by Joe Leavell

How many cows is a person worth? An absurd question? Not for one man in the Polynesian Islands who went looking for a bride. 

Not long ago, in the Polynesian islands, it was custom that when a man wanted to marry a woman, he would first notify the father of his desire to marry the daughter. The suitor would then offer to pay a dowry to the father for the privilege of marrying her. Customarily on these islands, one to two cows would be a regular price. If she was extraordinarily beautiful or the daughter of someone important, the father could sometimes get up to four or even five cows for her. 

While traveling to one of the neighboring islands, one man met a young woman and he decided to ask the father for permission to marry her. Now, she wasn’t what the people around considered “beautiful” or even “special.” In fact, they would have considered calling her “plain” as an effort to be kind. She was small, skinny, timid, and she looked and smelled as if she did nothing to care for herself. Her hair was coarse and her skin was extremely pale. She was a loner in the village and did little to attract the attention of anyone, let alone suitors for marriage. 

The father, surprised to hear that someone was interested in his daughter, thought that he would do well to try to hold out for at least one cow from the suitor. Without waiting to bargain with the father, the young man got straight to the point and offered not one or even two, but the staggering total of eight cows! Astonished at this unheard-of offer, the father of course readily agreed before this seemingly foolish young man could change his mind.

For a few years the man and his new bride lived on his island while the tale of the “eight-cow woman” spread around the globe. It traveled so far that the story was even picked up in The Reader’s Digest in 1988. When a reporter went to investigate, she was shocked when  the man introduced her to the most stunningly beautiful woman she had ever seen.

The reporter was completely confused. This man’s wife looked so different from what had been described! This had to be a different woman. No longer was this a young, plain, ordinary girl. She had flowers in her shiny, well groomed hair, glowing cheeks, a sparkle in her eyes, and a tall walk that was full of grace. She was breathtakingly transformed! How was this even possible?  

The man explained to her how he felt it must be difficult for a woman to know that her husband had bartered the lowest price possible to marry her. He decided that he wanted a wife that wasn’t worth the lowest price, but the highest. He determined then to give eight cows, all that he had, so that his wife would know that she meant more to him than any other woman could ever dream. Because of this highest honor that he had given to her, she had fallen in love with him and wanted to care for herself in a manner that would reflect the value he demonstrated. She felt the full weight of the vast treasure of his love and wanted to make sure that she represented him well. No one would see her and say that he had wasted his care on someone like her. No longer was she just a plain, ordinary woman. She was an eight-cow woman, and she knew it!

Paying the Highest Price 

Many believers seem to struggle with a sense of identity and value. They look at their poor decisions or how they have been treated by others and have concluded that they must not be worth very much. They live their lives in sadness and shame thinking that they have little to offer this world. Yet, they scarcely stop to consider the high value that God has placed upon their lives. 

Great love stories demand great gestures of love, which makes the Gospel the greatest love story ever told! You see, God did not look at us in our sin and failure and barter the lowest price possible. John 3:16 explains His love for us this way, 

 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

It wasn’t that there was something about us that was beautiful that made God love us. In fact, Scripture teaches that it was while we were still God’s rebellious enemies that Christ died for us.  He did not treat us as what we would deem to be our worth. He paid the highest price possible and gave up His own Son’s life as the purchase price. In the shedding of the blood of Jesus, God takes His enemies and not only makes peace with them, but makes them His own children, gives them a joint inheritance with Jesus, and gives the Spirit of God as a down payment for that inheritance that they will enjoy with Him forever. This is the value that the King of Kings bestows upon those whom He has made His own!

A Love That Changes You

I have met so many believers over the years who tell me, “If you had known me before I was a Christian you wouldn’t have even recognized me.” They go on to tell stories of how they were running from God but God rescued them, saved them, and changed their hearts and lives so that now they can’t imagine anything but living their lives as a reflection of the Gospel. How does this happen? 

1 John 4:19 tells us that the reason that we love is because He first loved us. In such a more extravagant way than the man who paid eight cows for his wife, God demonstrated His love for you and for me. The more you learn of His love for you, the more that your response will be like that of the eight-cow woman. When you lean in to the power of the Gospel, God’s Spirit will give you the power to change into the person that He already delights in you to be. As you gaze upon Him and His love for you, you will experience growth in your security and your identity. Like the woman, you’ll desire to please Him, and represent Him well. 

While giving a pattern for husbands, the extent to which they are to value their own wives, Scripture shares with us the extent of Christ’s love for His bride in Ephesians 5:25-27, 

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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.

God designed a wife to receive and to reflect the level of care that her husband gives to her. I have met many men who complain that their wives struggle with their sense of self-worth and that manifests itself in various ways that affect him and their marriage. My immediate question is wondering how they have cared for their wife through the years they have been together? Oftentimes, their wives accurately reflect the quality of love that they have been shown. Rather than sacrificing their best for their bride and laying down their lives on her behalf, husbands have bartered down the price as low as they can. How many cows would she actually believe she is worth? Wives can feel neglect and they begin to reflect the lack of value and care from their husbands. 

The eight-cow woman story is such a beautiful picture of Jesus’ love for us. As the perfect groom, He poured out His life for us so that we would experience the highest value He could bestow. In turn, we, as His bride, will reflect His love and care. As we mature in His love, He moves those inward parts of us that are “plain” and changes us into a beautiful bride adorned in holiness and purity.

So how many cows are you worth? If you are struggling with your own view of who you are and your self-worth, look to the love of Christ. When you are struggling to change or overcome your sin struggles, gaze upon the sacrifice of Christ. In times when God seems distant and your circumstances are weighing you down, remember the love of Christ! Why? Because you, my friend, are worth much more than even an eight-cow woman to Him!


For Further Reading:

The Eight-Cow Wife – by Patricia McGreer

Secure in God’s Love – by Joe Leavell

God’s Love: Better than Unconditional – by David Powlison

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers – by Dane Ortland