. 18B, 892.
  16. Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (1998) Proverbs 1–31, 160–161.
Stay in the loop!
Enter your email to receive updates on our LDS Living content