Chapter OneThe Life and Lot of Bible Women
Although Bible women for the most part are shadowy, subordinate figures, particularly in the Old Testament, there were those like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth and Esther who were outstanding, each having a distinction of her own, as our next chapter shows. What is striking is the fact that whether the women were queens or commoners, chaste or bad, their lives are frankly portrayed, proving the Bible to be a faithful biography of humanity.
The sacred record of woman's special creation (Genesis 1:26, 27; 2:18-24), declares not only her full humanity but also her superiority to the lower animal world which God also brought into being. Woman appeared as the counterpart and helper of man, and being part of his inmost being holds an intimate relationship to him. Adam, being a collective term for mankind, includes women. "Let us make man ... and let them...." "In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:26, 27). Woman is the feminine of man. While higher criticism and evolution discredit the Biblical record of woman's formation from the rib of man (Genesis 2: 21-24), the passage emphasizes, most profoundly, the inseparable unity and fellowship of a woman's life with that of man's. She is not only man's helper (Genesis 2:18), but also his complement, and is most essential to the completion of his being. Matthew Henry's comment on the creation of Eve is most expressive -
If man is the head, she [woman] is the crown, a crown to her husband, the crown of the visible creation. The man was dust refined, but the woman was double-refined, one remove further from the earth.... The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.
Eve, then, was Adam's second self and differed from him in sex only, not in nature. Priority of creation gave Adam headship but not superiority. Both man and woman were endowed for equality and for mutual interdependence. Often woman excels man in the capacity to endure ill-treatment, sorrow, pain and separation. Throughout history, man, through pride, ignorance or moral perversion has treated woman as being greatly inferior, and has enslaved and degraded her accordingly. Among many heathen tribes today woman is a mere chattel, the burden-bearer, with no rights whatever to equality with man.
While the ancient world was predominantly a man's world, woman enjoyed a status in Israel not generally experienced in the East. The Jews, holding to the revelation given to Moses of woman's endowments, worth and rightful position, were outstanding among other oriental nations in holding woman in high esteem, honor and affection. Christianity, as we are to see, brought full emancipation to womanhood, and wherever Christ is recognized as Saviour and His truth is obeyed, woman is esteemed as man's loved companion, confidant and, in many ways, his better half.
Before dealing with the manifold features of the life of Bible women, it may prove helpful to briefly outline the approach to women in the Scriptures. We take, first of all -
Old Testament Times
The position of women in Israel was in marked contrast with her status in surrounding heathen nations. Israelite law was designed to protect woman's weakness, safeguard her rights, and preserve her freedom (Deuteronomy 21:10-14; 22:13; 22:28). Under divine law her liberties were greater, her tasks more varied and important, and her social standing more respectful and commanding than that of her heathen sister. The Bible has preserved the memory of women whose wisdom, skill and dignity it willingly acknowledged. Numerous names of devout and eminent Hebrew women adorn the pages of the Old Testament. To some extent, a woman was her husband's property (Genesis 12:18; Exodus 20:17; 21: 3) and owed him absolute fidelity. While the husband had no formal rights over the person of his wife, nevertheless, he was recognized as lord and master. By her chastity, diligence and love woman created an honorable position for herself within family and community circles.
Any prominence woman attained was obtained by force of character. There were those, like Deborah, who achieved greatness. Others, such as Esther, had greatness thrust upon them. Womanly virtues were foreign to pagan culture under which woman became subject to inferior and degrading conditions. Decline of woman in Israel was always due to the invasion of heathen influences. Morality lapsed as idolatrous customs were countenanced. "The prominence of women in idolatry and in the abominations of foreign religions is indicated in the writings of the prophets (Jeremiah 7:8; Ezekiel 8:14, see Exodus 22:18). The sordid effect of-idolatrous women ruined the religious life of Judah and Israel and contributed to their overthrow."
During the so-called 400 silent years from Malachi to Matthew, the women portrayed in the apocryphal literature of the Jews "reveal all the varied characteristics of their sex so conspicuous in Old Testament history." Anna, Edna (Tobias 1:9; 2:1-14; 7: 10, 12), Sarah (Tobias 10:10; 14:13), Judith (16:1-17), Susanna, whose story is told in the LXX Version, all typify the ideal womanly virtues of "devout piety, ardent patriotism, poetic fervor and wifely devotion." Cleopatra (I Maccabees 10:58), influential in the counsel of kings, and conspicuous for political intrigue, is a striking example of the perverted use of a woman's power.
The New Testament Times
It is from the teaching of our Lord, as well as from His example, that we gather the original function of woman and the obligation of purity toward her (Matthew 5: 27-32). What an understanding of, and sympathy with, women He manifested (Luke 10:38, 42; Matthew 5:297-32)! The reverence Jesus had for woman and "the new respect for her begotten by His teaching were well-grounded, on their human side, in the qualities of His own mother. The fact that He was born of woman has been cited to her praise in the ecumenical creeds of Christendom." With the coming of Christ a new era dawned for womanhood, and wherever He is exalted woman comes into her own. From the outset of His sojourn on the earth, women were intuitively responsive to His teachings and devoted to His person.
Early Church Times
Through the examples of Jesus in His attitude toward women, and as the result of the truth He taught, women were prominent in the activities of the Early Church. Among the first converts in Europe (Acts 16:13-15), the apostles set high standards for Christian women (I Timothy 3:11; Titus 2:3-5; I Peter 3:1-6) and exalts woman as a type of the Church, the Lamb's Bride (Ephesians 5:21-33). Women ministered unto the apostles of their substance, and came to hold official positions of spiritual influence in the church (Romans 16:1). Later, Tertullian wrote of the spiritual wealth and worthiness of Christian women, and of how their modesty and simplicity was a rebuke to and reaction from the shameless extravagancies of the immoralities of heathen women. That they were among the most conspicuous examples of the transforming power of Christianity is manifest from the admiration and astonishment of the pagan Libanius who exclaimed, "What women these Christians have!"
Through the centuries the social and legal status of woman has fluctuated. In times of fierce persecution they suffered much. Where heathenism still reigns the life and lot of women are far from the freedom and joy they experience where Christianity is recognized. From the 18th century on, women in civilized lands have experienced universal education and the right to vote, and through the impact of the Christian faith they are equal with men in the great achievements of education, art, literature, social services and in missionary activities. Christian women, in particular, present to the world morality, home happiness and piety, domestic honesty, and full devotion to Christ. As morals become more lax, and society degenerates, God-fearing wives and mothers are more than ever vital factors in the spiritual elevation of the nation. Two courses confront every woman today. The one consists of pleasure-chasing, sin-loving, divorce-exalting, and sex perversion all springing from a rejection of Christ; the other course is the noblest and most beneficial for our homes, nation and church, namely, that of a God-inspired devotion which centers in the home, husband and children, and in the Scriptures. Moral laxity among girls today, and the ever-increasing divorce rate with its progressive polygamy, constitute a call to continuous intercession that God will raise womanhood to the noble heights He intended for all the daughters of Eve.
As it may prove interesting to learn how Bible women lived, worked, dressed and expressed themselves religiously, we begin, first of all, with the institution, God originally created them for, namely -
The indissoluble nature of marriage, Jesus emphasized, is likewise demonstrated in the first man's one wife (Matthew 19:3-11). Originally, God sanctioned monogamy, that is, the marriage of one wife or husband at a time. From the earliest days in ancient Israel marriage symbolized festive joy, whether secular or spiritual, as well as the union and communion between God and His people. "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels" (Isaiah 61:10, see John 3:29). Marriage, the sacrament of human society, was ordained of God for the purpose of a husband and wife to share and perpetuate their happiness in the creation of a family within the sphere of their own love. Marriage was not meant to be an end in itself but the means to ends outside of those who are married. By God's creative will Adam and Eve were made one flesh so that the world could be populated with family units.
The Pictorial Bible Dictionary reminds us that -
Distinctly Christian marriage is one in which husband and wife covenant together with God and publicly witness their commitment not only to each other but together to Him, to the end that they shall in unity fulfill His purposes throughout life (I Corinthians 7:39; II Corinthians 6:14). Marriage is contracted "in the Lord," received as a divine vocation, acknowledged with humility and thanksgiving, and sanctified by the Word of God and prayer (I Timothy 4:4,5).
As civilization developed, and sin increased, man perverted the divine ideal and purpose in marriage, and became a polygamist, a man with more than one wife. Lamech, of the family of Cain, the world's first murderer, appears to be the first to violate the original ordinance, for he is spoken of as having two wives, Adah and Zillah (Genesis 4:23). By the time of Noah, polygamy had degenerated into interracial marriages of the most incestuous and illicit kind (Genesis 6:1-4). By the time Moses came to write the Law, polygamy had apparently become general, and although accepted as a prevailing custom, was never approved. The Mosaic Law sought to restrict and limit such a departure from God's original purpose by wise and humane regulations. The curse that almost invariably accompanies polygamy is seen in Elkanah's home life with his two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. The Old Testament presents similar indirect exposures of what polygamy can lead to. Failures and calamities in the reigns of David and Solomon are attributed to the numerous wives each had (II Samuel 5:13; I Kings 11:1-3, see Deuteronomy 17: 7).
Under polygamy power was transferred from the wives to the queen mother, or chief wife (I Kings 2:9; 15:13). The husband had to house and feed his wives. Sometimes separate establishments were provided for the wives collectively or individually, "The house of the women" (Esther 2:3, 9; I Kings 7:8). Often wives had a separate tent (Genesis 31:33). For meals and social intercourse the wives gathered at one common table. Since the advent of Hollywood, film capital of the world, the command relevant to multiplying wives - and husbands - has been flouted (Deuteronomy 17:17). Movie manners have had most disastrous results, particularly in the matter of disregard for the sanctity of marriage. Hollywood has been described as "a town where marriages are too often tossed aside as casually as last year's Easter bonnet." The quick changing of partners is a vile principle, especially where children are concerned. What a travesty of the divine purpose of marriage it is when a woman has several children by a succession of husbands!
One of the reasons why Hollywood is a matrimonial cesspool is because husbands and wives are continually in the arms of others, making love for the screen. Not only does this unnatural association make for unfaithfulness on the part of those who make love for the movies, but tends to create jealousy and strife in the home life of married actors.
Films out of movie studios produced on TV are certainly tilting the scales against Christian morality, and constitute one of our most serious sinister evils. With such a menace to marriage and morals resulting in the collapse of a divinely ordained home life, how can we expect the nation to be strong? Much of the sexual perversion of our time can be laid at the door of Hollywood, whose terrible defiance of moral values has produced the atmosphere of immorality polluting a nation professing to trust in God.
While divorce was originally instituted
"to protect the sanctity of wedlock by outlawing
the offender and his moral offense,"
and was granted only in case of adultery
(Matthew 5:32), it is most ludicrous to see
how quickly people can be divorced today
for trifling reasons. One has read of a marriage
being dissolved because the husband
snored too much. The free extension of divorce
to include any marital infelicity, in
which Hollywood leads the way, is to be
deplored. The alarming increase of the divorce
rate is having a most disastrous effect
upon the characters of the children of broken
homes. What presently concerns us,
however, is the Biblical aspect of divorce in
relation to women.