Challenging the passive spiritual woman stereotype

Church Girls Gone…Mild?
Paul Coughlin,
Oregon author of No More Christian Nice Girls

Pssst…come here…scoot over on the church pew so we can lean in close and whisper a personal question in your ear: “Are you ever-so-slightly tired of hearing Sunday school lessons and sermons lauding the gentle spirit of Mary of Bethany as she sat at Jesus’ feet?  Yes, she’s  a wonderful example of making Jesus top priority, but all these lessons and sermons and books on her…do they ever make you feel like God must surely prefer women who passively sit, nice and quiet, throughout their lives?”

Good news, girlfriend!  God loves a spirited woman who does more than sit with her hands folded as the world crumbles.  Mary of Bethany is one of many biblical female role models who pleased God with assertive and courageous actions.  This chapter is full of biblical and modern day female role models and their gutsy actions.  Unlike Christian Nice Girls, these are God’s Good Women who chose to be good instead of just nice, and subsequently brought God glory and advanced his kingdom.  Immortalized forever in God’s Word, they prove that God prefers his women to do more than passively sit on their hands while evil triumphs.  Many of them were trailblazers who chose risky paths for women.

Let’s start in the Old Testament with Deborah, a working woman who spoke hard words of truth as she led Israel.  You can read her exciting story in judges 4-5.  Deborah’s story takes place back before Israel had a king, when the country was led by judges/prophets who functioned much like a governor does today.  The Canaanites had cruelly oppressed Israel for years, leaving the Israelites discouraged and despondent, but repentant for their worship of false gods.  God responded to their cries for help by giving them Deborah as judge and prophetess.  Her name means “honeybee,” but she wasn’t all sweetness and light.  Judges 4:4 identifies Deborah in Hebrew as an eshet lappidot, usually translated “wife of Lappidoth.”  However, some commentators have noted that since there is no biblical record of a man named Lappidoth, and lappidot means “torch,” that eshet lappidot may be better translated as “Deborah, a spirited woman.”  Don’t you love that?  She wasn’t a Nice Girl, she was a spirited woman—and God loves a firecracker!

Do you work outside the home?  So did Deborah—literally.  She held court outside under a palm tree a few miles from Jerusalem, judging disputes and speaking for God.  She was a pioneer, and no doubt, some people in this patriarchal society were offended that God raised up a woman to lead Israel; however, Deborah was concerned with pleasing God, not making everyone like her.  She didn’t want to offend God by rejecting his call on her life, so instead she risked offending her fellow citizens.  She was true to who God created her to be, and ultimately the people loved her for it.  If you decide to become one of God’s Good Women, you will offend someone, guaranteed.  But if you stick with it, and are faithful to God’s call on your life, you will find, like Deborah did, that more people will love you for your authentic self than would ever have loved the people-pleasing you.

Getting back to the story, in response to the Canaanite oppression, Deborah sent for an Israelite military leader, Barak, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men…to Mount Tabor.  I will lure Sisera [the enemy commander]…with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands'” (Judges 4:6-7).

Barak agreed to the task, but only if Deborah would go with him.  She agreed to go, but added “because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman” (Judges 4:9).  Sounds like Deborah is going to get the honors, doesn’t it?  Wrong—God has another woman in mind, but let’s not get ahead of the story.  Please note that Deborah just spoke a hard truth to Barak, and she (gasp!) hurt his feelings—actually, she probably devastated Barak because, to a soldier, there was no greater honor than to capture the enemy leader.  If Deborah had been a CNG, she would have kept this fact to herself so that Barak wouldn’t get mad or offended.

Let’s finish up this exciting story.  God gives Israel victory in the battle, and the enemy commander, Sisera, runs for his life, right into the tent of Jael, another one of God’s Good Women.  Are you a homemaker?  So was Jael.  Judges 5:24 describes her as “most blessed of tent-dwelling women.”  When Sisera ran to her tent and told her to hide him, she was anything but nice.  She invited him in, but while he slept, Jael picked up a hammer and drove a tent stake through his head into the ground.  She knew that she and her family would be in danger if the Israelites found her harboring the enemy, so she killed him.  Now, that’s a woman who will stand up for herself and others!  A CNG would have allowed sisera to bully her into lying for him and endangering her family.  Doubtless, Jael’s heart pounded with fear as she crept toward the sleeping enemy, but that didn’t stop her from pounding that tent stake and killing evil dead when it entered her home.  God’s Good Women are perceptive and proactive like Jael.  They aren’t passive, which means they don’t ignore danger or wait around for things to fall apart before they finally react.

Like courageous Jael, Ruth was a risk-taker who faced fear to save both her and her mother-in-law’s life.  Ruth’s story, found in Ruth 1-4, begins with the deaths of her husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law in Moab.  Ruth was from Moab, but she refused to let her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi, return to Judah without her, uttering those famous words, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).  Leaving her childhood home, family, and idolatrous faith was risky, but as one of God’s Good Women, Ruth didn’t shrink back from a challenge.  Instead of playing it safe and letting her past dictate her future like Christian Nice Girls do, Ruth boldly put her whole future in God’s hands by making a complete break with her past.

The two women settled in Judah with no income and no marriage prospects because Naomi was past child-bearing age and Ruth was an outsider.  They could have given up and starved to death, but Ruth took the initiative to glean for leftover barley in the fields.  And as god would have it, she ended up in Boaz’s fields.  He was a distant relative of Naomi’s, and after he noticed Ruth’s industrious work and noble character, he made sure that she was protected from unwanted male attention, and that his workers left plenty of grain for her to harvest.

Now the story gets particularly intriguing.  Naomi, playing matchmaker, tells Ruth “Is not Boaz…a kinsman of ours?  Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor.  Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes.  Then go down to the threshing floor…When he lies down, note the place where he is lying.  Then go and uncover his feet and lie down.  He will tell you what to do” (Ruth 3:2-4).

A Christian Nice Girl would have refused Naomi’s request.  Put on perfume and slip around in the dark uncovering men’s feet—oh my, what would people say if they found out?  And what if Boaz gets the wrong idea and starts playing footsie?  A CNG would have stayed home, prim and proper, offered an earnest prayer alone, and hoped that Boaz would magically figure out that this young woman was interested in marriage to a much older man.

Ruth didn’t stay home that night; instead, she followed Naomi’s instructions completely.  When Boaz woke up in the dark, startled to find a woman lying at his feet, he asked, “Who are you?”  Don’t you imagine Ruth’s heart was about to jump out of her chest as she laid it all on the line and replied, “I am your servant Ruth…Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer” (Ruth 3:9).  The penniless foreigner Ruth was asking wealthy landowner Boaz to marry her.  He could have rejected and publicly humiliated Ruth for her boldness, but she didn’t let her fear or her past stop her from taking steps to change her current situation.  That’s what God’s Good Women do.  They push past their fears and assertively go after what God has for them—sometimes breaking with tradition and convention.

Boaz agreed to marry Ruth, and they later had a son named Obed, who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David.  Yes, that David—the shepherd boy who became king of Israel.  And it all started when one of God’s Good Women bravely said goodbye to her past, showed initiative, took risks when God gave her opportunities, and dabbed a little perfume behind each ear.

Sometimes God’s Good Women can end up married to fools.  That’s what happened to beautiful and intelligent Abigail in I Samuel 25.  She was married to a wealthy, surly rancher named Nabal, whose name means “fool.”  Abigail’s nail-biter story occurs when David and his men are hiding from King Saul, and camp near Nabal’s ranch in Maon.  At sheepshearing time, David sent a delegation of his men to ask politely for some food because they had previously protected Nabal’s sheep and herdsmen.  Nabal, confirming the aptness of his name, ridiculed David and sent his men away empty-handed.  When David’s men reported what had happened, David was furious, rounded up his men, and set off to kill Nabal and his workers.

A servant told Abigail what Nabal had done and warned her of the impending danger from David.  The situation was perilous and frustrating—first, her husband had done something foolish, and now David was planning to do something even more foolish in return.  A Christian Nice Girl might have wrung her hands in fear or wasted time complaining about her husband’s bonehead actions.  A CNG might have done nothing more than “pray really hard about the situation,” which, to be painfully frank, is sometimes a way of avoiding making the bold decisions people already know they need to make.  A truly confused CNG might even have mistakenly thought that she needed to support her husband’s dangerous choices in the name of being a “biblically submissive wife.”

Instead, Abigail immediately packed up bushels of food and wine, sent her servants ahead with the provisions, and got on her trusty donkey.  When Abigail intercepted David, she defused his murderous rage like a seasoned diplomat.  She apologized for her husband’s churlish behavior and repeatedly called David “my lord” to make up for Nabal’s insults.  She brought abundant provisions to correct the injustice and ingratitude David had experienced.  Then Abigail bravely dared to give David a new perspective on the situation.  She reminded him that revenge would be unwise, because as Israel’s king one day, he wouldn’t want needless bloodshed on his hands.  She also urged him to leave vengeance in God’s hands.

Abigail was shrewd in dealing with David—just as Jesus commands believers to be in Matthew 10:16—meaning she showed keen awareness, sound judgment, intelligence, resourcefulness, and an intuitive grasp of practical matters.  She carefully chose the truths she spoke to David.  Unlike CNGs, who equate shrewdness with sin and naivete with godliness, God’s Good Women are savvy.  They quickly discern how to best handle a situation to take care of themselves and those under their care.

David listened to Abigail and recognized that god had sent her to keep him from committing murder.  When God’s Good Women act wisely, God gets the glory ultimately.  Abigail saved her family with her bold words and actions, but she also saved David and his men from sin.

When she returned home, she found Nabal partying and too drunk to listen, so she sensibly waited until morning to tell him what had happened.  He was so shocked that he had a stroke and died ten days later.  There’s no record of anyone being particularly saddened by his demise.  David, who obviously knew one of God’s Good Women when he saw her, later married Abigail.

Next time:  More of God’s Good Women!

Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous Faith, No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the values-based and faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for public schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals who want to diminish child-based bullying.

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