I was so happy to read this post. Because select passages that mention women in the Bible have been culturally appropriated, the entire book has gotten a bad wrap; which breaks my heart because women play such an amazing and powerful part in the narrative, often holding positions of honor and respect, or serving as a hero of a story. I hope you don’t mind, I’d love to add a few more to you list:
Hagar was Abraham and Sarah’s Egyptian slave. When Sarah couldn’t bear a child, she “gave” Hagar to Abraham. Hagar bore Abraham a son, Ishmael, which made Sarah jealous. Sarah became abusive toward Hagar, and Abraham watched in silence. Instead of accepting the abuse, Hagar fled into the desert. In this tribal, patriarchal culture, living alone in the desert was a death sentence. Hagar knew this, but would rather accept death than abuse. According to the scripture, God found Hagar in the desert and spoke to her. He told her to go back to Abraham and Sarah, and promised her that her son would be taken care of. At the end of the exchange, Hagar names God. She calls him, “The One Who Has Seen Me.”
This is a huge deal.
In the Bible, naming God is a sign of deep intimacy with the creator. It is an honor only a few characters get, all of whom are major players in the narrative (Abraham, Moses, David, etc…). Hagar, the black, abused, sexually assaulted, female slave is not only among that prestigious list - she is the first person to do it.
My second favorite is Tamar. Not Tamar, David’s daughter who was raped by her brother and then ignored by her father. I’m talking about the daughter-in-law of Judah in Genesis 38.
In the story, Judah has three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Tamar marries Er, but Er dies before he and Tamar have a son. The law said that if a woman was left widowed without children, the next in line would take her into his family. Instead of following the law, Onan takes advantage of Tamar sexually. For this, God strikes Onan dead. Law required that Judah should then give Tamar in marriage to Shelah. Instead of doing this, Judah sent Tamar back to her family to live in disgrace as a rejected widow. Although the law was in Tamar favor, she was culturally powerless to force Judah to follow it.
But Tamar refused to accept her fate. Rather than sit in disgrace, she went to a place she knew Judah frequented and disguised herself as a prostitute. She enticed Judah to sleep with her and kept his identification until he could pay her. He returned to pay, but she was gone. Then, nine months later, Judah heard she had given birth to a child. Enraged that his son Er had now been disgraced, he went to confront Tamar. When he demanded to know the father of the child, she showed him his own identification. Judah is shamed, and takes her back into his family.
The event radically changes Judah’s character later in the narrative from the villain who sold his brother Joseph into slavery, to the hero who is later willing to sacrifice his own life to save his younger brother from the same fate. And Tamar is listed in the line of David and later Jesus. All because she refused to accept her station and used the only tools she had to give herself hope and a future. Without this strong woman who refused to be cast aside, Judah would have continued to be a complete asshole, never made peace with Joseph, and the fate of the twelve tribes would have radically changed.
I could continue ranting about other characters like Hannah, Abigail, Bethsheba, Lydia, and Priscilla, but I won’t drone on and on.
Thank you, Charlene, for the wonderful reminder. It brightened my night.