|THE FEAR OF WOMEN
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 12, 2002
Please turn with me to Proverbs 31. There’s a story of a teacher who gave her second grade class a lesson on the magnet and what it does - demonstrating how magnets pick up metal objects. The next day in a written test, the teacher included this question, “My full name has six letters. The first one is M. I pick up things. What am I?” When the test papers were turned in almost 50% of the class answered the question with the word Mother.
This morning - coming to Proverbs 31 - we want to consider motherhood - wives - and especially what it means to be a woman of God. Look with me at Proverbs 31 - starting at verse 10 - and consider with me this description of the perfect wife.
Proverbs 31:10: An excellent wife, who can find? - excellent here means ability - character - strength. An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. She is her husbands partner. There’s a trust between them. Like Adam and Eve before sin got into their relationship. She looks for wool and flax and works with her hands in delight. She is like merchant ships; she brings her food to her household and portions to her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard. In other words - she’s managing her household. And yet she’s got a full time business going on the side. She’s into commodities. Maybe a seat on the Jerusalem stock exchange. She’s a shrewd wheeler and dealer.
Verse 17: She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She's got time for physical fitness. She’s into aerobics. She senses that her gain is good; her lamp does not go out at night. She loves work - 24/7 she’s working. She stretches out her hands to the distaff - the straight rod on a spinning wheel - and her hands grasp the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy. She helps the poor and needy - not just by occupying a seat on a committee. But, she’s making things. She’s one of those rare behind the scenes people who you can count on to actually do the work.
Verse 21: She is not afraid of the snow for her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple - quality clothing. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. He’s known because of what she does. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies belts to the tradesmen. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. She laughs at what’s coming because she’s got it all under control. She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She’s wise. She speaks kindly as she teaches. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. The day ends and she can’t wait to get up and do it again.
This passage - the whole book of Proverbs - was written for young men. It’s an instruction manual for life. Proverbs 31 is the chapter that deals with what to look for in a wife. Reading this section in Hebrew - the first letter of each of the 22 verses in this section spells out the Hebrew alphabet. It’s a tool for memorization. We can just see Hebrew young men walking around Jerusalem - looking at the young girls - and reciting these verses. This is what a Godly woman looks like. This is the kind of wife I want.
I’ve hesitated to share from this passage because I find it very intimidating. As man, to stand up here and say, “Now ladies, this is what you’re suppose to be like.” This list may be the ideal. But - in reality - who can live like this?
Jill Briscoe, in a book called Queen of Hearts, writing about this passage of Proverbs, wrote this: The Proverbs 31 woman has long stood as the Statue of Liberty at the harbor of the City of Womanhood, welcoming all who flee from being anything less than perfect. But, what if I have runs in my stockings; consistently lose one of my husband’s socks in the washing machine; and regularly misplace my car in the supermarket parking lot? Is there any hope for me if I dream of writing a book about my small children called, From Here To Insanity? And if I’m shaped like a pillow instead of a post?
How are woman suppose to juggle family, work, kids, schedules, putting up with their husbands, etc. etc. and still have time for themselves and even their own personal time with God? How do you all keep all those balls up in the air? What happens if just one falls? There’s fear involved in trying to be like this excellent wife.
Let’s go on. Join me at verse 28. These next 4 verses are what makes this all happen. Starting at verse 28: Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying, “Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.”
This is the summary. All the blessing and praise of her family for all of the above. Now, verse 30, here’s the source of that praise: Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Underline that. We’ll come back to it. Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. What this woman does testifies of her. She’s not known just as an appendage of her husband. She is a real woman who is valued for who she is.
The whole basis of this is in verse 30: A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Please hear this. So many women have this backwards. They’re trying to do all these things - to somehow be this excellent wife - this Godly woman by doing this list - and they can’t. Its impossible. Maybe you’ve tried or you’re trying. So many woman end up going along through life burdened - feeling like they’re failing. And men - we can add to that burden by expecting the impossible. But, it’s the pursuit of Godliness - the fear of the Lord - as we pursue Godliness that God enables us and leads us to accomplish the things that He has called us to do. To become women of God - valued for who you are.
Its crucial that we understand what it means to “fear the Lord.”
During his years as premier - absolute ruler - of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin. I’ve read that once, as Khrushchev was censuring Stalin - tearing him apart - in a public meeting - Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. “You were one of Stalin’s colleagues. Why didn’t you stop him?”
“Who said that?” roared Khrushchev. An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, “Now you know why.”
That’s fear. But not the “fear of the Lord.” The fear of the Lord is not trembling and cowering before God. Fearing God means to respect Him - an honor and respect for God that comes from an intimate personal knowledge of who God is.
Do you remember Elijah - high up on Mount Carmel - overlooking the coast of Israel and Lebanon? God calling His people to repentance. 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah. The two altars - one for Baal and one for God? The contest to prove which God was sovereign.
The prophets of Baal build their altar - put on their sacrificial bulls - and then spend the better part of the day dancing around - tearing their clothes - cutting themselves - screaming and calling out to Baal - the fire god - to send down fire and light the altar. And, nothing happens.
Then Elijah has God’s altar drenched with water - not once - but three times - then filling a trench around the altar with water - so that there was no known way any human could have lit that fire. Then without screaming, or dancing, or cutting himself, Elijah prays to the one and only living God and asks for God to reveal Himself to His people that they would understand who He is and return to Him. And God’s fire falls from heaven - consumes the burnt offering - consumes the wood - melts the stones of the altar and the earth around it - evaporates the water in the trench - and when God is done, there’s nothing left. (1 Kings 18:20-40)
To “fear the Lord” we need to see that God is almighty - sovereign - worthy of our respect - our awe - our worship.
Isaiah is taken in a vision to the throne room of God. He sees the Lord sitting on His throne - high and exalted. God’s presence and authority fills the throne room. Angels fly about - in worship calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of the legions of heaven. The whole earth testifies of who He is.” As they call out the very foundations of the throne room shake by the awesome power of the words.
Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined. I’m a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
An angel takes a burning coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips - a sign of purification. The angel tells Isaiah, “Your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:1-7)
Holy is our God. Sinful are we. Worthy of His wrath and condemnation. But, by His grace - He offers salvation to us - a relationship with Him. To “fear the Lord” is to submit our lives to the loving God who is to be honored and obeyed.
Proverbs 1:7 tells us: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Proverbs 15:33 says, “The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom.”
Today we have more knowledge at our finger tips than ever before in history. Children today have more knowledge in their heads by the age of 5 than we had by the time we turned 18. The problem is they don’t know what do with that knowledge.
There’s a story about a man who was driving down the highway and he had a flat tire. So he pulled over to the side of the road and as it happened he was parked in front of an insane asylum. As this man was changing his tire one of the men from the asylum was standing behind the fence watching what was going on. He didn’t say anything. He just stood there and watched.
The man - who was mechanically inclined and this wasn’t the first tire he’d ever changed - the man took the wheel off the car and placed the lug nuts he’d taken off onto the hub cap. As he put the new tire on he accidentally hit the hub cap and the nuts rolled into the sewer where he couldn’t get to them. The man stood there for a while scratching his head and wondering what to do.
The man who was behind the fence who had been watching him said, “Why don’t you take a nut off of each of the other wheels and put them on that wheel? You could drive safely to the garage and then buy nuts so you can fix your wheel.”
The man looked at him in amazement. He asked, “Why didn’t I think of that? You’re in an asylum and I’m out here.”
The man behind the fence said, “I may be crazy. But, I’m not stupid.”
The “fear of the Lord” shapes our awareness - our knowledge of God and gives us understanding of our accountability to God. Wisdom is what we do with that knowledge. Godly wisdom takes knowledge of who we are before God and applies it practically to the day to day circumstances of our lives.
In thinking through all this and looking to practically apply “the fear of the Lord” to how we can live our lives - to Godly womanhood - I’d like to invite you to turn with me to 1 Samuel 1 - and to look with me at a moment from the life of Hannah.
Hannah was one of two wives of Elkanah - a polygamist relationship - a relationship far from God’s ideal - filled with misery and unhappiness. Hannah was burdened with a very difficult relationship with the “other” wife - Peninnah. Peninnah - jealous because Elkanah loved Hannah more - found every opportunity to taunt Hannah - to ridicule her - to provoke her - to humiliate her.
Adding to this sorrow - Hannah - in all the years that she had been married to Elkanah - she had yet to bear one child - let alone a male child. For many women - unable to have children - Mother’s Day is emotional torture. Imagine Hannah - in a society where barrenness was seen as a curse of God - how she struggled - isolated - despised - wounded. The Bible says that - because of the weight of her circumstances - Hannah was unable to eat and she wept bitterly from the depths of her heart.
Yet, Hannah was a Godly woman. When Hannah cried out - she cried out to God. Look with me at 1 Samuel 1:10 - listen to how this Godly woman - in the midst of her circumstances - expresses her “fear of the Lord.”
1 Samuel 1:10: She - Hannah - greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. Ever been there? She made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts - Lord of the armies of Heaven - Sovereign - Almighty - God - who You are - who I am before you - the fear of the Lord - if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.” Give me a son and I will return him to you.
Fearing God - knowing Him - His sovereignty and control of all things - Hannah knew that her barrenness was of God. So she’s looking for a way to honor God and yet bring resolution to her situation. She knows - she can’t do this on her own. She’s not even going to try. But, she is going to lay out her life and her future before God and let Him give the answer - leading her in His way and His time. Her fear of God - knowledge of Him - is shaping her request - giving wisdom to her actions.
We know that Hannah conceived - gave birth to a son - Samuel the great prophet of God. At 3 years of age - Hannah took Samuel to Eli - the High Priest in the house of Lord - and gave Samuel to Him. 1 Samuel 1:27 - Hannah tells Eli: “For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him. So, I have also dedicated him to the Lord.” And, she left Samuel - her only male child - the miracle that she had nurtured and loved for 3 years - she left him there in hands of the sovereign God - and she went home. An example to us of strength and character that comes from God - Godly motherhood - an excellent wife.
What issue weighs heavy on your heart today? What list of endless responsibilities? Expectations? Burdens? What churns within you? Where are you trying to do it on your own - being the Godly woman - the excellent wife - the loving mother? Its the pursuit of Godliness - the intimacy of a deepening relationship with Him - learning to honor Him first with our lives and the decisions we make - through that “fear” - God enables us and leads us to accomplish the things that He has called us to do.