What does Proverbs 31:1 mean?
ESV: The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:
NIV: The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.
NASB: The words of King Lemuel, the pronouncement which his mother taught him:
CSB: The words of King Lemuel, a pronouncement that his mother taught him:
NLT: The sayings of King Lemuel contain this message, which his mother taught him.
KJV: The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.
NKJV: The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him:
Verse Commentary:
As with the introduction to chapter 30, scholars differ on the precise statement being made in this verse. Most interpret it as a reference to a king named Lemuel. Like Agur (Proverbs 30:1), the Bible gives no other background for Lemuel. The introduction uses the same word ascribed to Agur's message: calling it an "oracle," meaning an important, weighty matter. Zechariah uses this word in Zechariah 9:1: "the oracle of the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ is against the land of Hadrach."

The advice contained in this section is given from a mother to her son. While fathers are held accountable for their children's spiritual education (Ephesians 6:4), mothers play an equally important role (Titus 2:4). As noted in the New Testament, Timothy's mother taught him the Scriptures from his infancy (2 Timothy 1:5). Addressing Timothy, the apostle Paul writes, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:14–15).
Verse Context:
Proverbs 31:1–9 contains several teachings echoed previously in this book. The wisdom is related by King Lemuel, as told to him by his mother. This is not the first time a mother's teaching has been mentioned (Proverbs 1:8; 6:20; 30:17). The counsel is a good setup for the rest of the chapter, which is an acrostic poem celebrating the virtues of a wise, industrious, godly wife and mother.
Chapter Summary:
This final chapter fits well with the rest of the book of Proverbs. It reiterates subjects found elsewhere in these lessons. Of note is that the entire chapter is connected to godly women. Topics include the importance of godly parenting, morality, righteous treatment of the needy, justice, and diligence. The first section are the words of King Lemuel's mother. The last is the famous depiction of an "excellent wife," exhibiting ideal traits of diligence, godliness, and competence. That description is arranged as acrostic poem: each verse begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Chapter Context:
Proverbs chapter 31 comes after a long list of Solomon's teachings (Proverbs 25—29) and the words of Agur (Proverbs 30). This final section is connected to two women: the mother of King Lemuel and the ideal of a godly, "excellent" wife. Themes found in this passage are reflected in other lessons from the book of Proverbs. Of note, commendable traits such as business savvy, strength, and wisdom are explicitly associated with women, despite being stereotypically considered masculine. The content after verse 10 is explicitly structured as a poem.
Book Summary:
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
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