Women in the Text: Hagar Names God

Women in the Text: Hagar Names God

Hagar’s remarkable experience of God is comparable to any of the Patriarch’s, yet it is often overlooked.

Hagar’s History

Hagar was Egyptian. She was most likely given to Sarah by Pharaoh as redress for his bride-napping. She was a stranger in Canaan, different from  the others, marginalized, living in an alien and backward land compared to the grand courts of Egypt. Her accent was different. Her looks set her apart. She most likely faced racial and class prejudice. She was a slave.

Her master  was Sarah. It was Sarah who determined the course of Hagar’s life when she offered her – as a possession – to her husband Abraham. In today’s terms, we call this sex trafficking. In ancient terms, it was an acceptable legal transaction. The Code of Hammurabi gives us some insight into the everyday ethics that determined family life in this era. An infertile wife could offer her slave to her husband. If a child was born as a result, it was against the law (or custom) for the husband to remarry. This saved a barren woman from sharing her husband with another wife, yet still provided an heir.

144. If a man take a wife and this woman give her husband a maid-servant, and she bear him children, but this man wishes to take another wife, this shall not be permitted to him; he shall not take a second wife.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/ham/ham06.htm

Sarah, acting in accordance with the customs of her time, says to Abraham: “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her. (Genesis 16:2) ” Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham, not as wife or concubine but as a womb. If Hagar conceived and bore a child, Sarah’s position as the sole wife of Abraham was secure.

Hagar’s grasp for honor

But Hagar had different ideas. And, who can blame her? Her status changed from slave to the mother of the new heir of Abraham. It is easy to empathize with her desire to take any advantage she could! There was also the dynamic of motherhood at play. Hagar, feeling the overwhelming protection of maternity, felt the need to establish a place of honor for her child. Yet, any behavior on her part that was not fitting as a slave, was actually considered unlawful. See Hammurabi again.

146. If a man take a wife and she give this man a maid-servant as wife and she bear him children, and then this maid assume equality with the wife: because she has borne him children her master shall not sell her for money, but he may keep her as a slave, reckoning her among the maid-servants.

Hagar claimed an honor that did not belong to her, perhaps as a wife or mistress of Abraham, and in the process shamed her owner, Sarah. Genesis 16:4 says, “her mistress was dishonorable in her eyes.” Hagar made a power-play to take advantage of her circumstance and reverse her fortunes and confirm the status of her child, but she was out of line. Sarah’s reaction was more than jealousy, it was justice. Hagar had no right to shame Sarah and claim any worth, for her or her child, above that of slave.

Our modern sense of Western justice has a hard time accepting the clout of this honor/shame dynamic that dominated the Eastern world. Even though Hagar was the one behaving badly, we sympathize with her suffering. When Sarah disciplined her harshly, as just punishment for Hagar’s transgressions, we sense a deeper injustice that was ignored. Hagar never asked to be put in this position! She was forced into sexual relations, and required to birth a baby at great personal risk (childbirth has always been a dangerous enterprise). Surely, her arrogance could be overlooked? Right? Give her a break, Sarah!

When Sarah applied harsh judgement on her, Hagar had few choices. Stay in an abusive situation where she had no voice and little value, or attempt escape. She chose to run away; a courageous, if not foolhardy, option.

Hagar runs away…

…most likely headed back to Egypt (Genesis 16:7). Her flight indicates how desperate and alone she must have felt in Sarah’s house. The journey from Canaan to Egypt is like walking from Seattle to Spokane. Pregnant.

Hagar had serious problems. She was a runaway slave, carrying the property of her mistress. She was a fugitive. She was breaking the law. But, she was an abused and terrified woman.

In the middle of this terror of flight, God came to Hagar.

God visited Hagar! An Egyptian. A woman. A slave. An abuse survivor. At that point in recorded history, God had only come to Noah and Abraham. Hagar’s experience with God is thought provoking. When we consider the times God intervened in Person, what was required of the recipient was usually terrifying. Noah had to build an ark for decades to survive a holocaust. Abraham had to mutilate his very private flesh, and the flesh of 300+ of his men. And, God’s visit to Hagar followed suit. God required Hagar to return to her life as the slave of Sarah. Gulp. That is hard to accept, isn’t it? God was sending Hagar back to slavery, back into the toxic situation with Sarah. We could speculate that there were few options for Hagar, and that was the most merciful one, but I find it hard to swallow, regardless. Experiencing a visit from God was alarming and the task was never easy.

God requires hard things. But, God is full of promise.

God gave Hagar a fertile hope.

“I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” (Genesis 16:10) Sound familiar? God promised this woman great fertility, just as God promised Abraham (Genesis 15:5). God gave Hagar a prophesy of hope concerning her child that spoke to a mother’s greatest fear.

  • Her son would be born, alive and healthy.
  • She should name him God Hears: Ishmael, because of her personal experience with God.
  • He would be free, not a slave. He would be a warrior. He would have brothers and family and would not be alone as she was.
  • God promised Hagar a future for her son.

Hagar named God.

“You are El Roi, for I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13-14) Inspired by her personal encounter with God and her own experience of being marginalized, Hagar teaches others about God’s perception. Perhaps this was comforting to her, because she knew God was aware of all things done to her hidden from the sight of others. As Jesus confirmed thousands of years later, “God who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)”

Because Hagar knew God saw her and promised her son’s future was secure, Hagar had the courage to return to her unfortunate situation. Once at home, she instructs Abraham to name their son Ishmael, and her extraordinary talk with God was immortalized as a place-name in the ancient world. Beer Lahai Roi: the well of the Living One who sees me.

Hagar’s story continues.

Women in the Text: Sarah’s Submissive Reputation

Women in the Text: Sarah’s Submissive Reputation

Thousands of years after Sarah lived, we learn she was a well-admired woman by those who studied the Hebrew Scriptures. Peter describes her as submissive to Abraham and full of courage (1 Peter 3:5-6). The author of Hebrews extols her faith in God’s promise (Hebrews 11:11). At face value, these may seem like different aspects of her character, but I’d argue they are both referring to the same episode in Sarah’s life: the time Isaac was conceived.

Sarah did not submit to Abraham’s sin.

In 1 Peter 3, the author uses Sarah’s submissiveness to Abraham as an example for women who are married to unbelieving husbands. Sarah herself was not married to an unbeliever, so what aspect of her life is to serve as an example? What was Sarah known for in the time Peter was written? It has been proposed by many preachers, theologians and women’s studies that Sarah submitted to Abraham’s lie and endured the sexual attentions of Pharaoh and Abimalech for his protection. But as I wrote in a previous article, The Sister Story was not a lie, but the truth that Abraham and Sarah publicized in order to survive the culture of licentiousness surrounding their family in Canaan. Abimalech and Pharaoh’s gifts of honor support the facts that they had abused and dishonored Sarah through no fault of Abraham and Sarah. Sarah did not submit to Abraham’s sin because Abraham did not sin in these circumstances of bride theft. Wives married to unbelieving husbands should not use a misunderstanding of The Sister Story as the example to submit to their husbands, even in some twisted way for their husband’s protection.

My lord is old.

So what part of Sarah’s reputation is Peter referring to? Verse  6 says Sarah called Abraham, “lord.” Glancing back at Sarah’s story, this title for her husband was only recorded once. Doesn’t that simplify the context Peter is referring to for us?

So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Genesis 18:12

Sarah was 89-years-old. She was infertile. This verse records her reaction to God telling her the time had come for God’s promise to materialize as a baby. It was a sensible reaction, yes? She was not a virgin. She understood that to have a baby, she and Abraham were first going to have to make the baby.  Yada-yada-yada, if you understand my Yiddish. Hence her first concern was that her lady parts were worn out and that her “sire” was decrepit. At 99, Abraham would have difficulty fulfilling his job as well. Hebrews even says “he was good as dead.” Even in her cynicism, Sarah’s faith shines bright, and she submits in faith to try once more to make a baby. She believed God.

If you have ever struggled with infertility or walked alongside of someone who has, I’m sure you understand the enormity of Sarah’s submissiveness to the promise of a baby. The fear of failure is overwhelming, yet the hope of success urges you on again and again until your optimism is exhausted. You are wrung out and your heart can only survive with callouses. You learn to quarantine your desire for a child… so you can stay alive. Sarah knew all this for 7 1/2 decades. She probably thought she was over it. Until God’s Word sparked her amusement and re-kindled the dreaded desire to try. just. one. more. time.

She believed God and submitted to Abraham again.

Submissive Sarah cooperated with God (and Abraham).

In the recorded stories of the Bible, God seeks human participation in God’s work in the world. I was recently reminded of this as I discussed baptism with my daughter. Baptism is a person’s action of faith. It is a submissive response that proves to witnesses that we’ve formed a heavenly alliance. My favorite prophet, Elisha, was the master at getting others involved in God’s work. Sure, we could look at this participatory involvement as a “test of faith.” But, I’ve never liked that perspective. Instead, I believe these are acts of grace designed to attract our affections through our cooperation with the Divine. And that is my personal definition of submission.

Sarah cooperated with Abraham to procure their tiny bundle of grace, who she named “Laughter (Isaac)” after the pivotal moment in her life when she faced her fears and hopes with action and courage.

The [women of old] submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. 1 Peter 3:5-6

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. Hebrews 11:11

Sarah believed God’s promise.

Sarah’s submissive reputation was the result of her faith in God’s Word that she would birth a royal family. She cooperated with God’s plan for her and joined Abraham to participate in the act of grace required to conceive a child. Against all the odds, Sarah birthed the promised child.

Women in the Text: Sarah’s Abductions

Women in the Text: Sarah’s Abductions

The capture of wives  in the ancient world

Within a generation after the fall of humanity in Eden, we read that Lamech “took” two women. He became the first polygamist, thereby rebelling against God’s decree that two people become one, and that the man should leave his family and cleave to his wife. Lamech “took” and brought them to himself. The violence of this act is indicated by the subsequent brawl, self-rationalized murder and implied threats to his women (Genesis 4:22-23). The need to guard his female conquests led to the invention of weapons by Lamech’s son, who learned to whet metal into sharp instruments. All the better to kill you with, my dear!

Brutal violence ensued and stealing women became necessary for each clan to procreate, since  men were taking more than their alotted one wife. Women quickly became a desired commodity, with the strongest men claiming monopolies through harems and multiple marriages.

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them,  the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took women – any they chose. Genesis 6:1-2

The sad prophecy of Genesis 3:16 is exemplified in those verses with the heinous actions of rape and bride theft prevalent throughout the ancient world, resulting in the separation of young women from the protection of their familial home and kin. This is the setting of ancient Canaan that Abram and Sarai embarked through.

The Sister Story

“We are brother and sister.” This was the public story Abraham and Sarah told for decades. The Bible does not tell us their motive for this, except through Abraham’s words we learn that he thought it was the way to save lives. In a discussion he had with Sarah upon entering the wild lands of Canaan, Abraham said:

“Sarai, this is a dangerous land where no one knows God. I’m afraid they will kill me so they can have you. Let’s tell everyone you are my sister only. It would be a mercy for you to call me your brother.” (Gen. 20:11-13)

And Sarah agreed with him.

Traditionally, theologians have guessed that this “lie” was a character flaw in Abraham and Sarah, but Dr. Gordon Hugenberger disagrees. (The following theory is based on his sermon to Park Street Church in Boston, found here.) Sarah and Abraham did not lie, but used the truth -Abraham and Sarah were siblings – to survive the culture of licentiousness surrounding their family in Canaan. They both wished to avoid inciting a violent situation in a land known for lawlessness.

Did Abraham use Sarah to protect himself at her expense?

Consider the ramifications of the traditional understanding that Abraham used this “lie” to protect himself at Sarah’s expense. By telling the world she was his sister, was he advertising she was available for marriage or something worse? Did he want her to consort with a pagan? Did he want to “sell” her off? No. Of course not. No normal husband wants his wife to sleep with another man. So, claiming she was a sister was not to put her on the marriage/sex market to save his own skin.

Did Abraham want to get rich off Sarah’s eligibility?

There is also the bride-price to consider. Some claim that Abraham wanted to get rich off the gifts given by the two kings for Sarah. But, this is a misunderstanding of ancient bridal customs. A maiden girl owned nothing. But when she was married, her husband’s family paid a bride-price which was hers to keep as insurance in case of widowhood. The bride-price was hers alone, often worn directly on her person. (The parable of the lost coin is about a woman losing a part of her bride-price.) So, if Pharaoh gave bridal gifts, they would go to Sarah, not Abraham. This cultural understanding erases a motive of greed on Abraham’s part.

Not only does a cultural understanding of bridal customs expunge Abraham’s motives, it actually validates the reason for The Sister Story. As a sister, she had no inheritance at Abraham’s death. It all went to a male heir. A man who stole her and forced marriage on her would get nothing. But, as a wife, she had a sizable fortune that did belong to her alone and would go to her husband upon her death.  As a wife, Sarah  was a titled –remember her name is her title – and loaded target. As a wife, Abraham also becomes a target for any unscrupulous, greedy bride thief, especially considering her advanced age.

The Sister Story acted as insurance for both of them. And it worked.

Except when it didn’t.

Sarah was abducted.

Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s house (Gen 12:15).

No marriage contract was negotiated between Pharaoh and Abraham. Sarah was kidnapped and forced to the will of this powerful man, and her “brother” was placated with gifts of honor to offset the shame of having a sister stolen out from under him. In a foreign land, at the mercy of Pharaoh, facing starvation for the hundreds of people under his care, Abraham’s hands were tied.

Pharaoh is to blame.

But God’s were not. God protected Sarah with a plague on Pharaoh’s house. She had God’s promise, and God proved faithful. God punished Pharaoh. God did not punish Sarah nor Abraham. This reveals God’s appraisal of the situation. Pharaoh was the one who sinned. Pharaoh reacted in anger when he learned the full truth, but neither did he punish or harm Abraham for his deception. He did not demand his gifts back. This indicates Pharaoh knew he was the one to blame. Of course he tries to shift  responsibility to The Sister Story with his words, but he does not require anything of Abraham or Sarah except to leave the country – and take your God with you! –  because they had done nothing wrong.

Why didn’t Abraham and Sarah learn from their mistakes the first time?

After the story failed to protect Sarah in Egypt, why did they continue to tell The Sister Story for another twenty years? Were they too stubborn to repent? Or does the fact that they continued to publish their sibling relationship indicate it was a successful cover? After all, Isaac and Rebekah used it as well throughout their life. Because The Sister Story acted as insurance for both of them. And it worked.

Except when it didn’t.

Sarah was abducted, again.

Abimalech …took Sarah (Gen 20:2).

Again, no marriage contract was negotiated with Abraham. Sarah was stolen, and a forced marriage was planned. God, once again, intervened to protect Sarah, not in spite of her lies, but because of the outrageous wickedness of this king toward those God promised to bless. Abimalech, like Pharaoh, responded to God’s curses and revelations with anger. His abundant, blame-shifting words tempt us to be distracted from the truth of the situation, but  Abimalech’s guilt is exposed by his extravagant gifts served to placate the anger of Sarah’s God.  If Abraham and Sarah had been to blame, the tale would have ended much differently. And again, we get no sense of God’s judgement on The Sister Story, but on the greedy, licentious behavior of Abimalech.

Sarah’s “beauty”

The Sister Story was used during Abraham and Sarah’s entire lives in Canaan. Why did it fail with Pharaoh and Abimalech? My English Bible says it was because of Sarah’s irresistible beauty.  I find that hard to believe. She was an old woman at 65 in Egypt and 89 with Abimalech. But, I also recognize it is hard to believe she birthed Isaac at age 90. God could supernaturally have kept her looking gorgeous in her old age. Nevertheless, I think it more likely that the Hebrew words describing her fair countenance should be interpreted less literally, indicating the attractiveness of her person as a whole, considering her status as a foreign princess and sister to the esteemed and important Abraham. Kings marry foreign women with the purpose of making alliances and trade agreements. Sarah was royalty with family connection to Ur, and the “sister” of a man with 350+ men under his command. She had the blessing of a most powerful new god. Most likely these were the reasons why Sarah was desired by these kings, who did not need wealth, but connections.  And they were used to taking what they wanted.

Sarah’s Abductions foreshadow Israel’s story

Generations after Sarah is abducted in Egypt, her grandchildren suffer a similar fate. Like Sarah, they were mistreated even though they had done nothing to deserve it. Again, “Pharaoh tried to kill the boys and keep the girls alive.” – Dr. Gordon Hugenberger. And again, God cursed those who cursed Sarah’s children.

 

 

Women in the Text: The Name of Sarah

Women in the Text: The Name of Sarah

Exploring the family descent from Eve is an uncommon way to work through the ancient stories of the Hebrew Scriptures since its pages are male-dominated. I believe this androcentrism is a result of the way the world works, not the way God works. Woman has always been a pivotal part of God’s plan, and we can see how God uses her in the pages of the Bible. My reasoning for following female lineage is based on Genesis 3:15. God prophesies that Eve, as yet unnamed and called woman, and Eve’s descendants will defeat the serpent with whom she is at war. The promised one is the seed of Woman.

After Eve, the next woman who is detailed in Scripture is Sarah. It was to Sarah and her children that God promised His unique blessing (Genesis 17:19).

Sarah’s Lineage

Sarai was the daughter of Terah, like Abram, but from a different mother. Having a different mother was a crucial point for her marriage to Abram (Gen 20:12), and this distinction gives us some hints about how ancient peoples figured lineage. Society frowned on intermarriage between siblings from the same womb, perhaps because family relations were determined through the mother, not the father. Think of the Egyptian line of royalty which intermarried sons and daughters of Pharoah. We may have a similar case with Terah’s family especially considering Sarai’s name, which I will address further down. Either way, Abram and Sarai left these pagan relations and idolatry behind as “God caused them to wander” to a new land and began to reveal God’s friendship to them (Josh 24:2; Gen 20:13).

Sarah’s Name From שרי to שרה

Sarah began her life as Sarai, a pagan in Ur. Her name is her title. Princess. Sar in Hebrew means prince, chief, ruler. A tiny vowel mark at the end of Sar feminizes the title. She was royal, a legendary beauty and wealthy. Her titled name is not a reflection of Abram’s status, but it is her own, most likely handed down by her mother.*

In Genesis 17:15, God tells Abraham to stop calling his wife Sarai, princess, and call her Sarah. The subtle shift – God changed the final letter- is significant. God alters Abram’s name in the exact way by adding a Hebrew ה (H) to the middle. Joel Hoffman, who wrote ln the Beginning: A short history of the Hebrew language, makes a convincing case for what he calls “the Magic H” which is how the Hebrews  set themselves apart from other people groups. He argues the Hebrews transformed written language by re-using three consonants as vowels, and the premier vowel “H” was used to identify all things Hebraic. God’s name is also transformed with the “H” from Elym, the common name for gods, to Elhym, the Hebrew “gods” characterized by being One. Replacing the final vowel in Sarah’s name changes the feminizing letter to one that marks her not as female, but as God’s. A Hebrew.

Sarah’s Nation

As God marks Sarah and Abraham with “the Magic H,” God applies their name-meanings to each other. What a unifying moment! God defined what their new names signified, and God also declared the new meaning as prophetic. The prophetic meaning of Abraham, meaning exalted father, is that he and Sarah will parent many nations (Genesis 17:5, 16). The prophetic meaning of Sarah, which we detailed above as ruler, is that she and Abraham will produce royalty  (Genesis 17:6, 16). It is through Abraham that children will come, but it is through Sarah that kings will come.*

Consider the source of the name of the great nation Israel? The promised nation carries the name of their matriarch Sarah. God renames Sarah’s grandson from Jacob to  I(sar)el, because he “sarah” with God (Genesis 32:24). The verb “sarah” is only used in this story. Hebrew is a very rich language and one word rarely has a single meaning, and this is the case with “sarah”. It carries the idea of struggling, wrestling, control, negotiation, and craft. From this it is easy to understand the interpretation of royalty, government and rule that in English we interpret as “Prince.” Israel means Prince of Elohim. Jacob, in struggling with God was not doing battle in enmity, but to guarantee an heaven-earth alliance as a form of statecraft – the role of a prince.

Sarah’s grandson Israel is the first ruler of her line, but he is not the last. Many more would rule over Israel, but only one more would carry her name. Sar Shalom -the prince of peace.

*Credit to Katharine Bushnell paragraph 277, God’s Word to Women.

 

 

ταλιθα – Darling Baby Girl!

ταλιθα – Darling Baby Girl!

For an assignment this week, I had to pull a Spiritual Insight from the passage I was assigned to translate. This is what is on my mind.

In Mark 5:21-24; 35-43, Jesus raises the daughter of Jarius from death. Consider, she is one of three people Jesus raised during his earthly ministry. I have a daughter who is twelve, like this girl was, and so her story jumped out of the page at me. Mark used five different words for this pre-teen young woman.

“My little daughter is at her end.”

  • θυγατριον thugatrion: diminutive of daughter; term of endearment; little daughter (BDAG 365) This is the term the father used toward his daughter when he begged for Jesus’ help.

“Your daughter died.”

  • θυγατηρthugater: in this case, literally daughter (BDAG 365) This is what those from Jarius’s house called her.

“The child did not die, but sleeps.”

  • παιδιονpaidion: generic for child, used of both genders (BDAG 609) This is what Jesus called her before waking her up.

Little girl, get up!”

  • ταλιθαtalitha: Aramaic for little girl (BDAG 811) This is how Jesus addressed the girl when he told her to get up. Perhaps Jesus chose this because this was the language she would understand.

“ταλιθα means darling baby girl.”

  • κορασιον – korasion: diminutive of κορη, which is literally girl, but can be pupil (eye) or “apple” as in apple of the eye (BDAG 445) This is from a Hebrew idiom found a few times in the Hebrew Bible. It comes from the image of the tiny person you can see reflected in the eye of a person you are standing near to. This term eventually evolves into our English term for schoolchild -pupil-from the Latin pupa. This is how Mark translates ταλιθα for his readers, and what he calls the girl after she came back to life.

Five different terms for the  12-year-old girl who received a second life at the touch of Jesus’ hand. To Jarius, she was his little girl. To the servants, she was the daughter of the master. Until Jesus met her personally, she was a generic child. But, when they met, he understood enough of her to know how to call her so that she could understand. He used her heart language to call her to life. After she was cured, she becomes the “baby darling girl.”

At once, they marveled with great amazement. But, he ordered them that no one should know this…

Jesus orders everyone who saw the miracle to silence. Why? Not for a show of humility, but to spare the child’s life. Consider the threat to Lazarus after Jesus raised him. He had a warrant on his head (John 12:10-11). We can hope the family understood and kept her story quiet to spare her life as witness to the threat that  Jesus’ immense power posed to the authorities. Theologians love to dissect the ministry of Jesus into a planned and purposeful strategy with every moment loaded with eternal meaning. In this story, I don’t see premeditation, but pathos. Jesus cares for little girls.

…and he said to give her (something) to eat.

A Woman Made Me Say It

Proverbs 31:1-9 is a collection of the King Lemuel’s favorite sayings. It reads like a catechism of simple truths. Three things I find interesting.

  1. The gender of the author.
  2. The meaning of chayil.
  3. The emphasis on compassion and mediation, namely the use of pain killers.
The Golden Book Encyclopedia, Book 10. 1959. 933.

Who taught the King?

His mother, a woman. Verse 1 says:

The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance (KJV – prophecy) his mother taught him.

Jewish legend teaches that King Lemuel is Solomon. If this is true, then Bathsheeba is the author of this portion of Scripture. Regardless of the woman’s identity, there is no doubt its author-ity is female. And the student is royal. Since none of us are destined to rule, we cannot take the instruction literally, but we can pull principles for the commoner.

Don’t waste your chayil. Find more.

Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings. (KJV)

The word translated strength is chayil. The same word used 7 verses later to describe the type of woman the king should find: A woman of chayil.  It can mean power or might in a warlike setting. It is more often translated as army than any other word, and it carries the sense of courage. It also means wealth and the power of material substance. And some translations replace “strength” in this verse with “wealth.”

Theologians interpret this verse as instruction in chastity, and I think that is a part, but it may miss the entire intent. No where else is chayil a reference to sexual prowess. It is a power term. A strength proven in battle – or with gold. Could Lemuel’s mother be warning him against strong-arming the women in his life? Or more likely, that this type of strength should have no place in his most intimate relationships? Or, if the intent of chayil is monetary power, that women should not be obtained with it?

If you believe the author is the same for the last part of the chapter (which is doubted by many translators due to the transition of style), the monetary sense goes nicely with verses 10-11. Connected together, we have a witty play on words.

Verse 3: Give not your chayil to women…

Verse 10: Find a woman of chayil.

The context of verse 10 is wealth. She is worth far more than rubies.  Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. Lemuel’s mother is concerned with what her son does with his chayil. Not only should he not give it away needlessly, he should obtain more of it by finding a wife with chayil to add to his.

Just because its not for you, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let another have it.

 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,

It is not for kings to drink wine,

Nor for princes intoxicating drink;

Is Lemuel’s mother teaching total abstinence from alcohol or temperence? The word used for “drink” can imply either drinking or drunkeness. And for those who have no experience with alcohol…there is a difference. One glass of wine does not a drunk make. I believe her meaning is evident in the following verses when she describes the act of the miserable forgetting their misery. She is speaking of drinking with the intent to lose your rational mind.

Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,    and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty    and remember their misery no more.

But that is splitting hairs. The intent of her instruction is clear: a king can never forget he is Justice. Why should he do anything to endanger his ability to rule fairly?  But that does not mean there is no place for alcohol in his kingdom rule. She instructs him to give alcohol to dull the pain of the dying and the bitter-hearted. Not just “let them have it,” but GIVE it to them.

In the mind of this mother, there is a place for pain-killers. It is a compassionate act to allow the hurting a brief reprieve of forgetfulness.

Speak Up!

His mother wraps the proverb with an appeal to kingly mediation. And who needs the mediation of the king? Those sentenced to die, those who have no voice, and those without money to obtain personal justice. The same folks who plead the ear of King Jesus.

Before the law, we are condemned, silenced and bankrupt. May He ever plead our case.