Proverbs 31 Key Words and a How-To

Posted by on Aug 30, 2011 in Blog Posts | 5 comments

Good morning!  Leave it up to me to drag this Proverbs 31 woman series out a bit longer.

I think you’ll be glad I did.  If one of my purposes of blogging is to encourage you as a Titus 2 woman (thus the postings about the Proverbs 31 woman), another one of my purposes is to teach you some how-to of Bible study.

So, I felt led the other day to jot down some of the key words in this passage.  That list is today’s opening picture.

Key words in a biblical passage are those that contribute significant meaning.  Without them the passage would not say much.  These words tell us characteristics about her.  I can think of our common day meanings for these, but I want to stress that it’s always important to go back and look at the meaning of the words as written in their original language.

In this case, we are going to go back and look at the Hebrew meaning of  one of them.  Why Hebrew?  Because it’s the Old Testament language and this was the best English word they could find to get as close to the Hebrew meaning.  Today is a how-to lesson for you; a how-to in doing a biblical word study.  First, a long way that yields better results.  Then, the shortcut way that may not satisfy the need to know more.

Word Studies – A Long Way:
Step 1
Choose a word directly from the passage.  I’m choosing “fears” from verse 30 which reads in my New American Standard-95 update translation, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.”  I think this verse is a major descriptive verse about her and this word is key about her.

Step 2
Look for that word in an exhaustive concordance used at the address (Bible verse) where you find it.  I’m using the NASB95 version.  This comes in hardback or in some computer software.  I have the latter version…I can tote it on trips.  So, I look for that word “fears” in my concordance and find the address where it was used in Proverbs 31:30.  Then, I run my finger along the page (or screen) and jot down the number which tells me where to find its meaning in the Strong’s numbering system.

In this case, the Hebrew Strong’s Concordance number is 3372.  I make a note of this word number because I can’t pronounce the Hebrew that looks like this,” יָרֵא” and is transliterated like this, “yārēʾ”.  (I would like to learn, though, and would gladly accept your donations to my college fund).

Step 3
Now I go to a dictionary of Hebrew words and look for this Strong’s number, 3372.  When I get to it, I read the definition which is rather lengthy.  Uh oh.  See?  How am I supposed to know which one applies in this instance?  Look at the highlighted words (I highlighted them).  Those are the general meaning of this kind of fear.

3372. יָרֵא yārēʾ: A verb meaning to fear, to respect, to reverence, to be afraid, to be awesome, to be feared, to make afraid, to frighten. The most common translations are to be afraid, to fear, to fear God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” is a famous use of the noun (Prov. 1:7 NIV); the famous narrative of the near sacrifice of Isaac proved to God that Abraham feared Him above all (Gen. 22:12); people who feared God were considered faithful and trustworthy for such fear constrained them to believe and act morally (Ex. 18:21). The midwives of Pharaoh feared God and did not kill the newborn Hebrew males (Ex. 1:17, 21). The fear of the Lord was closely tied to keeping God’s decrees and laws (Deut. 6:2); people who fear God delight in hearing of His deeds for His people (Ps. 66:16). The God of Israel was an object of respectful fear (Lev. 19:30; 26:2) for Obadiah and Hezekiah (1 Kgs. 18:3, 12; Jer. 26:19). In addition, because Israel feared and worshiped other gods, they were destroyed by Assyria (Judg. 6:10; 2 Kgs. 17:7, 35). They were to worship and fear only the Lord their God (Josh. 24:14). Israel had an unnecessary and unhealthy fear of the nations of Canaan (Deut. 7:19). The verb describes the fear of men: Jacob feared Esau, his brother (Gen. 32:7[8]); and the official in charge of Daniel feared the king (Dan. 1:10). In the sense of respectful fear, each person was to honor his mother and father (Lev. 19:3). As a stative verb, it describes a state of being or attitude, such as being afraid or fearful: a man afraid of war was to remove himself from the army of Israel (Deut. 20:3, 8; Judg. 7:3); as a result of rebellion, Adam and Eve were afraid before the Lord (Gen. 3:10).
In the passive form, the word expresses the idea of being feared, held in esteem: God was feared and awesome (Ex. 15:11; Ps. 130:4); His deeds were awe-inspiring (Deut. 10:21; 2 Sam. 7:23); the Cushites were an aggressive people feared by many (Isa. 18:2); even the threatening desert area was considered fearful or dreadful (Deut. 8:15).
The factitive or intensive form means to frighten or to impart fear: the wise woman of Tekoa was frightened by the people (2 Sam. 14:15); and the governor of Samaria, Sanballat, attempted to frighten Nehemiah so that he would not rebuild the wall of Jerusalem (Neh. 6:9).

Baker, W. (2003). The complete word study dictionary : Old Testament (470). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

This woman reveres God.  She is not biting her nails afraid of Him.  Her awe of Him is more beautiful than her fleeting youthful beauty.   Although other Scripture addresses are given at the conclusion of more specific definition examples, there is not one listed for this verse.  So, based on her treatment of her family and others within the context of this passage, she has no need to be afraid of God.  Her fear, therefore, can be interpreted as respect and awe of God.

Her fear is a verb.  It is an ongoing action on her part.

Note on dictionaries of Bible words: 
Dictionaries of Bible words are handy to have.  Vine’s Expository Dictionary is one.  I have it and I have the one I cited above.  I like them both.  I get more out of the one I cited above most of the time.  There are others, too.  One is enough for the average lay student.

Step 4
Substitute the meaning back into the original verse and see if it makes sense.
“Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears (respects) the LORD, she shall be praised.”

Does this make more sense now?  It takes what we would normally interpret as fear, being afraid of something or someone, and clarifies that it is not the case with this woman.  She is in awe of God.

Word Studies – An Easier Way:

Read the steps first then click on the link below that will take you to the site where you can complete the steps.

Step 1
Click on the link below.

Step 2
At the top of that page, look for “Bible Study Tools” and click on it.

Step 3
In the “Search the Bible” box that is central on that page as it opens, click on “Interlinear Bible”.

Step 4
Choose a translation of interlinear Bible.  I choose the New American Standard.

Step 5
Type in the address of the passage you are looking at.  For us, it’s Proverbs 31:30.  Press “enter”.

Step 6
The verse we want pops up in English and Hebrew.  The words that have definitions are in blue.  Scroll your mouse over the word “fears”.  Click there.

Step 7
Read the very abbreviated definition.  Doing it this way makes it harder to determine its meaning.  But, in a pinch, it could be helpful.  This one gives you the phonetic pronunciation which I like to have.

Here’s the link to click on.

The gist of doing a word study is not to use all the definitions that pop up for a word as that word’s meaning.  It takes discernment and an understanding of the context of the verses to know which definition is a better match.  Doing word studies takes practice and materials you may not always have at your disposal.  But, I encourage you to begin making word studies a part of your Bible studying.

Opportunity for Response:
Pick one.
What is the meaning of the word, “charm,” as used in this verse?  Leave the definition in the comments below. 
What other Bible study websites do you know of that offer biblical word study materials?  Please share with us.



  1. I haven’t done my assignment yet, but love this post showing me how. Thanks.

  2. Hey Louann,

    Thanks for liking the post today. I know it was rather long and detailed, but I hope it will prove to be a useful help to you and others. How could I have made it more understandable?

  3. If your readers never seen an Exhaustive Concordance or a Word Study Dictionary, this may seem like “Greek”. Ha! The Crosswalk site was a good suggestion. Although,I didn’t have success with the Crosswalk site yet. Ironic that this is today’s post. I was just thinking that those books take up a whole bookshelf and so not portable (as you mentioned) and would I make use of a software version?

  4. The books that I like are part of my Logos software and an AMG supplement that I bought separate. If I didn’t have that software, I would definitely get the Complete Word Study Dictionary for Old and New Testaments in book format. I also like Wuest’s word study book in my software (not a complete collection, however) and Lawrence O. Richards Encyclopedia of Bible Words (not on my software, but in book form…doesn’t have an exhaustive collection of meanings, however).

  5. Learning Hebrew (loshon kodesh/holy tongue) will help much in knowing the Torah. This verse is beautiful.

    A Woman of Valor, called Aishet Chayil in Hebrew, is a hymn which is customarily recited on Friday evenings, after coming home from synagogue. Aishet Chayil is a twenty-two verse sonnet that King Solomon wrote as a conclusion to the book of Proverbs (Proverbs, chapter 31). The verses of the sonnet are arranged in the order of the Hebrew alphabet, from Aleph to Tav. It praises the woman of valor as virtuous, righteous, and capable. According to the Midrash, Aishet Chayil was originally composed by our forefather Abraham as a eulogy for his wife Sarah.

    Singing Aishet Chayil at the Shabbat table after Shalom Aleichem and before Kiddush is very conducive to marital bliss. It’s a lofty way for a husband to display his high regard for and his gratitude to his wife. According to Kabbalah, Aishet Chayil refers to the Shabbat Queen, the spiritual soul-mate of the Jewish people. It is also a reference to the Shechinah (Divine presence) and to the neshama, the soul. The fact that Judaism describes these exalted concepts using the Jewish woman as the metaphor shows the enormous regard that Judaism has for women. Aishet Chayil is a tribute to her.

    Yosef Karduner and I recorded the following clip so that you’ll be able to sing the original Breslever version of Aishet Chayil at your Shabbat table. For your convenience, below the video player are the complete lyrics in transliteration and in translation.

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