Yesterday one of the elders in our congregation gave a fascinating message that was indirectly a Mother’s Day  message, but also spoke to the value of women in general, and did so in a way that I have strong but ambivalent feelings about. Given the relationship between the Mother’s Day context and my own thoughts about women and my own complicated personal experiences, I suppose that is to be expected. Nevertheless, even if one’s feelings are mixed, sometimes one has to deal with larger issues of justice and truth, and let the feelings sort themselves out in their own time. What I would like to do is discuss the somewhat narrow but important point that wives are supposed to be allies to their husbands, and some of the implications of this, as time permits.
The argument that wives should be allies of their husbands springs greatly from an understanding of the biblical model of marriage, especially in its ideals, given how practice often falls short of the standard. In particular two verses help serve as the lynchpin of this understanding, when properly understood in the original Hebrew. Proverbs 31:10 says that: “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.” Indeed, this is not a rhetorical question, but a serious one. What is meant by virtue is not merely moral virtue, but valor, strength, and bravery. The book of Proverbs conceives a worthwhile wife as being brave and a “woman of valor” in all areas of life, to be competent and excellent in general. Obviously, the only sensible response a man would have in seeking and in treating a wife like that would be to give her the honor and respect that she was due, which he does in the passage as a whole.
The second verse in question is Genesis 2:18, which reads: “And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”” Here we see that God knew that mankind, in general, was not meant to be alone, and certainly not man in the sense of a single bachelor type . The word used for helper is an ally, or partner, and not a servant. We may glance over this rapidly, but it makes a big difference and carries with it significant implications. The biblical world of the ancient near east, in general, was bound by two types of treaties. One type of treaty was made between rulers and subject peoples. In this sort of treaty, the more powerful partner drew up the terms without the participation of the less powerful party, and the subject person or people accepted the terms or declared themselves rebels to his authority. We see this type of treaty or covenant in the covenant of Sinai as well as the New Covenant. In both cases it remains for people to accept and follow the commandments of God, not to attempt to negotiate the terms of the covenant with our sovereign Lord. The second type of treaty was a treaty between equals that committed the two parties to be allies, with mutual respect and consideration, a covenant that was meant to be eternal, remaining in force for hundreds of years . So long as the parties to the covenant, whether people or nations, were still alive and in existence, the covenant was meant to remain in force.
There are several massive implications of women being the allies of men, and vice versa, in our shared mutual conflict in a fallen and corrupt world. For one, that means that we need good allies in our spouses, and that we need to be good allies to them in turn. It means that our marriages, by design, are meant to last until death do us part, and it is our job to turn that ideal into a reality. We do not do a very good job of this. Why is it so hard to find a good ally? In large part, because it is hard to be a good ally. Allies are not to be bossed around and commanded; rather, we must treat allies with respect and to account for and serve their well-being and their interests as they serve ours, as partners and peers. This requires a great deal of patience, an ability to communicate ourselves well, and an ability to graciously listen and show attention to the communication of others. Because we struggle with trust, respect, and communication, it ought not to be a surprise that we struggle with parity covenants, and marriage in particular. God did not create women to be subservient to men, nor to be nagging and bossy either. We are to be partners, with complementary roles based on our own skills, our own experience, our own backgrounds, our own interests, but we are to be allies regardless of the specific strengths and talents that we bring to the table, to stand together in common interest and against common foes. Where and how am I to find a woman like that, given that I am so disastrously incompetent in matters of the heart?
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