From “Weaker Vessel” to “Foundation”: The Story of Priscilla

Recently I was involved in a conversation with a gentleman regarding Biblical femininity and the role of woman in the framework of a “Christian” (read: Abrahamic religion) schematic for gender relations. Simply put: He suggested women were the weaker gender and as such, were not designed by God, or permitted by “correct” church dogma, to present, preach or teach the gospel. The primary crux of his argument was based on the scriptures in 1 Peter 3:7 (which often refers to wives as the “weaker vessel”) and 1 Timothy 2:12 (“suffer not a woman to each…”). My argument was, in short, “Nuh-uh!” primarily based on the fact that it is my nature, when told I cannot or should not do something, I immediately do it twice and take pictures.

Weaker-Vessel-ll.jpgPhoto Credit: Morely Moellentine “Weaker Vessel II”

Once my knee-jerk response of opposition had passed, I began to think about Biblical examples of women from Christian faith and tradition that were considered lauded in both the annals of Church history and as examples of Godly femininity. One of the first that came to mind, especially in light of the references to 1 Timothy 2:12, was Priscilla. Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, was a friend and co-worker of the Apostle Paul. We don’t know a lot about Priscilla, but we do know that she was instrumental in the spread of the gospel and the building up of the Church during her association with Paul the Apostle. This alone suggests that Paul did not necessarily hold the view that women were the weaker gender, nor did he believe they should not be instrumental in teaching.

Prisca who?

Prisca was the given name for Priscilla (Priscilla being a pet name, or nickname) that has come to mean “venerable.” Technically, “Prisca” is the feminine Latin derivation of the name “Priscus,” which means “old, venerated.” Prisca was believed to be a name that bestowed long life upon the bearer, and has many derivations in modern language, primarily Priscilla (English), Piroska (Hungarian), Prissy/Cissy/CeCe (English/Italian) and Priscille (French). To understand why Prisca/Priscilla was so aptly named, we must look at what we know about her.

Priscilla is almost always referred to along with her husband Aquila. However, unlike most Biblical couples, her name is always mentioned before her husband’s, which suggests she had some stature and influence. When we read about Priscilla and Aquila, it’s easy to see that she tended to take the lead. She was generally a woman of action and was the “mover and shaker” of the two. Priscilla was also a tent-maker. She wasn’t the wife of a tent-maker – she, herself, was a tent-maker that worked alongside her husband in a profitable business, first in Rome, and then in Corinth (when she and her fellow Jews were expelled from Rome by the Emperor). The fact that she was a successful tent-maker in a port city that didn’t have a vast need for tents also says something about her business intellect and prowess. Not only was she a successful business woman and tent-maker, she was a hospitable host. When Paul arrived in Corinth from Athens, he arrived penniless and in need of shelter and a way to support himself. It was in Corinth he met Priscilla, who offered him a job and a place to stay.

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As Paul worked alongside Priscilla and her husband in a city known for its licentiousness, he found dedicated and faithful friends, lacking in the corruption and licentious behavior all around them. Their friendship and faith formed between them a bond, and a devotion – a bond strong enough that when Paul left Corinth for Syria, Priscilla and Aquila followed. Priscilla was a faithful and devoted friend, and devoted to the spread of the gospel.

When a woman leads your church…

When Paul, Priscilla and Aquila arrived in Ephesus, the opted to stay for a bit. Paul reasoned in the synagogue, and made his name and message known, but eventually left for Jerusalem. Priscilla stayed behind, continuing to tell anyone she could about the Gospel of Christ – no small feat in a town steeped in the religious and philosophical cult of Artemis. The Temple of Artemis was housed in Ephesus, and the worship in her temple was ardent and widespread. The economy of the city was based heavily in the worship of Artemis. Yet, Priscilla was unwavering and began holding christian meetings in her home, inviting worshipers of Jesus and those curious about conversion alike. The Church at Ephesus began to thrive, eventually becoming one of the stronghold Churches in the region. In fact, Ephesus was one of the Churches addressed in the Book of the Revelation, cited as being strong and prosperous. This can be directly attributed to the leadership of Priscilla.

In fact, Apollos, who was known for successfully debating and converting Ephesians from Artemis to Jesus, was educated by Priscilla at her home in Ephesus on the baptism of the Spirit. She instructed him in religious matters on which he was ignorant. (One should not permit a woman to teach, you say?).

Honor in the Midst of Farewells

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Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, greeting them “warmly,” reiterating the close bond between them, and the place that Priscilla holds in his heart and ministry, along with Aquila. Later on, we hear Priscilla’s name again – This time in a letter written by Paul while he was imprisoned just before his execution by the Roman Emperor Nero. In this letter (2nd Timothy) we get Paul’s sort of farewell greeting, and final message to the converts and believers he leaves behind. Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned specifically, conveying his greetings before being executed. It is clear that the vigorous hand of provision and friendship extended by Priscilla to Paul when they met in Corinth never wavered, and that love and friendship he remembered and cherished at the end of his days, as it provided comfort.

What does Priscilla teach us about our own feminine function and value?

Priscilla is a prime example of what kindness coupled with boldness can do. Priscilla used her status, her talents, and her intelligence to make bold moves and strong bonds in the furtherance of Christian love and the message of the Gospel. She never waved from instructing and teaching those around her all that she knew of Jesus – his mission, his message and the hope of salvation through him. Priscilla led the charge. From her, we learn that we do not have to be shrinking violets when called to do the good work of Jesus Christ, and we serve well when we serve with love, loyalty and friendship.

Father God, teach us to love like Prisca loved. May we extend the hand of friendship and loyalty, as well as the message of redemption and love we find in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. May Priscilla be our constant example of leading the charge where spreading your love and hope is concerned.  AMEN.

 

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Dead Women Do Tell Tales: The Story of Dorcas

Have you ever really studied or looked at a gazelle? A type of antelope, a gazelle is equated with delicate agility and speed. Gazelles are often softly colored and elegant in appearance. The eyes of the roe-deer are also spoken of as being particularly soft, gentle and lovely. In the scriptures, the gazelle is equated with grace and soft beauty. One look at the creature and it is easy to understand why.

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In Acts 9, beginning in the 36th verse, we read the story of another type of gazelle. This “gazelle” was a well-known and well-loved disciple of Christ in the early church who lived in Joppa, and in the 36th verse of the chapter, we learn her name is Tabitha (or in Greek, “Dorcas”). In the Aramaic and Greek both, the name given to this disciple means “gazelle,” and as we begin to learn a little more about Dorcas, we understand why she was so aptly named.

Joppa was Dorcas’ home, and was a major port city – a hub of business and shipping – and had a bustling population. (Joppa is now known as modern-day Tel Aviv, and is still a major city and financial center.) As with most major cities, there was a portion of the population that was not served by the city’s profitable trade and business. It was these “people of the cracks,” mostly widows, that Dorcas served, and who loved Dorcas so deeply. Dorcas had been gifted with a talent for weaving and sewing, and using that talent, she was able to share the love and message of the Christ she held so dear with those who needed it most.

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Dorcas was “always doing kind things for others and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36), and when she fell ill, those that she had served and that had experienced the love of Christ through her, called for another disciple, Peter, to come to her bedside.

When Peter arrived at the home of Dorcas, he was greeted by weeping and mourning. Dorcas had died, and the widows she’s cared for and with whom she’d so graciously shared the love of Christ, were tenderly touching the garments she’d sewn for them. They showed Peter tangible gifts of Dorcas’ divine love and wept for the loss of this wonderful woman.

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As the rest of the story goes, Peter removed the mourners from the room, and knelt to pray, after which he spoke and said, “Tabitha, arise.” Peter’s words awakened the woman from the dead and returned her to the work of caring for the “people of the cracks.” Because of the miracle, many more in Joppa came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

Just like the gazelle for which she was named, Dorcas was swift – swift to aid those in need. She was graceful – elegantly using her means to provide for those who’d otherwise have gone naked or hungry. She was beautiful – in action and word she offered beauty to all those around her. Dorcas was quick and agile – quick to fulfill the commandment in Zechariah 7:10 (“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor”) and agile in her spinning and sewing of garments to clothe the needy.

The legacy of Dorcas is one that remains even today. There is a type of gazelle that still roams the hills around modern Tel Aviv (ancient Joppa) that is called the Dorcas gazelle. Among the modern-day church there are “Dorcas Societies” that are ministries designed for aid to the poor. There is also a memorial in the local “Tabitha School” in Jaffa that is devoted to the care and education of young, poor girls.

It is interesting to note that, in the account of the death and resurrection of Dorcas, both her Hebrew and Greek (Gentile) name is used. Peter calls her “Tabitha” – a nod to her Hebrew heritage and designation as one of God’s chosen disciples. When speaking of her surrounded by those who she’d loved and served, the author of the story calls her Dorcas – a nod to her name as she would’ve been called by the Gentiles. Does this dichotomy point to the coming vision of Peter that indicates God means salvation for both Jew and Gentile? Hebrew and Greek?

As women of faith ourselves, what do we learn from Dorcas? Certainly, we learn to exude grace and generosity. We learn to offer hands and heart to those who need it most. But, perhaps one of the most important tales told by the dead woman called Dorcas is that our legacy of love is what calls souls to Christ. It is the works of our hands done in genuine care for other human beings, not the eloquence of quoted scriptures or chiding to turn from sin to righteousness, that creates disciples. Dorcas reminds us to love extravagantly and freely, and to love, especially, those that others say are unloveable.

Dead Women DO Tell Tales, and the tale told by Dorcas was simply this: LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Categories: Bible, Christlikeness, faith, Grace, Love, Women of faith, Women of the Bible | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dogs and Demoniacs: The Story of the Syrophoenician Woman

 There’s a bothersome little story found nestled among the miracles and parables of the 7th Chapter of Mark about a gentile woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon that sought Jesus for a miracle. It’s bothersome because, on the surface, it paints Jesus as harsh and non-inclusive – which, let’s admit it, does not fall into the narrative of a loving Messiah. It’s bothersome because it doesn’t feel to go think of Jesus as harsh. It’s bothersome because we don’t get butts in the pew, or people in the line at the fellowship pot-luck with stories of Mean Jesus.

The problematic part of the chapter is wrapped up neatly in a ribbon of 6 verses (24-30), and contains the story of a pagan woman seeking the Christ to heal her daughter from demonic affliction. As the story goes, Jesus ignored her and, when he finally did respond to her screaming, calls her a dog because she is a gentile and a pagan, and asks why he should waste his healing miracles on a mongrel. See the problem? The Gospel doesn’t feel comfortable with tales of Jesus of the Sharp Tongue.

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To call a woman seeking his healing for a child a dog feels, well, wrong. It seems like a pretty harsh response for a woman simply begging for mercy for her daughter. That’s not conducive to an image of a kind, smiling Messiah. It points more to a rude, and kind of racist, Christ. No wonder the story of the Syrophoenician woman wasn’t one about which we sung songs in Sunday School.

The idea that “He who died so that none should perish” would greet a woman begging for the life of her child with the insult of “dog”, is antithetical to the message of loving, gentle, compassionate Christ the redeemer; especially in a society such as ours where women’s rights and racial equality are considered godly virtues. Needless to say, a cursory glance at this story seems to yield exactly zero points to be made about Christian virtues. Why would the Apostle Mark include it in his telling of the gospel? I mean, what is a woman of faith supposed to learn from a story about a frantic mother and a Meanie Jesus? How are we supposed to be Christlike women based on lessons learned from the desperate mother and the ostensibly un-Christlike Christ?

Just like every other “problematic” story in the Bible, it’s important that we begin by looking deeper than the 6-verse telling of the exorcism of a Gentile child at the behest of her desperate and insulted mother. All of the uncomfortable parts of the gospel are nestled in the bigger picture of surrounding scripture and cultural reference, and the lesson of the Syrophoenician woman is no different.

Prior to Jesus’ arrival to the region of Tyre and Sidon, and his abrupt interaction with the Syrophoenician woman, he had been traveling from Nazareth, to the Sea of Galilee and Gennesaret performing miracles, feeding multitudes, walking on water, and calling the Pharisees out for their hypocrisy. In this particular case, as Jesus and the 12 were in Jerusalem, some of the Pharisees observed one of the 12 eating with unwashed hands. They asked Jesus why his followers did not adhere to the tradition of the elders but instead ate with defiled hands.

Jesus responded with a passage from Isaiah:

This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
 in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

He continued to scold, admonishing them for failing to keep commandments while simultaneously scoffing at those who did not adhere to religious tradition. “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him,” he said. “But the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

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This brazen admonishment laid out a very clear message that the line between Jew and Gentile was blurred in the eyes of the Lord. In effectively, restated scripture from 1 Samuel 16:7, “…For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Holiness is not by birth or religious practice. It is found the heart of the doer. This is an important point to remember when re-reading his encounter with the Syrophoenician just a few verses later in the chapter.

After the chastisement of the Pharisees, Jesus left Jerusalem, bound for the Syrophoenician region near Tyre. His journey there was part of a continued effort to find some solace from the throngs that had pursued him everywhere he’d gone – to find peace  from the crowds of people begging for miracles, or a simple touch, or just a glimpse of the miracle man people were calling the Son of God. Jesus was tired, and after blurring the theological lines between Jew and Gentile with the Pharisees in Jerusalem, he blurred the geographical lines by retreating to a Gentile region to seek respite. It was here that he was found by the pagan woman seeking a miracle. She had sought him out.

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So here, in the 25th verse, we find a weary, line-blurring Christ, beset upon by a desperate pagan mother who has fallen to his feet, and begun wailing for mercy. She begs for him to cast the tormenting spirit out of her daughter, and Jesus simply responds by telling her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” He looked at this desperate woman’s tear-stained face, and basically told her she wasn’t a “child,” but a mongrel dog.

This is the part of the story that Biblical scholars desperate to preserve the image of a compassionate Christ often throw in the qualifier that the word or “dog” used by Jesus was the Greek kunarion, meaning “little dog” or “puppy” and as a result it was not an insult, but rather, simply diminutive. The problem with that assertion, however, lies in the fact that Jesus did not speak Greek, but rather Aramaic. While the work for “dog” used in our current translation of the scriptures may have been Greek, it would’ve been added by a Greek redactor. To Jesus, an Aramaic speaking Jew, a dog was a dog, and the term was not really considered a friendly one.

So, where does this leave us in our quest for a redemptive, inclusive Christ? Simple. We look to context.

You see, Jews didn’t keep dogs as pets. Dogs were considered scavengers – filthy mongrels that roamed the streets and ate whatever refuse or scraps they could find. They were defiled, and impure. They were dirty, like the hands of the disciples that had eaten in Jerusalem just a few hours before.

But, gentiles, especially those from the region from where this woman hailed, did keep dogs as pets. Their mutts were familial companions that often sat at the feet of the children, the most precious members of the household.

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These little dogs were loved by the masters of the house, and were granted the scraps from the family table, rather than being relegated to dig through the garbage outside.

Jesus had just blurred the lines between Jew and Gentile with a chastisement of Pharisees about unclean, defiled hands and hearts, and now, as he called this woman a dog, he blurred them again.

No doubt she’d heard of the multitude of miracles Jesus had performed for his own people prior to seeking refuge in Gentile lands. Jesus had just fed 5000 of them with miraculous loaves and fishes. She understood that, in the “feast” of ministry and healings he’d provided the Jews, for her to ask for this one miracle on behalf of her daughter was merely a “crumb” from his table. She understood Jesus had come as the Christ, the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy of the Jews, and she had no intention of changing that mission and purpose. She simply asked for the “scraps.”

His disciples, as usual, did not understand, but she did, and she answered in such a way as to let him know that she understood. She answered Jesus, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

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Jesus had sought rest in foreign, Gentile lands, weary from the constant pull of his “children” begging for his touch. Yet, here, where he was supposed to find rest, he found a woman patient woman, desperate for just a taste of his goodness, and willing to wait for whatever scrap he would give.

Jesus called her a dog – an insult among the Jews, but to this desperate Gentile woman, it was a term of endearment, a gesture of love. She understood that, and she responded. Jesus, in turn, gave her what she needed. “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.”

This moment was a turning point in Mark’s gospel, and the worst nightmare of the Pharisees come true. The boundaries between Jew and Gentile, the Chosen and the Rejected, had been examined and found wanting. This “unclean” gentile woman had effectively opened the door to Jesus for all those that had been separated by religious tradition and practice. Unclean no longer meant certain condemnation. It was he heart that Jesus saw, not the race, gender or creed.

So, what do we, as Christian women, learn from this “dog” in Mark 7?

We learn to listen to the voice and word of Jesus when he speaks to us. The Syrophoenician didn’t hear the insult in his statement to her, she heard the love, and she responded accordingly.

We learn to be patient.  She didn’t leave when Jesus told her he’d been sent to the Jews. She patiently waited for his mercy.

We learn to be bold, while still being humble. To call this woman a dog was apt, because like the dog that edges boldly to the table at meal time, she was courageous in her approach. But, like a dog that sits waiting for the “good stuff” from the meal spread out before the family, she waited, with humility, for a taste.

We learn to stand in the gap for our children and our loved ones. The Syrophoenician woman understood societal constructs that forbade, or at least frowned upon, her seeking out Jesus. Yet, her mother’s heart – the love and devotion for her precious one that was under torment – was steadfast. She stood boldly against evil as she sought mercy and healing for her daughter.

Oh, Jesus… Help me, like the Syrophoenician Woman, to boldly seek your touch with humility and grace. May I not find offense when you speak to me with a sharp tongue, but instead hear the love you give when others simply hear the offense. Help me to be patient in waiting, and diligent in seeking you for myself, and for my loved ones. Help me to have the heart of a dog in waiting for your voice: gentle, patient, expectant.

Thank you, precious Jesus, for never failing to open your kingdom, even to the “dogs.”  Amen. 

Categories: Courage, faith, Hope, Patience, Women of the Bible | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Random Music Playlists: The Story of Joanna

November’s “Woman of the Bible” is Joanna, who’s spoken of sparingly, primarily in Chapter 8 of Luke’s Gospel. It’s unfair to say that Joanna is an uninteresting study, but it’s not entirely unfair to suggest that the majority of the discussion and details surrounding the wife of Chuza is, well, predictable let’s say.

Joanna’s story can be summed up in two short sentences. Joanna was a wealthy wife to a member of Herod’s court that became a disciple of Jesus when he healed her of an unspecified infirmity. Jesus rewarded her faith and she became one of the first witnesses to his resurrection. Any student of the stories of faith, particularly surrounding women of the Christian faith, have heard the same “moral of the story” a billion times: “Life’s hard. Hang tough. Jesus will reward you.” It’s a good moral to hang on to, but it doesn’t make for a particularly refreshing message when it’s been heard over and over again. That makes it very difficult for someone charged with leading a discussion on Joanna (read: yours truly) to make it interesting enough to spark new insight.

I won’t lie. I was not looking forward to this month’s discussion and even less so when it came to putting the study down in written form. I’m no quitter, though, so I assembled as much information I could and waited until the very last-minute to try to put it all together. I securely situated a comfortable pair of ear buds into my ear canal, queued up my (very random) music playlist and sat down to assemble my study into some sort of organized chain of thoughts.

I actually spent probably the first hour of that “work time” dancing to Bon Jovi, lip-syncing to Whitesnake, strutting to Uptown Funk, and belting out Stay with Dave Matthews. I won’t discuss how much time I spent getting old school with Eminem and Salt ‘n’ Pepa. I mused to myself at the oddity in my random playlist. My music tastes are, well, different. I am not a single-genre kinda gal. I just like what I like, even if no one else understands.

brunohandwiggle-1417448722(source: mtv.com Bruno Mars)

I tried to center myself and think, compose and comprise the lessons to be learned from “Joanna, wife of Chuza” as the Cranberries belted out Go Your Own Way, but I simply could not make my brain focus on the business at hand when artists from the last 4 decades were beckoning me to get up and feel the music. Honestly, Aerosmith was doing a better job holding my attention than a few verses from the Holy Tome touting the benefits of unshakeable faith – a lesson I’d heard over, and over again.

As it usually happens, though, the holy found its way in through the funky, and soon enough there was an epiphany in the story of Joanna as covered by Los Lonely Boys. As the upbeat melody of “Heaven” rang in my ears, and I swayed in my chair to the beat, I racked my brain over the narrative of Luke 8. I thought about Joanna’s history and her discipleship to the Christ, and suddenly the lyrics of the song caught my attention.

Save me from this prison
Lord, help me get away
‘Cause only you can save me now
from this misery

Something clicked and suddenly, Joanna’s story begged to be reviewed, told by the electric guitar and bass drum singing the Santana-esque melody.

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Joanna was married to the steward of the household of Herod Antipas. Basically, her husband was the CFO of Herod Enterprises. He was a big-wig in the kingdom. The union between herself and Chuza was a profitable one, because Joanna was a woman of means in her own right. She was the granddaughter of Theophilus ben Ananus, one of the most wealthy and influential Jewish high priests during the 1st century. He was also the brother-in-law to Joseph Caiaphus (who organized the plot to kill Jesus).  She was well-connected, and well-known.

Being married to Chuza, Joanna would’ve heard the chatter about this man Jesus amongst the halls in the palaces of Herod. She would’ve been familiar with the beheading of John the Baptist by Herodias, and of his proclamations of Jesus as messiah. Being the granddaughter of a high priest, and the grand-niece of the high priest that was so outraged by Jesus, she likely would’ve heard all the stories told of miracles and healings he’d performed. Joanna knew who Jesus was, and these stories would’ve tickled her ears because Joanna suffered from an ailment that no one had been able to cure as of yet.

Illnesses and ailments during the 1st century in Galilean society would’ve been handled first by those in the home that had a knack for nursing the sick. If the disease or sickness proved to be too much for the family caretakers, then the patient would’ve sought out the physician-priests. Often more severe illnesses were attributed to demons or evil spirits – especially mental illnesses – so a priest would’ve sought to heal body and spirit. Joanna was unable to be healed by anyone she sought out for help. So, upon hearing of this miracle healer, Jesus, she sought him out. And, as he did for many patients that were hopeless and who’d already reached the last resort, Jesus healed Joanna.

Joanna, in turn, became a devoted disciple of this Nazarene that claimed he was the Son of Yhvh.

This was not a small act.

 Joanna’s privilege came from a place that held at least animosity, and at most a death wish, for Jesus. Her great-uncle was, at this point, already beginning to plot the destruction of this “heretical” Nazarene. She lived in the palaces and courts of Herod Antipas, whose wife had just had removed the head of the prophet preaching Jesus’ divinity. Joanna took the wealth and privilege she had and used it to finance the very man everyone else in her life was seeking to destroy.

I thought about Joanna as the words of Heaven continued to play:

‘Cause I know there’s a better place
than this place I’m livin’.
How far is heaven?
And I just got to have some faith
And just keep on giving.
How far is heaven?
Yeah, Lord, can you tell me?
How far is heaven?

Joanna, like my random playlist, was an oddity. She was different from all those that surrounded her. Joanna knew what she needed. She knew where her soul found beauty and joy, and what made her dance, and she took all she had and gave it to the Messiah that brought those things to her injured body and spirit. Joanna had found a bit of Heaven on earth, and she danced as his disciple all the way to his tomb. She carried the linens and myrrh that would anoint the body of the Christ – the same Christ whose death her family members had orchestrated, and as she approached the tomb, she discovered it empty. She was one of the first to witness the death of death.

Farzana Dua Elahe Is Joanna

St. Joanna, the myrrh-bearer, may we never forget your example of sacrifice, of devotion, and of adoration. May we, as women of faith, sing our songs and dance our random dances so that all who see the difference in our lives and visage would ask the source of our song. Lord, may we always be willing to step away – to be different – and to cling to you despite the cost so that we may see Your blessed face in Heaven.

Tú que estás en alto cielo,
Échame tu bendición

[You, who are in high heaven,
Send me down your blessing]

Categories: Bible, Christian living, Courage, faith, Hope, joy, Uncategorized, Women of faith, Women of the Bible | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Power of Nameless Women: The Story of the Sinner and the Sick

There are a vast number of characters in our Biblical narratives that remain unnamed. These characters are often skimmed over in our study of the stories in which they are contained, the emphasis on their part in the story exchanged instead for the “bigger picture” of the story’s moral. I have learned, however, that all too often it is in His interaction with these nameless, that the depth of God’s character is most clearly revealed. Not only His character, but the characteristics He values in those He loves.

During our study of Women of the Bible (Spangler & Syswerda,©2010) we have come across a few women for which this has proven true. Two of the most powerful stories, however, come from the story of two women found in Luke’s gospel. One of these women was known only as “sinful,” and the other known only as the “bleeding.” Both were called “unclean” although be it for very different reasons.

In Luke, Chapter 7, we read the story of Jesus taking dinner with Simon the Pharisee. This came shortly after the Christ had spoken of John the Baptist, giving the crowds a reprimand for failing to see a prophet, and subsequently, a messiah standing before them. Simon invited Jesus to his home for a meal, it would seem, to vet his holiness – to test the claims of some as to his divinity and holiness. Being a Pharisee (from the Hebrew pārūš), Simon was expected to be separate from the rest of sinful society, and to maintain a distinct position of perceived holiness as example to others in Jewish society.  Simon would’ve also been responsible to dissuade others from following those deemed to be false prophets. It was on this premise we assume Christ reclined at Simon’s table.

In the 36th verse of the 7th chapter, we read about an unexpected, and unwelcome, visitor arriving at Simon’s home. This nameless visitor was known about the region as a “sinful woman.” Although her specific “sin” was not mentioned in the text, the assumption is commonly held that she was a prostitute. Regardless of what life circumstances or personal choices had made her the recipient of that title, to say Simon was horrified at her appearance at his home would be an understatement. To suggest that the nameless sinner woman was horrified at walking into a Pharisee’s home to see the man called “messiah” would be a more drastic understatement than the first.

 Despite her fear of rejection, the unnammed sinful woman goes into the home, and immediately kneels at Jesus’ feet, breaking open an alabaster jar of aromatic ointment and anointing his feet.

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The story continues on with Jesus addressing Simon, chastising him in the form of a parable both for his disdain of this woman, and his doubt that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Of course the point of the story is that with great forgiveness comes great love, and with great love comes great sacrifice and devotion. The woman, however, and her significance are often over-looked in favor of “the point.”

In Luke, chapter 8, we see a story of Jesus and another unnamed woman. Much like the Unnamed Sinful Woman in Luke 7, the Unnamed Woman in Chapter 8 was an outcast. Although the reasons for her sequestration and ostracization were for different reasons, the result was the same. Nobody wanted to see her coming.

The woman in Luke 8 was a woman that had, for 12 long years, suffered a bleeding disorder. The text does not specify the type of bleeding she’d suffered, but the word used in the Septuagint in this story is the same as the one used to indicate menstrual flow. So, it can be rationally inferred that she suffered a painful and long-term gynocological disorder. Any woman that’s suffered through a particularly difficult menstrual blood flow, or post-partum bleeding will understand the pain, weakness and utter fatigue this woman had suffered for 12 years. There are a number of causes for such a traumatic issue, none of which are good. Some gynocologists have gone so far to suggest she may have suffered from a type of uterine cancer.

She was weak, she was alone, she was desperate, and she had heard Jesus was coming around. So, the Unnamed Sick Woman found what was left of her strength and courage and went to find him, hoping maybe he’d be able to heal her. As the story goes, she pressed in to the crowd and made a final desperate reach to touch the hem of Christ’s garment, believing that simply touching his garment would render her healed.

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She was not wrong. She was healed. Twelve years of misery gone with one glancing grasp at Jesus’ clothing as he passed. Yet, like the Unnamed Sinful Woman, the significance of the Unnamed Sick Woman and her act of simply touching are often cast aside in order to quickly reach the parabolist’s point of the story.

We, as women of Christian faith, do ourselves and our daily practice a great disservice if we do not forgo the point of the story for a moment, focusing instead on the players. These two women, on the surface, appear to be polar opposites, and their need for and interaction with Jesus as opposite as they are themselves.

Let us take a moment, though, to reevaluate what we know about these two women.

The Nameless Sinful Woman came to Jesus as a sinner. She was not simply named or called such by those around her. She was someone whose actions and behaviors dictated a sinful state, and she knew it as well as the rest of the community did, and as such, she was separated from the community, kept apart for the sake of holiness. The Nameless Sick Woman was not a sinner, but was, by Mosaic law and societal practice, “unclean.” She was ceremonially separate from her loved ones and her community. She, too, was kept separate for the sake of holiness.

We do not know the cause of their “ailments” (one of the body and one the soul). Perhaps the Sinful Woman was forced into her lifestyle by a need to survive – unable to live in a society that was not friendly to women who were without husbands or fathers. Or, perhaps she chose her sins, and faced with Jesus, realized she needed to be set free. Perhaps the Sick Woman suffered an ailment that the doctors of the time had not knowledge to diagnose or treat. The reasons for their ostracization make no difference when considering their place in their communities. Both women were alone, shunned, looked down upon, and avoided.

Think for a moment about what it meant to be the Nameless Sinful Woman, arriving at the house of Simon the Pharisee (a man known for his appearance of holiness), carrying only an alabaster jar of your most expensive perfume and the hope you might be allowed to see Jesus – a man who may be the messiah, that, if he is, is the only one that can set you free from your sin, your shame, and your lot in the community. She’s known to everyone, so there is no arriving unnoticed. She swallows the nervous lump in her throat and ventures into the common room where the meal is being served. She stands, frightened and skittish, as she looks to the man she hopes will set her free. She averts her eyes, looking down to avoid the disbelieving and disapproving glares as she approaches the Christ, and as she does, she sees that the Pharisee has failed to wash His feet. A common and expected practice when bringing a guest into the home has been either avoided by intent or accident, and she sees her opportunity.

She falls to the ground, grasping his feet in her hands and she weeps. She weeps for missed opportunities. She weeps because, despite her profession, she is profoundly lonely. She weeps for her destroyed reputation. She weeps for hope lost, and, now, hope found. As she weeps, the tears fall on the dirty feet. Streaked tears across the feet of He who carries the good news begin to wash away the dust of the day. She cleanses his feet, kissing them repeatedly, and wiping away the dirt and grief with her hair. A woman’s hair was her glory. It was left uncovered as a woman searched for a mate, but once becoming a wife, it was covered – exposed only to the one man with whom both her body and soul would have been united. The hair was the premier jewel in the crown of beauty that was woman, and the Nameless Sinner used it to clean the dusty feet of the Messiah. She wiped the feet clean, and opened an alabaster jar. From the jar she dumped all of the perfumed ointment it held onto the now clean feet of Jesus. She anointed his feet.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation… (Isaiah 52:7)

The perfumed ointment was likely worth nearly a year’s earnings. The only thing the Nameless Sinner believed she had to offer her Hope, her Messiah, was her anointing oil, and her hair. So offer them she did, and it doing so she violated nearly all of the social and religious mores of the time. She had done what the Pharisee should have – washed His feet, greeted Him with kisses, and anointing Him with precious perfumed oil.

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Perhaps she felt as if the value of her offering was in the value of the perfume, or in the use of her hair, but Jesus made it quite clear: The significance of this woman, and of her offerings, was not in their value – but rather in her humble brokenness. She poured out herself as she poured out her tears and perfume. She shed her shame and ego when she shed her tears. She cleansed her soul as she cleansed her feet with her hair.

As she sat at his feet, her face doused with tears, and her eyes reddened, her hair dirtied now with the dust from his feet, He looked down at her. As the fragrance of the perfume rose to fill the room, He did not chastise her, or dredge up her sins. He gently spoke the words that broke all her bonds, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

As we did with the Nameless Sinner, let us take a moment to think for about what it must have meant to have been the Nameless Sick Woman. Mosaic and societal laws were very strict when it came to a woman bodily functions. To simply let nature take its course meant segregation. The woman was not to touch another human being, or to prepare their food. She was not to be present in congregational or communal worship. She was alone. To touch another was to make them unclean. To sit at their table was to make the place she sat unclean. To prepare their food, was to make it unclean. It does not say if she was married, or a mother. Although after 12 years of “uncleanness” it’s likely that whatever semblance of matrimony or motherhood she had, was now gone. She was utterly alone.

In addition to being completely alone, she was sick. Very sick. Her condition was painful. She was severely weakened and feeble. To go to see Jesus would’ve likely been her last hope, so she gathered all her strength and all her courage to venture out and seek Him.

She sought, and she found. Jesus stood, speaking with a man who begged for him to heal his daughter – a 12-year-old girl on her deathbed. The Nameless Woman had been sick as long as Jarius’ daughter had been alive. Surely the young woman deserved the attentions of the Messiah more than herself, she must’ve thought. But, healing is so close, and Jesus is so powerful, that perhaps just to touch him would give her relief.

In a final, weakened prayer for healing, she mustered all her strength and touched his garment. Trembling arms and fingers stretched, amid glimpses of disgust from bystanders, and she brushed the hem of his cloak.

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Immediately, she felt a change in her body. But there would be no quiet miracles for the Nameless Sick that day. Jesus stopped, and he called out. “Who touched me?” Everyone had been touching Jesus that day, pressing in on every side, but there was something different about the Sick Woman’s touch. It was a touch ladened with sorrow, yet hope. It was a touch heavy with purpose and thick with faith and promise. It was not the touch of the crowd, but a touch of despair that begged to be heeded.

The Nameless Sick Woman shook. Her frail and weakened body had been healed, but it was now full of a nervousness. Jesus knew who had touched him, certainly. Yet, he’d called out, specifically calling attention to the fact that someone had reached for His healing touch, and now she was faced with the realization that the crowd would see her. They would know she’d been amongst them, ritually unclean. She swallowed hard and took a deep breath as she stepped toward her Healer. She fell at His feet and declared she’d touched Him, and that His touch alone had healed her.

Jesus did not chastise her for her breaking of Mosaic law in coming to Him. He did not shame her for secretly touching his garment. He simply spoke, gently, and said “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Daughter. She had been alone for so very long. Despised, avoided and “contaminated,” and Jesus called her “Daughter.” She was alone no longer.

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Think for a moment about Jesus’ response to these two Nameless and Forgotten Women.

Both are given exactly what they needed – One forgiveness, the other healing – and then they are given the greatest gift of all: Peace. He tells both of these women who have been forgotten and unloved for so long that He knows them, He loves them, and He gives them Peace.

What does it mean for us, as Women of Faith, to consider these two Nameless Daughters of God? 

First it should remind us that no one is nameless before the Messiah. He knows all our names. He knows our sins and diseases and shortcomings. We are never nameless.

Secondly, it should remind us that no others are nameless in His kingdom. The saint, the whore, the homeless… None are unknown to Him, and as such, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Finally, it should give us the comfort of knowing that we, too, can “go in peace.” He knows our names.

Precious Jesus, lover of my soul. Thank you that I am never forgotten. I am never taken for granted. I am never nameless. Grant me the ability to go forward today in Your perfect peace, spreading it to all I meet. May I never see another human being without seeing them as You do – loved, named with purpose, blessed with peace. Make me an instrument of that love, and that peace.   Amen.

Categories: Bible, Courage, faith, Hope, Peace, Set apart, Women of the Bible | Leave a comment

A Naomh Mhuire: The Story of “Mother”

There’s a story in the Gospels, told often in sermons and allegories. Narrated so often, in fact, that even we often gloss over it, telling it as part of a conjoined narrative with the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River rather than a stand alone story. The story of the wedding at Cana from the Gospel of John is often heralded as important because it is the first public miracle performed by Jesus after the initiation of his ministerial walk on earth. And, while the first of 7 signs of Jesus’ divinity is important to the Christian religion, there’s an oft untouched portion of the story that is just as important – that is that Jesus’ mother was the instrument of initiation for the miracle in the first place. (Pay attention to that phrase: the instrument of initiation for the miracle. I’ll come back to it.)  It was Mary that told Jesus that the wine was gone, and then instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do.

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Suppose someone described to you a religious icon, the image of which was a female wearing a blue mantle and a gentle, tranquil demeanor, her hands either folded in quiet prayer or extended as if to offer maternal comfort. Based solely on that description, what would your answer be?  Regardless of religious knowledge (or lack thereof), nearly every person, of every persuasion will answer the same: “Well, it’s Mary, of course.”

Muslims, atheists, Buddhists and pagans alike have all readily identified Mother Mary simply by the description given above. The image of the Mother of Christ (or Jesus for the non-Christian faiths), is universally known. But, there is something special about “Our Lady.” She is not simply a well-known religious figure. She is also loved and revered by people of all faiths. You can find her image and likeness in literature, architecture, art and sacred spaces the world over. Sacred spaces of non-religious or faith specific orientations have been known to maintain an image of Mary on their grounds, and National Geographic, in December 2015, went so far as to call Mary of Nazareth “The world’s most powerful woman.”

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She goes by many names: Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Undoer of Knots, Queen of Heaven, Theotokos (Mother of God), Maryam, “The Goddess of 10000 Names”…just to cite a few. And, while Catholics are often lauded (or accused) of holding her in the highest esteem, Muslims actually have an entire book of the Quran devoted to her by name (the 19th Surah), and she is mentioned far more times in the holy texts of the Islamic faith than she is Christian.

Mary is universal.

But what is it, exactly, that endears Mary to deeply to the masses?  What inspires such devotion even among the usually non-religious? She is one of the most loved, and theologically most debated, women of the Bible.

Young Mary was a Galilean peasant, living in Nazareth, at the time of the Annunciation. Nazareth had a population of roughly 400, most, if not all of whom were conservative, observant Jews. She likely knew most everyone in the village. She was betrothed, but unlike most artistic renderings of her, she was only between the ages of 11-14 when Gabriel appeared with his announcement that she’d been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. She was just a child herself.

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Imagine yourself when you were that age. Had you received a supernatural visitor announcing your miraculous pregnancy, would you have been able to calmly respond, “let it be according to your word”? Yet, in multiple religious texts, we are told that she did.

In most traditions, but especially in Christian and Islamic belief, Mary is esteemed for her that obedience, and for her humility, her righteousness and purity. She’s marked by Divine Grace – unmerited favor of being chosen by God himself for special purposes. She’s revered as one for young women to model themselves after, and, true to the Magnificat in Luke, “all generations call [her] blessed.”

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Marian adoration is evident in almost all of the art and representations of her we see throughout all cultures and nations. She’s been rendered as many different races and cultures, yet she’s almost always recognizable to the viewer.

Mary is commonly seen wearing either blue or red, or a combination of both. The blue mantle (primarily Western and European Christians) was originally dark blue. It was a symbol of waiting during the darkest parts of the night – an allegorical nod to the Advent, and representative of the moon and stars in Revelation 12:1, which Catholics believe speaks of Mary in the end of days. Later, during the middle ages, the mantle tended to be displayed as more of a light blue, meant to signify Mary as the protector and Mother of those on earth, and as a model of peace and tranquility. The light blue mantle is often accompanied by white, indicative of her purity. Muslim tradition, as well as Eastern Orthodox often show Mary as wearing a red mantle. Red is considered the symbol of the saints, and during Byzantine times, was sometimes indicative of the ruling class.

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“Virgin Mary’s face”  (Islamic rendering of Mary)

The theology of Mary alone shows the vast impact she has had on religion, culture and society. In all traditions, the story of the annunciation is basically the same, and she is considered one of the most holy women in all the Abrahamic faiths.

To reduce her to an example of behavior for modern religious women, however, does her a great disservice. Yes, she was holy.  Yes, she was obedient and humble. But, as women of faith, we have many examples of those traits to follow. So, why should we spend so much time on Mary – aside from her role as Christ’s mother? I contend it is the same reason that she is so beloved worldwide: Her quiet courage and strength.

This is where the theology of the Theotokos is integral. Stay with me, we’re about to get downright Biblical…

In Genesis, we saw the creation and fall of mankind – brought about by the temptation of Eve (woman) by the serpent (Lucifer). Lucifer in Hebrew is helel, meaning “brightness.” Lucifer, before his own fall had been a guardian cherub – an angel that guarded the very glory of God himself. Lucifer was called Morning Star and was a light-bearer. After being cast away, Lucifer found himself in the garden; a place created for mankind to walk with God, and he set out to destroy God’s unity with man. He did so by tempting Eve. Eve, from the moment of her sin,  was cursed. Yet, God left hope of a promise for her redemption, and for the destruction of Lucifer.

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; they shall bruise thy head…  (Genesis 3:15)

Thousands of years later, a young virgin gave birth to the Messiah, the very hope of redemption between God and mankind. Eve brought separation, but Mary brought the hope of redemption. She became the Light-bearer, having borne the Light of the World, and in doing so, crushing the serpent’s head. This allegory is reiterated by María Enriqueta García, in her sacred theology dissertation at the Marian Institute. She explains that Mary brings us to Jesus, who is the light of the world, just as Jewish mothers light the Shabbat candles. “We see the relationship of Mary with us isn’t just any relationship—it’s sacred.”mary-consoles-eve

Remember before, in discussing the wedding at Cana, when I told you to pay attention because I’d be coming back to make a point?

During the wedding, when the wine had run out, Mary took it upon herself to do what most good Jewish mothers of the time would do. She told her son to do something to fix the problem. This was more than a mother asking her son to fetch some more wine, though. When she informed him of the need for wine, he looked at her and said,  “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  

That was not an annoyed man asking his mother what she expected him to do about a lack of wine. This was the Messiah, foreshadowing a time when he would indeed look at his mother and perform the final miracle of his life on earth.

When Jesus told Mary at Cana that it was not yet his time, Mary, fully understanding the depth of his statement simply looked at the servants and said the only five words we need to truly know in order to be powerful women of faith: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus then ordered the servants to fill the jars with water. This, too, is significant. Water was (and is) an exceedingly important element in Jewish faith and tradition. Water is a rich symbol, and often associated with the Holy Spirit. Jesus was visited by the Holy Spirit after being baptized in the water of the Jordan, and referred to himself throughout his time on earth as “The Living Water.” When Jesus chose water to fill the empty wine jars, it was symbolic of himself and his divinity.

Once the jars had been filled, Jesus told the servants to serve the wedding guests. It was at this point, of course, that his miracle was realized, as the water had become wine. Just as the water was symbolic of Jesus himself, so was the wine. At the last Passover meal with his disciples he again served wine and said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for many.”

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You see, the wedding at Cana wasn’t simply the first of Christ’s miracles, done at the behest and nagging of his own mother. The miracle of the water and the wine was the foreshadowing of the entire crux of Christ’s purpose here – the entire reason for The Word made flesh. The water was the symbol of Jesus as the source of eternal life, reconciliation to God, which could not be attained without the spilling of a perfect blood sacrifice – the blood of Christ, the “wine.”

As the guests drank their wine, little did they know that Mary was the instrument of initiation for the miracle in the first place – at Cana, and in the manger in Bethlehem, and at the foot of a cross that held the beaten and bruised body of the savior of the world – the body of her baby boy.

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This is why Mary has captivated the world. This is why she is the most powerful woman in all of history. Because Mary knew. She knew He would suffer,  and she knew He would redeem. Even knowing,  she agreed,  and said “may it be as you have said.”

With strength and courage, she agreed to be the instrument of initiation for the miracle of the water and the wine, eternal life and sacrificial blood. And even now, she admonishes us to “do whatever he tells you.”

That is her message to us today: As she points the way to Hope, to her Son, so should we.

Holy Mary,  mother of God, pray for us…

Categories: Bible, Christlikeness, Grace, Hope, Love, Patience, Peace, Set apart, Uncategorized, Women of faith, Women of the Bible | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

More Than an Old Mother: The Tale of Elisheva

Nearly every church-goer in our nation is at least slightly familiar with the story of Elizabeth (Hebrew: Elisheva) as told in the Gospel of Luke. The short version is that Elizabeth, a cousin of Mary of Galilee, became the miraculous mother of John the Baptist in her old age, the first outside of Mary herself to truly acknowledge the divine life in the Virgin’s womb, and the champion of the young virgin mother of Christ during her first trimester.

Very little, however, is really contained in the story of Elizabeth, at least where her role as a Godly woman is concerned. In a search for information about Elizabeth, I came across many a study, editorial or theological text that addresses this matriarch with due reverence, but not many that discuss her particular qualities, character, and potential message to the modern Christian woman.

The majority of those texts speak in-depth about her role as the “wife of Zechariah and mother of John the Baptist,” but very little about her role as a woman of great faith in her own right. Even asking a layperson to recall their knowledge of the Elizabeth story results in many a tale spun about her miraculous pregnancy, her blessed child, her relationship with Our Mother, and her husband’s faith in the midst of being struck mute; but nothing about her faith, her character, or her example.

Why is it that a woman revered in all of the Abrahamic faiths as righteous and upright not talked about or studied more in depth? By failing to really think about Elisheva, we do our own selves a great disservice.

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Elisheva (origin: Hebrew) or Elizabeth (origin: Greek) as she is more commonly known, is often referred to primarily as the elderly wife of Zechariah the priest, who found herself miraculously pregnant following menopause. But, like most stories in the holy texts, there is more to the narrative.

To better understand Elizabeth, we must first understand her husband, and her place in the social strata of the time. Zechariah, being a Priest, was a Levite. Levites were  the direct descendants of Aaron, and had been selected by God to be the priests of the people. Not just clergy, the Aaronic priests were seen as a representation of the coming Messiah, as they served as the intermediary between God and man in the temple, a role which would be abolished when the Messiah came to earth to redeem the nations. To be a Levite placed you in the class of the elite. Zechariah, therefore, was a member of the officiating priesthood of the day and was considered to be a member of the upper, ruling class. As such, Zechariah would have been expected to choose a wife that not only was of the same class, but that was also a member of the Levitical line.

Elizabeth herself was a descendant of Aaron. In fact, she bore the same name as Aaron’s wife. Her marriage to a Levitical Priest therefore  would have been scrutinized very carefully not only by other priests, but by the rest of the Jewish nation. Ironically, there were approximately 20,000 descendants of Aaron during the time of Elizabeth and Zechariah, and despite their origin as special, God-chosen priests of the people, they had become tainted by a superiority complex brought on by their position. Most of the Priesthood had a reputation and propensity for pride, bigotry and self-indulgence. Public piety and private perversion were common.

Elizabeth would’ve lived her entire married life under the skeptical eyes of the people who her husband served in the temple, as well as of those known for their convenient and hypocritical “piety.” While this must’ve been stressful and overwhelming in its own right, Elizabeth also lived her entire married life without children. And, being that a barren womb was often thought to be punishment by God for secret sin, Elizabeth must’ve found the weight of both the scrutiny and childlessness nearly unbearable.

Daily life for Elizabeth and Zechariah would’ve always been permeated with the knowledge that their hearts and lives were being judged by their fellow Israelites, and with the sorrow of never knowing what it meant to be parents in a culture that celebrated childbearing, lineage, and legacy. Elizabeth could’ve, perhaps, endured that sorrow and pressure, if she had been the same as the others of the Aaronic class, but she was not. She and Zechariah “…were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” Luke 1:6  Elizabeth was righteous, no matter what others may have thought or said of her.

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How often must Elizabeth have prayed for God to open her womb, or to take her grief? How many years must that prayer have felt unanswered, or unheard?  How many times must she have questioned her own righteousness, pondered it, to find out why God wasn’t answering her prayers? How often have we, in our own lives, felt the same about our grief and sorrow, as we’ve poured it out before the Lord in prayer?

The real beginning of Elizabeth’s story lies with Zechariah’s priestly duties. He had been chosen to burn incense on the second altar of the tabernacle (called the Altar of Incense). This altar stood between the brasen altar of sacrifice, where blood sacrifices were made to atone for the sins of the people, and the inner altar that resided in the “holy of holies,” wherein only the High Priest was able to approach the presence of God. This duty was performed during the apex of the morning and evening rituals.

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The incense was a special blend and the smoke from the incense was believed to carry the prayers of the people to God. The use of incense was believed to be the most pleasing part of the ritual to God, and it was a high honor, and very important. Upon completing the pouring out of the incense, Zechariah would’ve been expected to turn and speak a blessing to the people. But, as He often does, God had other plans.

Zechariah never spoke the blessing to the people, because before he could exit the temple, the angel Gabriel brought him news that his elderly wife would conceive, and when he questioned the word due to their advanced age, God struck him mute until the promise was to be fulfilled.

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Imagine Elizabeth’s reaction when her husband returned from the temple, obviously excitable, but also now mute. What could his frantic gesturing mean? Imagine how Elizabeth’s concern changed to hope when she finally understood what her silent husband was trying to tell her. Imagine the hope blossoming into incredible joy when she found that she was, in fact, pregnant. The promise had been fulfilled.

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Elizabeth’s story could’ve ended there. The oft-repeated message to “trust God, and remain faithful,” being the moral of her story. But Elizabeth’s story does not end there. Elizabeth remains sequestered for 5 months of her pregnancy, until, in her 6th month, she is visited by her Nazarene relative, Mary.

By the time Mary enters into Elizabeth’s story, she, too, has been visited by the same angel that had visited Zechariah 6 months before. Gabriel’s message this time, was to inform Mary of her divine conception, and God’s choice to make her the vessel and mother of the Messiah.

It is in this moment that we truly see the character and godliness of Elizabeth. As the elder woman sees her very young cousin approaching, she feels a lurch in her belly. The life inside of her leaping with his own joy at the approach of the Messiah – Jesus, who was only about a month old inside his own mother’s womb.

Elizabeth mirrors the reaction of her own son. She rises, and shouts joyfully:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? …when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

Here is a woman who spent her entire lifetime, pouring out her prayers for children and enduring the gossip and scrutiny of her own people despite her righteousness. She has lived for 6 months hidden away with her husband, the mute priest, while she awaits the birth of her miracle child. After all her years of trial, of sadness and grief and burdens, she sees her young unmarried cousin, pregnant with the Redeemer of all mankind, and Elizabeth never once has a moment where she wonders, “Why Mary, Lord? Why not me, after all my faithful devotion to you? Why Mary?”

No. Elizabeth rushes to meet her sweet relative, who no doubt was burdened with worries and fears of her own, and rejoices with her. Not only that, but Elizabeth is the first person beyond Mary and Joseph himself, to speak aloud the promise held in Mary’s womb.

She laughs and rejoices and proclaims loudly that Mary is the mother of her Lord!

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This is the moment in the story when we see Elizabeth for who she truly is, and for what she means to us as modern women of faith. 

You see, most people see Elizabeth’s proclamation to Mary as nothing more than a relative expressing joy at the pregnancy of a kinsman. But it is so much more than that!

You see, Elizabeth knew that the promise held in Mary’s womb was the Word made flesh. Elizabeth understood the importance of the life being knit and formed in Mary’s belly. This is the Redeemer. This is the Messiah. This is the One that will come and make the need for the blood sacrifice and the pouring of incense obsolete.

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Elizabeth is not simply greeting her cousin. Elizabeth is greeting the Christ.

In that precious moment that Elizabeth recognizes the Divine in the womb, Elizabeth also recognizes the full scope of the promise fulfilled to her.

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”  Luke 1:13-17

God’s fulfilled promise to Elizabeth of a son was not simply the answer to a prayer for the end of barrenness – It was a fulfilled promise to bring a Redeemer to the people. Mary’s womb held the Christ, but Elizabeth’s held the prophet. Her son would be the one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Elizabeth’s son was Isaiah 40:3. It would be her son’s hands that anointed Jesus with the waters of baptism as he began his ministry. It would be her son’s voice that called out to the people to see Jesus for who he was – the Christ, the Messiah. It would be her son that turned many to the Redemptive power of Jesus.

Elizabeth was more than just a woman who remained faithful. She was a woman who understood that God is bigger than all of us. Bigger than our emptiness. Bigger than our grief. Bigger than our fear, and pain, and persecution.

Elizabeth was a woman who understood that when God makes an oath to His people, He fulfills it beyond our greatest hopes.

No, the message of Elizabeth to us is not simply to remain faithful and to trust. Her message to us is simply that God never fails, so we don’t ever need to fear. Elizabeth’s message to us is contained in the last statement of her greeting to Mary:“…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)

Elisheva – Hebrew, meaning “My God is an Oath. My God is my abundance.”

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May you walk in the strength and beauty of Elisheva today – fearless, and full of joy. God is your oath. He is your abundance. Be blessed in the belief that He will fulfill what He has spoken.

Categories: Bible, Christian living, Hope, Patience, Set apart, Women of faith, Women of the Bible | 1 Comment

Two Dead Guys Meet Jesus on a Hill…

(Originally posted at nmsp6.wordpress.com)

I have had a rough week this week. My normal ability to shove doubt down and cover it with Biblical promises has been weakened, and to say that a feeling of overwhelming hopelessness and despair has set in would be an understatement. I have been on the edge of tears for days. This has been a very rough week for holding on to the faith in the midst of everything. This week has been one where I’ve had only the strength to throw myself at His feet and tell him the burdens are too heavy. I suppose that when the worry and doubt is too persistent, when the burden of intercession and repentance becomes too heavy to carry, it only seems fitting to go to the Creator of my weak arms and ask for help. So, that’s been my prayer this week. I think sometimes, I’m too stubborn, or dense maybe, to go to God himself when things become too rough.  I forget too easily that this God I worship is more than the omnipotent creator of all that is; He is also the omnipresent Father that I sometimes so desperately need to just hold me close and remind me that “Daddy has this.”

Last night, I curled up at His feet once more, looking for the rest I need. I awoke this morning and felt less burdened, but much more like I needed to spend some serious Word time today.  So, I opened my Bible – not with the intent of reading where it opened, but simply to lay it open on the table so I’d be ready to sit down and read as soon as I got my daughter off to school.

I got home, I poured a cup of coffee and wandered over to the table where my Bible lay open. I noticed it was opened already to 2 Kings, chapter 2 specifically. I opted to just start there. I was hoping for there to be some sort of supernatural word meant just for my ears this morning – one of those moments when something read in the canon of scripture just knocks you loopy and you know it was meant for you at this exact time and place. When I began reading, though, I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to be one of those times.

Sometimes, I’m very wrong.

Contained in 2 Kings is a story that I’ve heard time and time again in Bible study and Sunday school. The story of Elijah being taken away in a fiery chariot, and his mantle falling upon Elisha is one I could tell without cracking the Book, I think. I won’t lie. I’ve heard the story so much that the idea of reading it again bored me.  (Nothing says “my faith may have grown stale” like being bored by the story of God’s power falling on a prophet. Sigh.)

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I read it anyway, though – carefully, in the hopes that I’d catch something new that I needed to hear. As I read the portion where Elisha asks only to “inherit two shares” of Elijah’s spirit, my mind began to wander. Elijah was broadly considered to be the most powerful of all the prophets. Elijah was also one of the two on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus as told in the gospels, the other being Moses. This, of course got me thinking about the entire episode on the Mount of Transfiguration – and digging for information on Moses and Elijah. Why would it be those two in particular that joined Jesus on the mount? Elijah never suffered a recorded earthly death. He was “taken” by God. The only other person to be taken was Enoch.  So why not Elijah and Enoch?  What’s the common denominator between Moses and Elijah?

Jesus was the Christ – the Word made flesh, according to John. We understand the “word” to be the holy scriptures – God’s little instruction book for us. Before the death and resurrection of Jesus the “word” was considered the scrolls of the “law and the prophets.” Matthew tells us that, during his sermon on the mount, Jesus says that he “came not to abolish them [law and the prophets], but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17). Moses was the giver of the Law.  It was from God’s own finger that the Law was handed down to Moses, who brought them down from Sinai. Moses was the symbol for the Law of God.  Elijah was the greatest of the OT prophets. He was granted incredible power by the very Spirit of God. Elijah was the symbol for the Prophets of God.

The Transfiguration of Christ MMXIPhoto credit: Howard David Johnson

As I thought about the Transfiguration, it became clear – Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.  Not the abolishment, but the fulfillment. Everything in history, from Eden on, was leading up to that point – the fulfillment of the law and the prophecies. That is why Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. It was a powerful revelation to all who understood the importance of Moses and Elijah as it related to Judaism and the establishment of the original covenant. It was the revelation that Jesus was both beginning and end of everything. By his coming death and resurrection was the fulfillment of the promise of God – the redemption of man from his original sin in Eden.

This study – this Word – was going to take more than 1 cup of coffee.  The ravens were (and still are) cackling and my mind was racing with the parallels in scripture at a pace with which I could not keep up.

I poured another cup of coffee.

I sat back down and began to think about that last part: Jesus was the fulfillment of the Promise – the redemption of man from his original sin in Eden. I turned to Genesis 1.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.”

“In the beginning…” There’s another place where those words were used in scripture. I turned to John 1.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of menThe light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In the beginning of all we know, God began creating our existence and our domain. The first thing He created was light, and then He separated it from the darkness. John says that “in the beginning” was the Word, and the Word was with God and was God. It says that all things were made though him.  In HIM was life and the light of men.  God not only created light, He is light, manifest in Jesus, and Jesus says (John 8:12) “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John reminds us that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

I thought about this in light of all I have been facing this last year, (2 years, really).  From the start, these battles have not been “normal. They are other-worldly. The verse that has been coming to remembrance this last year, and most especially since September, is Ephesians 6:12. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

“Powers over this present darkness” – Yet, John reminded us that the light will not be overcome by darkness. That the Light was separated from the darkness since the beginning. Not only that, but the Light (the Word) is “the light of men.” Since the beginning, Satan has been adversarial of man.  His sole focus to destroy the relationship between God and humanity.

Why?

Because we took his place. Satan, before he was Satan, was Lucifer (Hebrew: “helel” brightness), the Morningstar, the light-bearer.  Jesus is the Light, which means that, as an “anointed guardian cherub” he guarded the glory of God himself. (Cherubs are the angels seen around the throne of God, those that sing Holy, Holy, Holy…)  When Lucifer became prideful, and sought to have the glory of God himself, God cast him down – He separated the darkness from the Light. When Jesus came, His purpose was to fulfill the law and the prophets, and to make a way of redemption for us to God – to make a way for us to obtain God’s favor once again, by coming to Him through Christ.  When we do that, we become joint heirs, bearers and bringers of the Light to the rest of the world lost in darkness.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14 – from the Sermon on the Mount)

By accepting the free gift of redemption and restoration that is offered through Christ, we finally accept our restored position as bringers and bearers of the Light. We are, by our deeds and actions as the redeemed, the ones who cry “holy, holy, holy” at the foot of the throne.  We have displaced Lucifer. Not only that, but we are loved with an everlasting love. We are not angels. We are “a little higher than the angels” because He has made us His own though our own free will.  We have chosen Him, and He has chosen us.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

This is why Ezekiel and Moses were on the Mount – they were our reminder that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law, and the Prophets, and as such, we now had a way to be redeemed back to our original purpose – as children of God who walk with Him, who bear witness to the Light, and give glory to the One who separated Light from Darkness.

This other-worldly battle is not the end. It is a distraction to take from us the reminder of the truth. It is meant to make us doubt the Word – to forget the Light. (And here is the important part) It is meant to make us stop singing “Holy Holy Holy!”  It is meant to silence our praises because GOD INHABITS THE PRAISES OF HIS PEOPLE!  (PS. 22:3)

O God! May I never forget!

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Being a Biblical “Wife of Whoredom”: Lessons from Gomer

Gomer.  “Wife of Whoredom” to the Prophet Hosea.

Really, lesson plan?  This is the “woman of the Bible” from whom we are to learn how to be more Godly women?  Really??

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As I prepared the lesson for this meeting of Disciples Women, I was feeling at a loss for material, being that Gomer isn’t really one of the “nice” girls of the Bible, and my group of ladies, well, are. It’s a tricky path to walk, being a teacher just under 40 years of age, speaking to a bunch of nice church ladies about what a wanton whore can do to serve as an example of “Biblical womanhood.” As usual though, as I dug about in the concordances, rabbinical Hebrew texts, study guides and (well, obviously) the Book of Hosea, I found myself immersed in a rather deep lesson that did just that.

Maybe there’s something to the story after all.

Have you ever noticed that, almost always, when one of the Prophets speaks “the word of the Lord,” that it is almost always a warning, and that generally immediately thereafter, something bad happens to said “prophet”?

Prime example, of course would be Elijah, who spoke the word of the Lord to Ahab and Jezebel and them promptly found himself waiting out both a famine and an angry queen’s squad of hit-men next to a measly brook, being fed by ravens. Or, Daniel, who spoke the word of the Lord, and then promptly found himself having a sleepover with a den full of huge, hungry wild cats. Then there was Jeremiah. I don’t think there was ever a time that Jeremiah wasn’t enduring some sort of sour ending because of something God told him to say.

I can’t imagine why I’d think Hosea would be any different. Not only did Hosea have the misfortune of marrying a woman that had no scruples where her sexual chastity or faithfulness was concerned, he had the misfortune of being told by God to marry her in the first place. That seems a lot like a vicar walking into a “gentleman’s club” with the sole and express purpose of finding a spouse. But, God rarely shows Himself greatly in the socially acceptable, common way. Certainly a prophet husband to a public promiscuous wife is far from “socially acceptable.”

I figured if I was going to have to find the “meat” of the lesson in this study of Gomer, perhaps I’d better learn a little more about Gomer herself – which proved to be less of an easy task than I’d hope. There’s not a lot of information on Gomer (in case you didn’t know). I’ve found, for me, the best place to start is to learn what the names in the story mean. Names are important, and were especially important to God. How many times in the Bible does he command that certain names be given?

So, name research I did. I looked up Gomer and found that her name is a derivative of the Hebrew verb gamar. Gamar means to complete, end or come to an end, or accomplish (as it the Lord has accomplished it for me), but can also be used to indicate a sudden stop or termination. The word gamar occurs only five times in the scripture (all in the Psalms), and either references an end to wickedness, or the completion of God’s purpose.

Hosea, from the Hebrew yahsa, means, “to save.”

Well, if that don’t put a spin on the story….

So, now we have a prophet named Salvation, ordered to marry a whore named Completion. “Completion of what?” I wondered. Many commentators suggest that Gomer was a prostitute of some sort; however, never is she referred to as a zonah (Hebrew term for prostitute) or a kedesha (term for “holy woman” associated with a cult, usually as a temple prostitute.)

It would seem that for Hosea, Gomer is a “wife of whoredom,” not because she is a prostitute, but because, according to the mores of Israel, she is blatantly licentious and wanton.

Now I was really intrigued. There was absolutely no way in my mind to make this a lesson worthy to present to sweet church ladies whose greatest vice was akin to a weekly bridge game, or maybe spending a little too much on a pair of shoes.  Did I mention these are lovely, Godly women I meet with every month??

I read on in Hosea. With each indiscretion, Hosea’s heart was pained further, and, eventually children began to be born. Perhaps they were the result of Hosea’s union with Gomer, and perhaps, (more likely), they were the result of Gomer’s union with everybody else.

Child 1 was name Jezreel, after the valley Jehu slayed the rest of the house of Ahab for idolatry, and for which God promised to punish Jehu for his blood thirst.

Child 2 was named Lo-ruhamah, meaning “not loved” (or “no mercy” depending on the translation).

Child 3 was named Lo-ammi, meaning “not my people.”

Hosea’s story isn’t getting any better here, and Gomer is giving me a sum total of ZERO viable material for our study. Hosea married a whore, (an offense deserving of stoning, by the way) and continually loved and cared for her, despite her whoredom and the pain she caused, even going so far as to name her (likely illegitimate) children as God commended him.

Understanding Hosea’s marriage as an allegory for Israel’s frequent tendency to stray after idol gods is easy. Understanding Hosea’s marriage as an allegory for Godly behavior, well, that’s entirely different. Gomer’s adulterous behavior just does NOT make for a good story about being a good woman.

Then, amidst my ponderous wanderings through Bible texts, commentary, and rabbinical resources, a lightbulb came on… Hosea 3:1 – And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”

Cakes of Raisins…

Gomer, according to Hosea 1:3, was the daughter of Diblaim. Diblaim’s name signifies “double layers of raisin cakes.” Raisin cakes were associated with pagan idols and sensuality. Gomer was fathered by a man whose name as the very essence of pagan sensuality. It’s as if poor Gomer didn’t have a fighting chance to become a virtuous and God-fearing woman.

Yet, at the end of the story, Hosea is commanded to go purchase this woman back, at a steep sum, despite her sin, and wantonness and love of sensuality. He paid the price to redeem her, just as God redeemed Israel despite her repeated idolatry (adultery)…

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…and just as Christ paid our redemption price.

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OH WHAT A STORY!

Gomer already is the example of “Biblical Womanhood,” for among us isn’t unclean, sinful, apt to run away from God when being “The Bride” is too tough?

Unclean, but redeemed.

Whore, made whole.

Runaway, lost… but found.

Not only did Hosea redeem Gomer, but God also redeemed the name of her children as well. Jezreel no longer became a symbol of God’s punishment of Jehu for his blood-thirst, but instead became a symbol of God’s freeing of Israel from Jezebel and Ahab’s reign. Lo-ruhamah became Ruhamah – no longer not loved/no mercy, but instead, loved with mercy. Lo-ammi became Ammi – no longer Not my People – but My People once again.

The lesson Gomer taught me had nothing to do with becoming a redeemed, Godly, Biblical woman; but instead, she taught me that I already am!

Categories: Bible, faith, Set apart, Women of the Bible | 1 Comment

Myrtle’s Dinner Party: The Story of Queen Esther

It is amazing to study the scriptures and discover, hidden among all the tales and tenets, definitive timelines and connections between seemingly unrelated books, prophets and poems.  The symbols contained within the pages of the holy book are ripe with meaning and deep revelation.

For example, one would never think about a connection between the prophetic Book of Zechariah, and the Scroll of Esther (also known as the Megillah). Both are tied together with images and symbolism of a plant rather common in the area at the time of both books – the myrtle.
myrtle21Prophetic Blooms

In the Biblical book of Zechariah, the first chapter, we read about a vision that Zechariah received during the reign of King Darius I (the king of Persia).  Bible historians place Zechariah’s vision to have occurred in about 520bc, 17 years after the Jews returned to Jerusalem, and 10 years after the temple rebuild had been stopped by enemies of the Jewish people, and 2 months after the prophet Haggai had received a message from God for the people to begin building the temple again.

Zechariah’s vision mirrored that of Haggai’s, but also included the message to the Jewish people to first repent, then serve the Lord, and then rebuild the temple.  The difference between Haggai’s message and Zechariah lay in 1 minor detail in Zechariah’s vision – the myrtle plant.  In Zechariah’s vision (Zech. 1: 1-17), a man on a red horse stands in myrtle trees in a small, steep-sided valley.

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The Myrtle is a symbol to the Jews, being one of the 4 sacred plants used in the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles) which is an observance of Israel’s renewed fellowship with God.  During the feast, the myrtle, which smells sweet and looks pretty, but has no taste, as a symbol of those who do good deeds, but do not know or observe the law of the Lord. The myrtle in the valley was also a symbol of the Jews that were under gentile persecution, but still cared for by God.

A Royal Flower

One of the most well-known women of the Bible is Queen Esther. The story of Esther is one with which nearly every child that’s ever set foot into a Sunday School class, or every woman that’s participated in a Women’s church group, is familiar.  Queen Esther is heralded as a Jewish woman of great beauty, incredible courage, and godly humility, whose surprise ascension to the Persian throne of the queen and willingness to lay her own royal life on the line brought salvation to the Jews in her country.  Esther’s story is so well-known and loved because it’s a story of a homeless, orphan Jewess (born as “Hadassah”) that became a Persian queen during the rule of one of the most powerful kings of the empire.  She was lauded for her beauty and courage.  Who wouldn’t love Esther’s story?

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On the surface, the story of Queen Esther is one of beauty, courage, and triumph.  But, as I said before, the Bible has an interesting way of tying things together below the “surface stories” we read within its pages.

What’s a prophet of the plant got to do with the reign of a queen?

Esther, as she was known in Persia, was given the name Hadassah at birth.  Hadassah is the feminine form of the Hebrew hadas, or “myrtle.”  The myrtle, as was discussed in reference to the vision of Zechariah, was a symbol of the Jewish people. The myrtle shrub is an evergreen that produces beautiful blooms.

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It is also a symbol of righteousness and a reminder that actions, without obedience to God’s law, are empty.  The myrtle is often used in sacred Judaic habdalah ceremonies when incense could not be had.  In this use, the myrtle served as a sweet-scented reminder that one was passing from an ordinary place or time into one that was sacred. The most interesting thing about the myrtle bloom, as it relates to the story of our heroine, is that the blooms do not release their fragrance fully until they are crushed. hadassahThe fact that Esther’s name was originally Hadassah speaks volumes about her role in the story of the Jewish people.  

She was their “myrtle,” the symbol of the salvation of the Jewish people in Zechariah’s vision, as well as the sign that the people were moving into a moment of sacred redemption.  The timeline of Hadassah’s story is also interesting.  The vision of Zechariah took place in about 520bc, under the rule of King Darius I of Persia.  The Jews continued to live under Persian rule, persecuted, until the time that Hadassah (Esther) took the throne of the queen and became their salvation.  Esther was queen of Persia from approximately 478bc-460bc.  This places Esther as queen of Persia to King Ahasuerus, also known by the more common Persian name of Xerxes, the son of Darius I, under whose rule Zechariah had his vision of Israel’s redemption.

Esther’s Persian name translates into “Star.”  The Hebrew equivalent of Esther (Hester) means “hidden.”  These names also speak of Esther’s role in the fulfillment of God’s promises.  Throughout the Bible, God uses the heavens to guide and speak to His people; the most evident example of this being the star in the east the led the wise men to Jesus.  To call Esther “star,” tells us that she is going to lead her people to safety and prosperity.  The Hebrew equivalent is also significant in that the efficacy of Esther’s revelation of Haman’s treachery relied heavily on the fact that she made sure her Jewish roots were hidden from the king.  King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) was known for his tendency toward rash behavior and unwise judgement.  Had Esther revealed she was a Jew at any point before the banquet she’d given for the King and Haman, her petition would likely have not been granted.

The story of Queen Esther is, therefore, a story of much more than an orphaned Jewess being graced with the position of queen.  The story of Queen Esther is one of God’s providence and planning.  It is a story of God’s fulfillment of His promises to His people even when it seems a long time in coming.  It is a story of listening to the Lord and learning to be wise in when to speak, and when to act.  It is a story of, when the time to speak and act comes, being courageous and doing what God commands so that we may guide others to Him.

Jehovah God, grant us that we would learn from your servant Esther.  Let us be willing to be “crushed” to reveal the perfume of your promise, if that is what it takes.  Let us learn to be wise in our speech and in our action, and courageous in our obedience. May we be the incense of the myrtle blossom that draws us, and those we come into contact with, into renewed fellowship with You.    Amen.

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Categories: Bible, Courage, faith, Patience, wisdom, Women of faith, Women of the Bible | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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