A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Because the church mishandles abuse, the name of God is blasphemed among unbelievers

Many people who boast in the Bible dishonor God by breaking Biblical precepts left, right and centre.

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?

While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
(Romans 2:17-29 ESV)

Kindly allow me to rephrase this for the church —

If persons call themselves Christians and rely on the Bible and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because they are instructed from the Bible; and if they are sure that they themselves are guides to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, instructors of the foolish (hem hem, are women more often foolish than men?), if they are teachers of children, having in the Bible the embodiment of knowledge and truth — those people who teach others, do they not teach themselves?

While they preach against stealing, do they steal?
Do they rob women, children and vulnerable individuals of their dignity? Do they unfairly besmirch the reputations of abuse victims? Do they rob them of their well-being? Do they tacitly enable abusers to shred the sense of identity of their victims — to shred their very souls? Do they allow them to steal the virginity and innocence of children?

Those who say that one must not commit adultery, do they commit adultery?
Do they watch porn? Do they sidle up to single or divorced women in the coffee time after church, to brush against their hips or breasts? Do they arrange rosters for church duty so they can conveniently be with a woman they are lusting over, on pretext of ‘doing church work’? Do they turn a blind eye to other men’s illicit or dubious behavior? Do they give the nod and wink to men’s ‘foibles and weaknesses’ while coming down hard on women’s weaknesses? Do they accuse people of sexual immorality when they are guilty of that themselves and are keeping it close to their chests? Do they have sex with children — or wish they could, and are keeping that secret? Do they groom their prospective victims (and the moral adults around those victims) so that no-one will suspect them of adulterery or pedophilia? Do they evade the arm of the law? Do they help others evade it? Do they go out of their way to witness for the ‘good character’ of an abuser in court, but not help the abuse victim who is trying to persuade the court to protect her kids?

Those who abhor idols, do they rob the temples (rob the church of God)?
Do they take tithes but fail to protect widows, the women bereft of husbands? — The women whose husbands masquerade as godly men on Sundays, but who abuse and mistreat and demean and degrade and slander and attack their wives under the mask of being husbands, and then get all hoity toity and take the moral high ground when their wives institute divorce proceedings.

Do they rob the church of evangelism opportunities? —  of the hearing it should be able to obtain from unbelievers, and would obtain if it were honouring justice and righteousness.

Do they rob the church of believers? Do they spurn the testimony of faithful believers who have suffered abuse? Do they shun them? Do they sideline them or make their lives in the pews so uncomfortable that they flee with their trauma wounds out into the wilderness?

Do they say they abhor idols, but idolize marriage and put it on a pedestal —at the expense of the individuals within it?

Do they seek those who have gone astray because the needs of victims have been ignored by the church?

Too many who boast in the Bible dishonor God by breaking Biblical precepts left, right and centre!

For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the unbelievers because of you.” This is a quote from the Septuagint of Isaiah 52:5b (link):

Thus saith the Lord, On account of you my name is continually blasphemed among the Gentiles.

How many secular domestic abuse professionals have a cynical view of Christianity because they’ve known pastors to advise their clients to reconcile with abusers who have only demonstrated wafer-thin repentance?  No one has researched this, but anecdotal evidence and my reading tells me that most DV professionals are highly suspicious of pastors and of Christianity and one of the reasons they have for their cynicism is because they see so-called Christians enabling abusers and misleading victims. The same can be said for journalists and for law enforcement professionals who have addressed sexual abuse scandals in the church.

Baptism and church membership indeed is of value if one obeys the law of Christ, but if one breaks the law of Christ, one’s church membership and one’s baptism become uncleannness.

Consider someone who is unbaptised or does not frequent church, but who keeps the precepts of the Bible: Will not his lack of the social markers of Christianity be regarded by conventional Christians as unbelief? Then he who is unbaptised and not a member of ‘c’hurch, but keeps the law, will condemn those who have the Bible but break the law of Christ.

For no one is a Christian who is merely one outwardly, nor is Christianity outward and physical. But a Christian is one inwardly, and Christianity is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. That person’s praise is not from man but from God.

Pt 4 of The Proverbs 31 Wife: Fact or Fiction? (the last in this series)

Her [the Proverbs 31 woman] textual identity in the book of Ruth

The identity of the Proverbs 31 woman is enhanced by its placement immediately before the book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible.  The sages who were responsible for the final organization of the Tanakh saw a relationship between the noble wife of Proverbs 31 and Ruth, the widowed Moabitess.

In the Hebrew Bible. . . [Ruth] is considered an addendum to the book of Proverbs. The character of Ruth is thus portrayed as a historical example of the “virtuous woman” of Pr 31:10-31. . . Boaz calls Ruth “a woman of noble character.” In that same passage, Boaz says of Ruth, “All my fellow townsmen [lit., those at the city gate] know that you are a woman of noble character” (3:11). Boaz thus says of Ruth, the ancestress of David, precisely what the poem in Pr 31 says of the virtuous woman.

The desired treasure of Proverbs 31:10 is variously translated as “a virtuous woman” (KJV), “an excellent wife” (NASB), “a wife of noble character” (NIV), “a virtuous wife” (NKJV), and “a virtuous and capable wife” (NLT).  With the exception of the KJV, Hebrew isha has been translated as wife, a legitimate translation in the context.  However, isha can also be translated woman, as in the KJV.  The Hebrew used in Prov. 31:10 is exactly that used to describe Ruth.  In the midnight confrontation with Ruth, Boaz declares her to be a noble woman.

On the surface, little similarity exists between the noble woman of Proverbs 31 and the Moabitess Ruth.  The Proverbs 31 woman had a husband and children who called her “blessed,” whereas Ruth was a childless widow whose child-rearing skills had not yet been tested.  The first woman is comparatively wealthy and has resources to invest in further financial ventures, but Ruth is a poverty-stricken gleaner, forced to gather the grain that others have missed.  The Proverbs 31 woman had apparently been raised among the people of YHWH; in contrast, Ruth had spent most of her life as the spiritual daughter of a pagan god.  Yet both women were declared noble.

What is it that they had in common? They both feared the Lord.  Ruth deliberately chose to follow YHWH, the covenant God of the Israelites.  New to the Israelite community and to its religion, she nevertheless quickly earned the reputation of being a woman of noble character.

 A Comparison of the Virtuous woman (Proverbs 31) and Ruth

Characteristic Proverbs 31 Woman Ruth, the Moabite
Fear of the Lord (the beginning of wisdom) Your God [will be] my God. (1:16)
[Boaz said,] May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge. (2:12)
Diligence and productivity She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servants girls. (31:15)
She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her task. (31:17)
She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. (31:27)
She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now.  (2:7)
Care for others, concern for the poor She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. (31:20) Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me. (1:16-17)
I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. (2:11)
Praiseworthy Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (31:30)
Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.  (31:31)
All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character. (3:11)

Never a discouraging word 

Seeing the relationship between the virtuous wife and the widow Ruth should remove many of the stumbling blocks that women encounter when reading Proverbs 31.  It is possible to be a noble woman, whether married or single.  Unfortunately, many popular treatments of the subject intensify discouragement rather than alleviating it, either by skewing the interpretation of the text or by trivializing the nobility ascribed to the Proverbs 31 woman.

1) Skewed interpretations

Interpreting Proverbs 31 through a preconceived notion of what godly womanhood demands has certainly caused many women to be discouraged.  The text is misused to “prove” the prevailing idea.  [This explains why Proverbs 31 has been used both to keep a wife at home and also to allow her to work in some other job.  Factors other than Scripture determine what a woman, or more specifically a wife, should be and do, and the Scriptures are then used to “prove” it.]

. . . her lamp does not go out at night. (Prov. 31:18)

When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. (Prov. 31:21).

Other problems arise because this woman’s daily work is envisioned in the context of our own cultural experience.  Such is the case with the lamp that does not go out at night.  How could anyone arise before dawn to begin her tasks and still burn the midnight oil, working into the wee hours just so that the members of her household can have their scarlet clothes?  When does she sleep? Mothers of newborns know what it is to go without sleep, but they survive because they know that eventually the child will begin sleeping through the night. But to think that getting by on a minimum amount of sleep day after day, year after year is a recommended regiment causes one secretly to wonder if God doesn’t get some kind of pleasure out of sentencing a wife to an early breakdown. How can the woman who works herself to death be called wise?

God, however, is the Shepherd who carries the lamps in his arms and gently leads those who are with young, extending both strength and compassion.  He provides sleep for the ones he loves.  A woman cannot maintain the physical strength depicted in this chapter and at the same time go without necessary sleep.  What is the significance of the burning lamp, then?

Note that the line about the lamp is paired with a statement about financial accomplishments:

She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. (31:18)

What does her “profitable trading” have to do with her lamp?

Let’s travel briefly to the jungles of Borneo where this writer lived for 19 years.  Around 10 p.m. each night, one of us would trudge to the back of the property to shut off the generator and then head back to the house. We could see in the windows the dim lights of kerosene lamps.  Inside, two lamps remained lit through the night, dispelling just enough darkness so that anyone getting up in the night would not stumble. These were our nightlights.

Our neighbors depended totally upon kerosene lamps.  Part of the daily routine, both theirs and ours, was to prepare the lamps for the night by filling them with kerosene, cleaning the chimneys and trimming the wicks.  Occasionally a family would not have enough money to purchase the oil needed to keep the lamps bring all night, so they would extinguish the lights early to save on oil.

The lamp in Proverbs 31 did not go out because the woman managed her finances well, strategically planning for the necessity.  She could sleep confidently, knowing that she had oil in her lamps.  The rooms would be lighted just enough for household members to move around safely in the darkness.

2) Trivialized nobility

Discouragement can also come from equating man’s questionable judgments with God’s eternal wisdom.  In an honest effort to advise women on how to be godly, stress is put upon the details of her daily activities.  Some advice has the unfortunate consequence of equating godly wisdom with such actions as choosing tools for the kitchen or supporting a husband’s masculinity.  Even though discussion on these matters may be helpful, they do not in themselves comprise wisdom. They are like the Proverbs 31 pin that resembles an antique cameo brooch and sells for $24.99. Its “genuine Austrian crystals” are made to look like rubies, but they are not the real thing.

Even some of the practical, common-sense guidance appearing in Christian women’s magazines cannot be equated with godly wisdom, for it is aimed at middle-class America.  True godly wisdom is supracultural.  It must apply to the Dayak woman in the jungles of Borneo who lives in a thatched-roof hut as much as it does to the Western woman whose husband earns enough to provide a 3-bedroom townhouse in suburbia.  The illiterate immigrant who has never attended school must have access to this wisdom as much as the university graduate who is amply able to homeschool her children.  Godly wisdom provides godly character that is needed in any society and at any economic level.  The details of a woman’s daily work will vary greatly depending upon her cultural surroundings, her physical abilities, and her economic status, but if she is a Proverbs 31 woman she will carry out her appropriate tasks with wisdom in the fear of the Lord, whatever those tasks may be.

Discouragement mounts when Christian moms are unwisely pressured by their husbands or their churches into adopting philosophies called “God’s Way.”  The highly controversial Growing Kids God’s Way has been used by “more than 9,000 churches and schools worldwide,” but it has also spawned division because of the rigidity of its expectations that go beyond scriptural teaching. Above Rubies, a magazine devoted to producing the Proverbs 31 woman, promotes “Breastfeeding God’s Way” in an article that contains some common sense, but also includes questionable exegesis.  Ironically, both of these claim to be “God’s Way,” but they contradict each other on the same issues.

Unfortunately, what is termed God’s Way does not necessarily display the godly wisdom of the Scriptures.  Preparing for Marriage God’s Way has some valuable exercises for a prospective bride and groom, but its advice in “Husbanding God’s Way,” “Being Wife God’s Way,” and “Family Finances God’s Way” is made up of, at best, highly cultural applications of perceived biblical principles.  An acrostic with Bible verses beginning with each letter of the alphabet may be a great tool for teaching both the alphabet and biblical truths to children, but it should not be called “Learn[ing] the Alphabet God’s Way.”  “Dealing with Behavioral Problems God’s Way” should not detail a rebellious teenage son’s actions on the Web for the entire world to read — and that not even anonymously.  Attaching God’s name to conclusions reached by fallible human reasoning only shows arrogance and results in discouraged woman who find they can’t measure up to legalism’s demands.

God’s way for all people is the way of wisdom, and that wisdom is in the Scriptures.  The noble woman, married or single, rich or poor, healthy or inform, is one who knows the Lord, fears him and obeys him, no matter what her outward circumstances are.  In choosing God’s way, she adapts his principles of wise living to her individual circumstances in such a way that both her actions and her words reflect the wisdom and character of her Lord.

* * *

Carmen J. Bryant @2004, reproduced with permission.  Carmen spent 19 years as a missionary among the Dayaks of Kalimantan Barat (West Borneo, Indonesia) and draws upon her experiences there for insights into the description of the Proverbs 31 wife.

Previous parts in this series:  Part 1     Part 2     Part 3

Thursday Thought — 8 Red Flags when Dating

During a presentation Lundy Bancroft was asked, “If you were speaking to a group of young women what would you say about what to watch out for in a relationship?” He replied with these eight red flags.

1)  Watch out for jealousy and possessiveness.

To young women in particular this tends to be really flattering — “Oh, I’ve never had a guy care for me like that before.  “Oh, he’s just crazy about me.”  “He gets so upset if I even talk to another guy.”  That feels like love, but it isn’t.  It’s ownership.  And it’s one of the top warning signs of domestic violence.

2)  Watch out about a guy who is controlling.

Again, that can be exciting at first.  You hear him described as a “take charge” kind of guy. But you have to ask, what happens when you don’t want to do what he wants to do? What happens when you don’t want him completely in charge?  That’s what she has to really pay attention to.  How does he react when she doesn’t want to go along because if he has really bad reactions to that — that’s a really bad sign.

3)  Watch out for the guy who’s got problems with women in general.

For example, the kind of guy who says that all of his previous girlfriends were “you know what’s, but you’re different”.  Or who says, “You’re the first girl (or first woman) who has understood me.”  If you’re the first female that’s ever understood him I want to know why. Why is he so hard to understand?  If a guy is telling you now that you’re different from all other women, what he’s going to be telling you in a year or two is that you’re just like the rest.  You’re going to go from being the exception to being part of the rule.  So watch how he talks about women in general and including — you might listen to some things about how he talks about his own mother — but particularly how he talks about his past wives or girlfriends.

4)  Notice how he deals with challenge.

This is often the litmus test.  What happens when he is stood up to?

5)  Do you feel respected by him?

Because sometimes women tell me that they feel terribly loved by the man, but when I say, “Yeah, but do you feel respected?” they say, “huh?”  It’s odd that we can even separate love and respect, but we do.  For example, is he actually interested in your opinions?  Does he actually care what you think about things?  Or does he think that your opinions are just something to be altered to fit his?  I remember this old Malvina Reynolds song where she says, “Everybody thinks my head is all full of nothing. Wants to put his special stuff in.”

6)  Are things never his fault?

Or he gives these apologies but they’re not very sincere sounding apologies and then he demands that that be adequate.  He says [with sarcasm], “Well, I said I was sorry!” First of all, an apology that sounds like that is never going to be very satisfying, but an apology also isn’t necessarily enough.  Often when someone apologizes you also want to tell them some things about how they affected you.  “Well, that’s great that you apologized, but I’m also going to tell you some things about the mess that you made or the harm that you did.”  He’s going to say, “No.” He doesn’t want to hear that, he apologized [and] that should be enough.

7)  Another additional one that’s sometimes revealing is to notice whether he treats you different alone than when other people are around.

This actually tends to do a flip between teen years and adulthood.  During teens years he often treats her worse when other people are around and better in private.  In adulthood the abuser starts to flip and he starts to be worse with her when there’s nobody watching and better when there are people around.

8)  With teens I really emphasize — “Is he pressuring you to have sex?”

Because he’s telling her, “If you really loved me we would be having sex.”  “We’ve been going out for two months and we’re not doing it yet”, or whatever it is.  And that’s so clearly not respect, that’s so clearly not love.  What I say to teens is, “If someone really loved you would he want you to be having sex before you felt comfortable or ready for that or what you really wanted?  Is that love?  That’s a really good in to get that conversation going.

 

(excerpt from a Q&A.  The entire presentation can be found on youtube here.   This particular Q&A starts at 1:27:47.)

Pt 3 of The Proverbs 31 Wife: Fact or Fiction?

How does the Proverbs 31 woman’s fear of the Lord make her different from other accomplished homemakers?

1)  Her focus is on God

Fear the LORD your God, serve him only. . . (Deut. 6:13)

First of all, her primary focus is on God — not on her husband and not on her children.  She fulfills the duties of her calling in life as a wife and mother while looking to the Lord for his strength and his direction.  Some well-meaning writers and teachers have missed this important distinction.  Marcia Ramsland, for example, writing for the Christian women’s magazine P31 Woman (January 2004), encourages her readers to remember that the woman’s “inspiration is to emulate the end goal in Proverbs 31:28 ‘her children arise and call her blessed'”

Hoping for children — or a husband — to “arise and call her blessed” destines even godly women to discouragement and failure.  Why? Because it falsely assumes that children who are raised in godly homes will choose to follow the path of wisdom and thereby recognize the value of their mother’s commitment to God’s righteousness.  Its falseness is manifested in the first nine chapters of Proverbs, which show a wise father repeatedly begging his son to give everything he has in order to obtain wisdom.  Why does he have to beg?  Because the son has a choice. He can elect to heed his father’s wisdom, or he can choose to close his ears and go the way of folly.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. (Prov. 1:8)

My son, if you accept my words. . . turning your ear to wisdom. . . , and if you call out for insight. . . , and if you look for it as for silver. . . , then you will understand the fear of the LORD. . . (Prov. 2:1-5)

Even the wisest of mothers have children who refuse to listen.  If they choose to follow the path of folly, they reap the consequences of that choice.  The devastated mother watches these children, to whom she has devoted her life, deliberately and stupidly choosing to walk in sin’s way, heedless of the destruction about which they have been warned.  If her goal has been for her children to appreciate her instruction and call her blessed, she can only conclude that she is a failure.  Even if she holds out hope for eventual repentance, she has no guarantee that her child will utter such words before dying.

A wife can never make the praise of human beings her end goal.  As blessed as a woman might be to have appreciative children and a grateful husband, the greater blessing will come from God himself, who in the Day of Judgment will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Those who work with hope of praise from others in this life have no promise of reward in the next.  The wise woman runs the race of life, as all faithful Christians do, with her eyes on Jesus Christ, the “author and perfecter of our faith,” and waits for his words of commendation.

2) She hates evil

To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. (Prov. 8:13)

A wife who fears the Lord also hates evil, for “The fear of the Lord — that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).  The wise woman not only abounds in good works but deliberately avoids anything that can be construed as sin.

In a fully God-centered household, shunning evil may be comparatively easy.  But what about the wife who must exercise godliness and wisdom when everyone else in her household has no such interest?  Wickedness can be an everyday reality, provoking inescapable confrontation between good and evil, between a devout wife and an ungodly husband.  How does a wife in such an environment become a Proverbs 31 woman?

Often such women are referred to 1 Peter 3 and advised to submit to their husbands, living out the Christian life in humility and gentleness.  These are good principles, but they are not the only ones to be considered.  The wife cannot be submissive to evil and at the same time be a Proverbs 31 woman because the woman who fears the Lord does not participate in evil.  Any application of Proverbs 31 must take into consideration women whose husbands are not qualified to be respected leaders of society, sitting in the gate or in the courthouse.

3) She is compassionate and fair to all

She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. (Prov. 31:15)

She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. (Prov. 31:20)

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Prov. 14:31)

A kindhearted woman gains respect. . . (Prov. 11:16)

A wife who fears the Lord treats all with compassion and fairness.  God warns, “I will be quick to testify against. . .those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me” (Mal. 3:5). Because she fears the Lord, the Proverbs 31 woman dispenses what is fair to those who work for her, and she gives generously of what she has to the needy.

4) She delights in the Lord’s commands

Scripture affirms that those who fear the Lord not only obey his commands but take pleasure in doing so.  The psalmist wrote, “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands” (Ps. 112:1). Psalm 119 extols God’s commands with numerous metaphors that portray how delightful God’s words are: they are wondrous (18), good (39), like songs (54), more valuable than gold (72), sweeter than honey (103), and a light (105).  Repeatedly the psalmist expresses his joy in obeying and meditating upon God’s commands (16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77 et al).

When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all go them are clothed in scarlet.  She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. (Prov. 31:21-22) 

This joy — joy in the Lord and joy from the Lord — belongs to the wife who fears the Lord. Whether a wife literally sews her own clothes or whether she buys them in a department store makes little difference in qualifying her as a Proverbs 31 woman.  If providing clothes for her children or choosing them for her husband is part of her agreed-upon duties, then doing these things with a joyful spirit out of service to the Lord puts her into the category of a Proverbs 31 woman.

The harder the real-life environment, the more critical this “delight in the Lord and in his commands” becomes in enabling a woman to survive without succumbing to depression or sinful anger.  When family members are unappreciative or when financial pressures escalate, the Spirit of wisdom remains strong, comforting, guiding and giving inner joy, and at the same time reassuring that being a Proverbs 31 woman is not dependent upon pleasing others but upon trusting and obeying God.

5) She is teachable

Let the wise listen and add to their learning. . . (Prov. 1:5)

The woman who fears the Lord continues to grow in wisdom.  The young groom will not find the finished product standing beside him at the altar.  However, if his bride has determined in her heart to spend her life learning God’s wisdom, he will have a treasure.  He will likewise be a precious possession to his wife if he has chosen to do the same, because the truly wise will not be wise in their own eyes but instead will recognize their need for additional wisdom from God.

Proverbs 31 ends with an admonition that the godly wife deserves to be praised.  Before praise, however, comes a humble spirit that is teachable, for “The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor” (Prov. 15:33).

6) She is a peacemaker

[Wisdom’s] ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. (Prov. 3:17)

There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil, but joy for those who promote peace. (Prov. 12:20)

Whoever fears the Lord strives for peace.  No household exists in which squabbles do not develop.  The wife not only has to live at peace with her husband but she also has to keep children from quarreling and angrily hurting one another.  Psalm 34 teaches that the fear of the Lord involves the pursuit of peace — but not at the expense of truth.  The Proverbs 31 woman does not achieve peace at all costs.  She is both peaceful and truthful.  The woman who fears the Lord is to “keep [her] tongue from evil and [her] lips from speaking lies” and is to “turn from evil and do good, [to] seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:11-14).

A wife who truly fears the Lord, then, is the epitome of the Proverbs 31 woman.  She is the woman who will continue to grow in wisdom, carrying out all of her duties in the manner that God desires.

* * *

In Part 4 we will learn about the similarities between the Proverbs 31 woman and Ruth, the widowed Moabitess.

Carmen J. Bryant @2004, reproduced with permission.  Carmen spent 19 years as a missionary among the Dayaks of Kalimantan Barat (West Borneo, Indonesia) and draws upon her experiences there for insights into the description of the Proverbs 31 wife.

[Go to Part 1]         [Go to Part 2]

New Policy on Links and Recommendations in Comments

Due to the workload it has been creating for ACFJ administrators, we have decided on a new policy for comments.

We will no longer publish any comments that contain links to other websites or that recommend books or other resources.

It has simply been taking us too much time to check out the links and books that have been recommended in comments.  And it was tricky for us as moderators because we have usually wanted to publish the rest of the comment but couldn’t do so until we had checked out the link in the comment text.

If you want to recommend a resource, a book or a link, please do so by emailing TWBTC at twbtc.acfj@gmail.com.  This is the only way we will consider them.

At the same time, please remember that we already have an extensive compilation of Resources which you can always access from our top menu, and that while we are prepared to add excellent new resources to that list, we suspect that our Resources are being under-utilized by readers.  For example, quite often when a reader asks a question, there are already items in our list of Resources which would help answer their question. — Please don’t feel that we are rapping any of you over the knuckles here! We know that many of our readers are more than exhausted and are battling on so many fronts that they don’t necessarily have time to look through the material on our site. But we do encourage readers to check out our resources more thoroughly, as you are able.

And please bear in mind that all we do on this blog we do as volunteers, and we try to be good stewards of our limited time.

Thank you!

Pt 2 of The Proverbs 31 Wife: Fact or Fiction?

Before determining how this instruction should be applied to today’s woman, several assumptions need to be recognized.

Assumption 1: She is a mature woman 

The woman described in the text is a mature woman, not a new bride.  She shows the confidence of one who has gained experience over time, both in her spiritual development and in her skills as a homemaker.  Young men hoping to discover a readymade Proverbs 31 wife are setting themselves up for a disappointment if they expect to say “I do” to a bride with this much skill or wisdom.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. (Prov. 1:8)

He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever needs correction gains understanding. (Prov. 15:32)

The prologue to Proverbs (chapters 1-9) repeatedly emphasizes the need to learn wisdom by listening to instruction, heeding correction and obeying God’s commands.  In the same way that homemaking skills become perfected with practice, so also understanding and wisdom increase over time when one walks with the Author of wisdom.  A new bride may not match the Proverbs 31 woman’s skill, but she will be counted wise if she makes a conscious choice to follow the Way of Wisdom.

Assumption 2: Her husband is a wise and mature man

Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. (Prov. 31:23)

Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. (Prov. 31:11)

Second, this woman is married to a man who is qualified to sit in the gates as an elder of his people.  He has presumably been successful in his own endeavors and thereby has gained the respect of the community.  He recognizes that he has a superb wife and appropriately leaves the management of the home to her.  [See also 1 Tim. 5:14. Paul sees the management of the home as the proper role for a wife.  The Greek word used, oikodespotes, is a powerful verb of ruling. Although it only occurs once in the New Testament, it is used in other Greek literature to describe the responsibilities of those who have complete charge of the daily activities of the household. NASB’s translation of “keeping house” is far too weak, since “keeping house” to many women refers only to such chores as doing the dishes and sweeping the floor.]

. . . I [Wisdom] raise my voice to all mankind. (Prov. 8:4)

A wife’s practice of godly wisdom, however, is not dependent upon her husband’s being godly or successful.  Godliness and wisdom can and should be practiced in any environment.   Women who are not in an ideal martial situation should not become discouraged or try to excuse themselves from reaching for wisdom.  God has promised wisdom to every woman who has set her heart on obtaining it.

Assumption 3: Her household is economically well off

She sees that her trading is profitable. . . (Prov. 31:18)

When it snows, she has no fear for her house-hold; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. (Prov. 31:21)

Third, the Proverbs 31 wife is part of a well-to-do household.  Waltke mentions that the poem “assumes the husband has founded the home on a sound economic foundation (24:27) and within that context his wife can settle down and function to her maximum ideal.”  The text indicates that the woman’s prudent management of the family’s resources brought economic security to all of her household.

Many women conclude that it would be impossible to live up to this woman’s example without also having her servants.  In their dreams, the servants would do the household work and leave them free to carry on her other pursuits.

She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. (Prov. 31:15)

However, this betrays both a misunderstanding of the role of servants and of the author’s point. In the North American context, servant brings to mind either (1) historical slave of the Southern plantation, or (2) a domestic worker whom only the rich can afford to pay.  Neither description comes close to depicting the Proverbs 31 household servant.

Even today where modern “electric servants” to which the West has become accustomed do not exist, household chores can be both physically demanding and time consuming.  Without readymade clothes, canned foods, and prepared spices, clothing and feeding a household require a huge amount of one’s day.  With no electricity or indoor plumbing, every chore done by the machines the West takes so much for granted becomes a major job.  The housewife needs help.

In Indonesia, it is common for a family to take in younger relatives to become servants.  The family assumes responsibility for their food and clothing, school fees and medicine, but is not obligated to give any wages.  Even a very poor Dayak, when she has an infant, would consider it unthinkable to be deprived of such a servant to cook the rice, fetch the water from the river and help tend the baby.  The rich are not the only ones who have servants.

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.  She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  (Prov. 31:26-27)

Servants help, but they also bring responsibility.  [Many missionary women would far prefer to have electric servants and do the household chores themselves than to have to supervise a number of household servants and be responsible for their training and behavior.] The Proverbs 31 woman shouldered this responsibility as normal routine in her household and did it well.  The wise woman can live with or without servants.  In either case, she organizes and carries out her work with wisdom, overseeing and advising everyone in her household.

Assumption 4: The Proverbs 31 woman is a healthy woman

She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.  (Prov. 31:17)

She is clothed with strength. . . (Prov. 31:25)

The fourth assumption from the text is that the Proverbs 31 woman is healthy, strong and fit for her job.  Can a woman excuse herself from being a Proverbs 31 wife, then, if she has not been blessed with a healthy body and a vigorous immune system?  If the amount of household tasks accomplished is the rule by which we measure a woman’s worthiness, then we have established a superficial standard for wisdom.  Certainly a healthy body is valuable, but wisdom is not dependent upon physical strength.  Being a Proverbs 31 woman does not demand the perfect body.  Instead, it needs a healthy spirit that is attuned to the Spirit of God.

In summary, then, although the author of Proverbs 31 delights in all this jewel of a woman does in the ruling of her household, her above-rubies value is not dependent upon her homemaking skills, her worth husband, her comparative wealth, or her physical health.  Her value is in using the wisdom God has given her, a wisdom that springs from her fear of the Lord.

This is no assumption.  The writer summarizes this remarkable wife with these words:  Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.  Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised (v.29-30).  Herein is the key to understanding the entire poem: the noble wife is a woman who fears the Lord.  Focusing only on this industrious woman’s work will cloud this crucial point.

Many woman, even non-Christians, out of innate common sense and providential goodness devote themselves to caring successfully for their husbands and children, making the needs of their household the primary focus of their lives.  What then, differentiates the wise wife of Proverbs 31 from her counterparts? It is her fear of the Lord, not her wise shopping or her control over her children. [Wise readers will interpret Proverbs 31 in the context of what Proverbs has already said about wisdom.  They will then compare this wife’s character with the rest of the Bible’s instruction on wisdom.  Many articles written about Proverbs 31 focus more on the woman’s submission to her husband rather than her submission to God.  Submission does not make one wise.  Rather, the wise woman lives in obedience to God and therefore submits to her husband for the Lord’s sake.]

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. . . (Prov. 1:7)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. (Ps. 111:10)

 * * *

In part 3 we will learn how the Proverbs 31 woman’s fear of the Lord makes her different from other accomplished homemakers.

Carmen J. Bryant @2004, reproduced with permission.  Carmen spent 19 years as a missionary among the Dayaks of Kalimantan Barat (West Borneo, Indonesia) and draws upon her experiences there for insights into the description of the Proverbs 31 wife.

[Go back to part 1]

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