God’s Word for You
Proverbs 31:14 bread from afar
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, October 18, 2019
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her bread from afar.
The fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is heh, our h-sound, and here it begins the most ordinary of words, hayata, “she is.” By using this for poetic reasons, Solomon opens up this verse to any comparison or simile he can think of, since “she is…” could lead to absolutely anything at all. This makes his choice all the more interesting: He compares the ideal wife, noble, valiant, and heroic, with ships that come from distant places bringing all sorts of remarkable and valuable things. Solomon sent out a fleet of his own trading ships every three years that brought him “gold, silver, and ivory, and apes and baboons” (2 Chronicles 9:21). Those were the exotic things that Solomon valued, decorating his palace with gold. What he used the apes and baboons for was probably something like our concept of a zoo, either private or public (James 3:7).
What is precious and valuable to an ordinary family? Here Solomon brings us directly in the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer by saying that the heroic wife brings bread. “Bread” here is the common word lehem, the last part of the name of Bethlehem (“house of bread”). Bread in this case stands for all of the daily needs of the home. Flour had to be ground, sifted, mixed with oil and water, and kneaded, and finally baked into bread. This took time before every meal.
There is a difference between the prayer for daily bread and the work of the one who bakes the bread. When we praise the one who makes a meal, whether husband, wife, or servant, we are thanking them for their effort for that meal, but when we pray for our daily bread from God, we are praying for everything we need for our lives, including peace in the land, fairness in business, stability of our economy, good weather, and more. We pray especially for “our domestic and our civil or political affairs. For where these who relations (home and government) are interfered with or prevented from functioning properly, relations are interfered with, and life itself cannot be maintained for any length of time” (Luther, Large Catechism, Fourth Petition, par. 73). When we say our table prayer, we are thanking God for providing all of these things for us, for his providence. When we pray, we should not take the spotlight off of God by shining it, even momentarily, onto anyone else.
One of my favorite dishes that my wife makes is a simple thing, for which she pulls out a little of this and that from our cupboards when I might sigh and think, “There’s nothing here.” She makes rice (something we’ve taught our sons to make, since it’s easy to do but also pretty easy to get wrong) and a topping of celery, some hamburger, a can of cream soup, and perhaps an onion. When I walk into the house after an evening worship service and that dish is on the stove, it’s like love rising in the steam from the pan. Every husband should learn to love what his wife makes, whether it’s like his mother’s cooking or not. One thing is for certain: It will be “mother’s cooking” for their children, and those children will never forget its delights. If they have girls, they will say, “I want to cook like mama does.” And if they have boys, they will say (not just about her cooking): “I want to find a heroic wife, just like daddy did.”
Pastor Timothy Smith