Women of the Bible

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Avigail is praised for her beauty and understanding, qualities that she had shown so as to be appreciated by the psalmist and anointed king of Israel.

There was a man in Ma’on, whose possessions were in Karmel; and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats: and he was shearing his sheep in Karmel. Now the name of the man was Naval; and the name of his wife Avigail; and the woman was of good understanding, and of a beautiful face: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Kalev.
(1Samuel 25:2-3)

Why would a beautiful and intelligent woman marry a worthless, foolish man, is a mystery that maybe only a woman may explain, and I am not… The contrast between her and her husband is pointed out by the writer in the introduction of the story which brought her to encounter David.

David heard in the wilderness that Naval was shearing his sheep. David sent ten young men, and David said to the young men, «Go up to Karmel, and go to Naval, and greet him in my name: and thus shall you tell him who lives [in prosperity], Shalom be to you, and shalom be to your house, and shalom be to all that you have. Now I have heard that you have shearers: your shepherds have now been with us, and we did them no hurt, neither was there anything missing to them, all the while they were in Karmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you: therefore let the young men find favor in your eyes; for we come in a good day. Please give whatever comes to your hand, to your servants, and to your son David». When David's young men came, they spoke to Naval according to all those words in the name of David, and ceased. Naval answered David's servants, and said, «Who is David? and who is the son of Yishai? there are many servants who break away from their masters these days. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men who I do not know where they come from?» So David's young men turned on their way, and went back, and came and told him according to all these words. David said to his men, «Gird you on every man his sword». They girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword: and there went up after David about four hundred men; and two hundred abode by the baggage.
(1Samuel 25:4-13)

This event took place in the period in which David was a runaway with his own army, even being the king anointed by Prophet Samuel, because Shaul was still ruling. In his wanderings across the wilderness of Yehudah, David requests hospitality from Naval, as his soldiers were protecting Naval’s men in a previous occasion. Naval shows off his foolishness, not only denying what David requested, but also pointing out that David was an outlaw who broke away from his king. A sheep farmer with few servants dares to challenge a leader of six-hundred warriors! Naval signed his own death sentence.

But one of the young men told Avigail, Naval's wife, saying, «Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master; and he railed at them. But the men were very good to us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we anything, as long as we went with them, when we were in the fields: they were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know and consider what you will do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his house: for he is such a worthless fellow that one cannot speak to him».
(1Samuel 25:14-17)

Avigail’s wisdom was recognized by Naval’s servants. This young man was not supposed to neglect his master’s authority by reporting to his mistress what happened, but he knew that she was the only person who was able to find a solution to the very grave incident caused by his master’s foolishness. Even though David was determined to make a clean sweep of Naval’s household and property, the servant was confident that Avigail would have appeased David’s anger.

Then Avigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched grain, and one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on donkeys. She said to her young men, «Go on before me; behold, I come after you». But she did not tell her husband, Naval. It was so, as she rode on her donkey, and came down by the covert of the mountain, that behold, David and his men came down toward her; and she met them. Now David had said, «Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained to him: and he has returned me evil for good. God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if I leave of all that belongs to him by the morning light so much as one boy». When Avigail saw David, she hurried, and alighted from her donkey, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground. She fell at his feet, and said, «On me, my lord, on me be the iniquity; and please let your handmaid speak in your ears. Hear the words of your handmaid. Please do not let my lord regard this worthless fellow, even Naval; for as his name is, so is he; Naval is his name, and folly is with him: but I your handmaid did not see the young men of my lord, whom you did send. Now therefore, my lord, as HaShem lives, and as your soul lives, seeing HaShem has withheld you from blood guiltiness, and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now therefore let your enemies, and those who seek evil to my lord, be as Naval. Now this present which your servant has brought to my lord, let it be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your handmaid: for HaShem will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord fights the battles of HaShem; and evil shall not be found in you all your days. Though men be risen up to pursue you, and to seek your soul, yet the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with HaShem your God; and the souls of your enemies, them shall he sling out, as from the hollow of a sling. It shall come to pass, when HaShem shall have done to my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and shall have appointed you prince over Israel, that this shall be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself. When HaShem shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember your handmaid».
(1Samuel 25:18-31)

Here we find a woman who breaks all the conformist rules taught by the religious establishment: she acts by her own initiative, without the permission of her husband, and carries on an action which is exactly the contrary to her husband’s will. She usurped his authority! Then, she presents herself before David with humility, and takes on herself the responsibility for “not having seen David’s messengers”… what could she have done against the will of her husband? Would she have given a countermand? This is not all, but she also dares to qualify her husband as a fool!
Her spiritual wisdom is manifest in her words, kindly saying to David that it was worthless for him to shed blood taking revenge by his own hand, as he was the fighter for God’s cause, and it is God Who will avenge him. She even wishes that his enemies become fool like Naval. Avigail reminded David that it was prophesied for him to become the King of Israel, and so he would rule with a fair conscience, not having murdered without cause. At last, she asks him to take account of her when he will receive his blessing from God.

David said to Avigail, «Blessed be HaShem, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me: and blessed be your understanding, and blessed be you, that have kept me this day from blood guiltiness, and from avenging myself with my own hand. For in very deed, as HaShem, the God of Israel, lives, who has withheld me from hurting you, except you had hurried and come to meet me, surely there would not have been left to Naval by the morning light so much as one boy». So David received of her hand that which she had brought him: and he said to her, «Go up in shalom to your house; behold, I have listened to your voice, and have accepted your person».
(1Samuel 25:32-35)

The mighty warrior’s anger was appeased by the understanding of a woman. The prince of Yehudah and Israel paid heed to a woman’s advice, and praised her for her intelligence. He made her know that she had already saved the life of all the males who belonged to Naval – and herself from being taken as part of the booty (although we know who would have taken her…).

Avigail came to Naval; and behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Naval's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: therefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light. It happened in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Naval, that his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. It happened about ten days after, that HaShem struck Naval, so that he died. When David heard that Naval was dead, he said, «Blessed be HaShem, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Naval, and has kept back his servant from evil: and the evil-doing of Naval has HaShem returned on his own head». David sent and spoke concerning Avigail, to take her to him as wife. When the servants of David were come to Avigail to Karmel, they spoke to her, saying, «David has sent us to you, to take you to him as wife». She arose, and bowed herself with her face to the earth, and said, «Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord». Avigail hurried, and arose, and rode on a donkey, with five ladies of hers who followed her; and she went after the messengers of David, and became his wife.
(1Samuel 25:36-42)

Avigail, the disobedient wife, was relieved from her husband, who was instead punished for his misbehavior towards David. Having heard the news, David recalls the advice given to him by her, blessing God for having kept him back from taking revenge. The lady had left such an impression in him, that he wished her as wife – he indeed “remembered” her as she requested, even before than the Lord had dealt well with him!
Avigail was a determined woman who knew what to do, regardless the social rules which required submission to the husband, and was courageous so as to present herself before the chief of six-hundred warriors to persuade him of renouncing his retaliation, speaking with wisdom and kindness. She was not chastised for having transgressed the rules, but was instead rewarded, becoming the wife (one of them) of the King.



Batsheva is usually considered to be jointly liable with David for his sin. Nevertheless, the Scriptures do not charge on her any blame, but only on David. Batsheva was not only a beautiful lady, but also faithful and gifted.

It happened, at the return of the year, at the time when kings go out [to battle], that David sent Yoav, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Yerushalayim.
(2Samuel 11:1)

What was David doing in his palace, while all his people was out for the war, and it was his duty to be in the battle camp? This was not the behavior of the mighty warrior he was! The great fighter who was praised for his valor, always at the head of his undefeatable armies… This was his first fault, which led him to the following ones. He did stay at home, not because he was getting old and was no longer able to battle, as he still warred after this event and he had even fathered many sons – at least five with Batsheva (including the first-born who died, as 1Chronicles 3:5 mentions four) plus those of his concubines and other wives. His strength was not diminished. He simply allowed himself a little relax; he had conquered all what had to conquer, and Rabbah was a stronghold easy to take and his presence was not indispensable. This event should have taken place not later than the middle of his reign, as Shlomo was enough adult as to be the king when David died. So we can guess that David was no older than fifty years old.

It happened at evening, that David arose from off his bed, and walked on the roof of the king's house: and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful to look on.
(2Samuel 11:2)

Then, having nothing to do, he stood on the roof of his house to have a wonderful sight of the surrounding area... We do not know how far away was Batsheva from the king’s house, but men, mainly one like David, are able to recognize a woman to be beautiful from a distant point – even though it was evening. It is usually assumed that she was bathing in her house’s courtyard: this is very unlikely – would David not have noticed such a charming neighbor before? Would not he know that she was the wife of his loyal soldier? He certainly would know who she was if she lived so close to his palace. Therefore, she should have been bathing in a natural basin which was deep enough for immersion, and had to walk there from her home for that purpose. She probably had to reach that place because she was not just “bathing”, which may have done inside her house without the risk to be seen, but she was cleansing herself from ritual impurity (v. 4). This is a precept of Torah called mikveh, which requires that a woman immerses herself completely naked in mayim hayim, that is, flowing waters, to be purified. If she had not a suitable pool in her house (needing running water from a spring to be carried to fill it), she had to find another place. She was not flaunting, nor was she enticing him, but fulfilling an act of righteousness and obedience to the Law of God! She was also doing so in the evening, maybe after sunset, in order to reduce the possibility of being seen. We are not told that she was alone, maybe she also brought with her some maiden to keep watch.
On the other side, David had the right to stare at her as long as he assumed that she was free – it is not a sin to admire a woman’s beauty, it is a natural thing, but to develop lustful thoughts in one’s mind is the sinful act.

David send and inquired after the woman. One said, Is not this Bat-Sheva, the daughter of Eli'am, the wife of Uriyah the Hittite? David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in to him, and he lay with her (for she was purified from her uncleanness); and she returned to her house.
(2Samuel 11:3-4)

So, once he was informed of her identity, that she was the wife of his loyal soldier, he had to stop his mind and go somewhere else... She was not enticing him at all! It was he who had not to stare at a married woman, and to forget her. Instead, he ordered to bring her to him.
Not even in this case we can ascribe unrighteousness to Batsheva: he did not send her an invitation to come, if she was glad to spend the night with him, but he sent his messengers to bring her to his presence. Would she refuse to obey the king’s order? Once she understood his intentions, would she speak without the permission of the king, to object what he intended to do? Maybe she had not the courageous character of Avigail, but she found herself in a situation which is not easy to manage, and her behavior was correct – she could not put up resistance.
David was the man after God’s own heart, but he was just a man, anyway. He had power, and had also weakness in his fleshly desires. In this moment, he was not able to be faithful to the Law of God as he used to be, and was overwhelmed by his passions. His fault was not only that he committed adultery, but also that he did not care of the fact that she was purifying herself because she was in her period, and it was not allowed for a man to have sexual intercourse with a woman during her cycle (Leviticus 20:18).

The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, and said, «I am with child». David sent to Yoav, [saying], «Send me Uriyah the Hittite». Yoav sent Uriyah to David. When Uriyah was come to him, David asked of him how Yoav did, and how the people fared, and how the war prospered. David said to Uriyah, «Go down to your house, and wash your feet». Uriyah departed out of the king's house, and there followed him a mess [of food] from the king. But Uriyah slept at the door of the king's house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they had told David, saying, «Uriyah did not go down to his house», David said to Uriyah, «Have not you come from a journey? why did you not go down to your house?» Uriyah said to David, «The ark, and Israel, and Yehudah, abide in booths; and my lord Yoav, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field; shall I then go into my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing».
(2Samuel 11:5-11)

When David comes to know that his love affair with Batsheva would have been discovered, he devised a plan to keep it unknown. It was for his honor, rather than hers, as he was the king and Uriyah was one of his best warriors. He could not lose his face, when it was his duty to be in the battle front, he was instead amusing himself with his soldier’s wife. So he called Uriyah and expressly commands him to “go down to his house and wash his feet” – he was not telling him just to take a rest and refresh himself, but we have already seen what the term feet is used for as an euphemism: David commands Uriyah to go and have sex with his wife. Yet, Uriyah, the Hittite, one who like Rahav and Ruth joined Israel being born among the heathen, proved his loyalty to his king and to God, and remained with the servants in the king’s palace. David’s plan failed.
We know the outcome of the story.

When the wife of Uriyah heard that Uriyah her husband was dead, she made lamentation for her husband. When the mourning was past, David sent and took her home to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.
(2Samuel 11:26-27)

It was not Batsheva’s intention to become a queen. It was David’s fault that led him to desire her so much as to forsake the Lord’s Law, his anointment, his victories and all the things with which he was blessed for having been the man after God’s own heart. David utterly repented from his misdeed, he recognized himself to be guilty before the Lord, and we find the poetic expression of his repentance in the words of Psalm 51, of which we read here some excerpts:

Have mercy on me, God, according to Your loving kindness.
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity. Cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions. My sin is constantly before me.
Against You, and You only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight;
That You may be proved right when You speak, and justified when You judge.
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me.
Do not throw me from Your presence, and do not take Your holy Spirit from me.
For you do not delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it.
You have no pleasure in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.
A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

In spite of the unrighteousness by which Batsheva became the king’s wife, she was rewarded during her life: she had a faithful husband whom she lost, but then she became the queen of Israel, and the mother of King Shlomoh, the heir of David’s throne.


Tamar, the Daughter of David

King David had a beautiful daughter, whose name was Tamar. She was also a victim of abuse as her ancestor Tamar was, and also in her case incest was involved – though in a quite different way. Tamar’s humiliation was not an isolate incident, but a direct consequence of David’s misbehavior towards Batsheva and her husband.

It happened after this, that Avshalom the son of David had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her. Amnon was so vexed that he fell sick because of his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin; and it seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her.
(2Samuel 13:1-2)

As we know, King David had more than one wife. Amnon was his first-born, from Achinoam the Yizreelite (2Samuel 3:2; 1Chronicles 3:1), and legally the heir to the throne. Avshalom and Tamar were his children from an Aramean princess, very likely given to David as “pledge” of loyalty by her father, in exchange for keeping the rule over his kingdom – as usually kings used to do for sealing an alliance, the stronger king took a daughter from his vassal to assure this one’s perpetual loyalty.
We assume that they were still very young, as it does not seem that Amnon was married – this is another proof that David’s affair with Batsheva did happen within the first half time of his reign.
An eventual marriage between Amnon and his step-sister was forbidden by the Mosaic Law, so he knew that it was hard for him to obtain her as wife even through a formal request. He “loved” her is an euphemism; actually, Amnon only desired her sexually, as it is clearly proven by his behavior towards her. He became lovesick, namely, he only had a crush on her.

But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Yehonadav, the son of Shim’a, David's brother; and Yehonadav was a very subtle man. He said to him, «Why, son of the king, are you thus lean from day to day? Will not you tell me?» Amnon said to him, «I love Tamar, my brother Avshalom's sister».
(2Samuel 13:3-4)

Amnon appears to be a spoiled boy, acting like a teenager, and feeling like a teenager. His definition of love is that of an immature person. There is a great difference between loving with a genuine love, which comes from the spirit, and falling in love, which comes from passion and lust. He cannot admit that Tamar is his sister, but she is just “Avshalom’s sister” – even though Avshalom is his brother. In Amnon’s mind, Avshalom is the son of his father, but Tamar is the daughter of Avshalom’s mother.

So Amnon lay down, and feigned himself sick: and when the king was come to see him, Amnon said to the king, «Please let my sister Tamar come, and make me a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand». Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, «Go now to your brother Amnon's house, and dress him food». So Tamar went to her brother Amnon's house; and he was laid down. She took dough, and kneaded it, and made cakes in his sight, and did bake the cakes. She took the pan, and poured them out before him; but he refused to eat. Amnon said, «Have out all men from me». They went out every man from him. Amnon said to Tamar, «Bring the food into the chamber, that I may eat from your hand». Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. When she had brought them near to him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, «Come, lie with me, my sister». She answered him, «No, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel. Do not you do this folly. I, where shall I carry my shame? and as for you, you will be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you».
(2Samuel 13:6-13)

Amnon carried on his plan, as it was suggested to him by his crafty cousin (the same person who would later announce Amnon’s death to the King – v. 32-33). However, Amnon managed in involving David, at least in obtaining his approval for Tamar coming to him. It has been assumed that David should have understood Amnon’s intentions, or at least his feelings towards his sister, because of the words used in the text for the expression “let [she] make me a couple of cakes”: the Hebrew terms used here for “make” and “cakes” are both related by the root with the word “heart” (lev), meaning as follows: the verb lavav properly means “to be enclosed”, by implication “to unheart”, that is, “transport with love”, and means also “make cakes”; then the term lavyivot, plural of lavyivah, in its original sense is fatness, then “fried cake”. Therefore, it seems to be implicit that Amnon requested specifically some kind of “love cakes” as medicine for his sickness. David seems not to be so concerned with his children’s feelings, otherwise he should have noticed that Amnon’s wish for Tamar was something more than just brotherhood. He was too busy with the affairs of the Kingdom and his many wives to take care also of his many children. And David sent his daughter to Amnon’s house, to cook for him as he requested.
After she made the cakes for her brother, his intentions became manifest – did she not understand, being a woman, what did he want from her by sending away everybody to be alone with her, and pretended to eat from her hand in his chamber? Maybe she considered it to be natural between a brother and sister, without lustful implications… Maybe she was too naïve. Probably Amnon was so spoiled that neither his father, granted that a man understands another man’s feelings, nor his sister, who being a woman may guess a man’s intentions, did suspect anything. Surely Amnon was already treated as the successor to the crown, and every his wish was accomplished without asking why.
Once Tamar realized which was Amnon’s “sickness”, she kindly refused. She spoke to him tenderly, but pointing out that it was an infamous thing before God, with negative results for her and for Amnon himself. Tamar appealed to the Law, “for no such thing ought to be done in Israel” and defined such an act a “folly” (n’valah); to Amnon’s pride, as he would be considered “as one of the fools” (naval), terms that in Hebrew imply wickedness, villany, besides foolishness; and also to his mercy, as she would have been ashamed, disgraced. She also offered him a possibility, telling him that she would be willing to marry him if he does things right, by asking her to David as wife. We can assume that she said so in her despair, knowing that it was not allowed by the Law – once that Amnon’s intentions would have been known, he would have lost any chance.

However he would not listen to her voice; but being stronger than she, he forced her, and lay with her. Then Amnon hated her with exceeding great hatred; for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. Amnon said to her, «Arise, be gone». She said to him, «Not so, because this great wrong in putting me forth is [worse] than the other that you did to me». But he would not listen to her. Then he called his servant who ministered to him, and said, «Put now this woman out from me, and bolt the door after her».
(2Samuel 13:14-17)

Amnon was obsessed, and raped her. It is evident which kind of “love” he felt for her, that he hated her after having sexually humiliated her. That was not love at all, but pure lust. We are not concerned here about the psychological aspects of Amnon’s behavior, why did he hate her more than he desired her, as we are interested in Tamar; so we will not discuss here the possible reasons of his reaction.
She was offended in her honor and hurt in her deepest feelings – because she was not able to resist him as she had no physical strength. At least, he might have fulfilled his duty as a man (but he was unworthy of being called a man) and must have taken her as wife; but he sent her away instead. She was a princess, and was supposed to be given in marriage to a prince, or any honorable man; but in the ancient Israelite society it was very difficult for a woman to get married if she was not virgin – unless she was a widower. That is why she told him that this second evil deed was worse than the first one. We would like to think that, being blameless, she found a good husband who accepted her, but we do not know anything else about her life. According to the Scriptures, she remained desolate, which strongly suggests that it was her definitive state. The Hebrew word used here is shamem, the same one that we find in Isaiah 54:1, and conveys the meaning of devastated, wasted, astonished.

She had a garment of various colors on her; for with such robes were the king's daughters who were virgins dressed. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her. Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her garment of various colors that was on her; and she laid her hand on her head, and went her way, crying aloud as she went. Avshalom her brother said to her, «Has Amnon your brother been with you? but now hold your shalom, my sister: he is your brother; do not take this thing to heart». So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Avshalom's house. But when king David heard of all these things, he was very angry.
(2Samuel 13:18-21)

Tamar had a male counterpart in history, who was an innocent victim as she was: Yosef.
·Both had a garment of various colors as a sign of special privileges:
“She had a garment of various colors on her; for with such robes were the king's daughters who were virgins dressed”;
“Now Yisrael loved Yosef more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age, and he made him a coat of many colors” (Genesis 37:3);
·Both were betrayed by brothers – Tamar by one, Yosef by all. After that, their colorful garment was no longer suitable to be worn:
“[She] tore her garment of various colors that was on her”;
“They stripped Yosef of his coat, the coat of many colors that was on him… They took Yosef's coat, and killed a male goat, and dipped the coat in the blood” (Genesis 37:23,31);
·Both were invited with the very same words, “lie with me”, and their refusal brought them evil consequences:
“He took hold of her, and said to her, «Come, lie with me, my sister»”;
“She caught him by his garment, saying, «Lie with me!»” (Genesis 39:12).

It seems that the only person who had really understood everything since the beginning was Avshalom, as when he saw his sister, he asked “has Amnon been with you?”. We know the outcome of this event, that Avshalom behaved as a true man and avenged his sister, killing the vile Amnon. When David knew all what happened, he “was very angry”, but we are not said that he did anything to punish Amnon. Probably because he left this matter in the Lord’s hands, as none better than he knew that the Lord would not leave anybody unpunished. But Avshalom considered David’s lack of action as lack of justice, indeed, this was what he blamed his father for when he rebelled against him:
“Avshalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate: and it was so, that when any man had a suit which should come to the king for judgment, then Avshalom called to him, and said, Of what city are you? He said, Your servant is of one of the tribes of Israel. Avshalom said to him, Behold, your matters are good and right; but there is no man appointed by the king to hear you. Avshalom said moreover, Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man who has any suit or cause might come to me, and I would do him justice! It was so, that when any man came near to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took hold of him, and kissed him. In this manner Avshalom did to all Israel who came to the king for judgment: so Avshalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2Samuel 15:2-6).
Avshalom had a beautiful daughter, whom he called after his sister, Tamar (2Samuel 14:27).


The Noblewoman of Shunem

This is another woman whose name is not mentioned, even though she was an important person in her town. She lived in a hard time for Israel, which was ruled by wicked monarchs who had departed away from God’s Law – the Kingdom of Israel was separated from Jerusalem and the Temple, and God’s authority was represented by His Prophet.
Shunem was a small town in the territory of the Tribe of Yissakhar, in Galilee, from where also Avishag was native (1Kings 1:3).

It fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. So it was, that as often as he passed by, he turned in there to eat bread. She said to her husband, «See now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, that passes by us continually. Let us make, Please, a little chamber on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a seat, and a lamp stand: and it shall be, when he comes to us, that he shall turn in there». It fell on a day, that he came there, and he turned into the chamber and lay there. He said to Gehazi his servant, «Call this Shunammite». When he had called her, she stood before him. He said to him, «Say now to her, Behold, you have been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for you? would you be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the army?» She answered, «I dwell among my own people».
(2Kings 4:8-13)

This woman is called “great”, meaning that she was important, of the nobility of the land. It seems that Prophet Elisha did not identify himself when travelling, and was not so noticeable as Prophet Eliyahu, who was suddenly recognized by his extravagant look. This woman had a spiritual knowledge – that kind of knowledge which is exclusive of women – by which she understood that Elisha was a holy man. She was a believer in the true God in a Kingdom which had no longer worshipped Him since their separation from Judah, and considered it to be a blessing for her house to give hospitality to this itinerant man of God and his servant.
The Prophet wanted to express his thanks to her, and asked if she would have liked any place of honor among the authorities. Her answer was that of a true noblewoman: she did not want glory, but to live among her own people – whom she probably also supported economically, as she was such a generous person.

He said, «What then is to be done for her?» Gehazi answered, «Most certainly she has no son, and her husband is old». He said, «Call her». When he had called her, she stood in the door. He said, «At this season, when the time comes round, you shall embrace a son». She said, «No, my lord, you man of God, do not lie to your handmaid». The woman conceived, and bore a son at that season, when the time came round, as Elisha had said to her.
(2Kings 4:14-17)

We cannot blame her for this unbelief; also her foremother Sarah laughed when God Himself announced her the birth of Yitzhak. Not to have children in ancient Israel was a very serious problem, and for a barren woman it was unbelievable to become mother, even though it was told them by a Prophet of God. She was probably still young, but apparently she married a man much older than her, as the servant pointed out her husband’s age.

When the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. He said to his father, «My head, my head!» He said to his servant, «Carry him to his mother». When he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees until noon, and then died. She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut [the door] on him, and went out. She called to her husband, and said, «Please send me one of the servants, and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God, and come again». He said, «Why will you go to him today? it is neither new moon nor Shabbat». She said, «It shall be well». Then she saddled a donkey, and said to her servant, «Drive, and go forward; do not slacken me the riding, except I bid you». So she went, and came to the man of God to Mount Karmel. It happened, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his servant, «Behold, yonder is the Shunammite: please run now to meet her, and ask her, Is it well with you? is it well with your husband? is it well with the child?» She answered, «It is well». When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. Gehazi came near to thrust her away; but the man of God said, «Let her alone: for her soul is vexed within her; and the Lord has hid it from me, and has not told me». Then she said, «Did I desire a son of my lord? Did not I say, Do not deceive me?» Then he said to Gehazi, «Gird up your waist, and take my staff in your hand, and go your way: if you meet any man, Do not greet him; and if anyone greets you, do not answer him again: and lay my staff on the face of the child». The mother of the child said, «As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you». He arose, and followed her.
(2Kings 4:18-30)

Her son apparently took a sunstroke and died. The son she had longed for but whom she did not request as a reward for her hospitality: «Did I desire a son of my lord? Did not I say, Do not deceive me?». It may seem a reproach, but indeed it was a request this time, as if she had said: “You granted me to have a son, now you have to manage that this your miracle does not become vain”; it was a declaration of faith rather than a reproach. Indeed, when her son died, she did not get ready for a funeral, but for a resurrection. She knew perfectly what she was doing: this woman had surely heard about Prophet Eliyahu, whom Elisha succeeded, and his miracle when he lodged by the widow of Tzarefat:
“It happened after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him. She said to Eliyahu, «What have I to do with you, you man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to memory, and to kill my son!» He said to her, «Give me your son». He took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into the chamber, where he abode, and laid him on his own bed. He cried to the Lord, and said, «Lord my God, have You also brought evil on the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?» He stretched himself on the child three times, and cried to the Lord, and said, «Lord my God, please let this child's soul come into him again». The Lord listened to the voice of Eliyahu; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. Eliyahu took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him to his mother; and Eliyahu said, «Behold, your son lives». (1Kings 17:17-23)
The Shunammite woman wanted Elisha to do the same thing, because she had faith. She laid her son on the Prophet’s bed, as Eliyahu did when he was also a guest at another woman’s home. Since Eliyahu had made the widow’s jar of oil not to get empty (1Kings 17:16), and Elisha did the same miracle to another widow right before he met the Shunammite (2Kings 4:2-6), she knew that he would have also been able to bring her son back as Eliyahu did. And she always said: “it is well”. She was determined, nobody should know anything except the Prophet, and only when she was in his presence, she spoke. In the same way as she understood since the beginning that Elisha was the Prophet of God, she knew that it was he alone who was to be informed.
Elisha gave her instructions about what to do, but she did not accept. She requested the Prophet’s presence. It was not lack of faith – she traveled up to Mount Carmel leaving her died son at home, and one would not do so without faith. She wanted that Elisha do exactly what Eliyahu did. And she insisted like her forefather Yakov: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26).

Now Elisha had spoken to the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, «Arise, and go you and your household, and sojourn wherever you can sojourn: for the Lord has called for a famine; and it shall also come on the land seven years». The woman arose, and did according to the word of the man of God; and she went with her household, and sojourned in the land of the Pelishtim seven years. It happened at the seven years' end, that the woman returned out of the land of the Pelishtim: and she went forth to cry to the king for her house and for her land. Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, «Please tell me all the great things that Elisha has done». It happened, as he was telling the king how he had restored to life him who was dead, that behold, the woman, whose son he had restored to life, cried to the king for her house and for her land. Gehazi said, «My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life». When the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed to her a certain officer, saying, «Restore all that was hers, and all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now».
(2Kings 8:1-6)

This noblewoman of Shunem acquired a privileged consideration by the Prophet, who warned her to take refuge in another land because famine was imminent. And as she believed the Prophet and did as he said, she did not lose anything: on the contrary, even a wicked king as Yehoram was, gave her back not only her possessions, but also what they produced during the seven years in which she was abroad.



Written by Sándor Avraham

Thanks to Jamie Hanley, who has given me her unique spiritual support and her insights.


Next: Conclusion