Where does a woman in the Christian religion find female role models? Did you know that there are only 188 women mentioned in the Bible, and many of those are unnamed? This, compared to almost 2,000 men who are actually named! And of those women, how many of their stories do we actually know? Much emphasis seems to be placed on Mary, the mother of Jesus, and how wonderfully obedient she was to God. And on Eve, who messed up humanity for all time by listening to that darned snake. Or Mary Magdalene, the possessed woman turned devoted follower of Jesus. Or maybe even Sarai who laughed at God when she heard she was going to be a mother for the first time at 90 (seriously, I’d laugh, too). What messages have we heard from these stories? Be good, obedient women and you will be blessed?
Now, I may be a bit cynical, but I happen to know that there are other stories of women in the Bible that we aren’t hearing. Stories of women who were strong, intelligent, creative, courageous and clever. There were women who, despite the fact that they were considered property at that time, found ways to stand up for themselves and others. Consider the story of Shiprah and Puah, the two Egyptian midwives whom Pharoah instructed to kill the Hebrew women’s boy babies when they were born, and how they lied to Pharoah and let the boys live (Exodus 1:8-21). Or what about Tamar, the twice widowed daughter-in-law of Judah who takes matters into her own hands when Judah refuses to let her marry his third son (Genesis 38)? That story has all the makings of a great reality-tv show. And then there is the story of Jephthah’s daughter, whose father makes a stupid vow to sacrifice her for winning a war, and she has the wherewithal to at least ask for a mourning period with her friends before her death (Judges 11). What about Queen Vashti who refuses to show off her naked body in front of her husband-king’s friends and gets dethroned (Esther 1)? Or Ruth, or Esther or Deborah or Jael?
The stories aren’t always pretty, or fair, but I take heart, strength and courage from the women who displayed integrity, dignity and honor. They did not always acquiesce to the “obedience card” played by the men in their lives. They broke tradition, they used unconventional methods, they valued their lives and the lives of others. I believe, even (and perhaps especially) in this day and age, women need to have these types of female examples. We need to know that we are the next generation in a long sisterhood of women who sought justice for themselves and for others. We are not alone… their spirit is with us.