Monday, August 11, 2014

The Tale of Two Heroes: Jael and David

In our quest for a biblical humanity that lives according to God's will, we often place men in one category and women in another. Protecting is one of those categories. We are told that men were created to protect women, and the military is often given as the supreme manifestation of this protection. Some go so far as to claim that our marriages should reflect the military life; the husband is seen as the general that commands the private.

But when we leaf through the Bible, we find examples of civilians who conquered military figures and by doing so saved the whole nation. Two such examples are found in David and Jael. 

David was a young man when he defeated the Philistine Goliath with a sling (1 Sam 17).

Jael used stealth to kill Sisera, the Canaanite warlord, with a tent peg in her own tent (Judges 4).

Both were praised for their heroic actions that saved the entire nation. Just hear the words of the song of victory, sung by Deborah and Barak:
"Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
most blessed of tent-dwelling women. 

He asked for water, and she gave him milk;
in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk. 

Her hand reached for the tent peg,
her right hand for the workman's hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple. 

At her feet he sank,
he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell-dead. 

(Judges 5:24-27, NIV)

Most blessed?

A woman who kills the enemy is most blessed? 

This reminds me of another woman who was also considered most blessed:

When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!... And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me - holy is his name ( Luke 1:41-42, 46-49, NIV).

At first glance we might say, of course she was blessed, she was about to become a mother, the proper "role" for all women. But when we spend just a moment longer, we realize that Mary was considered blessed because her child was the Messiah, who would save the people. 

Women have always stood with God against evil, and they haven't shunned doing whatever it took to protect others, whether their actions conformed with convention or not. Just consider: a married woman who acted alone, and an engaged woman who got pregnant out of wedlock. They weren't exactly prime examples of proper behavior. But then again, God has never cared what sinful humans think is proper, for propriety is too often used as a guise for evil; that which is improper in our eyes aligns often with that which is good. Hence our categories, formed as they are through culture, stand often against God and his plan of salvation. Lucky us, not everyone follows convention.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

God Is Not Your Boss

I'm sure you have heard by now a husband being compared to a supervisor and the wife to an employee, or something similar that gives the man authority.

Well, I've got news to you, God isn't your boss. 

For a husband to be a supervisor in a marriage, God would have to be our boss, but if God is our boss, salvation is by works, and not by grace:

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness (Rom 4:4-5 NIV).

Are we willing to give up grace in order to give husbands authority over their wives? And how about this idea: without free will there is no salvation.  

If the woman was created to obey the man, she has no free will and can therefore not choose salvation. 

Again, if the husband is to his wife what Christ is for the church, the wife must have free will.

Have you not heard the following:

"God respects our free will to such a degree that he will never force us to do anything."

"You have a free will, you can choose God or reject salvation."

"But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded." (Jas 4:6-9, NIV)

We can resist God, or submit to God, we have that choice. Why doesn't a wife?

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Helper Who Provides and Protects

"It is the word “helper” that suggests the woman’s supportive role....  Subordination is entailed in the very nature of a helping role." - Raymond, C. Ortlund, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p 104

According to Ortlund, a "helper" is always subordinated to the one who is being helped. But because according to John Piper, the one who is being helped is the one who protects and provides (p 36), we have to somehow explain the following verse:

"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."  So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"" (Heb 13:5-6  NIV)

God is portrayed as the one who helps us when he provides for and protects us

If the "helper" is always subordinated, and providing and protecting are signs of superiority in a relationship, we must divide God's help into two distinct categories:


1) God helps when he subordinates himself to us
2) God helps when he provides for and protects us

What would Ortlund say?  

"The fallacy lies in the implication of what she says, namely, that God cannot be subordinate to human beings. He does so whenever He undertakes to help us. He does not “un-God” Himself in helping us; but stoops down to our needs, according to His gracious and sovereign will. Similarly, I subordinate myself to my children when I help them with their homework. … So it is with God. When He helps His people, He retains His glorious deity but (amazingly!) steps into the servant role, under us, to lift us up. He is the God who emptied Himself and came down to our level – below us, to the level of slavery – to help us supremely at the Cross. Therefore, the fact that the Old Testament portrays God as our Helper proves only that the helper role is a glorious one, worthy even the Almighty." (p. 104)

Yet, because God's help is so often described as that of a superior, Grudem doesn't agree:
"It is true that God is often called our “helper,” but the word itself does not imply anything about rank or authority. The context must decide whether Eve is to “help” as a strong person who aids a weaker one, or as one who assists a loving leader. The context makes it very unlikely that helper should be read on the analogy of God’s help, because in Genesis 2:19-20 Adam is caused to seek his “helper” first among the animals. … Yet in passing through “helpful” animals to woman, God teaches us that the woman is a man’s “helper” in the sense of a loyal and suitable assistant in the life of the garden. The question seems to assume that because the word (like helper) has certain connotations (“Godlikeness”) in some places it must have them in every place." (p. 87)

In other words, the woman's help must be compared to that of the animals to prevent her from becoming the help that protects and provides. But by doing so, Grudem removes the woman's humanity.

Christian: So which one is it? Does the word “help” subordinate the woman to the man, or not?

Theologian: I think there is a huge problem with the concept of the woman being a help. Someone who helps others doesn’t have to help. Help is optional. God doesn’t always help us, even when we ask him, and the Bible is full of warnings against the kind of behavior that will get a cold shoulder from God in time of need.

Christian: So why is she called a help?

Theologian: Is she?

Christian: What do you mean?

Theologian: Is the woman called a help, or is the woman the help the man needed? If it wasn’t good for the man to be alone, what did he need: another human or a servant?

Christian: Another human?

Theologian: If the man needed another human, why did God create a woman to “help” the man? Do your friends help you?

Christian: Sometimes they do.

Theologian: Do they have to help you?

Christian: Only if they want to.

Theologian: Do you help your friends?

Christian: Of course I do!

Theologian: So if your friends help you and you help your friends, what’s the difference?

Christian: There is none.

Theologian: Do we help God?

Christian: Sometimes.

Theologian: And does God help us?

Christian: Yes, of course he does.

Theologian: If we help God and God helps us, what’s the difference?

Christian: Maybe there is a difference in how we help God and how God helps us?

Theologian: Is there?

Christian: Well, yes. God is, well… God.

Theologian: True. So when God helps us it is a help we couldn’t have provided ourselves.

Christian: Exactly.

Theologian: And if that is the case, God’s help is not that of a subordinate, for someone who is subordinate helps with menial things.

Christian: Yes, I would say that is accurate.

Theologian: If God’s help is that of a superior, can we compare the woman’s help to God’s help?

Christian: Only if we want to make the woman superior to the man.

Theologian: If we don’t wish to make the woman superior to the man, we must compare her help to that of an equal, or to that of an inferior.

Christian: But how can we tell which one it is.

Theologian: Is a woman a human or an animal?

Christian: A human, of course!

Theologian: Then she is the man’s equal.

Christian: Naturally.

Theologian: If she is the man’s equal, her help must be that of an equal.

Christian: Why can’t it be that of someone who is subordinated?

Theologian: Does your friend become your subject when he helps you?

Christian: No, of course not.

Theologian: If your friend doesn’t become your subject when he helps you, and God doesn’t become our equal when he helps us, we must retain our original position towards those we help.

Christian: That seems fair to me, but is it not possible that the woman was created to help the man in a special way that makes her the man’s equal, yet his subject at the same time?

Theologian: Does the man help the woman?

Christian: I think so.

Theologian: How does a man help a woman?

Christian: Well, one of the obvious answers is that the man helps the woman become a mother.

Theologian: Does it make the man the woman’s subject?

Christian: Not really.

Theologian: So your friend doesn’t become your subject when he helps you, God doesn’t become our equal when he helps us, and a man doesn’t become the woman’s subject when he helps her. Why would the woman become the man’s subject when she helps the man?

Christian: There seems to be no reason.

Theologian: And what about the animals? Do they become our subjects because they help us, or do they help us because they are our subjects?

Christian: They help us because they are our subjects.
Theologian: Hence the same must be true of the woman. If she was created to help the man, she was by creation the man’s subject, and never his equal. 
Equality cannot contain inequality, wherefore the woman had to either be the man's equal or his subject from creation. If the woman was created the man's subject, human equality doesn't exist; if the woman was created the man's equal, human equality is a reality. We cannot have it both ways. In the end, the woman wasn't created to help the man, she was created to be with the man. It was her humanity that ended the man's loneliness, and ever since that day humans have sought the companionship of other humans, for it isn't good for a human to be alone. 


Verses that describe God's help

Deut 33:29
Blessed are you, O Israel!

Who is like you,
a people saved by the LORD?
He is your shield and helper
and your glorious sword.
Your enemies will cower before you,
and you will trample down their high places."

Ps 18:1-3
I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and I am saved from my enemies.

Ps 27:8-9
My heart says of you, "Seek his face!"
Your face, LORD, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.

Ps 33:20-22
We wait in hope for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD,
even as we put our hope in you.

Ps 40:17
Yet I am poor and needy;
may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
O my God, do not delay.

Ps 54:3-4
Strangers are attacking me;
ruthless men seek my life--
men without regard for God.
Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Ps 63:6-8
On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

Ps 94:16-19
Who will rise up for me against the wicked?
Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
Unless the LORD had given me help,
I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
When I said, "My foot is slipping,"
your love, O LORD, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought joy to my soul.

Ps 118:5-7 
In my anguish I cried to the LORD,
and he answered by setting me free.
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
The LORD is with me; he is my helper.
I will look in triumph on my enemies.

Isa 41:10
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isa 41:14 
Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob,
O little Israel,
for I myself will help you," declares the LORD,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.