Selected Sunday Scriptures- #17

For today’s post I will be returning to the Book of Sirach. Like last week’s post, this will deal with marriage and worthy traits in women. The first selection happens to be two verses from a section on children:

A sensible daughter obtains a husband of her own,
but one who acts shamefully is a grief to her father.
An impudent daughter disgraces father and husband,
and is despised by both.

(Sirach 22:4-5)

Addressing the last verse first, a woman who cannot control herself or show respect where it is due insults both her father and her husband. The insult to the father is because it gives every semblance that he cannot raise his children properly, which in a healthy society is a grave insult indeed. For the husband, it is insulting because it makes him seem weak and ineffectual as a man leading his family.

The first verse, however, is the one that matters most in my (not so humble) opinion. Because, as is clear, it shoots down the idea that women aren’t to be active agents in seeking marriage. As I mentioned in the previous post in this series, sensible (or sound judgment) is one of the traits most frequently ascribed to women who would make (or are) good wives. And what does a woman with this worthy trait do? She goes and obtains a husband for herself. Of course, there aren’t any women in the Bible who do that, right? I mean, we all know that God is just going to deliver a good husband right into the arms of a Daughter of the King’s Christian woman.

I think that the compare and contrast here is important. On the one hand is a sensible, wise daughter who takes the steps necessary to get married. On the other hand, you have daughters who act shamefully (as in, sleep around) who cause nothing but grief for their parents. Christian women have a choice: they can be sensible and wise, and therefor seek out a husband, or they can act shamelessly and disgrace their family, or they can seek a religious life of celibacy. Well, inaction is a choice as well, but that carries with it the sin of Sloth, and so should be avoided as well.

This brings me to the second selection for today. I’m going to quote it in full, and then tackle it piece by piece.

26 A woman will accept any man as a husband,
but one girl is preferable to another.
27 A woman’s beauty lights up a man’s face,
and there is nothing he desires more.
28 If kindness and humility mark her speech,
her husband is more fortunate than other men.
29 He who acquires a wife gets his best possession,
a helper fit for him and a pillar of support.
30 Where there is no fence, the property will be plundered;
and where there is no wife, a man will become a fugitive and a wanderer.
31 For who will trust a nimble robber
that skips from city to city?
So who will trust a man that has no nest,
but lodges wherever night overtakes him?

(Sirach 36:26:30)

26 A woman will accept any man as a husband,
but one girl is preferable to another.

This is an interesting verse. I suspect that the first part is true in so far as that if a woman adopts a proper submissive and respectful attitude towards her husband then any man can satisfy her needs and expectations. As for men, the second part is certainly true. In fact, when it comes to wives, wise men tend to be very discerning and discriminating. I will go into this a bit more in my next post, hopefully coming out Monday or Tuesday.

27 A woman’s beauty lights up a man’s face,
and there is nothing he desires more.

This verse might not sit well with certain folks, but there is a stark truth to it. A woman’s beauty has an effect on a man that is like no other. It is difficult to describe just how profound an effect I’m talking about here, and frankly, I don’t know if it is something that woman can fully understand, even. Let me simply say that the attentions of a beautiful woman impart in a man a feeling of power and completeness that compares to little else. And that is just attentions- affection from a beautiful woman elevates that feeling even further.

Fortunately, the true depth of this verse applies to more than just beautiful women. Every wife can benefit from the wisdom here by understanding that her husband is a physical and visual creature. So she should make every effort to keep up her appearances and take care of herself. Make the best of what you have, in other words. Even though they may not strictly say it, men appreciate it when their woman takes care of herself like that, and it will inspire them to even greater levels of affection and love.

28 If kindness and humility mark her speech,
her husband is more fortunate than other men.

A soothing voice that calms, rather than agitates, is easily worth its weight in gold. I don’t think most women appreciate just how much a difference their voice can make. If a woman is of gentle speech, her husband can truly relax and allow himself to fully escape from the horrors of the world around him.

29 He who acquires a wife gets his best possession,
a helper fit for him and a pillar of support.

This bit is directed towards men. To those already married, it reminds them that their wife is the most important thing in their life besides the Lord. It helps them recall that a wife is there to help him and support him like nothing else can, and that he shouldn’t treat her like just another servant, or as a trophy to be shown off. For unmarried men, it serves to educate them that they shouldn’t waste their strength and their money on harlots. Instead they seek out a wife, who will add value to their lives and do more than provide momentary pleasure, at a price that is difficult to fully perceive.

30 Where there is no fence, the property will be plundered;
and where there is no wife, a man will become a fugitive and a wanderer.
31 For who will trust a nimble robber
that skips from city to city?
So who will trust a man that has no nest,
but lodges wherever night overtakes him?

This is an interesting pair of verses, one that I think is somewhat clearer with the RSV translation (I normally use RSV rather than NRSV, but in a couple of books, like Tobit and Sirach, the NSRV translations had better access to source materials and are usually clearer in their statements):

25 Where there is no fence, the property will be plundered;
and where there is no wife, a man will wander about and sigh.
26 For who will trust a nimble robber
that skips from city to city?
So who will trust a man that has no home,
and lodges wherever night finds him?

I suspect that most of my readers will have heard of the phrase “Home is where the Heart is” before. That, I think, is the purpose behind these two verses. A man without a wife doesn’t really have a home, because his heart has no rest. That part of him which registers loneliness will keep him in a constant state of agitation and unease. Even though he may stay in one place, his heart is forever wandering about, seeking the companion that was created so that he wouldn’t be alone. For all that it has been abused, the notion that a man with a wife is like a truck with a load rings with some truth. Ben Sira and others understood that men need an anchor in order to firm them up and help them develop the sense of responsibility that would make them valuable members of the community. Partly this comes about because such men have a stake in the community’s success, whereas a man who lodges where he will doesn’t care what happens to the world around him.

Having a large number of unmarried men in a society is a recipe for social distress. At best such men have little incentive to defend the stability of society, and at worse they will seek its downfall. So far the evidence that a “marriage strike” is taking place or starting to occur is weak, and the US had best hope that it continues to stay that way. If enough men decide that marriage simply isn’t worth it, or cannot find a woman whom they feel is worthy to marry, then expect nothing but disaster to result. Our system cannot withstand a large percentage of men becoming wanderers, whether literal or figurative. The poetic justice of it all will be the fact that those who have the most to lose are also those who are in large part the most responsible for its collapse. But sadly, not all; the innocent will suffer, as they invariably do, when everything falls apart.

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7 Comments

Filed under Selected Sunday Scriptures

7 responses to “Selected Sunday Scriptures- #17

  1. mdavid

    Donal, That part of him which registers loneliness will keep him in a constant state of agitation and unease. Even though he may stay in one place, his heart is forever wandering about, seeking the companion that was created so that he wouldn’t be alone. For all that it has been abused, the notion that a man with a wife is like a truck with a load rings with some truth.

    One thing: Sirach was written in and for an era that held traditional male/female relationships. Men wouldn’t even talk to women strangers in public without raising eyebrows (woman at the well, etc.). His discussion should be read in this context, not that of America circa 2014, which places such emphasis on “soulmate” relationships, etc. The main part of “man not being alone” was making his clothing and cooking his food, without which he could not survive.

    A lot of loneliness men and women experience today is due to the breakdown of society rather than not finding mates. Marriage exists within a community that supports and defines the boundary of marriage, and this community no longer exists outside of very traditional cultures (Amish, traditional Mormons or Catholics). The only real Christian marriage today is the couple who mentally withdraws from society and generally extended family, and this creates loneliness as well. In truth, life is hard, and this is a burden that our culture has and cannot be avoided, much like hunger is a fact of life for some of the world.

  2. Donal, these verses are so interesting. I don’t know if you know this, but most Protestant Bibles do not include the Sirach. In fact, I have never even read this book and was only vaguely aware of its existence before I saw you write about it. So I’m really intrigued by what you’ve highlighted here.

    This in particular caught my eye:
    He who acquires a wife gets his best possession,
    a helper fit for him and a pillar of support.
    30 Where there is no fence, the property will be plundered;
    and where there is no wife, a man will become a fugitive and a wanderer.

    I’ve been contemplating what marriage is a lot lately. So much of what I read really seems to miss the point of what marriage really is for.

    The Bible tells us that God sets the lonely in families. He also tells us, women in particular, to be helpers.

    So that’s the point of marriage: family formation. And the purpose of forming a family is to give one another aid, comfort, and support while also glorifying God. Husbands and wives are to be working together to build something that endures – a family. Without that to work for, most people (male and female) will tend to flounder, unless they have some other very specific tasks that God has set before them.

  3. Sunshine,

    I was aware that most Protestant Bibles didn’t include Sirach. When I first started to quote from it, many weeks ago, I thought that I noted that it wasn’t in most Protestant Bibles, but haven’t mentioned it since. In fact, one of the reasons why I was drawn to read it was because I have heard so little about it outside of the occasional reading in Church. Protestants are missing out on a great deal with its absence, as I believe it encapsulates the best of Proverbs and then expands and refines it even further.

    Part of the reason why I am quoting so extensively from Sirach is because I have found it to be truly enlightening, and I want to share that with my readers.

    Yes, that section caught my eye as well. And I agree with your take: marriage is to help us form families, so that we might aid, comfort and support one another, for the purpose of glorifying God. The word household is a good substitute for family here, as it connotes something greater- the whole being more than the sum of its parts, if you will. Catholics refer to marriage as a vocation, a job that is also a divine calling. We all of us need to have a purpose, it is part of our nature as human beings. Without an anchor in our lives we drift. For most that is to be found in marriage. The life of a religious is another noble calling, but not one for the vast majority of people.

  4. mdavid

    Donal, Without an anchor in our lives we drift. For most that is to be found in marriage. The life of a religious is another noble calling, but not one for the vast majority of people.

    I think one thing missing from your (& SSMs) assessment is the extended family. Extended family was the norm in biblical times; they wouldn’t recognize the 1950’s family nor the family of today. Too isolated and individualistic. Even the Greek word adelphoi of the NT can mean blood brother or cousin or just relation; the NT folk didn’t feel a need to distinguish because in practical living it didn’t matter.

    My point: not every person needs to marry using the extended family model in order to gain the to gain the close relationships often found within marriage and children.

  5. I was aware that most Protestant Bibles didn’t include Sirach. When I first started to quote from it, many weeks ago, I thought that I noted that it wasn’t in most Protestant Bibles, but haven’t mentioned it since.

    Ah, I’d forgotten that you’d mentioned that!

    @ mdavid
    I agree that living alone with our nuclear families is mostly an anomaly in human history (not so much in American history though). But it is important to remember that Adam and Eve were the first family, and that marriage is the way new family units are formed. The smallest unit of the family is the married couple. So I’m pretty sure they’d recognize the 1950s family as a family. They wouldn’t recognize what we have now, though, with lots of single mothers and same-sex couples and cohabiting couples, that’s for sure! But still, your point is well taken, that some people could be the beloved bachelor uncles and maiden aunts if our nuclear families were embedded in a kin network of extended family living in proximity to one another.

  6. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2014/03/19 | Free Northerner

  7. mdavid

    SSM, Adam and Eve were the first family, and that marriage is the way new family units are formed. The smallest unit of the family is the married couple.

    Ha, that they “wouldn’t recognize” the 1950′s family was, of course, hyperbole. To reply in kind (warning, humor required): dammit, it still wouldn’t have been a normal marriage by today’s standards since a) Adam have to give up a rib, b) they talked directly with God and the devil, and c) Adam romanced Eve under the lights of the Firmament :-), which no man can top today since the dang firmament doesn’t even exist anymore.

    But I agree there are indeed creation story marriage parallels that fit modern times like a glove: A) Eve was easily seduced, B) she dressed like a slut, and C) and was not haaapy even with the perfect life of leisure…

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