The Delicate Balance of Biblical Womanhood
When considering Biblical womanhood in the Scriptures, there is one verse that comes up rather frequently:
Who can find a virtuous woman?
For her price is far above rubies.
- Proverbs 31:10
What is interesting here is that that word 'virtuous' is a translation of the Hebrew word 'chayil.' Chayil is used in several other places in the Old Testament, where it is translated in such diverse terms as 'wealth,' 'force,' 'might,' 'strength,' even 'army.' This virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is a woman who commands respect in an almost intimidating sort of way - the way that "an army with banners" (Song of Solomon 6:10) is intimidating. Not in a way that is overbearing or proud, mind you; it is an aura that stems from a woman who trusts in the strength, power, and wisdom of God.
Skip ahead to another time period in Biblical history, in the years of the early church. Here, Paul writes of Biblical womanhood with a very different set of adjectives. Women are to have beauty that stems not from outward focused vanities;
But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
- 1 Peter 3:4
The picture Proverbs 31 paints is almost a warrior-woman, one who is clothed in "strength and honour" (verse 25), who is dignified and queenly in the way that she cares for her household and protects those under her roof - from both temporal and spiritual attacks. She "looketh well to the ways of her household" (v. 27), "strengtheneth her arms" for her tasks (v. 16), speaks with wise advice and in a way that encourages absolute trust among those dearest to her.
This verse from 1 Peter, however, paints a woman who appears quiet, sweet, and affectionate, almost like a princess in a fairy tale. She trusts God and fears nothing, but in a way that passively accepts whatever life brings. If the Proverbs 31 woman is an Amazon Queen, fighting for truth and righteousness in home and abroad, the 1 Peter 3 woman is a demure church lady serving tea at a Bible study group.
These are exaggerated images, of course. Nevertheless this dichotomy appears; is a Christian woman supposed to be brave, capable and confident? Or is she to be peaceful, meek, and gracious?
This is the equivalent to asking: Is a Christian supposed to reflect God's zeal for absolute righteousness and hatred of sin, or should that Christian focus on showing God's love, forgiveness, and mercy? The answer is, Yes!
The only way we can bring these two aspects of Biblical womanhood together is to look at Jesus Christ. Was Jesus meek, quiet, full of love? Yes. Was He determined to speak truth and discern righteousness for His people? Absolutely. The Jesus who remained silent before His accusers, who instructed us to turn the other cheek, who commanded His followers to love one another the way He loved them, is the same Jesus who harangued the Pharisees on their hypocrisy, commanded us to tear out an eye that causes us to sin, and overturned the tables of the moneylenders in the Temple of God. Jesus loved, taught, and showed by example how His people are supposed to live.
Biblical womanhood requires women to live and seek truth in the Word of God. It requires them to teach that truth - through words and actions - to others (to an appropriate audience, of course; but that is another story). It requires them to be on guard to defend the weak - from the poor and needy to the spiritually immature still in need of guidance - and offer them a stretched out hand.
Biblical womanhood also requires submission. That submission, ultimately towards God, is a willing and joyful one that stems from a meek and quiet spirit. Few places in Scripture show God more pleased than when someone trustingly says "Yes" to Him. Biblical womanhood should reflect the Son's submission to the Father, and Jesus' meek and grace-filled speech.
At first blush, Proverbs 31 and 1 Peter 3 may appear to be describing two very different types of godly women. But really, they are one and the same. It is by studying and imitating Christ's life that we can manage to balance these two ideals in our lives.