Monday, August 31, 2009

The Wife as the Keeper/Master of Her Home

The Bible speaks a bit about a woman’s role in her home. Do the terms homemaker and housekeeper paint pictures of a woman cleaning all day in your mind? Are these scriptures even really about housework?

The admonition for women regarding their homes in Titus 2:5 has been translated as “to be busy at home”, “workers at home”, and “to be homemakers”, among other things. Most often, though, it is translated as “to be keepers at home.” That term comes closest to the real meaning of a woman’s significant role in her home, but it falls short of important insights unless we study it further. A keeper of the home is not a cleaner of the home.

The Greek word translated “keepers of the home” is oikouros. It is a compound word deriving from oikos (house, household, family) and ouros (a guard, guardian, a watcher, a warden). So this word carries the meaning of watching the house, such as a watchdog. This meaning is confirmed in Proverbs 31:27 which says, “she watches over the ways of her household.” (NKJ) Other translations read: “she carefully watches all that goes on in her household” (NLT), “she keeps an eye on everyone in her household” (MES), and “she keeps a close eye on the conduct of her family.” The Hebrew word here for “watch” is tsaphah, which means “to look about, spy, keep watch, observe, watch closely.”

It is interesting to note other ways this Hebrew word is used in the Old Testament. In 2 Samuel 18:24-27 it refers to the watchman, guarding the city! The same usage occurs in 2 Kings 9:17-20, where a watchman was standing on the tower in Jezreel, spying the surrounding area to protect the city. Isaiah 21:6 says, “Set a watchman, let him declare what he sees” and 52:8 reads, “Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice”. These scriptures (and there are more) speak of watchmen guarding a city; a woman’s role in her home is to be a watchwoman guarding her family!

Ezekial 33:6 proclaims, “If the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned…” When a woman watches her family, deeper issues are involved than were the case for the watchmen guarding cities. A woman does not only watch closely with her physical eye, but even more with her internal eye: her intuition. God has gifted women with an inner eye that often alerts them to danger. In Dr. Frank Seekin’s book, “Hebrew Word Pictures”, he shared how the the word “ezer” (helper, the word describing woman in Genesis) is composed of two word pictures in ancient Hebrew: an eye, and a picture of someone with a hatchet representing ‘the enemy’. A literal interpretation means ‘one who sees the enemy’ . Indeed, it was Eve who identified the enemy after the Fall. Adam blamed God and Eve for his sin. Eve, on the other hand, just stated the fact that the serpent deceived her. She identified Satan has the real enemy! Women have a certain inner eye with which to watch the ways of their household.

Genesis 3:24 says that God placed Cherubims at the east of the garden of Eden to “keep” the way of the tree of life. The Hebrew word for keep here is shamar and it means “to guard, keep, watch, protect, observe, have charge of.” Notice the similarities? In fact, shamar was also used to describe the man’s calling when he was put in the garden to “keep” it (Genesis 2:15). Men and women both were created to keep/watch/guard the world which we were given dominion of. A woman is no more commanded to clean and care for a home than a man is commanded to become a gardener! That is not what “keep” in “keeper at home” is about. It is about carefully guarding whatever God puts in your charge. It is about ruling the earth, fighting the enemy, and overcoming evil as the warriors we were meant to be. Men and women are to keep the world alongside one another. Women are usually the ones primarily keeping their homes and families though, as God has given them particular relational and cultivating abilities that especially aid them in their roles as watchwomen.

Men and women image the God who made them when they keep. 1 Peter 1:5 reassures believers that they are “kept” by the power of God (KJV). Here the Greek word phroureo is used, meaning “to protect by guarding”. Furthermore, Proverbs 15:3 says that “the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” The Hebrew word here for “beholding” is the same used in the description of the woman who “watches” over the ways of her household. God is also a keeper. His eyes are in every place, and a woman’s eyes are to be on everyone in her household. That is the meaning of keeper at home! As we can see, it is not about cleaning and housework. The daily work of living is human work, not woman’s work. Of course, if her husband is working away from home every day while she is at home with children, much of the housework will become her responsibility, but this is not because she is a woman whom God has commanded to clean her house. How the human work of daily living is divided between husbands and wives depends on their individual schedules and other responsibilities.

Women, guard your homes and protect your families! God has given you particular gifts that enable you to be the watchwomen He has called you to be. (See the page “Women Warriors” for more about these feminine gifts)

In the Bible a woman is not just told to be the Keeper of her home, but also the Master of her home. Does this surprise you? Doesn’t the Bible say that a husband is the head of his home? Well, no, actually it doesn’t. In Ephesians 5, it says that he is the head of his wife, not his home. And the meaning for “head” is not master or ruler, but most likely “source”. This topic is discussed in another article regarding the meaning of “head”.

Yet for now let’s stay with the issue of heads of homes. The only place anyone is implied to be the head of the house in the New Testament speaks of a woman’s role: 1 Timothy 5:14 says that women should “oikodespoteo” the house. The King James translates this “guide the house” but the NIV gets closer when it says “manage the house.” Yet, the most accurate translations are those of the ASV, ERV, WEY and WEB which read “rule the household”. The meaning of oikodespoteo is “to be master (or head) of a house, to rule a household, manage family affairs.” It is the verb form of the noun oikodespotes, which is often translated as “master of the house” in the NT, such as in Luke 13:25- “When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door…” Also, notice the English word “despot” is in oikdespoteo. Look up “despot” in our dictionary and you will find a similar definition to this one: “a ruler with absolute power and authority”. Wow. That word is used by Paul to describe a woman in her home! Remember “oikos” is the home/family, “despot” is the ruler. The “eo” or “es” at the end just determines if we are speaking of a verb or noun. But it is evident that a woman’s role is to be the “ruler” of her “home/family”.

So if anyone would be given final authority over household matters, it is evidently the woman. That said, I believe men and women were created to rule together, in everything, including their homes. 1 Timothy 3 speaks of husbands ruling their houses also, although the word for “rule” is not the same as the one used regarding women. Here we find proistemi, which means “to set or place over, to superintend, to be a protector, to give aid, to care for.” Though two different Greek words are used, I think it is clear that husbands and wives are supposed to rule their homes together; the husband may, however, see his home to be especially his wife’s “domain” if she is involved more in it and better gifted to care for it. What is clear, though, is that the husband is not the final authority in the home. The Bible never says such a thing, and as lovers of truth it would do us well to not add to what God has written.

Both men and women are to be keepers, and both men and women are to rule. We are in this battle together, yet God often gives us different areas in which to keep and rule. The home is more often a woman’s area because God has gifted many a woman with unique relational and cultivating abilities. This does not mean, however, that the human work of housework cannot be shared (and I am not saying 50/50; I am not speaking of equality but fairness). It does mean that a woman’s role in her home as its’ keeper and ruler is a dignified and indispensable role which involves guarding, watching, protecting and having dominion over. This is what we were created for.

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