Strong woman looking to God

Female Champions in Scripture

Let’s start by being clear here: women in Bible times had few liberties and few opportunities. They knew their place and kept to it . . . except for those few exceptional exceptions. Sprinkled throughout the biblical story are women who bravely stepped outside of their cultural norms and restrictions and became not only servants of God but also champions of their people.

Miriam

Let’s start with Miriam. Moses’ and Aaron’s sister joined her brothers in leading Israel out of bondage in Egypt. “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam” (Micah 6:4). God called Miriam to be part of Israel’s deliverance leadership team—not a common thing in either Egyptian or Hebrew culture. Perhaps her position encouraged the Israelite women to follow along on those frightening first days out of Egypt. As “the Red Sea roars in front of the Israelites, and the Egyptian army thunders up behind them”¹, it doesn’t take much to imagine Miriam being the first woman to bravely step down on the pathway God provided. Arriving on the other side of the sea, “Miriam the prophet . . . ” (Did you catch that? She’s the first female prophet, a spokesperson for God, in Scripture.) led a glorious dance of victory and praise (see Exodus 15:20). Miriam wasn’t perfect (see Numbers 12), and neither are we. But God used her as his champion. She provides a reassuring example that God can use us too, despite our failings.

Deborah

Next, consider Deborah, wise and judicious, a leader of all Israel (see Judges 4:4). She even had a tree named after her. (I love these biblical details inserted into the story.) She held court as a judge under “the Palm of Deborah” (Judges 4:5). Life was hard in Israel at this time. The cruel Canaanite general Sisera had oppressed Israel for twenty long years. The caravans—the trains and trucks of that time—could not make their way safely across Israel. Sisera and his army ransacked small villages, destroyed their crops, and killed their people. Israel needed a strong leader, and Deborah rose to the challenge, riding into battle with Barak and the Israelite army. “God doesn’t necessarily see [Deborah’s] gender. He sees [her] reverence for him and uses [her] to bring relief to weary Israel”². When God calls people today to do his work, he doesn’t see gender now any more than he did back in Deborah’s time. As the Apostle Paul put it so succinctly in his letter to the Galatian church, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Abigail

Later in Israel’s history, God used another female champion—Abigail—to protect his chosen king from doing wrong. Abigail ignored her foolish husband Nabal’s orders and loaded up donkeys with all the food he had denied David and his men. (Check out 1 Samuel 25:18 for the interesting list of foods she supplied. Sometimes the minute details provided within the biblical story are astounding.) Not one to let others do what she saw as her obligation, brave Abigail mounted her donkey and hurried to meet David and his men, who were out to extract vengeance for Nabal’s snub. She bowed with her face to the ground before the future king, a position of humility and danger. “Then, in a bold and rather cheeky move, she reminds David that he has always been obedient to God’s call. Killing her and Nabal would be disobeying God’s hand on David’s life”³. Abigail’s courage proves to be the end of her husband’s life, the beginning of a new path for her as David’s wife, and the rescue from wrongdoing of God’s chosen king of Israel. Abigail’s choice to do what was right makes her a champion in Israel and a noteworthy example for generations of women to follow.

Esther

Esther. Dear Esther. Her story is often told like a modern-day romance. However, the reality of her life was far from that. She was taken from her home—surely, not willingly—as a young Jewish virgin, beautified with all the other chosen virgins, then brought to the king for him to have his sexual way with her. Esther must have impressed the king with more than her beauty for “she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins” (Esther 2:17), and he made her his queen. “But God has more in mind. One of the king’s officials plans to kill all the Jews in Persia. Esther’s moment of destiny arrives”⁴. She used her position as queen to go to the king and save her people, fulfilling her calling. God had put her in her “royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Esther’s story and those words—for such a time as this—have resonated throughout history for men and women who have done the difficult, the dangerous, the seemly impossible, because they are at their particular point in time to fulfill their destiny and God’s purposes.

Anna

Let’s end with Anna. Another prophet of God, she is not as well known as the others. She lived her life in obscurity. Her husband died after only seven years of marriage, and she never remarried or had children. Rather, for the rest of her days, until the ripe old age of 84, “she never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37). The story could end there with a life well lived. But God again had other plans. One day Anna and baby Jesus, with his parents, cross paths in the temple. One look at Jesus, and she began to prophesy, proclaiming to all those listening that the long-awaited Messiah had arrived! God used Anna to announce not just to Jesus’ parents, but to all those gathered in the temple, who this baby was and will be. Anna smiled with gratitude as “she has seen her Redeemer in the face of a baby”⁵.

So where does this leave us? Are we champions? Could we even be champions? God’s call for each person is as different as each person. Some are called to leadership in dangerous times. Some are called for battle. Some for turning evil intent to good. Others are called to obscurity. The truth is that we’re all called to live our best lives where God puts us, just as each of these women did. The truth is we’re all champions. We’re part of the “great cloud of witnesses” who “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2), finishing the race as champions.

By Jean E. Syswerda

¹From the NIV Kingdom Girls Bible, p. 89.
²From the NIV Kingdom Girls Bible, p. 277.
³From the NIV Kingdom Girls Bible, p. 345.
⁴From the NIV Kingdom Girls Bible, p. 589.
⁵From the NIV Kingdom Girls Bible, page 1191.

Jean Syswerda

Jean E. Syswerda is an author and a former editor and associate publisher at Zondervan, where her passion grew for exceptional Bibles that encourage readers to dig deep into God’s Word. She has written numerous books and Bible studies, including the best-selling Women of the Bible (co-authored with Ann Spangler), which has sold over a million copies. She is also the author of My Bedtime Story Bible for infants and toddlers, and the Super Heroes Bible for elementary-age boys. Jean and her husband of over fifty years live in Allendale, Michigan.

1 comment

  1. Maitala Tanko says:

    To have wisdom and knowledge of the word of God more. Thanks.

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