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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.”

About womenfromthebook

Mine is a life-long interest in the women of the Bible, and I enjoy exploring the world in which they lived, and discovering the challenges that they faced. I have enough curiosity about them to last the rest of my life.

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