"In the beginning... God said, Let us make man in our image... in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them... heirs together of the grace of life... that as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God."
God never intended there be any "battle of the sexes" — God always considered men and women equally "in his image." But mankind — male and female — has been responsible for many contradictions of God's intent. That's where our problems have come from. The ideal circumstances of the Garden of Eden provided equality before God of Adam and Eve, man and woman. Since mankind's expulsion from the Garden, circumstances have never provided the God-intended equality. A marked deterioration in every facet of life has ensued, varying in degree from generation to generation. The ideal woman, so artfully described in Proverbs 31, has probably never existed in an actual, living, case history. There is no counterpart chapter in the Bible to describe the ideal man, and obviously, even if there were, there would be no living example completely fulfilling that ideal, either. Jesus was a man. He was perfect — that is, no sin was found in Him. Yet, He did not marry, have a family, produce progeny. That was not His purpose. The purpose of His life was to provide the perfect sacrifice for sin required for you and me — male or female. There are no other examples of perfect men, or women, in the Bible. Every other man or woman mentioned is flawed with error of one nature or another. Some are basically righteous, some basically evil. Some have names to identify them, others are anonymous. Their examples, in the light of God's perfect law, give us guidelines in two directions: 1) how to act to achieve good; 2) how to act — or not act — to avoid evil. In striving to achieve the best record in this life and to become qualified to inherit eternal life, applying the principles of these examples is very helpful. Here are some examples, good and bad, of the conduct of women in the Bible. I hope all the men reading this will be able to learn helpful points regarding their own lives; and of course it is the primary intent of this article to aid women in attaining the very most of their human potential. Powerful examples of women in the Bible are an inspiration to any human being, regardless of sex. Outstanding examples of faith. Admirable stories of intelligence, intrigue and cleverness. Strength of character when all the men had given up, fortitude in the face of adversity, sheer guts in performing action necessary for the freedom of a nation. Passion and compassion. Mercy, love and patience. All examples of spiritual character, which knows no boundary of sex — yet makes for a sparkling jewel in the crown of God. Yet, just as with the tales of men in the Bible, there are other accounts of jealousy, evil incarnate, depravity — deliberate, ugly sins and sins of omission and ignorance, sometimes with the best of intentions. Let's look at a few.
Miriam the Prophetess
We all remember the song of Moses in Exodus 15 — why don't more recognize that Moses himself also records in the same chapter his sister Miriam's song? She was a prophetess, leader of all the women of Israel, Moses' older sister who had watched over him as he floated helpless down the Nile, a baby in his reed basket. Miriam spoke, Moses recorded, and God inspired and included as a part of His eternal Word the powerful promise: "I am the Lord that healeth thee"! (Ex. 15:26.) We know that Miriam made a mistake: She accused Moses of a bad marriage with an Ethiopian woman — even God was furious, and punished her severely. So, who said she was perfect? She was just a human being made in the image of God who, in her overall life, is an outstanding example of leadership and basically righteous conduct. Women are equal with men: Both make mistakes! Read the story in Numbers 12 and you'll find Aaron was in on the deal (although he's mentioned second — "Miriam and Aaron"). If we are going to find fault with people, men and women alike (which is obviously a bad habit to follow, since Satan is the accuser), it seems to me that I remember a little boo-boo Aaron pulled regarding a golden calf or something like that (Exodus 32). Jesus may have had reference to this kind of thinking when He said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" — in the defense of an accused woman! And speaking of that judgment of Jesus: Haven't you ever wondered why the men, who in their righteous pomposity brought the woman "caught in the act" to Jesus, didn't also bring the man involved? It wouldn't have made any difference: Jesus' judgment was a matter of principle, not sex!
Stamp of Approval
Now let's talk about Rahab, even if she was a harlot. Here was a woman, who by the exercise of Jaith (Heb. 11) not only saved her own life and that of her family, but aided in the fulfillment of God's promise of Israel's occupation of the land. Being in a position to hear all the news of the day, she could perceive that the future was with God's Israel. She determined to become a part of that future — a dangerous and daring as well as faithful decision. She aided and abetted Israeli spies, outfoxed the secret police of Jericho, and survived the downfall of that city in the only house left when the walls fell flat! If that's not an example of courage you can profit from, no matter what your sex, then maybe you lack guts — or finesse — or faith — or all three! At any rate, God certainly put His stamp of approval on Rahab, citing her as one of the examples of faith in Hebrews 11 and including her in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. And what about Deborah, prophetess and female Judge in Israel, who, when there seemed to be no men among the boys of Israel, not only withstood the enemy, but devised a plan of attack to conquer? She made no accusations, started no liberation movements just for females, made no attempt to prove she was "equal" — she already knew she was. She dealt from strength, not frustration. She comforted, consoled, encouraged and inspired "Sweet Lightning" (Barak) to do his job with faith. She strengthened and supported — and those are not unequal responsibilities. And she won! Sometimes in the scope of the story we forget the act of another woman in that day of need: Jael. Not many women, and no man, could do what she did that day. She entertained the enemy's commanding general in her tent, and when he was refreshed and sound asleep, she drove a tent nail through one temple and out of the other into the ground! (This act should be judged in the context of the book of Judges. It's not recommended for Christian women today!) So ended another occupation of Israel by the concerted action, indirect and direct, of two great women!
Naomi and Ruth fell on hard times. Since they were living in a foreign country, the death of their husbands proved a catastrophe. But with sterling character, determined action and clever conduct, honest, hardworking and undoubtedly beautiful Ruth, with the help of her mother-in-law" won her place in history. Would that all mother-in-law/daughter-in-law teams could get along as well! Suffering under the stigma of being a woman, Ruth came penniless to the land of her former husband. Overcoming every prejudice with patient calm, she not only restored her family fortunes by marriage to Boaz, but became the grandmother of David and an ancestor of Christ. No male ever achieved a similar record! But the principles she used are applicable to all, and she herself will undoubtedly stand tall in the Kingdom of God! I doubt very much that she ever despaired of being "just a woman." Take Esther for example. Here was a woman who proved beyond a shadow of doubt that beauty and intelligence can share billing in one character. Cast into the web of international intrigue, with the extermination of her own Jewish race hanging in the balance, she had to act with uncommon brilliance in an uncommon situation. She proved equal to the task! The winner of a worldwide beauty contest, tender in age and experience, offspring of a despised race, having powerful enemies to boot, she didn't exactly have everything going for her. She was faced with a unique dilemma of history — and, but for her wise and courageous conduct, many of you would not be alive today, Fasting, praying, seeking counsel from her uncle and trusting God completely, she put her life on the line for her entire nation — AND WON! She cleverly maneuvered Haman into a trap that caused him to be hung on the same gibbet he had built for her uncle Mordecai. She so ingratiated herself in the eyes of her husband, Emperor Ahasuerus, that he managed to change the law of the Medes and the Persians from a death sentence for all Jews to a carte blanche. Let's face it, fellows, even though we must be this woman's equal, we never could have done that! But the principles she employed, we can all employ! Faith, patience, intelligence, willingness to listen to counsel, fasting, prayer, determination, guts!
Snapped Shower Cap
Abigail has long been a hero (or should I say heroine?) of mine. Her example in the face of extremely frustrating life circumstances gives confidence and helps prevent precipitate action in times of stress. Abigail was married to a no-good, bombastic, self-righteous, demanding, selfish bigot named Nabal (the very meaning of his name in English is "folly"!). David and his guerrilla band were surviving in the hills nearby. They had protected Nabal's flocks from bandits, brigands and marauding animals. They wanted some food in return. Nabal refused. David's temper flared. Muttering some nasty invective against Nabal (I Sam. 25:22), he and hundreds of armed men set out to teach Nabal a lesson he would never remember (since he would die by the lesson!). Anticipating the manly responses of both Nabal and David, Abigail quietly got some food together and met David before he could do bodily harm to Nabal. Using the utmost of tact and diplomacy, she managed to bring David to a screeching halt in an action he would later have regretted. David recognized the wisdom of her advice (even if she was "just a woman") and said: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: and blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand.... Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person"! (I Sam. 25:32-35.) Are you man enough to take good advice, even if it comes from "just a woman"? Man enough to accept the person, to see beyond prejudice, to recognize truth when you see it? Are you woman enough...? But the story is not finished — it would make a great movie! When Abigail got back home, Nabal was in a drunken stupor, so she waited until the morning, when he was undoubtedly suffering from one of the greatest hangovers of history, before she told him what she had done — patiently, softly, plainly. Nabal snapped his shower cap, went into a blind rage, had an apoplectic fit, suffered a stroke that paralyzed him for ten days, and died! David married Abigail, inherited all of Nabal's earthly goods, and they lived happily ever after. Now, for all you women who have husbands like Nabal...
David and Bathsheba
There's good news and bad news in the story of David and Bathsheba. Adultery and murder, shame and disgust, repentance and faith, forgiveness and hope. Most remember David, but what about Bathsheba? — there is another side of the coin. David lusted. But why was Bathsheba bathing where she knew she could be seen? David committed adultery, but it takes two to tango. David arranged for Uriah's untimely death, but did Bathsheba know nothing of the plot? David repented totally, and wrote perhaps the most beautiful of all his psalms as a result: Psalm 51. But do we think Bathsheba did not also repent? David remained married. So Bathsheba remained married. And together they produced Solomon. Solomon means "peace" — with God, with men, with each other: David AND Bathsheba. It was Bathsheba, frivolous and costly act of passion forgiven, who later in her illustrious life, together with Nathan, prophet of God, convinced David that he must name Solomon his successor to the throne before his death. Strong and subtle, for bad and good, Bathsheba is quite a woman — person — being. By the way, Lemuel, as quoted by Solomon, may have written the words that describe the ideal woman of Proverbs 31, but the Bible says he was taught them by his mother! Some say that "Lemuel" was another name for Solomon. If that is indeed true, then Bathsheba inspired Proverbs 31! Jezebel was bad. Michal was bad. No need to dwell on that. Manasseh was bad. Pharaoh was bad. After all, only people are bad.
Elijah is a luminary of biblical record without peer. His miracles (God's miracles performed at Elijah's request) are stirring examples with which most laymen are familiar. But do you remember the woman (unnamed — as were many famous men in the biblical record) whose pot of oil and barrel of flour stayed full? The widow who sustained Elijah when all others turned him away? The woman whose son Elijah revived from the dead? I think I spot an unsung heroine here. A widow alone against a hostile world, having only her faith and good deeds to keep the wolf from the door. A woman of strong character. A woman with whom God was acquainted: "I have commanded a widow woman... to sustain thee" (I King 17:9). Many unkind things must have been said regarding their relationship. Undoubtedly all untrue, but hurtful and difficult to live with. His political and religious views were anathema to the community they lived in. Her aiding and abetting him in her home could not have been popular. Unnamed, she yet receives her crown of victory in the words of Hebrews 11:35 — the faith chapter: "Women [so there must have been others] received their dead raised to life again." Elijah knew her name; God knows her name, and it won't make any difference that she is unnamed or "just a woman" when she is resurrected to eternal life, a member of the family of God in that better resurrection that same verse mentions. She will be equally one with God along with Elijah. A spirit being, all-powerful, ever-living: THAT'S EQUALITY!
God chooses "woman" throughout the entire Bible as the symbol of the Church of God, the Body of Christ. He refers to the entire group of saved human beings as the Bride of Christ: THAT'S EQUALITY! There are many prejudiced people who have critical and unkind remarks regarding Jesus' open acceptance of women — even more critical and unkind remarks were made in His own day, as the status of women then was worse by far than it now is. Mary Magdalene, a person of tragic background, with spiritual, mental and physical problems, was one of those closest to Christ, respected, loved, forgiven and encouraged by Him. He pointedly preferred her company to that of the male self-important, high officials of the religions of His day. He was not afraid of being seen carrying on a conversation with a woman (remember the woman at the well?) contrary to the tradition of His day. There were many women who were His disciples, though most of them remained unnamed in the record — and women furnished an important part in the foundation of the early Church. And don't forget, His mother, whom He loved and respected above all, was a woman! Don't disparage motherhood in the name of equality.
Paul a "Woman Hater"?
Some call Paul a woman hater. He said they ought to keep quiet in the congregation, not gossip, reverence their husbands and obey them, and remember that the man is the head of the woman. But don't forget he also said: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph. 5:25). He sent his epistle to the Romans by the hand of Phebe, of whom he said: "I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church:.. receive her... assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. Greet Priscilla [mentioned first] and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles" (Rom. 16:1-4). Dorcas was a good woman. Sapphira was a bad woman. Were they equal? Titus was a good man. Demas was a bad man. Were they equal? In his second letter to Timothy, Paul says: "When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also. Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God..." (II Tim. 1:5-6). Paul was telling Timothy he had better not let down on the outstanding example of his mother and grandmother, whom he greatly admired! Paul also reminded Timothy of the scriptural knowledge he had received from these two (II Tim. 3:15). And is it not strange that this "woman hater" is found preaching his first sermon in Europe at Philippi, where he was sent by a command in a vision — preaching by a river to a group of women whose custom it was to gather for prayer at that spot? And that his first convert on the new continent was Lydia — a woman? These and many more examples show Paul rather to be a dedicated servant of God, equally respecting men and women alike — acknowledging their deeds regardless of sex, good and bad: no "woman hater" here.
Equality with God
The Bible does say that man was created first, then woman. But nowhere does it indicate that that creation priority made one superior to the other in body, mind or spirit. The Bible does not permit, nor is there an example of, women preaching. But in the letter to the Philadelphian church in the book of Revelation, God says the overcomers, male and female, who enter His Kingdom will be worthy of worship. Jesus is the member of the God family who has always done the speaking. God the Father has not permitted Himself to address us as yet. Does this mean that the Father is not on an equal plane with the Son? Decidedly not! (Of course, the Father will always be the Head of the God family in terms of authority; see I Corinthians 15:27-28; John 14:28.) What is eminently clear is that all of us human beings, male and female alike, are offered equality with God. Now that's equality! As Jesus said in prayer to His Father (John 17:11): "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are." Amen.