In this period, we have THREE sources of primary data: the historical data in the narratives before the institution of the Kingship in I Samuel 8, the legal data from the Law of Moses, and the literary data of the biblical text itself. In this section, we will focus on the HISTORICAL data.
Passages in which God is an agent
Genesis 1.26-28: Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
Observations: Woman was part of the original creation (and therefore "good"), was a bearer of the image of God, was co-ruler over the creation, was distinct/different from the 'male', was blessed by God, was given joint-responsibility by God (increase, fill, rule), was absolutely essential to the "fruitful and increase" command(!), was commanded to co-subdue the earth.
Genesis 2.18-24 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." 19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called `woman,' for she was taken out of man." 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
Observations: Woman was needed to make the situation "good". She was designed specifically to be a co-worker for the man ('helper suitable'), and a complementary worker at that ("suitable"). The method of making Eve involved a complete sharing of the nature--she was made out of the same 'stuff' (numerically and essentially) as Adam, as he obviously recognized in his quote. The marriage relationship was also relegated to a higher importance than parent/child relationships.
Genesis 12.17: But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, `She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!"
Observations: God valued Sarai, and judged Pharaoh "because of" Sarai. (NOT because of Abraham or because of 'the Law'!).
Genesis 16.7ff: The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?" "I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered. 9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." 10 The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." 11 The angel of the LORD also said to her: "You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. 12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers." 13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me."
Observations: The Angel of YHWH addresses a women directly, by name, gives her a direct command, and issues a promise of blessing of the same magnitude as that to Abraham(cf. 13.16)! The descendants are called 'her' descendants. The Angel specifically says that the LORD had heard of her misery--He paid attention to the plight of this woman. Hagar even gave a name to the Angel, and had the insight to recognize the Angel as being God. This is the FIRST of the appearances of the Angel of YHWH in scripture--and He is sent to help a foreign servant woman.
Genesis 17.15: God also said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her."
Observations: God not only changed Abram's name--He also changed Sarai's! He promises to bless Sarah (twice), and uses the same blessing format ("mother of nations, kings of people") as He had used with Abe in verses 5-6! She indeed is co-covenanter with YHWH--not left out or lesser in any way.
Genesis 18.9: "Where is your wife Sarah?" they asked him. "There, in the tent," he said. 10 Then the LORD said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son." Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?" 13 Then the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, `Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son." 15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, "I did not laugh." But he said, "Yes, you did laugh."
Observations: The three-fold theophany of the Lord specifically asked about Sarah, and made the promise in her hearing. They were obviously paying attention to Sarah, for they brought the matter up with Abe. When she denied it, they addressed her DIRECTLY.
Genesis 19.12: The two men said to Lot, "Do you have anyone else here -- sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it."
Observations: In spite of Lot's gross heartlessness (willing to have his daughters brutalized), the Angels were concerned about their well-being and rescue, as indicated by their focus on both sons and daughters.
Genesis 20.1-6: Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, "She is my sister." Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, "You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman." 4 Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, "Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, `She is my sister,' and didn't she also say, `He is my brother'? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands." 6 Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die."
Observations: God protects Sarah once again (in spite of Abe!), and sinning against Sarah was sinning AGAINST GOD (vs.6)!
Genesis 21.1: Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.
Observations: Notice how prominent Sarah is in this passage! She is mentioned BEFORE Abe, the grace was extended to HER, and the first promise mentioned in the passage is to HER.
Genesis 21.12: But God said to him, "Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.
Genesis 21.17-19: God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation." 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
Observations: God interacted with the woman Hagar again, speaking to her directly, calming her, and promising her prosperity for her son. He then 'opens her eyes' and meets their need.
Genesis 25.21ff: Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger."
Observations: Rebekah had access to the Lord (via the standard 'inquiry method'--cf. I Sam 9.9; Ex 33.7; Josh 9.14; Jdgs 20.18 et. al.), was the FIRST in scripture to so 'inquire' (requiring righteousness--cf. Ezek 20.31!), the Lord answered her, and delivered a prophecy to her.
Genesis 29.31: When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb
Genesis 29.32ff: Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, "It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now." 33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too." So she named him Simeon. 34 Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons." So he was named Levi. 35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "This time I will praise the LORD." So she named him Judah.
Observations: Leah attributes most of these births directly to the Lord, feeling that she is the recipient of God's mercy. She understands God's goodness to be addressed specifically to HER need--and this results in the praise of YHWH at the birth of Judah.
Genesis 30.17: God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son.
Genesis 30.18: Then Leah said, "God has rewarded me for giving my maidservant to my husband." So she named him Issachar. 19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, "God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons." So she named him Zebulun. ... 22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, "God has taken away my disgrace." 24 She named him Joseph, and said, "May the LORD add to me another son."
Observations: This passage has similar motifs as the earlier passage. Both Leah and Rachel attribute their conceptions to God--the gift-giving One and the disgrace-removing God. They understand God to be good to THEM individually (and not just as a member of a family).
Genesis 38.8: Then Judah said to Onan, "Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother." 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so he put him to death also.
Observations: The responsibility of a brother to raise up children for a deceased brother (by marrying the widow) was call the Levirite marriage law. It was an important part of protection of widows' inheritance rights, and to violate it (as did Onan in this passage) was very displeasing to God. God cared for this woman and correspondingly put Onan to death for failing to meet her legal need.
Exodus 4.22: "And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. 22 Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians."
Observations: On the Passover night, it was not just a ceremony involving males(!), but the women had a wonderful, wonderful job to do as well! For slaves to dress their sons and daughters in the riches of Egypt must have been quite a delight for the moms of Israel--and a delight that God designed for them to enjoy.
Exodus 1.20-21: So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
Observations: Notice that God felt affection ("kindness") for these women, and blessed them directly with families.
Numbers 27.1ff: The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. They approached 2 the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly, and said, 3 "Our father died in the desert. He was not among Korah's followers, who banded together against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. 4 Why should our father's name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father's relatives." 5 So Moses brought their case before the LORD 6 and the LORD said to him, 7 "What Zelophehad's daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father's relatives and turn their father's inheritance over to them.
Observations: This passage is important for a number of reasons, but I only want to point out that the Lord SPECIFICALLY said that what these daughters argued was "RIGHT". God sided with the daughters, so that, instead of becoming 'fatherless', they became 'head of households'. God supported these women in setting a precedent that would be mentioned THREE TIMES in scripture! (here; Num 36.1-12; Josh 17.3-6).
Judges 4.4: Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. 6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, "The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: `Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.'" 8 Barak said to her, "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go." 9 "Very well," Deborah said, "I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman."
Observations: This passage will also come up a number of times, but the main point here is that God would grant the victory to a woman instead of to ANOTHER MALE. The Lord, in teaching Barak his lesson, could just as easily have given it to another male rival of his, but rather, He chose to give the honor to a woman--whose deed was immortalized in the Song of Deborah (chapter 5).
Judges 13.2ff: 2 A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless. 3 The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, "You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son. 4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, 5 because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines." 6 Then the woman went to her husband and told him, "A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn't ask him where he came from, and he didn't tell me his name. 7 But he said to me, `You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from birth until the day of his death.'" 8 Then Manoah prayed to the LORD: "O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born." 9 God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her.
Observations: The angel of the Lord appears ONLY to the unnamed wife (TWICE), dialogues with her, gives her explicit instructions to follow, has her follow part of the Nazarite vow herself, and she repeats the message accurately to her husband Manoah. ALL of the revelatory content comes directly to the woman.
I Samuel 1.27: 27 I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him.
Observations: Hannah understood that her prayers were heard by God, and that God responded to her specifically.
Passages in which Women participate in the religious life/cult
In Genesis 25 (above), Rebekah 'inquired of the LORD'--a specifically cultic procedure, usually done at some worship site ("went" in verse 22).
Joshua 8.34-35: Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law -- the blessings and the curses -- just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them.
Judges 17.3: When he returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, she said, "I solemnly consecrate my silver to the LORD for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol. I will give it back to you."
Observations: Although this making of the idol was explicitly against the Law of God (and in keeping with the general moral decline of the time!), it does show that women were personally involved in forms of worship and offering.
I Samuel 1:9ff Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD's temple. 10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. 11 And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head."
Observation: Hannah (wife of Elkanah) apparently had access to the sanctuary around the Tent of Meeting. (The word 'temple' in this passage indicates that by this time the Tabernacle was somewhat stationary and was housed in a larger compound. This is not to be confused with the 'real' Solomonic temple later.) She is able to pray in the sanctuary and to make vows to YHWH--about a child WITHOUT her husband's consent!
I Samuel 2.22: Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
Observation: Even at this morbid time of Israel's history, there were still women serving the Lord at the entrance to the Tent--cf. Ex 38.8.
There are two women who are specifically called 'prophetesses' in this time period: Miriam (Ex 15.20) and Deborah (Jdgs 4.4). In the period under discussion, these two female prophets are mentioned among only 5 male prophets: Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Samuel, and an unnamed prophet in Judges 6.8.
(There are many more cultic roles played by women, documented in the section on the Law.)
Passages in Which Women Participate in Favorable or Equal Social/Legal Transactions
"Naming" was sometimes understood as a legal right. We have several women who named their children themselves, without any mention of husbands.
Eve names Seth (Genesis 4.25)
Leah and Rachel name their children (Genesis 29,30)
Rachel names Benjamin as she dies (Genesis 35.19)
Hannah names Samuel (I Sam 1)
They show up in genealogical records and in descriptions of families.
In Genesis 5, the geneo starts with 'male and female' and contains numerous references to "sons and daughters"
Genesis 46.5: Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel's sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him. 6 They also took with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan, and Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt. 7 He took with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughters and granddaughters -- all his offspring.
Genesis 46.15: These were the sons Leah bore to Jacob in Paddan Aram, besides his daughter Dinah. These sons and daughters of his were thirty-three in all.
Genesis 46.17: The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi and Beriah. Their sister was Serah.
Numbers 26.33: (Zelophehad son of Hepher had no sons; he had only daughters, whose names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah.) 34 These were the clans of Manasseh; those numbered were 52,700.
Numbers 26.46: (Asher had a daughter named Serah.) 47 These were the clans of Asher; those numbered were 53,400.
(There are numerous references to sisters and daughters in the genealogies in I Chron.)
They show up in equal/favored status in legal situations involving males.
Genesis 20.14ff: Then Abimelech brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelech said, "My land is before you; live wherever you like." 16 To Sarah he said, "I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated."
Observations: The offense was ALSO against Sarah--SHE had rights which were recognized by a royal male(!), who also made a legal pronouncement that she was completely "vindicated".
Genesis 24.6ff: "Make sure that you do not take my son back there," Abraham said. 7 "The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father's household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, `To your offspring I will give this land' -- he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. 8 If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine.
Observations: Abraham required the woman HERSELF (not her father, or her brother, or any other guardian) to be WILLING to move.
Genesis 24.57: But he said to them, "Do not detain me, now that the LORD has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master." 57 Then they said, "Let's call the girl and ask her about it." 58 So they called Rebekah and asked her, "Will you go with this man?" "I will go," she said.
Observations: Along the lines of Abe's thought above, the household 'ruler' (Laban) still ASKED Rebekah (not commanded her!) about her willingness to go.
Genesis 26.11: So Abimelech gave orders to all the people: "Anyone who molests this man or his wife shall surely be put to death."
Observation: In the country of Abimelech, the man AND the wife (abe and sarah) had equal legal protective status.
Genesis 26.34-35: When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah. and I Sam 14: Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. 2 When he returned, he said to his father and mother, "I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife." 3 His father and mother replied, "Isn't there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?" But Samson said to his father, "Get her for me. She's the right one for me." 4 (His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.) 5 Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother.
Observations: In both these cases, the mother and father appear to act jointly. In the case of Samson, there are 4 references to them as a couple!
In Genesis 27 (The "treachery of Rebekah and Jacob"), the adult Jacob obeyed his mother in every step of her commands to him--IN SPITE OF what he KNEW his father would say/do/feel.
Genesis 28.7: and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram.
Genesis 29.24, 29: 24 And Laban gave his servant girl Zilpah to his daughter as her maidservant. and Laban gave his servant girl Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maidservant.
Observation: Laban apparently 'wills' or passes 'ownership' of the maidservants to the newly married sisters. To the extent maidservants could be 'owned', to that same extent females 'owned' them.
Genesis 31.16: Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you."
Observation: Rachel and Leah assert that Jacob's property "belonged to them" TOGETHER (sorta like a community-property state in the U.S.A.?)--NOT just to the male Jacob.
Genesis 37.9-10: Then he (i.e. Joseph) had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. "Listen," he said, "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me." 10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?"
Observation: Notice that Jacob finds it incredible that he AND HIS WIFE would submit to the son. In other words, the wife/mother was as authoritative over Joseph as the husband/father.
Genesis 38.8: Then Judah said to Onan, "Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother."
Observation: Onan had a "duty to her", implying legal status, rights, and claims upon a male (from the female).
Genesis 38.26: Judah recognized them and said, "She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah."
Observation: Judah had originally made a summary trial and execution of Tamar, but now he not only clears her name, but also points out that legally, she is MORE in the right than he, the judge!
Numbers 27.5: So Moses brought their case before the LORD 6 and the LORD said to him, 7 "What Zelophehad's daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father's relatives and turn their father's inheritance over to them.
Observation: These daughters won a legal appeal, and had both property and inheritance rights deeded them. (cf. also Josh 17.3)
Ruth 4.9: Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, "Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon.
Observation: Childless widows could own and sell property.
There Are Passages That Describe the Often Favorable Treatment/Love/Care Women Received in That Society.
Genesis 23.2: She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.
Genesis 24.59: So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham's servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, "Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies."
Genesis 25.21;: Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.
Genesis 29.19: So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
Genesis 31.4f: So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. 5 He said to them, "I see that your father's attitude toward me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I've worked for your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. 8 If he said, `The speckled ones will be your wages,' then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, `The streaked ones will be your wages,' then all the flocks bore streaked young. 9 So God has taken away your father's livestock and has given them to me. 10 "In breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. 11 The angel of God said to me in the dream, `Jacob.' I answered, `Here I am.' 12 And he said, `Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.'" 14 Then Rachel and Leah replied, "Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father's estate? 15 Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. 16 Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you."
Observations: Notice that Jacob goes to great pains to explain his rationale for his actions to his wives! And that the wives voice judgment and rational approval.
Genesis 31.48ff: Laban said, "This heap is a witness between you and me today." That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah, because he said, "May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. 50 If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me."
Genesis 31.55: Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them.
Genesis 34:7,31: Now Jacob's sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were filled with grief and fury, because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with [i.e. the rape of their sister Tamar] Jacob's daughter -- a thing that should not be done. and 31 But they replied, "Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?"
Genesis 48.7: As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath" (that is, Bethlehem).
Ruth 3.10: "The LORD bless you, my daughter," he replied. "This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 And now, my daughter, don't be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character.
Passages in Which Women Manifest Social, Familial, and Cultural Power.
There are three specific types of texts that show this dimension of women's experience in the OT: the interactions of the wife with the husband, the exhibition of Sage-like behaviors in historically important events, and the appearance of hero-type figures in the narratives.
First, the interactions between husband and wife in the pre-monarchy period could scarcely be called that of "master and slave" or "master and cowering subordinate"! Indeed, the tone of voice and style of comments/questions of the wives is actually characterized by that colorful word "uppity" in the academic literature! (cf. SAIANE:277).
Genesis 16.1f: Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, "The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her."
Genesis 16.5: Then Sarai said to Abram, "You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me."
Genesis 27.46: Then Rebekah said to Isaac, "I'm disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living." 1 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him and commanded him: "Do not marry a Canaanite woman.
Genesis 30.1: When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or I'll die!" 2 Jacob became angry with her and said, "Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?" 3 Then she said, "Here is Bilhah, my maidservant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and that through her I too can build a family."
Genesis 30.16: 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." So he slept with her that night.
Observation: Notice that the Jacob seemed to have NO SAY in the matter--the wives somehow had connubial rights that were very strong.
Exodus 4.24: At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses' feet with it. "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said.
Frymer-Kensky makes some interesting observations about these passages (SAIANE:277):
There is a particular tone to these petitions by the matriarchs. They do not plead, and do not address their husbands in the language of obedience or submission. On the contrary, they are uppity women who use a characteristic form of biblical rhetoric, the guilt-producing opening attack...This guilt-producing rhetoric is not simply characteristic of the "Jewish mother"! In fact, it is an essential method of biblical argumentation, one used by women other than mothers, and by such great male authority figures as Moses and Samuel. But it is significant that there are not two separate ways of discourse for men and women, and that women do not have to adopt a subordinate posture in their speech."
Secondly, The Women in the Pre-Monarchy Period Consistently Manifest Sage-Like Behavior.
The sage was one of the two un-official roles of power in Israel (the official roles being king and priest, and the other un-official one being prophet). The Sage was the wise man (e.g. I Chr 26.14; Prov 1.6; Jer 18.18) or wise woman (2 Sam 20.14ff; 14.2), who exerted what today would be called 'expert power.' It was not a paid-position (like priest or king), nor was it a full-time job (like prophet often was).
Frymer-Kensky describes this informal power and explains that it applies to both male and female sages:
Having no direct authority of their own, they--on their own initiative--have the power to effect results through their knowledge and their willingness to act upon their knowledge, either through petition and argument or, failing that, through independent actions. In the Pentateuch, such a role is usually filled by women, notably by Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel. [SAIANE:276]
...like women, male sages have an ancillary position to the holder of direct power. They do not have the power to determine events directly, but rather influence the direction of events through their intelligence and persuasive power. [SAIANE:278]
The power of the sage could be used for either good or evil--as "power" it was ethically neutral. It manifested itself typically in dialogues with 'decision makers' or in independent actions of consequence to history. "Official" Sages were often called 'counselors' in the court (2 Sam 15:30ff).
We have already noted above the passages in which the matriarchs use the "open guilt" technique, used by sages elsewhere in the OT.
Genesis 21.11: But God said to him, "Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you,
Genesis 27: the "trickery of Rebekah". This familiar passage, in which Rebekah has Jacob disguise himself as Esau, to receive the blessing of the first born, is often seen as an evil act on the part of Rebekah--almost a manipulative and scheming power-play. But it seems to me that the situation is altogether different than that. Consider:
In Genesis 25.22, Rebekah had been told by YHWH directly that Jacob was to have authority over Esau--a formula that normally meant the firstborn blessing was his (cf. Genesis 48.17). This message from YHWH was no doubt known to Isaac, due to its importance and probable recording in the family archives.
In Genesis 25.29, Esau sells his birthright as the firstborn to Jacob. This would have also been recorded in the family archives.
What this means is that Isaac should NOT have intended to give the blessing to Esau at all! Isaac was in the wrong, and the prophetic word of YHWH was about to be compromised (as well as the legally binding oath of Esau earlier)--27.29 was INTENDED for Esau!.
Rebekah, seeing that independent action was required, acted the sage--and did "whatever it took" to see that God's will was done. [That it was NOT an issue of her being concerned about her sustenance after her husband's death, is obvious from the fact that BOTH Esau and Jacob were her sons and would have had responsibility for her--as indeed Esau fulfilled after Jacob went away.]
This 'trickery' or 'deceit' was a VERY ACCEPTABLE way of dealing with authority figures that were attempting to thwart God. When the Pharaoh tried to kill all the male babies of the Israelites in Egypt, the midwives lied to Pharaoh and God blessed them (Ex 1). When the Israelites were about to attack Jericho, Rahab deceived the rulers of the city by hiding the spies and telling a lie, and was listed in the heroes of faith for this (Heb 11). When Judah failed to keep up the levirite law, Tamar disguised herself and was declared 'more righteous than' him. So, Rebekah's deception was in perfect line with acceptable practice in such a difficult situation.
The narrative in no way censures Rebekah for this (nor does any other passage), and even has Isaac using the basic word choices of the birth-promises about Jacob in his secondary blessing to Esau ("you will serve your brother"--27:40 with 25.23.)
I have to conclude that Rebekah here is the hero of the story, playing the wise sage and resourceful agent, and 'saves the day'.
We see a similar 'deception' occur in the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38. Judah is supposed to provide a husband (and inheritance) for Tamar but fails to do so--deliberately (38.11). Tamar does this elaborate disguise-play and 'sagely' gets Judah to fulfill his duty (unintentionally). And Judah admits that she was 'more righteous' than he (38.26).
In Genesis 31, Jacob explains in detail his reasoning to his wives, seemingly asking for their counsel, and receives a sage-like analytical response from them.
The Hebrew Midwives in Exodus 1 are another example of sage-like behavior. They acted wisely and were critical to the rapid growth and strength of Israel at the Exodus.
Moses' life was TWICE saved by wise women! First, his mother developed a clever scheme to preserve his life (Exodus 2). Second, his wife Zipporah saved him from being killed by the Lord, when he failed to circumcise his kids. [Exodus 4.24: 24 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses' feet with it. "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said. 26 So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said "bridegroom of blood," referring to circumcision.) ]
Numbers 27.3:"Our father died in the desert. He was not among Korah's followers, who banded together against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. 4 Why should our father's name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father's relatives." 5 So Moses brought their case before the LORD 6 and the LORD said to him, 7 "What Zelophehad's daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father's relatives and turn their father's inheritance over to them.
Observations: Notice that the argument of these women is well thought out--distancing from Korah, and appealing to the importance of family names; a sage-type argument (although probably somewhat condensed).
Judges 4.17ff: Sisera, however, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there were friendly relations between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. 18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, "Come, my lord, come right in. Don't be afraid." So he entered her tent, and she put a covering over him. 19 "I'm thirsty," he said. "Please give me some water." She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up. 20 "Stand in the doorway of the tent," he told her. "If someone comes by and asks you, `Is anyone here?' say `No.'" 21 But Jael, Heber's wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died. 22 Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. "Come," she said, "I will show you the man you're looking for." So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple -- dead.
Observations: Here is another case of deception in a difficult authority context. Jael is often faulted for violating the trust of Sisera (in the context of the friendly political relations between the two peoples), but this alliance was itself a breach of faith. Most of the Kenites (kin to Moses) were living in the south and allied with Israel. Heber had made a breach of faith with them (and with Israel) and moved north to support Jabin AGAINST Israel. His wife was obviously still loyal to Israel and YHWH and saved Israel by her cunning and independent action. (She was immortalized in the Song of Deborah in chapter 5.)
Sages ("the wise") generally congregated around the "gates" of the community. There legal decisions were made, community issues discussed, and worldviews explored (e.g. Prov 24.7; 31.23). We have one passage in which a woman participated WITHIN that assembly--Deborah, the Judge. In recounting a victory in the Song of Deborah (5.11f), we read: "Then the people of the LORD went down to the city gates. 12 `Wake up, wake up, Deborah! Wake up, wake up, break out in song!. The most natural reading of this places Deborah at the city gates, doing her judging tasks. This judging task was a mixture of legal and wisdom skills/authority, both of which found locus at the assembly of the gates.
Third, the appearance of female hero-type figures in the narratives demonstrate both the actuality of female leadership/influence/role models in that time.
The matriarchs are obviously leaders in their communities. Sarah herself receives covenant promises and blessings and Rebekah's beautiful character is highlighted (Genesis 24.17ff) as is her wisdom (Genesis 27-28). Rachel was a shepherdess (Genesis 29.9), a non-trivial job (cf. David's having to defend the flock from a lion and bear--I Samuel 17.34ff)!
One of the more powerful, yet almost invisible, figures is Sherah, daughter of Ephraim. In I Chr 7.24 we read: His daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah. . This daughter was said to have built three towns(!), one of which was named after herself. A glance at the names of the only other city-builders mentioned in Scripture yields: Nimrod (Genesis 10.11), Pharaoh (Exodua 1.11), Joshua (Joshua 19.50), one unnamed survivor of Luz (Judg 1.23), and the kings of Israel and Judah (e.g. David, Solomon, Asa). City-building is listed as an important royal feat in I Kings 15.23 (As for all the other events of Asa's reign, all his achievements, all he did and the cities he built, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? ). This would indicate a particularly powerful and effective woman leader in this period, and one whose exploits were recorded in the official genealogies and archives of Israel!
The Hebrew midwives' bravery and sage-actions would have been widely known and admired in that day (Exodus 1).
Miriam was Moses' older sister, a sister of Aaron, a prophetess, a leader of congregational worship/singing, and one of the "BIG THREE" of exodus Israel. Her role in leading Israel cannot be underestimated.
The daughters of Zelophehad were clearly (being mentioned thrice) an important example for women to speak up in legal settings.
Rahab the harlot (Jos 2) is a model of faith and action in the NT (cf. Heb 11; Jas 2), and even is part of the genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1.5). She lived among the Israelites and was a constant witness to their identity as the covenant people (cf. Joshua 6.25).
Deborah (Judges 4) was a prophetess, a 'judge' (highest political office prior to the monarchy--Deut 17.9), a wife/mother, and a composer (wrote the "Song of Deborah" in Judges 5). She did legal dispute-resolution (in the same vein as Moses--Ex 18:13--and Solomon.)
The entire book of Ruth is the story of a foreign women who shows loyalty, resourcefulness, and tenacity in her commitment to her mother-in-law. The book ends with her being acknowledged as "better that seven sons" (4.15). Ruth, the Moabitess, is the only descendant of Moab known to have entered the assembly of Israel--IN SPITE OF GOD's general injunction to the contrary in Dt 23.3! Ruth becomes a progenitor, thereby, of King David and the Lord Jesus.
Hannah, mother of Samuel, is featured in I Sam 1-2 as the model of spiritual grace and theology. (However, it is doubtful that her story would have been widely known until the monarchy.)
So, the narrative data indicates a rather wide range of role models, heroes, community agents, and influence-wielders among the women population of the time.
If we simply list some of the above observations, we get a surprisingly robust picture of Israelite women:
They were necessary to make the universe "good" (Genesis 1.26-28)
They shared joint responsibility with man to rule/fill the earth. (Genesis 1.26-28)
God judged people who sinned against females. (Genesis 12.17; Genesis 20.1-6)
God spoke directly with females. (Genesis 16.17ff; Genesis 21.17-19;Judg 13.2)
God listened to females and answered their prayers. (Genesis 16.17ff; Genesis 30.17; I Sam 1.27)
God makes promises to females. (Genesis 16.17ff; Genesis 21.17-19)
The first appearance of the Angel of YHWH was to a female. (Genesis 16.17ff)
God blessed Sarah at the same level and in the same covenant-forms as Abraham. (Genesis 18.9ff)
God includes females and their issues in His discussions with males. (Genesis 18.9f; 19.12f)
God is gracious and faithful to females. (Genesis 21.1f; Genesis 29.31; Genesis 30.17)
God tells males to pay attention to their wives! (Genesis 21.12)
God imparts insight/wisdom to women.(Genesis 21.17-19)
Women could inquire of God formally. (Genesis 25.2f)
Women were the first to 'inquire' of God in scripture. (Genesis 25.2ff)
God delivered prophecies directly to women. (Genesis 25.2ff)
Women recognized God's goodness and so bore witness in their children's'` names. (Genesis 29.32f; 30.18ff)
God killed people for not protecting/providing for women's needs. (Genesis 38.8)
God included women in the core functions of the first Passover. (Ex 4.22ff)
God honored 'civil' disobedience on the part of wise and committed women. (Ex 1.20-21)
God 'took the side' of women in some major legal disputations/decisions. (Num 27.1ff)
God gave military victory/honor to women. (Judg 4.4)
Women publicly declared that God answered their prayers. (Judg 5)
Women were involved in public exposition/reading of the Law. (Jos 8.34-35)
Women could dedicate gifts and offerings to YHWH. (Judg 17.3)
Women had access to the pre-Temple sanctuary. (I Sam 1,2)
Women could make vows without husband approval. (I Sam 1,2)
Women served the Lord at the Tent of Meeting. (I Sam 2.22)
Women served as prophetesses. (Miriam--Ex 15.20; Deborah--Judg 4.4; among Abe, Moses, Aaron, Samuel)
Women had legal rights to name children, without husband involvement. (Genesis 4.25; 29,30; 35.19; I Sam 1)
Women had recognized legal rights, which also generate 'duties' for males (Genesis 20.14ff; 38.8).
Women show up in all sorts of genealogies (except military enrollments). (Genesis 5; 46:5; 46.15; 46.17; Num 26.33; 26:46; I Chron)
Marriage required the approval of the woman. (Genesis 24.6ff; 24:57f)
Women show up as joint-agents with husbands in a wide range of authority-type activities.(Genesis 26.11; 26:34-35)
Mothers had considerable influence and legal authority over adult male sons.(Genesis 27; 37.9-10)
Wives/women could own property. (Genesis 29.24,29)
Unmarried daughters could own property. (Num 27)
Wives co-owned property with their husband. (Genesis 29.31.16)
Childless widows could own and sell property. (Ruth 4.9)
Women were consistently loved and blessed by their relatives. (Genesis 23.2; 25.59; 25.21; Genesis 31.48ff; 31.55; 48.7)
Women were sought for counsel by males. (Genesis 31.4ff)
Women were called 'noble' and 'better' in public by males. (Genesis 38.26; Genesis 34.7.31; Ruth 3.10)
Women's interactions with their husbands indicate a strong 'uppity' character. (Genesis 16.1ff; 16.5; 27.46; 30.1; 30.16; Ex 4.24)
Women typically manifest sage-like behavior, argumentation, functions, and results. (above 'uppity' passages; Genesis 21.11; Genesis 27-the 'trickery of Reb'; Genesis 38-Tamar; Genesis 31.4ff; Midwives, Zipporah, Judg 4.17ff)
Women are sometimes pictured as 'correcting' the mistakes of male authority figures (Rebekah, midwives, Jael, Rahab).
Women contributions to the history of the chosen people (apart from giving birth to all of the participants!) were substantial and critical to the success of biblical history:
Rebekah saved the birthright line by the deception of Isaac.
The midwives saved the majority of Israelite men (from infanticide in Egypt)
They save the life of Moses TWICE before he leads Israel out of Egypt!
Rahab is a key to success for the overthrow of the major border town Jericho--the gateway to the land of Israel. (Jos 2)
Deborah and Jael were deliverers of Israel for the extremely disruptive/destructive oppression of King Jabin (cf. Judg 5.7--"village life had ceased")
The spiritual life of Hannah produced the major positive figure in post-conquest Israel--Samuel.
Men leaders officially declare women as vindicated or ethically superior. (Genesis 38.26; 20.14ff)
The only known exception to God's exclusion of Moabites from His assembly (Dt 23.3) is for a female--Ruth, who also becomes an ancestor of David and Jesus (cf. Ruth 4.21 and Matt 1.5).
Several women heroes show up in the narrative (the Matriarchs, Sherah, the midwives, Miriam, daughters of Zelophehad, Rahab, Deborah, Hannah(?), Ruth)
One woman actually 'sat' in the assembly of the elders in the 'gate' (Jud 5.11f).
These role models came from every strata of society--leadership, wealthy families, foreigners, ordinary folk, prostitutes.
One woman held the highest political office of the day.
The historical data in the narratives of pre-monarchical Israel reveal a rather important level of influence of women on the historical unfolding of Israel, as well as indications of special care from the heart of God for His daughters.