June 16 - 22
Women in Scripture
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Read the texts for Deborah, Esther, Ruth, Mary (Jesus' mother), and Mary Magdalene as given for each day's study.
MEMORY TEXT: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27, RSV).
KEY THOUGHT: Although not as frequently mentioned as men, women in the Bible nevertheless have played crucial roles in the drama of God's church.
A VARIED ROSTER. "Evil or exemplary, elderly or young, well-known or obscure, a little under 200 women are named in Scripture. Several hundred others are referenced in categories: daughters (Methuselah's daughters; Philip's daughters); wives (Noah's wife; Solomon's wives); mothers (Micah's mother; Elisha's mother); widows (widow whose oil was multiplied; widow of Nain . . . ); and other unnamed women (the nurse who let a child fall; woman with seven husbands)."Edith Deen, All of the Women of the Bible (San Francisco: HarperCollins Pub., 1988), pp. xii-xvii.
As Ms. Deen wrote this book, she testifies to the effect of this vicarious contact: "These women of antiquity became my personal friends and daily companions as I worked month after month from 5:00 a.m. until bedtime writing, rewriting and studying. Often it seemed that such vivid personalities as Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, were actually in my sunny yellow study. I discovered their stories are among the most exciting on record. Here in this Bible portrait gallerythe greatest in all literatureare women of our common humanity."pp. xx, xxi.
May this week's studies reward you likewise.
"And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go" (Judg. 4:8).
Wife, counselor, judge, and war hero, Deborah remains one of the most fascinating women in Scripture. Though not much is revealed about her personally, the little told does show that she was highly respected by the nation she judged.
What was the "secret" of Deborah's success? The answer appears in various places throughout chapter 4, which deals with the defeat of Sisera's army.
One of the most interesting exchanges in all Old Testament history appears in this story (Judg. 4:8). Israel, heavily oppressed by a foreign power, cries out to the Lord. Deborah, speaking for the Lord, tells Barak, a military commander, to take ten thousand men and fight, for the Lord will give them victory under the command of Sisera (vss. 6, 7). Barak with a mighty army of his own and the promise of victory given him by the Lordnevertheless refuses to go unless . . . unless Deborah will accompany him into battle.
What was it about this woman that instilled such confidence that even a military leadergiven assurance by God of victoryrefuses to fight unless Deborah comes? The answer has to be that Deborah's faith in and relationship to God was well-known; thus even an army, with all its carnal weapons of warfare, was reluctant to move without her.
Was Deborah herself the one whom he wanted there, or was it what she represented that made Barak seek her presence? Or, perhaps, did Barak, not utterly confident of victory, think that as long as this woman of God was there, they could never lose?
The story doesn't end with the defeat of the enemy army. Even before the fighting began, Deborah told Barak that Sisera would be delivered into "the hand of a woman" (vs. 9)exactly what happened when Jael, wife of Heber, drove a spike through his temple (vss. 17-22). For whatever reasons, the Lord not only wanted to use women in a special way to give Israel victory, but it seems He wanted the men to know that He would be using women to accomplish His purposes.
|What does this story tell us about prejudging anyone's fitness, especially based on gender, in working for the Lord?|
"And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14b, RSV).
The story of Esther has resonated through the centuries as an example of a faithful, courageous woman working hard to save her people from destruction. Yet it's not so simple. Instead, this is a story that deals with a womanpushed by circumstances beyond her controlhaving to choose between only bad options. Who hasn't also found themselves in similar situations, with only bad choices before them?
Were Esther's actions totally selfless? What did Mordecai, her uncle, say that motivated Esther to take the risk she did? See Esther 4:13-15.
If what Mordecai said were truethat if she kept silent, "relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another quarter"(RSV), and that she and her father's house would alone perishthen Esther's actions, however successful, seem to have arisen from self-interest. According to the story, she seemed reluctant to intervene with the king because of the potential danger.
Though we aren't privy to Esther's innermost thoughts, it apparently took the harsh words of her uncle to motivate her. Whatever, ultimately, her motives were, Esther's response"And so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish" (4:16)shows a person willing to step out in faith, no matter the cost to herself. Indeed, that's the only kind of faith that really counts.
|As fallen beings, all that we do is tainted with sin. Our good works, even works done out of love and faith, are impure. The incense burned in the sanctuary symbolizes the righteousness of Christ, which needs to cover even our prayers, which in and of themselves are impure because they come from impure and fallen beings. What we can learn, perhaps, from the book of Esther is that, however important good motives might be, if we waited until our motives were perfect, totally selfless, and absolutely purewe might not get anything done, even for the Lord.|
|Is it possible to work for the Lord even if our motives are not perfect? Can fallen beings ever have perfectly pure motives? What can all this teach us about our utter need for the imputation of Christ's righteousness over all that we do?|
"And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me" (Ruth 1:16, 17).
Read the short book of Ruth to remind you of its plot: "The book of Ruth is a short story mainly concerned to supply a link in the narrative of the lineage of King David [and hence Christ]. . . . A grim stage has been set. During the time of the judges famine lay hard on the land. A native of Judah named Elimelech went abroad to Moab to try to improve his luck. But he died young, leaving his widow, Naomi, with two sons. The sons took Moabite wives, Ruth and Orpah, but the sons also died. So the three women found themselves alone, without the men they needed to be secure in a patriarchal society."Denise Carmody, Biblical Woman: Contemporary Reflections on Scriptural Texts (New York: Crossroad Pub. Co., 1988), pp. 32, 33.
When Naomi plans to return to Judah, both daughters-in-law offer to go with her. Ultimately, Orpah stays but Ruth goes with Naomi.
Though Ruth's expression of fidelity to Naomi is often viewed as an example of friendship, it goes much deeper. Ruth expresses fidelity to Naomi's God, as well. One daughter returns to her own people and her "own gods," the other stays with the Lord and the Lord's people. What spiritual lessons can be learned from this incident?
The mother of all mothers-in-law: The mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship is not always the best; in fact it's often the source of jokes. Yet something happened between these women that caused each of the wives to love her mother-in-law. Both women at first even sought to remain with her after their husbands died. "And they said to her, 'Surely we will return with you to your people'" (Ruth 1:10, NKJV). Something about Naomi drew them to her.
|However beautiful and powerful the truths that God has given us, many people will be turned away because of bad interpersonal relationships. What can this story teach us about the powerand the limitationsof good relationships in soul winning?|
"And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus' "(Luke 1:30, 31, RSV).
As the mother of Jesus, Mary stands apart from all women in all history, for in her womb alone the Creator of the universe stepped into humanity (an almost inconceivable concept!). No woman in the entire history of the world has been so honored and revered, even to the point of idolatry. No doubt, both her cousin and the angel Gabriel were right when they said to her, "Blessed art thou among women" (Luke 1:28, 42).
|When the angel first approached Mary, he said that she had found "favor" with God. The Greek word for "favor," kairin, is the exact word the Septuagint (an early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) used in translating Genesis 6:8"But Noah found grace (kairin) in the eyes of the Lord." Though, obviously, both Noah and Mary had special characteristics that enabled the Lord to use them, what does the word kairin (grace or favor) imply, in terms of their deserving the roles that they had been given?|
Mary's response to the news that though she "knew" no man she would nevertheless be pregnant by the Holy Spirit, in many ways exemplifies the essence of living by faith. "'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word'" (Luke 1:38, RSV).
Imagine yourself, as much as possible, in her position. An angel comes and tells her that something utterly unbelievable will happen, something that human rationality and reason and "science" say is impossible. Her own words in verse 34 show how hard it is for her, logically, to grasp what was promised. Yet, though she doesn't fully understand, she has been given enough evidence to trust anyway. Here, in many ways, is the beauty of Mary and why the Lord was able to use her for such a crucial task. Her childlike faith in the promises of God makes her such a wonderful example to all who profess faith in the same God.
|As Christians, in what ways do we need the same experience as Mary, that of trusting God in things that don't seem logical or possible? What practical steps can we take to develop that same kind of faith?|
"And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment" (Luke 7:37, 38).
Though not named in the text itself, the woman here is Mary Magdalene, the same woman who was among the first at the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1, 2). She was also one of the first to inform the disciples of the Resurrection (Matt. 28:7, 8; Luke 24:1-10; John 20:18) and the first (or among the first) to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection (Matt. 28:1, 5, 6, 9). What a long way she progressed from this sad scene in Luke 7!
What was the main, and crucial, difference between Simon, the Pharisee,
and Mary, in terms of their relationship to Jesus? The answer is found in
the parable Jesus told in
Though no details are given, according to the story, Mary had been quite a sinner. If one wanted to push the parable further, her sins were 10 times as manifold and as great as Simon's. Nevertheless Simon, not Mary, is the one who's rebuked in the story, because he's the one who didn't show true repentance and thankfulness, as Mary did. In many ways, Simon represents those who in their own self-righteousness don't see the need to fall broken and weeping at the feet of Christ, even though Simonas everyone elseis a condemned sinner who has "nothing with which to repay" (vs. 44) his debt.
|"The one who had fallen, and whose mind had been a habitation of demons, was brought very near to the Saviour in fellowship and ministry. It was Mary who sat at His feet and learned of Him. It was Mary who poured upon His head the precious anointing oil, and bathed His feet with her tears. Mary stood beside the cross, and followed Him to the sepulcher. Mary was first at the tomb after His resurrection. "The Desire of Ages, p. 568.|
FURTHER STUDY: Feminine Images of the Deity. Although God references Himself in male images such as father and brother, the Scriptures contain both masculine and feminine metaphors to symbolize Deity.
"'0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!'" (Matt. 23:37, RSV).
"I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you" (Isa. 46:4b).
"Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee" (Isa. 49:15).
SUMMARY: Whether as queens, judges, prostitutes, or mothers, women have certainly played crucial roles in the history of God's people. We can all, male and female, learn from their examples, both good and bad.
Five missionaries, including some students from Mountain View College joined me on a trip to visit several islands off the southern coast of Mindanao in the Philippines. This was the maiden voyage of our new boat, donated to help us extend our outreach to our Muslim friends.
Our pilot was a sea gypsy, a man who had grown up on the sea. These people know the ocean well, and some even say they have an inner compass to guide them. It is said that the only time a sea gypsy sets foot on land is when he is buried.
Before long I noticed that something was wrong. We were off course. I asked our pilot about it, and he replied that something must be wrong with the rudder; for he could not control the boat. The boat had been designed with an especially large rudder, so it would be more responsive, but instead it seemed to go its own way in spite of all the efforts put forth by the pilot.
We came into view of an Adventist settlement of homes that stands on stilts in the shallow waters off a coral island. We decided to stop and try to repair the rudder. While we worked on the boat, we learned that one of the pioneer Adventists in the area, an old man, was very sick. The symptoms sounded as though he had malaria.
I climbed the ladder to his home and prayed with him. Then we rubbed him with some rubbing alcohol, the only medicine we had with us. As we turned to leave, the man, a sea gypsy himself, struggled to sit up then gave us some advice. "If the rudder defies you, cancel your trip."
We decided that was good advice and started back toward our base. Immediately the pilot noticed that the rudder responded properly, even though we had not fixed it.
When we arrived at our base, we learned that a band of pirates had killed 21 people not far from our intended destination. Had we continued on our planned path, we would have been in the direct path of these pirates. As pioneer missionaries, we do not shrink from danger. But we are convinced that on that day God sent His angel to control our rudder and guide us safely away from the pirates.
*Harry Gai is a pseudonym. He is a full-time worker among the Muslims in the islands off Mindanao, in the Philippines.
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