by Mike Willis
Synopsis: Despite the crude characterization of modern feminism, biblical teaching on the roles and responsibilities of women is not demeaning but offers dignity—resulting in strength, not servility.
God blessed Sandy and me with two children, Jennifer and Corey. Both have a living faith in the Lord Jesus, which enabled them to overcome all the blunders that we made as their very fallible parents. God be glorified! I do not write from the standpoint of an expert on childrearing, but as a preacher pointing men to what is revealed in God's word.
Femininity should not be equated with being weak, easily deceived, unable to decide by oneself, unable to take care of oneself, reliant upon someone else, or being "without a brain." Perhaps some men think this is what femininity means, based on some of the debasing jokes that are told. However, the Genesis narrative pictures strong women. In reading the stories of the patriarchs, we tend to exalt their faith without considering the faith of their wives.
Consider the example of Sarah, the wife of Abraham. God commanded Abram, "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). After receiving the commandment, the text says, "So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him… Then Abram took Sarai his wife… and they departed to go to the land of Canaan" (Gen. 12:4-5).
Leaving behind her family and her father's house was just as disconcerting, disruptive, and distressing for Sarai as it was for Abram. Like the early American pioneers who packed what possessions they could in a small, horse-drawn covered wagon and headed west for a better life, Abram and Sarai embarked on a journey with God, not even knowing where they were headed. Sarai never saw her family again or had the opportunity of speaking to them again. Nor was she able to present her son, Isaac, so that her parents might meet their grandson.
(Abram and Sarai's move reminds me of the time when Sandy and I loaded most of our earthly possessions in the "trunk" and back-seat of a Volkswagen and headed north to preach in Alexandria, IN—a town 1000 miles away from both of our parents and a place she had never even seen. When we arrived in Alexandria, I had only five dollars left in my pocket.)
The heartaches this move brought to Sarai are not elaborated in Scripture, but that does not imply she did not experience them. She missed her family, especially those family gatherings when the extended family got together and shared their fond memories from childhood, teasing with one's parents about something funny that they said or some silly mistake that they had made, and telling stories about their siblings.
Though a strong woman of faith, Sarah was not always right. She was the one who insisted that Abram take her handmaid, Hagar, and have children through her. "So Sarai said to Abram, 'See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.' And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai" (Gen. 16:2). Her act of offering her handmaid to bear children was an accepted practice, not only in the Bible but throughout the Middle East in the second millennium BC. However, the slave girl who was carrying the son of her master began to despise her mistress. Around a thousand years later, the wise man Agur observed, "For three things the earth is perturbed, Yes, for four it cannot bear up: … and a maidservant who succeeds her mistress" (Prov. 30:21, 23). Afterward, Sarah complained to her husband about a situation that she helped create (Gen. 16:5). In her anger, Sarah dealt so harshly with Hagar that she fled from her presence (Gen. 16:6). Reading between the lines, one can see that there was little peace in Abram's house during this time. Eventually, the two women learned to live together for the next fourteen to seventeen years.
Hebrews 11:11 acknowledges the strong faith of Sarah, saying, "By faith, Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age because she judged Him faithful who had promised." From a human point of view, God promised impossible things to Sarah. She had passed menopause ("the deadness of Sarah's womb," Rom. 4:19) when God announced that Isaac would be born within a year (Gen. 17:21). The Lord confronted Sarah's doubt saying, "Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time, I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son" (Gen. 18:14). Although she had been barren for eighty-nine years, Sarah "judged Him faithful who had promised" and bore a son at ninety years old.
She believed her son, Isaac, was heir to God's promises to Abraham and fought for his position in the family. A confrontation occurred in Abraham's house when Sarah witnessed Ishmael mocking Isaac at the time of his weaning, usually occurring two or three years after the child's birth (Gen. 21:9). "Mocking" is the KJV translation oftsachaq, "to laugh." Paul gave inspired commentary on this passage when he wrote, "But as then he that was born after the fleshpersecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now" (Gal. 4:29). The Greek worddiōkō, translated "persecuted," is used in the context of Galatians 4 to mean "harass, trouble, molest one; to persecute" (Thayer, 153). Sarah brought her complaint to her husband, making unequivocal demands: "Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac" (Gen. 18:10).
Moses described Abraham's reaction to Sarah's demand: "The matter was very displeasing in Abraham's sight because of his son" (Gen. 18:11). God instructed Abraham to do what Sarah demanded, saying, "Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called" (Gen. 18:12).
This instruction to Abraham may be contrasted with God's condemnation of Adam for listening to the voice of Eve: "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you" (Gen. 3:17). Eve "saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate" (Gen. 3:6). The conclusion from Genesis 3 is not that a man should never listen to what his wife tells him to do as if she had no good sense of her own. Rather, Eve's words led to the violation of God's will, whereas Sarah's demand of Abraham coincided with God's will.
In over fifty years of preaching, I have witnessed many a Christian woman come to worship services by herself, doing the best she could to bring up her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and speaking to her husband through the example of her life and with humble, pleading words to encourage him to become a Christian and lead their family spiritually just as he leads them in other respects. I think that what God would say to such husbands would be similar to what He said to Abraham, "Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice" (Gen. 18:12). Listen to your wife when she speaks the word of the Lord to you!
The example of Sarah, a woman of faith, demonstrates that a godly woman can be a strong woman with strong opinions that she expresses to her husband, making demands of him that he may resist, but should listen to and acknowledge if they communicate God's will for their lives. Such a woman is a worthy companion to a good man who has as his strongest critic the one who loves him most. Together they will accomplish more than either could achieve alone. Realizing the great potential in a strong godly woman, let us resolve to raise our daughters to be all that God wants them to be in using their talents in His service.
Author Bio: Mike has worked with the Decatur Township church in southwest Indianapolis, IN for the last four years. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children, Jennifer and Corey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.