Latter-day Saint Life

What we miss when we think only of women’s virtue instead of their valor

hartcarroll-modern-day-mother-in-zion edit.png
Anita Hart-Carroll

Reading Proverbs in a new light reveals that a “virtuous woman” is in fact a warrior—and so are you.

As Primary music leader for my ward, I was recently preparing the Primary children to sing a song called “I Will Be What I Believe.” At the end of the song, the singing splits into two parts—with one group singing the chorus and the other group simultaneously singing the beloved “Army of Helaman” song by Janice Kapp Perry.

The Primary kids wanted to split into the two groups based on gender. I agreed to their request, then on principle I told them that the girls would be singing the “Armies of Helaman” part. Every single boy (and even a few girls) in the room balked at that suggestion—why on earth would you have girls sing the part about armies? It’s so clearly for boys!

To be fair, the stripling warriors mentioned in the song were boys, so that played into the kids’ expectations. And historically, aside from anomalies like Joan of Arc, males have been the soldiers. They’ve been the protectors, the conquerors, the heroes. But I don’t think that means men are the only warriors.

And the author of Proverbs seems to agree.

A Surprising Meaning in Proverbs 31:10

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies,” the King James Version of the Bible says (Proverbs 31:10).

This verse has a wonderful message. As it does for many, this oft-quoted verse inspires me to think more deeply about women and virtue—and, more importantly, about myself and the ways I can influence the world as a covenant-keeping daughter of God.

But if we only understand the superficial meaning of these words, I believe we miss the deeper and much more inspiring message. Reading the verse in its original Hebrew is illuminating—a different translation of the words completely changes the meaning of “virtuous woman.”

Reading the verse in its original Hebrew is illuminating—it completely changes the meaning of ‘virtuous woman.’

The original phrase translated as “woman of virtue” is eshet chayil; eshet means “woman” or “wife,” and chayil, the word that describes the woman, is usually translated in the Bible with a military undertone—specifically as army or valiant.1 In its literal sense, the phrase can be rendered as “woman of valor.” According to one Jewish scholar, the woman described in Proverbs 31:10 is “a heroic figure, a kind of domestic warrior.”

Therefore, this verse could be more authentically translated, “Who can find a woman of valor? For her worth is far beyond jewels.”

(So yes, Primary boys and girls, according to the scriptures, women are brave and powerful soldiers too!)

▶ You may also like: How is Christ both ‘Jealous’ and ‘the God who sees me’? 5 Hebrew titles in the Old Testament explained

The Woman of Valor

The 21 verses that follow “Who shall find a virtuous woman” detail what a virtuous woman does with her life (see Proverbs 31:11–31). This block of scripture in Hebrew forms an acrostic poem, where the first letter of each verse begins with the succeeding letter of the alphabet.2 This poem, called the Eshet Chayil, also constitutes a song that is traditionally sung each week by Jewish men in honor of womanhood as part of welcoming in the Sabbath. And according to a Jewish interpretive text, Midrash Tanchuma,3 Abraham recited these words in memorial of Sarah after she died.

This Eshet Chayil poem in Proverbs 31:11–31 describes the woman of valor, or warrior woman, in detail. Of course, context plays an important role here: these descriptions relate to the more limited activities that women performed in ancient Israel—mostly in the home. Praising a woman’s domestic duties may not be overly appealing to modern sensibilities, but it was very meaningful in an ancient context, as explained by Aya Baron:

The Eshet Chayil poem describes the woman of valor, or warrior woman, in detail.

“Imagining this prayer in its original context, a time in which domestic labor was the primary way for women to express their value, it remarkably and beautifully honors unseen labor performed in the home. … This prayer captures a snapshot of a time when its recitation was a meaningful way for women to be seen and honored for their service.”4

Today, women’s influence extends far beyond domestic responsibilities; however, the ancient description of a virtuous woman is still relevant. Below I’ve loosely summarized and adapted the concepts in each verse of the Eshet Chayil in an effort to accurately describe the woman of valor while also bridging that cultural gap so that it better reflects womanhood today. (For example, “She is not afraid of the snow for her household” can be interpreted today as “She is prepared for emergencies.”)

  • A woman of valor is trustworthy (verse 11) and honorable (v. 12).
  • She seeks out and willingly engages to make her sphere a better place (v. 13) and will go to any lengths to do it (v. 14).
  • She sacrifices her own comforts to provide for others in her care (v. 15).
  • She is savvy in the ways of business and finance (v. 16).
  • She takes care of her body so it can be strong and productive (v. 17).
  • She is confident in the quality of what she produces (v. 18).
  • She is wise in her domestic duties (v. 19).
  • Her heart notices and has compassion for those who are suffering (v. 20).
  • She is prepared for emergencies (v. 21).
  • She shows up in the world in a way that expresses her inner dignity and worth (v. 22).
  • Her hard work and strong character supports her loved ones so they can freely go about their responsibilities and hold their heads high (v. 23).
  • She uses her gifts and talents to provide stability for herself and for her family (v. 24).
  • Her inner strength allows her to not fear the future, whatever comes (v. 25).
  • She is wise and kind (v. 26).
  • She avoids idleness (v. 27).
  • Her efforts and her goodness are recognized by others (v. 28).
  • She stands out as a woman who knows her worth and who lives valiantly—she is heroic in her own right (v. 29).
  • She focuses on things that last longest and matter most (v. 30).
  • Her works speak for themselves, yet she deserves to feel seen and honored for all that she does (v. 31).

This is quite a long list of amazing qualities, right?

In its attempt to praise women, however, this set of verses can sometimes unintentionally leave women feeling like a failure. I know I’ve wondered how I could ever live up to such an idealized portrait of womanhood. As a result, I become paralyzed by the overwhelming expectations placed on me, and I end up doing nothing. (I know Jewish women who feel the same way, and who dread this being sung in their honor each week. It reminds me of how Mother’s Day leaves many women feeling worse about themselves instead of better.)

But I just can’t imagine that feelings of inadequacy are the effect the writer of Proverbs was going for, right? So are there better ways could we approach this set of verses? Here are three paradigm shifts that I think can help. Included with each is a set of questions for men and women to consider.

▶ You may also like: Psalm 69: Why God’s silence does not signify His absence


What if a woman of valor isn’t defined by her success in doing all of those things, but by doing any of them? Focus on and give yourself credit for all the things you are doing!

Women: Is there a description or two from those verses that you feel you are good at?

Men: Which of the descriptions are accurate about a woman you love? Consider sharing these with her—you can probably see far more of them in her than she can in herself.


Perhaps these verses describe just one way to be a woman of valor. Each woman brings her own unique talents and experiences to the mix, and her own set of verses could be written. This list clearly isn’t exhaustive! For example, it doesn’t even mention having or taking care of children (except that they rise up and call her blessed in verse 28), which was anciently viewed as the crowning blessing women offered the world.

Women: In what ways not mentioned in Proverbs 31 have you shown up as a woman of valor? These might be your skills and talents or opportunities you’ve chosen to take, and so on.

Men: In what ways not mentioned here has a woman you love shown she is a woman of valor?


As with all things spiritual, we need to remember that in the Lord’s eyes our efforts matter more than our successes.5 Please, please, please give yourself grace!

Women: What efforts are you making to be a woman of valor? How can you be more compassionate toward yourself in this area?

Men: How can you acknowledge the efforts a woman you love puts forward to make a difference in her—and in your—world?


Ultimately, no matter where you currently are on your journey, you can choose to make efforts to develop valiant characteristics and to courageously step into the battles you face.

Women: What single characteristic of a warrior woman (listed in Proverbs or not) do you feel would most benefit your life? What is a step you can take toward developing it?

Men: How can you support a woman you love as she consciously tries to grow herself?

The Battlefield

One of my favorite pieces of art is a painting of a woman dressed in leather battle garb, holding a spear in one hand and a torch in the other while protecting a young girl with her body (see below). She is the woman of valor I imagine as I read these verses. She’s the woman I want to be: drawing all of my courage and skills together to defend the vulnerable and to fight for the Lord, despite my inadequacies and fears.

Modern-day Mother in Zion, by Anita Mae Hart-Carroll (1955)

Our most important wars are those where we fight for things that are eternal: families, truths, and freedoms. These struggles are against powers of darkness seeking to annihilate those blessings, and the threat is as real as any war waged on earth. “We cannot sign on for [battles of] eternal significance and everlasting consequence without knowing it will be a fight,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland declared. But with conviction, he added that the Lord’s warriors can have confidence that it will be “a good fight and a winning fight.”6

Our most important wars are those where we fight for things that are eternal: families, truths, and freedoms.

Some of the wars we fight together, and others we fight alone. Either way, the Lord promises to be with us on our battlefields.7 Like the stripling warriors, we may be exhausted, battered, and wounded8—but in the end we, too, will come off conquerors.9

Group of women

See a Woman of Valor in Yourself and in Others

Men, please go out of your way to praise the women in your life for the ways they show up as warriors. Consciously seek to notice how a woman makes your life and the world a better place, and then tell her. Express your gratitude for her courage and goodness. Treat her in ways that show you value her as a woman of valor.

Women, each of you is a soldier, a protector, and a conqueror. There is no one right way to be a woman of valor. Single or married. Mother or grandmother. No children. Working. Volunteering. Rich. Poor. Stellar. Average. God endows you with His power as you keep your covenants with Him. As His daughter, you are worth more than all the gems on the planet, and the unique ways you bless the world with your heart, talents, and skills are immeasurable. Don’t rely on others to tell you that—take it to Him and come to believe it for yourself, then step into your power and radiate your amazing light. You are already doing so much better than you think you are!

You are a hero, a true eshet chayil.

So carry on, warrior woman!

Find more unique and meaningful gospel insights from Chelsea Hayden at

Lead image artist: 


  1. Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: The Writings (2018), 451.
  2. An acrostic in English would be set up this way: the first line starts with a word beginning with an A, the second with a B, and so on until the letter Z on the last line.
  3. Midrashim are rabbinic philosophical or hypothetical explanations of and expositions on the stories found in the Hebrew bible. Midrash Tanchuma focuses on stories found in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).
  4. Background Information on Eshet Chayil,” Jewish Women’s Archive,
  5. See Doctrine and Covenants 46:9; see also President Russell M. Nelson’s comments in the video included in Joy D. Jones, “An Especially Noble Calling,” general conference, April 2020.
  6. Cast Not Away Therefore Thy Confidence,Ensign, March 2000.
  7. See, for example, Isaiah 41:10; Doctrine and Covenants 84:88.
  8. See Alma 57:25.
  9. See Romans 8:37.
Stay in the loop!
Enter your email to receive updates on our LDS Living content