and supplies belts to the tradesmen.” Proverbs 31:24
PRO 31:24 of this acrostic poem starts with the Hebrew letter sumekh. Sumekh is a picture of a fulcrum and pictures power.
The virtuous woman uses the power of prayer.
In PRO 31:24, we see the virtuous woman being industrious in the making of fine linen garments and belts. There isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said about that statement. However, the use of the sumekh file in this verse opens up the issue of divine power in our life. We are fallen creatures living in a sinful world; we need a source greater than ourselves to be virtuous and victorious. Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer moves the arm that moves the world.” For the woman, prayer is one of her greatest power sources. We are under the curse of enmity between Satan and the woman; we are in subordination to the leadership of imperfect husbands; and our being is corrupted with our own old sin nature. We desperately need prayer! When a woman falls on her knees before “the throne of [God’s] grace,” she is calling on the greatest power source in the universe to be attentive to her needs and intervene on her behalf and on behalf of those she loves. The King of kings and Lord of lords, and the Creator and Sustainer of all life is beckoning us to come before His throne in times of need. Prayer is all about our relationship with Jesus Christ and communication with Him and the Father.
There are so many lovely verses concerning prayer—verses that are full of invitation and promise. Let’s look at some of them with a view to being encouraged in our prayer life:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”HEB 4:14-16
When Jesus paid the price for our sin on the cross, the thick, heavy veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in the temple was torn from top to bottom (MAT 27:51). Before His death, it was there to conceal the glory of God; but in Christ, God was declaring to the world that entrance into His throne was open for all who believe in Him. What a precious privilege! Therefore, we are encouraged to come before the Father’s throne with boldness, encouraged by the fact that Jesus understands our struggles, troubles, weaknesses, temptations, and trials—because He, too, was a man.
Our Lord always wants to hear our voice. He is on duty 24/7 to hear our prayers. One time, when we were working in India and traveling by taxi through Jaipur, we saw many men on elephants. They were dressed luxuriously and waiting to enter a big convention center. We asked the driver what was going on, and he said there was a group wedding about to take place. It was the day that one of the Hindu gods was waking from a long sleep. During his four-month “nap” (being a false god must be exhausting!), weddings are forbidden, and so when he wakes up, many people want to get married! We asked him if he was bothered by the idea that his god slept. We then went on to tell him that we believed in Jesus Christ—the one true and living God of the Bible who never sleeps but is always attending to our prayers and needs! Hopefully, it gave him something to think about. We can pray without ceasing because our God hears, cares, and answers without ceasing!
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”ROM 8:26 (emphasis added)
Paul includes himself in this statement. If the great Apostle Paul did not always know the right way to pray, we should not be surprised that sometimes we are not sure about what to ask God to do. Certainly, there are times when we know the will of God in a situation, and we can pray according to His will. But other times we are uncertain. As in every lack in our life, God is faithful to provide so the Spirit joins us in prayer before the Father—praying perfectly, passionately, and deeply on our behalf.
“Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” ROM 8:34 (emphasis added)
Not only does the Spirit of God pray for the believer, but Jesus Christ also comes alongside us in our trials and weaknesses to pray according to the will of God. I am blown away by the truth of these verses as I recognize the personal nature of God’s help in my life. It is by grace that we can enter boldly before God’s throne, but to know that the Spirit and the Son both join us there—that is amazing grace! So many times, I am encouraged by believers who say “we pray for you every day,” but to also know that the Spirit and the Son are praying is a truth that should encourage us in any and every trial. We are never alone!
Reflecting on the last lesson on submission and our role in God’s chain of command for the human race, we—as women—are sometimes put into seemingly hopeless situations where we are vulnerable to the sinful actions of a rebellious man. (Of course, oftentimes men suffer from the sinful actions of a rebellious woman—my husband certainly has!) Most married couples I know will admit to working through some very deep valleys of despair in their relationship. The ones that haven’t been willing to work through them have ended in divorce or separation. To work through a deep-seated problem with the truth of God’s Word brings glory to God and credit to the power of His Word. To overcome sin, fault, and failures in a marriage relationship results in a testimony to the mighty grace of God.
In our lesson on submission, we looked at 1PE 3:1-2:
“In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands, so that even if any
of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,
as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.”
With this verse, I mentioned that the best way to win a rebellious husband back to God was not through nagging or preaching, but through silence and a display of respect. True!
But the Word of God also gives us another course to follow at certain times. I want to talk about what my husband calls a “plea for righteousness.” I first heard him teach this principle many years ago, and it came as a great help to me. Though he was the one teaching the principle from the pulpit, I was in need of hearing it because there was a situation in our own home that I was really struggling with—and so it resonated with me. A “plea for righteousness” is a valid course for a woman to follow in marriage when the man is harming the relationship and/or the family through “unrighteous” behavior. Perhaps the clearest example of a “plea for righteousness” is found in the book of Esther.
Although the name of God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther, His sovereign hand is seen moving in each and every situation. Esther was a Jewish orphan girl raised by her wise cousin, Mordecai, in the land of Persia. God divinely directed many people and events in the kingdom of Persia in order to raise up Esther to the position of favored queen. In the third chapter of Esther, the evil man, Haman, was put into a place of power in the kingdom. Mordecai, being a good Jewish man, refused to bow to Haman so Haman’s anger burned against Mordecai and all of the Jewish people. He then manipulated King Ahasuerus to allow a decree to be sent out that on a certain day the people of Persia are “to destroy, to kill and to annihilate all the Jews” (EST 3:13).
When news of the decree reached the ears of Mordecai, he “put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and wailed loudly and bitterly” (EST 4:1). As the news spread throughout the kingdom, all of the Jews mourned with fasting, weeping, and wailing. Finally, news of the decree reached the queen’s palace, and Esther joined her kin and countrymen in mourning, and “writhed in great anguish” (EST 4:4).
Mordecai recognized that Esther was in a position of opportunity. He ordered “her to go in to the king to implore his favor and to plead with him for her people” (EST 4:8). Mordecai was asking Esther to request her husband to act rightly on behalf of the Jews—in other words, to go to him with a “plea of righteousness.”
Esther had been in the habit of following Mordecai’s leadership and wisdom in her life, even after she had left his care to be brought into the king’s palace. But when this request reached her ears, she was at first unwilling, citing the fact that to approach the king without his invitation could result in her own death. Mordecai responded to Esther’s hesitation with these words, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (EST 4:14).
This is a “suck it up, princess” moment for Esther. Every test and trial in life is a call from God for greater humility and devotion. God is calling Esther to be willing to lay down her life to save her people. She bravely stood up to the calling and replied to Mordecai, “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish” (EST 4:16).
We have not yet come to the point in the story where Esther makes her “plea of righteousness.” But before we go any deeper, let’s consider a few points of application from what we have already seen. The lead-up to a “plea of righteousness” is very important:
There is a very real violation of “right” in Esther’s situation, and her husband, the king, endorsed the evil. A “plea of righteousness” is not just a request for something you would like to see happen in order to make your life easier. It is a plea for what is right and proper in God’s sight.
Esther is willing to suffer—even die—in order to right the wrong. This is obviously a very extreme case; but even so, if we are led to go to our husbands with a “plea of righteousness,” we must realize that we may suffer as a consequence. He may reject our plea, become insulted, silent, angry, or a multitude of other responses.
Before Esther addresses her husband with her request, she spends time in fasting and asks others to join her. The passage does not specifically say that she and the others prayed, but according to Jewish custom, fasting was undertaken for the purpose of humbling oneself before God and coming to Him in prayer. No doubt Mordecai, Esther, and her maidens were joining with the Jews of Persia in prayer. Before confronting your husband with a “plea of righteousness,” it is very important to check your own soul-attitude. You can’t really address an area of unrighteousness if you, too, are walking in unrighteousness. Be aware of the temptation toward pride, a judgemental spirit, anger, bitterness, or resentment. A “plea of righteousness” should be done with a humble, respectful heart and with full dependence on God’s working in your soul. We should go face-down before God with our “plea of righteousness” long before we go face-to-face with our husbands over the issue.
In chapter 5, Esther bravely goes before King Ahasuerus. It is the third day of fasting, and she dresses in her royal robes and stands in the inner court. When the king sees his beautiful wife, “she obtained favor in his sight” (EST 5:2), and he extends the golden scepter and asks her request. Whew! Her life is spared. Esther requests that the king and Haman come to a banquet that she has prepared. The king agrees and hurries to call Haman to accompany him. As the king and Haman are eating and drinking wine, the king asks Esther the nature of her request. She speaks to him with great respect and honor, and invites him and Haman to return to another banquet the next day in which she will reveal her request.
In Esther 7, we have the second banquet of Esther, King Ahasuerus, and Haman. The king again asks Esther about her request, and she exposes to him the evil plot of Haman against the Jews. Take notice of her words in EST 7:3-4, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me as my petition, and my people as my request; for we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. Now if we had only been sold as slaves, men and women, I would have remained silent, for the trouble would not be commensurate with the annoyance to the king.”
Now, ladies, I know the language Esther uses to address her husband is not the kind of language we use to communicate today. I can’t remember a single time when I have said, “if I have found favor in your sight, O Gene ...” The principle is important; her “plea of righteousness” is done with humility and respect. But it is also done with seriousness and with truth. She exposes Haman for what he is—an evil and wicked man. That day, Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. This is a very quick synopsis of the story of Esther with the purpose of highlighting her “plea of righteousness.” The story ends very well for Esther. As a result of her plea, the king sent out a decree allowing the Jews of Persia to fight back and defend themselves from attackers. God empowered his people to be victorious “so that the Jews themselves gained the mastery over those who hated them” (EST 9:1b).
As I said, Esther’s “plea of righteousness” was very effective. But that is not always the case. What course should a woman take if she is passionate about seeing a wrong corrected in her home or marriage relationship, and her “plea of righteousness” before her husband falls on deaf ears? Trust God, pray some more, be patient. Give God more time to work His way within your husband’s heart, for He has promised to complete the work He started in the soul of every man and every woman (PHI 1:6). Continue to pray about the situation, asking God to give you wisdom to know how to deal with it and when to next approach your husband. Wait on the Lord while you wait for your husband to be brought to righteousness—not forsaking your respectful behavior and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God!
Tough stuff? Absolutely! But a marriage relationship is worth suffering hardship over. It is the foundational relationship of home and family. It is the representation of Christ and the Church on Earth. It is so easy to give up and give in to despair, depression, separation, or even divorce.
At one point in our marriage, my husband and I were so close to losing it all. Every day, we thank God that He saw fit to give us the conviction, grace, and mercy we needed to work through the tough stuff to get to the fun stuff. Now, as we approach our 41st anniversary, we have so much to celebrate! We love each other more and more each day, we are blessed with five fine grown children, three beautiful daughters-in-law, an okay son-in-law (just kidding, he calls me “Battle-Axe,” but I still love him!), and nine extraordinary little grandbabies. Yes, extraordinary! We can love on them and enjoy them together, because—by God’s grace—we stayed together! Our marriage declares the faithfulness and love of God to our children, grandchildren, and to the Body of Christ. On top of that, we work and serve together—all of which would have been lost if we had called it quits.
Now, I want to say a word of encouragement to those of you who may be going through a marriage break-up or have suffered divorce in the past. Sometimes a husband is unwilling to be faithful and is determined to stay the course of sin and immorality. Divorce happens. Sometimes it is not the woman’s choice, but still it happens. Sometimes, in spite of many well-crafted and God-guided “pleas for righteousness,” the man remains in his rebellious state. Over the years, I have seen this happen to many friends and sisters-in-Christ; when it happens, I hurt and ache for them deep within my heart. But I have also observed that when the woman stays faithful to God and continues to seek His Word and direction in her life, God works it all together for her good and His glory (ROM 8:28). He brings healing and joy back into their life and helps them to move on in a fruitful life. At this age in my life, I can readily concur with the words of David in PSA 37:25, “I have been young and now I am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken.”
There is also a place for a “plea of righteousness” outside the marriage relationship. Since we covered the story of Abigail in a previous lesson, we won’t look at her story again in detail. However, when she approached David in 1 Samuel 25, she was approaching him with a “plea of righteousness.” With the same humility and respect that Esther displayed, she fell on her face before him and implored him to do the right thing before God and man. He was a warrior, “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1SA 13:14), and the one anointed to be the next king of Israel; yet Abigail had the courage and wisdom to bring him to a point of correction.
And then, there is the case of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. We all know their story, right? The often-overlooked story of the daughters of Zelophehad shows us another example of a “plea of righteousness.” Their father died in the wilderness, without sons to leave his inheritance to. In Numbers 27, they bring their case before Moses and state, “Why should the name of our father be withdrawn from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers” (NUM 27:4). Moses brings their case to the Lord, and the Lord spoke to Moses saying, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in their statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them” (NUM 27:7, emphasis added). These five sisters went before the spiritual leadership of their country in order to ask them to do the right thing, and God endorsed their request. When we stand on truth and righteousness, we are standing with the Lord!
2TI 1:7 says, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”
This is a great verse to summarize this lesson as we are encouraged to “go boldly before God’s throne of grace to find help in time of need” (HEB 4:16). At times, that boldness drives us to confront others with a “plea of righteousness”—always done in the humble love of Christ and the discipline of soul that comes from God’s inerrant Word!
Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might!