Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Children Oppress Them and Women Rule Over Them

I've been asked to comment on the (mis)use of Isaiah 3:12 by some complementarians.

First, let me clear, I am a biblical complementarian, not an egalitarian. That said, my position is heavily caveated. I don't affirm women as elders in a local church, but a seminary is not a local church. Ergo, yes, it's fine with me if women teach male students in seminary. I am also on a personal mission to get more women engaged in E-pologetics. We need you!

I have heard this passage used in the way Wade describes, and it's got nothing to do with the *fact* of female rulers/misrulers. Rather it speaks to the *reasons* they are ruling.


The men are absent? Why would that be? To what would that be a reference?

1. Well, when children oppress, that speaks to an inversion of the created order, not in the home, but society as a whole. Children, under no circumstances are to have authority as rulers. "Children" were oppressing. Which children?

Answer: Child rulers. I would also point out that the definition of a "child ruler" in the Ancient Near East,as in the OT law on stoning rebellious children, is quite flexible. Not all references to "children" mean "little boys and girls," what we would call elementary or preschool age children or slightly older.

The law on stoning a rebellious child, for example,deals with any child, specifically adult children, who disgrace the family. A child who oppresses as a ruler, would be any ruler of young age that is oppressive.

2. And women rule over them. How? Through those child rulers. There women acting as coregents and counselors and coopting the power of the throne in the highest tradition of the evil houses of the North, following after that whorish Queen Jezebel who certainly set the bar high, did she not,for the very name "Jezebel" has been ruined for every generation since.

Women in the court and their influence is spoken of in somewhat positive fashion in some places. Jerusha, mother of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah was daughter of Zadok, high priest,and a godly woman.

On the other hand, we have the story of Ahaziah, 22 years of age when enthroned, who walked in the ways of Ahab. His mothers name was Athaliah, the granddaughter of Omri. She engaged in a systematic campaign to overthrow the House of David. Jehoram was 32 when he took the throne, and reigned 8 years. He walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab did, for Ahab's daughter was his wife. Then we have Shimeath and Jehozabad referenced in 2 Chronicles 24. Look it up and see why they are there. As with the Assyrians God raised up to judge Israel (and whom God held accountable for their sins in so doing), so God uses Zabad and Jehozabad to judge Joash.

And that's the point of the passage here. The reference to "women ruling over them" has nothing to do
one way or the other with women in leadership roles and the intrinsic role of women. Rather, Isaiah is making a reference to the history of young rulers who have been influenced by mothers and wives who have followed not after God but the gods of the pagans. We see this in 2 Chronicles, where the Chronicler makes constant reference from the time of Ahab to the insinuation of women from Ahab's family into the House of David. The same pattern appears over and over. It's a repeat of the Sin at Meribah in Numbers - the intermarriage with the Moabite women. It's a repeat of Solomon's women problems - for he let them worship their idols. It's a repeat of Jezebel's role in the life of Ahab. It is, in short, an ongoing problem in the life at court in Jerusalem. This gets repeated even in the NT and is a signal of apostasy. Remember the role women played in the life of the royal court under Herod?

The problem isn't related women for the sake of women - it's what sort of women are involved - women like Jezebel. and Athaliah, not women like Jechiliah, Jerusha and Jehoshabeath. Look carefully at the books of the Kings and Chronicles. Very often, the mention is quick (blink and you'll miss it), but an evil, immature king is connected to a woman who is depicted in the background. When good king is listed,and you see a connection to a female, I would say the presumption is that the author is making a tacit comment that this woman was godly and had positive influence.

If you're one of those who thinks women involved in high level government positions, to take a more mundane example, is a sign of a wicked nation, this text doesn't support you. It's not about the gender of who is sitting on the throne, it's about the power behind the throne, namely the wives, mothers, and counselors of those men. Men ruled, but the women in their lives corrupted them. It tells us (a) to watch who we marry and to whom we listen, and (b) gives us a good reason to "leave your father and mother and cleave to your wife, if the problem is your wicked mother or grandmother, and it speaks to the tremendous influence (and responsibility) women have over the men in their lives, both sons and husbands. Men, listen to the godly women in your lives and take their wise counsel to heart! Men, stand up to the ungodly women in your lives and and rebuke them!


  1. genembridges said:
    I am also on a personal mission to get more women engaged in E-pologetics. We need you!

    Please elaborate. :)

    Your post is interesting and on target with the discussion on the Complegalitarian blog. I hope you don't mind if I transport it there.


  2. I think it is very interesting to read this passage from Isaiah in the LXX (Septuagint).

    It doesn't refer to women or children at all, but rather to how the nation was without strength and easily plundered.

    This makes sense to me, for it is well-known that an adult male army would defeat an army of women and children any day, all other factors being equal, of course.

    But either way, whether with your idea, or with they way I tend to view it, I agree that some complementarians misuse the verse to prohibit women from all positions of leadership in society, and this is an incorrect use of Scripture.

  3. Letitia,

    1. We have too few women involved. When I look around the blogosphere, I see lots of women writing about home schooling and their families compared with the number of them that roll up their sleeves and do the sort of thing that, for example, Carrie does over at Beggars All. We need the Ladies! :)

    2. Sure, go ahead.

  4. Carole,

    The two interpretations are not mutually exclusive. Reading through the Kings and Chronicles, when we see these (negative) references, we also find what?

    The nation is greatly weakened and consequently plundered by its enemies. That's also the result of the Sin of Mirebah in Numbers. The men of Israel cavort with the pagan women. The women are being used by the enemies of Israel to destroy the nation from within. Consequently, the nation is weakened through apostasy and then national judgment. In fact, that's the "sin that broke the camel's back" for it leads to the deaths of a large number in Israel and leads us directly to the numbering of the 2nd generation.

    This also typifies the historical trajectory of the covenant nation. Periods of apostasy are then followed by Restoration. In Moses day, it was the 2nd generation via Joshua's leadership that subdued Israel. In Isaiah's day, and Jeremiah's day, the nation apostatized, but when that generation passed away in Exile, the nation was restored in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. The nation apostatized again when Jesus came. It was "restored" via the establishment of the Church and expansion of the covenant by the transition of the Old Covenant into the New Covenant. The implication for Eschatology is that the Church will be in a similar state when the Lord returns.

    Indeed,this goes back into Genesis. Adam fell because he listened to Eve. The children of Seth married into the line of Cain (the sons of God found the daughters of men alluring). This lead to the Flood.

    So, what we in Scripture is a set of relations with respect to wickedness and women, such that when a Prophet speaks of women ruling over the nation, he's speaking of evil women influencing male rulers, leading to the weakening and plundering of the nation. This relation is a typological relation that depicts the cycle of sin and apostasy in the life of the covenant community, and, in fact, the life of the individual believer. James 1 makes this explicit through the use of a metaphor for reproduction: Each man, eg. each person, is tempted when that person is lead away by their own lust; lust conceives, birthing sin, and sin brings for death.

    That's an implicit sexual metaphor. A man is tempted by lust, a female. It's his own lust, not another's lust, an implicit marital image, lust is the wife of the tempted man. Lust then gives birth to sin, the child. The child, when it comes of age, brings forth death.

    This is the very image of apostasy in the covenant community. That's precisely why Israel was forbidden from marrying into pagan nations. Those men would, in their lust, marry those women. The children would be lead away by false gods, and that would lead the nation into apostasy and destroy the nation. This would threaten the Seed of Promise, which is a recurrent OT theme leading up the coming of Christ in the NT.