(Guest post by LaCigol. Guest posts are not necessarily the opinion of the blog owner)
God changed the name of Abraham’s wife from Sarai (contentious) to Sarah (female ruler). You may have a pink-ruffled-dress Disney-ish idea of what “princess” means, but it is the female of the word used for leaders and influential people. From that, we can see that God, right from the time of the covenant with Abraham, did not want men to see women as “contentious” when the two disagreed – He wanted believing men to affirm the leadership of their wives.
Meanwhile, God changed the name of the father of believers from “Abram”(exalted father) to “Abraham” (father of many), to indicate that Christian manhood is about nurturing and raising a family, not about standing “exalted” as fathers. From Gen 21:12 we can also see that it was His pattern for believing husbands to be obedient.
Gen 21:12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.
Abraham had to be obedient, and the promise to him is that the child of God’s promise will bring him many grandchildren.
The New Testament uses Abraham and Sarah as a pattern for Christian relationships. It tells women, in 1Pe 3:5-6 :
5 … the holy women of the past who put their hope in God … submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
There is a trick to those words, which make the subversive-ness less obvious. Women should get an example from the way Sarah obeyed – and her place on the obedience scale was that God ordered her husband to obey her – “in whatever Sarah said”, not just the Ishmael issue.
Women are then reminded that even though Abraham had to call her “ruler” and admit her leadership, Sarah chose freely to admit Abraham’s co-dominion, and she called Abraham a respectful term too. God never ordered that, but she did so anyway. Even though God’s pattern is female leadership and male subordination, we should honour men as, like women, also created in the image of God. The world may not admit that women and men are equal, but have different roles, but we as Christians should.
Like Sarah, women should “not give way to fear” in relating to their husbands. What usually happens when a wife fears her husband? She starts to tiptoe around him, doing whatever is needed to not displease him. God’s intent for women is to rule, not to obey husbands out of fear. This word, translated as “afraid”, also refers directly to reverence sometimes. Women should avoid excessive reverence towards husbands.
God calls believing men to complement the fearless leadership of their wives this way:
7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
For the meaning of “in the same way”, we have to go back a bit to see what the man’s way of being considerate to their wives is compared to. The previous section also starts with “in the same way”, so we look at the section prior to that, to 1 Pe2:21-25. Men should get an example from Jesus who suffered without threatening the people who hurt him. Men’s “being considerate, likewise, consist of not protesting when women treat them harshly.
Men should treat women with respect. In the days before modern medicine women indeed died younger (the same word translated “weak” here is usually used in the Bible for the sick in “Jesus healed the sick”), and that was another reason to honour your wife if you are still privileged enough to have one. But even though you have the responsibility to respect her (and her leadership, which is euphemistically called “like Sarah obeyed Abraham”), you are still equal in your position as co-heirs.
I have to emphasize again that the leadership of women does not negate male-female equality. Men are equal with women, but they have a unique calling to respect women, listen to them, and nurture the couple’s children.*
*Texts on child rearing outside of Abraham’s life and 1 Peter 3 is outside the scope of this article, but Eph 6:4 also calls the man to be the child nurturer of the family. Many translations of an egalitarian-leaning translate it as “parents, raise your children …” nowadays, but the narrative of scripture shows that “fathers, raise your children” is the superior translation.
This article is not written to be unbiased, but to show how female lead could equally easily fit into many places in scripture, how seeing male (or female) lead in the Bible is often about seeing what you want to see and disregarding the rest. I use the “guest writer” La Cigol (backwards “logical”) when I write words I do not believe, but which indirectly illuminate a truth.