16 November 2011

Unearthing the Substance of Manhood

For Stephen, a man of goodly words and goodly deeds.
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee and answer thou me.
Job 38:1-3 (KJV)

These verses mark a new beginning after thirty-five chapters of stylized dispute between Job and his four comforters-turned-cross-examiners. During the labored climb toward this literary crest, the mind of the constant reader has been weighted with metaphor and wearied with repetition; but just here his fingers find the top of the wall and he comes face to face with the terrible presence of God.

Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man...

Picture a twelve-year-old youth confronted by this passage for the very first time, and feel the stirring in his growing limbs as a dormant desire awakens inside of him. Godly manhood. It is almost like discovering a new color.

Gird up thy loins like a man.

That youth hears this call like an albatross smells the sea: as if his other half were summoning him to himself. Do you hear it too–– this divine imperative that is as much a question as it is a command, silently demanding that you work out its solution?

How do I be a man?

You have been answering this question for years, by the way that you live, and move, and have your being. But have you been answering well? Have you demonstrated the solution to the unique, one-in-a-billion puzzle set before you by your Maker?

Gird up thy loins like a man.

Take a moment now to really taste the archaic zest of this expression. Say it with me, slowly, and out loud. Let us bridge the time and space between us; I'll speak it out loud as I write it, and you speak it out loud as you read it.

Gird up thy loins like a man.

Just think of it––that the Knitter of our natures should appeal to manhood in calling His servant to a higher sphere of activity––this is worthy of attention. Why? Because it means that this virtue is something real, something to be sought, and something that does not become yours merely by aging. It means that something majestic, and more mysterious than a materialistic worldview would like to admit, has breached the fences of our universe, and a lion is padding across the grounds.

Such is the shape of the youth’s faint thrill at first reading this utterance. But what does it mean? Where does it come from, and where is it taking us? It comes from the ancient Hebrew, and depicts a man gathering up the lower lengths of his robe to gird them beneath his belt. This was to make the legs of the man more mobile, and so free him for greater feats of activity. In the book of Job, then, when God tells His questioning sufferer, "Gird up your loins like a man. I shall question you, and you shall educate me," He is telling Job to ready his mind for a higher level of activity: the activity of answering his Maker's exposing questions.

But why does God tell him to do it like a man? The answer to this question lies buried beneath our English versions, in the dark soil of the Hebrew original. It turns out that the word, rendered here as man, is a rarer artifact than our translations would suggest.

It is not adam, which names man's origin from the ground, adamah (Gen. 2:7). Nor is it enosh, which speaks of man's sickly mortality (Ps 103:15, cf. 2Sam 12:15), nor is it the generic ish, from whom was drawn the ishah, the woman or wife of Genesis 2:23, nor, finally, is it zakhar, which indicates the male gender for humans and animals alike (Gen 1:27; 6:19). What is it, then? How was Job to gird up his loins?

Like a gebher. Even today, you can hear this word in names like Gabriel and El-Gibbor. For the Hebrews, a gebher was a strong, active, fully realized man. A godly husband, father, and warrior, a gebher was a man who exercised his social, physical and spiritual faculties according to their potential. Take any one of these qualities away, and you would have a walking contradiction: a gebher who was not a gebher, a man who was not active in the realms for which his powers had been given.

God's point for Job, then, was that in all of his questioning, he had been exercising himself at a sub-gebher level, in a lower sphere of mental activity than that for which God had created him. He needed to gird up his loins like a gebher who frees his limbs for the doing of great deeds. He needed to exercise his mind at a level of activity in keeping with the manhood to which His Maker was summoning him. And there it is, the substance of manhood laid bare:


It is the standing imperative for every man alive, the end for which God breathed His breath into your nostrils. Look at the thickening brawn of every boy’s back and feel the confirmation knit into your masculine soul that God has made you to act.

As a husband.

As a father.

As His man in the world.

Apply this to your life. Reject the passive; embrace the active. Gird up your loins like a man.

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Josh Christophersen said...

Awesome post. I love the topic of manhood and have studied and meditated on it extensively, but I somehow missed the significance of "Gird up thy loins like a man" as it relates to the topic of manhood. Thanks for writing this. It was excellent.

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