A continual dripping on a rainy day
and a quarrelsome wife are alike;
to restrain her is to restrain the wind
or to grasp oil in one's right hand.
Once again, I find myself a cultural dinosaur. For those few of you who remember Henny Youngman, the title of this essay makes sense. For the rest of you, there is always Google.
Anyway, what we have here is another example of Proverbs' simile. Something is like something else and the similarity results in a consequence. The continual drip drip drip of water on a rainy day, perhaps the consequence of a leaky roof, perhaps the consequence of a clogged downspout and a quarrelsome, shall we say, argumentative wife, are alike.
Not to point too fine of a point on it, they are both REALLY irritating. Attempts to stop the leak prove to be futile, as are attempts to stop the nagging. Attempts to do so are like trying to stop the wind from blowing or like trying to hold oil in one’s hand.
Now, it might be necessary to say at this point that verses like this are not sexist. They do not count as evidence that the Bible is sexist. Verses like this actually provide evidence that the ultimate Author of the Bible really knows the audience to whom he has addressed his love letter.
So he says to fathers do not provoke your kids (Ephesians 6:4) because he knows that fathers can fall into the sin of exasperating their children. He makes this observation about wives because he knows that wives can fall into the sin of becoming quarrelsome or argumentative. The Bible is profitable for training and rebuke (2 Timothy 3) after all.
What are we to learn from this passage? Well, obviously wives are being admonished not to be quarrelsome. Wives, as a proper expression of their respect for their husbands (Ephesians 5:33), need to know “when to hold them and know when to fold them.” [Another ancient cultural reference] Wives need to not badger. They need to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of their husbands.
Husbands can learn from this passage as well. Husbands, as a proper expression of their love for their wives (Ephesians 5:25) need to remove, in so far as they are able, any provocation toward quarrelling. If I would have fixed the hinge on the cabinet door the first time my wife asked me to do it, she would not have had to ask forty-seven times…. for example.
As with all of Scripture, these verses point us to Jesus. He is the one who, even when sorely provoked, refused to quarrel. In fact, he kept silent, even as a lamb led to the slaughter, he did not answer back. He did not argue his own cause. It was through both his active and passive obedience that he won for his people their redemption. This passage reminds us of one component of what it means for us all to be a follower of Jesus, whether we are husband or wife, male or female, married or single. Do not quarrel! Rather, in so far as it depends upon you, strive for peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14).