A plethora of books and articles already exist on various women of the OT- ranging from those incredibly faithful women held high as the feminine standard, to the Bad Girls of the Bible series. Allow me to briefly shine the spotlight on five incredible women from the Old Testament.
1. Long-suffering Leah
The title should say it all. Leah’s story is told in Genesis, beginning in chapter 29. Jacob worked for his uncle Laban for seven years in exchange for Rachel, the younger sister of Leah. Rachel is described as beautiful in form and appearance, while nothing more about Leah is given than a brief description of her “tender eyes”. The culture in which Leah lived was a difficult one in many ways, but especially for women. The custom was for the oldest to be given in marriage before the younger siblings, and Laban tricked Jacob at Leah’s expense to keep with customs. The result—Leah endured a marriage scarred by rejection. Yet, in the midst of her deep pain, God used her to bear six of the twelve sons who formed the tribes of Israel, as well as a daughter (Dinah).
2. Dynamic Deborah
Many of the women highlighted in the OT are known for the men they married; not so with Deborah. Deborah was a prophetess as well as the fourth judge and leader of the pre-monarchic nation of Israel. She sat in the hill country of Ephraim where the Israelites could go to her for wisdom and judgment. She is known for her accompaniment of Barak into battle against Sisera of Hazor (see Judges 4-5). No doubt she is one of the greatest female figures in Scripture. Deborah gives guidance to Barak, and in response he asks Deborah to go into battle with him. This depicts his esteem for Deborah, but because of his request she declares the glory of the battle to be given from the LORD to the hands of a woman. Her song following the battle is an exultation over the breaking of the Canaanite stronghold.
3. Ruth: The Identity Shift
Ruth was a Moabite woman who married one of Naomi’s sons. Naomi and her family were Israelites who moved to Moab because of the famine. In time, Naomi’s husband, as well as her two sons, died. Alone, she decided to return to her homeland and insisted her Moabite daughters-in-law remain in theirs. Ruth insisted on going with Naomi, making her infamous vow in 1:16, in which she gave her allegiance to Naomi, Judah, the people of Israel, and Israel’s God. This was a significant vow for many reasons, but especially because it signaled a shift in allegiance and identity on the part of Ruth. Ruth followed through on her vow and traveled with Naomi, settled with her in Bethlehem, and worked to provide for the two of them. Ruth was recognized for her love of Naomi and her strong character. She was grafted into the nation of Israel, provided for and redeemed, and bore the line of King David.
4. Hannah: Power of a Praying Woman
Hannah took prayer, and God, seriously. 1 Samuel opens with the narrative of Hannah returning to Shiloh with her husband, Elkanah, and his second wife, Peninnah, to worship at the tabernacle. Elkanah dearly loved Hannah, and showed special favor to her because she lacked children. For the same reason, her rival, Peninnah, was overtly cruel. Year after year they returned to worship; year after year Hannah prayed for a son. Hannah turned to God in her desperation, grief, and pain. Hannah continually returned to the tabernacle to pour out her heart to the LORD in prayer. On one particular occasion, Eli the priest observed Hannah praying. He accused Hannah of being drunk and chastised her. Hannah responded, informing Eli she had been praying from her heart, pouring out her anguish and deep grief to the LORD. Upon seeing her pain, Eli blesses her and sends her out in peace, praying her request may be granted. Reading on, we see Hannah was given a son, and she kept her vow to the LORD and gave Samuel over to Eli to be trained at the proper time.
5. Esther: “For Such a Time as This”
Esther, or Hadassah, lived during the reign of the Persian Empire. She rose to a place of influence as a result of the previous Queen’s refusal to be a trophy wife (see Esther 1). She was from the tribe of Benjamin and was an orphan; her cousin Mordecai raised her as his own daughter.
King Ahasuerus held a beauty contest where all of the beautiful, eligible, young maidens of the Persian realm vied for his attention and the crown. Each woman spent a year of preparation with equal time and access to all of the popular cosmetics and clothing. Each woman chose her attire and “look”, and the woman who won the King’s attention would be the new Queen. Esther only took what was advised to her, and she grew in favor of all who saw her. The King loved Esther more than all of the other women, and he made her Queen. According to the culture’s customs, the Queen would see the King only when he called for her; to enter his presence uninvited was dangerous and could be punishable up to death. Esther acted in great courage out of obligation and faith when she went before the King to plead for the Jews, her people. Her trust in her uncle and her faith in God prompted her to use her position and her voice, and the reward was saving a people.
These five women are by no means exhaustive; however, they are women whose lives continue to speak truth, wisdom, and encouragement to all who read them today. I encourage you to read each of their individual narratives