Do You Know These Women – Part V?

Last year I shared stories of women who played a big part in history – yet are often ignored in our history books and their stories remain largely untold.

I wonder if anyone who read those blogs even remember those women now.

Dot Graden, Ann Caracristi, Virginia Adaholt, Jeannette Rankin and Katherine Johnson were all women who played an important role in the history of our country.

Deborah, Jael, Shiphrah and Puah were given small mention in the Bible, yet played important roles in the history of Israel as told in the Bible.

As we approach the Christmas season and hear the Christmas story, I wonder if anyone will stop and ask “Who are these women” that Matthew mentions in his opening chapters telling of the birth of baby Jesus?

Matthew’s first chapter is written to show that Jesus descended from the father of the nation, Abraham, and also from the kingly line of David. He mentioned many men but surprisingly he includes the names of five women.

Who were these women? Why were their included in this list?

(NOTE: Of course we have no idea what these women looked like. These pictures are only an artist’s idea. I found it interesting in searching for pictures of Biblical characters that the majority of them are white even though we know the people of the Old Testament were from the Middle East and I am sure Jesus was not blue-eyed and blonde.)

The first one mentioned is Tamar. Her story is told in Genesis 38.

As you read her story you might wonder what this woman, who was probably a Canaanite and who solicited sex from her father-in-law, is doing here. A daughter-in-law of Judah, after her first husband died she married his brother. This was the custom when a man died leaving no children. On the death of her second husband, Judah promised to give her his third son as a husband when he was old enough to be married. However, he had no intention to do so. When it became apparent to Tamar that she would not have another husband, she posed as a prostitute and solicited a sexual encounter with Judah. This very questionable action on her part was her pursuit of justice for herself. Remember, there was no social security in those days and women without a husband or children often had little or no resources to sustain them. When Judah realized what Tamar had done to make sure she was taken care of he said “she is more righteous than I am.”

Then there was Rahab. We learn of her in the book of Joshua.

The Old Testament says she was a prostitute in the city of Jericho.

Not only a prostitute but a Gentile, we find Rahab had heard the stories of how God had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt and had led them in the defeat of King Sihon and King Og just across the the Jordan River from Jericho. Clearly she believed that Israel’s God was the true God as she hid the spies sent to check out Jericaho. She told them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you….for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

Rahab clearly believed that the God of the Israelites was the true God and she was willing to risk her life to help them. She also apparently believed this was the way to save her own life. Looking out not just for herself, she asked for protection for her family. Her faith in the God of the Israelites saved her and her family when Jericho was defeated by Joshua’s army. She later married Salmon and gave birth to a son, Boaz, who we meet later in another woman’s story. Jewish tradition says Salmon was one of the spies she hid.

Our third woman’s story is given in the book of Ruth.

The story of Ruth is a beautiful love story. Not only the story of love between Ruth and her husband, Boaz, but also Ruth’s love and commitment to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth was also a Gentile. She had married into Naomi’s family when the family had settled in Moab trying to escape a famine in their own land of Israel. While there Naomi’s husband and her two sons died, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law widows. Naomi decided she needed to return to her own land and her own family. One of the daughter-in-law stayed in Moab with her own people, but Ruth refused to allow Naomi to go back home alone. Her Words to Naomi are often used in wedding ceremonies. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”  Once back in the land of Israel, Ruth continued to do all she could to take care of her mother-in-law. Read the beautiful love story of how Ruth came to find a new husband in Boaz, son of Rahab.

Our fourth woman is Bathsheba. We really know little about this woman except in the context of King David’s adultery and later murder. Caught in a difficult situation and in that culture, forced into betraying her husband, she suffered not only the death of her husband but also the death of her child by David. But it appears she remained resilient and later she gave David another son who became his father’s heir. She is a good example of how life may put us in situations over which we have little control, but God is still faithful.

Of course, we all know the story of the last woman mentioned, Mary. What a story it is! A simple young girl living in a town far from the hustle and bustle of the day is told by an angel that she is going to have a child. Imagine the fear that would fill her heart. To be pregnant before marriage was an offence punishable by stoning. Who would believe her story? Yet we all know her response was “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

These women and their stories tell us much about God and his love. He chose those we would have never have picked to be the earthly ancestors of God. Yet, in selecting these women, I think it reveals hope to us all.

God can and will use anyone who is willing.

God and and will use the weak and the foolish.

Those people may reject – God can and will use.

I think it all shows just how much the story of Christmas is about Jesus coming to be “one of us.” To take on our weaknesses, to know hunger, cold, pain. His birth, his earthly life show us that he truly can relate to us who are weak, with faults and in need of a Savior.

Extravagant Worship

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My devotion today told the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with costly perfume as he sat at dinner with his disciples.  Her action was criticized by those who thought it was money that could have been better spent on the poor.

Jesus responded that she had done a beautiful thing and this act was in preparation for His death.  He also added that this wherever the Gospel was told this woman’s story would be included.

According to the Gospels, this was not a cheap jar of perfume purchased at the local storefront.

Matthew referred to it as “an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment.”  Mark called it “an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly.”  John says it was “an expensive ointment made from pure nard.”

Researching the fragrance “nard” it appears it would probably have been imported from India and according to the complaint of Judas, it would have cost at least a year’s wages.

Not only did this woman share this expensive perfume, which may have required all her savings to purchase, she took quite a brave step in coming in and kneeling at Jesus feet.  He was having a meal with his disciples.  Not a place for a women to enter except to serve the men.

This was extravagant worship!  She gave all she had both in her finances and in her courage to act.

Makes me wonder how much my worship is extravagant.  When in a worship service at church, do I just sing the words or do I really think about their meaning and sing to God from my heart?  Sadly I think how many times people wonder into worship minutes after it has started and greet others as they amble to their seats?  Is our worship authentic or do we just go through the motions?

Worship is more than just a service at church also.  The word is derived from the Old English weorþscipe, and simply put means to give worth to something.

I give worth to God by much more than the half hour or so of singing on Sundays.  I give (or don’t give) worth to God by the way I live, how I treat others, how I spend my time, my energy, my resources.

Thinking of this woman’s extravagant worship, I ask myself “Does my life reflect that kind of love and commitment to God?”

In line with that thought the story of David in 2 Samuel tells of worship that is extravagant.  David wanted to buy a field from Araunah the Jebusite to make an offering to God.  Araunah offered to give David the field, the wood for the fire and the animal for the sacrifice.  David insisted on paying for it all and said, “I will not make an offering to God that does not cost me something.”

Dear Lord, may all I say, all I do, all I think be an offering of extravagant worship and may I be willing to give all of me – talent, time, energy, finances – to honor you.

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

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Many times when I look in the mirror, I do not like what I see.  My neck is showing my age.  My nose is too big.  My pores get larger every year it seems.  My hair is very thin (so I put on a wig and then I feel better).

Female dissatisfaction with appearance – poor body-image – begins at a very early age. Human infants begin to recognize themselves in mirrors at about two years old. Female humans begin to dislike what they see only a few years later. The latest surveys show very young girls are going on diets because they think they are fat and unattractive. In one American survey, 81% of ten-year-old girls had already dieted at least once.  Often we compare ourselves to other women and feel we come up short.

Our culture – perfect figure, face, bright white teeth!  We are often felt that we should be nurturing mothers while maintaining a successful career and our homes should look like a page from Home & Gardens.

Many times we are comparing ourselves to other women and feel we come up short.

The stay-at-home mom looks at the career woman who is contributing to the family income and may have an exciting career and spends her days talking to other adults and she often thinks negatively – “I’m just a housewife, contributing nothing to society.  Life is passing me by.”

While the career woman looks at the stay-at-mom baking cookies with the kids and busy in school events and feel that she is somehow less of a mother because her kids are in day care.

There is the woman happily married who looks at the single woman and thinks how much fun she must have, free to travel, spend money on herself and wonders what if I had waited longer before getting married or having children.

And the single woman looks at the happily married woman and thinks how much fuller and happier her life must be with a husband and a family.  She wonders will I ever get married and have a family?

We are constantly looking at ourselves and feeling we have come up short.  We are not just as pretty as the woman next door, not as creative, not as smart, not as good a Christian……..

I have a dear, close friend who I love.  But sometimes when I visit her home, I feel like such a failure.  Her house is immaculate.  Windows sparkle (she cleans them every month).  There is never a spot of dust anywhere.  She changes her pictures in every room monthly to reflect the season.  Not just fall, winter, spring and summer.  No.  She has snowmen for January, valentines for February, four-leave clovers for March, and on and on each month.  When we have a meal the table is decorated as if she was giving a formal party.  Each person even has their own small salt and pepper shaker at their plate.

It has taken me awhile to see that her gift set is that of hospitality.  She makes every visit special with her specially designed table and wonderful meals.

But I have talents she does not have.  I can play a mean piano and bring some joy to residents in the nursing homes I visit.  I have had the joy of mentoring many younger women in their walk with God.

It has been a struggle but I have finally come to appreciate my friend for her gifts but also be thankful for what gifts God has given me.  Each is equally important.

In God’s eyes we are more than what we see in the mirror.  More than just a weary mother, a worn-out working woman, a divorced and single mother, a young woman searching to find what you want to be in your life, a widow struggling to make ends meet, an older woman facing the aging process which slows you down and tells your years are numbered.

For You shaped me, inside and out.  You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath. I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.  You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;  Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.   You see all things; nothing about me was hidden from You as I took shape in secret, carefully crafted in the heart of the earth before I was born from its womb.    Psalm 139:13-15

It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others.  We are the product of His hand.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.    Ephesians 2:10

In the ancient world, women were considered more property than persons.  It was basically felt that women were created for man’s benefit and their job was to meet his needs.   They were purchased with a dowry, they had to have total obedience to the will of their husbands, and they could not participate in any governmental or political actions. In ancient Palestine a man could divorce a woman by giving her a hand-written note (for an offense a slight as burning the evening meal) and their testimony was not permissible in a court of law.

That is one of the beautiful things about Christianity.  Where Christianity has gone, women have slowly been given greater and greater appreciation and respect.   I must admit the emphasis is probably on slowly.  The Bible clearly gives a very high view of women.  But, unfortunately, even in Christianity I think we as women have often been seen as somehow not quite as important as men.

To see how important we women are in God’s plan, we need to go all the way back to the first book in the Bible, Genesis, the book of beginnings.

Many look at the story of the creation of mankind and feel that God created man, then kind of as a afterthought created women so man would have someone to “help” him, someone who would come along side him and help him in his work, his dreams, his plans.  It is many times stressed that God created man first, then woman so somehow man is more important, has a right to be more in charge.

Maybe a better way to think of the creation of man and woman would be this:

God made man, stepped back and looked at his creation and said, “I can do better than this” and created woman. 

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The Bible is unique in its depiction of women’s valued status as a complementary companion. No other ancient text from the Middle East offers commentary on the creation of women. It is in the Bible that we learn of the important role women have had since the beginning of human existence.

Women were NOT a second thought in God’s creation.  Were were in His plan from the very beginning.

When God spoke of creating man and woman in His image, He indicated that image was to be  reflected by the combination of male and female.

Then we come to chapter 2 which gives more detail about the creation of mankind.  Up to this point after each day of creation the bible indicates that God said, “It was good”  But when we come to the creation of Adam, God said something was not good.  It was not good for man to be alone.  He needed someone a helper suitable for him.

At this point the animals were all brought before Adam and we are told he named them.  The Bible also indicates that no helper for Adam was found among the animals so God put Adam into a deep, took a rib from his side and made woman.

Think about it for a moment.  Do you really think God expected Adam to find a helper among the animals?  Almighty God already knew there would be no companion for Adam among the animals.  He had already said His image would be reflected by a male and a female.  I think God brought the animals before Adam just to let him see that he needed someone like him to work with him in carrying out God’s command to subdue the earth.

Genesis 2:18 – “God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.  I will make him a helper comparable to Him.”

  • I will make a companion for him, a helper suited to his needs.
  • I will make a helper (one who balances him- a counterpart who is suitable and complementary to him).

In English, the word “help” has a broad range of meaning.  It can refer to a simple, modest act such as opening a door for someone you see whose arms are loaded down with shopping bags.  It can also refer to something much more vital and significant such as saving the life of someone drowning.

But what did the Hebrew word used here that is translated as “help” really mean?  That word ‘ezer” is used 21 times in the OT.  Twice it is used for the woman.  Three times it is used of people helping (or failing to help) in life-threatening situations.  Sixteen times it is used in reference to God as a helper.  Without exception, when the Bible uses the word “help” it is talking about a vital, powerful kind of help. Yet when ezer is applied to the first woman, its meaning is usually diminished to fit with traditional and cultural views of women’s roles.

The second important Hebrew word in this verse, translated “fit” is kenegdo. It literally means “according to the opposite of him.” In other words, the focus is on an appropriate match. Eve was not created above or below Adam; she was complementary.

So I want to remind you – You are NOT a second thought in God’s creation.  Know that you are a daughter of  God, designed from the very beginning to be a vital part of His reflection in this world.  Without you, His image would be incomplete.