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A Leaky Roof and a Prudent Wife

Wisdom of a life free from nagging

Proverbs 19:13-14

13 A foolish son is the ruin of his father,
And the contentions of a wife are a continual dripping.

14 Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers,
But a prudent wife is from the Lord.

Proverbs 21:9

9 Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop,
Than in a house shared with a contentious woman.


Have you ever had to replace the roof on your house? It can get very expensive. Even relatively minor roof repairs can stretch into the thousands of dollars. Your home’s roof is primarily there to keep out the elements–especially the number one concern: rain.

Many years ago, when my wife and I were newly wed and had no money, we rented an old house. It was in poor shape, but the lights and plumbing worked, and it was close to where we  worked and went to school. It was fraught with problems but the landlord refused to invest any money into a lost cause–for she new that it was in a commercial zone and its days as a residence were numbered. 

We dealt with bugs and pests, windows that rattled in the wind, and patrons from the noisy bar next door parking in our yard and carrying on at all hours of the night. That was not the worst thing, however. After the first rain storm we discovered that the roof leaked. We placed buckets under two obvious spots and made a futile call to the landlord who did not intend to help.

After a particularly heavy rain, I noticed a more serious issue. A discolored bulge had grown in the living room ceiling. Somewhere above the old plaster, a growing pool of water needed to escape. I placed a bucket beneath and carefully poked a hole in the soggy plaster of the ceiling and gallons of water streamed out as if from a hose.

After providing this relief to the soggy ceiling, I assumed that a crisis had been averted. 

A few weeks later, we experienced one of those raging three-day rainstorms that can sweep across the south in early summer. As we left for church that morning, the bucket system was strategically deployed, including the new one in the living room where the ceiling was merrily tinkling away. 

During worship, the deluge increased and even the pastor made jokes about “gathering gopher wood” and “collecting family pets, two-by-two.” After church, we retuned home and discovered a disaster of biblical proportions: the entire living room ceiling, made soggy by days of rain had called it quits, and fallen to the floor in a jumbled mess of wet plaster. A million drops of water, Samson-like, had brought down the temple, one drip at a time.

In Proverbs, chapter 19, Solomon speaks of another kind of destructive dripping: the water torture of a “nagging wife.” As he instructs the young men of Israel:

13 A foolish son is the ruin of his father,
And the contentions of a wife are a continual dripping.–Proverbs 19:13

The “foolish son” in verse 13 is to remind a young man that a not only must he raise his children to be wise, he must also be careful in his choice of a wife. Passages like this contain examples of the “ideal wife to look for” or “the kind of wife to avoid.” 

The primary audience of these teachings were intended to be young men, but young women were recipients too. It may be that education was set up differently, with the young men formally attending school in the synagogue or temple, while the young ladies would be expected to receive the same instruction at home.

It may also be simply that in the writings of ancient Israel, there was not a need to include “inclusive language,” and things implied could be more well understood without the social pressure of today’s western culture. Either way, it is clear from the extent that the teachings of proverbs permeate through both male and female figures of the Bible, and so instructions to avoid “quarrelsome wives” must also be understood to include instructions to avoid “quarrelsome husbands.”  That’s right, gentlemen, we do it too!

In verse 13, such a spouse is described as “contentious.” The Hebrew noun דלף (delep), literally means “a dripping (of rain),” and is used only twice in the Bible. The other passage is also in Proverbs:

15 A continual dripping on a very rainy day
And a contentious woman are alike;–Proverbs 27:15

Solomon captures clearly the picture of a spouse who nags. Nagging in a marriage is so commonplace, that our culture has even built in the “nagging spouse” as a stock character in movies and TV. Hollywood has made characters like Alice Kramden on “The Honeymooners” and Marge Simpson on “The Simpsons” as endearing personalities. 

The audience laughs as Alice (played by the inimitable Audrey Meadows) nags Ralph (the legendary Jackie Gleason) for the 500th time during an episode, who, sputtering as he lacks a good comeback, points skyward and shouts “TO THE MOON, ALICE!” She smiles and shakes her head in a “you big lug” sort of way, seeming to understand that no actual physical abuse will follow his threat. 

In real life, the constant jibes of nagging are not accompanied by a laugh track and go away at the end of a 30 minute episode, their corrosive effect can be felt over the decades of a marriage. The constant dripping of short, bitter comments, the barbs and arrows of unhappy words, and constant biting remarks can mean the death of a marriage. A death of a thousand cuts. 

This is what nagging does to a relationship. The constant reminding of a spouse to perform some action, or be mindful of some preference, can calcify the hearts of a husband and wife. 

I always have to remind you to save the grocery receipts. (Drip.)
Did you forget to call the insurance company again? (Drip.)
Are you never going to fix that closet door? (Drip.)
Why don’t you remember to get the “ruffled” potato chips, when you know I like them? (Drip.)

Nagging hurts both the nagger and the naggee. And the thing is, the one who is nagging does not enjoy doing it–although the recipient often feels that they DO. 

Solomon warns that this corrosiveness can lead to the retreat of one spouse emotionally, making it a one-sided marriage and creating a deeper problem within such a covenant relationship:

9 Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop,
Than in a house shared with a contentious woman.–Proverbs 21:9

A roof in the ancient near east was usually flat and served different purposes for the family. On cool desert nights, it was ideal for getting out of the stuffy house below, and sleeping under the stars. However, the desert sun can be unforgiving, and in harsh weather such as storms and winter’s cold, a roof would be near uninhabitable.

It is here in this harsh place, Solomon is saying, that a spouse may prefer to live than under the harsh words of a nagging wife or husband. A home is to be a refuge for both a husband and a wife–as well as the children. A nagging spouse not only takes a toll on the tender heart of their partner, the children witness the slow abuse and are often the subjects of its dripping. 

Is your home a haven? Do you remember you mother or father constantly nagging you or each other? Did it make you uncomfortable then? Perhaps it is making your family uncomfortable now. 

Do you feel like you cannot relax at home? The moment you sit down, you are reminded of your “honey-do” list? Just when you finish your day’s work of feeding the kids, the pets and the dishwasher, does your spouse remind you of ten other things that they have been asking you to do? 

“But I have to remind my spouse of things or they will never get done!” This may be true, and you may honestly have a thoughtless husband or wife, but there is a wrong way to remind them–and a right way that is pleasing to the Lord. Tim Keller says that “to nag is not to do ‘thoughtful criticism,’ but to do ‘drive-bys.’” 

The answer lies in the next verse in the couplet of Proverbs 19:

14 Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers,
But a prudent wife is from the Lord.–Proverbs 19:14

Solomon reminds you of the “prudent wife.” Prudence is mental agility, versatility, and adroitness–or as Websters defines it: 1. the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason. 2. : sagacity or shrewdness in the management of affairs.

If you are a wife or husband of prudence and reason, you will understand that you will never get your way–or even get things done–by nagging. Your efforts may result in some needs being fulfilled, but it they will be done in bitter resignation and ultimately at great cost. As a wise person, and as a believer in Jesus Christ, you know that this is not the way to glorify God and strengthen the marriage covenant.

The image of water can be used to show you how critique should work in a marriage. Instead of the corrosive dripping of nagging your spouse, try pouring out the truth. Just as Jesus commands us in Matthew 18 to approach a brother or sister in love to offer a rebuke, so you must approach your believing spouse. 

We will sometimes readily follow such instructions with a fellow believer at church, or an offending friend, but resort to nagging the one person on earth that should be most precious to us. Paul instructs us otherwise:

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.–Ephesians 5:25-27

Can you do this? Can you challenge your spouse in love, just as you would your closest friend? Both of you must mutually seek the common ground of communication and grant and give permission to speak the truth to one another. 

Start small if you have to, and then work up. Go from habits such as unfolded laundry and build up to those personal quirks that have grown to irritations over the decades. Pray together, and consider that Christ has put you together for a reason, and that is to give Him glory. 

If you work together toward this peace, you will no longer hear the drip, drip, drip of nagging rain, and instead, your hearts will sing.


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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