The Shepherdess

Sarah followed Abraham to Canaan, but would she have gone to Houston?

By Kathryn Smith, a registered nurse, wife, and mother of two sons, now living in Singapore.


The annual convention of the National Organization of Women, held in November of 1977 in Houston, Texas, coincided with a personal project in which I was reading everything I could find in the Bible regarding the position, work, and responsibilities of women. When the convention came, I was saturated with what I had found, and the contrast was distinct. The demanding, threatening, aggressive speeches coming out of Houston didn't sound like Sarah or Abigail or Esther. The spirit was entirely different.

Isn't it more important to form our feminine ethic on what God expected of the woman He created than on the feminist ideas of the world? Christian feminism is a Bible doctrine, no doubt about that. Instruction appears all through the Bible on how to be a woman. Why, then, are we so sure about certain theological doctrines that appear in Scripture and so unsure about our proper relationship to life as women?

The Bible explains that God Him self gave Adam a companion—a helper fitted to be one with him in love and sympathy. Eve was created from a rib taken from the side of Adam, no doubt signifying that she was not to control him as a head nor to be trampled under his feet as an inferior, but to stand by his side, as an equal. God created woman to stand by the side of a man and there she is at her best.

When Adam and Eve were brought together in the first "marriage," the Bible record says, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Under standing and togetherness were to link them in an indissoluable union; they were to have no separate interests that would weaken this unique blending of two persons into one harmonious unit. By contrast, many feminist programs today advocate concepts aimed at freeing women from what are seen as discriminatory or unfair restrictions, especially in marriage relationships. Obviously such restrictions often exist, yet all the freedoms in the world will not compensate for a broken marriage.

When sin came God did not make Eve over. Her intelligence and capabilities were not decreased. Eve was the same, but she had a new assignment and position because of sin. "Unto the woman he [God] said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee" (Gen. 3:16). Sin had produced discord not only between human beings and God but between man and woman. Now their union could be maintained and harmony preserved only by submission on the part of the one or the other. As part of the curse of sin, Eve, who had been created to stand at Adam's side, was now to be subject to her husband. To Adam, too, new roles and assignments were given because of sin (see Gen. 3:17- 19). The new relationship did not mean that Eve was inferior to Adam, but rather that both were to assume unique roles in the light of sin and the plan of redemption.

It is true that women today are freer than they probably have ever been (admittedly due in some measure to the efforts of feminist groups). Much of such new freedom is long overdue. Why shouldn't women cultivate their intellect? Why shouldn't they strive to use the powers God has given them to the fullest extent? There is no reason why a woman may not stand in equality with any man as a coworker without destroying her uniquely feminine role in life. Proverbs 31 describes the woman who uses her God-given abilities to their greatest potential in such words as: virtuous, a willing worker, strong, profitable, compassionate, wise, kind, dignified, and blessed. Certainly these were not the words floating around Houston—at least as reported by the press.

In studying the inspired counsels of the Bible, I could find no work or occupation that women may not enter. The only boundary seems to be discretion—is it wise? Wives should ask, "Is it a good thing for my marriage? Will it cause me to neglect my home and family?" All need to consider, "Is it promoting God's work? Will I grow spiritually? Is this in keeping with the special role God has given to women?"

One thing I noticed in Bible history—when God needed a leader, He called a man. Sometimes these leaders needed help and God gave them women.

Miriam served as a strong and able assistant to Moses, loved and ad mired by the people. But when she criticized Moses and wanted more influence and responsibility, the Lord reproved her for daring to talk against His servant Moses, and He punished her before the whole camp.

Deborah, sitting under her palm tree, was a prophetess and a mother in Israel. She judged Israel in a time of great trouble and her influence was for good, but when God wanted a leader He called Barak.

In the Seventh-day Adventist Church Ellen White was a faithful worker in God's cause. She had years of experience and travel, but God never asked that she be made the head of the General Conference or even ordained to the ministry. She tried in every way to cooperate with the plans the brethren made for her.

When Jesus laid the foundation for the Christian church He did not choose a woman apostle. He could have had one, part time, as a token. He visited the Samaritans and ate with sinners, so the reason He didn't select a woman apostle was not be cause He was- afraid of being unconventional. The names of the twelve apostles will be on the foundations of the New Jerusalem for ever, according to Revelation 21:14. The names of Jacob's sons (the twelve tribes of Israel) will be on the gates of the New Jerusalem (see Rev. 21:12). Yet Jacob had daughters, too.

If you had been one of the disciples who were left at the foot of the mountain the night Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him and was transfigured, would you have felt left out? Could you have taken that gracefully without complaining? How much those disciples hurt themselves by allowing envy to fill their minds! If it appears to us women that men have life a great deal better than we do or that they have more advantages, shouldn't we refuse to allow those thoughts to poison our minds and instead apply ourselves to our own assignments?

Wrote Ellen White: "She [Eve] was perfectly happy in her Eden home by her husband's side; but, like restless modern Eves, she was flattered that there was a higher sphere than that which God had as signed her. But in attempting to climb higher than her original position, she fell far below it. This will most assuredly be the result with the Eves of the present generation if they neglect to cheerfully take up their daily life duties in accordance with God's plan." —Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 483.

Because we have the capacity to be equal with men, it requires a conscious choice to take that one step back, to choose to be a helper in our homes and in our work, to guard against the temptation to compete. It is an art we learn by practice. Sometimes we may overdo it and sometimes we may not give enough.

How gracefully Sarah practiced her art! When God called Abraham to leave his father's house, Sarah considered this her call too. They went out not knowing where they were going—missionaries in a very real sense of the word. The rest of their lives they lived in tents. They never had a furlough. Sarah made her mistakes, but she learned. Her life finished in the glow of God's blessing and approval. The apostle Peter holds her up as an example and mother to all Christian women: "Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement" (1 Peter 3:6).

I wish we had an organization of women called "Sarah's Daughters." I'd like to belong.


Prayers from the parsonage

by Cherry B. Habenicht

How can we properly assess these feelers and calls, Lord? Are they Your proddings or just the calculations of men who are hoping to match a person to a job?

It isn't difficult to decide what to do if the difference is only in location, not responsibility, or if the suggested position clearly has no appeal.

But what should we do when a mission feeler comes just as we're starting to feel settled in a new place? or when a job change opens up a month before our baby is to be born? or when an offer sounds fantastic but we're obligated to stay by a bereaved parent? or when we're sure You've shown the direction we are to take and then something to tally unexpected falls in our path?

Are calls to a position for which we feel unprepared designed to challenge us or to test our priorities?

Are the uprooting calls meant to caution us against easy satisfaction or to make us reaffirm our loyalties?

Are the surprise calls planned to shock us out of complacency or to remind us of our commitments?

Sometimes I wish for a burning bush, a voice from the mount, a budding rod.

Gideon laid out the fleece even after an angel had spoken. We only ask to hear Your still small voice.

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By Kathryn Smith, a registered nurse, wife, and mother of two sons, now living in Singapore.

May 1978

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