Our Daughters: Corner Pillars or Shapely Wildflowers?

My daughter Lucy pulls herself up into the top bunk in the hallway of the bus and pulls the shade. Later, I peek my face in and ask her what she’s up to. But at first she doesn’t hear me – her face is intent on her next drawing. In the corner of her bunk I see Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Lucy is smart, and she is kind especially to her smaller brother and sister. She is brave. And there is a strength in her that she inherited, not from me, but from her mother.

* * * * *

At the beach, Abra immediately drops to play in the sand. Then she rolls over on to her back and makes a sand angel. Then she lifts handfuls of the stuff and pours it into piles. Abra is our beaming child, so full of energy and smiles and messy life that she will not be constrained. She is so unlike me, and I love that about her.

* * * * *

Having two daughters, then, it is no wonder that this verse in Psalms reached out to me a few days ago. I can’t stop thinking about it:

May our sons in their youth
be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars
cut for the structure of a palace. (Psalms 144:12 NAS)

Wow. Corner pillars. That struck me as a particularly strong image, one that reverberated in my mind. In this verse, the sons are portrayed as plants, while the daughters are corner pillars. Which sounds stronger to you in this instance? Which is supporting the weight of a massive structure?

I wondered to myself: Am I giving my daughters the support they need to become, not the pretty little things our culture so often encourages, but the strong “corner pillars” the psalmist envisioned?

* * * * *

I tremble as I write this post, not knowing why.

I wanted to find out more about this verse, so I checked it out on an online resource, looking into the various translations. Here is the New Living translation:

May our sons flourish in their youth like well-nurtured plants. May our daughters be like graceful pillars, carved to beautify a palace.

Interesting. The image of strength that rose my mind in the other translation is here slightly overshadowed by the words “graceful” and “beautify.” Appearance takes precedence over the characteristics of strength and structural support. Perhaps a one-off, I thought to myself, moving into other translations. How about the New King James Version?

That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; That our daughters may be as pillars, Sculptured in palace style.

Closer to the NAS, but “sculptured in palace style” still left me with the feeling that looks trumped strength. Finally, I turned to The Message. I love The Message. I love the freshness of its present-day language and creativity.

Make our sons in their prime like sturdy oak trees, Our daughters as shapely and bright as fields of wildflowers.

The Message completely reversed the original intent of the older translations, placing the image of strength and sturdiness into the blessing granted to the sons, while blessing the daughters with the image of flowers and shapeliness. It seems the more recent the translation, the more appearance-based the blessing.

What?

* * * * *

I’m not a Hebrew scholar. Please feel free to point out in the comments any mistakes I’ve made. Seriously. But I turned to a few tools online to aid in breaking this verse down:

Apparently the word “corner” in that verse comes from the Hebrew word we write as Zaviyth meaning “corner.” Duh. Interesting though, that it may come from the same root as the masculine Ziv, meaning “brightness or prominent.” Prominent corner?

The word “cut” in that verse comes from the Hebrew Chatab, meaning “to cut or carve.”

Stay with me, because most interesting of all, the word palace comes from the Hebrew Heykal. In the NAS, this word appears 80 times. In 14 of those cases (including this verse), the English word used in its place is “palace.” But in fifty instances, the English word is “temple.”

Temple.

The place of worship.

What if this verse had been translated as

our daughters like corner pillars
cut for the structure of the temple

How would that impact our view of our daughters, or of the role they play in our lives and our churches as they enter womanhood? What if we saw them as structural necessities, and not peripheral contributors? Maybe you already do.

I hope you already do.

* * * * *

Although I am constantly awestruck by the physical beauty of my daughters, I will not encourage them to find their value in it. The years will tear at it. Others will objectify it. An accident could alter it. And in the end, death will destroy it.

I want to be part of a community that places an importance on our daughters, not because of their fleeting physical beauty, but because of their importance, their strength, and the absolute necessity of their presence.

May our sons in their youth
be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars
cut for the structure of a palace.

17 Replies to “Our Daughters: Corner Pillars or Shapely Wildflowers?”

  1. Shawn, we are at different ends of the daughter spectrum, perhaps. You still have a few years with yours. Mine is almost 18, about to graduate high school and enter college after Christmas. But there is something about her.
    Let me throw out a disclaimer. I am a conservative, Southern Baptist. However, we have done a disservice to our women and our churches and, I daresay, our families. Our wives and daughters are vital in so many ways that we won’t speak of in church. Let’s fact it. They are the support structure of both institutions. Without them, families and churches would fall apart. We often won’t let them be leaders, yet with their leadership both would fall apart.
    They are corner pillars of the Temple.

  2. This is fascinating, Shawn. I find the changes in The Message translation especially interesting. It’s such a balance to celebrate girls and women for all that they are. We need the whole of who we are to be affirmed- not just our intellect or solely our beauty. It’s all pieces of who we are. I remember wanting so badly to be told I was pretty when I was growing up but the other parts of me are what people complimented. Is it any wonder that I know and believe all those great characteristics about myself but still struggle to call myself beautiful? I don’t blame anyone for that. I’m the one that placed my worth in my self-esteem way back when. But I wonder how things would have changed if I’d been told I could be whatever I wanted, as well as had my beauty affirmed.

    You’re a wonderful father, Shawn. I respect so much that you evaluate these things and consider the messages you want to give to your children.

    1. That’s a wonderful point, Leigh – girls and women (and all of us) should be celebrated for the many facets of who we are. And during this life our selves are clothed in these bodies, and our perception of these bodies that make up our physical selves can have a huge impact on our inner selves.

      I guess this is where I’m coming from: I found myself encouraging my sons differently from my daughters (I’m a huge encourager at heart). I found myself telling my sons, “Wow, you’re so strong! You’re so brave!” and telling my girls, “You’re so beautiful!” I don’t want to eliminate those existing messages that I’m sending to them, but I WOULD like to make sure that my encouragement (to all of my kids) is a well-rounded message, and not one that only emphasizes one aspect of their being.

      Excellent comment. You really made me think.

  3. WOW! What awesome revelation.

    Coming from a pillar that’s tried to fit in with the wildflowers for too long its encouraging to hear.

  4. Gracious, Shawn, this will stick with me. This is beautiful, strong, so true, so good. I love your father’s heart for your family – it helps me see our Abba.

  5. Shawn, I love this. The image is fascinating. Somehow combining strength and beauty seems to provide balance for women. But, as you have said, we neglect the strength part. This is a keeper verse for me. Thanks for teasing it out.

  6. Shawn, I saw you, Sarah, and Lore tweeting about this and I had to pop over to take a look. This is a beautiful reflection. I am so glad to know there are fathers like you in the world.

    I love how you were touched by a Bible verse, and took the time to dig deeper. As much as it makes things more difficult that the Bible was written across a cultural and language divide, I also think it makes the exploration more interesting. It is so often like poetry, not easily understood, but reaching more deeply as we dig and ponder.

    Do you know about the NET Bible resource? I use it a lot when I’m investigating language issues. It is full of articles and notes about translation and other things. It is found at https://net.bible.org.

    One thing I think of with the verses about daughters here is that there is also intention and effort. The palace and the temple were not built overnight. They were long endeavors. There was intention behind every candle placement, curtain color, and pillar carving. I don’t think we need to ignore the beauty of women, but we need to look deeper at what beauty really is, and what beauty says about the Artist who created it.

    1. Stephanie, first of all, thanks for that resource. I will definitely check it out. And while I’ve never thought of it that way before, you’re right – having an original language to go back to does open up such depth of analysis and conversation. It is rather beautiful.

      Secondly, thanks for the grace in your comment. I think, in the heat of making this discovery and writing the post, I did sort of throw beauty to the ground and stomp on it :) You make a wonderful point with your last sentence. Thanks for joining in the discussion.

      1. Just my two cents–I, for one, didn’t mind the “stomping” on physical beauty. (But then I harp on that issue a LOT!) The things that we are affirmed for impact us as much, and perhaps more, than the things that are criticized and ignored. Some of the most beautiful women in the world are the most insecure about their looks, because of the inflated importance we’ve attached to their hair, their cheekbones, their eyes. And sure, women desperately want to be told that they are beautiful, but I think that’s largely because society ascribes so much importance to that. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be pretty, wanting to look your best, but we western women have become a wee bit neurotic about it, IMO.

  7. I think that you will bring them up to someday arrive at a good understanding of beauty and acceptance. Thanks for the thoughts on the verse.

  8. As a mom of four daughters this really struck at my heart, it’s the balance we all hope to find. As you have said our girls can be beautiful and strong and should be loved for both x

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