Do you put yourself in stories? Do you ask, what would I do if I were in their place? There’s usually a hero or a character that we want to be like. This month we celebrate women’s history. We get to hear about brave, courageous, history-shaking women’s stories. Women who caused great faith awakenings like Susanne Wesley or Hannah Moore. We get to celebrate the fact that women vote today. It wasn’t long ago women couldn’t vote — which is inconceivable to me.
As a woman, I typically connect with female characters in a story. I ask myself ‘what would I do if I were her?’ or ‘what if I had a similar experience?’. It’s probably no surprise that when I learned the timeline of the Old and New Testament of the Bible I can tell it to you through the stories of the women in the Bible. I can tell you about when sin entered the world because Eve wanted to be “like God”. I can tell you about Sarah and how she traveled all over the Middle East looking for the land that God promised her and her husband. She is mentioned in 1 Peter as an example of faith. I can tell you about a young woman who was visited by an angel and was honored to be mother to the Messiah, Jesus. The list goes on and on. All of those stories were in chronological order. Women throughout the Old Testament have an equal part in God’s redemption story.
The women of the Bible’s history are not from a fictitious romance novel. They are real people with real stories. Many stories we can all relate to. Not only are these women real historical figures, but they also have a significant impact within the foundation of our faith. They play a part in the Ultimate Story — the story of redemption by a Loving God.
The stories of the women we find in the Bible are not there for us to follow as their example. Their stories are told to show us that God is working behind the scenes even when life looks dark and hopeless. Many books in the Old Testament are written were the narrator never mentions God. This happens in Ruth and Esther. God is depicted as not present or absent, however, the characters pray and talk about God. When we fast forward to the New Testament we see a beautiful picture in a garden where God goes from being the far off God mentioned in the Old Testament to a personal Savior. Through the lives of the women of the Bible, God goes from being far off and distant to a God who is personal, who knows us, walks with us, and redeems our stories.
Rehab – Have Faith in the God of Heaven and Earth (Joshua 2 & 6)
Let’s start with Rehab. Can a prostitute start following God? Yes, and Rehab is proof. She hid the Israelite spies in the straw of her roof. See, Joshua helped Moses get the Israelites to the promised land and Jericho was the last place they had to conquer. Rehab said she knew that God was going to give these desert wanderers the entire city because God gave them victory over all of their enemies already. Rehab rescued the spies, and said “The LORD your God is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath”. We are told that Rehab is the beginning family line to David and ultimately Jesus. She was a stranger who helped strangers and believed in God. The Isrealites struggled to believe God when He said He would give them victory. And then there’s Rahab. Rahab saw what God did to Israel’s enemies and believed, because of this she was able to live in the Promised Land.
Deborah – When There’s No Hero (Judges 1-17)
Joshua, the warrior under moses who gave Rehab and her family safety, had just passed away when we read about our next character. This starts the book of Judges. Judges is a very dark and evil book. One main theme in the book of Judges is the phrase, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes”. The book is broken up in four sections. The first three talk about Israel’s leaders. They go from ok, to bad, to worse. The fourth section talks about how everyone — not just the leaders- did what was right in their own eyes.
Deborah is one of the first judges found in chapters 1-17. She is one of the only judges who actually does nothing morally wrong. Gibbor or noble men or mighty men asked Deborah for help. They needed help conquering an enemy. Deborah tells Barak to conquer an enemy of Israel and he basically doesn’t listen. So, another woman receives the honor and glory by putting a tent peg in the head of the enemy’s leader. Many scholars say that the fact a woman had to do a guy’s work shows the state that the nation was in. I am not sure about that, but I do think this strong woman illustrates how having judges to rescue a people group did not work.
Throughout the Old Testament, God is showing us how man made redemption and plans do not work. Israel wanted prophets and then Israel didn’t listen to the prophets. Then they wanted Judges to rule and those judges were corrupt, all but Deborah. After Deborah comes Gideon, who is a coward and has a nasty temper. Jepha kills his daughter as sacrifice because he didn’t know God’s character. Samson is the worst. He was a ladies man, violet and prideful. He murders many people and kills himself. Throughout this book there’s a phrase called “The Empowerment of the spirit of God”. This shows that even through a dark time in history God empowered evil people to accomplish a larger story. Next, the people wanted God to rescue them through a King. That’s when David’s family comes into the history books, but not without a few bumps along the way.
Ruth & Naomi – God is Working Behind the Scenes (Ruth)
I love the book of Ruth. This 4 chapter book was written during the time period of the Judges. Most of the main malecharacters die in the beginning of the book, so this story is mostly about Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi. It starts out with Naomi’s family living through a famine. They had to relocate to another country, called Moab, to survive. While living in Moab, Naomi’s sons married women from there. A short time after however, , Naomi’s sons and husband pass away. Ruth was the only daughter-in-law who decided to follow Naomi back to Israel. Ruth is now an immigrant. You have two women who are alone, hungry, without jobs and grieving.
There’s a law in the Torah that states immigrants are allowed to pick grain in the field after the harvesters come through. Ruth finds herself picking the grain of a Gibbor, or noble or mighty man, named Boaz. Boaz is mentioned in Hebrews to be the son of Rahab, our first character. Boaz followed the Torah closely and encouraged Ruth to keep coming back to his field. Naomi realizes that Boaz is one of the family’s redeemers. In the Jewish/Hebrew culture, a kinsman redeemer means if a man died and left behind a widow the Family Redeemer was supposed to take care of her by taking her into marriage. The idea of a Family Redeemer is such a beautiful picture of who Jesus is to us. Boaz investigates the Family Redeemer of Ruth and Naomi and finds out he is not the next in line to marry Ruth. The one who is next in line rejects and declines Ruth. Boaz decides to be loyal to Ruth like she was to Naomi. Rahab’s family, who are immigrants, are redeemed by her faith and now her son, Boaz, is a redeemer to Ruth, another immigrant. What a powerful story.
The book is written so that the beginning tragedy is redeemed by the ending. Naomi thinks this all happens to her because God is punishing her but really He is working behind the scenes. Although the characters mention God, the narrator never does. This is a beautiful illustration of how God’s providence is working behind the story. God is working in your life too.
Esther – God is Committed to Redemption Regardless of What We Do (Esther)
In the book of Esther we do not hear God mentioned once. We also don’t know who the author is. Esther takes place around 400 years after Ruth and Naomi lived. This is 100 years after the Isrealites are exiled to Babylonia, taken from the promised land
This is where we find Esther. She is a secret Jew, an orphan, and one of the King’s newest queens.
The bad guy, Haman, is a canaanite, the people Joshua and the Isrealites conquered upon arriving in Israel. This is why he hated the Israelite/Jewish people. Haman works for the King, Esther’s husband. He and the King get drunk one night and suggest killing the entire people group. The king agrees and they roll a dice for when the Jewish people will die.
Mordecai is an Israelite. He is Esther’s uncle who also raised her. He also worked for the king in some kind of security role. He ends up saving the king’s life by exposing a plot to kill him. Mordecai told Esther not to tell anyone she is Jewish. Mordecai also goes to Esther suggesting she saves her people from Haman and the King. Esther bravely decides to talk to the king, even though according to the law, to talk to him before an invitation was given might cost her her life. In the end, Esther tells the King she is Jewish and Haman is trying to kill all of the Jews, including Mordecai.
The king gets angry and Haman dies the same way he planned to kill Mordecai, through hanging. However, this does not revoke the decree. And the king makes another decree that the jews are able to protect themselves from anyone who comes against them. And Mordecai and Esther rule next to the king. Today the Jewish people still celebrate this story by a feast named after the dice that Haman used to decide the day he was going to wipe out the Jews.
This story is not an example of morality. When God seems absent God doesn’t abandon his promises. He used morally compromised people. God is committed to redemption.
Hannah – God Hears the Misunderstood, Unheard, and the Unknown. (1 Samuel)
Hannah experienced the classic bullying that happens with women. The comparison game that continues throughout history to today… She was constantly being compared to her husband’s other wife. Hannah’s husband started looking around at all his neighbors who were not Jewish and had multiple wives. Although he loved Hannah very much, he decided to marry an additional wife as well. Because the culture told him it was ok and he blamed his decision on Hannah not being able to have kids, he did what was clearly not taught in the Torah (the books of the Bible written at that time).
The other woman knew she didn’t have her husband’s love, but could have as many kids as he wanted. This is such a sad and horrible situation. It makes me sad everytime I read this story. I think there’s a lot to this story that women can relate to today. For those who’ve been cheated on, those who are single and what to be married, or those married and trying to have a baby for a long time. This story is for you.
One morning Hannah woke up and went to the temple (a church type building where they had to go to meet with God). Hannah started praying about her situation. The tears started to flow as she thought about the nasty words the other woman said to her that morning and the fact that her husband married another woman because she couldn’t have children.She pleads for God to allow her to conceive. She even promises to give the baby back to God. All of a sudden a priest comes out of nowhere and yells at her. He calls her a drunk basically. She was a misunderstood, unheard, aching wife, who was crying her heart out to God. The priest apologizes and prays for her too. God hears her cries and the injustice she was experiencing. She becomes pregnant and has a little boy. His name is Samuel, the prophet, who goes on to be a big part in King David’s life. King David goes on to be Jesus’ family line. Remember this is all a part of God’s plan. First the Judges, then the prophets, next the Kings… none of which can rescue God’s people.
Hannah, the unheard, misunderstood wife, was used powerfully by her faithful prayers. Her legacy was redeemed and her story is told to point the misunderstood to the God who does hear.
Mary Magdalene – When God Meets Us Personally (John 20)
Mary Magdalene has been called many things throughout history. The Bible doesn’t tell us everything about her story, but we do know 7 demons were cast out of her (Luke 8:1-3). Maybe the main reason she has been labeled as the woman with a dark sexual past is because she was from Magdalla, a city with a bad reputation. All that aside, she was the first person to see Jesus after he died. The first person to see this Messiah that the Old Testament talked about for centuries after he died, was buried and rose again, was a woman. Many New Testament scholars talk about how remarkable it is that the witness of the Risen Savior was a woman and how, if the disciples had made this all up, they would have said a man was the first witness. They will speak on and on about how women were rarely mentioned in the history books and how they were not even counted as witnesses in the court of law at that time. Yes, this is a part of the story of Mary and how remarkable it is that Jesus was seen by over 400 people after his death by both women and men. They are amazing numbers, giving further evidence that Jesus really died and rose again. The other part of the story is something much more life altering.
The beautiful thing about Mary’s story is the relationship we see between her and her God (John 20). I don’t think Jesus intentionally decided to have his first witness to the miracle of death defeated, a woman, to prove something. Mary loved Jesus and wanted to make sure his grave was taken care of. They were both in the garden the Bible tells us. She was crying but was able to hear His voice without seeing him fully and cried out His name. There was a level of relationship where she was known.
What a contrast to the story of Rehab, a complete stranger who helped strangers. Deborah who found herself doing the job of a man because no one would listen. Esther whose husband, a drunk king, who didn’t even know her identity or family background. God was not mentioned once in her story. Or look at Ruth’s story. Another stranger who had to seek out a family redeemer to be able to eat.In both stories of Esther and Ruth, God is neither mentioned by the narrator or involved audibly. Then there’s Hannah whose husband married another woman and the priest misunderstood her to be a drunk. God heard her and knew her, although her only sign was finally being able to become pregnant — an answer to a lifetime of prayers.
Now here’s Mary Magdalene, one of three Marys in Jesus’ life, and he calls her by name so personally that she knows right away. It is her Jesus. He comes to her in person. He says look what I did for you. He died on that cross for her personally, because He is 100% God and 100% man. He knew her before she was born. He knew everything she had ever done or will do and loved her. Because he died, was buried and rose again we can all have that close relationship with Him.
The timeline of the stories of the women we find in the Bible helps me see what God is doing in the background of history. I hope you can see this too. Our God is personal. He is here. He is with us. He is writing our story so that we can look to Him and say our God is amazing. We no longer have to walk around feeling like our God is far off. We have a mediator called Jesus who brings our needs and prayers and repentance straight to God the Father and the Holy Spirit living within us.
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Hannah Lynn Miller
Hannah is a radio/podcast host, blogger, fashion-obsessed, mental health counselor in training and Bible teacher. Subscribe for daily inspiration.
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