Friday, November 16, 2007

Contentious Cora or Prudent Polly

“...the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping.” (Prov.19:13b)
“...a prudent wife is from the Lord.” (Prov.19:14b)

Although we know that there are plenty of homes where the husband is the weak link and the main source of strife and pain, it must be acknowledged that Solomon attributed the majority of his observations on inadequacies and failures in marriage to the wife. Aside from Divine inspiration, we could probably think of a lot of reasons for this—seven-hundred to be exact! But I must admit, from my own observation, I tend to agree that in the majority of cases, a good wife is more capable of outweighing the inadequacies of a poor husband then vice versa. And, likewise, a bad wife can render both the intentions and actions of a good husband well-nigh useless. These two verses in Proverbs 19 provide us with just such a contrast in wives—a contentious one and a prudent one.

“[T]he contentions of a wife are a continual dropping” (cp. 27:15). This is what is called in literary terms a “metaphor”—an implied comparison. It is not literally the case, but the effect is the same! I’m told that an ancient form of torture was to place the victim so that a drop of water fell at intervals on his or her forehead. The prospect that it might never end proved to be more than most could bear. The same can be said of a husband who is badgered, wheedled, criticized, whined to, or argued with, incessantly. For some of these unfortunates, after awhile, it becomes unbearable. It may not come loudly or crudely, but this in no way eases the pain. Constant scraping of the skin, no matter how light, will eventually draw blood. “Contention” is an interesting word that can have either a positive or negative denotation. Warren Wiersbe has observed that it is one thing to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3), but quite another to be just plain contentious! And it’s easy for the lines between the two to become blurred. Some people who profess to be standing on a principle are actually stuck on a policy. This is destructive to any relationship; but in a marriage, it’s disastrous.

But let’s bid a hasty farewell to “Contentious Cora” and find more pleasant company with “Prudent Polly.” The second half of Proverbs 19:14 tells us that “a prudent wife is from the Lord.” This word—prudence—is often used interchangeably with wisdom (16:21a). Indeed, prudence has always seemed to me to be the feminine version of wisdom. That’s not an authentic definition, of course, but here’s one that really is, from the Oxford English Dictionary: “Sagacious in adapting means to end; careful to follow the most politic and profitable course; having or exercising sound judgment in practical matters; circumspect [Eph.5:15], discreet [Titus 2:5], worldly-wise [Luke 16:8].” What a wonderful resume for a prospective wife! Houses and riches may be inherited, according to the first part of verse 14, but a good wife comes from God alone.

If you’re like me, one day you may bear a striking resemblance to Polly, while on another, your husband would swear he’s married to Cora! We blame circumstances, hormones, or even the weather, anything but the heart, or so it seems. Frankly, occasional melancholy may overtake all of us from time to time, but I see no justifiable reason for ever being down right cantankerous!

One of the incongruous characteristics of marriage is that it has the ability to make one very happy or very unhappy. As the old Puritan writer, William Arnot, has pointed out, “This divinely-appointed union is, in human life, like the busy bee returning laden home. The sweetest honey and the sharpest sting lie in it both; and they lie not far apart. But for the honey it has been created, not for the sting: for the honey it lives and labours, not for the sting.”[1] If that be the case, some of us are more deserving of the pet name “Honey” than others.

Solomon’s words may not be “politically correct”; but you can always count on them being practically (and painfully) correct. Am I courageous—and prudent—enough to accept them?

[1] Arnot, William. Studies in Proverbs: Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998.

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