Tag Archives: rest

Where In the World is the Proverbs 31 Woman: Part 1 Understanding the Background

goodwifeguide-331x268Over the past few years, I’ve read several articles arguing varying perspectives on the ideal wife portrayed in Proverbs 31. Most of these articles have argued the matter in terms of whether or not this woman is a standard model for wives and women everywhere to aspire to be the best housewife possible in serving her 1950s family or an allegory for wisdom so as to remove the unattainable ideal that just serves to discourage women into standardized gender roles. I’ll admit that these characterizations are hyperbole, but I am exaggerating the extreme sides of this debate for a reason: because this text has become a bit of a tug-o-war passage for folks in the battle over the role of women in the church. Each side pulling for a gender political stance and taking pride in their position, sometimes without bothering to ask whether or not they are glorifying Christ in their stance. My intent in this post is not to engage either of these positions, but rather to offer an analysis of the text with an eye on shedding a little light as to what believers are actually supposed to do with these passages.

Preliminary Issues: Genre, Audience, and Context
In advance of the discussion, there are a few important concepts that need to be understood as a lens through which we must look in interpreting the passage. The first is the genre of literature being discussed. Wisdom literature, and more specifically the proverb, is a specific genre that needs to be understood on its own terms. Reading Proverbs isn’t like reading the instruction manual for your toaster. It’s a highly defined style of writing, featuring multiple sub-genres. In this case, it’s important to recognize that the text is presenting an idealized truth. It is the same throughout the book. This idealized truth must be understood as such. It’s easy to recognize this when comparing the book to other wisdom texts. For example, read Proverbs straight through, then read Ecclesiastes or Job. All three are wisdom literature, but the three texts offer very different perspectives on the world. In Job, the righteous man loses everything and suffers despite being blameless. In fact, Job’s friends seem to reflect a position that might be supported by the book of Proverbs: If bad things are happening to you, you must have acted wickedly. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon declares some hard realities that seem to stand at odds with the more idealized book of Proverbs. There seems to be a contradiction between the books. However, this contradiction is pressing only if we rigidly look at the proverbs as absolute statements of truth or rules for the universe, instead of recognizing that ideals are being presented. To this end, it is important to recognize that this is an idealized version of women, a target to aspire to. It is not a list of hard and fast rules for wives. Rather, it is an ideal.

Further, the passage itself is Hebrew poem, written with a structure that gives hints as to what the main point is. For starters, each line of the text begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which points to the completeness of the truth being presented. Acrostics could also be used to aid in memorization. This is important because the book is intended to be instructional material for young men. Easy memorization would be a desirable feature. In addition, the poem itself has a Chiastic structure. This is when the first and last line parallel each other, the second and second to last line parallel each other, and so forth. The middle line of the poem, which has no parallel, is the major point being made. In this case verse 23 is the center of the poem:Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. Essentially, the poem culminates in the instruction that a man with a good wife will be lauded publicly. A modern equivalent would be: “Behind every successful man stands a strong woman.” This may seem like a back-handed treatment of women, saying that their only purpose is to make their husbands successful, but this isn’t the case because wives aren’t the target audience of this text.

When interpreting scripture, understanding the target audience intended by the author is valuable for understanding the message being presented. In the case of the book of Proverbs, the target audience is young men. Throughout the book, young men are addressed in the instructions. In fact, chapter 31 is advice given to King Lemuel by his mother. In this context, the advice being given to sons in the chapter is essentially that picking a good wife will aid in you becoming the kind of man that folks esteem highly. This is hardly unique in the text. 25:24 warns: Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. What sort of wife should you seek? One that you don’t fight with constantly, or you’ll hit a point where you’d rather sleep on the roof than with her. Chapter 5 is loaded with advice for young men regarding loose sexual morals. Young men are instructed to avoid such behavior and keep their sexuality confined to the relationship with their wives. In this light, the passage fits the larger context of the book’s tendency to offer advice to young men about ideal truths. This is most evident in verse 30: Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Young men tend to gravitate to a pretty face when selecting a wife, while ignoring more important qualities, like character. The advice being offered is heavily oriented toward young men’s inclinations. Again, the audience is important because it reveals a truth that is often ignored by those who attempt to interpret the text in terms of gender roles: chapter 31 is never intended to be used as an instruction manual for wives. It is not a checklist for being the ideal wife. Rather, it is advice for sons to look for certain qualities in their wives if they want to be successful and well thought of. That having been said, there are truths that can be gleaned and applied for wives, but more on that later.

1f63a8228ad74caec641eaecef106871Understanding the historic context is also important for getting a solid grip on the meaning of the passage. The advice being offered isn’t being given in a culture where people typically married for love. Marriage was generally a very utilitarian institution. Wives were selected based on all sorts of considerations, most of them pragmatic. The poem is literally about choosing a wife according to high character standards. This choosing was more akin to shopping than our culture tends to immediately recognize.

In the next installment, we’ll look at the most important background issue: How to interpret what King Lemuel’s mom was saying. Is it symbolic of something else? Is it a guide for being a perfect housewife? Is it a call to return to the 50s? Or is it something better that all believers can take hold of with joy?
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Dad’s Rest Day: 5 Basic Rest Realities

935835_10151451295271599_1447668726_nIt’s Sunday afternoon. My wife and daughter are at a baby shower. My son is taking his standard, extremely long, post-church nap. My standard Sunday afternoon counseling appointments all cancelled for the day. No family, no work, no honey-do projects. I don’t have anything I HAVE to do. I am in the strange position of having no seriously pressing obligations, apart from some writing I’d like to get done, which I could reasonably do tomorrow. Because of the odd demands of being a small town, small church pastor I work most days. When I am not working, I am being a dad or a husband. I am not complaining about these things. I love them. The real trick is that I don’t often take time to rest because I am so busy being busy.
Rest is a need that is built in to all of us. We need to stop and breath periodically. It’s so important that God requires that we rest in the 10 Commandments. We are literally commanded to take time to rest and spend with God. Rest is important because it gives time for our souls to recharge. We need to discharge our stress and be replenished by God in order to continue to be sharp. I often talk to folks who struggle with keeping their spiritual fervor active and vital in their lives. In every incidence of this struggle, the folks in question don’t take time to rest and be intimate with God. Really problematic is the sad reality that, in many cases, we have forgotten how to rest and recharge, instead choosing to always zone out and escape. Over the years, I have learned a few things about rest, largely because I don’t slow down all that much.

UnknownRest is more than shutting off:
 Rest isn’t just napping in the hammock, though that’s one of my favorite leisure activities. Rest includes, among other things, mindless detached time, investment in relationship for the purpose of refilling personally, time spent with God for the purpose of maintaining spiritual health and peace, and times of reflection and quiet. Each of these components has a place in rest, though for many the detachment of TV time has become the sole focus or rest.

Rest needs to be regular and intentional. If you are not naturally inclined to slow down and take it easy, it is necessary to be intentional about resting weekly. It’s no coincidence that the Bible directs us to take a Sabbath day of rest. If we run too long, we wear out. Once a week is an appropriate interval for resting, though down time on a daily basis is good if you can manage it.

Time with God is important! One of the major components of rest is time spent with God, praying, meditating, worshipping, or reading His word. This is important because we were designed to be in relationship with God. Maintaining intimate relationship with God is vital to maintaining our spiritual vitality. It’s a little like  tuning up a car. The car may continue to run if it’s not tuned up, but it won’t run right. We are similar. We may be able to maintain our spiritual lives without regular visits with God, but we won’t run as well. Eventually, a lack of regular maintenance will result in breakdowns.

It’s important for men to spend time with other men. It’s pretty common for men with careers and families to fall off from interaction with other guys. However, men challenge each other to excellence in ways that really doesn’t happen in other relationships. It’s worth noting that this time needs to be significant. Many men have only surface relationships with each other that never delve any deeper than opinions on sports or politics. Deeper personal connection is important. This is somewhat taboo in our culture where guys are encouraged to be unfeeling and as deep as most kiddie pools. The reality is that deeper personal connection leads to recharging and growth in ways that simply does not happen in other relationships.

Family time is important. Spending leisure time talking and playing with family is an important component of rest. Family relationships are central to a man’s life and occupy a center point in his relationship sphere. Spending time with family playing and enjoying the relationship is a big deal. This needs to take place as a whole family and also with spouses only, because the marital relationship ought to be the source of significant relief as well. This is a big deal because family relationships can often be a source of enormous stress due to obligations and responsibilities. Without leisure time, it’s easy to grow resentful of the personal toll that accompanies family obligations. Intentional rest together can fall to the wayside in this sort of environment.
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