In the first part of this verse, we see again this woman's industry and talent. It also reveals that she does engage in some commerce outside of her home, but as we learned earlier, it is an extension -- a surplus -- of what she already provides for her household. The point is that her commerce is an easy transition from household responsiblities; one that doesn't deprive her family of her time and necessary attention. Verse 16 mentions her "savings of time and strength." In managing her time well, coupled with skill and efficiency in her "trade" of garment-making, she has time left over to produce some goods for sale, and their quality is such that others are interested in purchasing them. The Proverbs 31 woman isn't actively involved in the workplace as is her husband, but simply adds to the family's income from an over-abundant supply of goods after meeting her family's needs.
In studying the entire chapter of Proverbs 31, two things become apparent about this woman regarding work outside of home and family. First, it isn't necessary for her to do so in order for their family's financial needs to be met. Through wisdom and understanding, their life has been built such that her assistance isn't required in this area. Her husband prospers in this work; she prospers in her management of their home and caring for their family; and most importantly, they have giving hearts and do not attempt to live beyond their means. As a result, their household's needs are always supplied, while she remains able to focus on her home and children (see 2 Corinthians 9:9-11).
Note that a family business is different, for this is a wife being her husband's "helpmeet" in a very real sense, and teaches children the importance of the family unit. Also, if a husband loses his job, a wife may need to step in, temporarily, to fill the gap. But the point is that her income is not needed in addition to her husband's over a long period of time in order to meet the family's financial needs. If a woman chooses her husband wisely and, as a couple they live only within the husband's means from day one, the children will always have their loving mom as principal caregiver and feel the security of her being at home as they learn to navigate the world.
Secondly, although perfectly capable of doing so, she doesn't feel an emotional need to enter the workforce. She is busy and completely fulfilled with what she is required to do each day. Keeping a household and a family's life running smoothly is gratifying; it is a full-time job as well, particularly with children. When the Proverbs 31 woman looks for activity to fill excess hours or to provide a creative outlet, she gauges it against the following:
- Is this a good influence on me and my life?
- Does it deprive my husband and family, especially my children, of my time and attention? Will they suffer for it in any way?
- Is it an activity that will edify my husband and our family?
This woman constantly views her activities, her ways, and her associations in light of how they affect her husband and family. She is careful not to engage in anything which will sever her -- physically, mentally or emotionally -- from her first priority, which is her husband and family, and their home.
Young wives who have even the most fulfilling careers will almost certainly reach a point where, at the very least, they wish they could pull back and have more time and mental energy to tend to their homes and families. God in His wisdom, in saying that it was not good for man to be alone (see Genesis 2:18), knew that it takes two people, each with distinctively different responsibilities, to effectively move a family unit forward in society. Not that husbands' and wives' roles do not intersect or overlap at times, but the "duty rosters" are different and separate for husband and wife. A woman may develop her talents and intellect and use her skills as a strong undergirding for her husband and family; again, it takes a clear knowledge of oneself, and the proper choice in a husband, in order for a woman's abilities to be maximized in a supportive role.
Some married women who choose not to work or pursue a career struggle with a "second class" self-image, wishing to replace a role that is perceived as dispensable and unimportant with one that makes a visible mark on society, just as their male counterparts. But it's actually a wise, enlightened woman who ignores this idea and instead follows the path God has designed. Her life will be full, stress-free, and her home filled with "all pleasant and precious riches" (see Proverbs 24:3,4). We as wives and mothers were not meant to be unfulfilled in our roles, capable of little else than that for which the stereotype calls. Such was never God's intention. On the contrary, the Proverbs 31 woman is skillful, intelligent, in control, and uses her abilities to her family's best advantage. She is an example of one that the older women were to set for young wives in Christian society, as Paul put forth in Titus 2:3-5:
"...They are to give good counsel and be teachers of what is right and noble,
So that they will wisely train the young women to be sane and sober-minded -- temperate, disciplined -- and to love their husbands and children;
To be self-controlled, chaste, homemakers, good-natured (kindhearted), adapting and subordinating themselves to their husbands, that the word of God may not be exposed to reproach -- blasphemed or discredited."
In the second part of Proverbs 31:24, the writer's prophetic choice in emphasizing a girdle in particular, as opposed to another garment such as a tunic or robe, gives it distinct spiritual meaning:
"... she delivers to the merchants girdles [or sashes that free one for service]."
A girdle was worn by men to lift and secure their long garments and equip them for work or strenuous tasks. Often made of leather like a belt, or cloth, it went between the legs and around the waist, thus lifting a long garment away from the ground. In much the same way, a woman girds up her husband in order to free him -- mentally and physically -- for his God-given tasks. Here again, a wife is her husband's support.
It is also interesting to note that the item this verse tells us she delivers to the merchants for sale is one that is useful in assisting in people's work, as opposed to "production of things for vain or detrimental use," (the profits from which) "will dwindle away." (See Proverbs 13:11.)
Lastly, note that the Proverbs 31 woman deals on the wholesale level, with the merchants (emphasis mine), rather than going out into the marketplace and selling to the public. One almost gets the sense that she would find this undignified in some way; also, it would take a great deal more time than what simply selling directly to the retailers requires. In addition, the verse doesn't say she sells to the merchants per se; it says she delivers (in both the King James and Amplified translations). The implication is that she doesn't haggle with them over price and profit, but delivers her merchandise expecting a fair price, possibly pre-determined, and in dealing with merchants whom she knows. Again, even though she is decidedly capable of doing so, the Proverbs 31 woman chooses not to fully step into commercial activity; she keeps it secondary to her other responsibilities and doesn't let it consume too much of her time or thought.