March 8th is recognized as International Women’s Day, a day to call on ourselves and our communities to help forge a more inclusive, gender equal world.
Unfortunately, women are more likely than men to be victims of abuse and murder. One in six women in America alone have been the victims of attempted or completed rape. Worldwide, 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16. It is estimated that three million girls and women are subjected to genital mutilation each year, culminating in about 135 million women alive today are victims of this physical mutilation. Modern day slavery, including forced labor and sex trafficking, is almost beyond comprehension when looked at on a global scale.
You can help end violence against women now by being a voice for those unable to speak for themselves in your family, your workplace, your church, your community, your country.
Yet even when violence and exploitation is not part of the equation, women the world over are often at a disadvantage when it comes to income, eduction, representation, and social standing. This discrepancy can even be seen within religion.
For many centuries, the predominant voices within Christendom have used and misused the Bible to perpetuate a view that women are inferior to men and, therefore, insignificant. Even today,there are still many vocal adherents to this particular ideology spreading their opinions. As a result, many believe Christianity in general and the Bible specifically are opposed to women or designed to suppress women.
Yet a careful reading of the Scriptures reveals that the Lord cares very deeply for women. He even set out guidelines to help protect the widowed, poor and vulnerable – a fate that women throughout the history of the world have experienced in untold numbers.
With that in mind, we are going to take a quick look at a handful intriguing women from the Bible who may not fit into the long-held view regarding Biblical women. Each one faced unique situations, through which their true characters are revealed.
Let us discover a little about them and what we can we learn from their stories.
Read her story in Exodus 2, 4, 12, 18.
As one of the seven daughters of a priest of Midian, Zipporah is probably best known as the wife of Moses and mother of their two sons. She was a strong woman in her own right, willing to leave her family and travel to Egypt where Moses’ people were enslaved. On the way to Egypt, it is revealed that Moses had not not obey the Lord’s order to circumcise one of his sons. The Bible does that explain Moses’ reasoning, but fearing for her husband’s life, Zipporah preformed the surgery herself. When the situation in Egypt escalated, Zipporah and their sons journeyed back across the desert to her father but later re-joined Moses and the Hebrews in the desert wilderness. It is also believed that Zipporah was the foreign wife who would later be the catalyst of Miriam’s displeasure and complaints against Moses, yet the Lord defended her husband and, by extension, Zipporah.
Read her story in Judges 4-5.
During the time of the Judges when the people had again turned away from the Lord, the Lord raised up a woman named Deborah as a judge over all of Israel. Deborah was not only a wife and possibly mother, but she was a prophetess of God and a strong leader. She brought the people back to worshipping God after years of apostasy. She was an intelligent woman with a strategic mind and a heart dedicated to the Lord. She appointed a capable general over the army (a man named Barak) and led the nation during a turbulent time of war. The defeat of the Canaanites under Deborah’s guidance ushered in forty years of peace for Israel.
Read her story in Judges 4-5.
At the same time that Deborah was judge, another woman, Jael, became an unexpected hero for Israel. Without warning, she found herself caught up in the war between Israel and Canaan. The commander of the Canaanite army, Sisera, fled when the battle turned in favor of the Israelites. He sought refuge in the tent of Jael. As a nomadic Kenite, Jael’s family was most likely a neutral party in the war. When he fell asleep, Jael executed him. Whether she did this because she sided with Israel or out of a desire to protect her family from the Israelites close behind Sisera, the Bible does not explicitly say. Whatever her motivation, she was honored for this act in the victory song of Deborah.
Read her story in 1 Samuel 25:2-43.
Abigail was a wise woman with a shrewd mind and a compassionate heart. When she discovered that her impolitic husband, Naban, had insulted David, the anointed king of Israel, and the entire household was in danger of being slain, she gathered gifts and rode out to meet David and his men herself. She protected the lives of her household but did not condone the foolish behavior of her husband. Ultimately, her husband was punished by the Lord for his actions and Abigail was blessed for hers.
Read her story in Esther 1.
As Queen of Persia, Vashti may not have been a follower of the true God but the little we see of her in the first chapter of the book of Esther is enough to admire her character. Vashti was a woman with dignity and a sense of propriety. Well aware of the consequences for disobeying the king, she refused to allow her husband – king or not – degrade her by obliging his order to parade in front of his drunken party guests on the seventh day of a drunken, riotous feast wearing her crown jewels. (Some theologians suspect the command was for her to appear wearing only her crown jewels and nothing else.) Her defiance angered the king and his officials, because what if her actions emboldened women across the kingdom to also stand up for themselves against the commands of their husbands? They convinced the king to write a law to remove Vashti as queen as punishment for her disobedience and the drunken king agreed. Once sober, he sorely regretted his rash actions, but a Persian law cannot be revoked, not even by the king himself.
Read her story in Esther 1-9.
After Vashti was stripped of her title as queen for disobeying the king, Esther eventually was chosen as the next Queen of Persia from among many young women forced into the king’s harem. After being informed of a plot to massacre the Jewish people, Esther fasted and prayed to the Lord for three days. Then she bravely risked her life by going before the king unsummoned in order to invite her husband formally to a private banquet. The queen’s banquet was skillfully designed to expose Haman, a government official, as the mastermind behind the massacre plot and to petition the king on behalf of her people. Through her bravery and self-sacrifice, her people were saved.
Read her story in Acts 9:36-43.
Tabitha (called “Dorcus” in Greek) was well-known around Joppa for her kindness and acts of charity towards those in need. She often made clothing for the poor. She was so loved that when she died unexpectedly, the people greatly mourned and sent two messengers to the apostle Peter. When he arrived in Joppa, Peter prayed over Tabitha’s body and the Lord raised her from the dead. Her miraculous resurrection spurred many in the area to come to a belief in Jesus, and we can assume that she continued living a humble life of service thereafter.
Read her story in Acts 16:6-15.
Lydia was an entrepreneur, a businesswoman based in the city of Philippi in modern day Greece but originally from Thyatira in modern day Turkey. She was a merchant of goods dyed purple, which during the Roman Empire was an extremely valuable commodity. Lydia was already a worshipper of God, but she eagerly learned from Paul and Silas about Jesus as Messiah. She was baptized and her entire household with her, and they were among the founding members of the church in Philippi. She was a strong-willed yet humble woman, as evident in her invitation to Paul and Silas to stay at her home. Of it, Paul wrote these simple yet telling words: “And she prevailed upon us.”
1 Corinthians 10:11 explains that stories included in the Scriptures were done so intentionally to be examples for us. These eight women are only a small number of women whose stories are included in the pages of the Word of God. While most of the women were followers of God, we can learn from all of them what to do and what not to do in our walk with Christ. Just as their actions reveal their characters, so too our actions reveal our characters.
A godly character will be demonstrated in the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives; that “…is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) The simple yet powerful instruction of Micah 6:8 should also guide our lives. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
Coming soon, we will dive into the lives of some of David’s interesting wives. Is it possible that we have misunderstood their stories and, therefore, missed the lesson their lives are trying to tell us?