In the Hebrew family, similar to today, each person has their own role in the family and when added together, they create the entire family. The men, women, and children all had a different responsibility in the family. It wouldn’t function properly if they weren’t all in their own places. It was very important, as it is today, that each member of the family pulls their own weight in the family. The Hebrew’s lived in Israel; and their history has been carried on for thousands and thousands of years.
It was fairly evident that in the time after creation, the Hebrew families were separated by their gender and their abilities. The men of the family had more power and say in what was going to happen than the women and children did. They gave the ruling and the decisions that they made were final, whether they pertained to the rest of the family or to the society around them. “‘Here is your brother Simeon who, I know, is wise in counsel; always listen to him; he shall be your father. Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the people.'” (1 Maccabees 2.65-66). This was when Mattathias told his family that he wanted his son Judas Maccabeus to become the man of the family and take control. No one questioned that idea because they were told by their father and they were taught to always listen to him. It was believed that the father of the family knew best and could therefore give counsel to anyone in the family who needed it.
Men in those days gained their prosperity in a different way than men do today. Today men are seen as great people in society when they have a great job and make a lot of money. To the Hebrew’s however, a prosperous man was one who had many children. It didn’t matter if they were with the same mother or not, just as long as he had many children, preferably sons. “Then Leah said, ‘God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.'” (Genesis 30.20). This was the role of women in the family. They were there in order for the men to have the children that would lead to their popularity in the community and to take care of the household.
Women knew not to protest against their husbands, they just did whatever they were told to do and often feared that they would not be loved if they weren’t able to bear children. As was the case with Elkanah and one of his wives, Hannah. Hannah did not have any children because the Lord had closed her womb. She feared that she would lose Elkanah, “[…] Therefore she wept and would not eat” (1 Samuel 1.7), because she couldn’t give him the children he wanted, yet his other wife Peninnah could. Peninnah tormented Hannah to an extent where Hannah would weep and stop eating (1 Samuel 1.3-8). A woman in those times seriously believed that if they could not bear children for their husband, he wouldn’t want her anymore. She felt it was her responsibility to be a good wife to Elkanah. The only way a women knew how to do that in those times was to give their husband the thing that brought him prosperity in the eyes of the men around him, children. In this case, however, Hannah was wrong and Elkanah just loved her. It took her a long time to believe that it was ok to not have children and that Elkanah would love her either way, “So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her” (1 Samuel 1.7).
The children had their own roles in their family as well. The sons were often trained for battle in case they ever needed to defend their family or land; other sons were left to do work at home or in the fields. A father would usually chose some of his sons to go fight and keep others at home, so there was still a man at home with his wife and young children. “This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives” (Genesis 37.2). In this case, Jacob had decided not to send Joseph to fight because he was needed at home to help his mother and his father’s other wife. Another instance from Jacob’s family was when he sent ten of his sons to Egypt to buy grain since famine was striking their land, “[…] but Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he feared that harm might come to him” (Genesis 42.4). Again, Jacob didn’t want to send all of his sons to accomplish their mission because he didn’t want to be left without any sons if something were to happen to those he sent for grain. He wanted Benjamin to stay home so he’d still have a man at the house in case anything happened to the others. The sons took charge of the family when the man of the house was away. He had to chose carefully who would be the best to go and who should stay behind to take care of the rest of the family if a disaster were to occur.
The daughters in the family had their own responsibilities, separate from those of the sons. They frequently did little jobs around the home, “I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water” (Genesis 24.13). It was a common activity for the females to do such things as fetching water because it was an easy task that had to be done, and they were capable of doing it while the men were off doing their own jobs. The daughters also did labor around the home. “He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers” (1 Samuel 8.13). The girls cooked and prepared everything for the men in the family during the day and cared for the men at night.
In Hebrew families in the Israel society, each member had their own role and position they had to fill in order for family life to run smoothly. The men were in charge and often fought battles, the women bore children and were midwives, and the children usually worked in the homes when they were young and as they grew older started working in the fields and fighting battles with their father. When combined, each individual role created the entire family that was able to function properly. This was evident through many areas of the Bible, especially in Genesis, 1 Maccabees, and 1 Samuel.
Coogan, Michael D., ed. New Oxford Annotated Bible: Third Edition. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford UP, 2001.