The literature of this period come from two types of sources--historical and prophetic. The historical material is given in I Kings 12 through the end of 2nd Kings, and II Chronicles. The prophetic literature that falls into this period occurs in the books of Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Of these, Jonah, Amos, Hosea dealt with the Northern Kingdom (generally), and Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah focused on the Southern Kingdom.
This period is a period of high turmoil, so there is little or no 'leisure literature' of the period. (Lamentations was produced AFTER the Fall of Jerusalem, and will be covered in THAT time period.)
So, in this period, we have TWO sources of primary data: the historical data in the narratives/literature between the division of the Kingdom (in I Kings 11-12) and the Fall of the Jerusalem, and the data in the prophetic writings within that period. In this section, we will focus on the PROPHETIC data.
One: The Prophetic Data from the Divided Kingdom-period prophetic literature.
We can arrange this material under the following categories:
Once we have examined that data, we will discuss some of the 'difficult' passages relative to women's status/image in the culture of the data.
- Indications of cultural power
- Indications of relative 'equality' in the culture
- Situations in which females were used by God in His plan
- Glimpses of aspects of women's lives.
- Indications of value
- Instances of God's care for women
There are many, many indications of women's power and influence in this period, but most of them reflect abuse. In the historical literature, we saw several good ones--patronage, prophecy, and good queen-mothers. But we began to see abuses of that power by women as well--the cases of Jezebel (queen of the North) and Athaliah (queen mother in the south) stood out.
In the prophetic literature--which is generally focused on reform (and hence, aimed at the 'negatives' of the situation) and future promises (to give hope in the midst of judgment)--most of the 'behavior addressed' will be negative. And, unfortunately, in this period the abuses are not confined to male agents--the women become oppressive and arrogant also.
The Queen-mother will still figure in this literature somewhat (although the addressees will broaden to the entire ruling class). So, indications of the existence/influence of the Queen-mother can be found in:
Jer 13.17-18: But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the LORD's flock will be taken captive. 18 Say to the king and to the queen mother, "Come down from your thrones, for your glorious crowns will fall from your heads."But by far and away, the clearest indication that we have of female power in that society is the MISUSE of that power, addressed in the confrontations of the prophets.
Notice that the queen mother has a throne, a crown, and inappropriate pride!
Jer 22.24ff: "As surely as I live," declares the LORD, "even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. 25 I will hand you over to those who seek your life, those you fear -- to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to the Babylonians. 26 I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born, and there you both will die.
Notice that threatened judgment on the king was accompanied equally by that on the queen mother.
And, from a literary standpoint, the tone of exchanges between men and women still manifest that 'non-subordinate' character--cf. Jer 38.21-22: But if you refuse to surrender, this is what the LORD has revealed to me: 22 All the women left in the palace of the king of Judah will be brought out to the officials of the king of Babylon. Those women will say to you: "`They misled you and overcame you -- those trusted friends of yours. Your feet are sunk in the mud; your friends have deserted you.'
Here were wives with sufficient power to oppress and crush the lower class, and the affluence to afford a luxury life-style.
Notice that these women 'rule' over the people, are 'haughty', are considered 'elders and leaders', and have plundered the poor and needy.
The literary parallelism between 'filth' and 'bloodstains' indicates that the women of Zion were guilty of bloodshed.
Even the widows were wicked and spoke vileness!
There are a number of indications in the prophets that women received equal punishment, equal treatment, equal honor, were held to equal standards, and had equal access to legal structures.
So, although we don't have a lot of data about the legal situation in these passages, what we DO have supports a general position that women/widows had access to legal power.
Here we have a few bits of very interesting data.
Tremble, you complacent women; shudder, you daughters who feel secure! Strip off your clothes, put sackcloth around your waists. 12 Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vines 13 and for the land of my people, a land overgrown with thorns and briers -- yes, mourn for all houses of merriment and for this city of revelry.
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Consider now! Call for the wailing women to come; send for the most skillful of them. 18 Let them come quickly and wail over us till our eyes overflow with tears and water streams from our eyelids. 19 The sound of wailing is heard from Zion: `How ruined we are! How great is our shame! We must leave our land because our houses are in ruins.'" 20 Now, O women, hear the word of the LORD; open your ears to the words of his mouth. Teach your daughters how to wail; teach one another a lament.
As in the other periods, indications of value occur in the coordinate statements (e.g. "sons and daughters"), in "relative" statements (e.g. "better than sons and daughters"), and in "worth" statements (e.g. "I will exile your sons and daughters").
As for you, O watchtower of the flock, O stronghold of the Daughter of Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to the Daughter of Jerusalem." (Micah 4.8)
"Rise and thresh, O Daughter of Zion, for I will give you horns of iron; I will give you hoofs of bronze and you will break to pieces many nations." (Mich 4.13)
Notice that this daughter is given ascription of Royalty and Military might!
"Speak this word to them: "`Let my eyes overflow with tears night and day without ceasing; for my virgin daughter -- my people -- has suffered a grievous wound, a crushing blow. (Jer 14.17)
How long will you wander, O unfaithful daughter? (jer 31.22)
But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel," declares the LORD. (Jer 3.20--so also Hosea)
For your Maker is your husband -- the LORD Almighty is his name (Is 54.5)
Woe to him who says to his father, `What have you begotten?' or to his mother, `What have you brought to birth?' 11 "This is what the LORD says -- the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? (Is 45.10ff)These are high-images of the female person--God as mother, God as father of His daughter, God as husband of His wife. With these images, the high value of women to God can be clearly seen.
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. (Is 49.15)
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem." (Is 66.13)
This period has its share of God's urging the leaders to take care of His widows (cf. Mic 2.9; Is 1.17, 23; 10.2; Jer 7.6; 22.3), but also has two NEW indications of God's tender concern for His daughters: the 'payback' to the oppressed in Jer 40.10 and the Return/eschatological promises to the nation.
The first of these is God's 'payback' to the women (and poor) that had been oppressed/robbed by the leadership:
11 When all the Jews in Moab, Ammon, Edom and all the other countries heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant in Judah and had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, as governor over them, 12 they all came back to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, from all the countries where they had been scattered. And they harvested an abundance of wine and summer fruit. ( Jer 40.10f)These were the poor of the land, who obeyed the prophets. The later prophets had told the righteous to flee the land, and those that obeyed, returned to harvest an abundance.
But the SECOND indication--the specific inclusion of females in the grand Return and/or eschatological promises of God--is powerful. Consider these promises:
I will say to the north, `Give them up!' and to the south, `Do not hold them back.' Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth -- 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." (Is 43.6)One cannot help but notice the specific mentions of females in these promises--their release, their joy, their restoration. God assures His daughters that His heart is concerned for them, and that His plans include them in the fullest.
This is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I will beckon to the Gentiles, I will lift up my banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their shoulders. 23 Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. (Is 49.22)
"Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. 5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; (Is 60.4)
Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. 14 I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty," declares the LORD. (Jer 31.13)
There are two passages that come up in this literature, that COULD be understood to reflect a lower view of women.
The first passage is Is 4.1: In that day seven women
will take hold of one man
and say, "We will eat our own food
and provide our own clothes;
only let us be called by your name.
Take away our disgrace!"
What it LOOKS LIKE is that it is 'disgraceful' for a women NOT to be married. Actually, however, 'disgrace' is linked to 'not being able to contribute to an inheritance' in the OT.
Let's look at the pattern and context.
The context is one of extreme financial duress and the prophecy is of virtual decimation of the male population through war:
6 A man will seize one of his brothers at his father's home, and say, "You have a cloak, you be our leader; take charge of this heap of ruins!" 7 But in that day he will cry out, "I have no remedy. I have no food or clothing in my house; do not make me the leader of the people." (Is 3.6ff)The broader context of this issue can be seen in parts of Psalms 127 and 128:
12 I will make man scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir. (Is 13.12)
8 I will make their widows more numerous than the sand of the sea. (Jer 15.8)
Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. 4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. 5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate. (Ps 127)The import of these passages (also echoed in the blessing/cursing of Deut) is that children are a sign of God's blessing. Sons, specifically, provided military protection from 'enemies'. The Hebrews took this a step farther--childlessness was therefore seen as a sign of God's "non-blessing", and therefore a source of reproach/disgrace. This can be seen in a couple of places.
Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways. 2 You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours. 3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. 4 Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD. (Ps 128)
Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, "God has taken away my disgrace." (Gen 30.23)To show that the link is between "disgrace" and "no-contribution-to-inheritance" see:
They told him, "This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. (2 Kings 19.3)
"Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the LORD. 2 "Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. 4 "Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. (Is 54.1ff--Notice that barrenness is linked to descendants and territory.)
Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs. (Is 61.7)What this nets out to is that the inability to make a contribution to the expansion of the tribal or national group was a source of 'disgrace'. Although the biblical text typically puts this in the context of women--esp. barren or widows--it ALSO applied to men! A man could be 'shamed' by not having children as well. This is the obvious implication of the curse on Jehoiachin in Jer 22.30:
Remember, O LORD, what has happened to us; look, and see our disgrace. 2 Our inheritance has been turned over to aliens, our homes to foreigners. (Lam 5.1)
This is what the LORD says: "Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah."And, in Isaiah 56.3ff:
And let not any eunuch complain, "I am only a dry tree." 4 For this is what the LORD says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant -- 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.This last passage shows the link between offspring and 'name' (the capability of carrying the memorial/inheritance on).
So, although we normally associate the 'disgrace of childlessness' with OT women, the OT itself shows that it is NOT a female-only issue. Men could also (and did) experience the same 'reproach'.
The second passage is Is 19.16: In that day the Egyptians will be like women. They will shudder with fear at the uplifted hand that the LORD Almighty raises against them. (and the similar Jer 50.37: In that day the Egyptians will be like women. They will shudder with fear at the uplifted hand that the LORD Almighty raises against them. And the land of Judah will bring terror to the Egyptians; everyone to whom Judah is mentioned will be terrified, because of what the LORD Almighty is planning against them. ).
At first blush, this type of an image could be taken as a 'slur' on women (so WS:AHTO:20), but this assumes that it is 'bad' to tremble at the judgment of YHWH!!! That women would 'shudder with fear' at such an obvious horror MIGHT be an indication of 'sound judgment'!! But let's look at the "soldier/woman" comparison issue a little closer.
Now, if this image were used in modern times, in which women participate in modern military practice, then I would tend to agree with the slur-hypothesis. But, in the case of Israelite women who were neither trained nor outfitted for war to 'shudder with fear' at the awesome army of the Lord (in the future) does not seem to fall into that category very cleanly.
If we look at the 'normal' soldier/woman comparisons, we can see the 'normal' pattern:
In that day the hearts of Moab's warriors will be like the heart of a woman in labor. (Jer 48.41)Most of the soldier-women comparisons key in on the intensity of the birth pains, but one seems to focus in on the lack of training-acquired physical endurance required for the labor-intensive warfare of those times:
In that day the hearts of Edom's warriors will be like the heart of a woman in labor. (Jer 49.22)
This is what the LORD says: "Look, an army is coming from the land of the north; a great nation is being stirred up from the ends of the earth. 23 They are armed with bow and spear; they are cruel and show no mercy. They sound like the roaring sea as they ride on their horses; they come like men in battle formation to attack you, O Daughter of Zion." 24 We have heard reports about them, and our hands hang limp. Anguish has gripped us, pain like that of a woman in labor. (Jer 6.22f)
[Notice on this last passage that the 'report' of verse 24 is what causes the 'anguish'--as in Is 19.20.]
Babylon's warriors have stopped fighting; they remain in their strongholds. Their strength is exhausted; they have become like women. (Jer 51.30)This general lack of preparation, lack of training, lack of deliberate military-style physical conditioning, and lack of weapons on the part of women renders this 'slur-hypothesis' highly dubious. Instead, the image of women--skilled, trained, equipped for non-military roles--responding in terror to the armies of brutal nations is a very vivid and realistic one--without any 'slurs' included:
36 A sword against her false prophets! They will become fools. A sword against her warriors! They will be filled with terror. 37 A sword against her horses and chariots and all the foreigners in her ranks! They will become women. A sword against her treasures! They will be plundered.It should also be noted that we do have a few examples in the OT of women who did 'war-like' and courageous military-type acts--the Patriot Woman of Thebez (Judges 9.50-52, recalled by Joab in 2 Sam 11.21) and the act of Jael, who took the chance of the violent commander Sisera waking up, and killed him with a hammer and tent peg (e.g Jud 4.17ff).
In the prophetic literature of this period, we see old and new elements in our picture of women in the bible:
Overall, this body of literature contributes substantially to a high-view of women's status. We see the exaltation of female imagery of God and His relationships, we see the use of females in the revelatory work of God, we see the obvious social power of women (in their abuse of it), and we see God's deliberate specification of women's exalted future in His promises to the nation. Women are thus seen to be integral to God's work in history--both revelatory and salvific. And in the glorious promises of God--His daughters matter to Him.