The Wise Worker is Shrewd (Proverbs)
The Valiant Woman sets an example of exceptional acumen in her work. The proverbs describe this virtue as “prudent” (Prov. 19:14) or “shrewd” (Prov. 1:4). We may tend to think of shrewd people as those who take advantage of others, but in Proverbs it carries the idea of making the most of resources and circumstances. If we understand shrewdness as “clever discerning awareness and hardheaded acumen” then we see the kind of shrewd wisdom God intends for workers.
A Shrewd Worker Employs Keen Awareness and Judgment
This Valiant Woman’s shrewdness is displayed in the keen awareness with which she sources her materials. “She seeks wool and flax… She is like the ships of the merchant” (Prov. 31:13-14). Today’s manufacturer or craftsperson can be shrewd in the selection of materials or can unwisely settle for materials that will not hold up well. Investments in research and development, market analysis, logistics, strategic partnerships and community involvement may yield large payoffs in the future. On an individual level, good judgment is invaluable. An investment adviser who can match a client’s future needs with the risks and rewards inherent in various investment vehicles is performing a godly service.
A Shrewd Worker Prepares for All Known Contingencies
The Valiant Woman “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” (Prov. 31:21-22). Her material preparations cover every eventuality of the coming winter weather. She prepares the variety of clothing and blankets (“coverings”) her household may need, whatever the season may bring. The descriptions indicate fine or rich material (“fine linen and purple”), and the Hebrew word translated “crimson” (sanim) may be a copyist’s mistake for “double” (shenayim), that is, layered and warm.
This woman is alert to possible problems and works toward solutions before the problems arise. Consider her preparations for her husband. In the middle of her preparations of clothing and coverings, she keeps in mind her husband’s role as a public figure: “Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land” (Prov. 31:23). What would happen if it snows while her husband is in the midst of a civic affair? Not to worry, for “all her household”—including her husband—are suitably attired for any occasion. A modern image may make this a little clearer. Imagine a prominent statesman exposed suddenly to a chance storm. He reaches immediately for a crisp fedora and matching overcoat and overboots, while those around him cover their heads with scrounged newspapers and their ruined shoes pour slush onto their freezing feet.
A Shrewd Worker Seeks Good Advice
Albert Black, founder of On Target Supply & Logistics, humbly asked for help and John Castle responded. Mr. Castle is one of Dallas' leading executives and he has become one of Albert Black's key mentors.
A persistent myth in some circles is that the shrewdest leaders scorn advice. Their very shrewdness consists of seeing opportunities that others are too low to glimpse. It is true that just because many people advise something, that doesn’t make it wise. “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel, can avail against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30). If an idea is bad or wrong (“against the Lord”), no chorus of yes-men can make it good or wise.
But the myth of the genius who succeeds against all advice is seldom true in reality. Creativity and excellence build on multiple points of view. Innovation takes account of the known in order to step into the unknown, and great leaders who reject the conventional wisdom have usually mastered it first, before moving beyond it. “Without counsel, plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed” (Prov. 15:22). And in Proverbs 20:18 we read, “Plans are established by taking advice; wage war by following wise guidance.” The wise person uses the complementing strengths of others, even when striking into new territory.
A Shrewd Worker Improves His or Her Skills and Knowledge
The Valiant Woman “girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong” (Prov. 31:17). That is, she takes steps to improve her ability to do her work. She makes her arms strong; she girds herself with strength. A shrewd person acts to improve her skill set or knowledge.
As the industrial economy in the developed world has given way to a technological economy, continual training and education have become indispensable for employers and employees. In fact, this is becoming the case in many emerging economies as well. The work you are prepared for today is not likely to be the work you will be doing 10 years from now. A shrewd worker recognizes this and retrains for the next opportunity in the workplace. Likewise it is becoming harder for employers to find workers with the skills needed for many of today’s jobs. The highest-performing individuals, organizations and societies will be those who develop effective systems for lifelong learning.
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition.
Roland Murphy, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 22, Proverbs (Thomas Nelson, 1998), 247. The LXX and the Vulgate adopt this reading, although the Masoretic does not.