by Gina L.
from Virtuous Daughters, December 2018/January 2019~Volume 18, Number 5
"Panning for Gold" Proverbs 31 Study Series Part 22
I have never been a great gardener. It is partly because I don't have a natural knack for it and mostly because I rarely take the time to actually plant anything. You don't reap if you don't sow! One year though I read a book on wide raised-bed gardening, and it had great pictures and compelling text and inspired me to try. Could a rookie grow produce like that bountiful harvest pictured in the book? Judging from what that plot of ground in our backyard had previously yielded, one would have had many doubts.
The year before my great gardening venture, we had what I call the “capitalist garden.” In remembering about how the Pilgrims tried having everyone grow food and then communally sharing it that first year in Plymouth, with the disastrous results of near starvation, my husband recommended the “capitalist garden” experiment for our backyard plot. When the Pilgrims didn't see a reward tied to their labor, many quit working, and the problem was solved the next year when each family got to keep as much food as they grew. Capitalizing on this concept, my kids plotted out the garden into several plots and each of the interested children and kept one. In Ohio, the weeds grow quickly (understatement) and will soon choke out a plot unless extreme vigilance is practiced (or some sort of mulching system is employed, which we knew nothing about at the time). Soon most of the excited gardeners had nigh given up, even with the promise of enjoying the harvest from their own plots, which were being overcome by heat and weeds. I must mention that one child kept the vision and vigilance and worked tirelessly, and his plot alone produced a modest yield amid the rag-tag bed of weeds which choked out the rest of the garden. Altogether it was a sorry sight, and the “capitalist garden” died. Maybe we just had poor soil.
Afresh with my new ideas, I set out the next year. I followed my gardening book like it was law. I tilled, amended the soil, raked it into wide beds mounded up about 6-8 inches, and then liberally planted the seed. Yes, this method seemed to have a more liberal seeding pattern and so I sowed and sowed. Next I watched for the seeds to sprout, and then I had to do what I hated most--thin out the plot. I had to actually pull out many wonderfully-germinated plants and toss them out of the garden to make room for the other young seedlings to flourish. Then I put a thick mulch barrier of straw (“no hay,” the book said, or I may get weed seeds) around all the plants. After that, I didn't do much but wait. The water came. The sun shined. The plants grew. It was rather glorious. Oh, I did have to water it at times and there was a bit of weeding here and there, but mostly the work became just the actual harvesting of the prolific produce. It almost looked like the book. A few seasoned gardeners who happened by my home had a few nice words and a few questions for me about my methods, thinking they had met a fellow green thumb.
Unfortunately, that was the first and last garden of its kind on our property. The next year, I neglected to even plant. However, even in my one year stint, I learned a great deal, and I enjoyed the fruit of my labor. Eating and sharing the harvest was a supreme joy!
The Virtuous Woman was a much better planter and more consistent gardener than I, and she enjoyed the fruit of her hands. In fact, her labor earned a prolific reward! It not only produced fruit, it also procured her praise.
Proverbs 31:31 says of the Virtuous Woman, “Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.”
The Virtuous Woman indeed received a reward. Her labor was not for nought. In fact, the reward is twofold in this verse and threefold in its entirety. Her reward provided a physical, mental, and spiritual benefit, affecting her body, soul, and spirit. First, she is given the fruit of her hands that she has labored to sow and cultivate. (This is literal fruit and also includes partaking of the figurative fruit of all her various labors.) She is allowed to partake of the fruit of her hands. Contextually, this verse is part of the advice which King Lemuel's mother gave him about a virtuous woman, so we recognize this as a command—an imperative—from mother to son. “You, give her of the fruit of her hands.” (Proverbs 31:31) He is in no way to withhold or keep her from enjoying the fruit she has labored for. She is not a sharecropper or a serf, giving all she grows to a lord. She has a right to partake of the fruit of her hands and this mother is making sure her son—the King—knows this. It is also a biblical truth echoed elsewhere in scripture. Proverbs 27:18 says, “Whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof.” Also, we are told that the husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits (2 Timothy 2:6). She was not to be denied the fruit of her hands.
Next, we see that her reward extends past the physical enjoyment of fruit to the satisfaction of receiving praise. Her own works praise her in the gates (Proverbs 31:31).We remember that her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land (Proverbs 31:23), but now we see that she is also known in these gates, where elders and leaders convene and discuss important matters. She is not only known, but also praised. Though she didn't do them for recognition, her own works have been a testimony to her. Those sitting in the gates have likely seen her carrying on her business, and perhaps they have even purchased her quality wares themselves. They may have seen her laboring in planting and reaping endeavors and have likely noticed her well-cared-for family. They must have seen her hands reaching out to provide for the poor and needy, though she certainly made no effort for them to notice. Yes, her very own works have been a testimony to the virtue she possesses.
Often you cannot hide the light that emanates from a Virtuous Woman. Eventually people see it. They take notice...and then they open their mouths with praise. Remember what was said about Ruth, the Moabitess who followed her mother-in-law, Naomi, to Bethlehem, choosing to cling to Naomi and to God, laboring long in the field and conducting herself respectfully? She was noticed and praised. Boaz told Ruth, “...all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman” (Ruth 3:11). The whole city knew the foreigner Ruth was surely a virtuous woman! The women even said that Ruth was better to Naomi than seven sons (Ruth 4:15). This is high praise indeed.
The Virtuous Woman in Proverbs 31 was noticed and praised too. Her light shined brightly and it was seen. Though she surely never attempted to solicit praise, she was lauded by those in the gates and by others. Though she labored virtuously for years, this praise may not have come quickly in her life. Often it takes time for people to recognize and discern true virtue. Just as she had a time of sowing and laboring and waiting before she could eat/realize the reward of the fruit that she planted in the field, so also the reward of praise and recognition for her virtue likely didn't come overnight. All good rewards require a wait. Additionally, don't lose heart if people don't notice your deeds of virtue. God sees and He is the real rewarder, and in due season you too will reap if you don't faint (Galatians 6:9).
Her third reward, the greatest of all, requires the longest wait. She is patient, however, and has already shown that she is not attracted to instant gratification or living for the moment, and so she will wait patiently, trusting and laboring. Her eyes are fixed above even as her hands are busy below. She has chosen the Fear of God (Proverbs 31:30), and she, like Ruth, has embraced the true God. Hence, her best reward will be eternity with God. She will receive all that Christ accomplished on her behalf. There is no better reward! Her works, done unto the Lord, will bring reward to her as well.
Now on earth she receives praise from men for what they see, but later, she actually will be praised by God for what men cannot see—her heart. “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Corinthians 4:5). Here, on earth, men often get wrong who or what is worthy of praise and many even praise the wrong things, like favor or beauty, but God sees deep into the heart and knows what is truly praiseworthy. Here, people judge one another, assigning praise or criticism as they see fit, but they judge the outside and judge amiss (1 Samuel 16:7). God judges the inside and judges justly, and He never misses a thing.
God also sees beyond the works into the why of them. Many of our “good works” are not good at all if our motives are not His. To do anything to be “seen of men” will provide no heavenly reward. Jesus said that if we give to the poor to catch man's eye or pray publicly to seen of men, we have already received our reward (Matthew 6:1-5). But if we do these same acts secretly, only to be seen by God, He rewards us openly (Matthew 6:6). Our heart's motive makes the difference. In fact, all good and great works done without love are useless—they profit nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3). We all want to be significant, but great faith, knowledge, and even great miracles, like moving mountains, without love make us nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). We are wise to seek God's praise, rather than man's praise. In Jesus' day, many chief rulers believed on Him, but fearing loss of honor and reputation, they did not confess him. Sadly, “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43). We can easily fall into this too. Labor in secret, unto Him and for Him alone, and look to Him alone for the reward, paying little attention to man's praise. Man will often praise us when we need to be reprimanded and reprimand us when we should be praised. Join me in praying, “God, let me love and seek your praise, rather than the praise of men!”
People's praise is fickle and changing, and full of fluff anyway. The praise of man must be sifted and tried, burning off the flattery and impurities. “As the fining pot for silver, and the furnace for gold; so is a man to his praise” (Proverbs 27:2). Even honest praise is best not basked in, but used as a reminder to thank God for His kindness in shining through us, knowing He could have used anyone. We are wise to inwardly deflect all of man's praise to God, Who is is being outwardly reflected in us. All that people are praising in us anyway is something which God gave us or some part of God that they see in us. All authentic praise is His.
The Virtuous Woman received a reward. She will also rejoice in time to come because there is another day of reaping. Unlike me, with my one year of planting, she has chosen to continually sow. Sowing and reaping are always related. When my garden wasn't tilled and planted the following spring, it laid waste and barren in the time of reaping. A physical garden is one thing, but our spiritual garden is another. We must not neglect to sow there. Sowing to the Spirit, investing in God's Word, God's people and God's work, watering others, and well doing is sowing that we must stick to. We can trick ourselves out of sowing, lying, and making excuses why we can't, but God sees through all that and rewards according to the actual sowing. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7) While we must remember to sow, we must also take care as to what kind of seeds we are actually sowing.
We all sow. We choose how to spend our time during this sowing season on earth that we call our lives. We either sow to the Spirit or to the flesh. It is not hard to tell the difference if we are honest and seek God's wisdom. Each kind of sowing produces a harvest. One reaps life everlasting and the other reaps corruption (Galatians 6:8). Consider the yield you are looking to harvest and sow accordingly. If we want to enjoy delicious tomatoes, we buy and plant tomato seeds. If we desire peppers, we sow pepper seeds. Likewise, if we want to reap corruption, then we ought to sow to the flesh. However, if we desire to reap eternal fruit, then we must sow to the Spirit.
There also is a correlation between the size of the harvest and the quantity of seed sown. Just as my successful by-the-book gardening endeavor required liberal seeding to produce a bountiful harvest, so also in the spiritual realm, “he which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). We must be mindful as to the kind, quality, and quantity of seed we sow.
Laboring in a garden in the heat of the sun can take its toll, and many, such as some of the husbandmen in our “capitalist garden”, lose heart and give up. The joy of reaping can be overcome by the weariness of sowing. This is unwise and short-sighted. The vision and reward of reaping must always be kept in the mind and heart of the sower. We must not become weary in our well doing because if we persevere and continue on, not fainting nor giving up, we will reap (Galatians 6:9). But we will not reap in our own timing, but in the season of reaping! There is a waiting season, but the reward is sure to come! “To him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward” (Proverbs 11:18)
The ultimate reaping season for the Christian is eternity. In fact, the Virtuous Woman reaps in part today, as she enjoys the fruit of her hands and is praised in the gates, but her lasting reward won't be realized until she gets to the pearly gates.
It is fitting that the Virtuous Woman enjoyed the fruit of her hands. And though she sought it not, it is right that men praised her. But rewards that perish are of little value compared to God's eternal rewards. Cultivate the right heart, and true good works—done in love unto Him—will follow and so will an enduring reward/harvest. Sow bountifully today in His field—the field He has planted you in—laboring tirelessly unto Him and looking to Him for the real reward, for such does the Virtuous Woman.
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