When the Bible was written women were not considered men’s equals; they had no rights. Single or widowed women had to depend on the generosity of their families. Yet God repeatedly inspired those writing His Word to exalt the role of womanhood. Their stories are told in vivid detail, with all the passion, heartbreak, and drama of modern-day soap operas (still not enough for our hungry imaginations!).
As a woman, I’ve always been drawn to these godly (and not so godly) women of the past. They inspire or warn us with their lives. We feel compassion for the difficulties they faced. Many were used, abused, and then abandoned. In their culture widows and those unable to conceive (like Naomi, Hannah, and Sarah) were viewed as cursed by God for their sins.
We are surrounded by modern-day examples of Jezebel, Lot’s wife, Folly and the Wayward Woman from the book of Proverbs today. But there are also amazing stories of redemption, like Rahab’s, who turned from prostitution to faith in the living God, saving her family and gaining a place in Jesus’ ancestral line. Then there’s Mary Magdalene (I can’t wait to hear her testimony in heaven!). After Jesus cast seven demons from her, Mary became one of His closest followers, and the first person to see our resurrected Lord.
Jesus honored women who tenaciously sought after Him—the Syrophoenician who begged for her daughter’s healing, and the woman with the issue of blood. Jesus even made a woman the main character in His parable on persistent prayer.
Ruth and Anna demonstrated amazing faithfulness. The Widow of Zarephath, Lydia, and Tabitha were hospitable and generous. And of course, Mary willingly suffered gossip, near divorce, and narrow escapes from a murderous king to bring the Savior of the world to us.
Some of God’s leading ladies were extraordinary leaders—something we might not expect to find considering the world they lived in. Here are three examples especially pertinent to our times.
Esther—Wise and Courageous
Every woman is created with a soft winsomeness intended to draw others in; not just to win a man, but to bless, nurture, and teach those in her circle. But our beauty is to be submitted to God’s leadership for His glory and not our own selfish gain. Esther was beauty on a mission.
Her physical beauty got her into the king’s harem and on the throne as queen. But it would have been worthless if she had not had the strength of character to save her people. Esther repeatedly demonstrated she was more than a pretty face. She wisely listened to advice, sought God’s favor, and waited. And when the time was right, she acted with courage and saved her people.
Priscilla—Equal Partner in Ministry
Usually, the husband or the wife leads in ministry. If both try to lead, jealousy and competition can get in the way. If only one member of the team is gung ho and the other dead weight or an impediment, it’s hard to serve wholeheartedly.
This is why I love Priscilla and Aquila’s incredible example of ministry partnership. They are mentioned seven times in the Bible, always in the same breath—they were a team. The Bible doesn’t say who cooked, who taught, or which one had more scriptural knowledge. As co-leaders, they instructed, hosted a church in their home, and served. They must have learned how to complement each other’s gifts and keep Christ at the center.
Deborah—Leader by Default
In more than thirty years of working with women, the complaint I hear most often from them is that their husband won’t lead. He’s not a believer, he’s too busy, he feels inadequate, or doesn’t see spiritual headship as his God-given responsibility. And so by default, women are the ones who take their children to church, attend Bible studies, seek marriage counsel, teach classes, and lead family devotions.
That is how Deborah ended up as a judge over Israel. When Deborah told Barak God had chosen him to lead Israel to victory against their oppressors, he said he would only go if she did. She agreed, but warned him, “because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” And that’s what happened.
I wonder what victories we would see in our families, churches, and our nation, if instead of whining and complaining about our lack of male leaders, and we followed Deborah’s example and went into battle against the enemy of our souls. And what if we got down on our knees and prayed for God’s Spirit to empower our men, and call them into service?
These leading ladies left an incredible legacy. Now it’s our turn. What stories will we leave behind?
If you want to learn more, here’s where to look for:
Hannah: 1 Samuel 1:1-28
Sarah: Genesis 11:30; 18:1-13; 21:1-7
Jezebel: 1 Kings 16:31; 18:4, 19; 21:5-15, 23-25; 2 Kings 9:30-37
Lot’s wife: Genesis 19:1-26;
Rahab: Joshua 2:1-14; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25
Mary Magdalene: Luke 8:1-3; Mark 15:39-41; 16:1-3; John 20:1-2, 11-18
Syrophoenician woman: Mark 7:24-30
Woman with issue of blood: Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43–48
Tenacious widow seeking justice: Luke 18:1-8
Ruth: Book of Ruth
Anna: Luke 2:36-38
Widow of Zarephath: 1 Kings 17:7-24;
Lydia: Acts 16:13-15
Tabitha: Acts 9:36-41
Jesus’ mother Mary: Luke 1:26-38, 41-45; 15-19; Luke 2:25-35
Esther: Esther 2:7, 10, 15, 17, 20; 4:1-16; 5:2-8; 7:1-10
Priscilla: Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19.
Deborah: Judges 4
Beth Vice is a wife, author, speaker, mom, mother-in-law, grandma, and Jesus seeker. She loves taking care of her husband Kelly and the home they share on the Oregon coast. She teaches their Sunday morning small group and leads critique workshops at Oregon Christian Writers conferences, where she serves as the In-Person Critique Group Coordinator. Beth has six books currently available and is working on the next two—a divorce recovery book for women and a Bible study on Revelation. Beth has a heart for women; she has found new delight in leading retreats at she and Kelly’s vacation rental at Black Butte Ranch, and wherever else God might lead her. She blogs at Epiphany: http://www.bethvice.com/. Beth loves getting outside for hikes and gardening, but prefers snuggling inside with a good book or coffee with a friend, in nasty weather.