Monday, February 7, 2011

The Tiger Mother Vs. The Bear Mother

Photo by Gúnna on Flickr
 I recently read the book, Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me:  Christians and the Spanking Controversy by Samuel Martin.  I was extremely impressed.  To my delight, he has also written an article on Christian mothering, and has graciously allowed me to share part of it here:

Many people of late have been talking about the book written by Amy Chua “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” I have not read the book yet. I‟ve read the following article though and I thought it might be interesting to offer some ideas on this whole issue. My point of reference in this regard is the Time magazine article found at this link:,8599,2043313,00.html

I am not sure what Ms. Chua‟s religious orientation is, but as a Christian, I would like to introduce you to an equally if not more ferocious mother: “the Bear Mother.”

Anyone who spends even the most limited amount of time watching nature programs will know that a tiger does not stand a chance in fighting a bear. A bear is much more ferocious and fearful.

So here now is where I am going to get a little Biblical and we are going to talk a little about the ferocious Bear Mother. She is far more ferocious than Amy Chua or any other Tiger Mother ever thought of being.

The Bear Mother
When King David was facing the insurrection of his son Absalom, we read a very interesting passage which described him and curiously it ascribes to him the probable feeling of one “enraged.” (II Samuel 17:8) Certainly, if your own son was plotting your murder and to depose you, one would not have the happiest feelings at that moment naturally speaking. Yes David was probably pretty angry (more like devastated and heart broken as we learn from his later reactions about his loss of Absalom) and one who is “enraged” is compared of all things to being “like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field.” (II Samuel 17:8)

Of all the choices to describe an enraged person, the Biblical writer here chose a female bear robbed of her cubs as the most extreme description to describe rage. In the mind of the ancients, in their world view, there was not a more violent expression of rage than that exhibited by a mother bear whose cubs had been taken from her. There is an important teaching here I think for us today. This teaching is not only for mothers, but in this short discussion, I want to focus in on mothers a little bit. This is dedicated to all mothers. Love you mom. And also to my wife and mother of our children, Sonia, love you darling.

The Bear and the Bible
We have all read the stories in the Bible about bears and some of them are quite interesting. However, let us have no doubt that here in Israel in ancient and even fairly recent times, bears did exist (they are extinct now). Going back to recent times it is noted that “in the time of the first Crusades these beasts were still numerous and of considerable ferocity; for during the siege of Antioch (in modern day Syria - a short 250 mile journey from Jerusalem), Godfrey of Bouillon, according to Math Paris, slew one in defence of a poor woodcutter, and was himself dangerously wounded in the encounter.” (CBTEL [Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature], vol. 1, pg. 797 – article „Bear.‟)

I won't rehearse the many Biblical references to bears, but rest assured that we are talking about “the genus Ursus being meant in the Hebrew texts…” (ibid.)

Note also what is recorded again in CBTEL which is very relevant to our discussion here.
“The sacred writers frequently associate the formidable animal with the king of the forest, as being equally dangerous and destructive: and it is thus that the prophet Amos sets before his countrymen the succession of calamities which under the just judgment of God, was to befall them, declaring that the removal of one would but leave another equally grievous (v.18,19). Solomon, who had closely studied the character of several individuals of the animal kingdom, compares an unprincipled ruler and wicked ruler to these creatures (Proverbs 28:15). To the fury of the female bear when robbed of her young there are several striking illusions in Scripture (II Samuel 17:8; Proverbs 17:12). The Divine threatening in consequence of the numerous and aggravated iniquities of the kingdom of Israel, as uttered by the prophet Hosea, is thus forcibly expressed: “I will meet them as a bear bereaved of her whelps.” (13:8; see Jerome in loc.)., which was fulfilled by the invasion of the Assyrians and the complete subversion of the kingdom of Israel. 'The she bear is said to be even more fierce and terrible than the male, especially after she has cubbed, and her furious passions are never more fiercely exhibited than when she is deprived of her young. When she returns to her den and misses the object of her love and care, she becomes almost frantic with rage. Disregarding every consideration of danger to herself, she attacks with great ferocity every animal that comes in her way, and in the bitterness of her heart will dare to attack even a band of armed men. The Russians of Latachatka never venture to fire on a young bear when the mother is near; for if the cub drop, she becomes enraged to a degree little short of madness, and if she gets sight of the enemy will only quit her revenge with her life. A more desperate attempt can scarcely be performed than to carry off her young in her absence. Her scent enables her to track the plunderer; and unless he has reached some place of safety before the infuriated animal overtakes him, his only safety is in dropping one of the cubs and continuing his flight; for the mother, attentive to its safety, carries it home to her den before she renews the pursuit.” (Cook‟s Voyages, iii.397).” (ibid. CBTEL)

Note: This passage is very instructive on a number of levels, but before we address these, I would like to say that the reason that this issue is important to us today, who wish to learn more about God, is that presently, more than at any other time, we can study God‟s creation in the most intimate of ways down almost even to the very fabric of the universe and life itself: the atomic level. The study of animals and their habits is the same thing. We have today the greatest of ease corroborating the facts herein referenced about bears (or any animal mentioned in Scripture) because we can find hours and hours of documentaries, case studies, stories, can go to zoos and ask question, etc,. about bears (or any other animal almost) to know their habits and whether or not these assertions about them are true.

There are a couple of points which this text raises in reference to the Scriptural teachings about bears and in this case mother bears in particular. Note the previous passage, where it mentions that the reason for the mother bears rage is that she “misses the object of her love and care…” and “Her scent enables her to track the plunderer; and unless he has reached some place of safety before the infuriated animal overtakes him, his only safety is in dropping one of the cubs and continuing his flight; for the mother, attentive to its safety, carries it home to her den before she renews the pursuit.”

These highlighted texts are facts of a long observation of the habits of bears going back into the earliest of times reaching even into the Biblical period. But isn‟t it interesting when we look at this animal and how even God compares Himself to a female bear robbed of her cubs, we see that this animal acts this way for one reason and one reason only: THE POWER AND THE PASSION OF MOTHERLY LOVE.

My cousin Holly commenting on this issue says it so eloquently as only a loving mother could: “I love the image of fierceness with which He [God] will defend us and the sweetness of His parenting style. Not a better model is there?

No human male (including myself here) can ever for a moment hope to understand, appreciate or experience this, but for a mother, it is instinct. I think that most mothers share this ferocious love and passionate care for their children.

Yet, what is even more interesting in getting back to our discussion at hand about Tiger Mothers and Bear Mothers, we start to see some differences. While the Time magazine article paints the Tiger Mother as aggressive (can we say violent?), angry, demanding, harsh, rude, and hostile to her children, I ask you and challenge any person to show me any evidence, written or visual, which shows Bear mothers as being anything other than the most sweet and tender, docile and protective, fun loving and patient, happy and long suffering, etc. with their cubs. Oh yes, Bear mothers are fierce, but that ferocity is rarely if ever directed to their cubs.

We all remember the television series‟ Gentle Ben and The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (which was hugely popular when it came out). While these are indeed films and theatrical in nature, they show that bears are capable of exhibiting great love, especially to small children as was the case between Ben and Mark in the first mentioned series. Come on, Ben was real and while he was a trained bear, he was a bear nonetheless. Honestly, you never saw a more loving 800 pound bundle of sweetness.

In fact, most people in general love bears and rightly so because we are generally a caring oriented people and bears in fact exhibit some of the best characteristics of love and caring especially for their offspring.

But, you get on their wrong side, especially when it comes to their offspring. Look out! And rightly so! We can point again to the example of Ben. Many times in those episodes of Gentle Ben, Ben was portrayed as very protective of Mark and coming to his rescue over and over again. Then, in the end, you see Ben in Mark's mom's pantry eating them out of house and home with the most pleasant look on his face eating the honey or peanut butter.

So, now I would like to pose a question to all of us who are moms and dads. While almost all of us are ready to defend our “cubs” with our own lives should anyone or anything attempt to harm them, how many of us follow the bear in being the most sweet and tender, docile and protective, fun loving and patient, happy and long suffering? Is there a lesson here for all of us? Speaking as one very imperfect dad, I know I‟ll be firing up Youtube and looking for Gentle Ben episodes when ever I want to remind myself of what I need to be doing. Frankly, God knew what He was doing when He designed Ben. In fact, when we see Ben, we get a little glimpse of God Himself as my dear cousin Holly said: fiercely protective/100% sweetness.

There is another point about bears. If the bears used in Gentle Ben or Grizzly Adams are good examples, tame bears at least by nature seem to be very friendly animals. This certainly is how Ben and Mark were on camera in Gentle Ben. It really seems that bears can exhibit real qualities of friendship and I think there is some Bible teaching here if we are willing to see it.

Do we all remember that amazing section of Scripture in John‟s Gospel starting in chapter 13 going through to 17? Here Almighty God speaks to mankind through Jesus as a father. Remember what He said: “Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8,9) (ESV)

So, in this section, we have Jesus speaking as a Heavenly “Father” to His children and by extension to all of His children through the secretarial agency of St. John. And what does he say?

“You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14)

He makes it even stronger saying: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)

Now, here is where we see a little glimpse of God Himself in the instinct or lifestyle of bears. Look at what Jesus also says in this same chapter of John 15:

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (15:13)

Here we have something defined by Jesus in a very specific way. He says very clearly that the highest expression of love possible is that one would lay down his life for his friends. When we also realize the Biblical teaching that God Himself is the very exponent of Love, we start to understand that a person or being who is ready to die for his friends is really operating in the realm of the Divine. It is not natural to be willing to die for another person.

Recall the earlier section of this paper where we were rehearsing eyewitness accounts of the reckless abandon that a mother bear exhibits for her cubs when threatened or somehow lost and not under her careful watch:

“When she returns to her den and misses the object of her love and care, she becomes almost frantic with rage. Disregarding every consideration of danger to herself, she attacks with great ferocity every animal that comes in her way, and in the bitterness of her heart will dare to attack even a band of armed men.”

I think that when we think about this, we need to understand that the reason Solomon and the other Biblical writers used the example specifically of the bear was to teach us some deep spiritual truth that they saw in action when they observed bears and their actions and perhaps it relates in some way to friendship.

So, God Himself, calls us friends and He sums up the reason for this discussion in John 15 about friendship. The reason that He related this information is;

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12) …
These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:17)

So we are commanded to love one another and to be friends.

Now, here we have God, our Father, telling us that He is our friend and He is telling us to love one another. So we are supposed to love everyone. Of course, when we look at the bear, especially the mother bear, she loves her bear cubs more than herself and anything else and I think there is an important teaching here. I think that we who are parents, the first and foremost people we are supposed to love and be friends with are our children!

Our children are not to be our servants, athletes, doctors, lawyers, scholars, performing artists, musicians or business people, No. They are to be the absolute objects of our love and affection and they are to first and fore mostly be our FRIENDS.

© Samuel Martin.  Used with permission.

 Guess what?  There is more!  I have only included the first part of the article, but it continues with more inspiring and thought-provoking words on friendship with our children, Tiger Mother Vs. Bear Mother, discipline and more.  If you would like to read the rest, please contact him at: 
and check out his books at

Biography of Samuel Martin
Samuel Martin was born in England and is the youngest child of Dr. Ernest L. and Helen R. Martin, who are both Americans. He lived in the UK for the first seven years of his life before moving to the USA with his family at age seven. He lived in the USA until 2001 when he married a native Israeli and relocated to live in Jerusalem. He and his wife, Sonia, have two daughters.
His experience with biblical scholarship began at an early age. His father, Dr. Ernest L. Martin (1932-2002), initiated a program in conjunction with Hebrew University and Prof. Benjamin Mazar, where over a five year period, some 450 college students came to work on an archaeological excavation in Jerusalem starting in 1969 (See Time Magazine, September 3, 1973, article ˝Digging for Credit.). Since that first trip, Samuel has visited Israel on 14 different occasions living more than five years of his life in the country. He has toured all areas of Israel as well as worked in several archaeological excavations.
Besides his experiences in his youth, he also worked on an excavation in northern. Israel under the supervision of Dr. Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and participated in a survey in the Judean Desert related to the Dead Sea Scrolls under the guidance of Dr. Robert Eisenman (CSU, Long Beach and author of "James, the brother of Jesus - Viking Penguin: 1997) and Dr. James D. Tabor (UNC, Charlotte and author of The Jesus Dynasty - Simon and Schuster: 2006).
His interests include social studies and the Bible, Hebrew studies and science as it relates to the Bible. He holds a B.A. degree with a special focus on Middle Eastern studies from Portland State University in Oregon. He was raised in an environment of high level Biblical scholarship. His father held a MA in Theology and a Ph.D. in Education and he is well known for his work concerning the Nativity of Jesus Christ (see Elwell, Dictionary of Evangelical Theology, article, Nativity of Jesus Christ or see plus many other books and publications on the Bible. This is Samuel Martin's first book.

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