Word, which “lives on in defiance of every assault made upon it”,
is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him
(II Tim. 3:16, 17). The clear
pattern presented there for the various duties of men and women, written for
our benefit, is binding upon all mankind (I Tim. 2:8-15). Unregenerate
persons are under the fatal curse of the moral law (Gal. 3:10), which is revealed
by God to condemn them and drive them to seek deliverance in Christ from the
guilt and poison of sin (Gal. 3:24). Nevertheless, the
same law remains a guide to direct believers in the way of holiness as they
strive in the strength of Christ to keep His words. “But we know that the
law is good, if a man use it
lawfully” (I Tim. 1:8, cf. John 15:5). Thomas Boston (1676-1732) says that
for those who are in Christ, the law serves:
To magnify Christ in them, shewing them their obligation to him for
fulfilling it in their stead . . . 2. To be a rule of life unto them,
wherein they may express their gratitude by obeying the law of Christ. So
the law leads to Christ as a Redeemer from its curse and condemnation, and
he leads back to the law as a directory, the rule and standard of their
obedience to him.
And this unchangeable
rule of obedience teaches us that the father is to be master in his family,
the head of the wife and custodian of his children:
submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband
is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is
the saviour of the body (Eph. 5:22, 23); And God said
unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but
Sarah shall her name be.
And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her . . . And God said,
Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name
Isaac (Gen. 17:15, 16, 19, cf. Gen. 24:34-38; Exod. 21:22).
Furthermore, we are
taught to grant women a privileged position in society, ensuring that they
are kept under manly protection: “Husbands, love your wives, even as
Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph.
And we are taught to see
that the lives and occupations of women be based in the safety and privacy
of the home and its environs, according to the word of God spoken by King
David: “The Lord gave the word: great was
the company of those that published it.
Kings of armies did flee apace: and she that tarried at home divided the
(Psalm 68:11, 12, cf. Micah 2:9). In like manner the apostle Paul
ordains that women occupy themselves as “keepers at home”, or
homemakers, giving Titus this exhortation:
speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be
sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged
women likewise, that they be in
behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine,
teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to
love their husbands, to love their children, To
be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own
husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort
to be sober minded (Titus 2:1-6, cf. Prov. 14:1).
and chaste stand well together”, observes Matthew Henry
(1662-1714), the famous Bible commentator and son of the Puritan Philip
expose themselves to fatal temptations by that which at first might be but
indiscretion. Prov. 2:11, Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding
shall keep thee from the evil way. Chaste, and keepers at home,
are well joined too. Dinah, when she went to see the daughters of the land,
lost her chastity. Those whose home is their prison, it is to be feared,
feel that their chastity is their fetters. Not but there are occasions, and
will be, of going abroad; but a gadding temper for merriment and company
sake, to the neglect of domestic affairs, or from uneasiness at being in her
place, is the opposite evil intended, which is commonly accompanied with, or
draws after it, other evils. 1 Tim. 5:13, 14, They learn to be idle, wandering from house to house; and not only idle, but
tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.
Thus the Christian
woman’s occupation is homemaking, “her business lying within-doors”.
She rises early to give food to her household, and a portion of labour to
her maidens (Prov. 31:15), and “her candle goeth not out by night” (v.
18). Her husband, however, “goeth forth unto his work and to his labour
until the evening” (Psalm 104:23), and he “is known in the gates, when
he sitteth among the elders of the land” (Prov. 31:23). Mr Henry remarks
that when this man “goes abroad to attend the concerns of the public, he
can confide in her to order all his affairs at home, as well as if he
himself were there”.
The very accounts of the creation and fall of our first parents show
us the same divisions of labour; and in our technological age such biblical
principles still guide us in the lawful use of occupational opportunities.
The Lord God placed our father Adam in the Garden of Eden “to dress it and
to keep it” (Gen. 2:15), and brought him a wife as “an help meet for
him” (v. 18, cf. vs. 20, 22). When they sinned in eating the forbidden
fruit their temporal punishments were meted out according to their differing
roles. The woman, as homemaker, was accorded sorrow in childbirth and a
stricter subjection to her husband (Gen. 3:16), while to the man was
assigned rigorous labour in a harsher and less fruitful environment. As the
first man, Adam was of necessity a farmer, a primary producer, and he would
now till the cursed soil until he returned to it in death (vs. 17-19). By
the promised Messiah (v. 15) all is turned to our good (vs. 20, 21; Rom. 8:28), and the
distinctive roles of men and women, established at the time of creation and
decisively reinstated after the fall, are not altered. Rather, gospel
blessings include the unequivocal proclamation of such distinctions, with
the promise of strength to keep them by faith in Jesus Christ. “Cast thy
burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the
righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22).
Young girls should be
raised in preparation not for professional life but for the blessing of
marriage and raising godly children (Mal.2:15),
because woman was made to be a helper and companion for man and because
children are a gift from the
are an heritage of the LORD: and
the fruit of the womb is his
reward. As arrows are in the hand
of a mighty man; so are children
of the youth. Happy is the man
that hath his quiver full of them (Psalm
127:3-5, cf. Gen. 1:28 & 5:4, 9:1; Psalm 113:9; Psalm 128:3; Prov.
The inspired apostle wrote, “I will therefore that the younger
women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the
adversary to speak reproachfully” (I Tim. 5:14). The English
Puritan Matthew Poole (1624-1679) makes the following remarks on this
and take care of the government of families within doors (which is the
woman’s proper province); give none
occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully; and give no occasion
to Jews or pagans (the adversaries
of Christian religion) to speak of the church, or any particular members of
it, reproachfully, as living beneath the rules of morality and decency.
Consider whether the
evil predicted by Paul has not come to pass this day. Is not the Word of God
greatly blasphemed among the heathen, and have we not given the adversary an
occasion to speak reproachfully? Even a little folly in the Lord’s people
sends forth a stench, causing sinners to despise the name of Jehovah, to
stumble and perish, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Eccl. 10:1;
Rom. 2:23, 24; Jude, verse 7). Out of love therefore to God our Father, who
visits His children’s transgression with the rod (Psalm 89:32), and to the
brethren, and also out of compassion for guilty sinners, let us heed the
advice of Scripture in which Christian women are counselled to be discreet
and modest, not improperly wandering about “from house to house” or
“in the streets” (I Tim. 5:13; Prov. 7:12), but “keeping”, says
Matthew Henry, “a pious decency and decorum in clothing and gesture, in
looks and speech, and all their deportment, and this from an inward
principle and habit of holiness, influencing and ordering the outward
conduct at all times”.
They are to keep the place and occupation of women, as Mr Henry further
explains when elucidating the situation of Abraham’s wife:
is Sarah thy wife?
say the angels. Behold, in the tent, said Abraham. Where should she
be else? There she is in her place, as she uses to be, and is now within
call. Note, 1. The daughters of Sarah must learn of her to be chaste,
keepers at home, Titus 2:5. There is nothing got by gadding. 2. Those
are most likely to receive comfort from God and his promises that are in
their place and in the way of their duty, Luke 2:8.
It follows that as
unmarried men work in the same professions with their married peers and not
among women in the home, so should the employment of unmarried women be
within the sphere of women. The status of a married woman is higher than
that of a maiden, whose own employment should not elevate her above her
allotted and rightful position among women. A virgin has “no distinct
estate, being yet in her father’s house”.
And whether a woman be married or not, her business differs from men’s
(cf. Exod. 1:15-21; Lev. 26:26; I Sam. 4:20). Matthew Henry distinguishes
between the two spheres of labour in his exposition of Proverbs 31:
applies herself to the business that is proper for her. It is not in a
scholar’s business, or statesman’s business, or husbandman’s business,
that she employs herself, but in women’s business: She seeks wool and
flax . . . she lays her
own hands to the spindle, or
spinning-wheel, and her hands hold
the distaff; (v. 19.) . . . and she does not reckon it either an
abridgment of her liberty, or a disparagement to her dignity, or at all
inconsistent with her repose.
Even Tamar the
princess, the unmarried daughter of King David, was employed in her
father’s house, from whence he sent her on an errand: “Then David sent
home to Tamar, saying, Go now to thy brother Amnon’s house, and dress him
meat” (II Sam. 13:7). Matthew Henry says of this lady:
she was a king’s daughter, a great beauty (v. 1), and well dressed (v.
18), yet she did not think it below her to knead cakes and bake them, nor
would she have done this now if she had not been used to it. Good house-wifery
is not a thing below the greatest ladies, nor ought they to think it a
disparagement to them. The virtuous woman, whose husband sits among the
elders, yet works willingly with her hands, Prov. 31:13. Modern ages
have not been destitute of such instances, nor is it so unfashionable as
some would make it. Preparing for the sick should be more the care and
delight of the ladies than preparing for the nice, charity more than
Thus virgins, too, are
to be keepers at home under their father’s protection and authority (I
The dominion entrusted
to men carries with it a weighty responsibility to see to the welfare and
protection of their women:
a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond, being
in her father’s house in her youth; And her father hear her vow, and her
bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace
at her: then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath
bound her soul shall stand. But if her father disallow her in the day that
he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound
her soul, shall stand: and the LORD shall forgive her, because her father
disallowed her. And if she hath at all an husband . . . and if she vowed in
her husband’s house . . . Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the
soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void . . .
But if he shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them;
then he shall bear her iniquity. These are
the statutes, which the LORD commanded Moses, between a man and his wife,
between the father and his daughter, being
yet in her youth in her father’s house (Num. 30:3-6, 10, 13, 15, 16).
In this passage we see also that it is normal and preferable for
virgins to be employed under their father, in his house, as the wife labours
in her husband’s house. Accordingly those women without husbands or
fathers had to be especially cared for as they were defenceless and without
a provider or breadwinner:
thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the
field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger,
for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee
in all the work of thine hands (Deut. 24:19, cf. Lev. 19:10; Isa. 1:17; Acts
6:1; I Tim. 5:3, 5; James 1:27).
When a widow, Ruth
laboured according to this law, gleaning
and gathering after the reapers among the sheaves and staying close by the
maidens of Boaz,
rather than working for men’s wages alongside the young men; and
after harvest, she
kept at home. “So she kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean unto the
end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest; and dwelt with her mother in
law” (Ruth 2:23, cf. I Tim. 5:16). Matthew Henry shows how such
actions befit an industrious and humble woman:
also kept fast by the maidens of Boaz, with whom she afterwards cultivated
an acquaintance, which might do her service, v. 23. But she constantly came
to her mother at night in due time, as became a virtuous woman, that was for
working days, and not for merry nights. And when the harvest was ended (as
Bishop Patrick expounds it) she did not gad abroad, but kept her aged mother
company at home. Dinah went out to see the daughters of the land, and we
know what a disgrace her vanity ended in. Ruth kept at home, and helped to
maintain her mother, and went out on no other errand than to get provision
for her, and we shall find afterwards what preferment her humility and
industry ended in. Seest thou a man diligent in his business? Honour
is before him.
Though some widows were
destitute of all family and therefore able to spend time in “supplications
and prayers night and day” (I Tim. 5:5), such were honoured and sustained
by the Church (I Tim. 5:3, 9, 10) and were not employed in a domain markedly
different from that of mothers. Dorcas made clothes for the poor:
Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the
upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the
coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them (Acts 9:39).
In ordinary circumstances both unmarried women and younger widows
lived in the house of their father, who was responsible for their protection
and provision until they were given in marriage:
said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father’s
house, till Shelah my son be grown . . . And Tamar went and dwelt in her
father’s house (Gen. 38:11); And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law,
Go, return each to her mother’s house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as
ye have dealt with the dead, and with me (Ruth 1:8, cf. Gen. 24:23, 28); But
if the priest’s daughter be a widow, or divorced, and have no child, and
is returned unto her father’s house, as in her youth, she shall eat of her
father’s meat (Lev. 22:13, cf.I Cor. 7:37).
Though the law in
Leviticus 22:13 refers specifically
to priests’ families and the eating of holy things, the case was that only
those who were in the priest’s family, those for whom he normally provided
(whether as husband, father or master), were allowed to eat of such things.
The widows partook of their fathers’ provisions because they had been
re-incorporated into their fathers’ families. John Calvin explains:
prohibition, therefore, that the meats offered in sacrifice should be eaten
by strangers, was not made so much with reference to them as to the priests,
who would have else driven a profitable trade with the offerings, or, by
gratifying their guests, would not have hesitated to bring disrepute on the
whole service of God. The Law consequently prohibits that either a
sojourner, or a hired servant, should eat of them; and only gives this
permission to their slaves, and those who were incorporated into their
He counts the priests’ daughters who had married into another tribe as
aliens. The sum has this tendency, that whatsoever depends on the service of
God should obtain its due reverence; nor could this be the case, if what was
offered in the temple were not distinguished from common food.
Inasmuch as they were human beings, they were allowed to subsist in the
ordinary manner; yet was this distinction necessary, which might savour of
the sanctity of Christ.
comments also help to cast light on this law, showing that not only wives
but daughters also are exempt from earning their own living:
to the children of the family, concerning the sons there could be no
dispute, they were themselves priests, but concerning the daughters there
was a distinction. While they continued in their father’s house they might
eat of the holy things; but, if they married such as were not priests, they
lost their right (v. 12), for now they were cut off from the family of the
priests. Yet if a priest’s daughter became a widow, and had no children in
whom she might preserve a distinct family, and returned to her father’s
house again, being neither wife nor mother, she should again be looked upon
as a daughter, and might eat of the holy things. If those whom Providence
has made sorrowful widows, and who are dislodged from the rest they had in
the house of a husband, yet find it again in a father’s house, they have
reason to be thankful to the widows’ God, who does not leave them
So if a
woman loses her
husband who had provided for her (Exod.
when [Jesus] came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man
carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much
people of the city was with her. And when the Lord
saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came
and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he
said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and
began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother
(Luke 7:12-15, cf. Matt. 8:14, 15).
there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister,
Mary the wife of Cleophas, and
Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple
standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that
disciple took her unto his own home (John-27).
The case is similar
concerning women who never marry. Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha
lived in the town ofBethany at the
time of our Lord’s sojourn here on earth, and they were beloved of Him
(John 11:5). Lazarus being the man of the house, his premature death must
have been on that account all the more traumatic for his sisters (vs. 21,
31), who nonetheless believed our Lord to be faithful in all things (v. 22).
After the miraculous resurrection of Lazarus from the dead (v. 44), the
division of responsibilities in the family continued on in the biblical
Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where
Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they
made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat
at the table with him (John 12:1, 2, cf. Mark ).
“Here was a decent, happy, well-ordered family,” says Matthew
Henry with typical warmth, “and a family that Christ was very much
conversant in, where yet there was neither husband nor wife (for aught that
appears,) but the house kept by a brother, and his sisters dwelling together
Mark the contrast between this loving co-operation in which each
family member fulfils his duty, and the behaviour of the woman in the attire
of a harlot, who “is loud and
stubborn; her feet abide not in her house: Now is
she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner”
(Prov. 7:11, 12, cf. Jer. 3:3, 20; Ezek. 16:30). See also the (now
abrogated) judicial law of the betrothed damsel (Deut. -27), and Matthew
Henry’s observations on the passage:
her being found in the city, a place of company and diversion, when she
should have kept under the protection of her father’s house, was an
evidence against her that she had not that dread of the sin and the danger
of it which became a modest woman . . . Now if it were done in the field, out of the hearing of neighbours, it shall be presumed that she cried out,
but there was none to save her; and, besides, her going into the field, a
place of solitude, did not so much expose her.
Chapter 34 of the book
of Genesis contains the sad narrative of the defiling of Jacob’s daughter,
and the retaliatory massacre of the men of Shechem by two of her brothers.
Simeon and Levi, having failed to protect their sister from the wicked and
enclose her, as it were, with “boards of cedar” (Song 8:9), added
blood-guiltiness to their record and increased their father’s suffering.
But notice the “little” folly that let loose such mischief: “And Dinah
the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to see the
daughters of the land” (Gen. 34:1). John Calvin observes:
chapter records a severe contest, with which God again exercised his
servant. How precious the chastity of his daughter would be to him, we may
readily conjecture from the probity of his whole life. When therefore he
heard that she was violated, this disgrace would inflict the deepest wound
of grief upon his mind: yet soon his grief is trebled, when he hears that
his sons, from the desire of revenge, have committed a most dreadful crime.
But let us examine everything in order. Dinah is ravished, because, having
left her father’s house, she wandered about more freely than was proper.
She ought to have remained quietly at home, as both the Apostle teaches and
nature itself dictates; for to girls the virtue is suitable, which the
proverb applies to women, that they should be oikouroi,
or keepers of the house. Therefore fathers of families are taught to keep
their daughters under strict discipline, if they desire to preserve them
free from all dishonour; for if a vain curiosity
was so heavily punished in the daughter of holy Jacob, not less danger hangs
over weak virgins at this day, if they go too boldly and eagerly into public
assemblies, and excite the passions of youth towards themselves. For it is
not to be doubted that Moses in part casts the blame of the offence upon
Dinah herself, when he says, ‘she went out to see the daughters of the
land;’ whereas she ought to have remained under her mother’s eyes in the
Thomas Boston, too,
speaking of honest employment as a guard against breaking the seventh
commandment, deems homeliness to be the distinguishing feature of women’s
labour and business cuts off many temptations that idle persons are liable
to. Had David been in the field with his army, when he was rising from off
his bed in the evening-tide, II Sam. 11.2, he had preserved his chastity
when he lost it, and so had Dinah, if she had been at her business in her
father's house, when she went out to see the daughters of the land, Gen.
Women must endeavour to
see that their occupation, dress, behaviour and company is chaste, and men
have an obligation to keep away from loose women (Prov. 5:8), and to respect
the chastity of virtuous women. Indeed, both men and women must always be
looking to the preservation of their own and others’ purity in heart,
speech and behaviour
in this I admire the wisdom of God, that he made me shy of women from my
first conversion until now. These know, and can also bear me witness, with
whom I have been most intimately concerned, that it is a rare thing to see
me carry it pleasantly towards a woman; the common salutation of women I
abhor, it is odious to me in whomsoever I see it. Their company alone, I
cannot away with; I seldom so much as touch a woman’s hand, for I think
these things are not so becoming me. When I have seen good men salute those
women that they have visited, or that have visited them, I have at times
made my objection against it; and when they have answered, that it was but a
piece of civility, I have told them, it is not a comely sight: Some indeed
have urged the holy kiss; but then I have asked why they made baulks, why
they did salute the most handsome, and let the ill-favoured go? Thus, how
laudable soever such things have been in the eyes of others, they have been
unseemly in my sight.
The Word of God ordains
that the man’s occupation, behaviour and appearance are to differ markedly
from the woman’s, so that while he was made the governor, provider and
protector of the family, the weaker vessel was created to be his honoured
companion, a fruitful and submissive enrichment to him: “Thy wife shall
be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like
olive plants round about thy table” (Psalm 128:3). As we see in this
passage not only the wife but the children also are to be nurtured and
protected. Children exist wholly from and by their parents, making “their
dependence and subjection absolute and universal”.
The fifth commandment is binding for life: “Honour thy father and thy
mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God
giveth thee” (Exod.
magistrates are a special means of peace and prosperity to the subjects, and
should be careful, as in training up young men in grace and virtue, so they
may be fruitful instruments of the public good, as
plants grown up in their youth; so also in training young women, that
they may be beautified with all endowments that may make them godly mothers
of the succeeding age: our daughters may be as corner-stones, polished after
the similitude of a palace.
Observe, besides, how
Thomas Boston in 18th centuryScotland
advised believing parents to train up children in their respective roles:
should give them learning according to their ability, and see that at least
they be taught to read the Bible, II Tim. 3.15 . . . Christians should train
up their daughters to do virtuously, [Prov. 31:29]. For their own sakes, let
them be capable to make their hands sufficient for them, seeing none knows
what straits they may be brought to. And for the sake of others to whom they
may be joined, let them be virtuously, frugally, and actively educated,
otherwise what they bring with them will hardly quit the cost of the
mischief that their unthriftiness and silliness will produce, Prov. 14.1.
Whether ye can give them something or nothing, let them not want Ruth's
portion, a good name, a good head, and good hands, Ruth 3.11. Sons should be
brought up to some honest employment, whereby they may be worth their room
in the world, Gen. 4.2. This is such a necessary piece of parents' duty to
their children, that the Athenians had a law, That if a son was brought up
to no calling at all, in case his father should come to poverty, he was not
bound to maintain him, as otherwise he was.
their family’s poverty compelled unmarried girls to work outside their
father’s house, until the late nineteenth century they were almost
invariably given domestic duties – even when working for wages – which
overlapped the tasks of wives and mothers.
Among mothers, who have greater responsibilities in the family, even the
poorest normally worked in and around their husbands’ homes: “And
Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for
me, and I will give thee thy
wages. And the woman took the child, and nursed it” (Exod. 2:9, cf. Prov.
In rural settings also, the tasks of mothers, daughters and maids
differed from those of the men; and we see in Scripture that on the whole,
men obeyed their masters while a maiden served her mistress: “Behold, as
the eyes of servants look unto the
hand of their masters, and as the
eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait
upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us” (Psalm 123:2,
cf. II Kings 5:2; Prov. 31:15; Isa. 24:2). James the
son of Zebedee and John his brother were in a ship with Zebedee their
father, mending their nets, when came the call of the Lord Jesus to follow
Him (Matt. 4:21), and they presently
“left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went
after him” (Mark 1:20). Their mother did
not appear at this time because, as an Israelitess, she was a homemaker,
blessed with opportunities to minister unto Jesus with other godly women:
“And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from
Galilee, ministering unto him: Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the
mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children” (Matt.
27:55, 56). Davis Dictionary of the Bible details the place of women among the
people of God:
younger women of the family, especially in the earlier times and among the
nomads, tended the sheep (Gen. 29.6; Exod. 2.16), and they went to the
harvest field and gleaned (Ruth 2.3, 8); but the main duties of women were
about the household. They brought water from the well (Gen. 24.13; John
4.7), ground the grain for daily use (Mat. 24.41), prepared the meals (Gen.
18.6; II Sam. 13.8; Luke 10.40), spun wool and made clothing (I Sam. 2.19;
Prov. 31.13, 19; Acts 9.36-39), taught the children religious truth (Prov.
1.8; 31.1; cp. II Tim. 3.15), and directed the household (Prov. 31.27; I
Mosaic law and also public opinion among the Hebrews secured to women the
enjoyment of many rights . . . The spirit of the N. T. was equally hostile
to woman’s degradation. It insisted that man and woman shall occupy their
respective spheres as indicated by the Creator in mutual respect and
dependence (Mark 10.6-9; Eph. 5.31; I Tim. 2.12-15). The sanctity and
permanence of the marriage relation were taught, and divorce permitted only
for extreme causes (Matt. 19.8, 9; I Cor. 7.15; Eph. 5.22-33).
private instruction of children in the doctrine of Christianity is vital for
every family. Fathers must raise their children “in the nurture and
admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, cf. Deut. 6:7), leading the family in
worship morning and evening (II Sam. 6:20; Jer. 10:25, cf.
Num. 28:3-6; Heb. 13:15). And God has greatly honoured mothers in giving
them a significant share, under their husbands’ guidance, in teaching
their children the truth as it is in Jesus (Prov. 1:8, 31:1; II Tim. 3:15,
cf. 1:5). Thomas Manton’s “Epistle to the Reader”in the Westminster Confession says,
“Especially women should be careful of this
duty; because as they are most about their children, and have early and
frequent opportunities to instruct them, so this is the principal service
they can do to God in this world, being restrained from more public work.”
Private work in the family, and the
“duties of the kitchen and farmyard”,
remained the domain of women until Christianity gave way to equal
opportunity. Indeed, similar patterns continue today, though some of our
newsmen would have the nation think otherwise. Conversely, the man’s duty,
along with governing his household in the way of the Lord (Gen. 18:19; Eph.
6:4), is usually to earn a living for himself and any dependents. Men’s
callings include working for wages (Gen. 29:15; Lev. 19:13; Luke 3:14),
running farms or businesses (Gen. 13:2; Mark 6:3; Col. 4:14), labouring on
behalf of the people as ministers of the crown or as monarch (II Chron.
19:5; I Peter 2:13, 14; II Sam. 5:3), and serving the Church as elders or
ministers of the gospel (Jer. 3:15; I Tim. 5:17, 18; I Pet. 5:1, 2). It is
clear from Exodus 21:10 that “by the law the husband was obliged to
provide food and raiment for his wife”,
and so Thomas Boston writes:
the husband as the head of the wife owes her, 1.
Protection, so as she may be as safe and easy under the covert of his
relation to her as he can make her. For this cause God has given the husband
as head to the weaker vessel: and therefore it was an ancient ceremony in
marriage for the husband to spread his skirt over his wife, Ruth 3.9 . . .
2. Provision, 1 Tim. 5.8. The husband ought to provide for his wife, and
cheerfully furnish her with what is needful and convenient according to his
station and ability; and lay out himself by all lawful means for her
comfortable through-bearing . . . And on the other hand, the wife ought to
be helpful to her husband by her frugal management, Prov. 31.27. And God's
word and frequent experiments plainly shew, that a man's thriving or not
thriving has a great dependence on his wife's management, Prov. 14.1. While
he, then, is busy without doors, she should be careful within; and therefore
it is recommended to women to be much at home, Titus 2.5. Yet she may well
go abroad when her business calls her, as Abigail did, 1 Sam. 25.
Along the same lines is
C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) in
his monthly magazine, where he compares the believer, the spouse of Christ,
with an earthly wife who is diligent in her husband’s house:
a third position, which I think will be recognised by every wife as being
correct, is not simply dependence upon her husband’s care and delight in
her husband’s love, but also diligence in her husband’s house. The
good housewife, as Solomon tells us, ‘looketh well to the ways of her
household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.’ She is not a servant,
her position is very different from that, but for that very reason she uses
the more diligence . . . The making of her husband happy, and the training
up of her children in the fear of God, that is her business. The good
housewife is like Sarah, of whom it is written, that when the angel asked
Abraham, ‘Where is Sarah thy wife?’ he answered, ‘Behold, she is in
the tent.’ It would have been well for some of her descendents had they
been ‘in the tent’, too, for Dinah’s going forth to see the daughters
of the land cost her dear. Now, this is the position, the exact position of
the chaste lover of Jesus, he dwells at home with Jesus, among his own
people. The Christian’s place with regard to Christ is to be diligently
engaged in Christ’s house . . . To neglect our holy life-work is to wrong
our heavenly Bridegroom. Put this matter in a clear light, my brethren, and
do not shut your eyes to it. Have you any right to mind earthly things? Can
you serve two masters? What, think you, would any kind husband here think,
if when he came home the children had been neglected all day, if there was
no meal for him after his day’s work, and no care taken of his house
whatever? Might he not well give a gentle rebuke, or turn away with a tear
in his eye? And if it were long continued, might he not almost be justified
if he should say ‘My
house yields me no comfort! This woman acts not as a wife to me!’
. . .
you rise up and open to him, and then your hands will drop with myrrh, and
your fingers with sweet-smelling myrrh upon the handles of the lock. But
remember if you neglect him now, it will cost you much to find him when you
do arise, for he will make you traverse the streets after him, and the
watchmen will smite you, and take away your veil. Rise and admit him now.
In his first epistle to Timothy, the apostle Paul, ordained a
preacher and a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth, makes a marked
distinction between the public role of Christian men and the modest, quiet
role of their women: “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting
up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women
adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety” (I
Tim. 2:8, 9). Men lead in prayer, lifting up pure hands to God (cf. I Kings 8:22; Psalm 24:4; Psalm
28:2), and “women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness
and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.
But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works” (I Tim.
2:9, 10). The apostle teaches that shamefacedness (or modesty, the root word
implying downcast eyes) is to be a characteristic of godly women, and modest
apparel the clothing of humble women, as opposed to the pride, impudence and
ostentatious finery that characterise the woman in harlot’s attire (Prov.
7:10, 16, cf. Jer. 3:3). He then proceeds to elaborate on the submissive and
homely duties of women, saying,
the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to
teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam
was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being
deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding sh
e shall be saved in
childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with
sobriety (I Tim.
Writing to the
Christians inCorinth likewise, Paul
decrees that women keep silence in the public assemblies, and that they ask
any questions of their husbands in the seclusion of the home:
your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them
to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith
the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at
home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church (I Cor.
Irish commentator Andrew R. Fausset (1821-1910) analyses I
Corinthians 11:5, and says of women:
ordinary rule to them is: silence in public (I Cor. 14:34, 35; I Tim. 2:11,
12). Mental receptivity and activity at home are recognized in Christianity,
as most accordant with the destiny of woman . . . Scripture
sanctions not the emancipation of woman from subjection: modesty is her true
rules; woman ministers: the respective dress should accord.
The Story of Primeval Man, (Hobart,
Australia, 1890), p6.
Matthew Poole on Exod. 22:17, Commentary, vol. 1, p166.
Matthew Henry says: “Many daughters,
in their father’s house, and in the single state, have done
virtuously, but a good wife, if she be virtuous, excels them all,
and does more good in her place than they can do in theirs. Or, as some
explain it, A man cannot have his house so well kept by good daughters,
as by a good wife” (on
Prov. 31:29,Commentary, vol.
on Prov. 31, p579. See Charles Bridges on the “virtuous woman” in
John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, vol. 2(Baker
Books, 2003), p218.
Thomas Boston, ‘Of the
Seventh Commandment’, Commentary
on the Shorter Catechism. Here Boston also condemns “Promiscuous
dancing, or dancing of men and women together. This entertainment,
however reckoned innocent among many, is evidently an incentive to lust,
Isa. 23.15-17 . . . This practice seems to be struck at by these
scriptures, Rom. 13.13; 'Let us walk—not in chambering and
wantonness', I Pet. 4.3, where mention is made of 'walking in
revelling'. It is offensive to the grave and pious, is condemned by our
church, yea, and has been condemned by some sober heathens”.
Catechism’, Q71, 72,
and ‘Larger Catechism’,Q138, 139, Westminster
Confession of Faith, pp306,
307, 222, 225.
John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (Oliphant Anderson &
Ferrier), p127. The same author describes feminine impropriety in his
depiction of worldly lust, or Madam
Bubble: “She is a bold and impudent slut; she will talk with any
Pilgrim’s Progress – The Second Part,
The World’s Classics, 1963, p300).
Owen,‘The Origin of the
Priesthood of Christ’, Works, vol.
of Truth, 1991), p18.
on the Psalms, vol. 5 (Baker
Books, 2003), p268. Spurgeon quotes Daniel Cresswell (1776-1844)
“It is remarkable that the Greeks made use of pilasters, called
Caryatides, (carved after the figure of a woman dressed in long robes,)
to support the entablatures of their buildings” (Treasury of David, 1885).
David Dickson, A Commentary on the Psalms (Banner
of Truth, 1985), p507.
Thomas Boston, ‘Of the
Fifth Commandment’, Commentary
on the Shorter Catechism.
John D. Davis, Davis Dictionary of the Bible (Baker Book House, 1990), p870.
Quoted by Thomas Manton
(1620-1677), ‘Epistle to the Reader’, Westminster
Confession of Faith,
p10. The writer continues: “And
doubtless many an excellent magistrate hath been sent into the
Commonwealth, and many an excellent pastor into the Church, and many a
precious saint to heaven, through the happy
preparations of a holy education, perhaps by a woman that thought
herself useless and unserviceable to the Church.” See endnote
Thomas McCrie, The
Story of the Scottish Church (Free Presbyterian Publications, 1988),
Thomas Boston, ‘Of the
Fifth Commandment’, Commentary
on the Shorter Catechism.
C. H. Spurgeon on Jer. 2:36, ‘Gadding About’, The Sword and the Trowel (Sept.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown,
A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical,
on the Old and New Testaments (1871).
Deborah the wife of Lapidoth is sometimes cited as evidence that women
may hold public and dominant positions. However, she judged only by
divine inspiration (Judges 4:4, 6, 9) and did not mingle with the civil
or religious rulers. Rather, she “dwelt under the palm tree of
Deborah” while the Israelites “came up to her for judgement”
(Judges 4:5). But ordinary judges, always men, sat with the elders in
the gate, in the public thoroughfare of a city (Gen. 19:1; Deut.