Category Archives: Relationships

Surprising Men of the Old Testament (Part 2)

Surprising Men of the Old Testament (Part 2)

By Bronwen Speedie

In the previous post of this “Surprising Men of the Old Testament” series, we looked at men’s work and activities. We turn now to examine men’s relationships with women and children.

There’s been a lot of talk in the past couple of decades about what “godly manhood” might look like. Among “complementarian” Christians (who hold to a hierarchical or patriarchal view on gender), the model of husband as leader and initiator, and wife as responsive submitter, is usually presented as authentically biblical. In this model, women have no place in leading men, particularly in matters of faith. Is this a truly biblical model? Is a biblical marriage really one that is focussed on authority and submission?

A Godly Man’s Relationships with his Wife and Children

Although many practices in the patriarchal culture of biblical times ran contrary to the one-flesh relationship envisaged in Genesis 2 (e.g. polygamy, and treating women as possessions), the Old Testament depicts a number of genuinely loving and tender marital relationships.

Isaac, Rebekah’s Husband
Although it was Abraham’s servant who determined that Rebekah was a suitable match for Isaac, the couple’s love was genuine. Isaac was emotionally open and vulnerable to his wife, and he found comfort with Rebekah during his time of grief when his mother died (Genesis 24).

Jacob, Rachel’s Husband
Jacob’s love for Rachel was such that he endured fourteen years of indentured labour, as well as the trickery and deceit of her father, in order to win her hand (Genesis 29).

Boaz, Ruth’s Husband
From their first meeting, Boaz treated Ruth with respect and gentleness. He made it clear to the men working for him that they were not to lay a hand on her. He also treated her with generosity. He provided basic needs such as drinking water, and he invited her to eat with him. Yet expected nothing in return.

He demonstrated the esteem in which he held her, valuing her highly as a result of what he had learned of her character and faith. He called her “a woman of valour” (a more accurate translation of the Hebrew eshet chayil than “woman of noble character”), recognising the strength and courage she possessed.

Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said of Boaz, “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” When Ruth made the culturally unusual move of proposing marriage to him, he felt honoured rather than affronted. As a result of their union, Ruth and Boaz became ancestors of the Messiah.

Elkanah, Hannah’s Husband
It was considered an absolute right for a married man to have children. A wife’s failure to conceive and bear children was an accepted reason for divorce. However, Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, consistently demonstrated his love for her despite the fact that she could not have children:

“Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah (his other wife) and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Samuel 1:4-5).

Elkanah was supportive and tender-hearted, and he accompanied her to the temple when she went to pray. There is no sense in the text that Elkanah felt the need to be “in charge of” his wife. Note that when Hannah made a vow that if she were blessed to conceive a son, she would give him to the Lord’s service. Elkanah did not insist that it was his right to make the decisions about their child. He respected Hannah’s vow to God.

Fathers Teaching Children
Because the Bible is generally concerned with the “big picture” stories of those who led God’s people, rather than with domestic matters, there is very little said directly about the interactions between fathers and their children. However, the command to teach God’s laws to your children is given without reference the gender of the teacher. Also implied is that teaching the next generation is not merely a parental responsibility, but a community one.

Caleb and his Daughter
Although Caleb participated in patriarchal traditions such as exercising the right to give his daughter away to a man of his choice, he also took the unusual step of giving her an inheritance when she requested it (Joshua 15:16-20, Judges 1:12-15).

Despite the norms of a patriarchal society, godly men loved and cared for their wives and children in ways which were often completely counter-cultural.

A Godly Man’s Care for a Vulnerable Woman

While patriarchal culture led to many abuses of women, there are numerous depictions of men’s kindness to women in the Old Testament.

Dinah’s Brothers
Genesis 34 tells the story of Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, who was captured and raped by Shechem the Hittite. He then decided to marry her, with no respect for her feelings in the matter. Cultural rules would have made it very difficult for her to be married to anyone else after her rape, so any offer of marriage would have been considered by the male family head as being the only way of saving her from living in shame the rest of her life.

But her brothers’ response is unexpected. Genesis 34:7 records that they were “shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.” Note that they are not furious at Dinah for besmirching the family’s honour, but at the perpetrator of the crime. Nor do they query why she was off on her own, visiting the other women. They recognise their sister’s right to undertake normal activities without question, and place the blame where it belongs. Their killing of Shechem and his men does not sit easily with us today, but we should remember the Bronze Age context of this story —a very different culture and set of circumstances to today.

Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath
When Elijah was instructed by God to hide, but had run out of food and water, he went to Zarephath in Sidon, where God had told him a widow would supply him with food. The woman was in such dire poverty that she expected death was near for herself and her son. However, she shares what little she has with the prophet. In return for her incredible generosity, Elijah blessed the oil jug and flour jar, so that they will not run out during the time of famine. The prophet does not demand the widow’s help as his right, but recognises the great faith and generosity her actions required. He later causes her son to be raised from death (1 Kings 17).

A Godly Man’s Response to a Woman’s Leadership, Initiative and Accomplishments

Godly men have a collaborative attitude, and recognise and value the gifts and leadership of women.

Lappidoth, Barak and Deborah
Lappidoth, the husband of Deborah, appears to have had no objection to Deborah fulfilling the taxing role of judge of Israel (Judges 4). Barak relied on Deborah’s leadership, even in the male domain of the battlefield (Judges 4 & 5).

King Josiah and Huldah
At King Josiah’s request, the high priest and other officials sought out the prophetess Huldah to authoritatively interpret the newly found Book of the Law (2 Kings 11, 2 Chronicles 34). This was not because of a lack of male leadership at the time–Huldah was a contemporary of Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. Some Jewish traditions hold that Huldah was also a public teacher. Even though many Jewish kings ignored the warnings of many of the other prophets, the king, high priest and the entire nation bow to Huldah’s judgements on this matter, and a religious revival followed.

Moses and Zelophehad’s Daughters
A godly man is not afraid of women taking the initiative. The daughters of Zelophehad took the initiative to challenge unjust inheritance laws. Moses did not rebuke them, but consulted with the Lord. As a result, they and other women after them were able to inherit property (Num 27).

In Song of Songs, both the man and woman take the initiative in the area of romance.

The husband of the Proverbs 31 woman had “full confidence in her” and as a result, “(lacked) nothing of value.” Along with her children, he would “arise and call her blessed,” recognising the blessing brought to their family as a result of her strength, skills and hard work.

The godly men of the Old Testament respected the dignity and worth of women, and were not affronted or demeaned by the leadership and accomplishments of women. While they may have had a role in protecting women in dangerous situations, they also released them to positively influence their society. Despite the strongly patriarchal culture of the Ancient Near Eastern society, many godly men went against the cultural flow in their relationships with women.

© 23rd of July 2015 Bronwen Speedie

This article was first posted on God’s Design–Perth here.

How to do friendship with men (Part 2)

How to do friendship with men

By Tania Harris

Back in the first century it wasn’t normal for men and women to be friends. They didn’t meet for coffee in morning tea breaks or discuss current affairs over the water-cooler. They didn’t sit next to each other in the synagogues and swap ideas about their theology. They certainly didn’t discuss their spiritual lives by the village well.

That’s why the actions and behaviours of Jesus with the Samaritan woman were so radical. Even his disciples couldn’t fathom his socialising with a woman, let alone one with such a scandalous reputation (John 4:27). Somehow Jesus managed to interact with the opposite sex in a healthy way, even being alone with them in a public setting.

Jesus shows us that it is possible to engage meaningfully with our male counterparts. In the radically new equality of the kingdom he inaugurated, it’s not surprising. It’s when men and women relate together that they are seen to fully represent the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28). So the question is how.

Kissing Your Brother

Here, I believe, the writings of Paul are helpful. At one point Paul is advising his young mentoree Timothy how to pastor a mixed congregation; “Treat younger men as brothers,” he writes; “Older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Timothy 5:1a,2). Paul of course was writing from a man’s perspective, but we can easily switch it around to apply to us. If Timothy was to treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters, then we should treat older men as fathers and younger men as brothers. We should ask; how do we act towards our brothers? and then interact with men who are not our husbands or boyfriends in the same way.

I grew up with three brothers; one older, two younger. As children our quibbles were over who got to sit in the front seat of the car and whose turn it was to do the dishes. We did okay given that our birth order rendered all three of them squished to a single bedroom while I got one all to my own.

My brothers are grown up now and are all married to women who love them dearly. They are good men – I would even say attractive men – but it’s difficult for me to think of them that way. Even though my middle brother bears a scary resemblance to Matt Damon, it’s impossible for me to think of them sexually. The thought of kissing them makes me squirm – as it should. This is what it means to treat men as brothers. The same emotional and physical boundaries that apply to male family members should also apply to our male friends.

Presenting as Sisters

There’s another side to Paul’s advice. If we are to treat men as brothers, then we need to present ourselves as sisters. We need to show ourselves capable of healthy, godly friendships and in doing so challenge the stereotypes that are so often propagated by our culture.

The view of women as sex objects is one of the main reasons people warn against cross-gendered friendship. Instead of seeing women as co-image bearers, peers and partners, society often presents us as seductresses, temptations and objects of fantasy. The latest Holden comes with a bikini clad pouting woman draped over the bonnet. Musical talent comes wrapped in a plunging cleavage. Domestic goods are marketed with glossy legs and voluptuous lips. Our intelligence, emotions, gifts, callings, and personalities are all reduced to a body, a mere shell of the image of God women are called to bear.

While we may not have control over some of the stereotypes of our culture and we can’t change the thoughts and intentions of individual men, we can take responsibility for the way we present ourselves. We can present ourselves as sisters, behaving, speaking and interacting as equals in the family. To these men, we’re not looking for the affections of a lover, we’re not presenting ourselves to turn them on and we’re not offering alluring glances to seek sexual affirmation. That’s as irksome as kissing your brother.

Your Friend’s Wife

I have to admit it’s usually easier for women to be friends with single men. Once it’s been established with your man-friend that you’re more sister than lover, you can get on with the business of friendship. Oh, there’s the rumours to deal with when you regularly sit next to each other in church or hang out together on the weekends, but these are merely minor irritations. The complications come when your man-friend gets married. Now – even if your friendship has been the best thing on the planet – it must take second place to a more important one.

One of my good male friends is an ex-work colleague. We started our jobs around the same time and sat side by side at the desks in our office. Every week we chatted over coffees and compared work notes. In Winter we were ski buddies and engaged in philosophical chats on the chairlift. He taught me how to survive black runs and gave me insights on politics and documentaries on SBS. He was there when I was having a bad day and needed a chin up. I was there the day he met his wife and when they took their sacred vows.

Fortunately I didn’t lose my friend after the wedding day. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes when your single man-friend gets married, you have to be ready to surrender the friendship. Now your friend’s priority is his wife – as it should be. And sometimes a wife doesn’t want to compete with a best friend.

The one way I can still be friends with my married male friends is because their wives are happy about it. They are secure in their husband’s affections and feel no sense of competition. And now they are friends with me.

The best way to maintain friendships with your married male friends is to get to know your friend’s wife. Involve them in the friendship and seek to know them as you do their husbands. It’s not only a good way to increase your friendship circle, but it acts a constant reminder of your role.

My life has been blessed by healthy need male friendships. I think we all need them. But being friends with men, especially married men, means that certain boundaries need to be in place. We need to respect our friends’ wives. We need to present ourselves as sisters. It’s only then that we can enjoy healthy male relationships. And it’s then that we can know God more fully by seeing him through eyes of our male friends.

© August 17th 2015, Tania Harris

This article first appeared on God Conversations here.

How to do friendship with men (Part 1)

How to do friendship with men

By Tania Harris

Some of the best friendships of my life have been with men.

I think of Paul who invited me to share his church offices when I first set out to plant my church. We met as students in one of our Masters classes. He was the short geeky one; funny, well-loved and smart. Half a decade older, he was also more skilled in ministry than I, having planted his own church and flexed his pastoral muscles for years. During the week we would discuss theological points in our sermons and on Monday mornings, we would debrief our services over smiley cupcakes from the local bakery. Paul was there to reassure me when the numbers were down and provide advice about the drunk who gate-crashed my service. He was first on my church board and led my commissioning when I left.

I think of Aaron, an ex-navy guy, who when he first entered my church was aghast to see a “chick up the front”, but managed to stay on in spite of it. He was the one of the first to get on board with the vision, to offer his home for fellowship and share the preaching roster on Sundays. At Christmas time, he demonstrated his true loyalty when he rocked a Santa suit at our community outreach just because I asked him.

I think of Pete, an integral part of the God Conversations ministry, who sits in his studio on a regular basis, diligently recording and mixing my podcasts; who patiently listens to my frustrations and cheers at the testimonies and who gets as excited as me watching thrillers on the couch at the end of a long week.

All of them have been close friends who have stood with me through different times of my life. All of them have been God’s provision for me in the season I was in.

All of them have also been married.

Over the years I’ve read books and articles with titles like; “Ten Rules for Working with Women.” They’ve included such instructions as: “Never be in a room alone with a woman; always leave the door open in the presence of a female, and don’t ever maintain eye contact with someone whose not your wife for any length of time.” In other words, don’t be friends with women.

I understand where they’re coming from. The dangers of close male-female friendships are abundantly clear. Marriages, families and entire communities have been devastated because people have done the very things those articles warn against.

But at the same time, friendships with the opposite gender have enormous potential to enrich our lives. They provide us with greater perspective and open us up to seeing the world in a different way. They also enable us to know God at a deeper level through relating to the other part of the image he called us to share (Genesis 1:26-28).

So how does a Christian woman do friendship with men?

The Need for Boundaries

What those articles about cross-gendered friendships were trying to emphasize was our need for boundaries. As Townsend and Cloud in their well-known book on the topic describe them, boundaries define who I am in relation to others. They define the roles I play and the responsibilities I have in each of my relationships. We all need healthy boundaries in our lives. Like a child who flourishes within the safety of well-defined parameters, boundaries give us the freedom to thrive in our relationships.

Where those articles get it wrong I believe, is in the nature of those boundaries. The rules they lay down are primarily external. They are imposed from the ‘outside-in’ and though well-intended, they can be hopelessly ineffective.

Ask anyone whose experienced the effects of sexual chemistry. Where lust and longing are involved, external boundaries are about as powerless as a wire fence against a bulldozer. The door to the office may well be ajar, but the boundaries of the heart can still be crossed. There might be a third person in the room, but thoughts may still be wandering to places they shouldn’t go.

If we are to have healthy friendships with men, our boundaries must be internalised. That means we need to take responsibility to carefully regulate our hearts – even more than our office doors.

Know your Heart

Once when my friend Paul and I were attending a pastors’ retreat, the question came up of whether we should drive there together. The campsite was over two hours away and we lived in adjoining neighbourhoods, so it made sense that we travel in the same car. When I asked my mentor for advice, she told me the last three moral failings in our denomination were male to male. “Just go together,” she said; “You’re fine”. And we were. Paul was a brother to me. He knew it and I knew it. We’d even discussed it at some point. There was no need to enforce external boundaries because the internal ones were already there.

There’ve been other relationships though. Those times when the boundaries weren’t quite so clear; where there was a danger that lines could be crossed either from my side or theirs. These were the men I wouldn’t do coffee with, sit in an office for extended periods of time with or drive alone with in a car.

May I say, it is never difficult to tell the difference? We know it when it happens. Ever since high school, we’ve learned to recognize when someone’s eyes linger too long or when our hearts beat a little faster than they normally would.

The key is to consider every relationship on its own merit. To ask; where is my heart in this relationship? Are the boundary lines where they should be? It’s up to us to take responsibility for the way we respond to our male friends – to consider what’s going on inside and act in a way that protects both ourselves and others.

It’s worth it of course. When we take time to establish our internal boundaries, we can be free to enjoy the blessing of one of the most worthwhile relationships in our lives. Having healthy male friendships is a gift available to us to enjoy. But if we’re not willing to keep our hearts in check, perhaps it would be better not to have any male friends at all.

© August 7th 2015, Tania Harris

This article first appeared at God Conversations here.