The Authority of Men in the Home and in the Church
Traditionally, men have been regarded as the masters of their own homes, even when their interests are mainly outside of the home. In recent years, women have adopted an emancipated lifestyle which enables them to do everything that men can do. At the same time, they continue their traditional role as home-makers, using whatever resources are available in terms of childcare and nurseries. Their husbands are reduced to a state of uncertainty, not knowing what is expected of them, and the children are left to search for alternative father-figures among their peers, resulting in crime and disorder. Men have also been reduced to mere spectators in the church, so that they don’t see much point going there. What does the Bible say about the role of men in the family and in the church?
Creation and the Fall
The correct order of things, as it was intended in the beginning, is defined in Genesis Chapter 2 where the woman was created as a helper for the man, equal to him in value but not equal in authority. However, she was not satisfied with her slightly subordinate position and wanted complete equality and even superiority. As a result, their blissful paradise was destroyed and she became his slave.
The story of the fall is commonly denounced as a myth, but only because Creation is denounced as a myth. To restore peace and order in the family and in the church, we first have to recover our faith in God as Creator and we need to study Creation Science and Creation History.
Genesis Chapter 1 describes what happened on each of the six says of Creation. On the sixth day, God created both man and woman, and gave them instructions about how they should manage the earth and its living creatures.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. (Gen. 1:26-31)
This passage implies that they were both created equal, although the relationship between them is defined more precisely in Chapter 2. The man was created first, and God spoke to him while he was alone in the garden, about something he was not supposed to do.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil… And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Gen 2:7-17)
After the instruction had been given to the man, the story continues with the creation of the woman.
And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (Gen 2:18-25)
The tragic story of the fall continues in Chapter 3 as follows:
Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. (Gen 3:1-6)
The woman knew about the forbidden tree, and she knew which tree it was, in the middle of the garden, because her husband had told her about it, but she had not heard it directly from God. She certainly heard other things from God, for example “God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply…” (Gen 1:28), but the instruction about the forbidden fruit was given to her indirectly through the man. So the serpent exploited a weakness within her. If she was capable of doubting the word of her husband, she was also capable of doubting God, so the serpent attacked her with the words “Hath God said”. She desired to gain wisdom in her own right, independently of God and her husband, so the serpent tricked her with the thought that God was hiding something from her. So she took the fruit in order to gain the knowledge that she thought she lacked. Once she had been taken in by the deception, she passed the same deception on to her husband, as if he was also lacking something, and he fell for it.
The question is, what was the man doing when the woman was talking with the serpent? He was with her in the garden, but not paying much attention to what was going on. Perhaps he was naming the animals, or otherwise caught up with the joys of their abundant paradise. When the woman came to him with the fruit, he probably rejoiced in her new-found knowledge, forgetting that certain types of knowledge were not for either of them to obtain. Whatever he might have thought, he fell for it, just as she had done, but then they knew they had done wrong.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. (Gen. 3:7-13)
Their excuses were astonishingly feeble. They knew they had done wrong, which is why they hid themselves, but neither of them wanted to accept the blame. The man appears to be almost blaming God for giving him the woman, and the woman blamed the serpent. Only the serpent doesn’t try to blame anyone because he is the originator of this deception and there is no-one else to blame. So the Lord dealt with each of them in turn, first the serpent, then the woman, then the man.
And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:14-15)
The serpent was condemned to eat the dust from which man and all the beasts and birds were created, and there was a prophecy that he would attack the woman and her seed. This was fulfilled on two occasions, when the Hebrew children were killed in Egypt to prevent Moses from growing up and becoming a prophet, and the children at Bethlehem were killed, to prevent the coming of Messiah. But both attempts failed, and eventually the serpent’s head was bruised when Yeshua paid the price of our sins on the cross.
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. (Gen. 3:16)
Considering that neither of them had experienced anything called pain, this must have been a devastating judgement, but it’s just the beginning. The woman is in pain at the moment of birth, but she soon forgets it after the child is born. Then the child is in pain and discomfort for a variety of reasons, and when we are sick or old we have pain.
The second judgement for the woman was that, instead of being a helper, almost equal with her husband, she would now become a slave, and God would put it in her heart to willingly endure with it. For centuries, women have accepted a position of subservience, beginning with the patriarchal times of Genesis and continuing until now. It might not be so bad, being the slave of an honourable man, but a minority of women have subjugated themselves to tyrants, sometimes hoping to change them for the better, and sometimes just accepting their unhappy lot. Even today, they end up on the psychiatrist’s couch saying “I thought if I could make him happy, everything would be alright” and they put up with almost every kind of abuse before they eventually up sticks and go back to mother. It’s a syndrome called “too much love”.
Setting aside the question of the tyrannical husband, we have to consider the normal situation, where the man takes his rightful role as the head of the family. If his role is undermined, there are two evils that inevitably follow:
The marriage will be unstable and in danger of breaking up. Although it is possible, and can even be attractive, for a woman to be married to a man who is bearably authoritarian, it doesn’t work the other way round. There are very few men who will put up with marriage to a radical feminist, and those who do so are usually failures at everything else, being too wimpish to achieve anything of value.
The children are deprived of a male role model and instead they model themselves on the most aggressive of their peers, leading to crime, drug abuse and all sorts of unsociable behaviour. Boys join a gang with an agressive leader, and girls join themselves to members of the gang so that they can adopt the same gang leader as their father-figure. The situation is hardly any different whether the man is at home playing the wimp or physically absent. If he is absent, the woman can at least justify wearing the trousers, so it might be slightly better, but in either case the father-figure is not there and the children descend into chaos, unless they are fortunate enough to be influenced by a very persuasive teacher or youth leader.
The phrase “he shall rule over thee” means he rules like a king, for better or for worse, and no good can come by attempting to overthrow him. We cannot overcome the consequences of the fall, any more than we can overcome death, disease, or the growth of weeds in the garden.
Continuing with the discussion of Genesis we come to the judgement of the man.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Gen 3:17-19)
Adam’s sin was to listen to his wife when he should have been listening to God. He had been given the instruction, directly from God, before his wife had even been created, yet he allowed himself to be deluded into thinking that she could know better. The whole of creation became cursed and the ultimate judgement upon him was death.
Now we need to consider what would have happened if the woman had eaten the forbidden fruit, but the man had refused it. In Genesis 3:6-7 we see how both of them took the fruit, and then both of them fell together. There is no suggestion that things happened sequentially, with the woman suffering her downfall and then the man. She took the fruit, and for a time she might have thought she had got away with it, then she gave it to the man. There was no poison in the fruit itself. The poison was in the judgement of God who was waiting to see what both of them would do.
The man was created first and appointed as custodian of the earth, and then the woman was created as his helper. If only she had fallen, he would have continued as custodian of the earth but without a helper, and the earth itself would not have suffered any damage. God could have made him a new helper to replace the one who had fallen, although it is not for us to know exactly what God would have done. The fact is, that the earth is in its present state of decay, and we all look forward to the ultimate sentence of death, because Adam allowed his wife to rise above her station so that for a brief moment she became the leader instead of the helper.
But all is not doom and gloom. Yeshua the Messiah has come to pay the price of our sins and give us eternal life in his presence, even though our life in this world continues in a state of decay.
Should Women Wear Head Coverings in Church?
Some churches, particularly Brethren assemblies, insist that women should always come to church with their heads covered, to show that they are under authority. This is based on a literal interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11, as if Paul was making a rule that had to be applied for all time, regardless of the circumstances. Now that we have looked at Creation and the Fall, we can consider the circumstances of the Corinthian church and find out what this passage means.
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. (1 Cor. 11:3-16)
Head coverings are universally considered to be a sign that a person is under authority, and they are worn by women throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, not just among Muslims where the subjugation of women is taken to the ultimate extreme, but among Hindus as well. Indian women wear the traditional sari which covers most of the body, including the head, but leaves the midriff exposed. Muslim women are willing to pull out their breasts in public places to feed their babies, but they keep their heads covered. Whatever happens to other parts of their bodies, they keep their heads covered because they are under authority.
In some circumstances, a head covering indicates that someone is under authority, but also has a delegated authority which can be imposed on other people. For example, a policeman wears a hat to show that he is under the authority of his senior officers. When he gives you a ticket for speeding, you can’t argue with him because you would also have to argue with the heirarchy of officers above him, and the whole state apparatus that he represents.
Of course there are circumstances where head coverings have got nothing to do with authority, for example at high-fashion events such as the Ascot racecourse on Derby day. But when head coverings are worn on a day-to-day basis and not just at special events, it usually means that the person is under authority.
In the time of the Apostle Paul, it was customary for women in Corinth to cover their heads in public, to show that they were under authority. A woman who went around with her head uncovered, especially if she cut her hair short, was considered to be a woman of loose morals. In a sense, the head covering gave her an authority of her own, so that she could go where she wanted and would not be subject to the taunts of men who considered her to be easy game. Therefore, if women did not cover their heads in church, it was a bad example to the outside world. To drive home the point, he says that if a woman will not cover her head, it is just as if she were shaven and made herself into an object of shame.
But Paul was not just encouraging the church to conform to local customs to avoid offending people. He actually believed that women should be under the authority of their husbands, in conformity with the created order, just as I have argued in the previous section.
The problem with the Corinthian church was that they had got out of control. The women in the church had become emancipated to a point that they had become offensive to the outside world, and to their own husbands within the church, and to the church elders so that their ministries became ineffective. Setting aside the local culture that existed in Corinth, the modern-day equivalent would be a church where the minister and the elders are men, but the congregation is mostly made up of women including a strong contingent of ultra-feminists. The main highlight of the Sunday service is not the praise and worship, or the sermon, but the informal coffee-time at the end where the women have their own religious debates and organise their own activities, but they never ask the minister about anything. They never bring their husbands to church, and none of the men would come anyway because they would be reduced to mere spectators, just as the minister and the elders are spectators with a slightly higher profile.
The situation that confronted Paul was unacceptable in his time, just as the scenario described above would be unacceptable today. But Paul was concerned about more than just culture. He was also concerned about the behaviour of women in the church, as we will see when we study some of the other passages, and he resolved it by asking the women to cover their heads. The question is, how would this affect the behaviour of the women? The head covering itself was just one component of a more elaborate set of rules, but it had an important psychological effect. Whether we are concious of it or not, there is a relationship between our behaviour and what we have on our heads. Have you noticed that when people want to be authoritarian, they cut their hair? They might have no prospects of being appointed to any official position of responsibility, but they cut their hair in the vain hope that they might be able to exercise authority over others. For example there are the skinheads who shave off all their hair and then threaten unsuspecting strangers in the street in an attempt to gain control over them. Then there are the ultra-feminists who have all got short hair. The more they try to boss everybody else around, the shorter their hair gets. I have never seen an ultra-feminist with long hair, either in real life or on TV.
To take his point further, Paul makes an appeal to nature, and argues that God has given a covering to women that he has not given to men, at least not to the same extent. Generally speaking, women are capable of growing their hair much more easily than men. During the 1960’s it was fashionable for men to grow their hair, but not many men were able to grow it all the way down their back, like women could do. They could grow it down to their shoulders, but if they grew it much further it would become rough and scraggy and had to be cut. Then when they started ageing, some of them would lose their hair altogether. God has provided a natural covering for women, to show that they are under authority, but has not given the same covering to men.
He also makes a rather curious point about the angels, as if they need to be encouraged by the behaviour of women. The angels are aware of those of their number who rebelled, causing their own dowfall and then the downfall of humanity. The rebellious angels became the servants of Satan, and the faithful angels remained under the authority of God. Whenever we see the angels of God at work in the Bible, they are always carrying out instructions that God has given them and have no authority of their own. They are God’s helpers, just as women are men’s helpers, and Paul seems to have believed that the angels were encouraged when they saw that the women were under authority.
Finally he says “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God”. This is a statement that there is no universal custom of head coverings in the churches. His instructions were for the church at Corinth and other churches where the same imbalance of authority needed to be rectified. If an arbitrary rule was applied to churches where it was not needed, it would give rise to unnecessary contention. Paul’s objective was to preserve unity and good order in the church, not to cause division.
Are Women Allowed to Speak in Church?
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (1 Cor. 14:34-35)
Although this might sound like a total ban on women speaking in the church, it cannot be so, even in Corinth, because in Chapter 11 we have already seen how they can prophesy, provided they have their heads covered. The problem was that some women were speaking too much and exercising authority over the men. In particular, if a married woman spoke regularly in church, in a teaching capacity, she would be attempting to teach her own husband, contrary to the law that was given immediately after the fall:
… thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Genesis 3:16).
He even imposes a ban on women asking questions in the church, although this is also probably not a total prohibition to be observed in all circumstances. If a married woman has a question, she is expected to ask her husband at home. The purpose is to honour her husband by giving him the first opportunity to answer the question. If he doesn’t know the answer, he might go to the elders and ask them what they think, or he might agree that his wife should talk to the elders, or they might both go.
In those days, an unmarried woman was considered to be “in her father’s house” until she gets married, so she would have to ask her father, or someone in her family. This arrangement might seem archaic in the liberalised world in which we live, but it is wholly beneficial because, when properly observed, it gets the family involved in the church so that nobody is left out. Our society has much to learn, and would benefit greatly from some of the old customs.
Clearly there is a problem with a woman who is married to an unbeliever. She is under the authority of her husband, but unable to ask him any questions of a spiritual nature. In that case, she has no option but to ask somebody in the church. Her husband cannot complain that he has been left out, because he has chosen not to get involved.
Suffer Not a Woman to Teach a Man
I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. (1 Tim. 2:8-15)
The requirement that women dress modestly, taken in the context of this passage, is undoubtedly a reference to the circumstances of the fall. Women have always gained a sense of self-importance from the use of gold, jewellry, perfumes and make-up. The advertising industry makes a big thing of it, with slogans like “diamonds are forever” and “because I’m worth it”. The Greeks knew of the female vanities because it was written into their own mythology. The Biblical version of the fall does not make any reference to vanity products, although it certainly carries the message that the woman thought too highly of herself. The Greeks have their own story about the fall which is, in principle, the same as the Bible story, although the details are different. They say there was a Golden Age where men lived in a state of paradise. The Olympians, including a god called Peitho (persuasion) gave gifts of gold to a woman called Pandora (all gifts) and put flowers in her hair. In search of knowledge, she opened a box and released all kinds of evils on the world, so that the Golden Age came to an end.
Obviously the Apostle Paul didn’t need to learn anything from Greek mythology, but he knew about vanity products, just as we do, and it was entirely logical to connect them with the fall.
His remark that women shall be “saved in childbearing” is not just about the process of birth, but about bringing up children and teaching them during their early years to have faith in God. The Greek word “sozo”, translated “saved” is not limited to the narrow meaning of salvation from eternal punishment. It also means a state of well-being and personal fulfillment. It is very similar to the Hebrew word “shalom” which means “peace”. Paul is saying that women are not allowed to teach the men, because to do so would be to usurp their authority, but they can find their fulfillment in the church by rearing and teaching children.
Husbands, Love your Wives, as Christ has Loved Us the Church
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. (Eph. 5:22-33)
In this passage, Paul says that wives should submit to their husbands, and that husbands should also love their wives. The Greek word “agape” is used throughout this passage, meaning unconditional, sacrificial love and not the self-gratifying love described by “eros”. It is the same love that Christ showed to us when he gave himself for us on the cross. If he had not loved us, we would not be able to follow him. In the same way, a wife cannot be expected to submit to her husband if he does not love her and is not faithful to her. If the husband is running off with other women, he risks the breakdown of his marriage and cannot expect obedience from his wife. She might in turn be tempted to go off with other men, therefore he has to be faithful to her to keep her pure. Christ has loved us, so that we can truly follow him, and in the end he expects to present us as his bride. (Rev. 21:2)
Win Your Unbelieving Husband
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. (1 Peter 3:1-7)
This passage summarises most of the passages that we have seen already, including the remarks about gold and ornaments that puff up with pride. However, there is an additional ingredient, namely that a woman can win her unbelieving husband to Christ by being a good wife. Also the men are admonished to honour their wives as the “weaker vessel”, not just physically weaker, but also socially vulnerable as a person who needs the covering of her husband to maintain her reputation.
Should Women Go To Work?
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates. (Proverbs 31:10-31)
This passage is clearly about a working woman who also looks after her household, but there are two points that should be noted:
She is not working for an employer and is not under the authority of anyone who tells her when to clock in. Instead she is self-employed, doing the type of work that enables her to set her own working hours, according to the needs of her family. She has some domestic helpers called “maidens”, who would undoubtedly be sent into the vineyard that she has planted, so that even at harvest-time she would be able to give priority to her family.
She is a mature woman, not newly married. This is evident from the fact that her husband is “known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land”. The city gate was the place where people were allowed in or out, with their merchandise, and was rather like a customs post. It was also a place of city administration and judicial authority. A man would not be given a position of authority among the elders if he was young or newly married. He would first have to prove that he could rule his household well, and in this case he had achieved it because it says “let her own works praise her in the gates”.
If they had been newly married, her husband would not only be excluded from positions of authority, but for the first year he would also be unable to engage in any activities that take him away from his wife.
When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken. (Deut. 24:5)
This does not mean he cannot work at all for a year. It means he can engage in home-based work such as working in the fields, but he cannot go to some distant place to work in somebody else’s field.
The lifestyle of an Israelite couple would therefore be something like this:
For the first year, the man is involved in home-based business. The wife is also involved in home-based business until she has her first child.
When children are born, the wife spends most of her time with them during their early years, and engages in very little commercial activity.
When the children are older, she increases her commercial activities but remains self-employed so that she is in control of her working hours. She does not become a wage-slave to an employer while her children need looking after.
Clearly there are circumstances where this scenario cannot be maintained, for example there might be economic hardship, or there might be no suitable home-based work, but this is the lifestyle that an Israelite family would normally hope to achieve.
It was also the lifestyle of most families here in Britain, before the Second World War, insofar as men went out to work to earn a wage, while women stayed at home to look after the family and occasionally engage in home-based industries where they could produce things for sale in the local market. Then during the war, women were needed to work in the armaments industries, and continued working in factories afterwards. They had discovered that they could do all the industrial jobs that men could do, so why should they stay at home?
After the war, there developed a culture of “factory working girls” who considered work to be normal, regardless of whether or not they had children to look after, and they would make alternative arrangements for the children such as putting them in a creche or hiring a home helper. Once they had found their way into the workplace, they became concerned about their position and began to complain that they didn’t get paid the same wage as men for doing the same job, or they didn’t have the same opportunities for promotion.
Obviously the question of equal rights for women in the workplace is a reasonable one, if you consider the workplace alone, and in some cases there might be very little else to consider. The problem is that the work culture has affected women in such a way that success at work is the ultimate achievement, while raising a successful family is relegated to secondary importance. This attitude has continued for many years, and has impacted the family so that children feel neglected and lacking in self-esteem, and they eventually turn to crime.
During recent years, there has been widespread concern in Britain that criminals are getting younger. The Crime and Disorder Act was passed in an attempt to deal with child criminals who were previously below the age of responsibility and could not be prosecuted. Also the Act contains provisions for parents who neglect their children and allow them to get out of control. There have been many vague and inconclusive theories in the past, about why people turn to crime, such as greed, adventurism, getting something for nothing, keeping up with the gangland culture, or even insanity. Now that the criminals are getting younger, the causes are obvious. Crime starts in the family, where children are left to fend for themselves while Mum is out at work.
But then there is the excuse that Mum has to go out to work because Dad doesn’t earn enough money. While this might be a valid argument in some cases, it doesn’t justify almost an entire population of mothers going out to work. It simply becomes a self-perpetuating social evil. If all the working mothers packed it in and went home, there would be plenty of jobs for the men, and there would be no unemployment. To create jobs, there has to be a correct balance between production and consumption. Families are prolific consumers, especially when Mum is around taking the children to the shops, and they can create plenty of jobs for the men.
Hope for the Future
The prophet Malachi gives an exhortation to observe the law, followed by a prophecy about the restoration of family life, before the coming of Messiah:
Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (Malachi 4:4-6)
This prophecy was repeated at the birth of John the Baptist:
But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John… And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:13-17)
During his ministry, John spoke about the law, and then the relationship between the Father and the Son, and the Father confirmed his message when Yeshua was baptised:
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:17-18)
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matt. 3:16-17)
We see John at work, in the most dangerous of circumstances, appealing for the restoration of family relationships within the household of the Roman tetrarch Herod Antipas, who had married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. (The name Herodias was probably given to her by Herod himself). One of the consequences of this adulterous marriage was that the daughter of Herodias had become estranged from her rightful father Philip. Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great who had married Malthrace, a Samaritan. Despite the tensions between the Jews and Samaritans, Herod could claim Israelite descent and was able to cultivate a relationship with the Pharisees, which is evident from Yeshua’s warning to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod”. (Mark 8:15).
Herod had a knowledge of the law, having learned it from his mother, and John appealed to him with the words:
It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife. (Mark 6:18)
Thus in one sentence he appealed for observance of the law and restoration of family relationships, including the restoration of the daughter of Herodias to her rightful father. The rest of the story is well known. The daughter danced for Herod at a banquet, and with the encouragement of her mother Herodias she tricked Herod into cutting off the head of John the Baptist.
Yeshua confirmed that John the Baptist had fulfilled the prophecy about the coming of Elijah:
And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. (Matt. 11:14)
But the prophecy is also about the second coming, because it talks about the “great and dreadful day of the Lord”. The Apostle John wrote about two witnesses who would come, who are commonly believed to be Moses and Elijah.
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will. (Rev. 11:3-6)
Here we see Elijah in his traditional role as a prophet of fire who shuts up the heavens and stops the rain, but we should also see him restoring family life, according to the prophet Malachi. The two roles are entirely compatible, considering that Elijah is the ultimate male authority figure who is lacking in many families. In spite of the dire predictions about the state of the world in the run-up to the second coming of Messiah, described in Matthew 24, we should expect to see the restoration of relationships within believing families.
For many years, Christianity has been church-based rather than family-based. Everything is OK as long as the church is full on Sundays, and if you want to know anything the last person you ask is your father. Consequently, Christian families are as badly messed up as all the other families, but because they have access to Bible teaching they have the means to sort themselves out, as soon as they realise that they are in need of help. The way is open to those who believe, because all the answers are in the Bible.
The Bible teaches that a man has to be the head of his home, and that men should take positions of responsibility in the church, without becoming tyrants, and showing love and respect for those within their care. This is a divine order that we neglect at out peril. When women take over from the men, the result is social degradation and destruction, just as the Garden of Eden was destroyed when the woman decided that she could eat the forbidden fruit.
Children need the influence of their father, or at least a persuasive male adult authority figure, to grow up into good citizens. They also need the example of male leaders in the church, otherwise they will drift away at the age of about 15 when they perceive that church is some kind of women and children’s thing.
Despite the degradation that we have seen during the last half of the 20th century, there is hope for believing families that have become dysfunctional because of their exposure to the world. As long as they have access to the Bible, they have the means to see their relationships restored.