To understand how difficult it is to be married to a contentious person, you need to know that the Bible was written in a desert. The Promised Land is described as a place of “milk and honey” but even the most generous of geographers would call it “arid.” Average temperatures run in the high 80s and 90s. Places like Tel Aviv aren’t just hot, they’re also very humid.
Having been a resident of Houston, Texas for nearly a decade, I don’t have to imagine how it feels to live in temperatures in the 90s with high humidity—I run through months of days like this every year. One of the best feelings in life is to come in from a long, hot and humid run and step into an air-conditioned house. If “How Great Thou Art” isn’t the first thing that comes out of your mouth, you have a calloused soul indeed.
It’s out of that context that I recently read Proverbs 25:24: “It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.”
In a hot and humid world, the one thing I would not want to do is live outside. The second thing I would hate to do is to be exposed to the sun without shade, which this image implies. The third thing that would make it even worse is having to stay on the corner so that there are at least two sides in which I could fall off and potentially break my neck.
The writer of Proverbs has created an image that, three thousand years ago (when it was written) would have caused everybody to think “ewwwwwww….”
And that’s the image he uses to picture what it’s like to be married to a contentious person.
If you’re single, don’t marry a contentious person. If you’re married and contentious, you need to kill this tendency before it kills your marriage.
Contentious means quarrelsome and argumentative. Synonyms include belligerent, combative, and confrontational. It exists on a continuum. Just as you can be tipsy, drunk, or passed out, so you can be consistently confrontational, full on argumentative, or contentiously toxic. Most of us exist on this dangerous spectrum at some point or other.
Proverbs was originally written for young men, so it’s only natural the writer would warn against picking a contentious wife, but it’s just as true a warning for a woman not to marry a contentious man. And the wisest man who ever lived argues that it’s so unpleasant to be married to such a person that it’s actually more pleasant to live in a hot and humid place, exposed to the sun and having to constantly guard against an injurious fall than to share an air-conditioned mansion with an argumentative person.
Here are a couple examples: one wife puts up with a husband who has strong political opinions and who loves to watch politically oriented shows. Every day he has a dozen fantasy debates against opponents who can’t even hear him. She’s embarrassed at church, restaurants, and family gatherings. One innocent “trigger word” from an unaware person, like “immigration,” “taxes,” “Obama,” or “Trump” and she tries to get as far away as possible because she knows what’s going to follow. If a pastor mutters one of those words in a sermon, that’s the only part of the sermon this man will hear—and all the wife will hear about on the drive home. He is consistently one sermon, actually one sentence in a sermon, away from leaving his fifth church.
A husband has a wife who is easily disappointed and processes her disappointment verbally. He has his feet cut out from under him several times a day. He folds the towels wrong. He buys the wrong food at the grocery store. He orders the wrong dish at the restaurant; there’s always a “better” choice. When his wife sent him with his daughter to a used bookstore to use up some store credit before moving out of town, he got yelled at for buying six books for himself and six for his daughter.
“What did you expect me to get at a used bookstore?” he asked.
“Not six books!” she said. “Maybe one or two.”
“We had $80 credit!”
You get the point. Living with a contentious person leaves you continually on edge, having to justify a dozen decisions or opinions a day. There’s no peace, little quiet or rest. It’s like living with a prosecuting attorney, without a defense lawyer, and you’re the accused. It will feel exhausting. No matter how good the rest of your life is, the fact that you married a contentious person will feel like getting splashed with cold water several times a day. It gets really old really fast.