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

Jesus and Women

And it came to pass soon afterwards, that he went about through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good tidings of the kingdom of God, and with him the twelve, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary that was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuzas Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who ministered unto them of their substance (Luke 8:1-3).

There is another report out alleging Jesus was married. This time it comes from a small papyrus fragment written in a Coptic (Egyptian) dialect around 400 CE, saying, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …'”. No doubt many will try to make much of this evidence, perhaps trotting out Dan Brown’s The da Vinci Code and its speculations about Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene, having children, and ending up in France, and such things, and create quite a stir.

There could have been people who lived centuries after Jesus who believed He was married. There may be some hints of such beliefs in Gnostic literature written by people who infused beliefs about Jesus into Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy. Then again, many Gnostics were ascetic, rejected marriage, and, for that matter, did not believe Jesus was truly human but only seemingly so (cf. 2 John 1:7-10). Interestingly, until this particular fragment, there was no explicit, concrete ancient evidence confirming that anyone believed that Jesus was married.

There would be no real scandal if Jesus were married; He could easily have still kept the Law and fulfilled all the prophecies made regarding Him if He were married (cf. Matthew 5:17-18). Marriage was expected among the Pharisees and Sadducees; it was more optional among the Essenes. Yet it is good to remember that the ancient evidence is profoundly one-sided on the question: no New Testament author suggests Jesus was married, no early Christians suggest He was married, and even if this papyrus scrap is legitimate and means what it says, it was written over three hundred years after Jesus’ death and no one will suggest that the original composition was anywhere near the first century. The historical evidence is firm: Jesus was unmarried.

But it is good to consider why there is so much fascination with this subject. Why do so many speculate about whether Jesus was married or not? What is it about Jesus and His relationship with women that draws such interest?

We learn from Luke 8:1-3 that many women followed Jesus. In a time and day when most women stayed in the home and would rarely, if ever, go far from the house without their husbands, it was the privilege of only a few to be able to go and travel with one like Jesus. At least some of these women were of some means since they provided financial support for Jesus and His ministry. Perhaps some of the women were widows; some seem to be married and their husbands still alive. Perhaps there was understanding between those husbands and their wives; perhaps the fact they followed Jesus seemed scandalous.

This asexual magnetism between Jesus and the women who followed Him is likely the main source of fascination. Throughout the generations there have been stories about charismatic, persuasive men who, in the name of philosophy, power, or religion obtained a large following, perhaps of both men and women, and took advantage of the situation toward lascivious ends. But Jesus is not about this at all. Jesus loves women, not in order to use them, exploit them, take advantage of them, or even just to enjoy them, but to save and redeem them (Matthew 20:28, 1 John 3:16).

Humans, in their carnal mindset and sin, find this difficult to understand. Such demonstrates the marked difference between Jesus and most people: it was not about Him at all. He loved people no matter their condition, no matter how previously sinful, no matter how attractive, no matter how prosperous, capable, or intelligent. Therefore, many women believed in Him and followed Him to the end: some of the women watch while He is crucified, and some of the women come upon the empty tomb first on the day of His resurrection (e.g. John 19:25, 20:1-18). In society they might not have much standing (cf. Luke 18:1-8); in Jesus they have equal inheritance in eternal life (Galatians 3:28).

The New Testament makes it clear that marriage is not sinful but honorable among all (Hebrews 13:4), yet if Christians can remain single and focus on glorifying God, they should do so (1 Corinthians 7:6-9). All evidence points to Jesus our Lord as remaining single and celibate. Many reasons can be offered, and many likely have some legitimacy, yet in the end, Jesus serves all women and provides the opportunity for all women (and men) to be saved through His life and death, and to have hope for eternity through His resurrection (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:6-11, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58). Many women loved Jesus, not for carnal reasons, but because they found in Him a loving Teacher and Savior in whose eyes they were more than just a body or something to be used. In Jesus all men and women have equal dignity and opportunity to share in His Kingdom and eternal life!

We should not be surprised when our sex-obsessed society turns their gaze to Jesus and wonders why He lived as He did. Men and women followed after Him because of His great power and instruction, recognizing that He is the Holy One of God and has the words of eternal life. He truly loved both men and women, not in any carnal way, but fully, seeking no benefit for Himself but always devoted to the needs of others, dying to ransom and redeem sinful people. Let us praise God for Jesus, and seek to love everyone, both men and women, as He has loved us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Rested on the Sabbath

And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. And on the sabbath they rested according to the commandment (Luke 23:56).

It was the day in the middle of the most important events in human history. We can only imagine how it must have been.

Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified and now lay in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:1-55). He was in Paradise as He had promised (Luke 23:43), and perhaps this is the time when He preached to spirits in prison, but there is no basis for being definitive here (1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6).

Those who had sought to put Jesus to death must have been content. They could now enjoy the high Sabbath of the Passover week in relative peace. Another “Messiah” had been executed, no longer to be a threat. They would not miss Jesus’ antagonism. Their vision of Judaism remained as it had been, and in their estimation, all was well.

Since it was still the Passover the Roman authorities would still be on high alert. Mass sedition and riot was avoided over the matter of Jesus of Nazareth, but there could be any number of reasons for a new uprising or threat to Roman power. It is possible that Pilate had some twinges of guilt– perhaps he meditated a little bit about his strange interaction with that interesting Man. But there’s no reason to believe that Pilate was overly disturbed about his conduct. As for Herod, well, there was one fewer antagonist stirring up the people in Galilee. Whereas he took the blame for killing John, Jesus’ death was at least off of his head.

The people who cried for Jesus’ death would rest as pious Jews, looking forward to continuing the Passover festivities. Despite the hype there would be no revolution during this Passover. Another “Messiah” had come and gone, and life continued as it always had.

Yet there were many others who did not consent to Jesus’ death. They would still be smarting from the injustice that just took place. One day He was teaching in the Temple– the next, crucified as an insurrectionist, having been arrested and tried in most dishonest ways. Here was a great hope– a wonderful proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God– and yet again, the forces of darkness seemed to prevail.

And then there were the women who followed Jesus to the very end (cf. Luke 23:49, 55-56). So many hopes seemingly dashed– so much promise now gone. They had seen where He was entombed, and they awaited the morning to finish the preparations of His body that had been hastily begun before the previous sunset.

Finally we have His disciples. A cloud of suspicion was over them– what would they do? Yet they were not a threat. Instead, they were left to wonder what had happened. They had seen Jesus do so many amazing things. He said the words and did the things that the Messiah would say and do. They would remember that He said that He would die– but it still did not make any sense, for He also talked about the coming of His Kingdom. How could a dead Messiah rule over a Kingdom? There was this talk of Him rising from the dead, but the disciples knew that the dead remain dead, and that the resurrection would come on the final day for everyone (cf. Daniel 12:2-3, John 11:24). Now what would they do? How could this make any sense whatsoever?

We know what will take place the next morning, and that from then on, nothing would be the same. Yet, as we consider that high Sabbath day so long ago, perceiving the last day that things had been as they always had been, we understand all the more just how profound the resurrection of Jesus Christ really is.

It has become popular in many circles to believe that the disciples made up the resurrection of Jesus. Such seems almost laughable when we understand the attitudes and conduct of those disciples during Jesus’ final week. It is not as if all the disciples and women are counting down the hours and minutes of the Sabbath awaiting the resurrection. We greatly err if we think that they were so much more “ignorant” or “superstitious” than we are to just expect Jesus to rise again. They knew as well as we that the dead stay dead and that the end of not a few Messianic movements came when the “Messiah” was killed. Even though Jesus had predicted His resurrection (cf. John 2:19-22, Luke 9:22), the disciples were manifestly in no position to understand what He meant or to be prepared for it. It is little wonder that they all disbelieved at first when it happened (cf. Mark 16:11-13)!

We do well, at times, to place ourselves back on that high Sabbath of rest– the moment of pause during the most momentous events in human history. It increases our wonder and awe all the more of the resurrection that will come the next day. Let us praise God that we can have the victory through Jesus’ death and resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry