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Monthly Archives: February 2013


To barter is to do business by exchanging one thing for another. Words related to barter are trade, switch, swap, bargain and haggle. Ancient Israel, like most countries then, had a monetary system of exchange alongside a bartering system. A barter economy “usually exists parallel to monetary systems” of exchange.[1] So men and women in Israel purchased things with coins, exchanged commodities, negotiated services and gave offerings in coins, agricultural products and animals.

There are a number of Old Testament accounts that feature swapping, bargaining and haggling. Jacob was a “premier bargainer.” He had a knack for making favorable deals for himself—a birthright; passage to Syria; a wife; flocks; protection. Jacob’s ultimate deal-making experience must have been wrestling with God for a blessing (Gen. 25:32-33:16).

One husband and two sisters

Jacob’s sons and wives picked up his bargaining ways. It was only natural because Jacob “played favorites” with his wives and children. He had at least twelve sons, one daughter named Dinah and possibly more unnamed daughters, but he loved Joseph more than the other children. He married two sisters and had two concubines, but he loved only one of the four, Rachel. It’s not surprising that relationships in Jacob’s family were more competitive than cooperative.

On one occasion the sisters argued over some mandrakes Leah received from Reuben. Because mandrake roots resemble a human torso, the plant was associated with magic rituals and superstition. Mandrakes belong to the Nightshade family (Atropa mandragora) and are poisonous. Depending on how much of the plant is ingested, the toxins therein can cause nausea, vomiting, paralysis, delirium, hallucinations, memory loss, personality disorder and death.

In spite of their dangerous side effects, mandrakes were thought to arouse sexual desire and promote conception, so the two wives both wanted them.

Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”

 But Leah said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”

 “Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”

 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.”

 This agreement did not work out the way Rachel hoped. She did not get pregnant through Leah’s mandrakes (Genesis 30:14-21). However, the negotiation between Leah and Rachel is a good example of two women making a bargain using an agricultural product in place of cash.

There are four other women from the Old Testament who made significant non-cash transactions. Three of the women were diplomatic and daring. One of them was deceptive and fearless. All four succeeded in getting what they wanted.


After years of dealing with the shame and humiliation of being barren, Hannah turned the matter over to God in the form of a vow.  Her declaration was a promise to God that if He did something for her, she would do something for Him (I Samuel 1:11).

Then she made a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.”

 God, knowing all that Hannah had been through and having a high purpose in mind, blessed her with a son. When Samuel was weaned, Hannah fulfilled her part of the agreement and presented him at the Temple for service to the LORD.


Judah and Tamar (1840 painting by Horace Vernet)

Judah and Tamar (1840 painting by Horace Vernet) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tamar’s husband died before they had children. Her father-in-law, Judah, told Tamar to remain a widow until his son Shelah was old enough to marry her. Judah broke his word, though, and didn’t arrange the marriage. So Tamar disguised herself as a harlot, and negotiated sex with Judah in hopes of becoming pregnant within her husband’s family (Genesis 38:16-19).

Judah said, “Please let me come in to you” for he did not know she was his daughter-in-law.

 So she said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?”

 And he said, “I will send a young goat from the flock.”

 So she said, “Will you give me a pledge till you send it?”

 Then he said, “What pledge shall I give you?”

 So she said, “Your signet and cord, and your staff that is in your hand.”

 Tamar conceived and gave birth to twins, and Judah confessed his guilt. Their encounter was illicit, but their conversation is an example of a negotiation using personal articles of identification—signet, cord and staff—rather than money.


When Abigail heard that David planned to kill the men in Nabal’s household, she placated his anger with a lavish gift of food—enough to feed his army. She followed up with a humble appeal to David’s honor and his exalted position in God’s eyes. She asked that David leave vengeance to God, that he accept the food and that he disregard Nabal’s offense (1 Samuel 25:32-35).

Then David said to Abigail, “Blessed is the LORD God of Israel who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand…so David received from her hand what she had brought him, and said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have heeded your voice and respected your person.”

English: Esther Before the King (Est. 5:1-8) Р...

English: Esther Before the King (Est. 5:1-8) Русский: Есфирь и Артаксеркс (Эсф. 5:1-8) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


 Because of Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews, Esther was forced to negotiate for the lives of her people. But she first had to gain access to the king, the ultimate decision-maker in Persia. She called a fast among those sympathetic to her purposes and rolled out a daring plan. Once Esther had the king’s attention, she put him at ease by hosting two banquets in his honor. When he was relaxed and unperturbed, Esther made a dramatic plea for life (Esther 7:3-4).

Then Queen Esther answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.”

 The king granted Esther’s request and arranged for Haman’s plot to “return on his own head” (Esther 9:25).

Women find ways.  ♦ Mary Hendren

[1] Wikipedia, “Barter.”

The Widow of Zarephath

Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.  But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land;  but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  Luke 4:24-27

Bad news to a bad king

Delivering a message to Ahab, King of Israel, was not a job for cowards. Especially when it was bad news! Elijah the Tishbite[1] stood[2] boldly before the one who provoked Israel’s God more than any king before him, and proclaimed: “As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1). Then he left.

His first recorded commission complete, the prophet followed the word of the LORD’s direction, making his way to the Brook Cherith,[3] some twenty-five or more miles from Samaria. Morning and evening, glossy-feathered ravens[4] miraculously delivered bread and meat to satisfy his hunger, and water from the brook slaked his thirst. As the drought worsened, the vital stream dwindled to a trickle until finally its precious liquid vanished.

Into pagan territory

The word of the LORD came again to Elijah: “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there” (v.9). Elijah did not question his new instructions, but he must have considered their ramifications. This town, seven miles south of Sidon on the Mediterranean coast,[5] was under the rule of a Baal-worshiping king, Ethbaal, who happened to be Ahab’s own father-in-law; and it was undoubtedly immersed in the heathen practices that Israel’s God loathed.

Bartholomeus Breenbergh - Elijah and the Widow...

Bartholomeus Breenbergh – Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath – WGA3154 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It took some time to travel to Zarephath, perhaps several days, and when he arrived, Elijah was thirsty and hungry. The LORD had already made provisions: “….I have commanded a widow woman there to provide for you” (v.9). Entering the city, he encountered the widow, just as promised. When he called to her with his astonishing request—water and bread in the midst of a punishing drought—she immediately set about tending to his needs.

Some of the larger fresh streams possibly still flowed enough for her to fetch a little water, but having enough on hand to provide a “morsel of bread” was quite another matter. “As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar,” she answered. “….See, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die” (v.12).

Not so, Elijah countered. “’Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth’” (vv.13-14).

Rejuvenated by these words of hope, the widow was quick to believe. She was not disappointed. Her bin of flour never ran out, and her jar of oil never went dry for as long as He withheld rain from the wicked land.

Not the end of the story

As if enduring famine was not enough, the widow faced another devastating blow. Her son fell ill, so ill in fact, he died. Turning to Elijah, she cried in her anguish, “What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?” [6] 

English: Elijah Raises the Son of the Widow of...

English: Elijah Raises the Son of the Widow of Zarephath (1Kings 17:1-24) Русский: Пророк Илия воскрешает сына вдовицы Сарептской (3Цар. 17:1-24) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The prophet, himself deeply affected by her loss, took the child’s limp body, and carried him to his own bed in the loft. Then he stretched himself upon the boy three times, beseeching God, “O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him” (v. 21). God answered. Her precious boy revived. When Elijah brought him to his distraught mother, alive, she said with reverent conviction, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth.”

God reigns supreme

What a testament to God’s power and mercy within the precincts of a city steeped in Baal worship—not only to His ability to sustain life, but to restore it! I feel certain there were two fewer idolaters in Zaraphath after that day, and that Elijah, the true prophet of God, was not without honor there, at least in eyes of this poor Gentile widow.

[1] Elijah was probably from Tishbe, thought to have been located 22 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, in the land allotted to Gad. (See Also This town was a substantial distance from Samaria where likely Ahab was when Elijah delivered his ominous message.

[2] The Bible does not furnish the location of this exchange. Perhaps it occurred in Samaria at Ahab’s royal palace.

[3] The exact location of the brook is up for discussion. I used the map which places it very near Tishbe. Others describe it as due north of Samaria nearer Sidon. (See

[4] Some have suggested the word “ravens” be translated “Arabians,” made possible by altering the vowel points of the Hebrew word. Others posit that the original word stands for “merchants,” i.e., men from a nearby village who would come twice daily with Elijah’s food. Neither of these positions is provable, and so this author prefers to take the Bible at its word. These birds were miraculously sent by God to feed His prophet. Further discussion on this can be found in Elijah: His Life & Times, by W. Milligan, D.D. (James Nisbet and Co. London, publishers), p.23.

[5] The Women’s Study Bible, note “Widow of Zarephath,” p. 581.

[6] Some puzzle over the widow’s response. She trusted the prophet’s word during the famine, and their lives were spared. Why now was she ready to assume that this same Elijah was responsible for her son’s death? Had she committed some sin and feared this was a punishment sent from God, they wonder. After all, her culture was one of vengeance, and of worshipping a god that demanded human sacrifice. Or was it a matter of blaming someone else for a loss in an attempt to deflect from deep-seated feelings of personal guilt on some level?

A word of explanation

My apologies to you the readers of WomenfromtheBook Blog who have found no new posts for several days. Due to some serious health issues in our family, I haven’t been able to devote any time to this blog. Mary and I will have to discuss how to go on from here. As we are taking it day by day, future posts may be rather sporadic for awhile.

Thank you for your patience, and I look forward to having our blog back on a regular schedule hopefully in the very near future.

Flowers are common subjects of still life pain...

Flowers are common subjects of still life paintings, such as this one by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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