Women in the Heart of God (IIc)

The Data From the Pre-Monarchy Literature

[Updated: Feb 2004, added a comment on Jephthah.]

In this period, we have THREE sources of primary data: the historical data in the narratives before the institution of the Kingship in I Samuel 8, the legal data from the Law of Moses, and the literary data of the biblical text itself. In this section, we will focus on the LITERARY data. One: The Literary Data from the Pre-monarchy period.

In this section, I want to examine how the literary 'use' of women in the text reveals aspects of the authors' worldview on women. To do so, I will consider:

  1. The use of quotes from women

  2. The portrayal of women participants/heroes

  3. The portrayal of women's theology

  4. Some aspects of "women over-against men" narrative encounters/contrasts.

  5. Unfavorable passages and abusives


  1. The use of quotes from women.

    There is a very large amount of quoted material from women preserved in the narratives. They include prayers, naming, singing, dialogue, vows, and arguments. We will only look at some representative ones.

  2. The portrayal of women participants/heroes

    Here we want to notice the 'placement' and/or contribution to the story-line made by prominent female characters in the narrative.

  3. The portrayal of women's theology/spiritual life.

    If we look at the words and actions of the female characters in our period, we can see the theology they held. From the names of children, to the depiction in songs, to the arguments in prayers--women manifested a true knowledge of the Living and Loving Lord. He had revealed Himself to His daughters.

    Let's look at this by noting aspects of theology reflected in the prayers of Hannah (a Hebrew commoner), the Song of Deborah (an Israelite mother, judge, prophet), Miriam (a Hebrew prophetess and leader), one comment from Manoah's wife (a Hebrew commoner), Rebekah's actions (Aramean), Zipporah (a foreign wife of Moses), Eve, Hagar (an Egyptian), Sarah (a Sumerian), Rachel and Leah (Arameans)--quite a cross-section.

    This list of theological statements is very rich--both in its Theology Proper and in its view of Providence. Advanced themes are present even this early in Israel's history: individual redemption, community redemption, prayer, future & universal judgment, 'reversal of fortune', God's compassion, His uniqueness.

    These selected statements and actions by the women of the day reveal a robust and on-target theological understanding, by a very wide cross-section of women.

    (This is not to say, of course, that ALL images of their theology is flawless. The idol of Micah's mom and Rachel and the stolen 'household gods' may be illustrative of borderline belief systems.)

  4. Some aspects of "women over-against men" narrative encounters/contrasts.

    Here we want to look at how women are placed in the narrative vis-ý-vis male participants. Do they come off looking like shrews, mice, rats, sages, nobles, or what?

    As we look at the more extended interactions in both the events and in dialogues, some interesting patterns emerge.

    When I first looked at this data, it literally forced me to wonder if the final redactor of this material (say post-exilic?) might not have been a woman! The characterizations that we will see in the extra-biblical post-exilic literature will sometimes manifest this kind of "women better than men" attitudes. While I think my reaction is probably over-done, it remains nonetheless impressive to me that women are portrayed by these authors as VERY theologically adept, VERY resourceful, VERY successful in effecting outcomes, generally assertive in their communications/interactions with males, and generally VERY responsive and WONDERFULLY delighted in God and His dealings with them.

    I honestly wonder if God didn't 'influence' (smile) the writers of these books to brag a little on His delightful daughters...:>)

  5. Unfavorable passages and abusives

    There are, of course, passages which depict the "other side" of women (being human and all!), and passages in which women are abused/mistreated/victimized. What I want to do here is to consider these passages (briefly) in relation to the issue of their literary import.

    I want to see if these passages are used to build any NORMATIVE or REGULATIVE view of women in the period under discussion, or if they count against this generally high valuation of women by the text. Are their sins held up as unique? Are instances of mistreatment held up as 'okay'?



The time from the creation of the world to the establishment of the monarchy in Israel was a time of rapid change and of the swirling of many cultural contexts together. The gravitational force of the Abrahamic/Sarahic Covenant, the creation of a nation via the Exodus, and the roller-coaster experience of Israel in the Land form the major foci around which events are held in place.

In this dance of history, women appear as full participants--often singing, often praying, often arguing, often 'saving the day'. Their hearts seem so responsive to God, and the recorders of that history recognize the experiencing of the Wondrous God of Israel in their words. The writers of these books see that often it is the female who exemplifies what covenant loyalty is all about, what 'loving God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength' is all about, what the exaltation of the humble is all about.

The women that grace and animate many of these pages are clever and effective, and make their contributions at critical junctures in the history of God's unfolding purposes in history. They are victimized sometimes, and taken for granted often, but they know their God and 'delight in His deliverance'.



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