Proverbs 30:23

ESV an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.
NIV a contemptible woman who gets married, and a servant who displaces her mistress.
NASB Under an unloved woman when she gets a husband, And a female servant when she dispossesses her mistress.
CSB an unloved woman when she marries, and a servant girl when she ousts her queen.
NLT a bitter woman who finally gets a husband, a servant girl who supplants her mistress.
KJV For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.

What does Proverbs 30:23 mean?

Agur introduced this section by referring to ideas which create instability and chaos (Proverbs 30:21). His broader point was about inserting someone into a situation for which they are not prepared. The first involved a slave becoming king: someone with no knowledge or experience of ruling suddenly gaining power. The second was a wisdom-deprived "fool" (Proverbs 1:7, 22) experiencing material comfort, furthering their insensitivity to God's will.

The third thing identified as extremely unsettling is an unloved woman who gets married. The implication is a woman who feels rejected or scorned, causing her bitterness. When she eventually finds a husband, she may carry that cynicism with her. Or she may be prone to lashing out at those who ignored her in the past. Or the arrangement may be a disruption to family dynamics, which were extremely important in a communal society like Israel. Leah, the first wife of Jacob, seems to have been such an "unloved" woman (Genesis 29:16–17). Her father tricked Jacob into marrying her (Genesis 19:25–26). Seeing that Leah was unloved, God gave her children. Rachel, Jacob's preferred wife, was barren (Genesis 29:31). A rivalry between the sisters ensued, even including their maidservants and their children.

First Samuel 1:1–8 informs us that Hannah was barren. Her husband, Elkanah, loved her, even giving her a double portion at the annual sacrifice. Elkanah's other wife, Peninnah, provoked Hannah "grievously to irritate her." As a result of the insults and her barrenness, Hannah wept and would not eat. However, she did not take revenge on her rival. Instead, she carried her burden to the Lord and asked him for a son (1 Samuel 1:9–11).

Agur also points to turmoil caused when a female servant "displaces" the master's earlier wife. This may carry the sense of a scandal, resulting in hurt feelings and infighting. Hagar and Sarai are somewhat of an example of this type of situation. When Abram and Sarai continued with no child, Sarai gave her maidservant Hagar to Abram to bear a child. When Hagar conceived "she looked with contempt on her mistress." Sarai "dealt harshly with her, and [Hagar] fled from her." The angel of the Lord met Hagar in the desert, and she returned to Abram and Sarai (Genesis 16). Abram and Sarai, whose names were changed to Abraham and Sarah, did conceive and give birth to a son named Isaac (Genesis 21). After Isaac was weaned, Sarah saw Hagar's son mocking her son, "So she said to Abraham, 'Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac'" (Genesis 21:10). Rivalry seems inevitable when two women share the same husband. Other examples in this section have hinted at unprepared persons suddenly thrust into power. The "mistress" of a house was expected to be responsible and oversee affairs of the home (Proverbs 31:30–31). If a young servant were unexpectedly put in charge of the home, her inexperience would create uncertainty.
What is the Gospel?
Download the app: