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Sunday, 28 September 2014

God's Compassion for Women

Mrs Bumble the matron was one remarkable woman. Somewhat on the corpulent side to say the least, she found herself married to a bloke who was once the parish beadle of a workhouse, in grim 19th Century Victorian England. She had found herself married to whom was now the master of the workhouse, himself a domineering, choleric, self confident and a very pompous character who, a few months earlier, got himself acquainted with a Mrs Corney, whose former husband, a member of the governing committee to which the beadle was subjective, was unfortunate to buy the field so prematurely, leaving behind this widowed matron who caught the beadle's attention.

A lovely courtship began to grow between the two, whose generous waistline between the pair of them were a vivid contrast to the half-starved, emaciated paupers who resided in the establishment. As the paupers were fed on a small helping of gruel each day, this couple visually testified that the food resource in the workhouse was far from evenly or fairly distributed. But the beadle's motive for courting the widow was not from a developing sense of love spurred by physical attraction. Rather, he had nosed around her room at her absence, and on opening a drawer of her bedside cabinet, discovered a mystery wooden box with some items inside, which upon shaking, seemed to him as a hint to untold riches. So with this in mind, he married her, and the wife of the late Mr Corney became the present Mrs Bumble, a titled name he always used when both referring to her and calling her over. As far as I'm aware, her forename had never been revealed, neither in that case, her husband's.

So with such formal references to each other, little wonder that there was too little ground for marital love to take root and flourish. Rather, his curiosity over the contents of the wooden box in her bedside cupboard had got the better of him, and not long after their wedding, he pried open the lid to take a peek inside. He was devastated with disappointment. All in the box were twenty pounds, and some cheap trinkets. As all hopes of riches evaporated, his respect for his wife also faded, in response their marriage turned quickly sour when she found out his true motive for their nuptials. The atmosphere could not have been more icy. In those days when marriage vows were taken so seriously with no divorce options taken into consideration, only death of one of the partners could bring some hope to the living spouse. But with both being well fed and remarkably healthy in such a grim environment, they both knew they would be stuck with each other for a long time to come.

So one afternoon, he spent his time slumped in his armchair feeling very sorry for himself, when his wife walks into the cosy, well furnished room from the rest of the workhouse outside. With a piercing screech which would shatter a wine glass, she asks him whether he is going to spend the whole day lounging in the armchair doing nothing other than feel sorry for himself. His thunderous reply was that he could take any mood he wants, as being the master of the workhouse, this was his prerogative.

He felt victorious in himself as his wife first tried the tears. As she wept, his sense of triumph rose as he tells her to weep harder, as this washes out her lungs, relieve frustration, and brings benefits to her health. He then rises from the armchair, dons his hat and makes for the door as he leaves to go out, his heart totally waterproof from her emotions. But as he nears the door, he is stunned by the sudden knocking off of his hat as it flies across the room. She then performs a variety of blows and scratches across his face, then finally lands a blow which sends him sprawling over another chair which seemed to have been placed at that spot for the purpose. She then orders him to get up and get out before she does much worse damage to him, which she promises if he dared talked about his prerogative again. Terrified, he stumbles into the workhouse in total defeat, only to be humiliated by her again in the washing room, right in front of a group of female paupers, who in turn all laughed in delight as they were indeed entertained by the fall of this great man's pride and dominance.*

The author, before relating this story, reminds the reader that this sort of thing is quite common in many marriages of his day, in opposition to the more common malaise of wife beating. But the tragedy is that here in the UK, according to media reports, each week a couple of fatalities occur as a result of domestic violence. In most cases, it is the man beating his wife or partner, but like the case with the Bumbles, men can be beaten by their spouses as well, although this is in the minority. It seems to me that why domestic violence occur is that one always tries to have dominion over the other. And this is certainly not new. Instead, it goes right back in history to the case of Adam and Eve, after the Fall, when God had increased Eve's pain in childbearing, yet she shall desire her husband while he has rule over her.

But I have also learnt in recent years that this "desire" Eve had for her husband can also be a desire to dominate. Whether the author or speaker is right on this account, I cannot be definite, but the case of the Bumbles certainly makes that clear. But in many cases, and particularly within Islam, men had always dominated over women. Even in the Christian church, leadership has always been male, and although the Anglican Church has allowed women into the priesthood, and now proposals have been made for female bishops; in the Roman Catholic Church, female leadership is a definite no-no. This may have been taken from 1 Timothy 2:11-14:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman, and became a sinner.

Paul the apostle says the same to the church in Corinth:

As in all the congregation of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

According to my reference Bible, the "Law" refers back to Genesis 3:16, where God instructed Eve to be in submission to her husband. And as I see it, a law was established in the dawn of history, and since it was to the head of the entire human race, it looks to be universal rather than confined to the Jews. The Bible itself was written entirely by men. In the Old Testament, just about every leader was male, with the possible exception of Deborah, who told the Israeli army commander Barak to defeat the Canaanite armies, whose forces was led by Sisera. When Sisera's forces were defeated by Israel, he fled to a tent owned by a Kenite woman Jael. It was she who killed Sisera while he was asleep with exhaustion (Judges 4.)

Then there was the case of Rahab the pagan prostitute. After hiding a couple of Joshua's men from the threat of the Canaanite residents of Jericho, she was instructed that she must keep her entire household at home at the time of the invasion by Israel. For this to have happened, all the male members of her household, her father, her brothers, possibly her uncles or her cousins, had to submit to her leadership in order to be spared from destruction which came upon the entire city.

Other than these two examples, the Bible looks to be entirely male, including every author. All the Prophets were male, as were all the kings of Judah. Jesus was a male Jew, all twelve of his apostles were men. Paul was a bloke, a Pharisee and a son of a Pharisee. The Jewish Sanhedrin were all men. And according to his two letters to Timothy, Paul wanted all church leaders to be men, each of them having control over his own household. So, did Paul instruct the leaders of the church to be all men according to the culture of the day? Or to pacify the Jews, so they could not point a finger of blame at the church? Or his Paul's edict universal for all time, including the present?

I believe that the third option is the correct one, as the Bible is the eternal Word of God. Rather than to be confined to the culture of the day, it transcends all time, nations, and cultures. Yet on the other hand, I can't see anything wrong with a women's group within a church fellowship being led by a female. I do believe that with a female leading such a group, issues can be discussed more openly, without any degree of reservation had a male been in their presence.

But having said all that, there is good evidence that the Bible has much compassion for the fairer gender. One good example was Hagar, a maidservant to Abraham's wife Sarah, and mother to her master's firstborn Ishmael. Sarah herself was very much like Mrs Bumble - dominant and a bully towards Hagar - to the point when she ran away from her tent and found herself marooned out in the desert. An angel of God told her to return and submit to her mistress. She did, and probably avoided any punishment meted out to a runaway slave. But soon after Sarah's son Isaac was born, Ishmael, realising that he was no longer the top dog and heir to his father's estate, teased the child. Sarah then ordered her husband to get rid of Hagar and her son, as they were not to share the estate with her son Isaac. Echoes of Mrs Bumble. Not long after, Hagar, having hidden her adolescent son in the bushes, went a short distance and wept aloud, without reserve, for the life of her son. It was then that the tender, compassionate hand of God touched her, and opened her eyes to see a well of water nearby. As a result of that moment of compassion, Ishmael married an Egyptian woman to be the founding parents of the Ishmaelite nation.

Leah was another worthy of mention. She was the elder daughter of Laban, the brother of Jacob's mother Rebekah. We are told that she had weak eyes, and therefore ignored by the one she loved, her own cousin and husband Jacob. Instead Jacob loved her younger sister Rachel, who was startlingly beautiful. Throughout her married life, Leah felt rejected as her husband poured all his affection on Rachel. But God's compassion showed when she bore six sons, half of the entire nation of Israel, including Judah, her fourth son, who carried the Messianic Line and was the ancestor of King David. But that was not all. Jacob was renamed Israel by God himself, a name which was an acronym of initials including Isaac, Sarah, Rebekah, Abraham, Elohim and Leah. Elohim being the name of God himself, symbolising his presence in the midst of his people, incorporated Leah's initial within his own Name, thus demonstrating such compassion. But not to be too unfair on Rachel, she later became the mother of Joseph, who ended up Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself, and to whom all of his eleven brothers bowed the knee.

There are several more acts of compassion in the Old Testament, including that shown to Ruth, and to her mother-in-law Naomi. Then there was the widow whose dead son was raised to life by Elijah. In the New Testament, we read about Jesus walking all the way up to Tyre in Sidon to heal the daughter of one Canaanite woman. And other acts of compassion shown to various females throughout his ministry. Such as to the woman who touched the border of the Lord's cloak, and was healed of an issue lasting for twelve years. Or the raising of the widow's son, a repeat of Elijah's miracle. Then his relationship with Martha and Mary, the two sisters of Lazarus, who rose from the tomb under the command of Jesus. Interestingly enough, Martha was similar to Mrs Bumble, who complained that her sister was not sharing with the housework. Yet the Lord still loved her as much as her sister. Then who can forget his discourse with the un-named woman at the well, who was offered living water rather than faced condemnation for five failed marriages. And how he rescued an adulteress caught in the act from being stoned alive. Last but not least, while hanging on the cross, he commissioned his mother to be taken care of in John's house.

Paul the apostle did not recommend women to be leaders of the church, but he did insist that all husbands should love their wives, as Christ loves the church. The resurrected Lord sees his Church as a bride, full of glory and splendour. So, no doubt, God would want us as husbands to see our wives in the same way, for that's how God loves them.

Poor Mrs Bumble! If only her husband really loved her for who she was instead of deceiving her and throwing his prerogative around. Both might have enjoyed a far happier marriage, especially if she knew of God's love in her life.
*From Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, of which the above was my own analysis of the author's far more classical narration.


  1. Dear Frank,
    What a thorough and well-written post on Biblical perspectives regarding women! We just returned from a trip to Utah, and while on a long van ride with 5 fellow tourists and a guide, a discussion that began with this topic proved to be a door that God opened for us to share the Gospel. None of them made a profession of faith, but the Mormon and non-practicing Catholic did listen very intently and ask pointed questions.
    If people would follow God's plan for marriage, instead of marrying for wealth or status, or living together without marriage, lives and society would be much happier and Godlier.
    God bless,

  2. Great post, Frank. Paul was specific that older women were to teach the younger, but that they were not to teach or usurp authority over the men because it was the man's sin rather than the woman's that brought mankind into slavery to sin. Both husbands and wives are to show proper respect to their mates, because as I Peter 3:7 points out failure to do so hinders our spiritual life.

  3. Hi Frank,
    I believe that we can see many things in many scriptures according to what the Spirit wants us to see at the time. Mark ch. 10 vs. 6-9 says 'But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.' this is speaking of the natural man and woman.
    Galatians ch. 3 v. 28 says 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' This speaks of the spiritual man and woman. 1 Corinthians ch.12 says that all who have been baptized into Christ are one body in Christ and that all have different gifts, including prophesy.
    In Acts ch. 18 Priscilla was used with Aquila to explain the way of God more accurately to Apollos who was a man who had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, who spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John.
    Interesting post.
    God bless.

  4. Intresting but do you know the meaning of live, ! I do !