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Proverbs 31b – Careful Structure in Proverbs 31

Proverbs 31 is an acrostic poem.  Each verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet – the ABC’s (or aleph bet gimmel’s) of Wisdom.

            But what many don’t know is that Proverbs 31 is also a chiasm.  A chiasm is where the author structures the text in an intentional X-shaped pattern, where the first and last elements parallel each other, the second and second-to-last elements parallel, and so on.

            Richard Clifford presents a chiasm in Proverbs 31 in his commentary on Proverbs (Proverbs, pg. 273):

            vs 10a – “capable”

                        vs 11a – “her husband”

                                    vs 19a – “her hand she puts”

                                                vs 19b – “her fingers”

                                                vs 20a – “her palm”

                                    vs 20b – “her hand she stretches”

                        vs 28b – “her husband”

            vs 29a – “capable”

            It might help to note that the word that Clifford translates “fingers” and “palm” in vss 19b and 20a is the same word in Hebrew.  Likewise, the word Clifford translates “she puts” and “she stretches” is also the same in Hebrew.  Verses 19-20 make a very tight mini-chiasm.  When translated more literally, it looks like this:

            19a – “her hands / she stretches out”

                        19b – “her palms”

                        20a – “her palm”

            20b – “her hands / she stretches out”

            Duane Garrett in his commentary (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, pg. 248) notes an even more comprehensive chiasm:

A. High value of a good wife (vs 10)

            B. Husband benefited by wife (vss 11-12)

                        C. Wife works hard (vss 13-19)

                                    D. Wife gives to poor (vs 20)

                                                E. No fear of snow (vs 21a)

                                                            F. Children clothed in scarlet (vs 21b)

                                                                        G. Coverings for bed, wife wears linen (vs 22)

                                                                                    H. Public respect for husband (vs 23)

                                                                        G’: Sells garments and sashes (vs 24)

                                                            F’. Wife clothed in dignity (vs 25a)

                                                E’. No fear of future (vs 25b)

                                    D’. Wife speaks wisdom (vs 26)

                        C’. Wife works hard (vs 27)

            B’. Husband and children praise wife (vss 28-29)

A’. High value of a good wife (vss 30-31)                   We can clearly see the artistic structure of Proverbs 31 coming out in various ways.  Whether through the acrostic or through chiasm, it gives us the sense that the poem was constructed in just as orderly a fashion as the woman’s life it depicts.

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