Find post 1 in this series here.
Last week, we considered the Hebrew phrase, eshet chayil, or “woman of valour”. If you haven’t read it already, it’s useful background reading for this post.
When we were studying this idea in the God’s Design Bible study recently, one woman said, “But I’d rather be a woman of virtue than a woman of valour. God calls us as women to have a quiet, gentle spirit.” Our study into the meaning of eshet chayil certainly didn’t negate the values of virtue, quietness or gentleness. What we did discover is that this is not the meaning of this particular phrase, found in Ruth 3:11, Prov 12:4, and Prov 31:10. Eshet chayil points to another aspect of a godly woman’s character – of godly women as strong and courageous – a notion which made her uncomfortable. She came from a position of wanting to honour God and to live in obedience to Him, which is something I honour and respect. But, like many of us, she was finding it difficult to let go of cherished, long-held ideas, even if the evidence suggested otherwise.
After giving her an initial answer, I’ve continued to chew this one over since that study. There’s a lot to be discussed about the virtues of gentleness and courage, and how those virtues may or may not relate to our gender, and how ideas like this sit within our own personal journeys. Is “a gentle spirit” is a uniquely female calling? And is courage is a manly virtue? Is this an expression of God’s plan for men and women, as laid out in the Bible? Or does God call men and women equally to have a quiet, gentle spirit and to be courageous?
Quietness & Gentleness
The Psalmist urges us all in Psalm 46 to “be still and know that I am God.” We readily quote this text to demonstrate the importance of removing ourselves from the world’s distractions and worries to focus on God. Did the Sons of Korah, who wrote this psalm, have in mind time spent in peaceful contemplation beside the lapping waters of a beautiful lake? (I have to admit, that’s sounding very tempting right now.) Take a look at the whole psalm in which this verse nestles. It’s actually talking about trusting God in the midst of fear and danger, about knowing that whatever war and turmoil may rage around us, God is still God – our refuge, our strength, bringer of peace. This is no artificial peace, divorced from the harsh realities of life, but the kind of “peace that passes all understanding” because we know in Whose hands we are held. It seems to me that this kind of quiet is the flip-side of the coin of courage.
This reminds me of the hymn writer, Horatio G. Spafford. The circumstances in which he wrote “It is Well with My Soul” are still well-known and much-loved today. After losing his only son to scarlet fever in 1870, and suffering financial ruin in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, he planned in 1873 to travel to Europe with his family, but business matters compelled him to remain at home while his family boarded the SS Ville du Havre. The ship collided with another vessel and sank. He learned of the deaths of his four daughters when he received a telegram from his wife, simply saying, “Saved alone.” Travelling to meet his wife, he penned these words as the ship passed near to the location of his daughters’ deaths:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.
(Did I just catch you singing along?! If you heard another voice singing too, that was me!) His quiet and gentle heart continued to trust implicitly in God through a series of devastating tragedies. Rather than leading to bitterness, his grief led him to re-evaluate the life he had dedicated to business. He, his wife and the three children they were blessed with after their earlier disasters went to live in Israel, where they founded a group committed to serving the poor.
Leadership & Courage
Not everyone is called to leadership. But we are all called to courage. (Yes, you!)
Courage isn’t necessarily loud – think of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment…what immense courage it took for someone who was a complete social and religious outcast to approach this famed rabbi even surreptitiously. Courage for one person might be tackling a double black diamond ski run, for another it might be rescuing women and children from slavery in India, while for a third, it might just be getting out of bed tomorrow morning. Courage may require us just to survive another obstacle, or take us to places we never expected, or require us to do previously unimagined things right where we are.
When I think of courage, the quiet, pious, Dutch watchmaker’s spinster daughter, Corrie Ten Boom, comes immediately to mind. Corrie Ten Boom’s story was told in the biography, The Hiding Place. Before WWII, one might have associated the Ten Boom family with old-fashioned values and a deep faith in the living God, but not with anything remotely extraordinary. They were just thoroughly humble and ordinary Dutch people. Compelled by their Christian faith, they hid Jews in their home and assisted them to escape, before eventually being caught by the Germans. What captured my heart in this story was not just the immense risk Corrie took defying the Nazis, but also the way in which she faced life in Ravensbrück concentration camp. Corrie and her sister Bessie ran a Bible study for the women there, bringing hope to others instead of wallowing in their own despair. They learned to thank God in all circumstances, even praising God for the fleas, which they later discovered kept the German guards away from their living quarters, enabling their Bible study groups to operate without disruption. Later in life, meeting one of the former Ravensbrück guards forced her to confront the reality of living out a faith founded on forgiveness as a person who has experienced immense pain and loss (her sister and father were among those who died in the concentration camps). Incredibly, Corrie was able to rise to the challenge of forgiving the impossible. Her courage was equally found in the big, bold move of hiding Jews, in the seemingly small (but oh-so-big) action of thanking God for the barracks’ fleas and in the inner discipline of being willing to give her deepest hurts to God in order to be the love of Christ to others.
Courage without the quiet and gentle spirit of a godly person would be mere bravado. Horatio Spafford and Corrie Ten Boom both demonstrate these qualities of courage, quietness and gentleness – traits of Christian character which truly transcend gender.
Look out for Eshet Chayil (Part 3) next week.