By Bronwen Speedie
In the previous post of this “Surprising Men of the Old Testament” series, we looked at men’s work and activities. We turn now to examine men’s relationships with women and children.
There’s been a lot of talk in the past couple of decades about what “godly manhood” might look like. Among “complementarian” Christians (who hold to a hierarchical or patriarchal view on gender), the model of husband as leader and initiator, and wife as responsive submitter, is usually presented as authentically biblical. In this model, women have no place in leading men, particularly in matters of faith. Is this a truly biblical model? Is a biblical marriage really one that is focussed on authority and submission?
A Godly Man’s Relationships with his Wife and Children
Although many practices in the patriarchal culture of biblical times ran contrary to the one-flesh relationship envisaged in Genesis 2 (e.g. polygamy, and treating women as possessions), the Old Testament depicts a number of genuinely loving and tender marital relationships.
Isaac, Rebekah’s Husband
Although it was Abraham’s servant who determined that Rebekah was a suitable match for Isaac, the couple’s love was genuine. Isaac was emotionally open and vulnerable to his wife, and he found comfort with Rebekah during his time of grief when his mother died (Genesis 24).
Jacob, Rachel’s Husband
Jacob’s love for Rachel was such that he endured fourteen years of indentured labour, as well as the trickery and deceit of her father, in order to win her hand (Genesis 29).
Boaz, Ruth’s Husband
From their first meeting, Boaz treated Ruth with respect and gentleness. He made it clear to the men working for him that they were not to lay a hand on her. He also treated her with generosity. He provided basic needs such as drinking water, and he invited her to eat with him. Yet expected nothing in return.
He demonstrated the esteem in which he held her, valuing her highly as a result of what he had learned of her character and faith. He called her “a woman of valour” (a more accurate translation of the Hebrew eshet chayil than “woman of noble character”), recognising the strength and courage she possessed.
Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said of Boaz, “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” When Ruth made the culturally unusual move of proposing marriage to him, he felt honoured rather than affronted. As a result of their union, Ruth and Boaz became ancestors of the Messiah.
Elkanah, Hannah’s Husband
It was considered an absolute right for a married man to have children. A wife’s failure to conceive and bear children was an accepted reason for divorce. However, Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, consistently demonstrated his love for her despite the fact that she could not have children:
“Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah (his other wife) and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Samuel 1:4-5).
Elkanah was supportive and tender-hearted, and he accompanied her to the temple when she went to pray. There is no sense in the text that Elkanah felt the need to be “in charge of” his wife. Note that when Hannah made a vow that if she were blessed to conceive a son, she would give him to the Lord’s service. Elkanah did not insist that it was his right to make the decisions about their child. He respected Hannah’s vow to God.
Fathers Teaching Children
Because the Bible is generally concerned with the “big picture” stories of those who led God’s people, rather than with domestic matters, there is very little said directly about the interactions between fathers and their children. However, the command to teach God’s laws to your children is given without reference the gender of the teacher. Also implied is that teaching the next generation is not merely a parental responsibility, but a community one.
Caleb and his Daughter
Although Caleb participated in patriarchal traditions such as exercising the right to give his daughter away to a man of his choice, he also took the unusual step of giving her an inheritance when she requested it (Joshua 15:16-20, Judges 1:12-15).
Despite the norms of a patriarchal society, godly men loved and cared for their wives and children in ways which were often completely counter-cultural.
A Godly Man’s Care for a Vulnerable Woman
While patriarchal culture led to many abuses of women, there are numerous depictions of men’s kindness to women in the Old Testament.
Genesis 34 tells the story of Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, who was captured and raped by Shechem the Hittite. He then decided to marry her, with no respect for her feelings in the matter. Cultural rules would have made it very difficult for her to be married to anyone else after her rape, so any offer of marriage would have been considered by the male family head as being the only way of saving her from living in shame the rest of her life.
But her brothers’ response is unexpected. Genesis 34:7 records that they were “shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.” Note that they are not furious at Dinah for besmirching the family’s honour, but at the perpetrator of the crime. Nor do they query why she was off on her own, visiting the other women. They recognise their sister’s right to undertake normal activities without question, and place the blame where it belongs. Their killing of Shechem and his men does not sit easily with us today, but we should remember the Bronze Age context of this story —a very different culture and set of circumstances to today.
Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath
When Elijah was instructed by God to hide, but had run out of food and water, he went to Zarephath in Sidon, where God had told him a widow would supply him with food. The woman was in such dire poverty that she expected death was near for herself and her son. However, she shares what little she has with the prophet. In return for her incredible generosity, Elijah blessed the oil jug and flour jar, so that they will not run out during the time of famine. The prophet does not demand the widow’s help as his right, but recognises the great faith and generosity her actions required. He later causes her son to be raised from death (1 Kings 17).
A Godly Man’s Response to a Woman’s Leadership, Initiative and Accomplishments
Godly men have a collaborative attitude, and recognise and value the gifts and leadership of women.
Lappidoth, Barak and Deborah
Lappidoth, the husband of Deborah, appears to have had no objection to Deborah fulfilling the taxing role of judge of Israel (Judges 4). Barak relied on Deborah’s leadership, even in the male domain of the battlefield (Judges 4 & 5).
King Josiah and Huldah
At King Josiah’s request, the high priest and other officials sought out the prophetess Huldah to authoritatively interpret the newly found Book of the Law (2 Kings 11, 2 Chronicles 34). This was not because of a lack of male leadership at the time–Huldah was a contemporary of Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. Some Jewish traditions hold that Huldah was also a public teacher. Even though many Jewish kings ignored the warnings of many of the other prophets, the king, high priest and the entire nation bow to Huldah’s judgements on this matter, and a religious revival followed.
Moses and Zelophehad’s Daughters
A godly man is not afraid of women taking the initiative. The daughters of Zelophehad took the initiative to challenge unjust inheritance laws. Moses did not rebuke them, but consulted with the Lord. As a result, they and other women after them were able to inherit property (Num 27).
In Song of Songs, both the man and woman take the initiative in the area of romance.
The husband of the Proverbs 31 woman had “full confidence in her” and as a result, “(lacked) nothing of value.” Along with her children, he would “arise and call her blessed,” recognising the blessing brought to their family as a result of her strength, skills and hard work.
The godly men of the Old Testament respected the dignity and worth of women, and were not affronted or demeaned by the leadership and accomplishments of women. While they may have had a role in protecting women in dangerous situations, they also released them to positively influence their society. Despite the strongly patriarchal culture of the Ancient Near Eastern society, many godly men went against the cultural flow in their relationships with women.
© 23rd of July 2015 Bronwen Speedie
This article was first posted on God’s Design–Perth here.