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Invisible Women in the Bible

Jesus loves me, this I know;
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Many of us were taught this song as children and believe it to be as true today as it was then. The problem is that ever since we learned the words, society and the church have worked to teach most of us that while Jesus loves us, they don't. If we aren't the right skin color, gender, socioeconomic status, educational status, or nationality, we don't belong.

Last night, Jay and I watched a show about Fannie Lou Hamer, the civil and voting rights advocate who was a leading organizer in the Freedom Summer protests of 1964. In 1961 she underwent surgery for a uterine tumor and her white surgeon performed a hysterectomy - a practice so common in Mississippi at the time it was dubbed a "Mississippi appendectomy." In 1963 she was flogged and beaten for registering to vote and sitting in a "whites only" bus station. In 1964 Mrs. Hamer founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. When she spoke to the credentialing committee to be recognized as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, President Lyndon Johnson held a televised press conference so that she wouldn't receive any airtime - her speech was televised later so her eloquent, passionate words were heard anyway.

Mrs. Hamer spent most of her life in the Mississippi Delta - just the place where my ancestors were slave holders. Could she be descended from the slaves of Doro Plantation - or my ancestors? I am ashamed to think that it was my people who mistreated her people - not paying them wages due, not allowing them to vote, preventing them from necessary medical care, and subjecting them to unwanted sterilization to prevent them from having families of their own.

Good Christian people were lynching, sterilizing, and otherwise mistreating African Americans.

The U.S. Women's Soccer Team had a big week. They sued US Soccer for inequitable wages and inconsistent playing conditions. Miraculously, the women prevailed. US Soccer has awarded them $24 million, and gave Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Christen Press and their teammates what they really wanted: an admission of guilt, and an apology. I wonder what Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastaine and their teammates are thinking and feeling - while I am sure they are celebrating the success, how sad for them that conditions weren't better when they were playing.

Presumably, at least some of the US Soccer directors are good Christian people, who treated the women's team with contempt and sexism.

My life experience is that of a white woman who has been upper middle class for most of my life. I don't know what it is like to have no resources, or to believe I could lose my life just for exercising my rights as an American. I don't know what it is like to worry that my family will reject me for what I believe or who I love. I don't know the unimaginable pain of watching my child die because of someone else's racism or greed.

I do know what it is like to be a woman. To my readers who are black and brown, gender nonconforming, poor and from the international community: I see you. I am trying to understand things from your point of view, but I know that books and conversation will only take me so far.

As a white woman, why do I feel the need to put makeup on my face? Why am I not beautiful just the way I am? Am I putting the makeup on for me, for men, or for other women? Jay doesn't even notice when I don't wear it - though these days since I know the alpacas don't care I am more likely to go without.

Why is there a new product out - supposedly created by a gynecologist - that will stop odor in my armpits and my private parts? Ladies, if you are bathing regularly and still stink SOMETHING IS WRONG! Why in the world is our natural scent not good enough?

When we were planning Julia's wedding, she and I went to the bridal shop to find a mother-of-the-bride dress. They referred me to a store and hour and a half away for my "shapewear." I went to the store and came out with 2 bras - one with removable straps because my dress required that - and some underpants that would hide my "unsightly" rolls and panty lines. I think this garment is what my grandmothers would call a girdle. On the day that I went for my first dress fitting, I was to wear my "foundation garments." I put on the girdle and the strapless bra and headed out. By the time I got to the seamstress, the bra was cutting into my arms and she pointed out that the girdle was making that worse. I took it off and came home with it in the back seat of the car. The bra continued to chafe and rub - I was bruised when I got home. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Shoes - I see young women with high heels and pointed toes and think, "Oh, Honey. Do you know what you are doing to your feet?" We are appalled at the old Chinese practice of foot wrapping, but really - is what we do to ourselves all that much different? Who says we need 4-5 inch heels with toes that could impale themselves in a soda can?

Why do we find ourselves being condescended to, mansplained, and demeaned by the men in our lives who would say, "I'm not sexist! I love women!" I'm not asking to be loved - I'm asking to be respected (unless you are my son or my husband, in which case I know you love me).

Until the church reckons with it, there will be no improvement, because I think this goes way, way back.

Way back.

The other day during my devotion time I was reading the letter of Paul to the Hebrews. In chapter 11, Paul writes about the faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Rahab. Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, David,

Rahab - the only woman to make Paul's list. Not that he says she is the only woman to have had faith - she is just the only one mentioned by name. Rahab's story is in the 2nd chapter of the book of Joshua. Joshua sends some men into Jericho to scout it out. They spend the night at Rahab's, and in the morning the king gets wind of their presence. She hides them and tells the king that they had been at her house but when left just before the gates closed the night before. She sends some of the king's men on a goose chase after the men, who were actually sleeping on her roof. She goes to Joshua's men and tells them that she knows God has given Jericho over to Joshua and his army (the Israelites) and asks for mercy for her and her family when Jericho is overtaken. She then helps the men into a basket and lowers them over the city wall. When Joshua blows his trumpets and Jericho's walls come tumblin' down, Rahab's family is saved, which is how she comes to be in the family tree of Jesus.

Let's enter the liminal space between the lines and think about the women who weren't mentioned in Paul's list. There are so many who are nameless and don't make the narrative: Abel's wife is one, left husbandless when Cain killed him.

Enoch "walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him." (Genesis 5:24). He was also the father of Methuselah and an ancestor of Noah. This means he had a wife.

Noah had a nameless wife, who presumably tolerated ridicule from her friends, neighbors and family members as her husband built the ark, and who probably was responsible for laying in enough food for her family - and maybe all those animals - for a 10+ month journey on a stinking boat. Not to mention her grief at the loss of her friends and family members in the flood. And how were Noah and his sons supposed to populate the earth without their women?

Sarai, the wife of Abram - later Sarah and Abraham - gets a fair bit of ink. Abram and Sarai were righteous people, but I've never thought they were very nice - Sarai "gives" her slave, Hagar (more on Hagar later) for Abram to - I'm just going to say it - rape, because Sarai is impatient with God's promise that she will bear a son. When Hagar conceives, Sarai is jealous and abuses her. It's even worse when Ishmael is born, and worse again when Isaac is born.

Imagine your young son, the son promised by God in your old age, the promise of your life, coming home and telling you, "Dad was going to sacrifice me!"

We read a fair bit about Isaac's wife, Rebekah. She bore twin sons to Isaac, and when Isaac was old she tricked him into giving Esau's birthright (Esau was the elder) to Jacob. Jacob would later be renamed Israel, and is one of the patriarchs, which actually makes Rebekah a matriarch, but we don't read about her that way.

Jacob went to his mother's cousin Laban and asked to marry Rachel. Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah, but finally Jacob and Rachel were able to be married. Only two of Jacob's 12 sons were born to Rachel: Joseph (of the Technicolored Dreamcoat) and Benjamin.

Joseph annoyed his brothers, and was clearly their father's favorite, so they sold him into slavery. Joseph ended up in Egypt, ultimately becoming one of Pharoah's most trusted advisors. When a famine strikes, Joseph has prepared Egypt, but Jacob and sons are not so fortunate. They come to Egypt seeking food, and guess who it is that they must ask. Joseph recognizes them, and ultimately, they reconcile, and that is how Israel ended up in Egypt. The next Pharoah didn't look so kindly on the Israelites, and they were enslaved.

Because God favored the Israelites, they grew in number, and Pharoah got worried, so ordered that all male infants be killed. The Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, didn't do it. When Pharaoh asked why, they told him the Hebrew women gave birth before they could even get there. Two women, standing up to the most powerful man in the land. Pharaoh told the people that all boys were to be thrown into the Nile.

One of the babies the midwives didn't kill was Moses. I suppose you could say that Moses' mother obeyed the letter of the law because she put Moses in the Nile, but she made sure he had a basket to float in, and his older sister, Miriam, watched from the bank to be sure he was safe. Ultimately, he was rescued by one of Pharaoh's unnamed daughters. Miriam saw Moses removed from the river, offered her mother as a wet nurse, the princess agreed, and Moses' mother was able to raise him under the protection of the Pharaoh's daughter until he was weaned.

5 women, 3 named and two unnamed, saved Moses - yes THAT Moses, who led the people out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, brought the 10 Commandments down from Mount Sinai after talking with God. Moses had a wife named Zipporah. He wasn't very nice to her, and in Exodus 18:2 he sends her back to her father.

The Hebrew people displeased God and God delivered them into the hands of the Midianites. God tasked Gideon to deliver the Hebrews from the oppression of the Midianites, but Gideon was just a farmer and not sure he was really being asked to lead the revolt. He asked for a sign. God gave him three. Here is the first, from Judges, chapter 6:

19 So Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them. 20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight

Uh huh. I doubt that Gideon had any idea how to prepare a kid resulting in broth and unleavened cakes. I'm guessing there were women involved. Gideon gets his three signs and takes his sons (where did they come from?) and defeats Midian. (Judges 7-8)

Deborah was a prophetess and a judge. She summoned Barak and told him he needed to raise an army and kill General Sisera. Barak says to her, "If you'll go, I'll go, but if you won't go, I won't go." She says OK, but now General Sisera won't be delivered into your hand. So off they go, and pandemonium ensues, and Barak heads off chasing Sisera's chariots, Jael, the wife of one of Sisera's allies, encounters Sisera. She lures him into his tent, soothes him until he falls asleep, and then drives a tent peg through his skull. It was a woman who told Barak to raise the army, and a woman who delivered the enemy into Barak's hand. (Judges 4). But according to Paul, it was Barak who had faith.

Another nameless woman, the wife of Manoah, was barren, and received and believed a message from an angel that she would bear a son. This son was never ever to cut his hair, and his name was Samson. The woman never cut Samson's hair, and Samson grew strong. He married a Philistine woman, who was a nag and her father a cheat, and Samson killed some of her countrymen and all kinds of mischief ensued. The Philistines were angry and set out to kill Samson, but they couldn't do it. Ultimately, he fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who outsmarted him and cut all his hair off, and his eyes were gouged out. After a while, though, his hair grew back, and he regained his strength - just enough that with God's help he collapsed the house that the Philistine leaders were celebrating with their God. (Judges 13-16)

Jephtha was the son of a prostitute and was called to service against the Ammonites. He prayed and told God, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:30-31) God delivered the Ammonites, so Jephtha went home remembering his vow to God. Sadly, the door opened and Jephtha's beloved daughter, his only child, came out celebrating his great victory. Jephtha upheld his part of the bargain. (Judges11:34-39). Sure, Jephtha was grieved and upheld his promise to God, but it was his daughter who graciously agreed to be sacrificed. Read the story if you don't believe me.

And David. King David, slayer of Goliath, writer of Psalms, chosen of God, ancestor of Jesus. David's most famous wife was Bathsheba. Bathsheba was beautiful, and she was bathing one day, and David spotted her from his roof. He wanted her, but she was married to Uriah the Hittite. He takes her anyway, and she becomes pregnant - all this while Uriah is away with David's army. David made sure that Uriah was killed in battle, and then married Bathsheba. This did not please the Lord, who killed Bathsheba's child and punished David. Ultimately, Bathsheba bore Solomon. When Solomon was grown, another son had declared himself king. It was Bathsheba who alerted David and had her own son declared David's successor. You've heard of the wisdom of Solomon?(2 Samuel 11 and 1 Kings 2).

Those are the women behind the passage that I read in Paul's letter to the Hebrews:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible....

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” ... 7 By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith...8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise...17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, 18 of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” ...23 By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel...29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11)

By my count there are 9 unnamed women in these passages. Of course, there are actually many more because every son presumably had a wife - he certainly had a mother.

There are so many other women.

Hagar was the slave of Sarai and so had no agency over her own body. When Sarai was unable to conceive, although God had assured her she would, she sent Abram in to lie with Hagar. Hagar did not have the option of refusing Abram, which means that in effect she was raped by Abram. Hagar became pregnant and Sarai was jealous. She began to abuse Hagar. Abram refused to intervene so Hagar ran away into the desert. An angel found Hagar at a spring and asked what she was doing there. She told her story, and the angel told her to go back, that her son would be the father of a great nation (Islam), and she should call him Ishmael. Hagar said, "You're the God who sees me!" Hagar was thus the first person in the Bible to call God by name. That is a pretty big deal for a slave woman, but what I really love about Hagar's story is that God saw her, and she knew it. It doesn't matter how lowly, how abused, how hated; Hagar's story tells us that God SEES us.

Ruth the Moabite and her mother-in-law Naomi, who left Moab after Naomi's husband and sons died. Ruth refused to leave Naomi:

“Do not press me to leave you

or to turn back from following you!

Where you go, I will go;

where you lodge, I will lodge;

your people shall be my people,

and your God my God.

17 Where you die, I will die—

there will I be buried.

May the Lord do thus and so to me,

and more as well,

if even death parts me from you!” (Ruth 1:15-17)

Ruth marries Boaz and becomes an ancestress to Jesus (and I love that passage - it was read at my wedding).

Hannah was the mother of Samuel. She dedicated her son to the Lord and surrendered him to the House of the Lord at Shiloh after he was weaned, where he ministered to Eli. Didn't that require an enormous amount of faith?

Three of the more "famous" ones are Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, the mother of John the Baptist, and the cousin of Mary. Mary, the betrothed of Joseph and mother of Jesus, who stays with him throughout his ministry and is present at his crucifixion. And Mary Magdalene, who is fairly unknown - except by Jesus and the disciples. It was this Mary who first encountered the risen Lord. That is pretty important.

Mary and Martha were friends of Jesus. The woman with the hemorrhage, the Canaanite woman who pleaded with Jesus to save her daughter because even dogs eat the crumbs from the master's table (Matthew 15:21-28 AND Mark 7:24-29), and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-30) all encounter Jesus and demonstrate exceptional faith. Jesus healed Simon's mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-41). This poor woman is in bed with a high fever, but once Jesus healed her, she got up and "began to serve them." I think this is supposed to demonstrate how complete Jesus' healing was, but couldn't they have let her rest just a little longer? Maybe bring her some soup? And if Simon had a MIL he must have had a wife. Did the wives of the disciples travel with Jesus, too?

Paul had women friends, too. He never married, but he mentions Lydia, Dorcas, and Priscilla, who with her husband Aquila traveled with Paul.

Women. Women are throughout the Bible, used and beloved of God.

The writers of the Bible were writing in their time, for their cultures and so they focused on the men - women at that time were primarily considered property. Those who today say that the Bible should be read and interpreted as it is written, without the influence of culture and society, are essentially telling us that the Bible is a dead book, and the word of God was spoken but is heard no more.

I don't believe this for a second. Look in the liminal space - between the lines - of the Bible (read my post, "Liminal Spaces," here). You'll find women working, loving, birthing, grieving, supporting, teaching, influencing and conquering. You'll find some women cheating and manipulating, too - but so are the men.

Ladies, we have something to say! We know a side of God that men can't know. We need to be preaching from the pulpit, teaching in the Sunday Schools, writing, reading, praying and experiencing God for ourselves. We need to teach the men in our lives: husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, pastors, bosses, neighbors, customers - how we deserve to be treated, which is as beloved daughters of God. We don't need to tolerate any more chauvinism, abuse, sexism, misogyny, off-color jokes (even the mild ones aren't funny). We need to be allowed to use our God-given gifts, and if those are preaching, teaching and leading or if they are baking, coffee-making and nurturing we need to use them. Men who are nurturers and healers need to be encouraged, too - and no calling anyone a "Donkey!" or a "Doughnut!" in the kitchen just because he is a famous chef.

God loves us - whether the church believes it or not. We need to believe that and claim it for ourselves. Never, ever forget it. As Jacqui Lewis writes in Fierce Love, once you believe that God loves you, you can't help but love yourself. Once you love yourself, you can't help but love those around you.

Wonder what the Bible would be like if told from the perspective of the women?


I am praying hard for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. I feel so powerless - I know you do, too. If you are in Ukraine, know that those of us out here in the world care, and we know that God does too. I am praying for safety, for courage, for strength, and that the Ukrainians will prevail over the Russian powers that threaten them. I'm praying for the people of Russia, too - those that didn't ask for and don't support this war, that their voices will be heard and that they will be safe.

I am also praying for the LGBTQI+ communities, especially transgender kids and those who love them - particularly in the US, particularly in Florida and Texas. Stay strong beloveds - you are made in the image of God and beloved of God. We need to hear your perspective and your experience.

Jennings, Sally. "In USWNT Settlement, U.S. Soccer Essentially Made an Admission: It was all true." Washington Post, February 23, 2022. In USWNT settlement, U.S. soccer admits it was all true - The Washington Post. Accessed 2/23/22.

Michals, Debra. “Fannie Lou Hamer.” National Women’s History Museum, 2017. Accessed 2/23/22.

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