I rummaged through books, chapters, and verses, searching for the three women who most accurately embodied women in leadership positions, and my results are as follows…
1. Deborah- Leadership
Regarded as the first true example of a woman in a ministerial position, Deborah challenged the widely accepted patriarchal government by stepping up to lead Israel in a time of desperation and oppression. Deborah, a prophet, led Israel in the Judges’ time period. She was commonly perceived as a fair person, and “the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided” (Judges 4:5 NIV). Then, she called for her second in command, Barak (who, may I point out, was a guy), and told him that “the Lord, the God of Israel commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor” (Judges 4:6 NIV). Let’s evaluate this passage real quick. Deborah gets to tell a guy what to do, which is a feat in itself, but she doesn’t do this in an arrogant fashion. She knows what she’s doing and she tells Barak what needs to get done in a precise, orderly manner, clearly exercising her authority, but not in a “bossy” way. She gets that God is the one in control and he has given her the opportunity to make Israel a better country, and lead them to victory. Then Barak says, “if you go with me, I will go, but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go” (Judges 4:8 NIV). Instead of abandoning him because he was being a little wimp, Deborah instead takes her place as a gracious leader, but warns Barak that because of his cowardice, “the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman” (Judges 4:9b NIV). When they get to the battlefield, Barak is once again a coward, but Deborah urges him forward, assuring him that the Lord has paved his way. The battle resulted in the opposing army of Sisera fleeing in terror and Israel emerging victorious (cue “We are the Champions”). Here, we arrive at the other heroine of the story: Jael. What I love about Jael is her challenging of gender stereotypes. Jael was a tent-pitcher, a line of work reserved for women, but what she did completely defied gender typecasts. After Sisera fled the battle field in hopes of survival, he came to Jael’s tent, begging for a drink and shelter. She willingly agreed, and returned with a glass of milk- along with a tent peg and hammer. She then proceeded to rather violently drive the tent peg through Sisera’s head into the ground, giving him one brutal death (
he deserved it. She didn’t act in a conventionally “feminine” way, but let’s be real, God cares more about us carrying out his will than conforming to socially constructed gender norms. Historians are unsure if the passage about “delivering Sisera into the hands of a woman” was referring to Deborah or Jael, but I’d like to think that it’s both. Both women were bold enough to defy gender stereotypes, and both women showed the passion necessary to glorify the Lord in all of their actions.
2. Mary- Perseverance
Yes, I realize that she is very well-known among the Christian community, but mostly for just being the mother of Jesus. I rather, will focus on her dedication to God’s will and her complete trust in Christ. As we all know, Mary was told she was pregnant at a very young age (historians claim she was about fourteen years old… let that sink in) despite still being unmarried. Instead of completely freaking out as most fourteen year olds would, she kept her calm and trusted God and her soon-to-be husband, Joseph. As the census required, she traveled all the way down to Bethlehem, over a 90 mile journey, on a donkey, a trip most likely taking about a week. And let’s not forget, she was pregnant while traveling. Once they arrived at Bethlehem, the Bible says “there was no guest room available for them” (Luke 2:7b NIV). Let’s stop and think about that for a second… ok so there was “no room in the inn,” but do you really think that Joseph would return home to his home town without any friends or relatives living there? Of course he had family living in Bethlehem, so why didn’t Mary and Joseph stay with them? Because she was pregnant. She was unmarried and pregnant. Joseph arrives expecting a warm welcome from his parents, but is instead greeted with judgmental looks and muttered disapproval. Joseph attempts to explain to his family what is going on, but before he has a chance to say anything, the door is slammed shut in his face. Now take a moment and put yourself in Mary’s shoes. You just traveled 90 miles to be here, but was instead publicly humiliated, and on top of that, now have no place to stay. But does Mary abandon God? Does she give up on Joseph? No. She carries on, trusting God will provide shelter for them and persevering until she has carried out His plan. Soon they arrive at an old stable, abandoned by everything but a few lonely barn animals. Mary, about to give birth, does not complain about the conditions, but rather focuses on carrying out the task God had set for her. Despite having the right to be tired and upset, Mary shows astounding humility, realizing that she has carried out the will God had for her, setting an example for all of us.
3. Esther- Courage
Rightly cited as one of the most influential women in the Bible, Esther is the embodiment of courage and an excellent advocate for confidence. Okay, quick recap: Esther was a common Jewish woman selected by King Xerxes to be his wife- after he had sent his previous wife into exile for not coming when he commanded her to, thereby making him the husband of the year. She grew up as a lowly peasant, and was watched over by her uncle, Mordecai, because both of her parents had died. Once chosen to become a contestant in Xerxes’ own little version of The Bachelor, she was given a life of luxury, but “had not revealed her nationality and family background” in fear of his disapproval (Esther 2:10 NIV). Do you see the recurring theme? The influence of society’s approval, aka, the fear of not being accepted for who you are. Anyways, after going to see the king, she was chosen as his wife, and there was this huge party with lots of eating and stuff. Meanwhile, Mordecai was chillin’ at the king’s gate when Haman, the king’s right hand man (that creepy sidekick guy) walked by and was all “kneel to me or you die” and Mordecai was like “no” so Haman was like “fine whatever, I’ll just kill all your people (the Jews).” In an attempt to stop the genocide of thousands of innocent people, Mordecai sought out Esther and told her what went down. He convinced her to go to the King and beg for justice against Haman. So Esther extended an invitation to the King and to Haman to join her for dinner. This little act may not seem like much, but back then, women had
very few zero rights. Esther, a woman, requesting to be in the presence of the king without being summoned was an unthinkable and often fatal act. If the king was in a bad mood because his favorite goat was slaughtered for sacrifice, then Esther would die. If Esther spoke one wrong word, she would die. If the king chose to do so, he could have Esther killed right there on the spot for simply asking, no questions asked. Knowing all of this, Esther decided to ask him anyway. She decided that the wellbeing of her people was more important than her own, and she was willing to risk everything to bring this matter to her king’s attention. That is no small feat. Fortunately, the king accepted her invitation. But this whole time, Haman was still mad at Mordecai for not bowing so he decided to have him impaled (as if wiping out his entire race weren’t enough), and he had a thirty cubit long rod (a reeeeealllly long pole) set up in his backyard. At the feast, Esther, risking her safety yet again, called out Haman for conspiracy of murder in front of the king, probably using really big, fancy words and looking great doing it. The king was obviously furious (scholars report there was steam coming out of his ears) and was thinking of a punishment when he ironically remembered that super big pole just chilling in Haman’s backyard. “The king said, ‘Impale him on it!’ So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai.” If you ask me, Haman had it coming #karma. Long story short, Esther is totally awesome and an incredible role model for her humble bravery and standing up for her community.
As a result, I feel as though I have bettered my knowledge of the women of the Bible, and I’ve gained so much inspiration from their stories. They’ve set an example for Christian women throughout the ages, and have called into question the socially accepted gender typecasts so often seen today. Mary signifies the strength and perseverance a woman can use to come out on top against all odds. Esther embodies the courage and confidence a woman can use to be successful. Deborah and Jael prove that women can do anything just as well as men, and that society’s perception of women does not define us. I think we could all learn a lesson or two from these leading, perseverant, courageous, wise women.