A Greek philosopher once defined man as a rational animal. If you think about it at all, you will realize that this is a terrible definition. Man may be a thinking animal, but much of what men do, maybe even most of what they do, is neither logical nor rational. Euripides was far closer to truth when he described men as full of conflicting, irrational desires, creatures that were very hard to understand, especially in regard to their treatment of women.
What motivates men? What is it that men want? In particular, what is it they want from women? Sigmund Freud tried to sort out men's desires by pointing to three divisions within the mind, the id, the ego, and the superego, all of which may want different things. But Freud seemed to believe that what really motivated men was the libido-- essentially, s*xual desire. This is also what Darwin taught. According to Darwin, men, like other animals, are simply striving to survive and to reproduce. Thus what they want is as much s*x as possible with as many women as possible.
But all this is a great mistake. What men want, deep down, is not unlimited promiscuous s*x but something rather different. What men really want is to win the love of a princess (or of a girl who deserves to be a princess), to fight against great obstacles, to deliver her from dragons or a wicked witch of a stepmother or some other great danger, to marry her, and to live happily ever after.
This is the universal fairy tale. It is the same in every civilization from Egypt to China, from England to India, from Africa to the Americas. Nor is it the theme of fairy tales alone. Most great comedies (in particular Shakespearean comedies) center around the struggles of hero and heroine to overcome the obstacles to their love, and almost invariably the denouement is a wedding. This is one of the few really satisfactory happy endings in literature--and in real life as well.
There is no question that this is still what men want today. When I tell the story of Osiris\ to my World Civilizations classes, I tell my students that Osiris had the most wonderful thing any man could possibly have, and then I ask them what that is. Invariably, the answer from the men in the class is "a good wife" (or sometimes, more colloquially, "a hot wife.") There is never any other answer. No one ever says "two wives," or "a harem full of beautiful women," or "ten thousand one night stands." The answer is always one good wife. This, then, is a man's almost universal dream.
But this gives rise to a question. If what men really want is one good wife, why do they behave as they do? Why are so many promiscuous? Why do so many cheat on their wives? One reason is that for many men, maybe even most men, this dream, the dream of the love of one good wife, gets shattered in one way or another, particularly in our society today. And when this dream is shattered, something goes devastatingly haywire with men. As an example, consider King David.
The story of David at first reads much like a fairy tale. David is a poor shepherd boy, youngest son of a large family. He does many brave deeds and wins the love of a princess, Michal, daughter of King Saul. The king, however, is jealous of David and sets him an impossible task. You want to marry Michal? Fine. Bring me a hundred foreskins of the Philistines as a bride price. David welcomes the challenge and soon produces the required foreskins. Saul grudgingly consents to the marriage, and Michal and David live happily ever after.
Well, not quite. Saul, now even more jealous, tries again and again to kill David. Michal, risking her father's displeasure and her own life, contrives to help David escape. Then Saul does the cruelest thing he could possibly do to David. He takes David's princess bride and gives her to someone else, Phalti the son of Laish.
This is a crushing blow to a man's ego. When the woman he loves ends up in bed with another man, something goes haywire in his mind, and while on the whole David is a good man, he cannot escape the consequences of this deep hurt.
Notice that one of the first things David does while he is fleeing from Saul is to find another wife. He chooses Abigail, a beautiful and clever woman, who should have been able to take Michal's place in David's life. But David is clearly not content. He soon takes another wife, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess. Still not enough. II Samuel 3 lists four more wives, Maacah, Haggith, Abital and Eglah.
Question: how many wives does it take to satisfy a man who starts out on the road of polygamy? Answer: always one more. Solomon, who ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines, said that among those thousand women he had not found the one that his soul sought.
Another question: what can be found in one woman that cannot be found in a thousand? Answer: what a man's soul truly seeks. Solomon would have found happiness had he been faithful to his Shunamite bride, and David would have been happy had he been able to maintain his relationship with Michal.
But are David's problems really the result of losing Michal? Absolutely. Notice David's conduct during the civil war that followed Saul's death. David little by little had gained the upper hand in this long war, but Saul's son Ishbosheth, backed by the very able commander Abner, was putting up a fierce and determined resistance to Davidian rule. Finally, however, Abner had had enough of Ishbosheth and decided to make overtures to David. David's reply to Abner's message is fascinating, "Thou shalt not see my face, except thou first bring Michal, Saul's daughter, when thou comest to see my face." To Ishbosheth himself David is equally insistent, "Deliver me my wife Michal which I espoused to me for a hundred foreskins of Philistines."
There is a civil war going on. David has a chance to end it and to consolidate his rule. But he won't even negotiate unless he gets his wife back first. Poor diplomacy, but very much in accord with what lies deepest in a man's heart.
David does finally get his wife back, but not to live happily ever after. David's ego had been too badly wounded for the relationship to survive. This is clear in the next exchange the Bible records between Michal and David.
David has brought up the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Michal has seen him dancing joyfully at the head of the procession and for some reason finds David's display of emotion embarrassing. She greets David with stinging words, "How glorious was the King of Israel to day who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamefully uncovers himself." In other words, "David, you made a fool out of yourself."
David, not surprisingly, is angry, and insists that his dancing was for the Lord. The writer of II Samuel concludes this episode by telling us that because of this "Michal had no child unto the day of her death." Most infer from this that God punished her with childlessness as a result of her rebuke to her husband. It seems to me more likely that it is really David who punished her by refusing ever to sleep with her again. And yes, men are so touchy, and their egos are that fragile.
But David was not finished with his cruelty to Michal. On a later occasion, it was necessary for David to choose for execution some of Saul's descendants to settle a blood debt. David could have chosen whomever he wanted, but five of the seven he chose were children Michal had been raising for one of her relatives. Again, it's clear that David is going out of his way to hurt Michal. And yes, men are so vindictive, and their egos are that fragile.
And then there's the story everyone knows, the story of David and Bathsheba. David, no doubt still hurting as a result of the problems with Michal, sees Bathsheba bathing. He sends for her, gets her pregnant, tries to deceive her husband into thinking the child is his own, and then, failing in this, arranges the death of the husband. Through all this, David doesn't even seem to realize he's doing anything wrong.
Nathan the prophet drives it home. He appears before David with a story. There were two men, one rich, one poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds, while the poor man had only one ewe lamb which he loved as a daughter. A traveller arrived at the rich man's house, and since the rich man didn't want to kill any of his own animals to provide for the guest, he took the poor man's lamb and slaughtered it.
As David heard the story, he became furious. "The man who has done this thing ought to die!" he shouted.
Nathan turned on him and simply said, "Thou art the man."
Now David wakes up to the appalling thing that he has done. Why did he do it? It seems to me clear that the root cause is the bad bruise to his ego when he lost Michal.
But notice: this was none of Michal's doing. Her father forced herinto marrying another. Imagine the hurt to David's ego-or to any man's--if the woman he loves deliberately chooses another.
Imagine, for instance, a handsome prince, the kindest, strongest, richest, ablest of men, the most eligible of bachelors, the one all the girls want for their husband. He chooses for his wife a slave girl, paying an exorbitant price to buy her freedom. He clothes her in the finest clothes, gives her extravagant gifts, treats her as well as any man can treat a woman. And she repays him by cheating on him every chance she gets, at first secretly, then more and more openly. He forgives her again and again, but she responds to his forgiveness with more abuse, bringing her lovers to his own bed. What should a man do with a woman like that?
I have bad news for you. You are that woman. Or rather, we, all of us, are that woman.
The Lord Jesus bought us out of slavery at the exorbitant price, the price of His own blood. He has given us the greatest gifts imaginable--and we repay him by cheating on him right and left.
I think most of us understand the pain a man goes through when the woman he loves in unfaithful to him, but I don't think we understand enough the pain we cause God by our unfaithfulness.
Can we really hurt the almighty God? The scriptures tell us over and over again that we do. One of the images most used for God is of that of a man whose wife has been unfaithful. Jeremiah and Hosea are dominated by this image, and the first commandment admonishes us that God is a jealous God. We rationalize this away--God can't really be jealous, can he? Quite plainly, he is.
But how can we hurt the almighty God? The answer to this lies in the essential nature of God himself. We err if we think of God primarily in terms of his power. God is powerful, but he is not power. We err also if we think of God primarily in terms of his knowledge. God knows all things, but he is not knowledge. The scripture tells us that God is love, and it is because God is love that we can hurt Him.
The Lord cares for us every bit as much as a man who loves his wife--and we hurt him when we respond to His steadfast love with constant unfaithfulness. Keith Green expressed the problem well:
Everyone's laughing at Jesus. The funniest thing that He's done is to love this poor, stubborn, rebellious world while its hate for Him just goes on.
The whole history of the world is the sad story of man's unfaithfulness to God. But there is a happy ending to this story--the happiest of happy endings. It ends, as it should, with a marriage, the
wedding supper of the lamb. It will be the greatest of all weddings, and it is a wedding to which we are all invited, not merely as spectators, but as participants.
And the Spirit and the bride say come. And let him that heareth say come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.
For those who respond to the invitation, to those who will love, honor and obey Christ, to those who will forsake all others and give their full devotion to Him this is the greatest of all promises. It is a promise of forgiveness, restoration, and hope. It is a promise that we will live happily ever after. Above all, it is the promise that we will find that deep, faithful love that men (and women) truly want above all other things.
Professor of History
Northern State University