Proverbs 30:23

For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.

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Two kinds of people can ruin your life. It is wisdom to avoid these obnoxious persons, and it is also wisdom to not be like them! God inspired the prophet Agur to warn you about both kinds of people. Learn to identify and avoid them; learn to hate their ways.

The prophet Agur taught Ithiel and Ucal practical wisdom by several sets of four things (Pr 30:1). Here are the last two of four things that ruin earthly peace and make life miserable, for mankind cannot bear either of these two despicable persons (Pr 30:21-23).

The first culprit is a disagreeable, offensive, and repulsive wife, which ruins the blessing of marriage and tortures the man she took victim. The sex and institution designed for his peace and pleasure become the source of his pain and problems. Many men have fallen into this trap and been held by rusty steel claws for the duration of their miserable lives.

A good wife is one of life’s greatest blessings (Pr 18:22; 31:10; Gen 2:18-25; Eccl 9:9). But a bad wife is one of its greatest frustrations, for she perverts the purpose for her existence and of marriage itself. A man eagerly gives up his freedom as a single man to marry his chosen bride, only to discover with this wretch a painful life of daily torment.

Honest reader, you have seen this creature many times. Among your relatives, there is likely a disagreeable and domineering wife that ruins her husband’s life. Outside your family, if you travel much in public, you have seen other henpecked husbands living out their shame with her in public. Do you pity him? Do you despise her? This is wisdom.

Solomon observed odious women and wrote several warnings about them. Since his main purpose was to guide his son to a successful and prosperous life, he knew the importance of saving him from a woman that would destroy his soul, strength, success, and reputation. While most women dislike these warnings, virtuous women love them.

What is an odious woman? Odious means deserving of hatred, hateful; causing or exciting hatred or repugnance, disagreeable, offensive, repulsive; exciting odium. Got it? This hateful creature is a woman that has forsaken her Creator, His wise design of her sex, and His commandments for her role in marriage. Her contrariness is confusion itself!

What is an odious woman? She always has an opinion, whether asked for or not. She will interrupt any conversation, no matter how important, to offer her two cents or to correct irrelevant facts. She objects to anything suggested or planned, unless she is the center of it. You have seen her, heard her, and smelled her (Pr 11:22; 27:15-16). She stinks.

You can eliminate body odor with a bath or cover it with perfume, but a man cannot hide his odious wife in public, for she cannot stop her irritating ways (Pr 27:15-16; 12:4; 19:13). Her speech, body language, facial expressions, constant opinions, and many other faults make it obvious to all that there goes a man that made a fatal mistake in courtship.

Solomon concluded that it was better for a man to live alone in the wilderness or on his roof than to cohabit with this woman (Pr 21:9,19; 25:24). No wonder there is attached to Solomon’s proverbs the wisdom of King Lemuel’s mother, who provided a detailed list of the character of a virtuous woman – the opposite of the odious woman (Pr 31:10-31).

What is the lesson? It is found in four words – when she is married. Odious women are deceitful and selfish enough to alter their conduct during courtship or dating. This is how they set the hook or trap. A man must proceed very slowly, testing her many times to see if he can smell any smoke, for once he has committed to marriage it is too late to escape.

The other culprit to peace and prosperity of man is a handmaid that is heir to her mistress. Since modern times allow very few the luxury and privilege of domestic servants, it may be hard to immediately grasp the warning and lesson here. For the sake of the wisdom intended, you should transfer the warning primarily to modern employment situations.

In the past, when a servant gained position or privilege comparable to her mistress, it would not be long before her attitude and conduct would degenerate due to pride and presumption. God ordained order in society by different roles for the various participants; when these roles are modified or reversed, trouble surely follows (Pr 27:8; Eccl 10:5-7).

Sarah and Hagar illustrate the point. Sarah in desperation for a child gave her handmaid Hagar to Abraham as a wife (Gen 16:1-3). When Hagar conceived a child that would be Abraham’s heir, her pride disrupted domestic tranquility at least twice (Gen 16:4-6; 21:9-13). Abraham by the direction of God had to throw her and her son out to restore peace.

God’s wisdom here from Agur warns against promoting a person too far too quickly, for it will corrupt morals and performance by feeding pride and presumption. For this reason, Paul charged Timothy not to ordain young or inexperienced men to the ministry, for the lofty position would tempt them to the sin that destroyed the devil – pride (I Tim 3:6).

But God’s wisdom is broader than just a warning about others (Ps 119:96). Reader, if you have been promoted rapidly by economics or management, make sure your humility and thankfulness increase as you rise, not the other way around. Keep your heart with all diligence, lest the favor of upward mobility corrupt your heart, mind, and performance.

Your examples should be Joseph, David, and Daniel. Promoted far beyond their peers and made nearly equal or actually equal to the king, they never lost sight of their position as servants, and it was this very attitude that made them great in the sight of God and men. Consider David’s incredible response after killing Goliath for Israel (I Sam 17:58).

Better yet, consider Jesus Christ. Promoted to the throne of the universe at God’s right hand (Heb 1:1-4), He has none of the profane and wicked personal ambition that ruined Satan (I Tim 3:6). He is committed to His work as High Priest and Intercessor for His people, entirely submissive to the will of God (Luke 22:39-44; I Cor 15:24-28), and He reminds you that even your best performance is merely what you owe Him (Luke 17:10).