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Over the past two decades, the Faith & Work movement has highlighted the potential impact of Christians in business when they serve and work with purpose. To achieve this, a framework for Biblical business practice is needed. This paper integrates Biblical foundations with business research to create a wisdom-based framework for impactful business strategy. By analyzing Proverbs 31:10–31, it highlights characteristics of godly business leaders and their practices. Proverbs, as part of Ancient Near East wisdom literature, offers insights into righteous behavior and practical wisdom in everyday life. Just as David oriented himself toward God, Christians in business should align with their Creator in pursuit of ethical practices and good work.

Even so, I stayed in your presence,
you grasped me by the right hand;
you will guide me with advice,
and will draw me in the wake of your glory.
Who else is there for me in heaven?
And, with you, I lack nothing on earth.1

As the global church has increasingly become aware of the role of businesses in spreading the gospel and impacting nations for the kingdom of heaven, there as emerged a need for a comprehensive framework for biblical business practice that empowers businesses to be both profitable and purposefully impactful for Christ and his kingdom. The purpose of this paper is to integrate a biblical foundation for best business practice with leading business research to create a general framework of wisdom for business management today. This purpose is achieved through a hermeneutic approach to Proverbs 31:10–31, a holistic business model and compilation of the wisdom literature, and the integration of the themes found in this passage with contemporary evidence-based business research. The exegesis of Proverbs 31:10–31 not only demonstrates that the wisdom literature highlights the characteristics of a godly business leader and her profitability but also highlights business practices that drive her kingdom impact.

Wisdom literature in the Hebrew scripture aims to invoke the reader to honor both God and neighbor, emphasizing a reverent awe or fear of the Divine. Love for God and others ultimately fulfills the great commandment. The application of practical wisdom of the Old Testament reveals the object of loving and fearing God, illustrating the means to attain the end-goal in all aspects of life. This practical wisdom advocates for virtues like righteousness and the corresponding actions, which encompass various duties such as fearing God, loving others, aiding the needy, and working diligently.

A portion of Hebrew scripture is made up of court literature curated by David designated as wisdom Psalms. The wisdom psalms delve into themes of creation, wisdom, and divine favor. Moreover, Psalms that are considered wisdom Psalms fit into the category of Psalms of orientation. According to Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, psalms of orientation provide a way of making sense of our lives in relationship to God.2 Just as David oriented himself toward God as the leader of Israel, Christians in business are called to continually orient themselves with the Creator. This orientation provides insights into righteous (i.e., ethical) behavior, practical wisdom, a harmonious relationship with God, and the kingdom of heaven inaugurated through the life of Jesus that can guide decision-making in life. Practical wisdom, or phrónēsis as coined in Greek, is the intellectual virtue of making reasoned decisions in matters of good and bad for individuals. Aristotle described it as a means to deliberate on what constitutes a good end, discerning the right means, and doing so in a timely manner.3

Proverbs—a central component of Hebrew wisdom literature, and a capstone of Ancient Near East wisdom literature—outlines wisdom in terms of ethical conduct. The wisdom literature from the court of Solomon encourages individuals to shun evil and adhere to the upright path of humility, justice, and mercy, reflecting a love for God and fellow humans. The ultimate goal of the wise is to guard diligently the pathways that honor God and emphasizes the worth and dignity of all people.

Plans, Paths, and the Way

Wisdom literature across traditions (Babylonian theodicy, Egyptian amenemope, Chinese analects, and Hebrew proverbs) all address wise ways, plans, paths, and purposes. The wisdom literatures of Israel, Egypt, and Mesopotamia held no distinction between secular and religious truth. Unlike the later conceptualization of the wisdom virtues of Aristotle, practical wisdom and divine wisdom shared the same genesis. The pragmatic and the divine were both grounded in religious truth.4 In later wisdom literature, the analects of the Confucian tradition also position the wise manner of living and moral life as “the way.”

References to the way show up throughout scripture with significant meaning in the Hebrew wisdom tradition and in the orientation literatures of the psalms. ֶּדרְֶך (derekh) is the Hebrew word for a “way, road, path,” a “journey” or “manner, custom” of life, and “the way.”5 There are two paths in wisdom literature, or two ways that a person may adhere to: the way of the fool or the way of the wise. The word derekh was used as a literary device referring to the proper meaning of “path” and the transferred meaning of “manner.”6 One could live in the manner of the fool or in the manner of the wise. The manner of the wise throughout the Proverbs is focused on loving God or a fear of God and expression of love and respect for others. In fact, the law in Deuteronomy 9:12 calls us to keep “the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him” capturing both the fear of God as the beginning of wisdom and the way of God as the path or manner of wisdom. Job, Psalms, and Proverbs are all replete with depictions of the way of God. The way of the foolish is in constant contrast to the way of the righteous. The way (derekh) resonates throughout the Torah and wisdom books in ancient wisdom literature with wisdom rooted in the fear of God that directs us toward virtuous paths:

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed.7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understand- ing; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.8

Make level the path of my feet and let all of your ways be established.9

The term derekh is translated sixty-nine times in the book of Proverbs, capturing the virtue of wisdom in practice in society. Nearly every chapter in the book posits some way, manner, or path of wisdom versus the ways and paths of folly. At a high-level, Proverbs can be divided into two sections: wisdom in life, also referred to as Solomon’s proverbs (chapters 10–21) and the wisdom collections, or the proverbs of the wise, Solomon, and Agur (chapters 22–31) all demonstrating the practices, behavior, and habits of the wise. The book closes with a singular text that captures wisdom at work. Providing a holistic picture of the ways of wisdom, the acrostic poem to the excellent woman depicts Lady Wisdom at work. The passage has no reference to the temple or to worship, rather it provides an exemplar of wisdom in practice in day-to-day life in the marketplace. This text provides the context to develop a deeper understanding of the orientation of wisdom at work.

A Hermeneutic Approach to Exploring Wisdom Texts for the Business Practice Context

To conduct a hermeneutical and literature review method, a combined methodological process is adopted to review exegetical work published in the biblical literature consistent with Gorman for interpretation of texts. As well as the detailed analysis introduced by Gorman, a phrase-by-phrase coding of the data was also employed utilizing a hermeneutic technique common across biblical and business research methods.10 The hermeneutic circle approach was applied to explore the sample text, the intratextual and intertextual analysis, and the final contextualization of wisdom texts for current business contexts as an orienting framework highlighting the way of wisdom for business practice.

This hermeneutic approach allowed for certain patterns and themes to emerge. The first pattern emerged pertaining to the function of each phrase as either descriptive, describing the way of the Noble Woman (referring to her character), or active, detailing the way of her organization and her activities. The second- ary patterns and themes that emerged were three-fold, reflecting the descriptive or active functions reflected in the twenty-one verses in Proverbs 31:10–31. The first secondary theme was descriptive of the way of her leadership and character which related most directly to servant leadership as defined by business literature. The additional secondary themes reflected the way of wisdom in her organizational activities and relate to her business orientations and practices, including sustainability, supply chain, quality, stakeholder, and eternal orientations. The final pattern and theme reflected the outcomes of the way of wisdom, including reputation, profitability, comparative advantage, and eternal impact. The detailed analysis that follows highlights the acrostic nature of the text reflecting on the 21 verses and 21 letters of the Hebrew alphabet (א Aleph – ת Tav).

An Exemplar of the Way of Wisdom

The goal of the hermeneutic analysis and exegetical review is twofold: to provide careful historical, literary, and theological analysis of the Proverbs as well as applying hermeneutic analysis to uncover the characteristics (descriptive traits) and skills (active traits) exemplified in the Noble Woman through detailed analysis.11 The analysis reveals that Proverbs 31:10–31 presents the virtuous woman mirroring and reinforcing several themes of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 1–9, es- pecially the wisdom of leadership that is motivated by serving others and the business practices rooted in wisdom. She is truly a leader and an entrepreneur on the way as Proverbs 31:10–31 reads:

A capable woman who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.
She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.12

Historical Context

The human authorship and dates of this passage is of some debate among biblical scholars.13 Many scholars argue that Proverbs 31:10–21, like 1:9–9:18, was the last part of the book to be written and date it around 700 BCE (or sometime between the beginning of the sixth century BCE and the end of the third century BCE).14 This has some implications for the socio-economic situation in the passage, which could reflect more of the economics patterns of women living around the times of the united monarchy of Solomon, indicating established trade and a centralized, redistributive economy or established markets of trade.15 Scholars generally agree that there are few indications of the absolute dates when the book was compiled.16 Further, the authorship of the second half of Prov. 31:10–31 remains a mystery as well.

Neither Proverbs 31:1–9 nor 31:10–31 are thought to be written by Solomon. The verses 1–9 are written as the instruction of the mother of King Lemuel, an unknown and rather enigmatic source.17 The verses found in 31:10–31 are believed to have been written by a different author to the first 9 verses, as this passage is stylistically distinct from the first nine verses of the chapter.18 In the Hebrew text, the first half of Proverbs 31 is found elsewhere in the book while the last half stands alone. Whether or not there is a connection between verses 1–9 and 11–31, the form and writing of the two texts follow very different voice and form. Some scholars agree that the two texts were written by different authors and are not necessarily linked.19

Literary Context

The whole text of Proverbs may have been produced by scribes in the service of the court, within the genre of wisdom literature. The book of Proverbs reflects a trend in the time for courtesans and bureaucrats to record instruction literature, lamentations, and dialogues.20 Wisdom literature, defined as literature that instructs skill in living and teaches practical moral principles, was a long and well-developed literary tradition in the Ancient Near East.21 The poetic tradition of wisdom literature was familiar to ancient Egypt, ancient Mesopotamia, old Babylonian kingdoms, and Neo-Sumerian traditions. The Egyptian literature, especially the “Teachings of Amenemope,”22 most closely parallel the Hebrew wisdom texts with two basic types of genres: instructions and discussions.23

In comparison to the broad context of scripture, some scholars argue that the Noble Woman in Proverbs 31 is the counterpart to Psalms 112 which comparatively extols the noble man.24 The book of Proverbs provides its own outline by announcing the author of sections as the book commences. Interestingly, despite significant difference in flow and structure between the texts, both the Masoretic Hebrew text and the Septuagint place Proverbs 31:10–31 at the end of Proverbs, indicating a conclusive summary of wisdom in the poem of the Noble Woman.

Form, Structure, Movement

The Hebrew name of the book of Proverbs is mišlê, which is the construct plural form of māšāl (ׁשל ָמ )—“proverbs,” meaning “proverbs of.” The Septuagint name for mišlê in the Greek is paroimia (παροιμία), which is close in meaning to the word parable and implies a variety of figurative language.25 Thus, the book of Proverbs has a distinctive literary genre, the proverb. Proverbs 31:10–31 is a unique literary genre, preserving the sayings that are communicated in a proverb in the form of poem and acrostic. The acrostic in the twenty-two verses, 10–31, represents each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet “embodying all of wisdom’s skills and virtues, from a to z.”26

The poem in Proverbs 31:10–31, also referred to as a heroic hymn, follows an overall structure of parallel poetry form which reflects the patterns found in the hymns of the Psalter. The poetry within the book has three major characteristics: terseness, parallelism, and intense use of imagery, which are also characteristics of Proverbs 1–9.27 All three of these characteristics are apparent in Proverbs 31:10–31. Proverbs 31:11 demonstrates the brevity of the Proverbs’ terseness. Transliterated and written in Hebrew, the text carries even more brevity:

Her husband entrusts his heart to her, and does not lack plunder.

bāṭāḥ bāh lēb ba‘lāh wəšālāl lō’ yeḥsār28

Proverbs 31:14 demonstrates the parallelism of the poetry, “she is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away.” “Like the ships of the merchant” parallels her receipt of food from far away. In this verse, the paral- lelism is A=B and more synonymous while the parallelism in 31:11 is described as “A, and what’s more B.” Finally, the imagery in Proverbs 31:10, “A capable woman who can find? She is far more precious than jewels,” seems to directly echo the imagery around Woman Wisdom in Proverbs 3:13–14, “Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold.”

Description of the way of wisdom: verses 10–13 (א Aleph – ג Gimel)

א – Aleph. The ode to the capable woman (ēšet ḥayil) begins similarly to Proverbs 3:13–15 highlighting the elusiveness of her existence, “an ēšet ḥayil, who can find?” According to Biblical scholars the term ēšet directly translates to women and the term ḥayil (ִיל ֫חַ ) has a rich history in the Hebrew literature and is associated with strength, might, military force, ability, efficiency, wealth, and competition.29

In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Ruth follows Proverbs 31:10–31 perhaps as an example of a man and a woman who personify ḥayil. Both Ruth (Ruth 3:11) and Boaz (Ruth 2:1) are referred to as ḥayil. The reference to Ruth reflects her as a “noble woman,” while the reference to Boaz is interpreted to refer to his wealth, standing or (most likely) his character.30 The phrase (’êšet ḥayil) is only found outside of Ruth in Proverbs 12:4 (“an excellent wife is the crown of her husband”) and here in Proverbs 31:10.31

Because of the ḥayil terminology, Proverbs 31:10–31 is presented by some scholars to carry warrior imagery, categorizing this passage perhaps as a heroic hymn.32 This passage, like the male counterpart in the wisdom text in Psalm 112, reflects a person who fears the Lord and then describes all of her characteristics and works that follow (righteousness, wisdom, wealth, children to be proud of, compassion for the poor, and no fear for the future).33 Further, the importance of wisdom is highlighted in the ḥayil terminology to reflect profits from trade and economic worth (Proverbs 1:28, 8:17). In two short lines, the opening verse of Proverbs 31:10–31 conveys valor, wealth, righteousness, competitiveness, and a direct tie to the wisdom introduced in Proverbs 12:4. Wisdom in the introductory phrase continues the theme throughout scripture and, in particular, Proverbs to depict personify wisdom as Lady Wisdom.34

ב – Beth. The second verse reflects simultaneously the empowerment the Noble Woman has in her husband and her ability to serve him with profits. This is the first sign in the passage of servant leadership, not only does she serve her house- hold (v. 15) and the poor (v. 20), but she serves her husband first and foremost. She serves him with such success and profitability, that some scholars argue that he trusts her to the extent that he is willing to be vulnerable to her success.35 The following line seems to indicate that she does not fail him in this trust, as he has no lack of gain (ָלל שָׁ , šālāl). The term šālāl directly translates to plunder or the spoils of warfare, seemingly indicating she is like a warrior in the battle of life.36

ג – Gimel. Verse 3 opens the first active function of Proverbs 31:10–31, she does him good and not harm all the days of her life. This reflects her ability to create profits and blessing while not detracting from any of his needs. The juxtaposition between good and not harm may reflect both moral and material blessings.

The Way of Wisdom—Enumeration of her Deeds: verses 13–27 (ד Daleth – צ Tsade)

ד – Daleth. In verses 13–27 the function of the verses shifts to her activities, reflecting the active deeds she conducts, primarily in the textile business. As verse 13 opens, she is actively seeking wool and flax, indicating that she is not at home but is actively in the public square or the marketplace. From the early times of agricultural economies of early Israel, women worked beyond household chores to manufacture raw materials of farm fields, vineyards, and orchards outside of the family compound.37 Further, Meyers indicates that the technology involved manufacturing garments from flax and wool included many complex operations. In the redistributive economy of the united monarchy of Solomon, her wealth would have been quantifiable with the silver coinage she earned in the marketplace. Her wool and flax supplier relationships bring to light the first indication of a supply chain in ancient Israel. She outsourced, or purchased the raw materials in the marketplace, rather than growing and harvesting them on her own. In the second line of the stanza, she then works with willing hands, perhaps to manufacture garments (vs. 21, 22, 24), sashes (vs. 24), and coverings (vs. 22) mentioned later in the text.

ה – Hey. In verse 14, we see again a reference to suppliers. This time, she is like the ships of the merchant, bringing her food from far away, indicating the author’s familiarity with a global supply chain and certainly direct business trade that she is conducting. Unlike the domestic tasks of a woman in the domestic sphere, involving textile production,38 she herself is going about in business and trade. The provision of food for the household is also reflected in Proverbs 9:5, perhaps indicative of the role of wisdom in provision.

ו – Waw. She is both a leader in her household and a servant as she rises early and provides foods for her household (including her servants) and delegates tasks to her servant-girls in verse 15. Further, we see that she has employees in her household staff, which probably indicates both her ability to lead and her status as a wealthier citizen.39 She has a stakeholder orientation due to her orientation towards the needs of her servants (providing food) and their capabilities (assigning tasks).

ז – Zayin. In verse 16, she buys land with the fruit of her hands. This indicates two things: profit and real-estate. The purchase of land places her in the arena of agriculture, real-estate, and business ventures. Drawing from the Deuteronomic laws of the times and her standing as the most righteous of the righteous, she would follow the letter of the law in her handling and development of the fields and vineyards she buys. She would have viewed the land as a gift from Yahweh, as is outlined in Deuteronomy 1:8.40 Thus, she would have stewarded the land, preserving its fertility, resting the land, and provided for the poor with the excess reflecting a sustainable orientation (honoring profits, people, and the planet).

ח – Heth. The syntax in v. 17 shifts to describe her strength, energy, and power. She is an individual with power, capable of empowering others. The terminology around girding her loins with strength is terminology often reserved for men in the Bible,41 but directly reflects her physical energy and power. This also foreshadows the strength terminology in v. 25.

ט – Teth. She perceives her merchandise סחַר (sachar) is profitable טֹוב (tov), indicating for the fifth time that she is capable of creating wealth in profits. This also reflects the profitability of wisdom articulated in Proverbs 3:14. Her profitability is followed up with a second stanza describing her vigilance and lack of laziness. This also depicts the caution against laziness in Proverbs 6:6–10 that leads to poverty and strife.

י – Yod. The passage in verse 19 uses unique imagery as she puts her hand the distaff and holds her spindle. In the literal domestic sense, this could merely describe her textile activities. However, if meant as imagery, this passage could possibly symbolize weaponry and competitiveness. The idiom found in this verse, šālaḥ yād bĕ, “she lays her hands on” has an aggressive connotation elsewhere such as in the Song of Deborah where Jael “lays her hands to” the tent peg with which she kills Sisera.42 Further, the distaff and the whorl were weapons utilized by the Anat, the goddess warrior of Ugarit.43 This could reflect competitiveness and feeds into the comparative advantage outcome in surpassing all women (v. 29).

א Kaph ל Lamed. Verse 20 represents both her sustainability orientation (taking care of the poor) and her stakeholder orientation (based on her awareness of society around her). It also continues the repetitive focus throughout the passage on her hands. They reflect profit (v. 16), strength (v. 19), and now charity. This brings us to her long-term orientation reflected in verse 21 where she has no fear for her household in inclement weather but plans ahead beyond the short term.

מ Mem ס Samek. In verses 22–24, both the quality of her products and the reputation of her husband unfold. In verse 22, she makes herself coverings and her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her clothing is of such fine quality that it reflects the color of royalty in many neighboring nations (e.g., Persian courts).44 Verse 24 also describes the quality of the garments and sashes that she sells to the merchants All of the quality products that she creates and sells reflect on her husband who has a reputation in the city. In fact, his reputation goes beyond the city. In verse 23, he takes his seat among the elders of the land. The implication here is that the husband achieves status with the support of his wife.

ע – Ayin. In verse 24, it is the Noble Woman’s reputation that is perhaps meta- phorically referred to in her clothing of strength and dignity. People recognize her qualities of honor and strength signifying her reputation as well as her husbands. Further, this verse closes by demonstrating her long-term orientation and her lack of fear for the future. She is not concerned with short-term gains and profitability but is confident in the long-term security of her business and her household.

פ Pey צ Tsade. Finally, in verses 26–27 the character of her leadership is enumerated. She is both wise and kind. In fact, Longman notes that the tora (instruction) of ֶסד חֶ (hesed) (goodness, faithfulness, or kindness) goes beyond the mere teaching of kindness, to characterize the type of relationship that exists between covenant partners.45 Thus, she is like a vigilant watchtower for her household (v. 27). Without laziness, she is like the “lookout post” in Ezekiel 33:7 that takes leadership and responsibility for those under her care.

Concluding Praise and Outcomes of the Way of Wisdom: verses 28–31 (ק Qoph – ת Tav)

ק Qoph – ת Tav. The poem concludes by extoling and describing her virtues. She is praised by all who know her. She surpasses all other women, even those who are excellent. She needs no superficial attributes like beauty or charm (hebel) because as a woman who is in awe of Yahweh, she has enduring relationship with God that is to be praised. Finally, her excellence is so great that her praise isn’t confined to her household but is public and the Proverb states that she herself should profit (i.e., not just her husband, her family, or her stakeholders). She impacts not only her direct stakeholders, but she has an excellent reputation that goes beyond her business operations.

Integrated Framework of the Way of Wisdom for Business

A literature review on the business themes that emerged in Proverbs 31 included servant leadership, quality orientation, stakeholder orientation, supply chain orientation, sustainability orientation, long-term orientation, reputation, comparative advantage, and long-term impact were conducted. The integration of the business literature with Proverbs 31:10–31 themes contextualize the best business practices from a wise and righteous business leader in Ancient Israel into current leading business research and literature to create a general frame- work of wisdom for business, marketing, and supply chain management today. The following section will review these themes in light of the Proverbs 31:10–31 wisdom-based business framework illustrated in Figure 2.46

When Proverbs 31:10–31 opens, the husband sits at the city gates and trusts confidently in all the works that his wife does, without need or worry. Meanwhile, his wife is empowered in his name to build an industrious global supply chain. While women in early Israel worked alongside their husbands in rural areas, their work tended towards domestic and indoor work,47 setting the Noble Woman apart in her engagement in the marketplace that would have been highly uncommon in her day.

The Noble Woman seeks out suppliers of wool, manufactures fabrics, and sells finished goods downstream to merchants who come from all over to buy her goods (reflecting the modern-day definition of global supply chain management). Although it is set in a particular time and setting in the biblical text, the economic realities and best practices that emerge from this text carry relevance beyond its time to today. This comes as no surprise as the intent of Proverbs and the wisdom literature is to teach ethics or skills in living that combined the powers of observation, the capacities of human intellect, and the application of knowledge and experience in daily life.48

Proverbs 31:10–31 indicates not only the characteristics (servant leadership), skills, and practices (wisdom orientations) of a godly business venture, but also the expected outcomes. When the Proverbs 31 woman first established her reputation, foreign traders knew her in a time when trade did not include container vessels, cargo planes, trains, or well-built transportation infrastructures. Current business research indicates that reputation is a strong driver of profit.49 So with her reputation, she was able to increase her profits to the extent that she never had to buy on credit (with the excess she purchased land). Finally, economic capital, reputation, and relationships are all business resources that are hard to imitate,50 likely providing this Proverbs 31 entrepreneur with a comparative advantage over others in the marketplace. These business outcomes, built on biblical tenants, not only affect the short-term outcomes of the business, but also impact her employees, suppliers, customers, and the community that she ministers to with her excess. This is how a business can have an eternal impact (impact for unforeseeable generations to come), and not only make disciples of employees but change the cultures in which the business operates.

What drives these outcomes from a biblical (i.e., Proverbs 31) perspective? It all starts with leadership, then flows into the orientations of the business. Recent business research has tested the impact of servant leadership and found that not only does it impact the overall profitability of the business, but it also positively impacts operational performance.51 Further, decades of research have shown that leadership is pivotal to the culture of a business and to the adoption of firm orientations (main interests, qualities, or goals).52 Therefore, building on a foundation of servant leadership, Proverbs 31 highlights five main goals or orientations of a faith-based organization that also are recognized as contemporary best practices in the business industry: a sustainability orientation, a quality orientation, a stakeholder orientation, a supply chain orientation, and an eternal orientation.

A sustainability orientation is defined as the business goal of making a profit while preserving the planet (e.g., resources for the future) and people (e.g., having a positive impact on society).53 When the Proverbs 31 woman buys fields and considers the development of vineyards, as a godly woman, she’s environmentally friendly (environmental law in Deuteronomy prescribes environmental management and stewardship of those fields).54

A stakeholder orientation can be defined as the business goal of treating stakeholders as ends as well as means while creating ‘value’ (social as well as economic) for all stakeholders—not just shareholders alone.55 The Proverbs 31 woman uses the surplus of her profits to feed the poor and provide for the needy, which is not only a stakeholder orientation but also a socially sustainable orientation. Members of her household (presumably servants, i.e., employees) are all taken care of, are well clothed, and have no fear about the future (positive social impact on stakeholders).

A quality orientation is defined as the business goal of ensuring that the customer will be satisfied with the product in every respect.56 All the products the Proverbs 31 woman sells are of fine quality. In fact, the quality was to a standard that was fit for royalty.

A supply chain orientation can be defined as the recognition by a company of the systemic, strategic implications of the activities and processes involved in managing the various flows in the supply chain.57 The Proverbs woman not only bought products from foreign merchants, but her customers also came from far away to buy her quality goods, implying that she understood the processes and activities necessary to integrate foreign supply with local demand.

Finally, an eternal orientation can be defined as the business goal of not operating for short-term gains, but for long-term (even eternal) impact. The Proverbs 31 woman demonstrates such an orientation when she rejoices over the future. She definitely exemplified a long-term orientation and feasibly as a faith-based business leader, an eternal orientation.

Orientation toward the End Goal

Business literature does not define a wisdom-orientation. However, a wisdom- orientation based on Proverbs 31:10–31 would start with an awe of God and contain a combination of stakeholder engagement, quality, supply chain management, sustainability, and long-term perspectives. An orientation of a firm that draws from Ancient Near East wisdom literature is based on both pragmatic and divine wisdom. If biblical wisdom starts with a fear of God, then the foundation of wisdom is knowing and loving God. “A wisdom orientation that guides the ways of the firm is the set of beliefs that prioritizes a love for God (faith) and others as the end goal; this love-centered philosophy will direct organization strategies toward:

  • understanding the needs of stakeholders,
  • viewing time holistically in the long-term, valuing the past and the future,
  • co-creating quality products,
  • recognizing and strategically managing the various flows of products through the supply chain,
  • and finally, balancing sustainability of economic health, social equity, and environmental resilience.”58

Wisdom serves as the driving force that enables individuals to pursue virtuous ends. God generously bestows wisdom upon those who seek it.59 Wisdom literature as a genre calls us to draw from pragmatic wisdom as a necessary virtue without dependence on faith.60 However, true wisdom only comes from love for and an awe of God. Divine wisdom is relational; it is the result of loving and understanding that God is, that God knows all, and that God’s will should be reflected on earth as it is in heaven. Divine wisdom enables us to achieve the great commandments and the great commission. Divine wisdom demonstrates to us in the eternal and daily scope of life the way to love God, to love others, and to keep the entire law as we take up our cross and follow Christ as his disciples. Without wisdom we are self-centered, pursuing empty goals of wealth and prosperity without peace. Without wisdom there is no kingdom impact and no love for others.

The virtue of wisdom is the path to all blessing and all the extravagant promises of God for those who listen and respond. This orientation is exemplified in Proverbs 31:10–31 as Lady Wisdom personified as the Noble Woman demonstrates fear of the Lord and love for others as she sees to all their needs. Through wise purchasing and manufacturing, wisdom provides a product fit for royalty to merchants in a way that is profitable. The result of wisdom is the provision of resources for her household (including her family and servants or employees). Lady Wisdom fairly sources flax, food, and land from suppliers. Lady Wisdom cares for the community and the environment and looks to the future with confidence.

Over the years, firms have responded to the demand of the market environment to shift from one strategic orientation (originally production orientation) to embrace multiple strategic orientations. As firms grow in resources, market share, and profitability they gain greater impact and responsibility. Over time, organizations recognize that they need a supply chain orientation as their market share grows because they no longer have enough domestic supply to meet demand. Thus, they adopt a supply chain orientation. As the organizations grow international market share and establish more international partners, a greater need for stakeholder and sustainability orientations follows. However, with wisdom virtue as the guide, the end goal is not to be the best, but to deliver righteousness, justice, and fairness.


The goal of this paper is faithful review of exegetical literature and a hermeneutic integration of scripture with business literature to create an orienting framework of the way of wisdom in business. The Proverbs 31:10–31 Noble Woman passage is a heroic hymn that potentially culminates the best practices of the ancient Israel economy in one example of a textile entrepreneurial business that can be generalized to other godly business leaders’ characteristics and practices today. It is easy to culminate examples of the outcomes of lazy, foolish, and short-sighted business management. While many of the pitfalls of foolishness can be avoided in godly character, the passages in Proverbs 31:10–31 provide a timeless example of the way of a wise and eternally oriented business leader’s characteristics and best practices business framework (exposing the best skills for business and life).

Christian business leaders can find inspiration in the Proverbs 31:10–31 framework because it provides a way of thinking about business that truly embraces the mission of spreading the gospel and advancing the kingdom of heaven in a way that is both profitable and purposeful. Proverbs 31:10–31 provides grounding and a model for business students and business leaders in their everyday worship in the marketplace. With the growing influence of businesses on global economics and the culture of the world today, it is important to have a paradigm of thinking that embraces the virtue of wisdom. Wisdom is necessary to preserve faithfulness in business practice in a secular world by demonstrating the virtues and hope of the kingdom of heaven that is already but not yet fully realized in this world.

Appendix: Detailed Analysis of Proverbs 31:10–31

Cite this article
Hannah J. Stolze, “A Biblical Perspective on Wisdom and the Way of the Firm: Biblical Virtue and Strategic Orientations”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 53:3 , 41-63


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Hannah J. Stolze

Hannah J. Stolze, Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management, Lipscomb University.