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Category Archives: Bible women

Dear Dr. Luke

I suppose everyone has a favorite section or book of the Bible. I have several, among them the writings of Luke. I decided to write him a letter to thank him for enriching my studies, especially about a certain woman.

Dear Dr. Luke,

Sometimes when I read through the Bible I happen on something that makes me wish I could say “thank you” to the author. It’s a little hard to do, since so much time has elapsed and I live in a different phase of the Church; but I decided to write to you anyway to express my appreciation for the books you wrote and especially for the details you recorded about some of my favorite people—particularly women.

When I leaf through your Gospel in my Bible, I notice that it has pink pencil highlighting (my color code for women) sprinkled on its pages from beginning to end.

You see, I’ve read and reread these words many times before. I know women were sometimes not too highly esteemed when you lived, but you included them, as God led you to, in the real-life settings of your time. I find your book an exclusive edition in some ways, and I’ll tell you why.

A case in point: Mary the mother of Jesus

Without you, I would not have known many of the extraordinary details of Mary’s life: Gabriel’s amazing visit to her that remarkable day; John the Baptist leaping in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when she came for a visit; and her prophetic prayer. You managed to capture the moment, allowing me to “look over your shoulder” in the process. And with each reading I seem to learn something new. What a gift God gave you!

Only you gave me a glimpse of the aged Simeon bestowing a blessing on the tiny, newborn Jesus, allowing me to “hear” his solemn words to Mary. Why, in only three short verses you condensed the entire life of the aged prophetess Anna, herself an eye-witness to Simeon’s blessing. How masterfully you wrote.

I sometimes wonder why Matthew and Mark didn’t mention the episode where the youthful Jesus went missing after the feast of the Passover. That might have made front-page news in our town today. I’m glad you recorded the happy but surprising ending.

A couple of times you seemed to have been privy to Mary’s private thoughts—things she kept in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51)—as she struggled to comprehend the divine workings in her life. These intimate details touch me in such an inspiring and compelling way.

A real wireless connection  220px-Scribe_tomb_relief_Flavia_Solva

In this day of computers and word processing, it is hard for me to realize that you did not have access to paper or printers. You had no laptop, iPad, camera or Internet. You probably carried wax tablets or washable papyrus notebooks with you wherever you went to keep notes of interviews or first-person accounts or to jot down the facts. (I sometimes envision you as a kind of first-century man-on-the-street reporter with stylus in hand.)

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that you sometimes used a type of shorthand—Paul’s secretaries apparently did. Whatever the method, I’m confident it was cutting-edge for the day.

Letter by letter

Patience must have been one of your chief virtues because I read once that it took lots of time to write a manuscript like the one you presented to Theophilus (Acts 1:1). In fact, someone estimated that it took two to three days to make each hand-written copy of your friend Paul’s letter to the Romans (Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, E. Randolph Richards, p. 165), and that didn’t include all the preliminary drafts and edits. I would call that a true labor of love!

The front side of folios 13 and 14 of a Greek ...

The front side of folios 13 and 14 of a Greek papyrus manuscript of the Gospel of Luke containing verses 11:50–12:12 and 13:6-24, P. Chester Beatty I (Gregory-Aland no. P 45 ). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You would be happy to know that your writing has endured through the ages intact and is highly revered yet today.

That extraordinary Day of Pentecost

If the hallmark of a good book is wanting to read it over and over, your books certainly meet that standard for me. This year, as I was rereading the first chapter of your The Acts of the Apostles, these words especially caught my attention: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14).

Thank you so much for that verse, because you are the only one who let me know the rest of the story about Mary. It is comforting to learn that she survived the horrifying ordeal of seeing her Son die—that she was there with the rest, praying and faithfully waiting for the fulfillment of her Son’s promise : He was going to send the Comforter.

At some future date

If we ever have the chance to meet sometime in the future, I’ll be eager to learn more of the details about Mary’s reactions to that momentous Pentecost and the manifestations of God’s Holy Spirit working in and energizing the fledging Church of God.

Until then, with gratitude from your ardent admirer and student…KM

(This post first appeared in the Godly Women Blog, June 14, 2011.)

Barley: the Grain of the Poor

Barley was the grain most commonly used to mak...

Barley was the grain most commonly used to make into flour for bread in Iron Age Israel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barley was a primary food grain in ancient Israel. The Israelites planted barley in the fall at the time of first rain. The seed over-wintered in the ground, sprouted in the spring and was harvested in March to April. Wheat was planted at the same time but it ripened in May to June. Barley could be grown in poor soil and be broadcast into unplowed ground. Barley was a dependable, disease-resistant crop, easier and less expensive to grow than wheat.

Concerning nutrition, barley surpasses wheat in a few ways: barley has twice as many fatty acids as wheat; it has 40% more fiber than wheat; it contains vitamin E (wheat has none); it contains more thiamine, riboflavin and lysine than wheat “giving barley a more balanced protein.”[1] Barley has less gluten than wheat, which makes it less desirable for making raised breads. The high gluten content of wheat, and the preference for raised bread, caused wheat to become the most important of the ancient grains.

Israel’s bread

Though wheat became the preferred grain in the ancient world, barley still played an important part in the diet of the Hebrews. Israelites ate barley and oats as porridge and flatbreads and fed both grains to their animals. Wheat was not used as animal food. Barley gradually became known as the grain of the poor. “Barley was cultivated in Palestine and Egypt and was fed to cattle and horses. Though the Egyptians used barley to feed animals, the Hebrews used it for bread, at least for the poor.”[2] Barley was fed to horses or mixed with ground lentils, beans and millet to enhance its taste.[3]

It is estimated that bread provided “50-70 % of the ordinary person’s calories, and the bread eaten until the end of the Israelite monarchy was mainly made from barley.”[4] The book of Ruth illustrates the importance of barley as a life sustaining grain for the poor.

Gleaning 

Jan van Scorel, Ruth and Naomi in the fields o...

Jan van Scorel, Ruth and Naomi in the fields of Boaz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Ruth and Naomi had no way of supporting themselves in Moab, so they returned to Israel as impoverished widows. (Ruth 1:20). They arrived at the time of the barley harvest, and found relief through laws established to help the poor (Ruth 1:22, Lev. 19:9, Lev. 23:22, Deut. 24:19).

When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; there I command you to do this thing.

 Gleaners were allowed into the fields after a farmer had harvested his crop, and farmers were subject to punishment if they frustrated those who wished to collect leftover crops. Ancient rabbinical rules stated that farmers were “not permitted to discriminate among the poor, nor to try to frighten them away with dogs or lions.”[5]

Ruth was blessed to glean in fields belonging to Boaz, a kind and generous man. His reapers purposefully dropped barley for Ruth to pick up, enabling her to gather more than would have been expected. In the evenings, she returned to Naomi with about half a bushel of barley.

Threshing

Each village had a threshing floor that the farmers shared. A threshing floor made of paving stone or hard-packed dirt was located in flat, windy areas. Farmers piled their sheaves on the threshing floor and cattle trampled over the grain to break up the straw. At some threshing floors, farmers hooked oxen to threshing boards embedded with obsidian chips or to spiked rollers. Both mechanical devices were pulled across the sheaves to break the grain heads free of the straw. Because Ruth gleaned a small amount of grain each day, it is likely she threshed by beating the grain with a hinged tool called a flail.

A threshing flail Français : Fléau ‪Norsk (bok...

A threshing flail Français : Fléau ‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Slegel (nn), sliul (nn/nb), sloge (nn), tust (nn/nb) Svenska: Slaga Română: Îmblăciu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Farmers tossed the threshed grain into the air with winnowing forks, allowing the wind to blow away the chaff. Women winnowed by tossing and catching the grain in flat baskets. Ruth likely winnowed her grain in a flat basket, keeping her part separate from the harvest.

Grinding

In the evening Naomi and Ruth divided the grain into portions: what would be used immediately, what would be stored and what would be sold for other commodities. They parched grain and ate it warm. They parboiled it for porridge or stew.  They ground most of it into flour for bread.

I imagine that Naomi took care of the grain that Ruth brought home. The most arduous of her duties was grinding. Grinding “was a difficult and time-consuming task…it is estimated that it required at least three hours of daily effort to produce enough flour to make sufficient bread for a family of five. The earliest milling was performed with a pestle and mortar, or a stone quern consisting of a lower stone that held the grain and a smooth upper stone that was moved back and forth over the grains.”[6] Working with a quern or pestle and mortar, it may have taken Naomi an hour or more of grinding to make enough flour for their daily bread.

Busy hands reap bountiful blessings

Ruth and Naomi worked to support themselves. They were grateful for the opportunity to work. Ruth came to the attention of Boaz because she had worked (Ruth 2:11).

It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before.

 God blessed Ruth because she continued to work (Ruth 2:12, 4:13-17).

The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge. ♦ Mary Hendren

 


[1] AAOOB Storable Foods, Grain Information, “Barley ”

[2] Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, Packer and Tenny, Editors, p. 468

[3] Six Thousand Years of Bread, H.E. Jacob, pp. 35, 163

[4] Wikipedia, “Ancient Israelite Cuisine

[5] Wikipedia, “Gleaning”

[6] Wikipedia, “Ancient Israelite Cuisine”

The Many Facets of Miriam

Caregiver

Miriam was born in Egypt. Her parents, Amram and Jochebed, were Hebrew slaves in Pharaoh’s work force. Miriam was the oldest of their children, and she helped care for her younger siblings. As a child, she was responsible, nurturing, and assertive.

Sometime after Amram and Jochebed married, Pharaoh ordered a massive infanticide. He intended to control the slave population by systematically killing Hebrew male infants. Amram’s second child, Aaron, may have been born before the edict went into effect because he was already three years old when the story begins.  The edict was in force, however, when the second son was born. Sympathetic midwives did what they could to save the infants, but Pharaoh eventually required all Egyptians to take part in the killings. When all Egyptians were on the lookout, it was difficult to conceal any boys the midwives saved. Read the rest of this entry

Two Mothers, One Son

In a previous post, we considered the identity of Pharaoh’s daughter and concluded there does not seem to be enough evidence to settle on any one name with confidence. However there is information about daughters of pharaohs in general which could have a bearing on the Moses story.

Who is her mother?

Though we can’t answer the following conclusively, we’ll explore a couple of general questions regarding this elusive princess:  who her mother was, and where she might have lived. If she was a daughter of Pharaoh’s principal wife, it’s probable that she would have lived in the environs of the royal palace. If, however, she was the daughter of a secondary wife, she and her mother could have taken up residence in one of many royal compounds scattered throughout Egypt. In that case, Pharaoh would visit or call for them as he desired.

“‘The pharaohs of the New Kingdom period (c. 1570-1085 B.C.) maintained residences and harim not only in the great capitals of Thebes, Memphis, and Pi-Ramesse (Ra’ amses) but also in other parts of Egypt, especially in pleasure resorts….Papyrus documents indicate that this Harim was no prison of enforced idleness for its inmates in pharaohs [sic] absence; the royal ladies supervised a hive of domestic industry, spinning and weaving done by servants….’”[1]

Women of substance

Some may wonder about the role of women in Egypt.  According to Nahum M. Sarna, in his book, Exploring Exodus (1986),  the social and legal position of an Egyptian woman was considerable. “Descent was strictly matrilineal, so that property descended through the female line. This meant that the woman possessed inheritance rights and could dispose of property at will. As a result, she enjoyed a certain measure of economic independence” (p. 31).  It should not seem strange that Pharaoh’s daughter made several on-the-spot decisions with confidence and without apparent reservation (Ex. 2:1-10), likely based not only on her position generally, as a woman in Egyptian society, but especially on her place within the royal family.

The princess commissions a wet-nurse

Wet-nurses were hired to care for foundlings. Ancient Mesopotamian legal texts provide specifics for proper payment regarding such services. Typically, a wet-nurse suckled and reared a child in her home for a specified period of time, usually two to three years, until it was weaned. Then it was returned to the finder for adoption.[2]

The account in Exodus 1 records an interesting departure from the normal procedure. Royal wet-nurses were generally members of elite families, perhaps wives or mothers of high officials. This connection brought with it a certain prestige, one which could result in possible advancement in rank for their husbands and sons.[3] For Pharaoh’s daughter to listen to a young Hebrew girl and follow her suggestion to enlist the services of an unknown woman, represents, to my mind, evidence of the providence of a much higher Power in this whole episode.

Moses and Jochebed

Moses and Jochebed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The role of Jochebed

Of course, there is no doubt as to Jochebed’s ability to nurse her own baby. Her breasts were probably aching for relief by the time Moses was once more in her arms. However, what she might have done additionally, in the long term, is well worth contemplating.

There are those who speculate that this mother had carefully planned for her baby’s rescue, positioning him deliberately in a place where Pharaoh’s daughter would find him.[4] Why, one might wonder. Had she secretly watched this princess over time, and knew vicariously her disposition for kindness? Did she have a God-given understanding that hers was no ordinary son and that his future would require the best education the world of her day could offer?[5] Did she feel that the safest place for him would be in the care of this royal princess–one whom Jochebed knew to be influential and strong-minded enough to set aside her father’s bloody policy?

Training her child

Others discuss a different matter. Since Jochebed likely had Moses for three years or longer, what did she do during that time? Several feel she carefully laid a foundation for his eventual worshipping of the God of Israel. She was a daughter of Levi (Ex.2:10) and according to one source her name (Hebrew yokebed) apparently means “YHWH is glory.” She is noted as the first person in the Bible to have a name with the divine element yah, a shortened form of YHWH.[6] Does her name indicate that she came from a family of believers who worshipped the true God? Such a notion seems worth considering.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary offers the following opinion concerning Ex. 2:10: “His [Moses’s] age when removed to the palace is not stated; but he was old enough to be well instructed in the principles of the true religion; and those early impressions, deepened by the power of divine grace, were never forgotten or effaced. He had remained long enough to be thoroughly imbued with the true national feeling of a Hebrew; and though he may have actively engaged in the varied scenes to which his royal station afterward introduced him, he never ceased to cherish a spirit of sympathy with the race from which he had sprung.”[7]

If the ruling pharaoh was indeed Thutmose III, he worshiped a form of the sun god (sometimes depicted as a sphinx), Amun-Re. It would have been important to introduce knowledge of the true God of Israel to Moses early on. Stephen, in Acts 6:20, says “Moses was born and was well-pleasing to God,” indicating that God was already involved in his life, beginning with his brave and faithful mother.

Grooming a royal prince

While Jochebed likely concentrated on the religious upbringing of her young son, his adopted mother provided the means for a formal education. At about the age of four, boys in the royal court began attending school from early morning until noon–a routine lasting for approximately twelve years. Strict discipline was maintained, backed up with corporal punishment. “The school curriculum largely centered on reading, writing, and arithmetic,” with writing being especially important. “The art of penmanship and the cultivation of style were both highly esteemed as the indispensable prerequisites for a sound education. Drill and memorization seem to have been the chief pedagogic techniques.”[8]

As for Moses’s childhood, John Davis writes: “Children were generally carefree, and played much like children do today….Swimming, horseback riding, hunting, playing with household pets would all be part of the experiences of a young boy in Egypt.”[9] 

Mummy Portrait of a Boy

Mummy Portrait of a Boy (Photo credit: Taifighta)

The young prince would have sported the typical haircut for Egyptian boys of his day—a shaved head except for one long lock on the side, which was braided.[10]

Teen to early adulthood

Moses undoubtedly spent much time perfecting his skills at archery and horsemanship—both favorite pastimes of that dynasty. Learning languages and the geography of his land would have been important as well. Slowly and surely he was being equipped with skills that would serve him in the challenging days to come. In Davis’s words, what we know is a “remarkable example of the excellency of the providence of God” (p. 56).

One last piece

Moses spent forty years in Egypt before he went into exile in Midian. We’ve managed to piece together a collage of what life might have been like into his early adulthood. The Jewish historian Josephus records another bit of his story in The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 10. According to his account, when Moses had reached full maturity, he was appointed general of the Egyptian army, went against their enemies, the Ethiopians, conquered them, and returned victorious. The Bible nowhere mentions this activity.

One yet to come

So far we have noted five memorable women whose presences figured prominently in the epic story of Moses: Shiphrah and Puah, Pharaoh’s daughter, Jochebed, and Zipporah —all heroic figures, all courageous in dangerous times.

One woman yet remains—Miriam—the subject of our next post.


[1] Citation in Moses and the Gods of Egypt (1971), John J. Davis, p. 52.

[2] See Exploring Exodus, p. 32.

[3] Women in Ancient Egypt (1993), Gay Robins, p. 89.

[4] See Barnes’ Notes and Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary regarding Ex. 2:4-5.

[5] Josephus seems to think so. See The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 9.3; 9.4.

[6] Women in Scripture (2000), Carol Meyers, Gen. Ed., p. 103.

[7] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.

[8] Exploring Exodus, p. 33.

[9] Moses and the Gods of Egypt, p. 55.

[10] Ibid. Davis comments that this hairstyle was actually found on a mummy of a young boy.

Ichabod’s mother: there is no glory

Preface

The servant stood poised with the three-pronged hook, watching the boiling water turn the Israelite’s animal sacrifice from blood-red to brownish gray. No longer content with their rightful portion (Deut. 18:1-3), the debauched priests, Hophne and Phinehas, Eli’s sons, wanted all the meat that could be speared from the cooking pot. Not only that, before the fat was burned (1 Samuel 2:16), they demanded raw meat for roasting—going against sacrificial law. Any objections were met with force. Israel was all too familiar with the actions of these sons of Belial who grew fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel while their father looked on (1 Samuel 2:29).

Compounding their offenses,  the brothers flaunted their wantonness by openly sleeping  with women who assembled at the tabernacle of meeting (1 Samuel 2:22).  Eli knew such wicked impudence toward the LORD and His offerings would have serious consequences—for them and for Israel. How could he help but remember when God warned him through Samuel about his vile sons (3:11-14)? Surely the prophecy of the man of God was etched into his memory, and that stinging indictment for honoring his sons more than God Himself.

He pleaded with them. “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealing from all the people. It is not a good report that I hear. You make the LORD’s people transgress” (1 Samuel 2: 23-24).   His words fell on deaf ears, and ultimately, they would all pay with their lives.

***

Trouble for Israel

The battle was intense and bloody, and now Israelite bodies—thousands of them—lay strewn on the battlefield. The Philistines claimed victory, no doubt celebrating long into the night at Aphek.

How could this have happened? When word reached the camp at Ebenezer, the elders could only ask, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines?”

It was obvious that the LORD’s blessing was missing. The only thing to do was to send to Shiloh for the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which they did; and it arrived at the camp along with the reprobates, Hophne and Phinehas.

Heartened by the sight of their cherished ark, the Israelite camp erupted into shouts of celebration. Philistine confidence changed to terror at the thought that suddenly Israel’s God was there—the One who sent horrible plagues against Egypt. Officers quickly rallied their troops, shouting, “Be strong and conduct yourselves like men, you Philistines, that you do not become servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men, and fight!” (1 Samuel 4:9.)

Obedient soldiers rushed into the fray. When it was finally over, the Philistines had prevailed once more. Eli’s sons lay among the casualties. A triumphant army returned to Ashdod bringing with it a treasure beyond belief—Israel’s sacred ark of the covenant.

The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No good news

Eli, ninety-eight years old, heavy, and nearly blind, sat by the wayside near Shiloh, trembling with apprehension. The ark had left the city—his wicked sons had gone with it. Now he could only wait. Would it return? Were the prophecies already coming to pass?

His failing eyes probably could not make out the survivor who finally straggled into Shiloh with the sorry report, but his ears told the story. Unmistakable cries of distress filled the air, and the messenger himself confirmed Eli’s worst fears: the ark of the covenant—captured by the Philistines, and his two sons, dead. Recoiling in shock, Israel’s judge of forty years toppled backward off his seat and died of a broken neck.

One more casualty

At the same time, Phinehas’ wife went into labor, perhaps precipitated by the dreadful news. The ark had been captured! Her husband and Eli, dead! With one last push, her strength was spent. The midwives tried to revive her with the news of a baby boy, but all she could think about was the ark and her loss. She managed to name her baby Ichabod (which means there is no glory), and with her dying words she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured” (1 Samuel 4:22).

What we do and do not know

Ichabod’s mother is anonymous. She gets four verses in the Bible. By piecing together other scriptures we know that she was married to a priest who was unfaithful to God and unfaithful to her. She lived during one of the lowest points in the history of the nation of Israel. There is no other record of her in the Bible. While it seems likely Eli had given up on his rebellious sons (even though he shared in their guilt), we have no indication of her thoughts regarding her husband, Phinehas. Was she privy to Samuel’s warning message, or the ominous prophecy of the man of God regarding  her family’s future? The Bible gives no indication.

What we do have is evidence of her dying concern for the fate of Israel and for the ark of God. If only we could know more.

(For the complete account, please read 1 Samuel 1-4.)

Of a mother and her child

The Creator definitely had a master plan when He put all the elements needed for growth and success in place. He created two beings—a man and a woman, each made in His image—and told them to become one, and to multiply. He gave them guidelines for happiness, a beautiful place in which to live, and the ability to produce offspring, also in their own image.

The miracle of reproduction is still amazing these thousands of years later. The fact that an infant is not only born with its parents’ likenesses, but that its mother can continue to sustain it with life-giving nourishment from her own body is awesome. From its very first cry, she is there to hold her baby close, to suckle it, and establish a bond meant to last a lifetime.

Janis Rozentals - Mother and Child

Janis Rozentals – Mother and Child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The mother who laughed

The first reference in the Bible to nursing is in Genesis 21:6-7, when Sarah rejoiced at the birth of her miracle-son, Isaac:  “And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’ She also said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.”

Treacherous times

The next episode of note involves the birth of a beautiful baby boy during treacherous times. Moses, Jochebed and Amram’s third child, was born under a death sentence. Pharaoh’s maniacal efforts to curb the growing numbers of Israelites resulted in a chilling edict: All newborn baby boys must be thrown in the river and drowned!

It is possible Jochebed delivered Moses without the aid of midwives in the interest of secrecy; for three months she succeeded in hiding him. No doubt worried about informers or the risk of discovery by palace troops, she embarked on a courageous plan to save her precious boy.

Taking an ark of bulrushes, she waterproofed it with a coating of asphalt and pitch. Then she secreted it among water plants fringing the river’s shore. How heartbreaking it must have been to nurse her tiny son one last time, place him securely in his miniature vessel, and then walk away!

Would he stay safe, and warm, and dry? His sister stood a silent sentinel, watching from afar.

It could not have been long before Pharaoh’s daughter heard cries of a tiny infant as she neared the water. When she discovered Moses she immediately called for a nurse. The Hebrew phrase is literally “a woman causing to be breastfed” (‘ishah meyneqet); some translations have “a wet-nurse.” Miriam was there to suggest just such a person—his own mother, Jochebed.

Lent to the Lord


Another incident concerns a certain woman named Hannah. Hers is a well-known story. Unable to bear children for years, Hannah begged God to hear her pleas, promising that if He should grant her desire for a son, she would give him back to His service. God heard, and Samuel was born. Scripture says, “…The woman stayed and nursed her son until she had weaned him” (1 Samuel 1:23). Then she took him to the house of Lord along with sacrifices, saying,  “For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the LORD” (vs 27-28).

Weaning

While suckling an infant promotes early bonding, there comes a point when it is no longer possible or practical to do so. The child is weaned, and depends predominantly on other forms of nourishment.

There is some discussion about the age when weaning took place. Burton Scott Easton, in his explanation in The International Bible Standard Encyclopedia, remarks that the Hebrew word for “wean,” gamal, “covers the whole period of nursing and care until the weaning is complete (1 Kings 11:20). This period in ancient Israel extended to about 3 years, and when it was finished the child was mature enough to be intrusted [sic] to strangers (1 Sam 1:24).” He continues that the “completion of the period marked the end of the most critical stage of the child’s life, [and] it was celebrated with a feast (Gen 21:8), a custom still observed in the Orient” (from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright © 1996, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.).

On the other hand, Adam Clarke in his commentary on Genesis 21:8 presents different opinions: “The time that children were weaned among the ancients is a disputed point. Jerome says there were two opinions on this subject. Some hold that children were always weaned at five years of age; others, that they were not weaned till they were twelve” (from Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.). The practicality of either of these ages can easily be disputed.

Conventional wisdom seems satisfied that the age for weaning was between two and three years of age, when a child could walk and chew solid food.

The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Bible Commentary furnishes the following regarding the celebration when Isaac was weaned (Genesis 21:8): “In Eastern countries this is always a season of domestic festivity, and the newly weaned child is formally brought, in presence of the assembled relatives and friends, to partake of some simple viands. Isaac, attired in the symbolic robe, the badge of birthright, was then admitted heir of the tribe [Rosenmuller].”

Wet nurses and nursemaids

When Moses was rescued by Pharoah’s daughter, the fact that she called for a nursing woman indicates such services were available should the need arise. Sometimes these women would stay on past the weaning stage, and become a nursemaid or, more modernly, a nanny, to the developing child.

Jochebed may have continued with Moses for some time before bringing him to the Egyptian princess—likely due to a grander plan of a higher power at work. It would not be out of the realm of possibility, in my opinion, that she began teaching him about his heritage as well as simply caring for his physical needs in those formative years. However, the Bible does not directly say.

In New Testament times

Among the Roman elite, it was not uncommon for a new mother to rely on the services of a lactating slave or a professional wet nurse. However a certain respect and symbolism existed for the mother who suckled her own young. Lynn H. Cohick, in her book Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (2009), writes, “Reflecting commonly held sentiments, Favorinus (ca. AD 85-165) attacks matrons who refuse to nurse their own infants as consumed by concerns for beauty” (p 145). She continues, “Plutarch, writing from the early second century AD, laments the emotional distance between mother and infant resulting from employing a wet nurse” (p 146).

To this day

Whether or not to nurse one’s baby when it is physically possible continues to be a controversial subject. Although wet nurses are still common in some parts of the developing world, scientific and nutritional advances have provided much of the world with additional means for proper nourishment for infants. There is however a rigorous movement advocating breastfeeding. The only thing missing, at least in this country, is the grand celebration when a child is finally weaned.

A Mother’s Advice

Who was King Lemuel mentioned in Proverbs? Was he King Muel who ruled the mysterious land of Massa? Was he a Chaldean prince from an ancient country? Jewish and Christian commentators “consent” to the probability that Solomon is the king addressed in Proverbs 31:1-9,[1] and that his mother affectionately called him Lemuel.

The name “Lemuel” means devoted to God. When Solomon was an infant, God sent a prophet to give him the name of “Jedidiah” which means beloved of the Lord. Some posit that this “name, spoken by the prophet of the Lord, was the final symbol of God’s forgiveness in the lives of David and Bathsheba.”[2] That Bathsheba cherished this God-given name and considered her son endeared to Him strengthens the general belief that Solomon is Lemuel.

In her position as Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba served as an intercessor and advisor to him. In contrast to the wife of a king who held “a position of comparatively little importance,” the queen mother “commanded great influence.” [3] Women who had the highest authority during the Judean monarchy were the mothers of kings. The queen mother had a fixed position in the king’s administration, but the influence of a wife /concubine depended on many factors: the king’s favor, whether the woman was of royal birth, whether she bore the king’s first child, or whether she gave birth to the heir to the throne. When the king took another woman, it shuffled the pecking order in the harem, but it did not disturb the control of the queen mother.

The Hebrew word gebhirah means the “mistress” or “queen mother.” It refers to a woman with a “sanctioned position within the Judean court and [who] had such great influence upon her son that she too receives blame as part of the monarchy for the fall of Judah.” The books of 1 and 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles include the names of the mothers of the kings of Judah because they were part of the success or failure of the kingship.

The Anointing of Solomon by Cornelis de Vos. A...

The Anointing of Solomon by Cornelis de Vos. According to 1 Kings 1:39, Solomon was anointed by Zadok. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As queen mother, Bathsheba felt a measure of responsibility for her son’s conduct. Drawing on her understanding of Solomon’s character and the demands of ruling, she advised him on how to be a good king. An example is this is found in Proverbs 31:1-9 (paraphrase mine):

Don’t fritter away your strength on pursuing women, sexual gratification, and political alliances through marriage. Such behavior destroys kings and their kingdoms.

 Avoid excessive use of alcohol. Its effects are mind-altering. It leaves one unable to remember the law and how to make just decisions.

 Stand up for the weak and helpless. Be compassionate and stay in touch with reality.

 His respect

The last recorded conversation between Bathsheba and Solomon is a discussion on the topic of David’s attendant Abishag.  Based on this example of how mother and son interacted, I believe Solomon customarily listened to her with respect. “Bathsheba therefore went to King Solomon…and the king rose up to meet her and bowed down to her, and sat down on his throne and had a throne set for the king’s mother; so she sat at his right hand. Then she said, ‘I desire one small petition of you; do not refuse me’” (1 Kings 2:13-21). Although Solomon refused the “one small petition” she asked on this occasion, he accepted Bathsheba’s right to present her case.

It is unlikely that Solomon wholly rejected Bathsheba’s three points on being an honorable king. But in the course of his reign he did not wholly take them to heart, either. On the negative side, he gathered a harem of a thousand women, he gratified himself with wine, and he imposed heavy taxes and forced labor. When Solomon died, the people remembered him for having placed a “heavy yoke” and “burdensome service” on them (1 Kings 12:4).

Advice not taken

Why didn’t Solomon follow his mother’s advice? Maybe he didn’t see the need for it. He was youthful, vigorous and confident. God had given him wisdom, riches and honor. He felt assured of God’s love and favor (1 Kings 3:4-14). He built a magnificent house for God, and God blessed it with His glory.

Maybe Solomon had a different vision for his reign—a generation gap? His father was a man of war and had consolidated the kingdom.  Solomon assumed the throne in peacetime. His goals were made possible by peace.

I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven (Eccl. 1:13).

 I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly (Eccl. 1:17).

 I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives (Eccl. 2:3).

Maybe he had already started down a bad path and Bathsheba was correcting him, as some commentators believe. “This exclamation of Lemuel’s mother implies apprehension in respect to the sins against which she warns him if not remonstrance against the present practice of them.”[4]

In the End

After her intercession for David’s son Adonijah, Bathsheba vanishes from scripture (1 Kings 2:13-21). Did she continue advising Solomon? Did she deal with his excesses? Did she encourage him to write? Did she help compile his wise sayings? Did she read that he valued her teaching?

My son, keep your father’s command, and do not forsake the law of your mother. Bind them continually upon your heart; tie them around your neck. When you roam, they will lead you; when you sleep, they will keep you; and when you awake, they will speak with you.

 Was she gratified?—Mary Hendren


[1] An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, John Gill, online note on Prov.31:1

[2] NKJV Study Bible, Second Edition, Thomas Nelson, note on II Samuel 12:25

[3] Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, p.778

[4] The Family Bible Notes, Justin Edwards, note on v. 2, Online Publishing source

Two wise women

I find two of the most intriguing women who lived during the time of David are known only as “wise women.” While tradition assigns names to the wise men mentioned in Matthew, these individuals are identified only by the cities in which they lived—Tekoa and Abel. One speculation is that there were other such women in the land, and specific identification was of less importance than what they did. This post will concentrate largely on the woman from Tekoa, and incidentally with her counterpart in Abel.

The first encounter

Tragedy and heartache had visited David. His daughter Tamar was raped by her half-brother, Amnon, David’s firstborn son. In an act of passionate vengeance, Absalom (her full brother) murdered the rapist, and then fled his father’s wrath to the safety of his mother’s people in Geshur (2 Samuel 13:37-39). For three years, David mourned for his exiled son.

Joab, David’s nephew and commander of his army, was astute and knew his king well. Unless David reconciled with Absalom, the fate of the monarchial line was at stake. He devised a plan which included a wise woman in Tekoa.

Who is this woman?

Though nameless in the Bible, the fact that Joab knew of her and sought her out indicates she was a familiar figure. Presumably, she enjoyed some reputation in the environs of the area in which she lived.

What made her wise?

Claudia Camp, in her essay, The Wise Women of 2 Samuel,[1] presents a plausible scenario in my opinion. The Book of Proverbs has much to say about wisdom, its value indicated by the abundance of cautions and advice contained within its pages. Proverbs also “gives an indication of a mother’s role in the training of her children, not only as infants and toddlers, but also in the proper attitudes and actions of adult life,” she says. Furthermore, she notes that Proverbs 1:8 and 6:20 speak of the commands and instructions of fathers as a parallel to the law of mothers. Teaching children about life was a joint venture.

In Camp’s view, this woman likely heard axioms concerning wisdom repeatedly during her upbringing. She probably even memorized them and had them emphasized as object lessons at every opportunity. In turn, she passed these on to her own children. As she grew in wisdom from her life experiences, she might also have grown in stature not only in her family, but in her community as well. As others began to seek her counsel, she was gradually regarded as the village wise woman.

Wise women in action 

Both women exhibited some similarities of approach. First, they spoke with confidence and a certain authority (though not officially as a prophet or judge). They both were courageous—one in presenting a total fabrication to her king in order to change his mindset, and the other in effecting the decapitation of the secessionist and rebel, Sheba (2 Samuel 20).

Joab pursues Sheba to the city of Abel.

Joab pursues Sheba to the city of Abel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Additionally, each woman used a common wisdom device, the utterance of proverbs or sayings (14:14; 20:18). Camp comments, “A saying, then, is employed by a wise person for a particular purpose, possibly to educate another (which always involves some implicit directing as to what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’) or, as in this case [referring to the wise woman of Abel’s exchange with Joab], to exert influence over another’s action in a way that carries some authority” (pg 198).

“Acts” of persuasion

The wise woman of Tekoa, through her believable performance of a purely fictional scenario, was able to change King David’s perspective enough to bring about reconciliation and preservation of his line of succession. Though Joab had “put words in her mouth” (2 Sam. 14:3)—by essentially giving her a script—she had to draw on her own instincts and “wisdom” as to timing, and method of presentation.

The power of reasoning

On the other hand, the proverb spoken by the woman in Abel informed Joab that to attack the city to get at Sheba would be wrong (2 Sam. 20:18). After all, she reminded him, Abel’s reputation was as a “mother in Israel,” given to counsel, peace, and faithfulness. Perhaps she drew on her store of sayings, learned from her childhood, as she reasoned with this commander bent on assault. Principles such as, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger…” (Pro. 15:1) or “by long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, and a gentle tongue breaks a bone” (Pro. 25:15) come to mind. Whatever the case, her wise words carried weight with Joab (he was willing to listen) and the citizens of Abel (they were willing to act). The imminent attack averted, a potential flashpoint for civil war among the tribes of Israel was effectively quenched.

More to learn

These two anonymous women, sought out for their wisdom, positively affected David’s reign. The Bible notes other women who exhibited good judgment and insight. We will meet them in future posts and explore the impact of wisdom in their lives and in the lives of others.

Meanwhile, now might be a good opportunity to review the sayings of the Book of Proverbs. One never knows when she might find herself thrust into the role of a “wise woman.”


[1] Alice Bach, editor, Women from the Hebrew Bible (1999), pg 201

Michal: Part 2

Last week we looked at the life of Michal, David’s first wife. Although the story is a familiar one, I still have some questions. Unfortunately, three of them have no real answers, but, as always, there are many opinions. One question, however, has a fairly complete explanation, so I will begin with it.

QWhat is a teraphim?

A.  In 1 Samuel 19:13, the text says, “And Michal took an image and laid it in the bed, put a cover of goats’ hair for his head, and covered it with clothes.” The word for “image” in Hebrew is teraphim. All sources consulted agree this was a household god:

  • “…’the teraphim,’ of the figure and size of the human form, used for superstitious purposes by the Israelites in the times of the judges and of Saul (Judg 17:5), until the practice was suppressed by Josiah (2 Kings 23:24). They were considered the givers and guardians of life and property, or consulted as oracles (Zech 10:2; Hos 3:4).”[1]
  • “the teraphim…in all probability an image of the household gods of the size of life, and, judging from what follows, in human form….”[2]
  • “‘Teraphim’… an image, or bust in human form, and as large as life, of a kind of household god, to the worship of which the Israelites, and especially women, were much addicted.”[3]

However, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary poses an alternate explanation: “Since terephim is always plural, and since the idols they denote are presumably always small…the dummy was almost certainly not a single, man-sized idol. Michal’s ruse was probably effected by piling clothing, carpets, or the like on David’s bed and covering it with a garment, allowing only the goats’ hair head to show.”[4] 

Teraphim 4

Teraphim 4 (Photo credit: michaelz1)

Q. Why would such a figure have been in Michal’s room in the first place?

 A.  Expositor’s commentary notes that Michal’s use of household idols “doubtless reflects pagan inclination or ignorance on her part.” Further, it compares Michal’s deception with Rachel’s, when she, too, deceived her father, Laban, with teraphim. Each woman demonstrated more devotion to her husband than to her father.[5]

If it were due to a “pagan inclination,” could this partially explain her reaction when she saw David’s dance as something repugnant? There is no record of Michal exhibiting any particular reverence for David’s God, and Israel itself had a long history of flirting with idolatry. David trusted in God, we know. What we do not know is whether Michal trusted in teraphim. The Bible is silent in this regard.

Q. What was Michal’s fate?

A.  It is difficult to resist the temptation to fill in the blanks where the Bible is silent, especially when studying such a fascinating character as Michal. Following are various attempts to flesh out the scant details we do have.

Some wonder if David put Michal in a sort of confinement as he did in 2 Samuel 20:3: “Now David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten women, his concubines whom he left to keep the house, and put them in seclusion and supported them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up to the day of their death, living in widowhood.”

Edith Deen notices a rather conflicting passage in 2 Samuel 21:8 in which five sons of Michal are mentioned: “Scholars seem to be convinced that this is a scribal error, that these were not Michal’s sons but the sons of her sister Merab, and that she reared them as her own after her sister’s death.”[6] She does not express her personal opinion. Others, such as Sue and Larry Richards,[7] seem confident that Michal remained in David’s house as a symbol, that he never touched her again, and she died childless and alone.

At least one other ponders a different facet of her story—the reason behind such a fate. Professor Robert Alter of U.C. Berkeley asks, “Is this a punishment from God, or simply a refusal by David to share her bed, or is the latter to be understood as the agency for the former?”[8]

As you can see, opinions and questions are plentiful, but all the Bible will say on the matter is found in 2 Samuel 6:23: “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children unto the day of her death.”

Q. Did David love Michal?

A.  I Samuel 18:20 states, “Now Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David.” In fact, this is the only place in the Hebrew Bible where it is stated that a woman loves a man.[9] No place does it say that David loved Michal.

Most authorities address the obvious. Michal was a pawn in her father’s hand. Saul offered her in marriage for one reason—he hoped that her bride price would result in David’s death. It was purely a matter of retaining power.

Michal, however, was looking through a different set of lenses. David was a familiar personality in the royal household. He was young. She was young. It would be logical to assume that she held at least some physical attraction for David. He definitely did for her.

After they were married, Michal defied her father by helping David escape Saul’s murderous intent. No Bible record indicates that David ever tried to contact her afterwards, or come back for her. But there are accounts that he managed to meet with her brother Jonathan on at least two occasions.

Both were thrust into new roles—he as a fugitive; she, by her father’s intervention, as another man’s wife. David took other wives, and then concubines. Years passed, and children were born. When he finally returned years later, David came as a king, replete with a royal entourage and harem.

He called for Michal once more. There is no mention of celebration or jubilation as might be expected after such a long separation. Scholars view this as a shrewd political move to assure David’s bid for the throne of a united monarchy. He just needed Saul’s daughter to help him seal the deal.

So did David love Michal? Perhaps, at least in the beginning, one would hope. However, accounts of true and lasting marital love are scarce in the pages of the Bible, especially among the households of the Royals. Politics, not love, always seem to reign supreme.

The story of Michal continues to be a fascinating one. With each reading I discover new questions and curiosities which keep me coming back for more.


[1] From Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.

[2] Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

[3] Barnes’ Notes, Electronic Database Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.

[4](1992 edition)  Volume 3, page 716.

[5] See Genesis 31:33-35.

[6] All the Women of the Bible (1955), page 100

[7] Every Woman in the Bible (1999),  p 115

[8] The David Story (1999), page 230

[9] Women in Scripture (2000), Carol Meyers, Gen. Ed., page 126

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