Do women long to be rescued?
I may have done a Fixed-it-for-you-too-far last night on social media, critiquing John Eldredge for calling women’s souls “a bloody mess” in the book Captivating, that he co-authored with his wife Stasi.
While most people agreed with me, there were far more than normal speaking up and saying that the book was actually really good, and I was taking it out of context.
I do have some concerns about how the book handled issues of abuse and objectification, and I may write more about that in the future (I’m not promising anything!). But I understand that many women were ministered to by the idea that God is captivated by them, and that God loves and adores them. If that’s your story, I’m really glad.
I would like to explore one aspect of the Eldredge’s philosophy in their books today, though, and just ask if it’s actually in the Bible.
I would like to ask: Is it a feminine trait to want and need to be rescued?
This is a large part of what Wild at Heart and Captivating are based on–that part of what makes us “feminine”, and part of the feminine soul, is this desire to Be the Beauty that attracts and arouses an Adam who will rescue (even though we ourselves can be warriors). And men want to do that rescuing, and that is an essential part of maleness–to want to rescue women.
I’d like to explore this a bit.
First, do women long to be rescued, or do women long for safety?
I think that many women do long for safety and to be secure, because women live in a much more dangerous world than men do. Sexual violence affects us more than it does men, and is always at the back of our minds. Women walk through life with a rape prevention strategy, thinking about dark alleys when walking home, checking the back seat of the car, scanning for threats. Life is more dangerous for women.
For many of us, abandonment, abuse, and assault by men has been a real threat and the cause of real hurt, and many of us would just like it to stop.
That longing inside of us to be safe and protected from the evil that is out there–is that necessarily a feminine trait given by God? Or is it a natural result of the sin and danger in the world?
Were women created to be the ones who are rescued?
One can make a strong case that the biblical story of creation actually has Adam who needed to be rescued by Eve. God created Eve as an ezer kenegdo, or a helper suitable and comparable to him. There is no insinuation of subordination in the language used to describe Eve, but instead an insinuation of military strength.
The word “ezer” that is ascribed to Eve was also ascribed to God numerous times in the Psalms–and often with a military connotation, like “The Lord is my help in times of trouble.”, he is our help and our shield.
But the bigger question: What story does the Bible tell about women desiring to be rescued?
If it’s part of the essence of femininity to desire to attract Adam and to captivate him so that he can rescue us, then we should see this throughout Scripture. This should be the story that Scripture tells us about the genders.
If it’s part of the essence of masculinity to rescue the Beauty, then we should also see this throughout Scripture–that men are praised when they rescue.
But when we look at the actual stories in the Bible, that is not what we see. This won’t be a comprehensive survey, because I’m doing this off the top of my head at 7:15 am, but let’s take a look at women who rescued Israel (or large numbers of others); women who rescued their families; and women who rescued themselves.
Biblical Women who rescued Israel
- Rahab rescued her family when she decided to help the Israelites, even though it put her in grave danger. She ended up helping the Israelites defeat the city of Jericho, and is included in the genealogy of Jesus.
- Shifrah and Puah were the Egyptian midwives who refused to act on Pharaoh’s order to kill all the male babies who were born, at great risk to themselves. In fact, the opening chapters of Exodus have good men strangely absent. It’s entirely the story of women working to rescue Israel on their own–the midwives; Moses’ mother; Moses’ sister Miriam; Pharaoh’s daughter.
- Esther approached the king at great danger to herself and made a case to save the people of Israel.
- Deborah judged Israel and ruled Israel and oversaw a great military defeat of their enemies.
- Jael tricked Sisera, the king of the enemy army, and killed him with a tent peg, freeing Israel.
- Abigail stood up to David in order to protect her household and her servants, and save them from being killed because of the foolhardiness of her husband.
- The wise woman of Sheba confronted Joab before he attacked the city, negotiated with him, and saved the city, while stopping from Joab from doing something awful and bringing guilt upon himself.
- The widow of Zarephath shared her last meal with Elijah, and kept the prophet alive.
- Naaman’s slave girl who told him about the prophet and how to be healed–and set in motion events that helped Israel.
And, as a commenter noted, Mary saved all of humanity by agreeing to bear Jesus, even when there was no guarantee Joseph would stand by her!
Biblical Women who rescued their husbands and families
- Sarah lied for Abraham and protected him from being killed by foreign kings by saying that she was his sister, not his wife. She took the risk on herself to save her husband.
- Zipporah stood up to Moses and circumcised him and their sons to prevent God’s wrath.
- Rebecca understood God’s purposes for her family better than her husband, and so worked things out so that Jacob would be the one to get the blessing (though I don’t think this is a model of a good marriage, but her husband didn’t seem to hear from God).
- Pontius Pilate’s wife tried to warn him about what he was doing with Jesus, but he ignored her.
Biblical Women who stood up for themselves and rescued themselves
- Tamar deliberately tricked Judah into a compromising position so that he would do what was right by her. She stood up for what she was rightfully owed, and she was honoured by becoming in the lineage of Jesus.
- Bathsheba stood up to her husband to insist that David do right by her son.
- Ruth took initiative with Boaz to ensure her future and safety, as well as that of Naomi’s, and Naomi encouraged her to do so.
- The five daughters of Zelophehad stood up in Israel and demanded inheritance laws be changed so that they could inherit land as well.
- Vashti refused to strip and dance in front of multitudes of drunken, dangerous men, even at the cost of her status (and even life).
- Mary of Bethany went against custom and sat at Jesus’ feet to learn, even when others felt she was overstepping her role as a woman.
- The woman who was bleeding approached Jesus and touched him, though this wouldn’t have been acceptable.
In fact, when I think of biblical women, I can think of very few who are praised and remembered for doing typically feminine roles.
Rather, when I think of actual biblical women, I think of women who are praised over and over again for going against what are typical feminine roles. Actual women in the Bible are remembered for their strength and their bravery and their initiative. In fact, they are even punished for going along with their husbands when they shouldn’t have (like Sapphira).
It was women who remained at the cross and who approached the tomb, and didn’t desert Jesus. It is women who, when Paul greets a whole host of people in Romans 16, are more likely to be mentioned because of their work for the kingdom. It is women who were appointed to be the first apostles–sent to tell the men that Jesus was risen. We remember Priscilla for teaching Apollos; Lydia for leading the first church in Europe; Mary for bravely accepting the Lord’s will for her, even though it meant public ostracism and abandonment.
This is one of the big reasons I have a problem with books that focus on gender essentialism and roles–that women do this and men do this, or God made women to be like this and men to be like that. We simply don’t see it in the characters of the Bible who are remembered for all time.
Yes, you can point to verses like 1 Peter 3:4 that praise a “gentle and quiet spirit” in women, but this is not unique to being feminine. Men are also told to be gentle (1 Peter 3:14-16, just a few verses after women are addressed; 1 Timothy 6:11-12; Ephesians 4:1-3). And men are told to be quiet and speak slowly as well! These are not uniquely feminine traits.
But often the verses that we pick out of the Bible to describe the “ideal woman” and “the essence of femininity” do not really match the women who appear on the Bible’s pages.
I believe that many women do long to be rescued–to be safe.
I’m one of those women. That is not a bad thing. To know that God sees me and wants to rescue me–that is inspiring.
But I don’t think this desire is the essence of femininity, and I don’t think that the Bible points to this. Authors may point to it, and it may resonate with many, and many may even find it helpful. But let’s be careful that we don’t make this into a bigger thing than it is. Let’s look at the women whom Scripture does praise, and see how they cover a huge range of roles, personalities, stations in life, actions, and more.
And let’s be careful that we don’t ascribe more to the “essence of femininity” than the Bible does.
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Does that make sense? And can you help add to my list? What other biblical women rescued Israel? Rescued their families? Or stood up for themselves? Let’s talk in the comments!