In which I add “Ish Gibor Chayil!” to our lexicon

Papa and Anne

My dad took my eldest daughter out on a date last night. She is six (and a half, thankyouverymuch) and this was, by far, one of the most exciting nights of her life. He bought tickets to a Princess Ball at a local church. It’s an evening of fun little girls, all dancing in their finest frocks and eating cupcakes because their dads or uncles or grandfathers take them out for the evening. My mother took Anne shopping for her new frock: a retro bright red dress covered in white polka dots. Number one dress criteria was met: it twirled beautifully while Anne spun in circles. So I helped her get dressed, and I curled and braided her hair carefully, it was so much fun. Her Papa arrived in his finest suit, we snapped a few pictures, and away they went. She called me on the way home at 8:30 to report she had experienced her first sundae (“Mum! Have you ever had one of these before? They’re fabulous!”) She came home, exhausted and delighted.. My dad said she pretty much took off her patent leather shoes as soon as they arrived and danced all night long with a gaggle of other little girls. Next year, Brian will also take Evelynn and my brother-in-law will take his two daughters. (I will take Joseph out that night, just us two. He prefers that, the little introvert.) We’re thinking a family tradition was born.

When I was little, my father’s hair was bright orange; it’s nearly white now. But don’t let that fool you, he’s got more energy and life than most twenty-year-olds. One thing hasn’t changed over the years though: my dad is, always has been, my rock.

(I don’t write about my parents too much online. It’s for the same reason why I’ve stopped telling intimate stories of the tinies’ lives for the most part. They are their own people, and I don’t want to appropriate their lives for blog material, if that makes sense. I respect them. Even when I write about Brian, he usually reads it first because I’m not writing in a vacuum, you know? But while I was writing Jesus Feminist, I found  I couldn’t write my story without telling about my parents and their story. We talked it all over, and so now you’ll get to know them a bit better when the book releases this fall as so much of my own story has its roots in their lives and choices.)

After I published that essay a few weeks ago about feeling like damaged goods, he called me to tell me how proud he was of my guts. Nothing I wrote there was a surprise to anyone in my real life, let alone my husband or my parents. All those years ago, my parents were the ones who lead me to Jesus, and I was not won over to The Way by anger and rage or Bible-verses-as-weaponry, no, my dad and my mum loved me and they were Jesus with skin on for me. After it was published, friends of his called and asked him if he was embarrassed and he scorched them with his righteousness: never, he’s proud of his girl, and he stands with me, always.

Jesus saved me, set me free, healed me, made me whole, too: what do we have to be embarrassed about? She is whole in Christ! Loved! he thundered.

(That is part of why I wrote the article: I feel like every woman needs to hear the words of Christ, the way that I have heard them from my father’s lips all these years. Words matter.)

Some people must spend their entire lives wiping the face of the own real-life father off of the face of God. But I know what a good father looks like because of my dad. I have been my dad’s girl for my entire life – not in a weird ownership way but in the sweetness of belonging, and he has loved me unconditionally. My path to God was a bit smoother, a bit wider, because he walked the hard places ahead of me, first, beside my mother, and I can quickly, easily, understand why Jesus always said God the Father is really an Abba, a Daddy. I married a man cut from the same Jesus-shape as my father, even though they are very (oh, Lord, so very) different in personality, temperament, and giftings. Their spirits are the same though: mighty men of God, both of them.

After the pushback against that article turned vitriolic, ugly, personal, and vicious, my father called me early one morning just to tell me again that he was proud of me, and he believed in me again. He got all Isaiah on me: prayed, quoted Scripture (he has memorized vast amounts of Scripture, and they are his mother tongue now) forwards and back. He preached for both of us, man, and every time he said he loved me, every time he said I did the right thing, every time he said he was proud of me, it was like a fracture in my soul after all the abuse heaped on me through that experience were healed up all over again. He talked about the calling on my life, he told me to walk in the anointing and lightness of grace for my work, he made me laugh as he hollered about how :the devil just wants to keep people from experiencing true freedom, peace and wholeness and this is spiritual warfare, Sar!” It felt like he reached through the phone to lay his hand on my head.

I’ve always thought he had a bit of an Old Testament prophet in his bones. My dad challenges me, riles me up, makes me laugh, pushes me with his strength and his courage, his faith and his integrity, and he also takes six-year-old girls in polka dot dresses out dancing with the greatest of ease and joy.

As I was waving good-bye while he pulled away with my own little girl, I wanted to say, somehow, after this past month and that night especially: “Man of valour! Mighty man of valour!”

As Rachel Held Evans wrote and discovered during her “Year of Biblical Womanhood“:

“A woman of valor who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.”
– Proverbs 31:10

Eshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor.

One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor: women who are changing the world through daily acts of faithfulness, both in my life and around the world.


Ever since Rachel wrote about the true meaning of “woman of valour” of Proverbs 31, I’ve used that phrase in all corners of my life.

I call out women of valour on a daily basis, and I feel like it’s powerful. I have a lot of women I love and admire. I keep them in a growing corner of my heart, these women that inspire me to be fearless and strong, alive and holy. My sister, my mother, my mother-in-law, my auntie, my daughters, my friends: all singing freedom and guts to me down through the ages, from the pages of Scripture as apostles and leaders to the church mothers to my humble friends of these days and even online or in books. So I say and I write the phrase “eshet chayil!” almost daily, and words matter.

But I’m also surrounded by men of valour. And I want to celebrate the men also changing the world through daily acts of faithfulness and godliness.

I’ve been told by a couple of Hebrew-knowledable people that the equivalent phrase is “Ish gibor chayil! Mighty man of valour!”


Ish Gibor chayil! Mighty man of valour!

To the men of our world, to our fathers and brothers and husbands: Ish gibor chayil! Men of valour!

Men of valour! for standing up for, and with, us. We see you loving the women in your life well, we see you honouring us–your wives, your sisters, your mothers, your grandmothers, your daughters, your friends–we see you serving with abandon, we see you hungering for justice, we see your dedication to true purity, to wisdom, to knowledge, to honour, to respect, to beauty, to mercy.

We see you working and loving and fighting and dreaming. We see your heart, your mind, your strength.

Ish gibor chayil! for studying and researching, for writing books, for blogging and speaking, for teaching and pastoring and leading your brothers by example, in word and deed, for releasing fearful and shaming rhetoric and embracing conversation.

Man of valour! for sticking around, for being a real dad, day in and day out, thank you for all the ways that you love us, seen and unseen.

Ish gibor chayil! for choosing to grow up, to leave behind the childish and destructive appetites for pure goodness, for living true manhood, true fatherhood, in a spirit of faithfulness and humility.

Men of valour! for your tenderness, your gentleness, your peace-making heart.

Ish gibor chayil! for engaging joyfully in mutually submissive marriages, for loving your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, for raising your daughters alongside your sons to ask themselves “What has God called you to do with your one wild and precious life, my darling?

Men of valour! for honouring work as holy and shared co-creation, for pausing in your talking to listen to us, too, for making space for our voice, for inviting us. Thank you for living a better truth.

Ish gibor chayil! for building this beautiful picture of life in the Kingdom, all of us working alongside each other, as a seeking, a vision, a motley collection of prophets, a foretaste, a sign, all of us with different stories, different reasons, different voices, crying out and praying and working and welcoming, for freedom and wholeness, for restoration and redemption.

To my dad, and my husband, and my son, to the men in my own life, Ish gibor chayil! Man of valour!



The original version of this post incorrectly used the phrase “gibor chayil.” (Cue me: red-faced and embarrassed.)  Several kind Hebrew scholars pointed out that the “ish” needs to be added to the phrase so I have corrected the post. And as far as pronounciation, this is what  Rosanna kindly sent our way:  “Gibor means mighty or strong, and ish means man. …As for pronunciation, the trickiest part is the ch, which is a guttural sound with no english equivalent. It is closer to h than to an english ch. You put the back of your tongue up to the roof of your mouth while making a h sound. The vowels are a little mixed up. The i’s are pronounced ee, and the a is a like a long i. The o is long, and the e’s are short. Here is my best pronunciation guide: eesh gee-bore hi-yeel (hi like the greeting). And esh-ett (both short e’s) hi-yeel.”

  • Alise Wright

    Pronunciation key? Because while I can’t wait to use it, I don’t want to say it wrong. 😉

    Also? Yes, indeed. Grateful for the men of valor in my life (both here in my real life and online).

    • Sarah Bessey

      I have no idea. I googled how to pronounce eshet chayil – should probably do that for this one, too! Even so, I am sure I butcher it abominably.

  • Mama Bean

    from one who wipes the face of God, i am grateful for fathers like yours… (not least because they inspire people like you, etc. etc.)

    • Sarah Bessey

      Bless you, friend. I don’t mind sharing him.

  • Sarah S

    Incredible. I will need to raise a fist for the men in my life as well. Thank you so much for writing this and recognizing good men.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks, Sarah.

  • Sarah Askins

    Oh yes and amen! I’m lucky to be married such a man. This makes my heart glad.

  • suzannah | the smitten word

    this made me weep, sarah. amen and amen.

    • SortaCrunchy

      Me too. Full-on tears pouring weep. Thank you, Sarah Bessey.

  • Jada Bown Swanson

    Weeping! And thinking of a certain “gibor chayil” in my life.

  • EstherEmery

    Yours is a hard and much appreciated push against the falsehood of the zero sum game. Great men! Great women! Great women! Great men! YES!!

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yes, that’s it exactly. It’s not one or the other above the other – it’s both of us, together, in the fullness of the image of God. Glad you “got” that.

  • Jessica Clemmer

    Oh, Sarah…I got chills and teary eyed reading your words. I too have wonderful men of valor in my own life, for which I am so very, very thankful. What a blessing and an honor we have in such wonderful fathers (though, I lost mine a few years back now, and miss his presence in my life)…he believed his daughters could do anything. And a definite gibor chayil in my husband, who so boldly walks with me, encouraging my strengths, giftings and calling and declaring together, he and I, God’s good plan for men and women as image bearers.

    Thanks for reminding us to value these men of valor!!

    (And continued prayers for peace and returned blessing for your courage in sharing your story!!)

    • Sarah Bessey

      Bless you, Jessica. And thank you so much for your prayers.

  • Charlotte

    Just the other day I said to myself: “I’m a bad Christian because I don’t like to call God “Father”, because it makes me think of my own father, and he is not a good father.” I know God is a better father than my earthly father, but I just can’t shake the negative connotations and memories that surface whenever I hear the word “father”. It’s very triggering. But in the course of my life there have been men who have stepped in the gap my dad left behind (most of them unknowingly), and they are definitely men of valor. Also: your dad is precious and I wish he could adopt me, lol.

    • Elizabeth Larson-DiPippo

      You are not a bad christian. I believe this is why Jesus and other parts of scripture also use feminine imagery for God. Jesus says that He is like a mother hen longing to gather us under her wings to keep us safe. God meets us where we are and when we have no earthy experience of the goodness of a father, God continues to meet us in our mother’s love, or the love of a friend, etc. I know this feeling of inability to see God as “father” because of my own father and you are not alone. God is with us, amen?

      • Charlotte

        Amen! Thank you for affirming my feelings. :)

        • Sarah Bessey

          Totally agree with Elizabeth. And I don’t mind sharing my dad from afar at all. :-)

      • Sarah Bessey

        Can’t improve on this word. Good thing you’re here, Elizabeth. xo

  • Vicki

    Thank you for this. I too have many Men of Valor in my life; my Dad, husband, sons and dear male friends who have cheered me on, pushed me through, challenged my thinking and encouraged my heart. I’m thankful for each of them today!

    • Sarah Bessey

      Gibor chayil for Vicki’s boys!

  • James Prescott

    Love this post, great to hear the ‘men of valour’ cry as well. I truly hope I can become the kind of man who deserves the cry “Gibor Chayil” one day. Thanks for challenging me.

    I know my image of God as a Father was damaged by difficult relationship with my Father growing up – though it is healed and restored now. But damage was done, and it’s still a struggle sometimes not to see God as a distant dictator, but a loving, gentle, gracious, and just Father.

    Thinking maybe some of us men bloggers need to start standing up for what a Godly man truly is. Often seems the only men teaching what God men are publicly are the likes of Driscoll and Piper. Godly men, for me, are more like the kind of man you describe here. Like your Father, you husband, all the qualities you lay out here. And some of us men writers/leaders need to stand up and talk about these values more, with grace, love and humility.

    Thanks for this post Sarah. As ever, your grace, wisdom and courage shine through.

    • Sarah Bessey

      You’re right though – there are a lot of male leaders who may not have the same audience or megaphone as the others, but they are making a true and eternal impact, I know. And thank you.

      • James Prescott

        No problem Sarah, love to comment and encourage. And I will try to use any gifts and audience I have to be a man of valour and show others what that might be. Thanks for your inspiring words again.

  • Shaney Irene

    Thank you, thank you for this. As I’ve been identifying as a feminist, one of the concerns brought up to me has been that feminism, as a whole, has a reputation for putting down men. This gives me hope that we as “Jesus Feminists” can clearly show a higher way.

    • Sarah Bessey

      I hope so, I pray so!

  • Shawna

    Ah it’s one made me teary. Thank you.

  • Elizabeth Larson-DiPippo

    full on crying as I read this. My husband is having a hard time with God right now, but even in this…..this time of uncertainty about his faith, he is one of the most faithful godly men I know. He is who God is using to wipe away the face of my earthly father from my images of God. Gibor Chayil indeed.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Beautiful, E.

  • Janel Andrews

    love love love. Thank you so much. my heart swelled with joy to see the ecstasy on your dear daughters face of being taken out by her papa on this special evening.and thank you for your reminder that not only do be need to call out the women of valour but also the men of valour. Thank you for sharing some of the more recent moments where your Father has been your rock…when you were writing about what he was proclaiming over you after it got negative about your post, i was already thinking it sounded prophetic and then you mentioned it. what a beautiful and strong thing to have in a father. thank you friend for this new word to put forth in daily life.

    • Sarah Bessey

      He’s often the voice in my head, and I’m thankful he so often speaks the words of Scripture more than any other. Thank you, Janel.

  • Ashleigh Baker

    This makes me cry two different types of tears. Beautifully written, friend.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Love you, dear heart.

  • Carol Vinson

    Yes! As one who also has to wipe the face of God daily my tears are reminders that He calls me beloved and is indeed the man of valor I deserve!

    Beautiful words!

    • Sarah Bessey

      He is, he is. Good word.

  • Melissa Affleck

    Sarah, thank you so much for this post. I read it through my own tears, having lost my dad a short two months ago tomorrow. My dad too was my rock. Though my heart breaks in these days, I am so thankful for having a dad that helped me to understand the love of my heavenly Father here on Earth. Your words about your dad echo many of my own feelings and at a time when words are hard to articulate, I thank you for your words.

  • Leah Colbeck

    Love this. Thank God for the wonderful men that I am loved by too, including my own father.

  • Connie

    If you happened to catch my reply to your comment on Luke Harms’ A Deeper Family post, you already know: we had opposite fathers, you and I. “Some people must spend their entire lives wiping the face of the own real-life father off of the face of God”–indeed. Except I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Think I’ve been too busy being angry–and disillusioned and becoming ever more unsure of what I believe anyway. Oh and have I mentioned? In terms of the pain it caused, my crappy childhood pales in comparison to my fiance’s death. So…there’s that. It was my fiance, though, who showed me that not all men are the same. So my first Gibor Chayil would certainly go to him.

  • lindsholifield

    Can you find me a Jesus Feminist Man of Valor to marry? :)

  • mizmelly

    So so beautiful. I’m gonna write you my response to this if you don’t mind because I don’t want to share it in comments. But bless you, bless you and again I am so sorry you had to endure nastiness because of your bravery. Love you, dear one, very much.

  • Kathi Denfeld

    A-friken-men. Good word, Sarah.

  • Aaron Smith (CulturalSavage)

    Thanks for voicing this.

    I’ll be honest: as a feminist (what?? Dudes can be that too?!) in the church, often times it feels like celebrating the godly men is adding bricks to the patriarchy wall. Women and men both need to be celebrated, encouraged, and pushed to continue the good work Jesus created us to do. If we are equal in Christ, the praise should fall like rain across gender lines.

    Anyways, I am glad to hear that your father is so supportive and going to bat for you. If your earthly dady-o is that awesome, think how much greater our Father in heaven is for us all. Praise god from whom all blessings flow. I pray I may learn to be a gibor chayil so I can teach it to my son.

  • Tanya Marlow

    Has anyone ever said you have the gift of prophecy?

    I’m never exactly sure what the gift of prophecy is, but I do know that in both your Dad’s words and in yours it felt as though it were God speaking. Praying this over you, first and foremost that these good, good words that sound like the Spirit will completely heal and cover over those poisonous ones.

    And praying this over the many who will read it- it feels like a blanket of blessing.

    I can’t wait for your book :-)

    • HopefulLeigh

      I have told Sarah she has that gift a time or two. Love when she speaks over us. God is at work.

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  • Drey

    tears tears tears!!

  • Elena Johnston


  • Jenn

    I love this post! Such a beautiful picture of the way things are meant to be…it’s been a long road but I’m so grateful for the imprint of my father in my life. We are both better people and closer to God because of each other. A beautiful thing indeed…and his love for his granddaughter… it.

  • Sarah

    I love this post, thank you. When I read Rachel’s book, the whole “Woman of Valour” idea was so liberating for me…. a text that had always made me feel somewhat inadequate all of a sudden felt like something so positive. We are so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by men who have such a profound and wonderful impact on our lives, they truly deserve to be treated like the heroes that they are!

  • Emily Fisher Rutledge

    As I ugly-cried a few weeks ago because life, and ministry, and mamahood all seemed too much and ‘God just had to be wrong about this calling for my life’ my husband (an ex-baptist PK married to a vocally liberal Episcopal youth minister) said to me,

    “This is your calling, because my calling is to be your back-up; to clean up the chairs, and stay home with the babies when your on a mission trip, and not comment when your phone goes off 258 times a night, and remind you that God is working through you just as She intends to”

    From one broken (and healed!) daughter to another! Thanks for sharing that good men are not hard to find but are not always celebrated!

  • Morag Renfro

    Reminds me of the great song – ‘Men of faith rise up and sing’ (Martin Smith)

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  • Brenda W.

    This post made me cry! Thanks for your beautiful words. My dad is Gibor Chayil too, and I thank God for him every day.

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