Jesus called the woman whom He healed after she was bent over for eighteen years a ‘daughter of Abraham’ indicating that women have an equal place in the covenant God established with the nation of Israel (Lk 13: 16) but there are specific blessings in the Old Testament to the matriarchs which may surprise you!
Sarah and Abraham (Sarai and Abram) receive new names in Genesis 17. God is establishing His covenant with Abraham and the generations that will be produced from the union of Abraham and Sarah. Sarai becomes Sarah, which means ‘queen,’ while Abram becomes Abraham, which means ‘father of many.’ God describes Himself in scripture as both a father and a king/ ruler. Here we see the duel nature of God described in the naming of the patriarch and matriarch of the future nation of Israel. Interestingly God gives Abraham the title of father, the paternal, nurturing side of God, while He grants Sarah the title of queen, the ruling, more authoritative role. This is very counter-cultural, even for today. What this shows us is that Abraham and Sarah are a team, and that together they represent the fullness of what God has planned for Israel.
Abraham also has other children. While we all know of his child, Ishmael, by Hagar, it is sometimes missed that he has other children by concubines and his second wife, taken after the death of Sarah, Keturah. (Gen 25: 1-6, 1 Chron 1:32) There is something special about the motherhood of Sarah, and it is through the union of Abraham and Sarah, not just the descendants of Abraham alone, that God establishes the covenant. It is not good enough to be fathered by Abraham to be a son or daughter of the covenant. One must be fathered by Abraham AND his wife Sarah to receive this commission. While Abraham is an awesome man, there is something special about his wife Sarah that makes the combination exactly what God desires for the parentage of His people.
There are also blessings for the matriarchs. They mirror the covenantal blessings, so they are often overlooked. The fact that the blessings of the covenant are repeated to the women, as well as to the men, indicates that this is not a covenant that is merely passed down through the male line, but a covenant for all of Israel, male and female. The women, as well as the men, are important. We see this emphasized in the unfortunate fact that of the godly kings of Judah, of which there are few (and this is the unfortunate part), all have Jewish mothers, while the less godly kings are the result of their fathers taking pagan wives. While there are exceptions, like Bathsheba, Tamar, Ruth and Rahab, there is a pattern. These ‘exceptions’ however, while not born Jewish, are women who come to faith in God, indicating that the blessings of the covenant are not so much for those born of a certain race, but for those who have faith in the One true God as well.
The blessing of Sarah is found in Genesis 17: 16 which reads, ‘And I (God) will bless her, and give thee a son also of her, yea, I will bless her, and she shall be the mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her (KJV).’ Rebekah too is blessed by her family prophetically in Genesis 24: 60 ‘And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.’ These blessings show that the covenant is established with both the man and the woman, and, like with the men, it is renewed in each generation.
Marriage is the union of two people who become one unit. In scripture we see the importance of both the husband AND the wife in the activity of God and His people. And, just to make it interesting, God gives the queen/ ruler designation to the woman (Sarah), and the father/ parental-nurturer designation to the man (Abraham)! As the people of the time tended to follow societal traditions, ascertaining what this truly means is difficult. What we know for certain, through examples and scriptural commands, is that the woman has wisdom and a man would be a fool to ignore the counsel of his godly wife and believe that he is to shoulder all of the responsibilities of the household alone. (Think: Abigail and Nabal, Proverbs 31, Samson’s mother, etc.)
Archive for the ‘Women’ Category
Why does she have 2 banquets?
The king has sequestered himself in his private chamber. The law says that anyone who enters without an invitation risks their life. Esther has not been called for over a month.
Esther risks it, and he lifts his scepter, and offers her up to half the kingdom. He is pleased she came to him, and risked much to do so. She asks the king to meet him and Haman for a banquet. Why? Likely she realizes the king believes she has come to him because she yearns for his company. Dissuading him of this belief may turn his good nature to wrath. The king is likely sequestered because he needs a ‘break.’ He may be depressed, frustrated, etc, and remember, there was a plot to kill him which Mordecai uncovered. Likely, he does not trust those around him easily. We will see that he actually does not trust easily in the assumptions he makes regarding Haman later… To immediately reveal that she is Jewish, a race which has been labeled a threat to the kingdom by his most trusted advisor, and to ask for this race to be spared, without any ‘preparation’ might result in her dying along with her people.
Haman accuses the Jews, inciting the king’s wrath. He reports they are scattered throughout the empire, they obey their own laws and they do not obey the king’s laws. Haman shows that the Jewish people are everywhere, and therefore are a threat to the entire kingdom. They are not intermarrying and intermingling, as captives are supposed to do. The strategy of intermixing people is to make their loyalty to the kingdom and not to their previous people group, as they become friends, business partners and spouses of people from other places. This is not occurring in the Jewish communities.
Haman is also an example of why God’s people should follow God’s commands. Saul did not immediately kill king Agag. Samuel was quite upset about this. (1 Sam 15) Jewish tradition states that the king escaped, slept with his concubine who conceived, and then was recaptured during this time. Haman is an Agagite, a descendent of this king who has been taught to hate the Jewish people. Mordecai adds salt to his wounds by not bowing down to him and giving him the honor he believes he is due, especially from a conquered people, who Haman despises.
The misunderstanding that results in Haman’s death.
Haman is invited to the feast Esther gives for her husband twice. The king must wonder why the invitation is not just for him, since Esther is his wife, whose sole purpose centers around the king’s pleasure. When Esther reveals that she is scared for her life, and the life of her people Haman is caught throwing himself at Esther, hoping for mercy. He realizes that the king will not take kindly to threats against his queen. Part of this is a custom of the time where a new king, or a challenger to someone’s rule, shows off their prowess over the current ruler by demonstrating that the current ruler cannot protect his women (so how can he protect you, his subjects?). By throwing himself at Esther, Haman confirms the king’s fear, and supports Esther’s assertion that Haman is trying to do her harm. We are told that the king says, “Will he even assault the queen with me in the house?” (Esther 7: 8) This is a serious crime at this time. Absalom does this by sleeping with David’s concubines on the palace roof (2 Sam 16: 22), as does Reuben when Jacob is depressed over Rachel’s death (Gen 35:22) likely showing that he is now the head of the household as the elder. (Remember, concubines are inherited in this culture and the ownership and care of them passes from father to son. There are reasons Reuben, the oldest, is replaced by Judah as head of the family… Judah not touching Tamar, even though she is now one of his ‘wives’ out of a sense of morality likely shows Jacob that he is nothing like his brother.)
The 180 day feast: Vashti is called to show her beauty off to his new regional rulers. Vashti does not obey his command. Why is this such a large problem?
The king is trying to show his new leadership that this kingdom of which they are now an integral part is awesome, and that he is better than any king they have ever had, and that they should be happy to be a part of his kingdom. He throws an elaborate feast, showing the wealth and prosperity they can expect if they are loyal to him. These are men who are part of the captured nations, who are now holding high level jobs in the new kingdom. He cannot lose face in front of them and have the ‘big thing’ they go back and share with their people being the fact that he cannot even control his own wife. While his command may be impetuous and short sited, he is the king. He represents something larger then himself as a husband. He must be obeyed by his subjects and especially by his wife. Remember, the status of women in this society is not that of an equal partnership as it is today. If he cannot get his wife to obey him, why should the strong, powerful men he has put into power listen to his commands? She is seriously undermining all he has done by throwing the 180 day feast in one act of refusal. And it is at the end of the feast, at a time when the people will most certainly remember it. This is big. He loves Vashti, but this is a precedent that cannot be allowed to stand. He approaches the men wisely, not as a king, but as a fellow husband, with the air of ‘what are we going to do with theses women?’ The men become co-sufferers, and share in the fear that their wives are capable of doing the same if this is allowed to go unanswered. Vashti is this displaced as a queen. (Likely put away, guarded so no one else may claim her, or sleep with her, and banished from the king’s presence as Michael was in King David’s time, but very likely not killed.)
Queen Esther and women’s rights.
Queen Esther actually does much to advance the rights of women in the kingdom. We see previously that Vashti had no rights, and when she refused a request she found demeaning, she lost everything. (How much of everything is up for debate…) Queen Esther however finds herself in a different position. In Esther 9 we see the king asking her opinion regarding what will happen to those who opposed the Jews, specifically Haman’s sons, and she writes the decree regarding Purim, which is distributed throughout the kingdom. Esther’s role has been elevated from a Queen who is called for the king’s pleasure every once in a while, to a women whose opinion the king respects. Although it takes time for the couple to get to this point, it is an example of how a marriage with a bad start, slowly becomes a more godly one
A quick guide to celebrating Esther’s feast for Christians.
The holiday of Purim was established in the book of Esther by Esther and Mordecai. It is fun to celebrate with children, and a great way to teach them their Bible.
1. Traditionally the book of Esther is read on Purim. If you have young children with short attention spans, you may read a children’s version.
The children are given noise makers. During the reading they are instructed to make noise whenever Haman’s name is to be read, so loud that his name is not heard, and thus not honored.
2. The children dress up. They may dress as Esther (a queen), the King, Mordecai (a Jew) or Haman (an evil man). (The adults may dress up too.)
3. As a Jew, Mordecai would have worn a prayer shawl. Learning to tie the fringes of the shawl, the tzitzit, as instructed in scripture can be a fun family activity. (Google tzitzit for instructions.)
4. There are many recipes for Purim. 3 sided cookies, called Hamantaschen, are common and represent Haman’s hat.
5. Games of chance are also an excellent way to celebrate Purim. But emphasize that the point of Purim (which means lots) is that there is no chance; God is in control.
The other day I was talking with two mothers. We were all home schooling, and both mothers were new to it. As I recounted my life and experiences I noticed that each mother was reacting differently to everything I said. At the end of the conversation one mother exclaimed, ‘I know who I’m coming to with any questions!’ The other shrank away from my presence.
I’ve seen this reaction before. Moms who are not secure in what they are doing, and who dislike hearing that anyone is in a better place then they are. The irony is that years ago I was in the same place they were, and their results are likely to be just as good as mine are! I am just a little further down the road, and a lot more comfortable with what I am doing, because I have been there, done that, and seen the fruit of some of my work blossom into blessings for the children I taught- and they have not had that experience yet.
The problem is that we are trained, for the most part, by society to see life as a competition, and with that perspective we have trouble asking for help, or even utilizing the people God puts into our lives who are good for instructing others. The older cannot teach the younger if the younger are threatened and offended by the offer.
The woman who loved hearing that I had all of this experience is rare. And the irony is that I would love to help in any way I can, and now that mine are grown, and leaving the house at a rapid rate, I have the time (and energy- no more midnight feedings etc) to do so. I love this stage of my life, but it will all go to waste if the younger generation continues to belittle each other and make each other fear looking weak, or less than in comparison- especially when that comparison is the equivalent of comparing apples (an older mom) to oranges (someone still fresh and cheeky and ready to take on the world). And the irony is, in general, women love to talk, and especially reminisce about their children’s younger years!
I am the mom I am today thanks to a remarkable generation of older women. I went to their houses as a home care physical therapist, and gained mountains of insight and advice as we engaged in small talk about my children. Did I do everything they recommended? No. But I did learn a lot, and it is time for my generation to return the favor. Young moms, ask yourselves: Who you are allowing into your life to provide wisdom and insight that will make your life easier and more enjoyable in the end? (Pick some good ones!)
I have never viewed being ‘outside the camp’ once a month in the desert as a bad thing.
It always looks like a glorious week off!
No children (except maybe the one you are currently breastfeeding), no chores, no responsibilities save taking care of yourself.
A monthly week off to visit with friends. To relax. To enjoy the company of other women and refresh. To be without the demands of everyday living.
And then to come back, having missed those you love, appreciating them so much more and ready to do what needs to be done with renewed vigor.
I have always viewed Sunday as a day of work. Children to be gotten ready, Sunday school to teach, music to be learned hurriedly before service, and a schedule that is completely out of synch with the rest of the week, that inevitably puts small children off kilter.
The anticipation of ‘rest’ and the reality of chaos.
The Sabbath is not a rest for a young mother. And I doubt it was much different in the desert. Children’s needs do not go away for a day.
In my mind, God ‘redeemed’ the working Sabbaths by giving young mothers a week away. And I was a little jealous of them.
Photo by Matija Barrett, effects by Kristin Andraka
Now I know the Proverbs 31 woman had servants who helped take care of her house, but if you are a woman living in a Christian society today you have probably felt the pressure to do it all yourself too. Somehow we have made cleaning your house into the ultimate womanly virtue, and we use it, meanly, to compare our worth to others. So hiring a house-keeper becomes a huge emotional issue for most Christian women. It’s like admitting you are a failure as a wife and mother. Except it isn’t.
The irony in my life is that I am finally taking this step at a time when I have the least I have ever had to do in life. Maybe I am just burnt out, or maybe I just don’t care anymore. I tried having someone clean my house once when the children were little. There were seven of them and I was over-involved in both the church and home school community and wanted to stay that way. A woman from the church was starting a cleaning business so we signed on as her first client. She was wonderful, but soon began receiving job offers that were nowhere near our house, making ours a difficult location to clean. This was fine with us as I had grown tired of hearing all of the little remarks made by the other Christian women about my choice to have her clean. My favorite was, ‘If you work with her maybe you will learn how to take care of your house yourself.’ Now I ran the church karate club, was in charge of the Sunday School (and wrote the curriculum), taught two classes at the home school co-op and home schooled seven children. Obviously I was not doing enough.
Today I am older. My children are growing and most have moved out of our home. It would seem that this would be the time of life where I needed a housekeeper the least, but not having as many children to help with the chores makes for a much longer day, and having cleaning be the only thing I do makes it oh so tedious. Believe it or not the ‘breaks’ chasing the toddlers provided helped me keep my sanity! (Who knew?) It also gave me an excuse to not have finished everything I wanted to get done. Now all I have is, ‘If I scrubbed another thing I was going to go nuts.’ It’s just not the same. So I hired someone to clean.
Hiring someone has its advantages. I now have time to do more things, things I really want to do, like writing this. It also provides employment for other people. I do not know the women who come to my house well enough to know if they are supporting a family, or if this is money for extras, but does it matter? They want to earn money doing something they are good at. I want to save time eliminating something I detest, so it is a win-win.
Are there some downsides to this? Yes. I am a bit territorial and like my home the way I like it, even if it is a mess. I need to get over this. There is also the feeling like I am surrendering something I should be doing to someone else.This is a false teaching I have unfortunately internalized, but before I consider myself a failure I ask myself what has eternal value. Raising godly children and writing books that will hopefully lead people to live in a more Christ-like manner is ultimately more important than my feminine pride. And I like it. I like coming home to a clean toilet and a shower stall where I can actually see through the glass surround. It’s a little thing, but it does make me happy.
Oh Barak… When I first met you I thought, ‘What a wimp!’ But then I grew older, and saw something else. I saw a man who was not all that unlike the people I know, and the person I have become.
Barak is a warrior, the commander of the army, yet he will not go into battle unless the woman, Deborah, goes with him. The question is, ‘Why?’ Why won’t he just go?
God tells him that, since he insists on having Deborah with him, the credit for the victory will be given to a woman, and not to him. I am sure he is thinking Deborah will get the glory, and he is fine with that, after all, she is the leader of Israel, just please God let her go with him! What he does not know is that God, in a typical God-like fashion, does not like to do what people expect. God gives the victory over Sisera to Jael instead. But who cares? Well, any man at this time does! A woman being given credit for a military victory is unheard of and this woman has no status. At least if it was Deborah, people knew who she was, and that she was someone with power and authority! This will hurt Barak’s masculinity. Still, Barak does not care. Why?
Here’s my take on the situation: Barak has faith that God can deliver His people. He knows that God gives victory to the weak who are righteous. He believes that Deborah is righteous. What he does not have faith in is his relationship with God. He knows himself. He knows he is not perfect. Likely he does not feel that he prays as much as he should, nor does he read his Bible as he ought (and it is much shorter at this time in history!). But, he believes that Deborah does, and even though it will cost him in pride and kudos, he knows that Deborah is a person who God blesses and does not want the failings he perceives in his relationship with God to be the downfall of Israel. So give the credit to the girl, in his eyes, she is better than him. And to his credit he gladly shares the credit with her and Jael after the battle is won, singing a duet with Deborah when it is over. (Many men would have been walking around trying to explain that they did all the work, and the Deborah did nothing, and Jael did almost nothing since Sisera pretty much fell into her lap.)
The only thing Barak does not have faith in is his relationship with God. He does not feel ‘good enough’ to be used by God. But how many of us feel this way today?
What I realized is that the list of the faithful in Hebrews is not a list of people with perfect faith, but a list of people who were just like us, insecure and still making mistakes. The point is that God is not looking for perfection, and that we can be sure of our relationship with Him, even when we doubt. Remember: Abraham did not trust God to protect him and allowed people to believe that Sarah was ‘available’ to save his life –twice! Isaac did the same. Gideon too did not believe that God could use someone like him. Yet they are all listed as people of faith. The faithful have doubts. Barak had doubts. The beauty of Barak is that he saw a woman as a faithful person whom God could bless and use, a person whom he perceived as more godly than himself, and was not afraid to let her have the credit for what he, as commander of the army, should have longed to have credit for.
In Proverbs 31 the husband is told to give his wife the praise that is due her. This is exactly what Barak does. He allows women (Jael and Deborah) to receive the praise. This is tough for a man at this time, where prideful talk, patriarchy and war were a manly way of life. Yet Barak humbles himself, due to his own insecurities. But Barak deserves double kudos for this, because typically it is the more insecure who cannot in the end stand to share the spotlight and feel the need to hog the praise…
Many teach that Deborah was judge because there were no godly men at the time. I disagree. Only truly godly men could follow God even when He was using a woman, someone they thought of as lowly and weak, to do His will. This takes trust and recognition of what ‘godly’ is. It is easy to follow someone the world tells you is worthy of respect: the big, strong and powerful. It takes much more faith to follow, when you know you should, someone others would look down on you for listening to at all.
The Proverbs 31 woman has been blown out of proportion. She is larger than life- but really she is not. First, we need a little perspective. This is advice given to a man, who is to be king, by his mother on picking a wife. It is not advice to a woman on what they should do, nor is it a daily check list of what should get done. This man is a king. These are the requirements for a woman who is to be queen. If you are not marrying someone who is destined to be in charge of a country, or are not going to be in charge of a country, then these requirements must be ‘tweeked’ to fit the type of life you will enjoy.
So, let’s look at Proverbs 31 with a new perspective…
-First requirement: She must be a wife of ‘good character.’ I think we can handle that, especially since Biblically any woman, or man, who repents and turns to God is treated as a full child of God. So even Rahab the prostitute now qualifies.
-Her husband has full confidence in her, meaning she is a capable woman who makes good decisions. Her husband does not worry about her doing something stupid when he is not there. This is good marriage advice. Too many boys are looking for a girl who needs to be ‘rescued’ and who makes them feel like a ‘man’ because she ‘needs’ him to solve her problems. This is not the woman scripture tells a man to look for.
-She brings him good and not harm. No matter how she ‘feels,’ she works for his best interests and does not do things that would undermine him. This means no passive-aggressive behavior!
-She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. This means that even though she is to be ‘rich’ (the wife of a king) she has basic skills, so even if her circumstances change and her family needs her to do whatever, she can, and will, gladly. Today this would mean that she would cook and clean, shop at a thrift store and cut coupons happily if need be.
-She shops for the best price and quality. Since people walked to shop, this means she does not just buy the first thing she sees, but is frugal and good with money, even though they have plenty at the moment.
-She gets up early and feeds the servants. She makes sure the people she is responsible for are well cared for. Today this would mean that the children will get breakfast and their lunches are made because she is the type of person who would wake up in time to get them off to school.
-Since she is going to be a wealthy woman she should already have money of her own and be able to use it wisely. She can therefore consider a property and manage the vineyard (business) she creates. This means that she is able to manage any projects she becomes involved with so that they do not add to her husband’s responsibilities. She is not a burden, but an asset, increasing the family’s wealth without increasing the stress on her husband. (By the way, men typically work in a vineyard and she is in charge. She has no problem handling things at work, and has the respect of her employees so this is not an issue.)
-She works vigorously and her arms are strong. She is not a wimp. She is in good physical health, and is able to work hard. Think of the women that God chose as wives in the Bible. Many of them were shepherdesses, able to lift heavy things and do much physical work.
-Her trading is profitable. The projects she gets into make money. What she does in her free time is not a drain on the family finances.
-Her lamp does not go out at night. In Biblical times wicks needed to be trimmed and the oil lamp needed to be filled before bed at night. This is a woman who makes sure that the little things get done. This woman makes sure the garbage is out on garbage day, the iron is off before she leaves the house etc. Her husband does not need to double-check on the little things she is responsible for.
-She holds the distaff and grasps the spindle in her hand. She knows how to sew. If needed, this wealthy woman could make clothes for her family. She has skills.
-She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. She is giving, and is not afraid to mix with the less fortunate. She does not look down on them, and even though she is queenly, she notices people in need and helps.
-She does not fear the snow because her household is well clothed. She prepares ahead of time for things she knows are coming. This means that she is not running out to buy boots and coats on the first snow day because she did not plan ahead.
-She makes coverings for her bed, and is clothed in linen and purple. She knows how to decorate her house and dress as is fitting for her position in life. Her appearance is not going to embarrass her husband. When she needs to be elegant (as a queen often does) she can do so easily. For many of us, this is not necessary, and if we are trying to dress like a queen, when we need to be ‘functional’ because we are actually running after kids, then we are doing the opposite of what is necessary and are behaving contrary to this verse. This woman needs to look the part because her husband is king. If your husband is not a king, and your ‘society’ is blue jeans and flip-flops then you should dress and decorate your house in a way that will not embarrass your spouse.
-Her husband is respected. This implies that she does not embarrass him, and, because of what she does, people look more favorably on him.
-She makes things to sell. Even though she is rich, she does useful, profitable work in her spare time.
-She is strong and dignified. She is not full of anxiety and fear, but can laugh at the future because she is confident that she can handle whatever is to come.
-She is wise and is able to instruct others. She is not a ditzy airhead. She is smart, and paid attention in school.
-She manages her household well and is not lazy.
-Her children call her blessed and her husband praises her. This is a woman who has raised her children to respect her, and she is so capable her husband would feel awkward making derogatory jokes about her.
-She surpasses all other women. This is because she is the perfect wife for her husband. She fits him well. He can imagine no other woman being as good for him as she is.
-She fears God.
There is also a reminder that charm and beauty are fleeting. A man is not to pick a wife based on her ability to flatter him, or how ‘hot’ she is. These things will not last. Instead he is to pick a woman who has godly characteristics. She is also to receive the rewards her work deserves and is to be praised for what she does. This means that she may be pampered and complimented for doing all that she does.
When you look at the list what you will find is that there are many, many godly women out there, and husbands who are lucky to have them! Not married? This is the list to use. Men, don’t be tricked into marrying a woman who makes you ‘feel’ like a ‘man’ for superficial reasons. The point here is that you want a strong, capable woman, who enhances your life, not one who leans on you and cannot do anything on her own! And if tough times come, she is capable of managing in poverty without complaint as well. (Remember, kingdoms topple, and kings often find themselves in exile during this time in history… A good ‘queen’ needs to be prepared for this as well.)