I was reading in 1 Samuel this morning. Toward the end, Saul has gone out to try to kill David (again) and his army has camped for the night. David sneaks into the camp while everyone is sleeping and takes Saul’s spear from beside his sleeping body. In the morning, having left the camp, he calls out to Abner, Saul’s general, and taunts him saying “Are you not a man? Why have you failed to protect the king?”
There’s more to the story, but that taunt from David got me thinking: scripture very often talks of manhood/masculinity as if we already know what that is. To put it differently, it seems like the authors of scripture expect the reader to have an intuitive grasp of what men are and how they act. These references are so often in passing because they are stating the obvious.
The key example that comes to mind, in the form of an exhortation, is from 1 Corinthians 16:13 “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” We can infer from this that “acting like men” has something to do with watchfulness, standing firm in the faith, and strength. Yet Paul’s aim here is not to give us a taxonomy of masculine virtues. He is instructing the church in Corinth to “act like men,” which is something complementary, but distinct, from the other exhortations listed. “Act like men” contains some sort of additional information that is similar to, but not identical to watchfulness, standing firm, etc.
All this to say: Paul thinks he’s stating the obvious. David’s taunt to Abner was only a taunt because a real man would obviously not fail to protect the king.
Yet being a man is not always obvious to us today. It’s often not obvious to me today. I’ve grown up in a culture in which manhood is caricatures so that it can be anathematized–and many of those who seek to embrace it end up embracing either the caricature or else a “masculinity” that is in no way distinct from femininity.
The strongest objection to such a thing as a “Biblical masculinity” is that we are not given from scripture a taxonomy of all the masculine and feminine virtues. And because we often live at the intersection between Scientism and Biblicism, this objection feels heavy. How can we even talk about masculinity if we can’t point to an exhaustive (and it must be exhaustive!) list of masculine virtues, vices, practices, and prohibition? The answer is: It’s obvious. Or at least it should be to us. It was obvious to the authors of scripture. A man stands firm in the faith. A man protects the king. There are a thousand other things, but why list them? You’ll know it when you see it.
I want to live as a man of God in this world. I want to raise my son to be a man of God in this world. Scripture has much to teach me about what that means. But I’m becoming convinced that one of the most important things is this: that manhood should be intuitive to me–not the conclusion to a long chain of logic (though that may help). By God’s grace, it will become obvious to me.
Am I off on any of this? Let me know by commenting.