This question, though simple in its asking, brings a wide range of answers and emotions. While one person would point to the acceptance of Galatians 3:28 (“there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”), the modern world points to the “harsh” language of 1 Corinthians (11 and 14; i.e. “the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission”).
Having been blessed with a young daughter, I’ve come to realize the vital importance of teaching her the answer to this question. While watching her grow, I see that she is interested stories and looks to find connections to the female characters of these tales. Now, as she begins to walk through the pages of Scripture, I realize my daughter will begin to associate herself with the women of the Bible. How can the pages of Scriptures shape positive lessons for her and the young women of the world?
The Bible indeed has some powerful heroines. Ruth, Mary, and Esther resonate as strong and righteous people. Some women, like Tamar and Jael, are more complicated, with stories suggesting a combination of good and bad. Other women are wise like Abigail. Still more are foolish and selfish like Leah, Rachel, and Michal. The many different types have taught me not to broadly label women in the Bible as simply good or bad people.
Rather, as I sit down with my daughter, the women in the Bible should serve as lessons based upon individual encounters. With any of the characters in the Bible, male or female, we find heroes, villains, and everything in between.
There are two stories that stand out to me for two reasons: the quality of the women involved and the power of the lessons they teach. These two less-known stories are about the daughters of Zelophehad and a princess named Jehoshabeath. The names don’t ring a bell? That is fine, we will look at them together.
The daughters of Zelophehad appear in Numbers 27. Their father had died in the wilderness wanderings and they were as yet unmarried. When they saw that society may pass them by because they lacked a husband, they sought an audience with Moses. They requested a portion of land to be given to them in order to preserve their family line. Moses took their request to God, who said that they were indeed correct. Land was to be allotted to them as representatives of their family line even though customs at the time forbade women to own property. What society thought of them was irrelevant. They were determined by God to be worthy, but they were also willing to submit to God as well. We know this because later, some people came and asked Moses to ensure the daughters married in the tribe so that their land would not go to another tribe. Once again, the issue went to God who gave a ruling. He commanded that they were to marry who they liked as long as it was within the same tribe. We are told they obeyed the voice of the Lord. Their concern was not for society’s norms but God’s will.
The story of Jehoshabeath is very different (2 Kings 11:2, 1 Chronicles 22-24). Jehoshabeath was a princess, the daughter of King Jehoram and sister to King Ahaziah. But when her brother Ahaziah was killed, his mother Athaliah decided that she should ascend the throne. Athaliah purged the royal palace of all who would have a claim to the throne. Rather than protect herself, Jehoshabeath grabbed her young nephew Joash and took him to the temple. There she raised him in secret as her own son until her husband could lead a rebellion and overthrow the evil queen. Rather than pursue her own dreams or success, Jehoshabeath sought to serve God’s plan instead of her own. Her bravery is forgotten by most, but God preserved the name of this brave princess for all to study.
So, what unites these two women in a way that teaches a lesson for today? It is the fact that they followed God’s plan over the world’s narrative.
The daughters of Zelophehad lived in a world where women had few legal rights. However, they sought from God the recognition of equality and obeyed God when he prescribed limits. Jehoshabeath, on the other hand, lived during a time when a woman was rising to power. Rather than seize the rare opportunity to queenship, she sacrificed her own life for the plan of God and the rightful king.
These women acted in their time according to the desires of God and not the waves of the world. Their value was not in how society or family viewed them, but how they pleased God. These women serve as a timeless testimony that while the world will change, the value of a woman is not measured by the politics or pressures of their circumstances, but in their standing and honor before God. The daughters of Zelophehad and the princess Jehoshabeath serve as powerful lessons which I am happy to teach my daughter. May we all point the women we love to the moving stories of such lessons.