Abigail, marriage and godly hair

Recently I read this post from Matthew Paul Turner talking about Michelle Duggar’s “Seven Basic Needs of a Husband”.  It includes:


  1. Details of how a man needs to prove his manliness and asks how a wife can destroy her husband’s manliness.
  2. Ensuring a wife lets her husband hear her praising him to others
  3. Explains how a wife needs to accept her husband as leader, including a wife telling her husband how his *bad* decisions are benefitting her spiritual life (yes you did read that right)
  4. A wife looking at her husband admiringly when he talks to others
  5. Asking a wife how she can become more of the wife of her husband’s dreams
  6. An explanation of how a woman’s effort put into her *hair style* shows at least 9 aspects of her godly/ungodly character
  7. Talks of how a wife should expect nothing from her husband and be grateful for “each little evidence of his love”
  8. Many more nuggets of wisdom for a truly godly marriage

As I read it I found the entire document massively concerning.  All the responsibility seems to be on the woman, with her husband’s spirituality seemingly dependant on her ability to have good hair (among other things).  As a married woman who really doesn’t have enough time to consider how my hair or clothes reflect my godly character, I feel utterly horrified by this model being put forward as helpful or conducive to any sort of equal or loving partnership.  To suggest that I should celebrate my husband’s bad choices and the way they have “grown” me seems poles apart from Jesus’ call to repentance.


It was as I was pondering such thoughts that I began reading the story of Abigail (1 Samuel 25).  Now this was a woman with a husband who made bad choices!  Nabal was his name, and the Bible describes him as “surly and mean”.  David and his men had protected his sheep and servants whilst camping at a place called Carmel.  So David sends some men to ask Nabal (who was very rich) if he could spare some produce for them.  Nabal refuses to give them a thing and is rather rude to them, which leads David to swear an oath to kill Nabal ASAP.


According to the advice above, Abigail, should be praising Nabal for how his bad decision and rudeness have blessed her.  She should be gazing at him adoringly and ensuring that her hair portrays all the facets of her godly character.


Thankfully this advice was not available to Abigail and so instead she grabs as much produce as she can muster and gallops along on her donkey (probably totally messing up her hair on the way) and throws herself at David’s feet.  She proceeds to call her husband Nabal a wicked man and a fool, while complementing David on all his wonderfulness.


Well, considering how much she has just destroyed her husband’s manliness I expect at this point, David would be likely to stone her for failing as a wife!  Interestingly though he does not.  He calls her blessed and commits to not carry out his oath of *killing* Nabal.  What an interesting result!  By recognising and challenging Nabal’s wickedness, she not only isn’t sinful, but actually *saves* her husband’s life!!!


Abigail then leaves David and returns to her husband.  Now at this point you would imagine Abigail should at least tell Nabal how his mistakes have blessed her and built her up spiritually.  In fact she does not!  She tells him straight how his actions nearly led to his death, how stupid he had been and how she had managed to appease David.  Ten days later God strikes Nabal dead and Abigail rides off into the sunset as one of David’s wives[1]


Okay, so I’m not advocating for the smiting of all “surly and mean” husbands. But I think we can learn a lot from this story.  Michelle Duggar’s idea that if a wife complements her husband enough, has the right hair and considers all his mistakes as “opportunities for growth” is so so dangerous and unhelpful.


25% of women in the UK will be abused by a partner.  Evidence suggests women who have a strong faith will not be able to escape from an abusive husband for a much longer period than those without a faith.  In the UK 112 women a year are killed by their male partners or former partners and a woman is assaulted in her own home every 6 seconds (please just pause for a count of six…that is another woman physically attacked by the very person who is supposed to love them most).


While articles such as this one promote ignoring wrong behaviour from a husband as godly, we will see abuse flourish.  While women are taught that they are responsible for their husband’s bad behaviour, men who choose to abuse their partners are being colluded with. While a woman’s hair is seen as the most clear indicator of her godly character, those of us women who have been abused and put down until we believe everything about us is ugly will blame ourselves for our husband’s abuse, will believe we are totally sinful and that even God cannot love someone like us.


Covering up sin does not bring about change.  Jesus’ teaching on the unforgiving debtor in Matthew 18 is proceeded by Jesus’ teaching on holding others accountable.  It is in the context of forgiving someone who is repentant that Peter asks how many times we must forgive someone.  The teaching in the above article is not only utterly unhealthy, but it disables change.  If someone can get away with behaving badly, if there are no consequences, and they are actually rewarded for such behaviours, why would they change?


Abigail knew that Nabal’s behaviour would not only bring about his death, but the deaths of others within the household, (potentially even her own).  She knew what it would take to rescue both herself and others within the household.  She didn’t hold to the nonsense of covering over her husband’s sin or considering it something that would grow her spiritually.  She called it was it was and held Nabal accountable for his behaviour.


Let us understand that Michelle Duggar’s advice may lead to the death of women and children, and that if we don’t speak out; modelling and teaching about healthy, equal partnerships, we too can become part of the problem.

[1] that’s a whole other issue, for a whole other blog

Mrs. "God Loves Women"

Mrs. GLW is an anonymous blogger who writes about women and their value both to God and in the Church. She is a supporter of women's justice and is a brilliant campaigner for equality and for abuse against women to end. It is through the ministry of people like Mrs. GLW that women are empowered to live lives that reflect the Gospel without facing prejudice or underestimation and to take leading roles within the Body of Christ. She writes: "I love God with all my heart & hope to share the truth of God’s love for women & my frustration when His body ignores this truth & puts down and devalues women."

  • Great article, GLW. It should definitely be challenging us men to seek a relationship that is glorying to Christ and one that imitates the gentle and godly nature of Jesus.

    Please write again!

  • Ah.  Where to start?

    I have a series of concerns about this.  First, I’m sure we all agree that violence against women is always unacceptable–a serious problem that should not be tolerated, either in the church or in society.

    Now, it seems a little unfair to attribute to Ms. Duggar (of whom I know little except that she has a TV show and an awful lot of children) the attitude implied.  Rather, the notion that Ms Duggar would say to an abused woman that she should be more pleasing to her husband seems to run exactly counter to the evidence.  In fact, Mr. Turner notes in the article referenced that the Duggars’ own web site says:  “We believe God’s ideal for a husband is to treat his wife like a queen, honoring and cherishing her. If a wife is in any kind of abusive situation, seek outside counsel and help immediately…”  

    Second, a word about statistics.  This is a political year in the US, meaning that we are getting treated to a wealth of statistics, all carefully packaged to communicate a particular message favorable to a particular candidate or party.  There’s an old saying that there are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies and statistics.  That’s because statistics are easy to shape to tell any number of stories.

    Domestic violence statistics are especially difficult to work with because they depend on reporting in the first instance, and surveys to make up for where reporting is ineffective.  For example, in the US the official Department of Justice statistic for “intimate partner violence” against female victims was at 3.1% in 2010.  Obviously these are reported numbers and we must deal with underreporting, so surveys are employed.  Unfortunately survey methodology can be very problematic, because you have to know what questions the survey is asking.

    For example, in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey on this topic, “Participants were asked if they had ever had sex because someone pressured them by ‘telling you lies, making promises about the future they knew were untrue?’ All affirmative answers were counted as “sexual violence.”  Not surprisingly given this line of questioning, the study concluded that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men were victims.  Very alarming.  Perhaps better termed, “very alarmist”.

    Moreover, surveys do us no favors when they fail to distinguish between married women and unmarried women residing with a partner.  DoJ statistics suggest a 40-fold increase in reported violence cases for the latter over the former.  Now it’s reasonable to assume that some of this discrepancy is due to a greater willingness for unmarried women to report their partners than for married women to report their husbands.  Still, it points to a difficult statistical problem.

    Again, please understand that I am not seeking to downplay the problem of real abuse. What we’re left with is a question of degrees.  The 25% statistic runs on the high end of the reporting spectrum, and likely includes a much wider range of abusive behaviors than that of married women trapped in a long-term abusive relationship.  Since Ms Duggar is addressing married women, this is our immediate concern.  Moreover, the problem with inflated statistics is they tend to muddle and discredit the cases of actual serial abuse victims.

    If I have a major problem with Ms Duggar’s proposition, it would not be hairstyles.  Unlike Ms Duggar (or, to be fair, the Apostle Paul), I don’t think much of such matters.  In fact, my main concern with my wife’s hairstyle is that I promptly notice and pay the appropriate compliment when she changes it.

    I would instead point to the language of “need”.  As Mr. Turner smirks, her husband Jim Bob seems very “needy”!  There’s a serious point here, as there is a tendency to overuse the term “need” in terms of relationship, and a tendency to overstate the responsibility and the ability of human beings to meet these personal “needs”.  One important truth of the Christian faith is that our deepest personal needs (love, security, significance, etc.) are intended to be met in Christ.  The Christian cannot say, “you didn’t show me respect so I can’t be expected to love you in return, because I need respect.”  That’s idolatry, or replacing something only God can provide with a human substitute.  That’s not to say it’s not nice or desirable to get love/respect/etc. from another.  But that’s not the same as saying “need”.  In other words, if I think I “need” respect from my wife in order to love me as Christ commands, I’m a fool and an idolater.  I have replaced Jesus with my wife for the purpose of empowering me to obey His decree to love her.  She cannot possibly do what I am requiring (fulfill my deepest personal needs) because only He can do that.  Saying I can’t obey unless she does so is both sinful and doomed to failure.  That’s why it’s important for me to “read my own mail”, not hers (http://www.philippianjailer.com/2009/03/reading-my-wifes-mail.html).

    Finally, once again I think it’s appropriate to point out the spiritual roots of male-on-female violence, which stem directly from the Fall in Genesis 3:  “and he will rule over you”.  Here I will again shamelessly refer to my own writing on the matter, as well emphasize the fact that for however bad the domestic violence problem is here in the West, it crosses into the truly horrific once you move into less Christian-based societies: http://www.philippianjailer.com/2011/06/curse-ii-and-he-will-rule-over-you.html.

    I’m sorry if this comes across as disjointed.  There are many different thoughts embedded here.

    Grace and peace to you.

  • Argh I just wrote a ridiculously long reply to you comment and it got deleted! Pants!

    I would say caveats like the one the Duggar’s gave about abuse are utterly useless.  Most women whose partner is abusing them will not recognise it or identify it as abuse.  No matter what level of violence, sexual abuse or emotional manipulation, a woman will not identify it as abuse.  So giving such a caveat is the same as saying “if you are living on the moon this article is not relevant to you”.  It is just out of the realms of possibility for many women to acknowledge what is happening is abuse.  I know this was certainly the case in first marriage, in which my husband was horrifically abusive.


    As for your thoughts on statistics I would say that my using of that statistic is not only from mathematical data, but from the continuous interactions I have had with women who have experienced abuse.  Every social gathering I am at, there are women who will talk about it, every event I go to there are women who will identify with what I am saying.  You can read my experience of meeting a woman in Costa here: http://god-loves-women.webs.com/apps/blog/show/12191163-the-woman-in-costa

    This is happening everywhere all the time, and to suggest otherwise is to be in denial.


    The way you describe the definition of sexual violence as alarming concerns me.  Sexual violence may involve physical force, but it is as much about demeaning, degrading, devaluing and violating a person as physical force or violence.  To suggest otherwise is to invalidate and undermine thousands of people’s experiences of abuse.


    I am unsure as to what your purpose is in bringing up married versus unmarried statistics (I find it interesting that considering your aversion to statistics, you are happy to use them here).  Surely if one married woman reads Mrs Duggar’s advice, and feels she must continue to appease her abusive husband and is then murdered by him, that is too much.  Surely if it is one married woman who suffers even one more day of abuse because of the message of the Duggars, that is one too many.


    You say:


    “and likely includes a much wider range of abusive behaviours than that of married women trapped in long term abuse”


    I am unsure as to what this statement is saying, but it concerns me a great deal that you seem to be suggesting that some abuse is less significant than other abuse.  If this is what you are suggesting I would say to you that all forms of abuse at every stage and level is utterly damaging and detrimental to a the person being abused and to suggest otherwise again invalidates and undermines the horrific reality so many women are facing by the choices of their partners in abusing them.  Rather than muddling and discrediting abuse victims, the statistics I have quoted helped me massively when I eventually discovered that what my ex-husband had done to me was abuse.  Rather than invalidating the horrific abuse I suffered, recognising the full range of abuse and the more subtle as well as the less subtle forms of abuse affirmed me in so many ways.  At last I discovered I wasn’t going mad, and at last I found that I was not the only one.  I was not the awful woman who made her husband hurt her, instead I was one of many women who actually hadn’t done anything wrong.  Please do not think that the statistic of 25% undermines those who are suffering.  It does not, I can tell you, along with many other women, it is one of the reasons we could move forward.


    And now to the place where I agree with you! J Yes the idolatry going on in Mrs Duggar’s document is indeed much more concerning than the hair thing!  I just thought that hair thing showed the ridiculous of the whole document.


    I understand why you refer to “less Christian based societies” but I would say that the problem with such thinking is that it allows us point the finger “over there” to “those people”.  Jesus’ first thing was about us dealing with our stuff before going around pointing out other people’s issues.  And just because something is a lesser evil, doesn’t make it any less evil.  And if we are going to look at other societies, it was shown this week that Iceland is the best place for women to live http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/03/iceland-best-country-women-feminist


    Perhaps our focus should be on how we can become the best country for women to live, rather than pointing fingers at those who are doing worse than us.


    Great to do dialogue with you!
    Mrs GLW

  • My dear Mrs. GLW,

    First, let me express my delight at having encountered the exclamation, “Pants!” for the first time in my memory.  This is perhaps a British expression?  I think I won’t attempt it here in the US, as I doubt I could pull it off without looking foolish.

    There is another clever old phrase I am quite fond of, which is known as “The Law of the Instrument.”  One version goes like this:  “When you are a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”  I might suggest a corollary:  “When you are an advocate, all perceived opposition must be shouted down and made to appear mendacious, willfully ignorant, or ludicrous.”

    I would ask you to carefully consider the degree to which your laudable passion for this issue may lead you into pronouncing harsh and sweeping judgments of those whom you have pidgeonholed as the opposition (a circumstance I have come unexpectedly to share with one Ms. Michelle Duggar).  To wit:

    – “Caveats … about abuse are utterly useless”

    – “… to suggest otherwise is to be in  denial.”

    – “To suggest otherwise is to invalidate and undermine thousands of people’s  experiences …”

    In short, sensing that further discussion on this issue is likely to be unproductive, I think I shall leave it here.  I do wish you very well in your important ministry to victims of abuse.

    Yours sincerely in Christ,


    • I have to contribute here and say that maybe on a wider issue of abuse against women, your post coming up on Friday will speak volumes about your stance on issues like this. Very moving read… so watch out for it!