I went looking for masculinity in the Bible & this is what I found.

There has been a lot of discussion of late among the circles that I am involved in about what “Biblical Masculinity” is. We like things to be clearly defined, particularly areas that define how we are supposed to live. The assumption is often along the lines of “God has a plan for the way we are to live so if we can just figure out that plan then it will be easy for us to live it.” To that end, I went to the Bible to try and find out what it means to live as a man. Note that in this case I am not using the universal “man” to denote all humans but rather males specifically. Remember also that Masculinity is in its most basic sense the “possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men” (OED) or “the approved way of being an adult male in any given society” (Gilmore, 1990).

In my search, I found myself in 2 Samuel 3, which is chock full of masculinity. Let’s see if we can extract a masculinity for us to emulate as faithful men of God. We also need to be reminded that the bible sometimes prescribes actions (stuff we are required to do) but more often describes actions (stuff other people did).

The man who fathers six children with six different women. Wait. What? Not the first example of biblical masculinity that I thought I would encounter. It actually flies in the face of contemporary Christian masculinity that champions fatherhood in the context of the nuclear family. What is interesting is that Absalom and Amnon have issues, that David is unwilling to work on, and as a result Absalom will eventually seek David’s throne and his life. Even though he fathered many children (and there are more besides these ones here), he clearly wasn’t always a very good father. Is a biblical man one who imitates David in this way?

The “Godless Fool who was so self-centred that his disrespect for others led to his own death (and whose wife was more honourable than he). We read about Nabal, whose name means Godless Fool, in 1 Samuel 25, where he is described as “harsh and mean,” and such “a worthless man that it’s useless to talk to him.” The reason he appears here is because David eventually married Nabal’s wife, Abigail, and it’s her son, Chileab, who is one of the six kids mentioned above. Is a biblical man a godless fool?

The man who faithfully serves his master’s family even in the face of open warfare. Abner was a good guy. Even though he appears on the wrong side of history, given that he supported Saul over David for the kingship, the Bible is very clear that he is honourable. And this honour was in the face of hand to hand combat. It’s quite the thing to face your enemy, grab him by the head, and stick your sword into his side — all while he is doing the same thing to you. If it was me I would probably run. What’s also interesting is that Abner remains loyal to Saul’s family even though he knows God has replaced him with David! That’s pretty strong resolve, isn’t it? Is a biblical man one who is a faithful servant?

The man who acts to defend his honour. Abner’s loyalty and faithfulness is then besmirched by Ishbosheth who falsely accuses him of raping one of Saul’s wives. We really have no context for this claim, other than what we read in this text, but Abner’s response is not unsurprising in someone falsely accused in this way. Is a biblical man one who defends his honour?

The man who wins his wife with 100 Philistine foreskins. If you are interested in this story, take a quick look at 1 Samuel 18, where we read that David doubled the required amount to 200, but that he also had help. What is involved in taking 200 Philistine foreskins? Killing 200 Philistines first because I can’t conceive of a situation where these would be willing turned over. Would you agree to those terms? How would that conversation go?

David: “Hey, bro, can you do me a solid and give me your foreskin so I can use it to get a wife?”

Random Philistine: “Over my dead body.”

David: “Okidoki.”

So, 100 Philistine foreskins = 100 dead Philistines. Obviously, winning a wife in this way requires a man capable to acquiring 100 foreskins. Is a biblical man someone capable of taking 100 foreskins? Is a biblical man someone who demands his wife back after she is already married to another?

The man who follows his wife down the road weeping because she is being taken back to her first husband. Paltiel, son of Laish wasn’t having a good day. He was squeezed between to fighting families and lost out in the end because he had to give up his wife. Michal, his wife, had originally been David’s wife — the one he paid 100 Philistine foreskins for. In 1 Samuel 25:44 we read that Saul had given Michal to Paltiel. He obviously loved her a lot to become so vulnerable in this way. Is a biblical man one who cries when his wife is taken from him?

The man who kills an honourable man as revenge for his slain brother. Joab and Abner were enemies from the day that Abner killed Joel’s brother Asahel. He had been awaiting this moment for quite some time. During those years in Israel, families were allowed to avenge deaths. If you accidentally killed someone you could flee to a city of refuge, where you would be safe until the death of the high priest. That ended anyone’s claim over your life. What is odd is that in this case, Joab killed Abner in Hebron, which was a city of refuge. Is a biblical man one who takes revenge on his enemies?

The man cursed to only be able to operate a spindle or to fall by the sword. David was upset over Joab’s revenge killing of Abner so he curses Joab’s family in an interesting way. Joab’s family would always have a man who would operate a spindle. A spindle was used for spinning and wasn’t apparently something commonly used by men in that in the only other usage in the Old Testament it is used by a woman. Death on the battlefield is a necessary part of warfare, but people’s preference is to live on the battlefield because that means that you have won. If your families always die, then they aren’t very successful. Is a biblical man one cursed like Joab’s?

The man who shows, through ritualistic mourning that he is innocent of another man’s blood. David expressed a lot of emotion during the funeral for Abner, including loud crying, singing, and not eating. He did not protect himself from shame or appearing weak, but rather put honouring Abner above his own interests. It was this vulnerability that caused the people to believe his innocence. Is a biblical man one who shows this kind of vulnerability?

Even though we can technically answer “Yes” to the question “Is a biblical man one who ______?” it is also obvious that not all of these men are to be emulated. It is also obvious that It seems as if there is not one universal masculinity expressed in this chapter. Men can also, apparently, express different masculinities in different situations. It leads us to ask, “Why are there so many examples of men in this chapter?” The answer is because rather than just one, universal masculinity, the world actually has a variety of masculinities. I have written about that here, here, and here.

What does this mean for Christian men today? There isn’t one, single, biblically defined version of manhood for us to emulate. We can express our manhood in a variety of ways, none of which are biblically prescribed. It also means that things are as clear as some are saying about what it means to be a Christian man. It takes the ability to interpret and understand the text of the Bible it a way that acknowledges its complexities.

What are your thought on masculinity? Why not leave a comment below?

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Image by Alexander Nikitenko on Unsplash.

One thought on “I went looking for masculinity in the Bible & this is what I found.

  1. Pingback: Pagkalalake at Maka-Diyos: I am creating a new series on Masculinities that will help us explore what it means to be men & how we can become better shapers of masculine cultures. | Michael J. Fast

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