Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 006. The Wife

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Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 006. The Wife

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The Wife

1. Whenever, or however, the second chapter of Genesis was composed, it bears the hand-print of God in the conception of woman being the companion, the helpmeet for man; “answering to him,” as the margin puts it. Here, at once, is the truth which Israel never understood-there is hardly any trace of its influence in the Patriarchal polygamy, in the Mosaic Law, or even in the chance references of the prophets. It gleams in an occasional passage of the Proverbs and in the Song of Songs. But it disappears in the Rabbinical literature, which uniformly treats woman as an inferior. And it comes to its own only when Christianity fulfils the law. The beautiful relations between man and wife in modern Judaism may be traced rather to the Christian influences, which the best Jews do not now even seek to escape, than to a late understanding of this opening page of the Bible. Our Lord set His seal to this Divine message when He took the primitive story of Eden to correct even the legislation of Moses; and He placed the inspiration of the passage beyond all question for the Christian, when He incorporated its lesson in His own New Law: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” In the thought of God, man is incomplete alone: “Male and female created he them” (Gen_1:27). In the vision of Christ, that unity of male and female would pass into a spiritual form among the angels of God in heaven; for in Him there is no male or female; but, according to His own word, man and wife are inseparable, the complement of one another, forming only in their union the ideal human being. Out of this truth-surely a truth of revelation, a truth established not by the story of Eden, with the sad fall and deception of the woman who was to the man bone of his bone, but by the Spirit of God instructing and directing the human race-grows the sanctity of marriage, and that ideal mystical relation of man and wife on which all high civilization and permanent progress depend. It is a lesson well written in the forefront of all religious teaching.

When the man looks upon the woman for the first time, as she is presented to him by God, his surprise and gladness break into verse. Yes, the first poem in the Bible-that is, the first music of metrical speech-is occasioned by that event which wakens most of our great poets to essay their first songs, and which brings rude efforts at verse from even the least poetical; it is a love-poem. I am tempted, strange as it may sound, to transcribe in English letters this beautiful verse, and to throw it into an English metre, in order to convince the reader of this fine point in the creation-story. Adam said:

Zôth happa-am ezem meazamai

Ubasar mibsarai, lezôth yikkare isshah

Chi me-ish lokochah zôth.

That is Hebrew poetry; the balanced clauses, the exalted phraseology by which the Hebrew distinguishes poetry from prose. The best literal version of our Bible gives no suggestion of this. But perhaps we may bring it out by a slight expansion. And Adam said:

She, she is bone of my bone,

And flesh of my flesh is she;

Woman her name, which is grown

Out of man, out of me.

She stands therefore before him, the poetry of life, at once a dream and a reality, a revelation of the ideal, a creation of the real. No breath of impurity has passed upon man or woman; they stand together, the loftiest thought in the ascending scale of creation, the final goal of evolution. They need no garments, no adornments. In the deep and tender passion which is their mutual bond there is and can be no shame. As Phidias might strike an Aphrodite out of Parian marble, as Botticelli in his dreams might paint the goddess rising from the foam, pure as the Holy Virgin, so God makes the woman Eve, the life and love of the world, the consoler of the heart, the delight of the eyes, the companion of the soul, the kernel and centre of man. Let them cleave to one another; they are one. Let them not expect perfection in separation; but let them anticipate perfection, achieved through pure and faithful living here, in that union in which there will be no more male and female, but in their duality the only unity.1 [Note: R. F. Horton.]

The highest state I define as that state through and in which men can know most of God, and work most for God: and this I assert to be the marriage state. He can know most of God, because it is through those family ties, and by those family names, that God reveals Himself to man, and reveals man's relations to Him. Fully to understand the meaning of “a Father in Heaven” we must be fathers ourselves; to know how Christ loved the Church, we must have wives to love, and love them; else why has God used those relations as symbols of the highest mysteries which we (on the Romish theory) are the more saintly the less we experience of them? And it is a historic fact, that just the theologic ideas which a celibate priesthood have been unable to realize in their teaching are those of the Father in Heaven-the Husband in Heaven. I will now only add an entreaty that you will forgive me if I have seemed too dogmatic. But God has showed me these things in an eventful and blissful marriage history, and woe to me if I preach them not.2 [Note: Life of Charles Kingsley i. 154.]

2. In the story of the formation of Eve from Adam's body (Gen_2:21-24), we have, says Driver, a wonderfully conceived allegory, designed, by a most significant figure, to set forth the moral and social relation of the sexes to each other, the dependence of woman upon man, her close relationship to him, and the foundation existing in nature for the attachment springing up between them, and for the feelings with which each should naturally regard the other. The woman is formed out of the man's side: hence it is the wife's natural duty to be at hand, ready at all times to be a “help” to her husband; it is the husband's natural duty ever to cherish and defend his wife, as part of his own self.

Let us appreciate the sublime truths which it implies regarding the dignity of woman and the sacredness of matrimony. Strong and mighty indeed must that tie be for whose sake man resigns all the fond associations of childhood; fervent must that love be which gains the ascendancy over the affection for father and mother. If the parents consider the son as the gift of God (Psa_127:3), the son receives his wife as a special Divine gift (Gen_2:22). Many parents love their children more than all the world; the youth lavishes the whole wealth of his affections on her who sways his heart. The highest ideas of love, which are generally represented as the exclusive result of modern civilization, are plainly expressed in the affecting narration of these verses; they are not obscurely or vaguely hinted at; the Hebrew writer unfolds them with an emphasis which shows his earnestness, his decision.

The relative characters and capabilities of man and woman are an instance in the moral world of the Divine wisdom-man loving to protect, woman to lean. Hence faith is more powerful in woman, not from her being less rational, but from her being more formed to rely. When woman becomes infidel it is often from having deified some man. Man passes through sights and sounds of sin and shakes them off, where women would be irretrievably stained. This also is suited to the place assigned them, and a reason why woman should not be thrust into many parts of life where man must venture. Even the seemingly unjust law in society which forgives man many things unpardonable in woman has a reason in it. She has more to break through, and it is harder to put her again where she was; the fruit of the forbidden tree is a deadlier poison to her. On woman, too, as the genius of the family, the social structure most depends, and when she sinks ruin is at hand. No sign of a nation perishing is so sure as the corruption of woman-Messalina was more ominous than Nero, Herodias than Herod.1 [Note: John Ker, Thoughts for Heart and Life, 2.]

We are foolish, and without excuse foolish, in speaking of the “superiority” of one sex to the other, as if they could be compared in similar things. Each has what the other has not; each completes the other, and is completed by the other: they are in nothing alike, and the happiness and perfection of both depends on each asking and receiving from the other what the other only can give. Now their separate characters are briefly these. The man's power is active, progressive, defensive. He is eminently the doer, the defender. His intellect is for speculation and invention; his energy for adventure, for war, and for conquest wherever war is just, wherever conquest necessary. But the woman's power is for rule, not for battle,-and her intellect is not for invention or creation, but for sweet ordering, arrangement, and decision. She sees the qualities of things, their claims, and their places. Her great function is Praise: she enters into no contest, but infallibly adjudges the crown of contest. By her office, and place, she is protected from all danger and temptation. The man, in his rough work in the open world, must encounter all peril and trial; to him, therefore, must be the failure, the offence, the inevitable error: often he must be wounded, or subdued; often misled; and always hardened. But he guards the woman from this; within his house, as ruled by her, unless she herself has sought it, need enter no danger, no temptation, no cause of error or offence.1 [Note: Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies, § 67, 68 (Works, xviii. 121).]