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Women of Faith - From Barrenness to Blessedness

WOMEN OF FAITH FROM BARRENNESS TO BLESSEDNESS
Bible study taken from www.womenindiscipleship.org
week 1 (5/21/7 - 5/26/7) Sarah/Sarai
week 2 (5/28/7 - 6/1/7) Rebekah
week 3 (6/4/7 - 6/8/7) Rachel & Leah
week 4 (6/11/7 - 6/15/7) Manoah's wife; Hannah
week 5 (6/18/7 - 6/22/7) Elizabeth
week 6 (6/25/7 - 6/29/7) Israel, The Church, the Bride of Christ

INTRODUCTION
Life as a woman in the world today is much different than during biblical times. In the weeks ahead we'll take a closer look at the lives of many women who lived and worked in Bible days. We'll see difficulties they faced and similarities of their existence to our own. For this first venture into Scripture, let's look at the historical background which influenced the faith, courage, boldness, and blessedness of these women.

HISTORY REVISITED
In Old Testament days the family unit consisted of several people including parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and servants. The extended family could be very large. In Genesis 12 we find Abram living in the land of Ur. Later he traveled with his family as God directed him and grew into a very large family unit. As time passed Abram, now called Abraham, parted company with his nephew Lot. The abundance of their family caused trouble between the servants, so they separated and became two different family units.

Before the Law was given at Mt. Sinai, the people of God (from Abraham to Moses) were led as God spoke to the fathers (Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses). From Adam on we see God guiding the men of the family. In some accounts in the Bible, we can read the specific messages God gave these men to obey by faith (ex: Abraham and Isaac in Gen. 22).

Family life was led by the oldest male member, usually the grandfather. He had complete authority not just in practical matters but in religious affairs as well. When the eldest male member died, the oldest son took over by right of birth. The patriarch (oldest male member) was the leader and the law in the family. A good example is Abraham, who was the leader of his clan. When God called him to go to a land unknown to him, he took his family with him. When God revealed Himself to Abraham, he believed. His family followed his lead and accepted his God as their God.

To Abraham God revealed a plan (Covenant) that ultimately brought this family unit to Mt. Sinai. There God gave laws to direct their lives and to point to their need for redemption. In each family, the law of the father and the Law of God made up the directing force for these God-chosen people. These two elements were the central focus of life. Everyday life was wrapped up in the religious life of the family. If a law was broken, the guilty party had to make it right. They recognized that sin had a penalty and that sacrifices were needed to make things right. The father was the final earthly authority; however, they knew that God was the ultimate and absolute authority.

FAMILY LIFE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
In Bible times, women did not have equal status with men. Women were considered the property of their fathers or husbands. A woman's place was subservient to that of her husband. It was common in ancient times for a man to thank God every day that he was not a woman. E.W. Heaton notes that under a strict interpretation of the Law, the status of Israelite woman was quite low. A woman couldn't leave her husband because he owned her just like sheep or goats. Heaton also states, however, that although this was true, the Israelite women fared much better than the women in other cultures around them. This was by the mercy of God, I am sure!Consider the story of Hannah and Elkanah. (I Sam. 1-2) Elkanah truly loved his wife and treated her well. In I Samuel 1:8, he said to Hannah, "Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?" He must have been extremely good to her compared to most husbands of that day.

Jewish men in biblical times had quite a different view of women than Almighty God. Widows were especially at risk. They were ignored, exploited, and left to starve. In many places in the Old Testament, prophets rebuked priests, rabbis, and other men for their mistreatment of widows and orphans. (Jer. 22:3-5) It's clear God thinks much more highly of women than the "learned" men of biblical days did.

It must have been an ironic twist for the men of Israel when Deborah, a judge and prophetess, came on the scene. Through her, God delivered His people. (Judg. 4:8-10) In other instances, God put women in authoritative positions, such as Moses' mother, the midwives in Egypt, Ruth, Esther, and the prophetess Huldah in the time of Jeremiah. Later in the New Testament, we see Lydia, Priscilla, Elizabeth, Phoebe, Lois, and Eunice as women who not only were home-makers but also witnesses to the cause of Christ.

It is refreshing to see that God's design for women was not the same as man's. The thinking in Israel was far from the pagan perspective. Giving birth gave women a considerable increase in status. Their position was literally saved through childbirth. Unfortunately, however, a barren woman was considered disgraced and cursed by God. (Please note that this was man's view, not God's!)

CHILDREN
Pregnancy and childbirth were a natural part of family life. The birth of a child hardly interrupted all the normal activity. The average Israelite woman nursed her child for two to three years while running the household and caring for her older children. At age three, boys were placed under their father's tutelage and taught from the Torah (Gen.--Deut.) once it was written. Education was forbidden for girls and women. An ancient rabbi wrote that a woman had no need for learning except in the use of the spindle. The Talmud (Jewish interpretation of the law) condemns a father who dares to teach the word of God to his daughter.

Jewish women were given privilege and respect for the number of sons they bore. In the story of Ruth the elders at the gate blessed Boaz by saying, "May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel." (Ruth 4:11) It was only the sons who remained with the family and increased in wealth. Only sons inherited property and provided for elderly parents. The sad fact is widows were often reduced to begging if they had no sons to care for them.

Sons were definitely the preferred gender, but daughters were not shunned. Daughters in Israel had better standing than in the surrounding pagan cultures. It is sad to read the writings of men like Aristotle who viewed women more or less as a necessary deformity on earth to perpetuate the race." Women in some cultures were no more important than animals. In some cultures, newborn girls were even left on mountains to die or were given as child sacrifices to false gods.

In Israel girls were taught by their mothers. They only learned those things necessary to make them good wives for when they reached the age of marriage at twelve and a half. The Talmud stated that a good wife was the only kind to keep. The bad wife was viewed by the Torah as bad as leprosy to her husband.

A WOMAN'S DUTIES
The duties of a woman in those days were extremely overwhelming in contrast to our day. She cleaned the house, which usually consisted of one room that was shared by the animals. Hauling water, milling grain, preparing food, and sewing cloth were a few of her regular tasks. It is no wonder that Proverbs 31:15-18 tells us that the virtuous woman was up early, and that her lamp did not go out at night. Yet the women of that day did these tasks willingly and with contentment.

Think of what it would have been like to provide clothes for the family. They didn't just go and purchase cloth. Linen began with flax in the field; wool began with sheep. Flax had to be harvested, and sheep had to be sheared. Flax was first pulled, beaten with sticks, then dried in the sun. Next it was steeped in water for a week to separate the fibers, then dried again, beaten again, combed, spun, and finally woven into a garment. Wool had to be cleaned, carded, spun, and woven. You can see why clothes were costly. Poor people often owned only the cloth that they wore. This was true in the New Testament as well. Remember Dorcas from Acts 9:36-41? At her death she was mourned because of the generosity she had shown to widows in making them tunics free of charge. This was a great act of kindness and charity.

Laundry was also very strenuous and time consuming. Usually the women carried their heavy garments to a stream with a swift current so the water could run through them. Another method was to place wet clothes on flat stones and pound the dirt out. If they used soap, it was what they had made themselves.

Cooking and baking consumed most of the day. Bread was the staple, eaten at every meal. It was considered the "life food." Every day the grain had to be ground into flour to make the bread. Using a saddle quern, they ground the grain stone to stone on their hands and knees. Later a hand mill was invented which allowed women to sit while crushing grain between two disc shaped stones. The main meal each day was at sunset, and it took most of the day to prepare. The fire would cook the food. It needed to be kept going all day, so wood had to be cut beforehand. Vegetables were the mainstay, but on special occasions meat would be prepared.

On an ordinary day, women would be busy baking bread, milking the goats, making cheese, gathering wood, cleaning, cooking, sewing, etc. You can see why raising girls would be a blessing to the mother because of the help they would be.

WOMEN AND THE WORSHIP OF GOD
Women in the Old Testament were exempt from attending the annual festivals (Ex. 23:17), though they were allowed to attend if they were able. (I Sam. 1:9, 21-22) Their responsibilities at home kept many from attending. So how did women worship God in the Old Testament?

1. They could serve at the door of the tabernacle. (Ex. 38:8)
2. They could take a Nazarite vow. (Num. 6:2)
3. They could hear the Word of God. (Neh. 8:2-3)
4. They could participate in music ministry. (Ex. 15:20-21)
5. They could prophesy. (Ex. 15:20-21; Judg. 4:4-7)

When comparing Jewish Law with Scripture, we find that the Jewish norm of restriction of women far exceeded God's design. The man-made Jewish laws were not divinely inspired and often reflected a wrong attitude toward women and their God-given abilities.

WOMEN IN NEW TESTAMENT TIMES
There were several social norms that were practiced in Jesus' day. These come from the Mishna and the Talmud.
1. Women were shunned in public social contact. The Mishna encouraged men not to engage in conversation with women because it would bring evil to them or cause them to be idle in the study of the Torah. (Mishna tractate Abot, 1,5) This applied first to the wife of a Jew, then to other women as well.
2. Women were forbidden to learn the Torah. The idea of women going to school where men learned was not even considered.
3. Women were restricted from orally communicating the Torah to others, even to children in the home or synagogue.
4. Women did not have the right to bear public witness in judicial cases. Josephus said that the testimony of women shouldn't be used because of the levity and boldness of their sex. (Antiquities 4, 219)

Now let us put aside the coldness of these previous writings and turn to what Jesus taught, which is refreshing to all who will listen and heed His Word.

In Israel My Glory it states:
"In His public teaching, Jesus never uttered a word of deprecation or humiliation regarding women. They never were the object of cruel jokes or criticisms, nor were they ever put down for being women. In His condemnation of adultery and divorce in Matthew 5:27-28 and 19:3-10, Jesus taught that women were not to be treated as sex objects. In His sermons, at least twice He used the example of a woman to rebuke the faithless men of His generation: the widow of Zarephath to the men of Nazareth, recorded in Luke 4:25-26, and the Queen of Sheba to the Pharisees, recorded in Luke 11:31. At least twice in His parables Jesus used a woman in a striking way to illustrate faith and determination: the persistent widow in Luke 18:2-8 and the woman searching for the lost coin in Luke 15:8-10.Jesus never uttered a word that would support the idea of treating women as intrinsically inferior to men. They were always honored in His teaching and never humiliated - a practice modern preachers should take note of and follow. In many churches today, women are subjected to some very cruel comments at their expense, something Jesus never did.It was not only in what He taught, but also in how He related to women publicly that Jesus displayed a truly revolutionary attitude - in the sense that He was overthrowing the wrong social conventions of His day." (Israel My Glory, p. 20)

THREE EXAMPLES OF WOMEN IN JESUS DAY
1. THE SAMARITAN WOMAN - John 4:4-42
She was extremely unacceptable, forbidden to be looked upon much less spoken to. Yet Jesus not only talked to her but also instructed her in the Word and revealed Himself as Messiah. This direct and public act would have been prohibited by the pious priesthood of that day. However, it was part of the plan for Jesus. The Jewish law was not His law. Jesus' disciples were appalled to find Him talking with this woman. Why? Because they were trained in Jewish tradition. Jesus came to correct their misconceptions with His grace!
2. THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN - John 8:1-11
This woman was brought to Jesus by some accusing Pharisees. They had completely ignored the guilty man also involved in the act, but they brought severe accusations against this woman. Jesus, having gently disapproved of her actions, instructed those with no sin to cast the first stone. All the accusers slowly disappeared. Jesus then instructed the woman to "go and sin no more" (v.8). Jesus deals tenderly with sin, offering forgiveness instead of harsh and hypocritical judgment.
3. MARTHA - Luke 10:38-42
Martha had much to do to prepare enough food for all her guests. (Remember the great detail of preparing food discussed previously.) Yet when she asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her, He gently rebuked Martha for her preoccupation with household duties. These tasks were important, but He knew that to get through the toils of daily life, Martha needed the food of the Word of God. Jesus was there to give the greater gift. Mary seized the moment; Jesus wanted Martha to do likewise. Jesus was not harsh or filled with contempt for Martha. His ways were tender and loving toward Martha, as they are toward us.

OTHER MATTERS OF INTEREST TO WOMEN
1. Women were the last ones at the cross of Christ.
2. Women were the first ones at the tomb of Christ.
3. A woman was the first person Jesus chose to speak to after His resurrection.

Mary Magdalene was a cleansed woman who was given the privilege of testifying for Jesus and the truth of His resurrection. Jewish rabbis did not think it was wise to trust women - Jesus did!

Jesus demonstrated spiritual attention to women. He saw the extreme neglect the teachers of His period promoted. In Luke 8:1-3, we see Jesus surrounded by women who were there to minister to His needs.

Looking back at the women in the life of Jesus, we see many different pictures. One woman cried tears of thanks at Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair. Other women told people about how Jesus raised their brother, son, or friend from the dead. Jesus was always pleased to accept the affections of women, while also moving them to repentance when needed.

CONCLUSION
Jesus demonstrated an attitude of spiritual equality toward men and women. At Pentecost the whole community of believers received power from God through Christ by the Holy Spirit. Both women and men prophesied, spoke in tongues, and were gifted for service. However, Jesus did not choose a woman to be one of His twelve disciples or an Apostle. This standard continued throughout the early church and was practiced by Peter and Paul.

In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul explains that the role of authoritative teaching in the church is the primary responsibility of men. This does not mean that women are left out of the area of teaching completely. Women are to teach other women for the purpose of godliness. The older godly women are to train the younger women in the way of faith and in being a role model in the home.

As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28-29: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave or free man, there is neither male or female; for You are all one in Christ Jesus and if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise."

To know God is to know His Word, every word, the whole counsel of God, the entire Scripture. We, as women, can be greatly encouraged to know that God loves us not because of our status in life but because of His grace, mercy, and love!

HOW BLESSED WE ARE TO BE CALLED HIS CHILDREN!

9 comments:

DA Wagners said...

I'm very excited about this Bible study. It goes straight to the point and uses lots of Biblical illustrations and verses. It only took me about 10 minutes to read it!

Web Bible Babes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DA Wagners said...

By the way, I'll be joining for the next six weeks!

DA Wagners said...

Oops! This is me, Alisa.

Christina Ketchum said...

I will also be doing the 6 week study. I am ready!!!!

Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to this study and the comments of others!

Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to this study and the comments of others.
Cindy Faulkner

The Ocker Family said...

Hey gals! A big shout out to Christina for organizing this, count me in!

Okay now for the discussion on this introduction… I have to admit that I was extremely saddened by the way women were treated during the Old Testament accounts and want us all to remember and PRAY for all those women who are still mistreated around the world today. We are so blessed to 1. be raised in our free country and 2. to be married to such wonderful Jesus-like men.

As far as the study I have a couple of comments.
1) THE SAMARITAN WOMAN - John 4:4-42: I disagree that the apostles were “appalled”… they simply had to let go of their old belief system (who doesn’t?) and as the passage stated they refrained from commenting to Jesus, which leads me to believe that they understood that Jesus was teaching them another lesson.
3) MARTHA - Luke 10:38-42: Jesus rocks w/ how he handled Martha v. Mary. He clearly taught us that the mundane (i.e. a perfectly clean house etc) can wait while we learn about our Lord. A good lesson to learn with ourselves and our girlfriends.

See you at the first lesson, Liette Ocker

Anonymous said...

I am always amazed at how tender our Lord is with women. I am blessed to have such a loving and generous God who practices equality and is a Feminist at heart. I pray that more men will act like our Lord and not like the Pharisees.
Cindy Faulkner