By Bronwen Speedie
The Old Testament contains stories of some amazing, strong women who defy stereotypes. But what about men? Did OT men fill only such roles as warrior, ruler, priest or family patriarch? Did they fit the stereotype of the “manly man,” who pleases God by his tough masculine leadership? Or are there gentler role models?
Certain celebrity preachers speak disdainfully of men who don’t fit into the macho box. The approach of these preachers is out of line with the examples of diverse men of the OT, who did more than fighting giants and facing off with Pharaoh. While the concept of the “Sensitive New-Age Guy” was completely alien in the Ancient Near East, the men of the OT were not cardboard cut-outs, but demonstrate diverse character types and roles in life.
Artists and Craftsmen
Visual arts are infrequently mentioned in the OT, perhaps because of the prohibition on graven images. However, skilful work in executing beautiful designs from a range of materials was sometimes seen as a gift endowed by God.
In Exodus 31, God gives instructions regarding the making and decorating of the tabernacle. In verses 1-5, “…the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” The work of these and other craftsmen did not just involve carpentry and metalwork, but included making woven garments, anointing oils, and incense.
God himself gave very specific instructions about the decoration of the Temple. These included carved wooden gourds and flowers along the walls, and cherubim made of olive wood and overlaid with gold and more. Since many highly skilled craftsmen were employed, there must have there must have been a widespread use of visual arts in the community of Israel.
Musicians and Poets
Godly men could be sensitive, in tune with their emotions and excellent leaders. People of both sexes made music and wrote songs in the Bible.
The first professions listed in Genesis are farming the land and raising livestock, followed by the work of metal-smiths and musicians: “His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes” (Gen 4:21). How surprising that professional musicians are mentioned before we hear of carpenters, fishermen, soldiers, or many other professions with a purely practical application.
The role of musicians was closely linked with the worship of God. The Temple musicians lived in Temple apartments and were exempt from other duties because their responsibilities continued day and night (1 Chron 9:33). David himself appointed the musicians—the men are named in 1 Chronicles 6, and their sons served alongside them.
When thinking of musicians in the Bible, David is the man who most readily springs to mind, having authored many of the Psalms. David was a complex man—warrior, king, musician, poet. His psalms demonstrate deep emotional honesty. He was not afraid to tell God exactly how he felt, even if he felt negative about God at times. However messy they may have been, David acknowledged his emotions.
Some segments of Isaiah are traditionally called songs. In the case of the Song of the Vineyard in chapter 5, some commentators believe that the prophet himself may have sung this song at the harvest festival celebration.
Although the OT depicts society as patriarchal, men are sometimes depicted cooking, washing and undertaking other domestic chores. Consider Jacob and Esau. “Esau became a skilful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents… (“Among the tents” would normally be considered the women’s realm.) Once, when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished” (Gen 25:27, 29). Which twin was the one who had God’s favour? Jacob…who enjoyed cooking and was content to stay with the women among the tents, while his brother undertook more rugged pursuits.
Other OT men were also involved in activities that some regard as “women’s work”. For example, the Kohathites—a branch of the Levite tribe—was responsible for setting the table and cleaning up in the tabernacle (Num 4:1-14). The priests cooked the offering meat and served it to the people (2 Chron 35:13-14).
And in regards to certain matters of infection risk, the person at risk was instructed to wash his or her own clothes (e.g. Lev 15:8). Interestingly, there is a reference in 2 Kings 18:17 to a place called “Washerman’s Field.” Did it have a connection with a man whose occupation was doing laundry?
The only instructions given before the Fall about any role or responsibility was given equally to man and woman:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen 1:28).
When it comes to the specifics of how we live and what we do, God seems less concerned with our gender than with how we use our skills and personalities to contribute to our families or wider society and to His glory.
© 21st of May 2015, Bronwen Speedie
This article was first posted on God’s Design-Perth here.
“Surprising Men of the Old Testament (Part 2)” will be posted next Tuesday.