In Jewish culture, women were accepted in positions of leadership. And we find stories throughout the Bible of women who showed extraordinary leadership and courage. Here, we take a look at the lives of three extraordinary women of faith who were used by God to help change the course of history.
Deborah: A Distinguished Judge and Leader of Israel
Deborah (Hebrew, “bee”) appears to have been a homemaker at the time she is selected for service to her country. Having no aristocratic lineage, she is identified simply as “the wife of Lappidoth.” Yet Deborah was the only woman in Scripture elevated to high political power by the common consent of her peers.
Though her homemaking responsibilities may have well taken a backseat during her service to her country, she described herself as “a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7) before she became a judge. This could be a reference to her own offspring or an expression of her spiritual motherhood toward every son and daughter of Israel.
In spiritually parched Israel, characterized by rejection of God and by a determination for each to do things her own way (Judges 17:6; 21:25), Deborah displayed her leadership first as a counselor discussing and suggesting solutions to people with problems near her home. The civil court system was inept; the military was too weak to defend national borders; the priesthood of what had been a theocracy was impotent and ineffective. Normal life was no longer possible. And thus, Deborah rose to become a judge and eventually, a deliverer of her people in time of war.
In her area the despised King Jabin was harassing the Israelites. Deborah summoned Barak, from the tribe of Naphtali on the northern border, and ordered him to recruit an army of ten thousand men from his own tribe and the neighboring tribe Zebulun. Barak wavered, insisting that Deborah accompany him for the task (Judges 4:8). She not only joined the drive to raise an army but also suggested their strategy.
God had spoken in the past through his leaders Moses and Joshua, and now he was speaking through Deborah. In a mini-replay of the crossing of the Red Sea, the horse-drawn chariots of the enemy floundered and Yahweh came to her aid with a violent thunderstorm (Judges 5:4). The destruction of the Canaanite power was immortalized in one of the finest specimens of Hebrew poetry by Deborah and Barak, as they picture in a song of praise the events which led to victory for the people (see Judges 5).
Long before Deborah exercised her uncommon leadership and decision-making skills to save her nation in a time of trouble, she was a homemaker—a wife and mother in Israel. Her compassion had been awakened by the atrocities suffered by her people. She arose to make herself available, and she was victorious as she herself trusted God and then inspired others within her sphere of influence with that same trust.
Huldah: The Prophetess Who Changed a Nation
Huldah played a significant part in the history of Israel, although she appeared only once on the stage of the nation’s history.
In Jerusalem, King Josiah of Judah initiated renewed interest in the Book of the Law, and Huldah participated in the subsequent spiritual revival. She was the wife of Shallum, who was “keeper of the wardrobe” (possibly either royal robes and attire or priestly garments and vestments). They lived in the Second Quarter, a newer section of Jerusalem which developed as a westward or northern expansion of the old city (perhaps somewhat like a modern day suburb).
Both Jeremiah and Zephaniah were active as prophets during this time. Yet it was Huldah who was consulted when the king instructed the priests to “inquire of the LORD” as to the meaning of the scroll (the Book of the Law) that had been found during the work of restoration and cleaning in the temple.
It was significant that with the number of prophets living in Jerusalem at that time, the priest Hilkiah and the rest of the king’s advisors turned to a woman for a word from God. This nullifies the reasoning some use to suggest that God only uses women for such ministry when no men are available. Obviously, whether in a private audience or in the presence of the congregation, God used Huldah to bear testimony and deliver a message from him to the high priest and to the king (2 Kings 22:14–20).
The regard for Huldah’s own integrity and authority as a woman of God made her validation of the recently discovered Book of the Law all that was required for immediate action on the part of the king. Her message was not her own, but from the Lord. The fact that the phrase “This is what the LORD says . . .” is repeated three times in her short prophecy emphasizes that Huldah understood her responsibility and opportunity to be a channel through whom God delivered his Word (2 Kings 22:15–17, 19).
All the reforms set forth by King Josiah were based on the Word of God as given to this woman. Huldah was apparently so well known as a woman of God and so highly trusted with regard to her understanding of God’s law that for a time her nation’s whole religious consciousness and practice was reignited in faithfulness to God. Huldah, a deeply devout woman, made her God-given spiritual gifts available to God, and she was obedient and faithful to deliver the Word from God to her people.
Rahab: A Discerning Deliverer
Rahab was an intelligent woman who showed remarkable wit and knowledge. Although not an Israelite, she showed great understanding of the recent history of Israel. She was aware of what God was doing for the Israelites when they approached her country and in fact, seemed more aware of God’s intervention for Israel than Israel was—notice the similarity of her words in Joshua 2:9–11 with Joshua 1:2, 11, 13.
She was also a woman of great courage. Rahab obtained an agreement for protection from the spies, hid them and outsmarted her own people when they came looking for them. Once she made her decision, there was no turning back. Siding with the Israelites was treason, punishable by death, not only for herself but also for all her family.
Finally, Rahab was a woman with spiritual insight. She recognized the disparity between Israel’s God and the gods she and her people served. Israel’s God was supreme—he did not share the rule in the heavens and the earth the way their gods reportedly did (Joshua 2:11). Rahab’s initial confession of faith is seen in the use of the name Yahweh. Without any support or input from her world or Israel’s, she claimed the covenant name God gave to Moses when the Israelites first left Egypt (Exodus 3:14). Then, again without any encouragement from others, she acted on her commitment by hiding the spies. This kind of faith was not often seen in God’s people in the Old Testament, let alone from a Gentile harlot.
Rahab is a role model for making the right decisions and standing firm, even when it means going against your own peers. No wonder God wanted to honor her faith and courage by placing such a woman in the line of the Messiah. Boaz, one of the most gentle and godly men in the Old Testament, was her offspring (see Matthew 1:5 and the book of Ruth; see chart, The Family Tree of Jesus). God honored Rahab’s faith and courage by placing her in the lineage not only of Israel’s great King David (Matthew 1:6) but also of Jesus, the King of Kings (Matthew 1:1).
These stories of faith and leadership can speak to us today. Be encouraged through the life stories of these godly women as you seek to lead in the areas of influence that God has placed you.
Article drawn from study features in the NIV Woman’s Study Bible.
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