Monday, May 02, 2016

Proverbs 31 and Servants

Hanging the Washing, a Beautiful Spring Morning

By: Helen Allingham Item #: 10606947

For decades I have heard and read that  the Proverbs 31 woman having servants, is equivalent to our modern household appliances like washers and vacuum cleaners.

The problem with making our washers, dryers, vacuum cleaners and slow-cookers an equivalent to servants, is that none of these things do anything on their own. While the servants in Proverbs 31 did the tasks assigned to them, the lady of the house (married to a King who could afford the servants) only gave verbal or written instruction to get the tasks done.

Appliances only provide PART of the services.  The Proverbs 31 woman gave tasks to her maidens. Anyone who has ever had hir d help knows they complete the tasks.  Appliances never complete the tasks, (even though they are a big help.)

In reality, our modern conveniences do nothing for us by themselves.  It would be a different story if we plugged in an appliance and it required nothing of our own effort and went to work immediately by itself.  However, every convenience and every appliance we have requires someone to fill it, empty it,  replace parts, push it, clean it, put it away, and often these are operated at some expense, especially the oven. When an appliance will not work anymore and has had all the repairs possible, we have to load it up in the car and take it to a recycling place.  

There is no appliance to make beds, move furniture, put a meal on the table, clean windows and mirrors or clean a bathtub. Even with all the cleaning agents,  these things require the homemaker to do the work.

The grocery store and market do provide a little more service. When you buy pre-cut vegetables and meat already seasoned, it is somewhat like having hired help in the kitchen. When you buy a rug, or clothing, it is like having hired someone to make it, so in that sense, manufactured things are a servant, because you do not have to make everything yourself.  

When company comes unexpectedly you can buy bread and many prepared items and that is a great service.  However, you still have to go to the store. (The Proverbs 31 woman may have sent out a helpers) Food that is semi-prepared is only PART of the service, and although it is a big help, it is not the same as having paid helpers.

A washing machine still requires work on your part, so it is not fully a servant.  You still have to "do the laundry" and wash day for some people is very time-consuming, especially when they prefer to hang the clothes on a line outside, bring them back in the house when dry, fold and put away in various places, and maybe iron some of them.

  The iron also is only a servant in that you do not have to build a fire in the cookstove and heat the iron. You still have to iron the clothes yourself.  The Proverbs 31 woman had hired help to do things like this. Permanent press clothing is a better servant than the iron, because it is ready to serve your needs without the labor of ironing it. But as I am trying to emphasize, a true service is a complete service, where the entire taskmis completed for you. Appliances are merely aids, not complete services.

Yes, you may consider all these machines your "servants" but when there are dishwashing inventions that gather up the dishes, scrape and rinse them and load them in the dishwasher without your help, then put the whole collection away in the shelves after it is dry, the dishwasher will truly be a servant. 

The best servants today are: grocery stores, hotels, restaurants, ready-made clothing and furniture, train, bus and airline trips, and activities where everything is done for you.  Although our cars may be thought of as servants, we still have to drive them ourselves and be alert and make quick decisions.  In the house, running water and electric lights are good servants.

So, in saying our modern appliances are servants, I can agree, to a point. The refrigerator seems to be content to keep the food cold without us supervising it,  and I think it is a great servant. We do not have to get the dray wagon to bring us big blocks of ice to maintain it, and we do not have to check on it  constantly to see if it is doing its job.   

Saying a vacuum cleaner is a servant is like saying a broom is a servant. Both require someone to push it and pull it and make it work.  Appliances are simply good aids in housework, but it seems the more appliances we get, the more often we use them and we end up working constantly.

My personal favorite homemaking aid is the electric sewing machine, but using it can be intensive labor. When the sewing machine cuts the pattern and stitches the garment together by itself, then I will say it is a full-fledged servant. In spite of its limitations, I would not want to do without it. In fact, it is one appliance, along with my electric kettle to heat water for tea, that I take on car trips when I will be away from home for more than a day. I believe the electric kettle is one of the best servants in the home, but it will not fill itself. Somebody has to do that.  I have written  previously about how I like hearing the electric kettle come to a boil and shut off all by itself.  It is like having someone in the kitchen.  I also like the fact that cloth is already woven for us. That is a real, complete service.

I do not believe we as homemakers can claim to be the same as the Proverbs 31 woman. She was a description by a mother to help her son, a King, chose a good wife. A queen has servants to do things for her, and she has to have the skill to manage those servants.  (Though it was a description of  a future queen, every homemaker is a queen of her house and can learn from the Proverbs 31 description.)

I have also heard that our children are the equivalent of the servants in Proverbs 31, but I do not agree. We should allow children to be children and although we teach them to come alongside and help us, they are not the same as servants.  The Bible does not seem to support the belief that children be used as servants anywhere.

Since the New Testament is for Christians, and the last will and testament of Christ, we need to do His will and follow the law He left for us. 

Titus 2, and 1st Timothy 5:14 are the instructions in the New Testament for members of the Lord's church today, and it does not mention the details in Proverbs 31.

A book was written about appliances and how we tend to use them more, which increases our work.

More Work For Mother: The Ironies Of Household Technology From The Open Hearth To The Microwave Paperback – March 11, 1985


Julie Lewis said...

I have been wanting to order "More Work for Mother" for some time. It is a book that looks like it covers this very subject that was on your blog today. Maybe I will go ahead and order it now:

ladypinktulip said...

Thank you for that link Julie...that book sounds really good. I just ordered it used on amazon. I agree hold appliances and conveniences are not the same thing as servants. Enjoying this series with you. Kelly T.

Julie Lewis said...

Although, I did not order the book yet because I was not sure whether it came out on the feminist opinion of things or not. It might be this way, but I might still order it because it looked like it had so much good information in it.

Mrs. Cote said...

This article is so true! I have often been puzzled by the idea appliances as servants.

I love to read old books where often it is taken for granted that a middle class family will have some help, especially with heavy jobs like the wash or spring cleaning. You could call up your grocer who would send a boy to deliver your order. The department store had a helpful buyer who would do the same. Plus you needn't run out for milk and eggs as you would find them delivered fresh from the farm on your door step each morning. You didn't need to chaffeur your children to school as they walked there or the maiden aunt who lived with you taught them or if you had more means your governess would be there to teach them. If you or children fell ill the doctor would be called in. You didn't pile all your sick selves in the car to deal with your own sickness plus everyone else's besides. If your child was very sick the nurse came to sit up with them at night and follow through with all the doctor's orders.

Today, you are on your own in almost every circumstance. The blessed have extended family ready and willing to help. Most of us do not have this either. Everyone works outside the home or lives far apart or just has their own lives traveling, golfing, etc.

Lydia said...

Mrs. Cote, I liked your essay, fir it shows what the real services were. The people before us catered to the home. Everything was brought to you, even flowers :-). You sent your hired helpers out with a list and they did the running. It is just so insane the way we donit today.

Today I thought of another real servant that does not require much to use it. The Schwanns company comes and delivers frozen foods, which might not be your own home made taste but it helps when things get busy.

anonymous said...

I remember when my mother had me run to the corner store for bread, milk and other items.
We were taught that our father worked to provide money to buy the food. Mom worked to cook the food and provide a loving, healthy, and safe place for us to grow up in. It was the children's duty to help out with whatever mom or dad needed is to do. Clear and understood.
If we didn't help out there were consequences to poor behavior. That too was clear and understood. In those days we wanted to be helpful. We didn't need servants, we took pride in helping our parents.
Servants were for people in the movies.


anonymous said...

I remember when my mother had me run to the corner store for bread, milk and other items.
We were taught that our father worked to provide money to buy the food. Mom worked to cook the food and provide a loving, healthy, and safe place for us to grow up in. It was the children's duty to help out with whatever mom or dad needed is to do. Clear and understood.
If we didn't help out there were consequences to poor behavior. That too was clear and understood. In those days we wanted to be helpful. We didn't need servants, we took pride in helping our parents.
Servants were for people in the movies.

I enjoyed this perspective of servants and glad to be independent of them. However servants would be a nice service to others who needed them.


Lynn Maust said...

I love the old days' descriptions of how things were, by Mrs. Cote. I vaguely recall some of those grandmother had a maid and at one time a cook and a butler. Both of the latter would be very nice to have in her employ because she could sit with the family at our big meals on special family events and enjoy herself too, instead of having to hover over the table, running back and forth to the kitchen to fetch more food and drink for us all. I have several great old photos of her sitting with us at the big table, while the butler served our food to us. The last year she had such help was probably 1956. I wonder sometimes if she ever missed that. But then, my grandparents would take us all out to a nice restaurant instead...they were in their 60's by that time. So the restaurant people did the work. I think that today one could hire a catering group to do your family party meals....sort of the same idea as back in 1956 and earlier.

Jenny said...

I just finished reading Pat of Silverbush and found myself longing for a helper like Judy Plum in the home. How nice that would be! Perhaps a Susan Baker from the Anne books. What a help and comfort women like these must have been to the family.

Laura Jeanne said...

I agree. We hear a lot these days about how modern conveniences make housework easy, and I don't think it's really true. In past days even middle class families had at least one servant to help with housework. Women were not expected to run themselves ragged as they are today. The appliances you mention don't come close to replacing the services of a human being!

However, perhaps some of us might be able to afford hired help if we lived in the way people did in older times - with less belongings, and perhaps no electricity, etc. For instance, I am writing this on a computer that cost money, using electricity that cost money, and an Internet dish that costs us $80 per month to use - without this technology perhaps I could spend $100 per month to have someone come in for a few hours now and then and help me clean or weed the garden! We have different standards than in past times, and our money is used in many different ways.

I do wish, though - quite often in fact - that I had a servant to help me get the house in order. Just one day a week would be enough! I live on a homestead, and home school my children, and the work that piles up before me each day is completely overwhelming. I have a 17 year old daughter but she is so busy with homework that she doesn't have much time to help me, and my other children are a bit too young to do very much.

Lori Alexander said...

I don't agree with this article. Doing laundry today is so much easier than doing it back when one had to get the water, heat water, use physical labor to clean the clothes, rinse them out, then hang them up to dry. No comparison to putting them in to a washing machine, putting some soap in, and turning the machine on to wash them and then to dry them. Cooking one had to cut firewood, start a fire, etc. compared to turning a switch. Same with everything else!

Also, the Prov. 31 woman "She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands" and " She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff" and "She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple" and "She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant." She probably had to make the material for her clothes and then sewed them without the benefit of electricity and a sewing machine. "She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens." She was the one who fed her household and maidens. "She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard." She planted a vineyard.

It ends with "She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness." She was no lazy at all and worked very hard, much harder than most women do today, that is for sure!

Lydia said...


I am thinking of "service" as something provided in a complete way. i know we have washing machines, in which the washing and wringing and rinsing is provided, but if the Proverbs 31 woman had one, Her hired help would be doing the sorting and the hanging up on te line and the gathering and folding and putting away. Appliances are good aids but are not completely labor saving. Someone has to load it, fill it, empty it, serve it, scrape it, and put it away. Someone hired to serve you will be doing a more complete service.

Lydia said...

Basically I do not look to the Proverbs 31 description as a command or to-do list because it was not a real woman. It was written by a king recording what his mother taught him about a good wife and also about things to avoid. It contains some excellent things, but I do not believe it is a career-oriented thing that so many women are taking it to be. The person the mother describes had qualities fit for a king. I find that Titus two is for women in the Lord's church and is like Jesus said about His burden: it is much lighter than the burden of the Proverbs 31 woman

Lydia said...

The principles expressed in the description of the King's mother, in Proverbs 31, are worth analyzing: the care of the family being one of them.

Lori Alexander said...

I agree with you there. Since we are the Church, we are under the New Covenant and women are commanded to be "keepers at home" and "guide the home." I get many who try to argue that the Prov. 31 woman had a career and this is modern day foolishness.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...