(Originally featured in Arizona City Independent Edition, June 19, 2002)
With recent world events focused on Afghanistan, especially the barbaric treatment of women by Muslim fundamentalists in that region, it's easy to forget that in our own society some people have used certain Bible verses to try to convince women that their sole purpose in life is to keep their husbands happy and bear and raise their children.
To support this limited view, these people not only take verses out of context but also ignore great parts of the Bible. A closer look at the way women are portrayed in the Bible, especially in the context of Hebrew society in Biblical times, will dispel this narrow concept that some have of a woman's role in society.
The story of Deborah in the fourth and fifth chapters of Judges is the best example of a liberated woman who enjoyed both a good marriage and a career that gave her a high position in her society, apparently with God's approval. Though married to Lapidoth, Deborah was a judge and a prophet. To serve in the former capacity, she needed the respect of the people, both men and women, as well as her peers, the other judges of Israel; and she could not function as a prophet without God's blessing.
Prophets received messages from God, then reported them to others. Most of the Hebrew prophets were male, but Deborah's role as a prophet was no less vital than that of any man, considering the fact that one of her most important divine messages involved plans for and the outcome of a major battle between the Israelites and one of their enemies. Barak, as a high officer in the Israelite army, accepted her words with the same weight as if they'd come from God through a man. Barak even trusted her abilities enough to insist she accompany him into battle at his side.
Deborah's role as a judge proved her liberated status in the Hebrew patriarchal system. This married woman served in the position of the highest administrator of the nation, for that was exactly what the Hebrew judges were. Remember, both Moses and Joshua were judges. From their day until the reign of Saul, the Israelites were led by judges, at least one of whom was a married woman, Deborah. This arrangement occurred with the full approval of the people of Israel, and God Himself. So women today cannot be thwarting God's plan by using their talents to work outside the home, even in high-level positions.
Jesus himself encouraged both men and women to use all their talents for the glory of God (Matthew 25:14-30). The word we use today to mean personal abilities derived from the ancient Greek term for a particular unit of money, so the parable of the talents can be understood to mean that each of us has a responsibility to use and expand our personal skills as if they were units of wealth.
In an earlier chapter of the book of Matthew, Jesus encouraged his listeners to let their lights shine before the world (Matthew 5:15,16). It's important to note here that a great number of Jesus' disciples were women, and when he shared these lessons with his listeners, he did not limit his message merely to men, but he applied them to everyone. If each person's talents are God-given, then everyone, including women, should show their lights to the world by using, and increasing, their talents, as Jesus instructed all his disciples to do.
In the next article, I explain another Biblical example of the Israelite "superwoman," the "good wife" or "virtuous woman" of the Book of Proverbs. These examples show us that before we point fingers at oppression in other countries, we must do our best to prevent similar abuses from being directed against people right here in our own country (Matthew 7:1-5).