Defying Gender Stereotypes: Surprising Men of the Old Testament

Bronwen Speedie

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surprising men

I’ve found that the Old Testament is full of some amazing, strong women who defy stereotypes. But what about men? Did Old Testament men fill only such roles as warrior, ruler, priest, or family patriarch? Did they fit the stereotype of the “manly man,” who pleases God by his tough masculine leadership, or are there gentler role models?

Certain celebrity preachers speak disdainfully of men who don’t fit into the macho box. Their approach is out of line with the diverse men of the Old Testament, who do more than fighting giants and facing off with Pharaoh.

While the concept of the “Sensitive New-Age Guy” was far from being implied, the men of the Old Testament are no cardboard cut-outs but demonstrate diverse character types and roles in life.

Artists/Craftsmen

Visual arts are not often mentioned in the Old Testament, perhaps partly because of the prohibition on graven images, which were common in the worship of the false gods of surrounding cultures. However, skillful work in implementing beautiful designs from a range of materials was sometimes seen as a gift endowed by God.

In Exodus 31, God gives instructions regarding the making and decorating of the tabernacle. In verses 1-5, “…the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver, and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” The work of these and other craftsmen did was not just carpentry and metalwork, but included making woven garments, anointing oils, and incense.

God gives very specific instructions about the decoration of the Temple. These included carved wooden gourds and flowers along the walls, cherubim made of olive wood and overlaid with gold and more. Highly skilled craftsmen were employed. For so many skilled craftsmen to be available, there must have been widespread use of visual arts.

Musicians & Poets

Godly men may be sensitive, in tune with their emotions, and excellent leaders. People of both sexes made music and wrote songs in the Bible.

The first professions listed in Genesis are farming the land and raising livestock, followed by the work of metal-smiths and musicians. “His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes” (Genesis 4:21). How surprising that professional musicians are mentioned before we hear of carpenters, fishermen, soldiers, or many other professions with a purely practical application.

The role of musicians was closely linked with the worship of God. The musicians stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because their responsibilities continued day and night (1 Chronicles 9:33). David himself appointed the musicians—the men are named in 1 Chronicles 6, and their sons served alongside them.

David is the Old Testament man who most readily springs to mind, having authored many of the Psalms. David was a complex man – warrior, king, musician, poet. His psalms demonstrate deep emotional honesty. He’s not afraid to tell God exactly how he’s feeling, even if he is quite negative about God at times. However messy they may be, he faces up to his emotions.

Some of the segments of Isaiah are traditionally called songs. In the case of the Song of the Vineyard in chapter 5, some commentators believe that the prophet himself may have sung this song at the harvest festival celebration.

Domestic Tasks

Although the Old Testament depicts a patriarchal society, men are sometimes depicted cooking, washing, and undertaking other domestic chores. Consider Jacob and Esau. “Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents… (“among the tents” would normally be considered the women’s realm.) Once, when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished” (Genesis 25:27,29). Which twin was the one who had God’s favor? Jacob…who enjoyed cooking and was content to stay with the women among the tents while his brother undertook more rugged pursuits.

The Koathitites—a branch of the Levite clan—were responsible for the table setting and cleaning up in the tabernacle (Numbers 4:1-14). The priests cooked the offering meat and served it to the people (2 Chronicles 35:13-14).

In regards to certain matters of infection risk, the person at risk was instructed to wash his or her own clothes (eg. Leviticus 15:8). There is an interesting reference in 2 Kings 18:17 to a place called “Washerman’s Field.” Did it possibly have a connection with a man whose occupation was doing laundry?

God-given roles

The only instructions given before the Fall about any role or responsibility was given equally to man and woman:

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Genesis 1:28)

When it comes to the specifics of how we live and what we do, God seems less concerned with our gender than with how we use our skills and personalities to contribute to our families or wider society and to His glory.

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Bronwen has written a follow-up post looking at men’s relationships with women and children. Check out Surprising Men of the Old Testament/Part 2 on her blog, God’s Design.

Bronwen Speedie

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12 Comments

  • What is the “Sensitive New-Age Guy?” I am not familiar with that phrase.

    • Hi Jacob, maybe it’s an Australianism! It was a popular phrase a few years ago to describe a man who was more in touch with his feelings and those of others, more cultured, more equal in his approach to work and home duties in a relationship and so on…sort of the precursor to metrosexual.

  • Very insightful article. I had never thought about these men of the Bible in this way before. Thank you for you work, and thank you also for pointing out real Scripture to combat the inane “wimpy man” accusations from so-called theologians and pastors.

  • In the KJV the field is called the fullers field…(a field of one who does washing…washes garments) …interesting…no gender attached, it seems…but one who can make garments white (Mark 9:3)

    ” And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up , they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller’s field.”

  • Thanks! I haven’t thought much about this in the reverse. What a wonderful and informative study.

  • Bronwen, I’ve never thought about the name of that field and how it indicates that the profession of professional launderer was an occupation for men too. Well done.

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