Is Stay-At-Home Daughterhood Biblical?

Posted By on April 8, 2014

Nhoj Leunamme Jhon Emmanuel Compfight CC

Nhoj Leunamme Jhon Emmanuel Compfight CC

It’s now a little over three years since I realised, much to my surprise, that the Lord was calling me to a productive life as a daughter at home.

It was a bandwagon I’d never planned on joining. I was headed for a legal career, but then, over a period of six months, my future melted away leaving me to ponder how little I had really wanted a career. I’d chosen law, not because I had any particular vision for taking dominion in that way, but because it seemed the most useful way to mark time until marriage.

Slowly I became convinced that being at home was a better option for me, one that meshed more closely with my identity as a homeschool graduate whose highest ambition was to be a wife and mother one day. There were a number of reasons. For just one, why should I dedicate so much effort to building a career I intended to drop like a hot scone when Mr Right appeared?

But there was one thing missing from my convictions on “stay-at-home” daughterhood. Folks—particularly Christian peers—would remind me that the Bible doesn’t specifically command, describe, or endorse the concept, and therefore one could not make it a rule for everyone. Up until recently, I found this reasoning pretty fair. None of the books I read on the subject of daughterhood and the family made more than a persuasive argument from Scripture—certainly nothing I found convincing. Most of the factors in my own decision had been personal, and while I loved the life so much, I couldn’t recommend it to others, I knew I couldn’t promote anything as Scriptural truth which wasn’t.

Then recently, not really to my surprise, I discovered Exodus 21:7-11, the Scriptural evidence I’d been waiting for.

7. And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.

8. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.

9. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.

10. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

11. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.

I can see you looking at me funny. This is a law about selling a daughter into slavery, and I’m treating it like the Scriptural prooftext for stay-at-home daughterhood?

Well, yeah.

I believe that this passage tells us something very important about the Lord’s intentions for unmarried women.

Let’s start with the whole slavery concept. It’s important to know that “slavery” or servitude under Old Testament law was not chattel slavery as we know it today. Rather it encompassed a spectrum of different relationships ranging from hire of labourers through a kind of indentured apprenticeship to a means of restitution for debtors or criminals. One of the major uses of Old Testament servitude was to enable a man in need to provide for his family by selling himself. Laws then required him to be released in the seventh year. The rules governing this kind of arrangement are given immediately preceding the passage we’re discussing in Exodus 21. Selling one’s daughter, then, could be another option for a family in financial need.

Verse seven establishes the big difference from selling one’s self, though: if you sell a daughter, she doesn’t get set free in the seventh year. This makes perfect sense in context because it emerges that the daughter is “sold” to be married.

If you’ve read much in the Old Testament, you’ve heard of the bride price and the dowry. According to Philip Kayser, these were payments made by the groom to his betrothed wife’s family. The dowry provided a guarantee of financial security to the wife in case of the groom’s death or desertion. The bride price was a compensation to the wife’s family for her loss—in other words, it was assumed that the bride had been a positive economic good to her parents during her single years, and that economic loss required some form of financial compensation.

This law, therefore, is not so much about selling a daughter into servitude as it is a sort of advance marriage arrangement. The “sale” would be the exchange of a daughter for a dowry and bride price, which could then be used by the girl’s family to put themselves back on their feet financially.

Now this is getting easier to imagine. A family falls on hard times, and so a neighbouring family with a young son (let’s call him Alvin) betroths their son to the poor family’s daughter (we’ll call her Sheila) and makes the traditional payments immediately, so that the poor family will have something to live on until they can put themselves back on their feet.

If Alvin, once he’s old enough to take a wife, decides he’d rather marry someone else, Sheila can be redeemed once her family (or, perhaps, an alternate suitor?) repays the bride price and dowry. Until then, she remains a member of the family and Alvin can’t sell her (verse 8). Up until her marriage to Alvin, his father is obligated to treat Sheila like his own daughter (verse 9). After her marriage to Alvin, Sheila has full rights to food, clothing, and what the KJV calls “due benevolence”, even if Alvin marries another wife (verse 10). If he fails to provide her with these things, she has legal recourse to divorce, in which case the bride price and dowry need not be repaid (verse 11).

There are lots of interesting facets to this law. Notice, for instance, the fact that Sheila’s entrance into the family as a “maidservant” does not degrade her legal status to anything less than a wife, with the full legal protections of a wife—for instance, like other wives, she has the right to divorce her husband if he fails to provide for her.

Even more, notice how little distinction is drawn between the status of maidservant and the status of daughter.  During the time, however long, between her betrothal/sale and the consummation of her marriage with Alvin, Sheila holds a legally-enforceable position as a daughter of the family: Alvin’s father “shall deal with her after the manner of daughters”.  This lends weight to the observation of one commentator that servants in the Bible occupy a position in their master’s household analogous to that of children. Compare with Paul’s illustration in Galatians 4, which begins: “Now I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all.” Being sold as a maidservant into a family under this law means being accepted as a daughter by that family.

Thinking through the passage, it seems safe to assume that the natural daughters of the family also act as maidservants to their parents: this is no Cinderella deal, with the new “daughter” being made to do all the work, for she is treated no differently to the master’s own daughters. The concept of the bride price as compensation to the parents for the loss of an economically-productive daughter supports this reading. And when we look at other daughters in Scripture, we see them filling a similar maidservant role: drawing water (Rebekah) and herding sheep (Rachel, Zipporah, and her sisters).

So what application does this law have to modern Christian women? Well, I happen to believe in the continued relevance of Old Testament judicial law (like this) to New Testament society, which drives my interest in this area. Still, even if you disagree on the exact current application of this law, it continues to teach us about the Lord’s desires and intentions for human society. We don’t get to erase it from Scripture entirely, even though the commonwealth of Israel is no more. It would be arrogant of us to assume it has nothing to teach us.

So Exodus 21:7-11 tells us a number of things about the Lord’s intentions for unmarried women.

First, that a daughter placed outside her parents’ home is a sign of financial need. The whole point of this law is about ensuring the daughter’s future and helping her family through financial difficulty similar to Exodus 21:1-6, the immediately preceding passage. Ordinarily, a daughter with an intact family would be found working as a maidservant in her own father’s home.

Second, that in such times of need, daughters do not act as hirelings or indentured servants, as their brothers or fathers may. The Lord has different rules, just for them. This goes against the common argument that a daughter should have a career in case something should go wrong one day in the future. In Scripture we do see these financial questions being answered, but not in the way the world answers them.

Third, if pressing financial or other need does result in a daughter being placed outside her parents’ home, she does not become an employee or hireling, but is placed into another family with a legally-enforceable right to be treated as their daughter. One wonders, if a daughter placed into another man’s home has the right to be treated “after the manner of daughters”—presumably given food and clothing—how much more does her own father have the duty to do the same?

Fourth, the daughter is also placed into a marriage which will provide for her long-term, and verse 8 even suggests that there is some stigma if the young man betrothed to her fails to marry her: “he has dealt deceitfully with her.”

To sum up, even in times of financial difficulty and emergency, daughters under Old Testament law did not leave home and hire themselves out. Instead, they were transferred to live as daughters and wives in a new home.

This, not an alternative of college or employment, is what the Lord provided for single daughters of functional covenant families in Old Testament Israel.

In the interests of not stretching this passage beyond what it plainly says, I’ll happily acknowledge that this law does not limit all daughters to the exact model described. However, this law does give us an excellent idea of what the Lord clearly prefers!

While I was studying law, I worked casually at a local law firm. They were kind people, and I thoroughly enjoyed and am grateful for the experience. But I was not welcomed into my employer’s home, treated like his own daughter, or betrothed to his son! I have a question:

Why should we daughters take anything less than what the Lord provides in His law?

About The Author

Suzannah Rowntree lives at home with her parents and siblings when she isn't travelling to help out families in need. She freelances as a proofreader, copywriter, and journalist, blogs on great reading at her website, Vintage Novels, and enjoys living the adventure of dependence.


8 Responses to “Is Stay-At-Home Daughterhood Biblical?”

  1. laceymical says:

    The admitted “proof-texting” in this entry is too much of a stretch — no surprise when it is prefaced with: “…not really to my surprise, I discovered … the Scriptural evidence I’d been waiting for” It’s not difficult to discover Scriptural evidence if you’re determined to find it. We’ve all been there.

    I actually agree with the author’s idea of finding God’s character pattern and “preferences” throughout the Old Testament; still, the application she used is just too stretched, repackaged, and convoluted. She seems aware of this, as she quotes her proof-text immediately followed by, “I can see you looking at me funny.” God is an excellent Communicator. If He has a message for us about how we should live, it’s not going to need to be decoded.

    I also see nothing inherently wrong with the “stay at home daughter,” as an individual choice, although there are many fallacies to be found with the “stay at home daughter” *movement*.

    Here’s the direct, New Testament instruction:
    “There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.”

    The stay at home daughter movement prescribes a life for the unmarried woman which is focused on pleasing her dad while pining for her “future husband.” Writing letters to the “future husband,” making decisions based on what might prepare her for the “future husband,” meanwhile submitting to her dad in her “future husband”‘s stead. (I know this does not describe every “stay at home daughter.”) This is in complete defiance of the Scriptural directive to care for the things of the Lord while not bound to a husband.

    At the other extreme, there are unmarried women who are pursuing degrees and careers with the intent of impressing others. This is also in defiance of Scriptural desires. I wonder if this is the category in which the author had found herself prior to finding peace in her life as a stay-at-home daughter?

    One might pursue a law degree with the sincere intent to help others. Perhaps she had hoped to marry, but when that didn’t happen by her completion of high school, her desire to focus on and serve the Lord coupled with talents in administrative and people skills which opened doors for her to pursue legal studies which will enable her to help fathers with custody battles, etc.

    Another might decide to forsake opportunities to earn more money or social accolades in favor of staying at home to help aging parents or younger siblings.

    Neither of these ladies ought to feel the need to find a Scriptural directive for instructing others to pursue law degrees or to stay at home.

    Also, the most helpful and Godly parents will be the ones who encourage their daughters to serve the Lord with self-sacrificing abandon. Thoughts of “They will be so impressed that my daughter has this degree at such a young age!” or “They will see how righteous my daughter is when she stays at home rather than pursuing college and career like a feminist!” and other such ultimately self-seeking motives can only lead to destruction.

  2. Homestead Homebody says:

    Miss Rowntree,
    This is an excellent piece! I will be sharing this article with all of the “searching” young women that I encourage towards biblical womanhood.

  3. Hi Lacey! Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! I completely agree that we should not be self-seeking in our choices for what to do while unmarried.

    Also thanks for bringing up the I Corinthians 7:34 verse. I’d really love to write a whole article about that! For now I’ll just say that I don’t think the verse is an instruction. It isn’t prescriptive of how things should be (SHOULD a married wife forget about “the things of the Lord” and focus on pleasing her husband first of all?) but descriptive of a common temptation for married women.

  4. kaishabannon says:

    Dear Suzannah,

    First, I want to commend you on looking to scripture for how to live. Specifically for looking for God’s heart for you and other girls. For obeying his calling even when it didn’t align with your original plan.

    Although I don’t agree with the idea of stay at home daughters as a universal rule for all adult daughters, I fully acknowledge that I’m not you…my calling is not your calling, and being a stay at home daughter may very well be something that God has asked certain individual girls to do. And even if I think the general reasoning is flawed when applied to all girls, it doesn’t mean you’re not where you’re supposed to be, and that you aren’t following Jesus the best that you know how. Which is what I’m doing over here…I have no doubt equally flawed in ways that He hasn’t shown me yet. Which I’ve found is just how living a Christian life goes…you do your best with what you have until He shows you otherwise.
    That said, I think you’ve misused this passage. I appreciate so much that you are looking for the heart of God originally intended for mankind, and specifically daughters. This is something that I’ve recently been learning to look for when I consider the way I live my life…how God originally intended the world to work and my role in that.

    However, I think the OT law is the wrong place to look. Then 10 commandments were given to reveal the sinful nature of people, and the rest…I believe, were given in part for the protection of the people of Israel.

    It seems to me that if we want to take this passage and apply it very literally to our lives today, without looking to the reason why God gave the law, we need to do that with the rest of the OT law. And that quickly gives us problems. An example that quickly comes to mind is the law that permits divorce:

    Exodus 24:1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house.”

    If we are we are taking the OT laws at face value and not looking to the reason why God gave the law in the first place, we could come to the conclusion that divorce is totally fine in the instance of a wife being “indecent” (whatever that means!). But if you skip forward, Jesus totally explains the intent of God behind this OT law when the Pharisees ask him a question directly regarding Exodus 24. Jesus response is interesting:

    “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.” Mark 10:5
    Jesus then goes on to explain that God’s heart is always for reconciliation and forgiveness and really never ever divorce. Crazy. Jesus pretty much wants us to ditch all our ideas regarding “good reasons to get divorced,” including His own OT law, and realize that God’s heart is never for divorce. Which is why we should look to the reasons why God gave the laws in Exodus 21.

    When I read your passage in Exodus 21 I see God providing practical ways for a young woman in the old testament to be protected from sex trafficking. Which, if a family was in great financial need, would probably be the most obvious and easy option for quick money. I don’t see it as a description of what God’s original intention for adult daughters.

    I think if we want to really see God’s original intent for how to live, you have to go back to Genesis before the fall…when the world really was as God intended it. And look forward to the kingdom when everything will be restored to how it was in the beginning. And piece together as much as we can about that from the middle part of the Bible.

    The unfortunate part is Adam and Eve didn’t even make it to having kids before things went south. So it’d really be nice to have more to go off of. Bummer.
    I hope this makes sense and is helpful. I am no OT scholar, but I’ve taken my ideas from those that are.

    I hope your day is marvelous. :)

  5. MrsDanny says:

    Excellent article. Before I was married, I lived at home with my parents and did the housekeeping, etc. It was my choice to stay and keep the home, as my Mom and sister went to “get jobs” after my father was let go from his job (he was retirement age) and we still needed some income.

    This passage of Scripture shouldn’t be overlooked by those wanting to justify their choice of “working”. God never changes. So, if His ideal in Exodus was that a daughter was at home until marriage, His ideal today is the same. May I repeat: God never changes. Because our world and circumstances change, we tend to forget that God hasn’t changed His stance on anything. He is still God and still in charge of every facet of our lives, or should be, if we call ourselves His.

    I’m constantly convicted with this thought: To whom do I belong? God or this world? If I belong to God, I must look to His Word for instruction, whether it seems to fit my life or not. If His Word doesn’t fit my life, I will need to look at my definition of “my life”; if the definition doesn’t mesh with His, then I need to change. Yes, I need to change. Never “throw out” His Word or decide something no longer applies if it doesn’t agree with your own thoughts (or the prevailing thoughts of the day)! This “logic” can lead down a very dangerous path of systematically throwing out bits and pieces until you have nothing.

    Sorry for the rambling. I really did appreciate your article and hope that it can encourage other daughters who may be “on the fence” about staying home to become stay-at-home daughters. =)

  6. Kaisha, the use and continued force (if any) of OT law is a huge area which a lot of ink has been spilled over! You can find much teaching on the OT law today–I highly recommend reading RJ Rushdoony’s “Law and Liberty.” This said, it’s easy to come up with another example of Jesus approving and even extending the OT law. In fact, in Matthew 15:3-6 he approved the law of Exodus 21:17, “He that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.”

    This law, among many other things, does provide against sex trafficking. (Which is yet another of the wonderful things about it). However, that’s not its sole focus. It provides a clear principle of what the Puritans called “the general equity of the law” that a daughter has a right to her family’s protection and provision, and that only adoption into a new family through a covenant of marriage can break that obligation. 1 Timothy 5:8 makes it clear that the general duty continues, and this law demonstrates that daughters fall under the duty of a man to provide for his own household.

  7. Hobbit says:

    I am in the position, as a single man, of knowing a good number of Christian single women in careers, including lawyers and medical doctors. What could be instructive, would be to sit down a number of stay-at-home daughters with a number of Christian career women (think Lydia, for want of a better NT example), to have them talk through these questions and perhaps spark off each other (iron sharpens iron).

    The other thing to think about: assuming there are enough Christian single men to go round. Once our evangelism adds many more adult women than adult men to the ‘pool’, life can get quire challenging.

  8. Hobbit says:

    Also, while one hopes that there are enough Christian single men to go round … a daughter who staked her future on getting married would have to think very hard as to what to do if there were no husband in the picture. That may be part of the reason why some women do get training and more secular education (eg, nursing). I am hardly criticising the intent of the original post, but this disparity in numbers is unavoidable, and the issue can’t be avoided either.

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