I recently posted on Man Up & Take Me! Alpha Male or Beta Hubby? and a conversation flared in the comments section about whether the term “alpha male” was appropriate for Christian husbands and whether masculinity includes taking charge in some way. After all, wasn’t Jesus the ultimate man and he was humble, meek, and sacrificial as he gave his life for us on the cross?
Without getting much into my use of the term “alpha male” — which I intended in the more colloquial usage than the scientific definition — the post made me think more about what we wives want our men to be. We want them to be masculine, right? But what traits are masculine traits?
I’m hardly the only one asking these questions. Bestselling books like Iron John: A Book about Men by Robert Bly, Wild at Heart by John Eldridge, and the recent The Book of Man by Bill Bennett indicate that people are reevaluating what a “real man” should look like. Stu and Lisa Gray of Stupendous Marriage mentioned another book, Point Man by Steve Farrar, in their podcast just last week. I also recently discovered a blog called The Art of Manliness, which covers topics as wide as writing love letters to your wife, waxing your car, and understanding retirement accounts; its motto is “reviving the lost art of manliness.” But what is manliness, or masculinity, anyway?
Dictionary.com defines masculine as “having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength and boldness” and manly as “having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength or bravery.” Surely, though, strength, boldness, and bravery are not merely male qualities. I can think of numerous women who possess them — women who are not manly in the least.
So what is this elusive set of traits? What does it mean to be masculine?
Jesus is indeed the ultimate example.
For this post, however, I want to look at the person about whom the Bible says: “God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do'” (Acts 17:22). Don’t we want our husbands to be men after God’s heart?
So what was David like? Here’s what I see from the life of David.
He was a protector. David was raised to be a shepherd, protecting his father’s flock. He watched over the sheep and, if they were taken by a lion or bear, he rescued the sheep from its mouth. In the same way, David protected Saul’s life twice when he had the opportunity to take it, but he waited instead on God’s timing and protected the king God had put on Israel’s throne.
He was a warrior. David fought the giant Goliath; he delivered the foreskins of 100 Philistines to secure marriage to Saul’s daughter Michal; he forced the Philistines out of Israel; he defeated Moabites, the Edomites, the Ammonites and the Arameans. About him, the Israelite women sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”
He was a lover. David had eight wives and pursued each of them. He liked women and how they looked. That’s how he ended up committing a huge sin with Bathsheba. Yet, it wasn’t his desire for a woman but the wrong context that was condemned.
He was a leader. Before becoming king, David was given command of 1,000 men and led troops in their campaigns. When King Saul pursued David, four hundred men gathered around David and “he became their leader.” He garnered the loyalty of his men such that three of them risked their lives merely to bring David water when he thirsted.
He was an artist. David played the harp and was so good that he worked in the king’s palace playing for him. He wrote over 70 psalms and collected more. His prayers and songs express heartfelt emotions and honesty before God that have touched generation after generation. David danced before the Lord with freedom and passion.
He was a friend. The story of Jonathan and David is one of an incredibly close bond between friends. Later, the Bible tells of another friend, Hushai the Arkite, who infiltrated Absalom’s camp on David’s behalf and warned David to save him from an attack.
He was a provider. David spread his kingdom and attained wealth that he shared with family, friends, and citizens throughout his reign. But one of my favorite stories of David is how he sought out Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, and gave him a seat the king’s table to provide for him. After Absalom defiled David’s concubines, David kept them in the palace and provided for them without sexual relations; he didn’t have to do that, but he did.
Certainly, these characteristics can be found in women as well, but I think that the way David made them a priority and how he carried them out demonstrates something about true masculinity. Make no mistake, however: David wept; David grieved; David showed his emotions. At no time did he lose his manliness by wearing his heart on his sleeve.
I think David’s life can teach us a lot about manliness. The one time he is rebuked harshly in the Bible for his actions is when he became selfish and allowed his manly desires to get out of control. The prophet Nathan then brings him to task for taking what was not his to have. In that moment, David was not a protector, a provider, a friend, a leader… When he sinned with Bathsheba, he was a man, but not a manly man. And he humbled himself and was contrite before God for using his masculinity for self-gain.
All of these roles I see in the life of David (and in Ephesians 5) suggest a balance. Indeed, those things that typically make a man (higher levels of testosterone, greater body strength, competitiveness, etc.) are all traits that can be focused into being a man after God’s own heart or being twisted by Satan to become heartless.
Leadership can be twisted to become subjugation.
Strength can be twisted to become violence.
Protection can be twisted to become control.
Sexual love can be twisted to become forbidden lust.
Even self-sacrifice can even be twisted to become someone’s lapdog or doormat– not God’s intention at all.
So what is masculine? I can’t exactly define it. I know it when I see it. I see it in the life of David, Jesus, and — thank you, Lord — my husband.
I know when my husband is being a leader — in a man’s way, not in my way; a provider — in a man’s way, not in my way; a lover — in a man’s way . . . you get the point.
Also, he kills the bugs. I do not (not, not) like cockroaches, but he doesn’t bat an eye as he slays those exoskeletal dragon-like creatures for me. I don’t know if that’s technically masculine, but I like it. It makes me want to say, “Oh yeah, that’s my man!”
Your turn. I’m opening this up for you to tell me what you think masculinity is or looks like. I consider this an ongoing conversation, so let’s see what you all come up with. What makes a male a man? A godly man? A godly husband?