Samson’s Women

And she said unto him, “How canst thou say, ‘I love thee,’ when thy heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth” (Judges 16:15).

Samson’s women do not reflect well on the feminine gender. The unnamed Timnite woman whom he married begged him to tell the secret of his riddle and then explained it to her people (Judges 14:13-19). Delilah, whom he loved, constantly asked regarding the secret of his strength, and every time told the lords of the Philistines whatever answers he gave (Judges 16:4-21). These women manipulated Samson, dealt faithlessly with him, and, ultimately, led him to destruction.

Francesco Morone 001

Yet the lesson of Samson’s women has less to do with their being women and more with their being Philistines. Their treachery, faithlessness, and obnoxiousness derives from their greater loyalty to their families and nation. They are Philistines first, and Samson’s wives second.

God’s people would do well to learn from Samson. Even though he was one of the strongest men who ever lived, he was undone by the treachery of the women he kept close to his breast. He could not win them over.

When we intimately involve ourselves with people who are not God’s people, we run the risk of following Samson’s path. We can love them and be loyal to them and perform our duties faithfully, but if their loyalty is not with the Lord, we may find ourselves easily compromised. When the price is right, their treachery may be our undoing!

Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement hath a temple of God with idols? For we are a temple of the living God; even as God said,
“I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, And touch no unclean thing; And I will receive you, And will be to you a Father, And ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Worthy Woman

A worthy woman who can find? For her price is far above rubies (Proverbs 31:10).

Lemuel’s mother’s question is a good one: who can find a woman like this?

The book of Proverbs ends with the description of the worthy, or virtuous, woman (Proverbs 31:10-31). Lemuel’s mother provides the following characteristics of such a woman: her husband’s heart trusts in her, she provides profit through her efforts, spinning wool and linen, shops in the marketplace, makes sure the house is properly organized, staffed, and provisioned, buys a field and plants a vineyard, strengthens herself for labor, makes clothing goods deep into the night, provides benevolence to the needy, has fully clothed her household, maintains great carpets and clothes, is married to a notable man of the city, makes linen clothes as well and sells them, maintains strength, dignity, wisdom, kindness, industrious, receives commendation from husband and family, and fears YHWH (Proverbs 31:10-31). That is quite the résumé! Her worth would be far above rubies (Proverbs 31:10).

We have presented here the ideal élite woman of ancient Israel, handling her responsibilities well, wonderful in every way. When we recognize her as an idealized portrait from which we can derive many good principles, all is well. But when we expect women to use this portrait as a yardstick by which they are to measure their value, worth, or effectiveness, we not only abuse the passage but also cause great grief, distress, and suffering for women. This is especially true today in America, where this idealized portrait is merged with an idealized portrait of the “good Christian wife” and thereby setting a level of expectations which very few, if any, women could reasonably satisfy.

Therefore, before we attempt to derive applications from the description of the “worthy woman,” we do well to consider such a portrait in context. Israel during the monarchical period was a very stratified society featuring a wealthy élite and a large number of poor people living at subsistence level. The “worthy woman” is very much a part of the wealthy élite: she can occupy herself primarily with spinning and clothes manufacturing, she has enough wealth to buy a field, she is clothed in fine linen and purple, and she has servants (Proverbs 31:13-16, 18-19, 21-22). She is in a position to provide benevolence to the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:20). Her husband has high social standing, known in the gates where he sits among the elders, indicating his privileged status (Proverbs 31:23). The “worthy woman” is enterprising because she has the opportunity to be enterprising. Far more women are doing all they can, with their husbands, to keep their family fed and a roof over their heads. Most Israelite families would not have enjoyed the privilege of having servants; poorer Israelite women would still need to make clothing, but would rarely be able to provide clothing for any beyond their family. Notable in its omission is any discussion of childcare; such is likely one of the tasks of some of the female servants (Proverbs 31:15). It goes without saying that female servants, of whom there would be many in Israel at this time, could never fit the portrait of the “worthy woman.” The same is true of most poor Israelite women. If Lemuel’s mother is setting the standard for how a good Israelite woman will function, then she has already set up well over 90% of Israelite women for utter failure.

Lemuel’s mother, therefore, is not setting up expectations for the average Israelite woman; she is talking about the way a woman of the élite class should compose herself. In that sense, in its historical context, there is great value in considering what she has to say. The picture painted of élite Israelite women in the Old Testament is less than ideal. Amos calls them “cows of Bashan,” and they are described as constantly demanding drink (and, we imagine, other dainties; Amos 4:1). Isaiah castigates such women for their lustfulness, softness, and excessive jewelry (Isaiah 3:16-24). While we ought to remember that the prophets have no interest in attempting to speak commendably about such women, and these condemnations may not be representative of the whole, they still demonstrate how many of the élite Israelite women behaved. They were not very industrious unto profitable or productive ends, but enjoyed the high life and desired to spend their time in satisfying their desires. Lemuel’s mother warns Lemuel, and all other men of means, away from such women. Instead, they ought to find wives who will not treat their husbands poorly, but instead will manage the household well. In the ancient world, women ran the household, which involved far more people than just the husband and children, but many slaves and perhaps relatives as well. The husbands would manage the land as well as maintaining social connections and prestige in the gates and in the royal court. A wife who not only maintained a good house but also provided more income through effective resource management and cloth production would have been most excellent for the élite men of Israelite society. They sure beat the “gold-digger” who is nothing but a drain on resources!

Yet even then it would be hard to find many women who would attain to the standard of the “worthy woman.” In the Hebrew ordering of the Old Testament, Ruth comes directly after Proverbs, and many have seen Ruth as an example of the “worthy woman.” She certainly is a virtuous woman, fearing YHWH, industrious, trying to make the best of her situation, marries a man known in the gates, bears a son, yet even then, we do not have any evidence that Ruth did absolutely everything the “worthy woman” was doing (Ruth 1:1-4:22). Esther was a woman of abiding faith in YHWH who sought the welfare of her people and acted wisely, prudently, and shrewdly, but was expected to maintain a high standard of external beauty and would not have manually labored at all (Esther 1:1-10:3). These are good women, godly women, yet even they do not reach the lofty standard of the “worthy woman” of Proverbs 31:10-31.

Therefore, the “worthy woman,” even in context, is an idealized portrait. We do well to derive from it the principles and types of behaviors which made the woman worthy: enterprising, a competent manager of her own and her family’s affairs, benevolent, and reverent toward God. These are great attributes to which all women should aspire. In contrast, an unworthy woman is one who is lazy, a drain on the family’s resources, one who mismanages her own and her family’s affairs so that her husband cannot trust her with any responsibility, selfish, uncharitable, and irreverent toward God. Sadly, such all too frequently define many women of wealth as manifest on celebrity television shows; therefore, even the contextual wisdom is good for men of means to take into consideration as they search for a wife. Nevertheless, the principles of the “worthy woman” remain important for all women regardless of wealth, and women can manifest those principles in their lives and be reckoned as “worthy” women.

Men who find worthy women as wives do well. Women are virtuous when they revere God, prove enterprising, faithfully execute their responsibilities, thus engendering trustworthiness, and are benevolent. We do well to encourage women to manifest these principles and commend them when they do so. Let us all honor and revere God, maintain our responsibilities, and glorify God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Washing Feet

“If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).

Few events in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth had been more astounding.

The disciples and many others were amazed to see Jesus displaying power against demons, sickness, and even the natural world (Mark 1:27, 4:41). But it was expected that the Messiah would have power and authority (cf. Isaiah 11:1-10, etc.). His teachings were profound and also came with authority (Matthew 7:28-29), yet, after all, Jesus did come from God (cf. John 13:3).

And then the disciples saw Jesus carrying the basin of water with a towel around His waist.

The humiliation and degradation involved in foot washing has largely been lost on us. Nevertheless, it was acutely felt in the ancient world. People walked around barefoot or in sandals. If they lived in a city they would be walking in mostly unpaved streets with refuse and human waste everywhere. If they lived in rural areas they would be walking in the mire of the fields and the animal pens. Ladies who enjoy wearing flip-flops today can perhaps begin to sympathize with their ancient counterparts– nevertheless, at the end of the day, ancient feet were beyond disgusting. To enjoy a proper meal, they would need to be washed.

Generally it was a slave who was designated to wash the feet of the family members and their visitors. The lot would always fall to the slave with the least standing– the low man on the proverbial totem pole. It was not a job that anyone would enjoy– and it would certainly not be a task that anyone would consciously, willfully choose to do.

And yet the Lord of all, God made flesh, Him through whom all things were created (cf. John 1:1-3, 14) now stands before the disciples and proceeds to wash their feet (John 13:3-5).

Impetuous Peter cannot stand the thought of the Lord and Christ washing his feet (John 13:6-8). He keenly perceives Jesus’ humiliation to stoop to such a task and he cannot bear the idea of this role reversal. Peter knows that he should be washing Jesus’ feet, not the other way around! In order to alleviate the shame, Peter requests for Jesus to also wash his hands and head (John 13:9)– anything to make this humiliation of Jesus less humiliating.

Yet, as usual, Peter does not really understand what Jesus is doing. Jesus, of all people, is very aware of how humiliating and degrading it is to wash feet. Jesus perceives the astonishment, confusion, and perhaps even horror of His disciples. He then fully explains why He washed their feet, and in so doing, He provides one of the greatest challenges to any who would call themselves His disciples.

Jesus does not deny that He is Lord and Teacher– that He is. It is as their Lord and Teacher that He washed their feet– the most humiliating and degrading task– to teach them that if Jesus the Lord and Savior washes feet, so too ought those who follow Him. As Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, so the disciples should “wash the feet” of fellow disciples!

This is exceedingly important, and we should not get so wrapped up in arguments about whether we are to “literally” wash feet or not to cause us to miss the force and power of Jesus’ action and example. How many times in the Gospels does Jesus come out and say explicitly that He is providing an example? Not too many! Therefore, it is evident that Jesus is emphasizing this action and its meaning, and wants all of us to take notice.

Service is rarely glorious. Service is often demeaning. It can be repetitive and annoying. It may seem futile. It may offend our sensibilities. Jesus knows all of this, and that is why He washed the disciples’ feet.

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, humiliating and degrading Himself to the utmost (cf. Philippians 2:5-10), doing the most unimaginably disgusting job in the ancient world, then for those who call themselves His disciples, there is no job too humiliating or degrading to do in His name (cf. Colossians 3:17).

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, who are we to say that a given task is too beneath us for us to accomplish?

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, who are we to say that a given task is too repetitive or futile to accomplish?

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, who are we to say that expectations for us by others are too degrading and beneath our abilities?

Jesus shows us through His example that we must serve (1 John 2:6). We must do this in every aspect of our lives. Husbands and wives must “wash one another’s feet,” and should not complain that tasks are too degrading or repetitive or stupid (Ephesians 5:21). Parents and children ought to “wash one another’s feet” (Ephesians 6:1-4). Employees are to “wash feet” by working as to the Lord, no matter how obnoxious their earthly boss may be (Ephesians 6:4-9). We can find plenty of other ways in which we can serve in other capacities in our lives (Romans 6:15-23, 12:1).

Service is not always pleasant, enjoyable, novel, or exciting. It can be downright frustrating, humiliating, and obnoxious at times. But let us remember that Jesus our Lord washed feet, and we are to do likewise. Let us serve in all capacities as Jesus served so that He may obtain the honor and praise (cf. 1 Peter 1:7)!

Ethan R. Longhenry