Women of the Bible
 

Introduction
Table of Contents
 

 

Rivkah

Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his house, who ruled over all that he had, «Please put your hand under my thigh. I will make you swear by HaShem, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Kenaanim, among whom I live. But you shall go to my country, and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Yitzchak».
(Genesis 24:2-4)

Now we are immersed in the middle of the patriarchal era. There were rules to be observed by different peoples, and these Habiri were zealous of their endogamic system. The master sends his servant to take a wife for his son – apparently, the son was not even consulted, and we should expect that the girl would not be asked at all if she wants to marry an unknown cousin or not. Yet, this patriarchal family was one that had knowledge of Elohim’s design:

The servant said to him, «What if the woman is not willing to follow me to this land?»; Avraham said to him, «If the woman is not willing to follow you, then you shall be clear from this my oath».
(Genesis 24:5,8)

Now, if there is somebody who insists that the Bible is a male-centered book, that person must ponder the behavior of this patriarch, who apparently did not have any regard of his own son’s will, but respected that of the girl whom he asked to be his daughter-in-law! Considering the period in which these events took place, we may expect the servant to ask “What if the woman’s father is not willing to give her for your son?”; but the servant, knowing his master, asked directly for the lady’s will.
Patriarchal system is a prototype of a male-centered society, however, Biblical patriarchs have tried to follow what they received as Elohim’s original design, and have rendered the social system within which they were born more understanding and gentle.

The servant took ten camels, of his master's camels, and departed, having a variety of good things of his master's with him… It happened, before he had finished speaking, that behold, Rivkah came out, who was born to Betuel the son of Milkah, the wife of Nachor, Avraham's brother, with her pitcher on her shoulder. The young lady was very beautiful to look at, a virgin, neither had any man known her… The man took a golden ring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold… Rivkah had a brother, and his name was Lavan. Lavan ran out to the man, to the spring. It happened, when he saw the ring, and the bracelets on his sister's hands, and when he heard the words of Rivkah his sister, saying, «This is what the man said to me», that he came to the man and said, «Come in, you blessed of Adonay. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house, and room for the camels»… They said, «We will call the young lady, and ask her». They called Rivkah, and said to her, «Will you go with this man?» She said, «I will go».
(Genesis 24:10,15,16,22,29-31,57,58)

Here I have quoted only some relevant verses, as the story is well known and is reported throughout the whole chapter 24 of Genesis. Evidently, the patriarchal society of the Bible was not so male-centered as it is often depicted, at least, not that of the ancient Hebrews like the family of Avraham. Some reviewers argue that the convincing issue was the wealth of gifts brought by Avraham’s servant, knowing the character of Rivkah’s brother. But ultimately, not only Avraham released his servant from his oath if the girl would have not accepted to come with him, but also her family consulted her if she was willing to marry the unknown cousin. They did not sell her.

Yitzchak brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rivkah, and she became his wife. He loved her.
(Genesis 24:67)

Unlike his father and his sons, Yitzhak had only one wife and no concubines, which was quite unusual for a patriarch. Rivkah had been wise in her choice.

It happened, that when Yitzchak was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esav his elder son, and said to him, «My son… please take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and take me venison. Make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat, and that my soul may bless you before I die». Rivkah heard when Yitzchak spoke to Esav his son. Esav went to the field to hunt for venison, and to bring it. Rivkah spoke to Yaakov her son, saying, «Behold, I heard your father speak to Esav your brother… my son, obey my voice according to that which I command you. Go now to the flock, and get me from there two good kids of the goats. I will make them savory food for your father, such as he loves. You shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death»… Rivkah took the good clothes of Esav, her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Yaakov, her younger son. She put the skins of the kids of the goats on his hands, and on the smooth of his neck. She gave the savory food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Yaakov. He came to his father… He [Yitzchak] did not recognize him… So he blessed him… «Elohim give you of the dew of the sky, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and new wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers. Let your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you. Blessed be everyone who blesses you».
(Genesis 27:1,3-6,8-10,15-18,23,28-29)

Rivkah may appear as a deceptive woman who took advantage of her husband’s blindness to make her favorite son to be blessed instead of the firstborn, as it was established by the patriarchal law. However, she knew that her husband was afflicted because of the way that Esav carried on his life, not having respected the law of his fathers. Rivkah behaved according to the Lord’s design, as Yitzhak would have not disregarded the law and would have anyway blessed Esav – he would have done the right thing according to the law. So, the Only One Who is over the law had to act through Rivkah (again, a woman who changed the whole course of history!), and in this way, Yitzhak was guiltless for having broken the law involuntarily, and blessed Yakov, the forefather of Israel.
Rivkah acted with wisdom, delivering her husband from the law and leading the blessing to fall on the chosen son.

 

Tamar

Tamar is an example of how many times women were denied their rights and had to contrive a plan in order to obtain justice, even putting at risk their own life. Tamar had to undergo disregard and humiliation in the male-ruled environment in which she lived, and is still blamed for sexual immorality and deceptive behavior by the religious establishment of present times, without taking account that the Bible instead vindicates her righteousness and wisdom.

Yehudah saw there a daughter of a certain Kenaani whose name was Shu’a. He took her, and went in to her.
(Genesis 38:2)

We know that Yakov’s family was under the requirement of brit milah (circumcision), by which they were not allowed to marry women from people which did not keep this observance. Except Yosef, who married Asenat the Egyptian, and Yehudah, we are not told where did the sons of Yakov find their wives, but we can understand from the Scriptures that they have sought after women among the descent of Avraham, maybe including Ishmaelites and Midyanites.
Yehudah was one of the twelve sons of Yakov, and became the preeminent one. Notwithstanding, unlike his father and brothers, he did not follow the rules of their family and married a Canaanite woman, with whom he had three sons.
The other sons of Yakov did not take from the Canaanites, as it results clear from the incident with Shekhem (Genesis 34:13-17), and because one of the sons of Shim’on is specifically called “the son of a Canaanite woman” (Genesis 46:10), which indicates that he was the only one among all the grandsons of Yakov (besides those of Yehudah).

Yehudah took a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.
(Genesis 38:6)

Although the Scriptures do not say anything about the origin of Tamar’s family, there is not any objection about her eligibility – otherwise, as in the case of the wife of Yehudah or those of Esav, it would have been specified that she was also Canaanite, or Hittite, or from a people with whom the Israelites were not allowed to intermarry. It is also reasonable to assume that Yehudah did not intend to go further away from his own people’s rule, and would have chosen for his own sons wives from Avrahamic descent. However, his sons, being half-Canaanite were not designed to perpetuate the name of Yehudah into the Tribes of Israel.

Er, Yehudah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of HaShem. HaShem killed him. Yehudah said to Onan, «Go in to your brother's wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her, and raise up seed to your brother». Onan knew that the seed would not be his; and it happened, when he went in to his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest he should give seed to his brother. The thing which he did was evil in the sight of HaShem, and He killed him also.
(Genesis 38:7-10)

There was an ancient law which established that when a man died without having left descent, his brother must marry the widow, and she was not allowed to marry outside the family of her died husband. Their first-born son would belong to the dead brother, so that his name would be perpetuated. This law implied that the son would inherit all the rights of his dead uncle, prevailing over those of his biological father.
It is worthless to engage in endless arguments about the nature of Onan’s sin; there were spiritual reasons beyond the legal ones by which he had to be blotted out of Israel and Yehudah. Therefore, we will only point out some relevant aspects of the case. After the death of Er, Onan would have received the double portion of heritage assigned to the first-born, but if he would have performed his duty, this right would have passed on to his son, who would have not been recognized as his but as his brother’s. Consequently, his unwillingness to accomplish the law of levirate may be ascribable to his pride and covetousness. Yet, there is another aspect of his behavior which is even worse: his disdain towards Tamar, whom he treated as a sexual object and denied her the possibility of motherhood. He had no need of her to have a descent of his own, as he could have taken other wives. He was indeed unworthy to be counted among the children of Israel.

Then Yehudah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, «Remain a widow in your father's house, until Shelach, my son, is grown up»; for he said, «Lest he also die, like his brothers». Tamar went and lived in her father's house. After many days, the daughter of Shu’a, the wife of Yehudah, died. It was told Tamar, saying, «Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep». She took off of her the garments of her widowhood, and covered herself with her veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gate of Enayim, which is by the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelach was grown up, and she was not given to him as a wife. When Yehudah saw her, he thought that she was a harlot, for she had covered her face. He turned to her by the way, and said, «Please come, let me come in to you», for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, «What will you give me, that you may come in to me?» He said, «I will send you a kid of the goats from the flock». She said, «Will you give me a pledge, until you send it?». He said, «What pledge will I give you?» She said, «Your signet and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand». He gave them to her, and came in to her, and she conceived by him. It happened about three months later, that it was told Yehudah, saying, «Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has played the harlot; and moreover, behold, she is with child by harlotry». Yehudah said, «Bring her forth, and let her be burnt». When she was brought forth, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, «By the man, whose these are, I am with child». She also said, «Please discern whose are these: the signet, and the cords, and the staff». Yehudah acknowledged them, and said, «She is more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelach, my son».
(Genesis 38:11-18,24-26)

Yehudah committed a mistake in marrying a Canaanite woman, and none of her sons would have been eligible to perpetuate the name of the Tribe in Israel. The death of Yehudah’s wife is not a marginal detail, but it paved the way for Tamar to accomplish the purpose for which she was called: to perpetuate Yehudah’s heritage according to an approved bloodline. This is the main spiritual reason behind the whole event.
From the legal viewpoint, Yehudah failed in doing his duty, as Tamar was hindered from getting married outside his family. In those times, a childless widow had a very hard life in her old age without the support of sons and daughters, and she had to act wisely in order to claim her rights.
She is often blamed for having committed an impure act, which was necessary not only for her own survival, but also for that of the whole Tribe of Yehudah! I wonder, why it is not so often pointed out the fact that Yehudah did not hesitate in engaging a prostitute for his own pleasure?
Besides this act, Tamar was flawless. Indeed, Yehudah recognized: She is more righteous than I.
Tamar had shown her father-in-law to be righteous, even through an unrighteous act. This was performed with wisdom, beyond any judgment that men may pronounce over her, and God rewarded her with a noble descent such as the lineage of King David.
She was humiliated twice, by Onan that disregarded her and by her father-in-law that denied her of her rights, but God gave her also a double blessing:

It happened in the time of her travail, that behold, twins were in her womb.
(Genesis 38:27)

From these twins descended almost the whole of the most relevant of the Tribes of Israel. Yehudah’s Canaanite wife was not the chosen one to perpetuate the Tribe’s name, but Tamar was, and God designed her to keep the bloodline of Yehudah according to the Covenant.

 

Rahav

The story of Rahav is another example of a woman who was blessed by the Almighty for having contributed to the accomplishment of His design, and no judgment on her is pronounced in the Scriptures.

Yehoshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men as spies secretly, saying, «Go, view the land, and Yericho». They went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rachav, and lay there. It was told the king of Yericho, saying, «Behold, there came men in here tonight of the children of Israel to search out the land». The king of Yericho sent to Rachav, saying, «Bring forth the men who are come to you, who have entered into your house; for they have come to search out all the land». The woman took the two men, and hid them; and she said, «Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know whence they were: and it happened about the time of the shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out; where the men went I do not know: pursue after them quickly; for you will overtake them». But she had brought them up to the roof, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.
Before they were laid down, she came up to them on the roof; and she said to the men, «I know that Adonay has given you the land, and that the fear of you is fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how Adonay dried up the water of the Sea of Suf before you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did to the two kings of the Amori, who were beyond the Yarden, to Sihon and to Og, whom you utterly destroyed. As soon as we had heard it, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more spirit in any man, because of you: for Adonay your God, He is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath. Now therefore, please swear to me by Adonay, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father's house, and give me a true token; and that you will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brothers, and my sisters, and all that they have, and will deliver our lives from death». The men said to her, «Our life for yours, if you do not utter this our business; and it shall be, when Adonay gives us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you».
(Joshua 2:1-6,8-14)

From this passage, according to the patterns of the religious establishment, Rahav would be qualified not only as a prostitute, but also as a liar and a betrayer, disloyal to her own people, and a collaborationist with the enemy – and it is also evident that the Israelite spies were not good examples for the Mossad, as they were discovered soon! We do not even know why did they go to the house of a prostitute…
On the contrary, Rahav was a wise woman who had knowledge of the true God, and behaved according to His purposes.
She was seen as a harlot by the Israelites; but what kind of harlot she was? We read that she had a father, a mother, brothers and sisters, a house of her own, and was probably rich; she had no need of such a profession to survive. She was not running a brothel, but dwelled in her home with her family. From these elements, we may assume that she was a ritual prostitute, a priestess of the Canaanite religion, and therefore, a respectable woman who enjoyed privileges and was known also by the king of the city, as she probably served in their temple for the main celebrations. Her social position may be compared to that of movie stars in our days, whose reputation goes beyond their actions. Such kind of women were so common in Canaan, that even the Hebrew term “qedeshah”, meaning “holy woman”, was used as an euphemism for harlot.
Nevertheless, she was not happy with her prestigious position, and with the religion of her people, in which she did no longer believe… she knew Who the true God was, and chose to side with His people. She should had felt no attraction or love for the men whom she had been with, but longing and solitude within her spirit. Her flesh should have been constantly warring against the spirituality that resided within her. She desired for something gentle, loving and ultimately pure.
Her betrayal was not such, and the false report that she told to the guards of the king cannot be counted as a lie; we must have in mind that she was in the middle of a war between two nations, and while the inhabitants of Yericho saw the Israelites as invaders, she saw them as liberators. It is lawful in war to side with one or the other army, and to resort to strategy. Did not King David do the same when he was fighting Avshalom, and sent Hushai to give a tricking advice? And the woman of Bahurim, who hid the two spies of David in the well, and gave a false report to the servants of Avshalom, leading them astray in the same way as Rahav did? (2Samuel 17:17-21) Would David and that woman be blamed as deceivers?
Rahav was a strategist. She knew Who was the God of those two spies, and she understood that her deed of risking her life to protect theirs was her only possible chance to gain favor with their God and obtain salvation. She was as sure as her very existence that the Israelites were going to conquer the stronghold of Yericho, because she knew that God was with them.

Yehoshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, «Go into the harlot's house, and bring out there the woman, and all that she has, as you swore to her». The young men the spies went in, and brought out Rachav, and her father, and her mother, and her brothers, and all that she had; all her relatives also they brought out; and they set them outside of the camp of Israel. They burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein; only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of Adonay. But Rachav the harlot, and her father's household, and all that she had, did Yehoshua save alive; and she lived in the midst of Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers, whom Yehoshua sent to spy out Yericho.
(Joshua 6:22-25)

Her action allowed her to overcome the banishment which God had determined for her people, not to be admitted to intermarry with Israel (Exodus 34:15-16), and she was accepted to live among Israel all the days of her life. What a contrast with the wife of Yehudah, whose offspring was not approved and it was Tamar who perpetuated the lineage of the whole Tribe! The Hebrew Scriptures do not say anything else about her life, only that she and her family joined Israel, and we must assume that also her brothers and sisters married within their new nation. It is also obvious that she was no longer a sacred prostitute, but a woman devoted to the God of Avraham, Yitzhak and Yakov, and that she built a family according to the Mosaic Law. Her old life was burnt with the city where she lived, and was called to a new life serving the God Who does not require to defile one’s body to worship Him.
There are some chronology problems concerning the genealogies during the period of the Judges, but according to tradition, she is believed to have married Salmon, whose father Nachshon was a leader of the Tribe of Yehudah (Numbers 1:7; 7:12; 10:14), and therefore, she is considered to be the mother of Boaz – this tradition is taken for granted in the Gospel (Matthew 1:5), although it is difficult to count only five generations between Salmon and King David, and Boaz in the middle, being very likely contemporary of Gideon (see explanation under Ruth). Very probably some names are missing, but in any case, hers was a womb that was not judged nor condemned in the eyes of the Lord, but worthy enough to bear a child who was an ancestor of King David.

 

Akhsah

Akhsah is a girl who is usually not noticed, even though she is mentioned in two parallel passages of two books of the Bible:

Kalev said, «He who strikes Kiryat-Sepher, and takes it, to him will I give Akhsah my daughter as wife». Otniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Kalev, took it: and he gave him Akhsah his daughter as wife. It happened, when she came [to him], that she moved him to ask of her father a field: and she alighted from off her donkey; and Kalev said, «What would you?» She said, «Give me a blessing; for that you have set me in the land of Negev, give me also springs of water». He gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.
(Joshua 15:16-19 and Judges 1:12-15)

In the patriarchal society it was not unusual that a daughter was offered as war trophy to the most valorous warrior, and this is what happened with Akhsah.
Her father Kalev was the only man besides Yehoshua who was born in Egypt and survived the whole wandering in the wilderness (Numbers 14:30-31), and he was also a mighty fighter himself. Akhsah may appear as the property of a man which is traded for a price to another man, notwithstanding, she had shown to be able to take advantage of the situation with wisdom and steadiness: she was not dealing with mild men, but with warriors and conquerors, and claimed for herself a major dowry than which was given to her. Notice that first she moved her new “owner”, her husband, to ask her father for land, but then, she herself adds to the request also springs of water, and she obtained them.
Akhsah is an example of a young lady who, in spite of her condition of social inferiority, achieves in raising her voice and being heard. We do not know anything else of her life, but we can guess that she had a special gift of the Lord, by which the mighty men listened to her and granted her requests.

 

  Previous         Next