One: The Historical Data from the Pre-monarchy narratives.
Observations: Woman was part of the original creation (and therefore "good"), was a bearer of the image of God, was co-ruler over the creation, was distinct/different from the 'male', was blessed by God, was given joint-responsibility by God (increase, fill, rule), was absolutely essential to the "fruitful and increase" command(!), was commanded to co-subdue the earth.
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." 19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called `woman,' for she was taken out of man." 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.Observations: Woman was needed to make the situation "good". She was designed specifically to be a co-worker for the man ('helper suitable'), and a complementary worker at that ("suitable"). The method of making Eve involved a complete sharing of the nature--she was made out of the same 'stuff' (numerically and essentially) as Adam, as he obviously recognized in his quote. The marriage relationship was also relegated to a higher importance than parent/child relationships.
Observations: God valued Sarai, and judged Pharaoh "because of" Sarai. (NOT because of Abraham or because of 'the Law'!).
The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?" "I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered. 9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." 10 The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." 11 The angel of the LORD also said to her: "You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. 12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers." 13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me."Observations: The Angel of YHWH addresses a women directly, by name, gives her a direct command, and issues a promise of blessing of the same magnitude as that to Abraham(cf. 13.16)! The descendants are called 'her' descendants. The Angel specifically says that the LORD had heard of her misery--He paid attention to the plight of this woman. Hagar even gave a name to the Angel, and had the insight to recognize the Angel as being God. This is the FIRST of the appearances of the Angel of YHWH in scripture--and He is sent to help a foreign servant woman.
Observations: God not only changed Abram's name--He also changed Sarai's! He promises to bless Sarah (twice), and uses the same blessing format ("mother of nations, kings of people") as He had used with Abe in verses 5-6! She indeed is co-covenanter with YHWH--not left out or lesser in any way.
"Where is your wife Sarah?" they asked him. "There, in the tent," he said. 10 Then the LORD said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son." Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?" 13 Then the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, `Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son." 15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, "I did not laugh." But he said, "Yes, you did laugh."Observations: The three-fold theophany of the Lord specifically asked about Sarah, and made the promise in her hearing. They were obviously paying attention to Sarah, for they brought the matter up with Abe. When she denied it, they addressed her DIRECTLY.
Observations: In spite of Lot's gross heartlessness (willing to have his daughters brutalized), the Angels were concerned about their well-being and rescue, as indicated by their focus on both sons and daughters.
Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, "She is my sister." Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, "You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman." 4 Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, "Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, `She is my sister,' and didn't she also say, `He is my brother'? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands." 6 Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die."Observations: God protects Sarah once again (in spite of Abe!), and sinning against Sarah was sinning AGAINST GOD (vs.6)!
Observations: Notice how prominent Sarah is in this passage! She is mentioned BEFORE Abe, the grace was extended to HER, and the first promise mentioned in the passage is to HER.
Observations: God specifically tells the patriarch Abe to 'obey his wife'--WHATEVER she says(!).
Observations: God interacted with the woman Hagar again, speaking to her directly, calming her, and promising her prosperity for her son. He then 'opens her eyes' and meets their need.
Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger."Observations: Rebekah had access to the Lord (via the standard 'inquiry method'--cf. I Sam 9.9; Ex 33.7; Josh 9.14; Jdgs 20.18 et. al.), was the FIRST in scripture to so 'inquire' (requiring righteousness--cf. Ezek 20.31!), the Lord answered her, and delivered a prophecy to her.
Observations: the Lord had mercy on Leah--because she was not loved by her husband!
Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, "It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now." 33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too." So she named him Simeon. 34 Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons." So he was named Levi. 35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "This time I will praise the LORD." So she named him Judah.Observations: Leah attributes most of these births directly to the Lord, feeling that she is the recipient of God's mercy. She understands God's goodness to be addressed specifically to HER need--and this results in the praise of YHWH at the birth of Judah.
Observation: God listened to Leah.
Then Leah said, "God has rewarded me for giving my maidservant to my husband." So she named him Issachar. 19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, "God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons." So she named him Zebulun. ... 22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, "God has taken away my disgrace." 24 She named him Joseph, and said, "May the LORD add to me another son."Observations: This passage has similar motifs as the earlier passage. Both Leah and Rachel attribute their conceptions to God--the gift-giving One and the disgrace-removing God. They understand God to be good to THEM individually (and not just as a member of a family).
Observations: The responsibility of a brother to raise up children for a deceased brother (by marrying the widow) was call the Levirite marriage law. It was an important part of protection of widows' inheritance rights, and to violate it (as did Onan in this passage) was very displeasing to God. God cared for this woman and correspondingly put Onan to death for failing to meet her legal need.
Observations: On the Passover night, it was not just a ceremony involving males(!), but the women had a wonderful, wonderful job to do as well! For slaves to dress their sons and daughters in the riches of Egypt must have been quite a delight for the moms of Israel--and a delight that God designed for them to enjoy.
Observations: Notice that God felt affection ("kindness") for these women, and blessed them directly with families.
The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. They approached 2 the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly, and said, 3 "Our father died in the desert. He was not among Korah's followers, who banded together against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. 4 Why should our father's name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father's relatives." 5 So Moses brought their case before the LORD 6 and the LORD said to him, 7 "What Zelophehad's daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father's relatives and turn their father's inheritance over to them.Observations: This passage is important for a number of reasons, but I only want to point out that the Lord SPECIFICALLY said that what these daughters argued was "RIGHT". God sided with the daughters, so that, instead of becoming 'fatherless', they became 'head of households'. God supported these women in setting a precedent that would be mentioned THREE TIMES in scripture! (here; Num 36.1-12; Josh 17.3-6).
Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. 6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, "The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: `Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.'" 8 Barak said to her, "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go." 9 "Very well," Deborah said, "I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman."Observations: This passage will also come up a number of times, but the main point here is that God would grant the victory to a woman instead of to ANOTHER MALE. The Lord, in teaching Barak his lesson, could just as easily have given it to another male rival of his, but rather, He chose to give the honor to a woman--whose deed was immortalized in the Song of Deborah (chapter 5).
2 A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless. 3 The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, "You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son. 4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, 5 because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines." 6 Then the woman went to her husband and told him, "A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn't ask him where he came from, and he didn't tell me his name. 7 But he said to me, `You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from birth until the day of his death.'" 8 Then Manoah prayed to the LORD: "O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born." 9 God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her.Observations: The angel of the Lord appears ONLY to the unnamed wife (TWICE), dialogues with her, gives her explicit instructions to follow, has her follow part of the Nazarite vow herself, and she repeats the message accurately to her husband Manoah. ALL of the revelatory content comes directly to the woman.
Observations: Hannah understood that her prayers were heard by God, and that God responded to her specifically.
Observations: Joshua included the women in the public ceremony.
Observations: Although this making of the idol was explicitly against the Law of God (and in keeping with the general moral decline of the time!), it does show that women were personally involved in forms of worship and offering.
Observation: Hannah (wife of Elkanah) apparently had access to the sanctuary around the Tent of Meeting. (The word 'temple' in this passage indicates that by this time the Tabernacle was somewhat stationary and was housed in a larger compound. This is not to be confused with the 'real' Solomonic temple later.) She is able to pray in the sanctuary and to make vows to YHWH--about a child WITHOUT her husband's consent!
Observation: Even at this morbid time of Israel's history, there were still women serving the Lord at the entrance to the Tent--cf. Ex 38.8.
Observation: In the passage which identifies Miriam as a prophetess, is also an early indication of women's participation in the cult:
“After the prose coda of 15:19, these two verses give a bit of further information about the singing. There are basically two opinions about what is being said here. One opinion is that the women repeated the entire song, as indicated by the repetition of the first verse (cf. 15:1). Another opinion is that they repeated that first verse antiphonally after each succeeding verse (cf. Ps 136 for a possible example of such practice). In either case, two important points are made. This song of praise was for all the people, including both genders, and it was praise that was expressed by the whole person—the body as well as the spirit.” [Cornerstone Biblical Commentary]
“These verses affirm the custom, chronicled in Judges 11:34 and 1 Samuel 18:6, of women going forth with music and dance to hail the returning victorious hero, although in the present instance, it is God and not man who is the victor.” [Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus (The JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 82.]
As prophetess and sister of Aaron she led the chorus of women, who replied to the male chorus with timbrels and dancing, and by taking up the first strophe of the song, and in this way took part in the festival; a custom that was kept up in after times in the celebration of victories (Judg. 11:34; 1 Sam. 18:6, 7; 21:12; 29:5)” [KD]
Observations: The offense was ALSO against Sarah--SHE had rights which were recognized by a royal male(!), who also made a legal pronouncement that she was completely "vindicated".
Observations: Abraham required the woman HERSELF (not her father, or her brother, or any other guardian) to be WILLING to move.
Observations: Along the lines of Abe's thought above, the household 'ruler' (Laban) still ASKED Rebekah (not commanded her!) about her willingness to go.
Observation: In the country of Abimelech, the man AND the wife (abe and sarah) had equal legal protective status.
Observations: In both these cases, the mother and father appear to act jointly. In the case of Samson, there are 4 references to them as a couple!
Observation: The adult Jacob still obeyed his mother in the SAME way he obeyed his father.
Observation: Laban apparently 'wills' or passes 'ownership' of the maidservants to the newly married sisters. To the extent maidservants could be 'owned', to that same extent females 'owned' them.
Observation: Rachel and Leah assert that Jacob's property "belonged to them" TOGETHER (sorta like a community-property state in the U.S.A.?)--NOT just to the male Jacob.
Observation: Notice that Jacob finds it incredible that he AND HIS WIFE would submit to the son. In other words, the wife/mother was as authoritative over Joseph as the husband/father.
Observation: Onan had a "duty to her", implying legal status, rights, and claims upon a male (from the female).
Observation: Judah had originally made a summary trial and execution of Tamar, but now he not only clears her name, but also points out that legally, she is MORE in the right than he, the judge!
Observation: These daughters won a legal appeal, and had both property and inheritance rights deeded them. (cf. also Josh 17.3)
Observation: Childless widows could own and sell property.
So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. 5 He said to them, "I see that your father's attitude toward me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I've worked for your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. 8 If he said, `The speckled ones will be your wages,' then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, `The streaked ones will be your wages,' then all the flocks bore streaked young. 9 So God has taken away your father's livestock and has given them to me. 10 "In breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. 11 The angel of God said to me in the dream, `Jacob.' I answered, `Here I am.' 12 And he said, `Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.'" 14 Then Rachel and Leah replied, "Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father's estate? 15 Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. 16 Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you."Observations: Notice that Jacob goes to great pains to explain his rationale for his actions to his wives! And that the wives voice judgment and rational approval.
There are three specific types of texts that show this dimension of women's experience in the OT: the interactions of the wife with the husband, the exhibition of Sage-like behaviors in historically important events, and the appearance of hero-type figures in the narratives.
Observation: She simply orders Abe around!
Observation: Notice that the Jacob seemed to have NO SAY in the matter--the wives somehow had connubial rights that were very strong.
There is a particular tone to these petitions by the matriarchs. They do not plead, and do not address their husbands in the language of obedience or submission. On the contrary, they are uppity women who use a characteristic form of biblical rhetoric, the guilt-producing opening attack...This guilt-producing rhetoric is not simply characteristic of the "Jewish mother"! In fact, it is an essential method of biblical argumentation, one used by women other than mothers, and by such great male authority figures as Moses and Samuel. But it is significant that there are not two separate ways of discourse for men and women, and that women do not have to adopt a subordinate posture in their speech."
Frymer-Kensky describes this informal power and explains that it applies to both male and female sages:
Having no direct authority of their own, they--on their own initiative--have the power to effect results through their knowledge and their willingness to act upon their knowledge, either through petition and argument or, failing that, through independent actions. In the Pentateuch, such a role is usually filled by women, notably by Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel. [SAIANE:276]
...like women, male sages have an ancillary position to the holder of direct power. They do not have the power to determine events directly, but rather influence the direction of events through their intelligence and persuasive power. [SAIANE:278]The power of the sage could be used for either good or evil--as "power" it was ethically neutral. It manifested itself typically in dialogues with 'decision makers' or in independent actions of consequence to history. "Official" Sages were often called 'counselors' in the court (2 Sam 15:30ff).
Observations: God specifically told Abe to pay attention to her as a counselor--the sage.
Observations: Notice that the argument of these women is well thought out--distancing from Korah, and appealing to the importance of family names; a sage-type argument (although probably somewhat condensed).
Sisera, however, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there were friendly relations between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. 18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, "Come, my lord, come right in. Don't be afraid." So he entered her tent, and she put a covering over him. 19 "I'm thirsty," he said. "Please give me some water." She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up. 20 "Stand in the doorway of the tent," he told her. "If someone comes by and asks you, `Is anyone here?' say `No.'" 21 But Jael, Heber's wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died. 22 Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. "Come," she said, "I will show you the man you're looking for." So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple -- dead.Observations: Here is another case of deception in a difficult authority context. Jael is often faulted for violating the trust of Sisera (in the context of the friendly political relations between the two peoples), but this alliance was itself a breach of faith. Most of the Kenites (kin to Moses) were living in the south and allied with Israel. Heber had made a breach of faith with them (and with Israel) and moved north to support Jabin AGAINST Israel. His wife was obviously still loyal to Israel and YHWH and saved Israel by her cunning and independent action. (She was immortalized in the Song of Deborah in chapter 5.)
The historical data in the narratives of pre-monarchical Israel reveal a rather important level of influence of women on the historical unfolding of Israel, as well as indications of special care from the heart of God for His daughters.
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