Many years ago when I was working at Australian Christian Academy, I had a phone conversation with a woman who was considering homeschooling her children. She had some reservations about her ability to do this successfully, and made the observation to me at one point, “Oh well, I’m just a mother.”
Since then, I’ve reflected on that statement over the years. That woman made an important observation that showed something: someone had indoctrinated her in relation to her supposed lack of ability to educate her children, being “just a mother.”
What does this show us? The modern world is very strong on qualifications. We’re told that “you’ve got to know what you’re doing.” And after all, “If you haven’t been to university, how could you really teach children?”
My wife Sue finished her formal education at Year 10, aged 16, and has helped our three sons graduate with a Year 12 Certificate. At the same time, she managed the home and cared for us all. Has she got any qualifications for any of this? Formally, no. Was she able to do all of this competently? Absolutely.
I grew up on a farm in NSW, living there till I was 18. I learned to drive various vehicles there such as cars, trucks and tractors. I learned how to do some basic mechanical work on those vehicles (such as changing a wheel and changing the oil), and to work with livestock such as chickens, dogs, sheep, cattle and horses. I learned there is a right and wrong way to stack hay-bales on a truck, how to walk on a corrugated-iron roof without damaging it, how to load and shoot a gun safely, how to milk a cow, raise calves, paint a gate, how to roll 200 kg bales of wool and how to do many other things.
Qualifications to show for all this? None.
What can we learn from this? There is such a thing as “learning on the job.” There is such a thing as learning by observation, whether it be from parents, siblings or others. There is also learning from a book, or the internet. And most of all, there are many, many tasks in life that people can accomplish successfully, without formal qualifications.
As far as we know, education in Abraham’s day was almost totally a family responsibility, and “on the job training” was the only kind of training there was. Abraham clearly had military ability to plan and execute an attack to rescue Lot using 314 men (Gen.14:13-16), and he had the capacity to successfully manage a lot of men in their work for him, as also did Isaac and Jacob, along with the management of livestock, and assets such as silver and gold (Gen.13:1-2).
Isaac’s abilities at crop-growing were such, that he “sowed in that land and reaped a hundred-fold” (Gen.26:12), and the men of Abraham and Isaac’s household (and possibly Isaac) were competent at digging wells (see Gen.21:25-30; 26:12-25).
All three patriarchs were prudent, shrewd and just in their dealings with outsiders, such as the king of Sodom, Pharoah, Abimelech and the Philistines, and Abraham with his allies Mamre, Eshcol and Aner (Gen.14:13).
If this was what these men were capable of, what about the women who were there to help them? Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel were shrewd, wise and grand women of faith. Furthermore, there were women in the households of the patriarchs with specialised abilities, and these are mentioned in the Bible. We read that Rebekah had a nurse called Deborah (Gen.35:8), and Rachel had a mid-wife (Gen.35:17). The woman of Proverbs 31 has many talents and skills, and is clearly a woman of work, who does not “…eat the bread of idleness” (Prov.31:27).
Even when her husband Nabal was incapable of dealing with a family crisis, Abigail had sufficient wisdom and initiative to launch an intercessory mission to successfully head off and placate David, who was coming with 400 men to destroy every male of her household, (I Sam.25).
Christian women had best be careful who they are listening to, especially to comments that are made to diminish or demean their capacity to educate their children. When the first woman (accompanied by her foolish and negligent husband) listened to a serpent and acted on his suggestion, Jesus Christ had to die to sort the whole mess out.
The patriarchs would have been puzzled by a woman saying, “I’m just a mother.” On the battlefield, perhaps it wouldn’t be appropriate that she be there (except afterwards). But women at every other circumstance were welcomed, valued and needed, as they are today in godly homes and churches. When Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac, he went with silver and gold (Gen.24:19-22, 52-53).
Her primary qualifications? They are ethical and moral ones, as Proverbs 31 again teaches us. “An excellent wife who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain….She opens her mouth in kindness, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (v.1-2, 26).