Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 21:9
"It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman."
This is an interesting proverb because most people think they know what it means, but the truth of this proverb moves in a number of directions.
The phrase it is better to live in a corner of a roof refers to the open-roofed patio area that was on the top of many homes in the land of Israel. This is the rooftop that Jesus refers to when he says, "Shout the news from the rooftops." Many homes had these gathering places on the roof – like American front porches – where evenings could be spent outside of the heat of indoors. Some homes even had rooms that were around the common patio area. This proverb could be saying that it is better to hunker down on the patio than to get married to a woman who is contentious. He could also be saying that it is better to have a little room with your parents than get married to the wrong woman. The decision to get married is a crucial decision that will affect every day of your life from then on. Do not make the wrong decision; it is not something that can be undone.
The other idea that is implied in this proverb is that one would be better off to steer wide around even your spouse if that person is contentious – which is, in fact, what many men actually do. If a wife is always nagging and complaining and rarely grateful, men will find ways not to be home. If your husband finds other things to do with his time than to spend it with you, then it is certainly possible that his perception of you is contentious even though you might not see it that way. A man is drawn to a woman who admires his strengths while minimizing his weaknesses. A man is instinctively repelled by a woman who constantly disagrees, has another thing to do when the last one is done, and/or always has a better way or belittles his ideas. This type of behavior drives men away – even ones that have made a lifetime commitment to you.
A man craves respect – to be admired and celebrated for the hard work and talents that he has. He will move in the direction of those that give him respect. That means that friends who give him respect will get more of his time; work or career that celebrates his accomplishments or rewards his time will get more time; hobbies that make him look good will get more time. Wherever there is a steady stream of respect will get his attention. That is why the New Testament says to women: make sure that you respect your husbands
The word translated contentious is the word madduah in Hebrew which means to drive out of one's resting place, to push or thrust away, to be forcefully against. Hence the word contentious.
Most men, within their marriage, are very sensitive to resistance to their leadership and will often just abdicate the leadership role at the first sign of resistance. This leads to the very common passive-male syndrome in our culture where the wife is always right and the man just wants to go back to work where he can be right. It is wise for a wife to provide counsel and direction, but these must be offered not in opposition to his leadership but along side his leadership.
One of the other implications of this proverb is that a woman can become contentious after living with a foolish man. So the advice is: Men, do not create a contentious woman by how you treat her and lead the family. This direction of this proverb has not been adequately probed by most preachers and commentators. Most marriages start out happy and positive but devolve into a battle situation because of the actions of the people in the marriage. Since this is a book on wisdom, Solomon is pointing out that it would be very wise for a man not to create a contentious woman by how he treats his wife. If a man were willing to meet the deepest needs of his wife in their marriage, she would not be contentious. It is only because he is meeting his own needs and using her that most women become contentious as they cannot exist in this one-way relationship without saying something.
Husbands, your wife needs you to honor her – which means add value to her every day; place her as a high priority in your life. She needs you to understand her better than she understands herself and be ready to comfort, encourage, direct, and help with the assignments and opportunities of her life. She has different needs than you have. She needs you to understand her world and what she needs to thrive emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. You have taken on the job of husbandman for a garden, and she wants to bloom under your care. The thorns only show when the garden is not cared for.
Solomon is saying – think this through – a little extra time spent caring for your wife is better than wishing you were single living in the corner of a roof just being left alone.
Another observation about this proverb is that the process of picking a mate is important and great care should go into who we allow ourselves to fall in love with. This proverb suggests that the young person has some say in who they are married to. Most people do not want to admit this, but you can allow yourself to develop feelings of love or connection for a period of time with almost anyone of the opposite sex; but be very careful about who you make dating and marriage commitments to. If it is a selfish I'm-always-right or I-have-another-idea kind of person, then you are headed for a world of hurt. It doesn't matter how pretty they are or whether they like to do what you like to do; living with that kind of person will be a drain.
There are handsome, beautiful, rich, interesting people who from a distance look enticing and great to be with but who are really selfish, contentious, egotistical, stubborn, even violent, demanding, and rude. Do not think that you will change this kind of person. If you make a life-time commitment to this type of person, you will receive the brunt of their pride, selfishness, violence, and rude behavior. Get away from them before you get too deeply committed. In fact, even if you are deeply committed and yet have not married a person like this, get away from this person. Refuse to even think about marriage until there is change over a demonstrated period of time. I have watched wonderful Christian women and men who have been drawn into an enabling situation where they are constantly rescuing and excusing and being used by the selfish person they allowed themselves to marry.
Save yourself a world of hurt and do not marry this type of person. It would be better to live alone on a patio then be strapped to a selfish, stubborn, violent, prideful, contentious person.
Now note the contentiousness does not need to be angry or loud, although that is one way that people express it. It could be that this person always has another way: every little mistake you make they must point it out; they always have to point out the other side of everything you say; they always have to have the last word.
A final observation about this proverb is that one of the most gracious and enduring qualities of any woman is the ability to share contradictory or contrary ideas or information in a gracious and pleasant manner rather than a contentious manner. If a young woman were to focus on learning the secrets of sharing information and counsel in a way that is not contentious but helpful, she would be far ahead of the game. In fact, everyone needs to learn how to come alongside someone and give information, counsel, and direction that contradicts what the person wants to do. Until you are ready to do this, you will not be able to rise to enjoy the world as it really is – whether that is in marriage, business, hobbies, church, etc.