Sunday, November 30, 2008

Proverbs 31 for men

The Sunday just before Christ the King Sunday, the Old Testament reading was Proverbs 31 - the account of the diligent wife. Though (sadly) few Catholics could peg this passage from the opening verses, most evangelicals can. It recounts the attributes of a faithful wife, and is often read at times like Mother's Day. I get a kick out of catching Ellen's eye when it's being read, for though she doesn't plant vineyards or spin her own yarn, she's diligent in tending to our house.

I've spoken to men who loved Proverbs 31 as kind of an ideal standard for women, but lamented that there was no equivalent for men. But actually, there is - though it's found in an unlikely place. The passage is Job 29, specifically verses 7-17. It reads thus:

When I went to the gate of the city
and took my seat in the public square,
the young men saw me and stepped aside
and the old men rose to their feet;
the chief men refrained from speaking
and covered their mouths with their hands;
the voices of the nobles were hushed,
and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths.
Whoever heard me spoke well of me,
and those who saw me commended me,
because I rescued the poor who cried for help,
and the fatherless who had none to assist him.
The man who was dying blessed me;
I made the widow's heart sing.
I put on righteousness as my clothing;
justice was my robe and my turban.
I was eyes to the blind
and feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy;
I took up the case of the stranger.
I broke the fangs of the wicked
and snatched the victims from their jaws.
(New International Version)

Lest anyone think Job was simply blowing his own horn here, remember that God Himself referred to Job as "blameless and upright", which presumably involved a fair amount of humility. We can safely assume that Job exaggerated nothing, but was simply telling things as they were.

We guys tend to like the part where everybody stands and falls silent when we show up, but the thing to notice is why they do that: because Job aided the helpless, and took up the cause of the outcast and the victimized. He doesn't boast of his substantial wealth or community influence, but rather that he took the part of those who had nobody to help them.

Scripturally, this is the mark of a manly man: the willingness to put his strength at the disposal of the weak. This obviously requires sacrifice, and sometimes confrontation, as that last verse indicates. The confrontation part doesn't go down well in our culture, and to many pragmatic men may seem a dangerous step. After all, why alienate that guy? I may have to do business with him in the future, and maybe there's another side to the business about the rental units...(or whatever).

But Job didn't see it from the perspective of what he might gain from a situation - he only saw the victims and their plight. That was enough to move him to action. I can't count how many times this passage has given me comfort in the years I've been fighting the pro-life fight, because if there is any group that is in "the fangs of the wicked", it is unborn children.

It's interesting to note the difference in tenor between the two passages. In Proverbs 31, it is to a woman's credit to tend to her own home, while in Job 29, the noblest work for the man is to see that righteousness is established in the public arena.

I remember being at a men's retreat, and hearing an evangelical pastor for whom I had great respect interrupt his talk to state plainly, "Y'know, I've had it up to here with 'nice'. God doesn't need 'nice' men, he needs strong, courageous, and forthright men. Our culture puts such a high value on 'nice' that it turns us into wimps." Job would agree. Taking up the case of the stranger and breaking the fangs of the wicked are not the actions of a 'nice' man, but of a strong one. That's the kind of man I want to be.

So there you are, guys - that's our Scriptural equivalent. If we want our wives to be "Proverbs 31" women, we should strive to be "Job 29" men. Be warned: it isn't necessarily nice, but it is right. It will be costly, and may involve confronting people (particularly "the wicked", who can be quite intimidating). But that's the standard, and one that was exemplified by Our Lord Himself.

Being a Job 29 man can come naturally, if we let it. I had a glimpse of it this past weekend when we had our grandchildren stay the night - the first night away from their parents for both of them. It was a planned, deliberate step to get them accustomed to the idea, and it had the expected tears and calls for parents, particularly at bedtime. The morning went all right until my granddaughter bumped her head and Momma was not around to comfort her. Upon hearing her tears, her cousin brought her his teddy bear and consoled her, telling her not to cry and that her Momma would be here soon. He missed his mother every bit as much as my granddaughter did, and probably would have loved to commiserate with her. But her distress caused him to forget his, and he devoted his efforts to easing her burden. This is a two-year-old version of Job 29 in action - a very good start.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE THIS! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks - you make great points! I'm an evangelical woman who has grown up wanting to be like the Proverbs 31 woman. I had never thought of Job's description of himself as being the male corrolary before, but I totally see it now that you point it out. Totally gets at the heart of what pleases God in a man.

Kathi Jo said...

Thank you so much for this wonderfully insightful post. I've wondered for years if there was a masculine equivalent to Proverbs 31 - I believe you have well touched on that! Thank you!

Emma said...

This is so insightful and extremely helpful! I know proverbs 31 is something for me to strive for, and now its nice to see what I should be on the lookout for! Thank you ever so much for your wisdom!

Samuel said...

As a man of faith, I enjoyed this post. It felt refreshing to hear, but also it is a challenge - a call to action if you will. Real men of faith, I have come to believe, have been called to be gatekeepers of integrity in this fallen world. Thanks for this great post.