For the week of November 10, 2007 / 29 Heshvan 5768
Torah: Bereshit/ Genesis 25:19 - 28:9
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1 - 2:7
Replaced by: 1 Samuel 20:18-42
What Is A Man?
When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. (Genesis / Bereshit 25:27,28)
Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. (Malachi 1:2,3)
I have encountered two popular notions regarding masculinity these days. The first stems from egalitarianism. Egalitarianism views the sexes as essentially equivalent in every way, with the exception of a few relatively insignificant (according to them) biological differences. For egalitarians, whether they claim adherence to biblical truth or not, the question of "what is a man?" is of little relevance and interest. They would understand that whatever it would mean to be human is the same for both males and females.
The other popular notion today sees males and females as fundamentally different. This is the thinking behind such books as "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus" by John Gray.
However popular egalitarianism may be, denying the differences between males and females is philosophical nonsense completely removed from reality. To diminish the fundamental differences between the sexes denies God's purposeful design for the human family and robs us of the primary aspects of our identity.
Once we accept that males and females are different, we may ask ourselves what are the essential aspects of that difference? There is a tendency among some when trying to describe the unique aspects of masculinity to do so in ways that don't apply to all males. Not every man is into power tools and adventure sports. Some men don't like sports of any kind. Some dislike competition altogether. While men are generally more muscular than women, not all men are muscular. Some are physically weak for one reason or another. Men are often referred to as bad communicators, but some of the best communicators are men. I can go on with examples of the masculine stereotype, but even if we could establish that there are tendencies for men to be one way or another, do those attributes define masculinity? If they did, then some people are more male than others.
This is not the Bible's view of manhood. According to the Bible a man is a male. Nowhere in the Scriptures are men defined by personal qualities or attributes apart from their God-given anatomy.
It is noteworthy how God esteemed Jacob over Esau. Esau was far more of a stereo-typical male, while Jacob was not. I don't have any reason to believe that their different personalities influenced how God regarded them. God made men to have all sorts of physiques and dispositions - any of which are legitimate expressions of masculinity, since it is men that have these physiques and dispositions. For those of us that take seriously the differences between the sexes, it helps no one to focus on stereotypes. If we surveyed the men and women in the Bible we find all kinds of physiques and dispositions.
According to the Bible "What is a man?" - apart from anatomy - has to do with function and role, not such things as what jokes we prefer and how we like to resolve problems. But before we can address the implications of the uniqueness of masculinity, we need first to accept the Bible's perspective that we are men simply on the basis that God made us that way. Whatever our physiques, our personalities, our desires, our interests, our inclinations, our abilities may be, a man is a man.
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