What does it mean to hold the distaff?

Written by Sondra Lee
Published on September 25, 2020

“In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.” —Prov. 31:19 NIV

For many of us, Proverbs 31 is very familiar. I have read about the qualities of a virtuous woman many times, but I have never truly understood what this particular verse means. The purpose of the distaff is to take a piece of wool and produce spools of neatly wound yarn, making the wool usable for creating coverings and clothing for one’s family. 

The process of making the yarn begins by using one hand to hold the distaff, where the wool is attached, while pulling a section of the wool out with the other hand. Each section of wool must be carefully twisted and pulled down to attach it to the spindle, allowing the weight of the spindle to pull the fibers out of the compacted wool. 

The fibers then begin to spin around the spindle. During this process, the distaff must be held with one hand and the other hand must keep the fibers from tangling.

Why would the Lord place this verse in Proverbs 31? What are we to learn from it? How are we to apply it to our everyday lives?

Offer complete attention

In the verses leading up to Proverbs 31:19, the Lord introduces the virtuous woman as both valuable and rare. He shares with us how she is to be set apart in her behavior. He describes how she is to be a safe haven, a hard worker, and thoughtful about her spending. 

Proverbs 31:19 specifically points out how the virtuous woman holds her hands on both the distaff and the spindle. Her job requires complete attention. And a home that provides her with a safe place, free of distraction, is critical to the completion of her task. 

Her behavior must be characterized by busyness not by being a busybody. 

The task of making sure that every piece of wool becomes a neatly spun spool of yarn necessitates time, devotion, attention, and thoughtfulness to the future tasks at hand. Completing this task allows the virtuous woman to fulfill the verses that come next.

Be prepared for future tasks

Following Proverbs 31:19, the Lord describes the virtuous woman as one who extends herself to the needy. She has time to offer herself to others because she has prepared for her future tasks. She has no fear for barren times because her household is covered in scarlet. 

She is able to take care of the needs of her family by providing clothes and coverings for them. These necessary tasks have allowed her opportunity to successfully manage her home. She is a woman who reveres and honors the Lord with the tasks he has set before her. 

She has kept her fingers on the spindle until each thread is in its place. She is proactive rather than reactive, knowing that if she is not diligent now, she will not have the time or strength to fulfill the remaining verses, for she will be consumed with threads that have become tangled

How do we apply this to our own lives?

Place all hands on deck

I believe Proverbs 31:19 is referring to the constant attention and overseeing one must do until their last fiber is spun. Until the completion of tasks that require a concentrated effort and both hands for successful completion. 

There is no multitasking with this job. Both hands are on duty. One hand is working in conjunction with the other. 

The Lord often lays specific jobs before us, and during these jobs, we should not let go until the last fiber is spun. 

The acronym SPINDLE offers characteristics by which we might model our lives after the virtuous woman.

S—Servant minded. A servant’s business is to act in accordance with his master’s will. A servant usually does not receive recognition, nor does he expect it. Our job as a servant remains of utmost importance until the very last thread is spun. Through our ministry of motherhood, we must be ready to serve the Lord until he calls us home. For those of us who have been blessed with a servant mother, stop and think of what she has done for you, even after marriage and children. The job of a servant never ends. 

P—Prayer Warrior. We can never stop praying for our children. Pray that when they face temptation, they will flee. Pray for protection from evil. Pray for them to see what God sees as good and what he sees as evil. Pray for them to love his Word and to yearn for him to be their guide.

I—Intentional Instruction. “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction on her tongue” (Prov. 31:26). When our children are young, and while we are in the trenches of character training, we can teach through role playing and nighttime talks. As they grow older, we may want to write them short notes or letters. We can place verses or inspiring quotes on their mirrors or bedroom doors. Meaningful gifts can be given to remind them of their importance to the Lord and us. Don’t stop until the last fiber is neatly secure. 

N—These are the nevers. Things we should never do in order to keep the threads from becoming entangled: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Eph. 4:29). Never be critical of others. Our children will learn our ways and imitate us. We may even find ourselves facing criticism one day. Never give up in doing good. It is our Father’s business that we are setting out to accomplish. It is worth it! Wait patiently for the Lord.

D—Discipline. We must continually discipline our children in love and be self-disciplined in our behavior. We must be busy at home doing our business—not a busybody. We must require our children to learn how to lead a disciplined life. We must have some type of order, even if it is organized chaos. Order helps our children to be ordered for him.

L—Love. Continue to walk in love. While it is easy to love our children when they are babies, as they grow older, it can become more challenging. If they rebel or make foolish decisions, failing to seek wisdom, our love might be put to the test. But remember—we are ambassadors for Christ. When our children seem unlovable, we are given an opportunity to love the unlovable. Our unconditional love reflects the Lord’s continued love for us despite our imperfections. He loves us whether we obey him or not, whether we seek him or not. As ambassadors for Christ, we have the awesome opportunity to love, “Because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). 

E—Expect. Live in expectation of good, not harm. Be willing to follow through when the outcome is unsure. Seek him. Trust him. Whatever the level of expectation you place on your children, that is the level of expectation to which they will rise. If you expect something great, they will most likely do their best to live up to it. At the same time, if you expect something less than great, they might settle for mediocrity.

Overcome impossible tangles

Live in expectation of Philippians 1:20, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body.”

There are many tasks that the Lord has called us to complete in order to keep our threads from becoming a tangled mess. Remember, as some fibers became tangled along the way, the virtuous woman had to stop and meticulously unwrap the thread around the spindle. 

Once she took the time to remove a tangle, she would start the process all over again. She would make sure the fibers didn’t become entangled.

If you find yourself having to stop because of impossible tangles in the metaphorical yarn that is our lives, remember that his grace is sufficient to cover our shortcomings. Ask him for his wisdom, and never quit the task at hand until that last fiber of thread is wound neatly around the spindle. 

He is able to bring beauty from ashes.

Live perfectly imperfect

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Sondra Lee

Sondra Lee is a homeschooling mother of two children and published author. In her book, “My Son, If You Accept My Words,” she tenderly shares the importance of young men guarding their hearts. She speaks to young men’s pursuit of their dreams and ways they might avoid compromising the truths of God’s Word. Sondra has been blessed with the opportunity to lead and write Bible devotions for newsletters and social media. You can learn more about her at www.SondraLeeAuthor.com.

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