What does it mean to be a Biblical woman, a woman of God, a woman who fulfills the calling of God in her life? Biblical womanhood is a hot topic these days. What is it? Is there such a thing?
And if there is, how would we recognize it?
Meet Abigail’s version of biblical womanhood—it involves going on a diplomatic mission, feeding an army, and correcting a king.
Or how about Rahab? She was the proprietor of an upscale inn, had a side business in textiles, and engaged in dangerous espionage.
At first glance, it may seem as though the Bible is populated with the stories of faithful men, courageous men, or nefarious men, men who were either enemies or friends of God. Mostly stories of men.
Added to the difficulty of seeing women in the pages of Scripture is the effort it takes to “hear” their voices and understand their stories. The Bible itself was written largely from the male perspective, concentrating on male heroes and villains. (Only the books of Ruth and Esther focus on a woman, and neither one is written from an explicitly female lens.) Women most often become supporting characters. Without thinking about it, we’ve accepted this point of view, and this unspoken role for women across time.
But a second glance reveals the stories of often-unnamed women as living faithfully and courageously for God (as well as some living powerfully and villainously against God). Regardless of whose point of view is reflected in Scripture’s stories, women as much as men have contributed to the great narrative of God and humanity.
A Cloud of Witnesses
The writer of Hebrews speaks of a cloud of witnesses who encourage us in our walk of faith. Christians are familiar with many of the men numbered among those witnesses, as their tales are told and retold from the pages of scripture.
Now it is time to tell Her Story, of the faithful women whose lives encourage us and offer wisdom for today. Let us take a fresh look at the accounts of these women who prophesied, taught, led people and nations, who served, pastored, and mentored in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.
- Anna was a prophet.
- Puah and Shiphrah saved a generation of Hebrew boys.
- A woman was the first to evangelize Samaria.
- Miriam was called of God to lead a nation.
- Mary of Magdala became the apostle to the apostles.
Their stories offer a deep appreciation for God’s work and call in and through women and encourages us to take practical steps towards recognition and support of women in all levels and varieties of ministry and spiritual leadership today.
What is Biblical Womanhood?
For Deborah it meant having political, juridical, military, and spiritual authority, leading the whole people of God in bold and miraculous victory.
For Jael, it meant quickly assessing a situation and taking action in a bold and powerful way.
For Tabitha, who was known both in the Jewish community and the Greek community, it meant opening her home to some of the neediest people around, liminal women who were without husband, children, or extended family who could care for them. It meant using the resources at her command to provide a new life for these widows, and often, it seems, a new home.
Just as Jesus called women to be His disciples during His ministry, so God’s call settled upon Tabitha to lead in the cause of Christ in all humbleness and compassion. Because of Tabitha’s energy, wealth, and skills, a new ministry rose up out of otherwise desperate want. And on her behalf, disciples in Joppa believed against all odds that God could even yet do something for this beloved disciple, though she lay dead, in readiness for burial.
Tabitha was a pioneer, in faith and in practice, and her divine deliverance ushered in a new era in Christianity, where the one church – like her – would be both Jewish and Greek.
For Huldah, it meant having God’s intentional call to establish the canon of scripture, to instruct the king and high priest, and to teach and lead at the highest political and religious levels.
For Phoebe, it meant being a chief officer in the church, to be both steward and benefactor according to her resources, which were evidently plentiful. It meant studying and delivering the word of God to the people of God, even at great personal cost and risk. A Biblical woman like Phoebe was a minister in the same way Christ is minister, and Paul was minister.
For Jephthah’s daughter, it meant knowing and reverencing God. She was spiritually attuned to God and accepted with solemn grace the sacrifice of her life to God. Her story invites us to see God choosing her for this special dedication, as the Spirit of the Lord had come upon Jephthah and inspired his vow.
Though she would never have her own children, God gave her all the women in Gilead, and perhaps women from other parts of Israel, to come to her each year. She would have no inheritance of her own, but – just as with the Levites – God gave her the Lord as her portion.
She was highly regarded not only by the apostle, but also by Paul’s close coworkers, instrumental in delivering, teaching on, and preserving Paul’s seminal treatise on the Christian faith.
For the woman with a bleeding disorder, marrying, bearing and raising children, running her own household were all denied her. Her illness made everything her society told her gave her worth impossible for her to experience. How easy it would have been for her to believe she really was worth nothing.
For Jairus’s daughter, becoming a woman was now in grave jeopardy, everything in her life having simply been preparatory for the day of her wedding nuptials. Her life represented unfulfilled potential, cut off before she could ever measure up to anything her culture told her was worthy.
Yet their stories have been preserved for thousands of years in a Gospel so spare it is the shortest of the four (The Gospel of Mark). Their words, details of their condition, and the circumstances surrounding their miraculous healing have all been carefully recorded! Why?
Why would Jesus call a nameless, unclean woman His daughter? Why would God the Son pour out His power and spiritual cleansing on a child?
Because being a Biblical woman means being loved by God, honored by God, counted worthy by God. Unlike how the world around us measures people’s worth, our worth is wrapped up in God’s love.
For Rahab, it meant doing whatever it took to be with God and God’s people. It meant espionage, undercover plans, danger, and the courage to stand her ground when that ground was quaking.
It cost her nearly everything—her prosperous establishment and accumulated wealth, her home, her friends and connections, her culture and religion. When she left the ruins of her once seemingly invincible city, she left behind everything that had made her her.
Perhaps Rahab was able to bring with her the flax that had saved the spies, and then her and her family. Perhaps she had a few belongings with her, as well as her family. Like the Israelites themselves, a generation before, she now left behind her all that God had wiped out, and entered into her own wilderness, of sorts, journeying with a people she hardly knew into a life she would never have imagined. Whatever remnant of her old life that she may have brought with her would have been as the “plunder” from Egypt (Exodus 12:35-36).
And Biblical womanhood meant that being a zânâh – an idolater, a prostitute, an innkeeper and businesswoman – did not stand in the way of coming to know and believe in God. Instead, of all the people in Jericho, this one Canaanite woman got it.
To collect the Bible studies of all the women mentioned above, as well as many more, please subscribe to Grace and Peace, Joanne: Women in the Bible
Each study includes:
- A full set of questions for discussion
- Notes providing historical and archaeological background, and biblical exegesis
- Link to the YouTube presentation
- Bibliography for further study
God honored and affirmed all of these women – and many more – as well as preserved and celebrated their stories in the scriptures. May their grit and tenacity, their dignity and tragedy embolden you and me to live out our faith to the full.