As my Jewish friends prepare to celebrate Purim in a few days, and International Women Day was just 10 days ago, it seems a good time to actually write the topic that was for the prompt “Strength” in LoveBlog. As it happens, recently I came across an article that attempts to use the order of creation as a sign that God never intended the equality of the sexes, so it seems like a really good time to look at what the Bible actually says about being a woman.
The 3rd wife of King David and one of 7 prophetesses in the Bible, she is in great contrast with another of David’s wives, Bathsheba. She has great moral standing and character, and unwavering faith. She also gives wise counsel to David, preventing him from committing murder while Bathsheba stands by as he does it. Many commentators see Abigail’s influence on how David grew to become the man he was as king.
Deborah was a judge and prophetess, whose story is being remembered in the Book of Judges. She was the only woman to be a judge. Her most remembered situation was the battle of Mount Tabor: she rallied the troops, and then she prophesied that, since the general of the Israeli army declined to go to the mountain, the victory of the battle would belong to a woman. The woman, Jael, killed the enemy general who was sleeping after escaping by foot from the site of his defeat.
Delilah is a bit of a controversial figure to add to this list, as she is not the heroine of the story. After all, the story of the Bible is the story of the Jewish people and she brought about the defeat of the last Judge, Samson. However, while she lacks the strength of a moral character as she took a bribe and manipulated her lover into giving up information, she seems to be a good example of what a woman’s strength used for bad ends looks like
Queen Esther, whose story is remembered during Purim, was courageous in asking the king to spare her people when his right-hand was intent on harsh revenge on her cousin and guardian Mordecai, that would exterminate all the Jews. While this seems a small thing to do to us, her husband the king was hardly a loving and understanding person to ask something of: he disposed of his previous wife because she refused to show her beauty to the king and his guests at a festival.
The mother of the prophet Samuel, she was unable to conceive and she prayed to the Lord that if He let her conceive a son, the son would belong to Him and serve Him. Instead of holding onto the much-wanted child, she maintained her promise, bringing him to the temple as soon as he was weaned. She is also considered a prophetess in her own right, showing us that God used women for His purposes long before the Virgin Mary became the ark of the new covenant.
A lesser known figure who managed to save her infant nephew from the massacre of all who had a claim to the throne at the hand of Athaliah, who had made herself queen of Judah. She hid the boy in the Temple for six years, so that in his seventh year the priests would restore the Davidic line by crowning him. It was to be so.
The Phoenicia princess, instead of trying to escape imminent death, faced it by dressing up in her finest clothes and jewels and formal wig, in a conscious symbolic act of reasserting her dignity and status as queen. She never walked in the strength of the Lord, but as far as heathen human strength goes, she had loads.
The heroine of the Book of Judith, which those unfamiliar with the Catholic canon may not have heard of before, was a faithful Jewish widow who convinced the elders of a city under siege to let her go into the enemy camp. She dressed in her finest and brought gifts, and after winning the enemy’s trust, she seduced their captain and killed him, saving her city and returning to it before anybody even found out. Once again, the Jews escaped a bad situation because a woman was strong enough to follow God’s lead.
Mary the mother of Jesus, remember in the Catholic Church with a billion and one titles, was only a young betrothed Jewish girl in a small town in Galilee when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her and told her that she was to conceive a son by the Holy Spirit. Her yes could have cost her everything, but she said it anyway, and she became the ark of the New Covenant, giving birth to the Word Incarnate and nurturing Him and following Him to His death. Her strength inspires me so much she has her own blog post on the subject.
She was a follower of Jesus (and a financial supporter), a witness to the crucifixion and the first woman to testify of the Resurrection of Jesus. She appears as the most prominent of a group of women believers, and scholarly opinion is divided on the subject of how radical and “modern” her position was. Still, a life of faith is not a life for the faint-hearted, especially not when it involves your teacher being crucified in front of your eyes.
The half of a missionary couple of Jewish Christians who helped to found the Church in Corinth, she risked her life to save Paul’s and is remembered in tradition to have been eventually martyred alongside her husband. I can’t think of a better example of what it means to be a hezer and a strong woman alongside a man. You don’t have to be independent and fending for yourself to be strong. If her husband could have done it on his own she would have most likely been erased from history.
One of 4 women mentioned by name in the genealogy of Jesus, Ruth was a foreign woman who was widowed and stubbornly pledged her alliance to her mother-in-law, also a widow, and her God and her clan. She would show her strength and resolve in her work, which quietly captured the affection of her second husband Boaz.
The Proverbs 31 woman
She isn’t mentioned by name because (I believe) she is intended to be the archetype of godly womanhood. Often used by anti-equality Christian bloggers to tell women having an occupation beyond raising children is bad, she is shown to be strong and diligent not only as a wife and mother but also as a businesswoman. Before anything else, she is a woman who puts the Lord first.
There are many more women in the Bible who are mentioned by name, remembered for all sort of reasons, but none of them, not even Dinah who suffered in the worst possible way, can be seen to embody the stereotypes that certain corners of the Church push on women. If anything, the fact the Bible is a historical document that mentions women of no status, as well as women of high status by name (and sometimes not, but still they are in there), should testify to us just how precious the fair sex is to the Lord.