by Meanne M. Mijares
In the month of March, we celebrate International Women’s Day or Women’s Month. Through this article, I would like to pay homage to the strong and tough women in the Bible. Let us all learn from them together. From celebrated military heroes to prophets, there are many eminent figures in the Bible who are known for their strength and personality. While many think of men first when it comes to these sturdy figures, there are also a number of important women in the Bible who inspire, not only because of how they lived but also because of their steadfast faith, even in some of the hardest of incidents. Unfortunately, too often, women’s stories have taken only second place to the interests and needs of male Biblical writers and male leaders in Christian churches, but this didn’t mean their stories weren’t significant, especially in the eyes of God. By definition, a strong woman is fearless when it comes to facing tough challenges. They are confident in themselves and what they believe, and in their example of fearlessness, they embolden others to be brave and make a difference. Here are eleven of the most notable women in the Bible and what we can learn from them.
Mary, Mother of Jesus
Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus, commonly referred to as Mary, Mother of God, Saint Mary, Virgin Mary and Blessed Virgin Mary, is one of the most highly esteemed personalities in the Scriptures and considered by all to be the greatest of all Christian saints. She was a willing and humble servant who trusted God and obeyed His call. While her life held great honor, her calling also required great sacrifice and suffering. Though there was joy in motherhood, there was great pain in the privilege of being the mother of the Messiah. Notwithstanding these things, she responded to God with great obedience and surrender to His plan. Her life never deprived Jesus of His glory, for her mission was to behold the glory of the Son of God.
Ruth’s story draws and significantly challenges many women. She’s a widow from an enemy nation with no potentials. Yet, God moves so tremendously in her story and uses it to inspire millions of people. At the beginning of the book, Ruth is living in her home in Moab; a place and people that the Israelites scowled upon. On top of that, she had lost her husband and was living with her widowed mother-in-law. She was also left childless, some believing she may have been infertile. The pain Ruth must have been in was incalculable but she didn’t let her past to hold her back. Ruth showed astonishing faith for such a young believer. Faith that there was still a goal for her up ahead, faith to believe that God was who He said He was, and faith to believe that God would provide for her and Naomi. Her courage, faith and obedience can raise our spirits to be worthier followers of Christ.
Her inspiring story as a remarkable woman who is willing to risk her life to save her people was very uplifting! She was a figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary who saved us from sin and eternal damnation by giving birth to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Esther was a woman of principle who was willing to put the lives of others ahead above her very own life. She was a great example of serving others even under the most nerve-racking circumstances. Jesus Christ said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). Most of the time our lives may be routinary, but all of us have a few distinguishing moments when we may be called on to put godly values over personal gain. What will you do when you come across defining moments in your life? Esther reveals to all of us the sure way, and we can be moved by her example.
She was the most principal woman disciple in the ministry of Jesus and continues to be one of the most mysterious and controversial figures throughout religious history. She has been represented during the centuries in a number of ways, being considered as loose woman, Christ’s wife, wealthy, a chief disciple, adulterer and a feminist icon among other portrayals. Many popular depictions of Mary Magdalene don’t do her story justice or speak her truth as a true disciple of Christ. Though she has been reinterpreted over and over again, she remains a strong and mysterious figure. When Mary and the other women, along with the twelve joined Jesus, they were taking a serious gamble. Jesus was prompted into action after the arrest of John the Baptist. Much of John the Baptist’s ministry took place on the east bank of the Jordan in Herod’s territory of Parea. When John was imprisoned, Jesus took up his ministry in Herod’s territory of Galilee which was viewed by Herod, not only as a challenge but also a warning. Despite the risk, Mary Magdalene was committed to Jesus’ ministry.
She was the first woman on earth, first wife and the first mother. She is known as the “Mother of All the Living.” And even though these are rather notable accomplishments, little else is known about her. Like many worth mentioning mothers, even though Eve’s achievements were substantial, for the most part they were disregarded. We learn from Eve that women share in God’s image. Womanly qualities are part of the character of God. God’s purpose of creation could not be completed without the equal participation of “womankind.” Just like we learned from Adam’s life, Eve teaches us that God wants us to freely choose to follow and obey Him out of love. Nothing we do is hidden from God. Similarly, it does not profit us to blame others for our own weaknesses. We must accept personal responsibility and accountability for our actions and choices.
The inability to bear a child is a general subject in the Bible. In ancient times, infertility was considered a scandal. But time and again, we see these women having great faith in God, and God rewards them with a child. Elizabeth was such a woman. Both she and her husband Zechariah were old, she past child-bearing years, yet she gave birth through the grace of God. The angel Gabriel told Zechariah the news in the temple, then made him mute because he did not believe. Just as the angel foretold, Elizabeth conceived. While she was with child, Mary, the expectant mother of Jesus, paid her a visit. The baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy on hearing Mary’s voice. Elizabeth conceived to her son who became John the Baptist, the prophet who prophesied the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
The wedding of Rachel in the Bible was one of the most enthralling episodes recorded in the book of Genesis, a story of love prevailing over lies. Rachel stood by her husband during her father’s trickeries; every suggestion was that she loved Jacob deeply. Rachel gave birth to Joseph, one of the most important figures of the Old Testament, who saved the nation of Israel during famine. She also bore Benjamin, and was a faithful wife to Jacob. He loved Rachel fervently even before they were married, but Rachel thought, as her culture had taught her that she needed to bear children to merit Jacob’s love. The truth is, we don’t need to do good works to earn it. His love, and our salvation, comes through grace.
Her name means ‘stranger’. She originated from Egypt, never completely recognized into the tribe. The first theme of Hagar’s story is that nothing is impossible with God. God had promised Abraham he would be the father of many nations, so when Sarah became post-menopausal she looked for ways to make this doable. She did not trust in God enough to leave the matter in His hands. Sarah was unable to bear children, and so, following a common practice of the time. Sarah presented her servant to Abraham. When Hagar became pregnant, Sarah grew resentful and threw her out of their home. An angel found her alone in the desert. He promised a blessing on her child, naming him Ishmael, which means “God hears”. In response, Hagar declared: “You are the One who sees me.” Hagar returned to Abraham’s home, after 14 years, Sarah bore her own son and again, drove Hagar and Ishmael to leave. They go back to the desert. God again heard their cries. They endured and thrived. Ishmael sired an enormous nation as God had promised. Hagar characterizes women in the Bible who are left out or scorned. This might happen because they are childless in a society that valued mothers, as Sarah was at first or a slave in a tiered society, as Hagar was at first.
She is a daring and beautiful widow, who is distressed with her Jewish countrymen for not trusting God to release them from their foreign captors. She went to her house, out ashes on her hair as a sign of penance and prayed for a long time. Then, she put on her best clothes and was fully made up. She goes with her loyal maid to the camp of the enemy, Holofernes, a haughty general, with whom she slowly crawls herself, promising him information on the Israelites. Gaining his trust, she is allowed access to his tent one night as he lies in a drunken paralysis. She beheads him, then takes his head back to her frightful countrymen. The Assyrians, having lost their leader, scatter, and Israel is rescued. Though she is wooed by many, Judith stays single for the rest of her life. The lessons women can learn from her story are about:
- The nature of God. In Chapter 8 Judith reproaches the town officials for trying to make God in their own image It’s an incredible description of what God is and is not.
- Making the best of what you’ve got. She was not a soldier, but killed a formidable warrior. She did this by using the gifts she had: beauty, intelligence, and ruthless shrewdness.
- Ingenuity (and faith in God) are better than physical strength. Her story is a variation on the David and Goliath story, where a superficially feeble person prevails over a person of exceptional vigor.
She is a representation of the Jewish people, who depend on God’s help and their own capabilities to grip their enemies. They were enclosed throughout their history by vast and fearful kingdoms, but God stood by them when they cried for His help.
Martha and Mary of Bethany
If the 12 apostles and some of the women who supported Jesus’ ministry were traveling with him, preparing the meal would have been a most important job. Martha, like many hostesses, became nervous over impressing her guests. She has been compared to the Apostle Peter: practical, impulsive, and short-tempered to the point of rebuking the Lord himself while Mary is more like the Apostle John: reflective, loving, and calm. Even still, Martha was a remarkable woman and deserves considerable credit. It was quite rare in Jesus’ day for a woman to manage her own affairs as the head of the household, and especially to invite a man into her home. Welcoming Jesus and his entourage into her house implied the fullest form of hospitality and involved substantial generosity.
Martha seems to be the eldest of the family, and head of the sibling family unit. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, both sisters played a vital role in the story and their contrasting personalities are clear in this account as well. Although both sisters were upset and disappointed that Jesus did not arrive before Lazarus died, Martha ran out to meet Jesus as soon as she learned he had entered Bethany, but Mary waited at home. John 11:32 tells us that when Mary did finally go to Jesus, she fell at his feet weeping. Some of us tend to be more like Mary in our Christian walk, while others look like Martha. It’s likely we have qualities of both within ourselves. We may be inclined at times to let our busy lives of service distract us from spending time with Jesus and listening to his word. It’s significant to note, though, that Jesus gently admonished Martha for being “worried and upset,” not for serving. Service is a good thing, but sitting at Jesus’ feet is the best. We must remember what is the most important. Good works should stream from a Christ-centered life; they do not produce a Christ-centered life. When we give Jesus the attention He deserves, He empowers us to serve others. Let me ask you a few questions: Do you have your priorities in order? Like Martha, are you worried or anxious about many things, or, like Mary are you focused on listening to Jesus and spending time in His presence? Have you put devotion to Christ and His word first, or are you more concerned about doing good deeds?
She is one of the most encouraging women in the Bible and also one of the most recognizable women in Scripture for some reasons. We acknowledge her for her sorrow. She wanted a child so badly but was infertile. She prayed to God that she would be given a son and in turn, promised to pledge his life to the service of God. She was blessed with a son, named him Samuel and didn’t renege on her promise. She left her son to be reared in the Temple, while still staying tied to him, providing counsel and wisdom to him throughout his life. She is also recognized in the Bible for her sacrifice. She devoted her baby Samuel to the Lord and left him at the temple to serve God “all the days of his life” (1 Samuel 1:11). Her son later grew up to be one of the most influential prophets in the Bible. One of the most stirring things about Hannah is the fact that she never gave up hope that God would hear her prayer. Hannah’s story presents many vital lessons. First, she focused on God in prayer during her time of need. Second, she praised and thanked God when He did not answer her prayer immediately. Next, she kept her promise to the Lord, even though it must have been very hard and challenging. Finally, God blessed Hannah beyond what she had asked for. In the end, Hannah was not only the mother of Samuel but of three other sons and two daughters. Her story is a revelation and an encouragement to women struggling with infertility or other problems whether big or small in nature. Her attitude of prayer, trust and dependence on the Lord is a good and shining example for us today.
The Bible richly upholds the nobleness and worth of women, and many of its characters offer us with spiritual acumens and lessons through their lives. We can learn so much from these eleven women of the Bible in particular. These God-fearing women may have lived in completely different societies and times than us, but they can surprisingly school and train us a great deal, don’t you think?