In a recent CBMW blog article, John Starke recounts Richard Baxter’s instructions for the Christian family. (Richard Baxter was a 17th century Puritan). Starke writes:
It is important to realize, when reading Baxter and the Puritans, that there was no guarded language when speaking of how the Christian household ought to look like. They simply assumed the clear, biblical teaching of a husband’s authority in the family and a wife’s joyful submission. So then, at one level, Baxter’s direction for women wouldn’t sound too different than John Piper’s or Wayne Grudem’s.
However, Baxter, in a way that Puritans are known for, approaches the heart of the wife. What would cause a wife to rebel against the biblical mandate to follow the leadership of the husband? Baxter gives a few reasons:
1. Failure to believe God’s will is best. God’s design for the Christian family, which includes the structure of authority and submission, is best! God is wise and we, as sinners, need divine wisdom. He writes, “Who are you to assess God’s Word in a way different than his own qualifications.” What Baxter means is, we are to allow God?s Word to explain itself in its own terms. We must not explain away difficult, but clear, instruction. As Christians, we must trust God’s counsel for the home. Failure to trust God’s will can only bring turmoil and unrest.
According to Baxter, we as sinners need divine wisdom. And where does that wisdom reside? The wisdom for the wife and for the home apparently resides in the husband who exercises God’s will through the man’s own authority. Is this really the “clear” teaching of God’s word? Let’s test this by the Word of God in Proverbs 31. In verse 10 we see what is defined as an “excellent wife”. Let’s consider verses 10-12:
Prov 31:10 An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.
Prov 31:11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain.
Prov 31:12 She does him good and not evil All the days of her life.
Instead of setting the wife up as one who finds divine wisdom alone in the man, these verses show that it is her husband’s heart that finds trust in her. Notice that it doesn’t say that her husband takes authority over her or that she has no wisdom from God on her own. Proverbs lists her as a woman who is wise and who uses her wisdom to do good for him.
The meaning of the word trust that her husband puts in his wife is a confidence and belief to the point of having a reliance upon her (Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains).
Far from being ruled by a man and finding divine wisdom in him alone she is industrious and makes decisions about what to do with her own earnings:
Prov 31:13 She looks for wool and flax And works with her hands in delight.
Prov 31:14 She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar.
Pro 31:15 She rises also while it is still night And gives food to her household And portions to her maidens.
Prov 31:16 She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard.
This Proverbs 31 woman not only has wisdom but also strength:
Prov 31:17 She girds herself with strength And makes her arms strong.
She “perceives” (senses) what is good:
Prov 31:18 She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night.
This means to perceive mentally [or spiritually], Prov. 31:18. ( Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures) so her wisdom is also from above. She has the ability and the power to give generously to the poor:
Prov 31:19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle.
Prvo 31:20 She extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy.
She takes care of the details of the home and both her husband and herself are known in the gates. (The gates of the city are where business is done).
Prov 31:21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
Prov 31:22 She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Prov 31:23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. (see also verse 31 for the wife)
She is a source of supply for others in the city:
Prov 31:24 She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies belts to the tradesmen.
Prov 31:25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future.
She is said to have wisdom. The verb is used twenty-six times in the OT and most of the passages appear in the Qal stem meaning “be wise,” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) She is said to have teaching which means instruction and doctrine, on her tongue:
Prov 31:26 She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
Not only does her husband trust in her but he praises her:
Prov 31:27 She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness.
Prov 31:28 Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
Prov 31:29 “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.”
Prov 31:30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.
Prov 31:31 Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.
Does this sound like a woman who is a follower? Does this sound like a wife who has to rely on her husband for “divine wisdom”?
It seems to me that we have accepted a faulty view of women. So many have forced upon women a restrained and restricted view because of the teaching that the wife is to be a follower without a clear will of her own and without the wisdom and plan of her own to accomplish good for her husband and family. In essence, we have accepted the wife as a woman who is an appendage of the man deliberately ignoring the clear mandate of the original creation for her to rule and reign with him. If we fail to live out our joint mandate together as heirs of God, I believe that we will grow “little women” who are never given the tools to fulfill their full calling as “sons” of God. It is time that we get back to the solid foundation of the Proverbs 31 woman instead of the faulty model of the woman who must be led by the man with God’s wisdom filtered down to her through her husband.