Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. 1 Peter 3:7.
The concept of “vessel” as figurative of bodies, lives, even nations, has been well established since Old Testament times (1 Sam 21:4,5; Psalm 11:12; Isa 65:4; Jer 18). The figure is continued in the New Testament in passages such as Acts 9:15; 2 Cor 4:7; Rom 9:19ff; 2 Tim 2:20,21, as well as the passage above. In both the Hebrew and Greek the word literally means “utensil” or “instrument.” In the Peter passage the word “woman” is actually mistranslated as a noun when it should be an adjective: …giving honor unto the womanly vessel…” as opposed to the manly. In other words, the man is an instrument too, and both man and woman are instruments of God, not one of the other, joint-heirs of the grace of life.
I read an article once using the metaphor of crystal goblets and Mason jars. Which is the weaker (more fragile) vessel? Yet which one is treated with the most honor (care, protection)? In many societies the men have used their greater strength to take advantage of the women, using them as workhorses, and ignoring their needs. When I was younger I heard a man say, “In my day, women used to have babies and go out and work in the field the next day.” My husband replied, “And a lot more of them died young too.” It has only been in modern civilization that the average lifespan of women has surpassed that of men. A good many of the laws that seem slanted against women in the Old Testament, were actually given for their protection. The scriptures teach that men are not to take advantage of women just because of their greater physical strength but to give them the honor and care of a fragile, crystal goblet.
Some have a problem with the word “weaker.” The word does not mean “weak.” It is a word of comparison. It means “less strong,” and it certainly does not apply to intellect or emotion. As we recently discovered, the woman of Proverbs 31 possesses the strength to handle life’s problems instead of being another emotional burden on her husband. A man wants a woman who can keep her head in a crisis, bear disappointment with a smile, and take heartbreak without a complete collapse. And yes, it is right for him to want a woman who can and will work alongside him without complaining.
I have dug ditches in a monsoon next to my husband to keep our house from washing away. But he sent me in after the worst was done, to rest and dry off while he “just finished up,” another hour’s work. There are times when things must be done and one has to muster up as much physical strength as possible, but the strongest man is still stronger than the strongest woman. Until all athletic contests are no longer gender specific and the women are regularly winning, there is no denying that men are physically stronger.
The media consistently presents the man of the family as a buffoon, a bumbling idiot who must always be saved from himself by his far more intelligent, cultured, sensible wife. Do you think I haven’t heard Christian women talk about their men in exactly the same way?
God designed the man to be the provider and protector, 1 Tim 5:8; Gen 3:17-19, even to giving his life for his wife if necessary, Eph 5:25. Let him use what God put in him! Nowadays we are so civilized that there is seldom any substantive need for real protection—no wild animals, no angry natives, no longer any dramatic way to prove himself. Then, to make it worse, we steal our husbands’ self-esteem by complaining about the standard of living he has provided, laughing at his attempts to buy us gifts, and insulting his careful planning for our financial security. If you don’t think you are being treated with the honor you deserve, maybe it’s because you have not let him honor you in the only ways he knows how, the ways God programmed into him.
It is up to you to let your husband be the head of the house. Eph 5:22 never tells the husband to put his wife into subjection. In the same way, he cannot “nourish and cherish” you (literally “feed and warm”) if you do not let him (Eph 5:29). God used marriage as a pattern for his relationship with His people. He had a problem when his “wife” went to someone besides Him for her needs and her protection, and when she insisted that she could take care of herself without Him, Hos 2:5-13. What makes us think a man will feel any differently when we act like we don’t need him?
But if any provide not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8.