Yesterday, Now and Forever
"God is not ashamed to be called their God." This profound statement is found in Hebrews 11, the faith chapter of the Bible. Can you imagine your name being listed along with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph and Moses in God’s list of the faithful?
But, wait, before we go any further, let’s look at that list a little more closely. Faith is not only a masculine virtue, we see. Sarah and Rahab and the women who received their dead raised to life again are also listed. And those courageous nameless people who "were tortured, not accepting deliverance."
Let us take a new look at faith—from the point of view of women. Let us see how women of the Bible also used faith in their walk with God.
Deborah, the only recorded female judge of ancient Israel, is described in Judges 4 and 5 as the deliverer of Israel for 40 years from Canaanite oppression. Before we analyze how this extraordinary woman did this, think about what it might take for a female to become the spiritual, judicial and military leader of Israel. It was a time of anarchy. The Hebrew tribes had settled among the Canaanites and began to worship their gods. Israel failed to stand apart from its pagan neighbors, as God commanded them. Instead of being righteous examples to the surrounding cultures, they took part in customs loathsome to their God.
Though God made it plain that both mothers and fathers—women and men—are to be treated with equal respect (Exodus 20:12), in this degenerate disunited society, the rights of women were often overlooked. Women today complain about rights, but what do you think it took for a woman of that age to achieve what Deborah did? It took one major ingredient—a strong belief and faith in God.
God chose a faithful woman as Israel’s judge and prophetess. It was a woman who encouraged Barak, the son of Abinoam, to heed God’s call to duty and lead Israel’s army against Sisera’s 900 iron chariots. It was a woman who accompanied the troops to the battleground at Mount Tabor to fortify Barak’s wavering courage (Judges 4:8-9).
To be fair to Barak, when he looked at the odds against him, he clearly saw that unless God was on Israel’s side, he and his troops would be massacred. Being a practical man, he made sure God’s prophetess would be at the battle scene to provide divine insight. Barak is also on God’s list of the faithful (Hebrews 11:32).
Deborah knew, in spite of the circumstances of her time and culture, that in God’s sight, women were not second-class citizens, that God was not a respecter of persons. Her strong abiding faith gave this woman the conviction and courage to allow God to use her in a most unusual way.
How satisfying it must have been for Deborah to look down on the Plain of Megiddo, 20 miles of battleground, and see God miraculously deliver Israel’s army. "So let all your enemies perish, O Lord," was Deborah’s battle cry. You can read in Judges 5 a stirring description of ancient Israel’s deliverance from Sisera’s oppression.
May You Be Like Ruth...
An Old Testament book with her name tells the remarkable story of Ruth, a woman of Moab. After the death of the husbands of both Ruth and her sister-in-law Orpah, their mother-in-law, Naomi, entreated them to go back to their families in Moab. Orpah tearfully did, but Ruth’s deep love for Naomi is reflected in her often-quoted words: "Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God" (Ruth 1:16, New King James). It was a statement of loyalty and faith. In the years of living with her husband and being near her mother-in-law, Ruth grew in understanding of God’s way of life. She forsook her former Moabite rituals as she saw the benefits of worshiping the true God. Ruth’s relocation from Moab to Bethlehem took great faith. It shows us that sometimes we must also leave old ways behind to follow God. It did not take long for Boaz, a well-to-do landowner and kinsman, to become aware of Ruth’s sterling characteristics. Her faithfulness to God caused her to benefit from an ancient custom—one that was to shape her future. In Israel, when a man died childless, his brother or nearest kinsman was expected to marry the widow. Their firstborn child was considered to be of the dead husband and inherited his property. Boaz, being a just man, considered it an honor to fulfill his responsibilities. And, he was also greatly blessed by this union. Ruth brought much additional praise to him and his family, for all time to come. It wasn’t long before Naomi was also given new life and security in her latter years, as her daughter-in-law presented her with a grandson they named Obed. Obed became the father of Jesse, who was the father of David—Israel’s greatest king. Ruth, a woman of faithful dedication to God, to her mother-in-law, Naomi, to her husband and to a long family line, is worthy of praise. May we, as we follow God’s ways in our lives, also be.
Joan C. Bogdanchik
Hannah, the God-fearing mother of Samuel the prophet, displayed an extraordinary faith and courage during a time of spiritual laxity in Israel. Hannah, one of two wives of Elkanah, was unable to have children. Barrenness in a Hebrew woman disgraced both her family and nation. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, had several children, and often scornfully reminded Hannah of her failure to fulfill her duty as a wife and an Israelite. As the years passed, Hannah’s apparently hopeless situation and Peninnah’s constant taunting caused Hannah increasing unhappiness and distress. During one of the family’s yearly visits to Shiloh (as was the custom), Hannah went to the temple and begged God to give her a child. In humble, fervent prayer, she faithfully pledged her child to God in lifelong service. Nine months later, Samuel was born. Despite having waited so long for this child, Hannah willingly gave her son, when he was three years old, to the service of God at the tabernacle. She provided him with clothing and visited him throughout his childhood. So what importance does the story of Hannah have for us today? We often find it difficult to see beyond our particular problems. Our difficulties can seem insurmountable, and our situation grossly unfair. Doesn’t that describe Hannah’s situation? Yet Hannah did not give up hope. In faith, she depended on God to change her circumstances. In faith, according to her word, she gave up her only child to him, and God rewarded her with five more children. Because of Hannah’s trust in and commitment to God, she was given a son, who eventually became the last and perhaps the greatest of the judges. When times are difficult and remaining faithful seems too hard, take a moment to think of the story of Hannah, a woman of great faith.
A Queen Risks Her LifeGod’s unseen hand guides, directs and preserves his people by working out circumstances, often in the most unexpected ways. God gave Esther, a beautiful Jewish girl, special favor in the eyes of Ahasuerus, king of Persia, and the king chose Esther to become his queen in place of his previous wife, Vashti. You can read the story in the Bible in the book of Esther. Esther’s cousin and guardian, Mordecai, had a powerful enemy in the court—King Ahasuerus’ favorite prince, Haman. Mordecai wouldn’t bow to Haman each day at the city gate, and it made the prince furious. When Haman discovered that Mordecai was Jewish, he determined not only to destroy Mordecai but also his entire race along with him. As soon as Mordecai heard about Haman’s plans, he told Esther it was time to plead for the life of her people. She had not yet revealed to the king that she was Jewish. Esther said to her uncle, "Don’t you know that I’ve not been to the king for 30 days and those who approach the king without being called are executed unless he extends the golden scepter to them?" (See Esther 4:11.) Esther had reason to fear. The king was far from a model of virtue. Herodotus, a fifth-century B.C. Greek historian, says Ahasuerus was vain and sensual. Mordecai said to Esther: "Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews.... Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (verses 13-14). Mordecai was beginning to realize that God had been working this out all along. Esther made a quick and brave decision: "Tell the people to fast three days and three nights and I shall go in to the king. If I live, I live and if I perish, I perish." (See verse 16.) Then Esther put on her royal apparel and bravely went to the king’s throne room. As she entered the room, a hush fell over the royal court. They knew the king favored this woman above all others, but they also knew the king had not called for her. What mood would the king be in? As Esther began slowly to walk toward him, the king stretched out his scepter. It was a signal that her life was granted her. At that moment Esther doubtlessly said a silent thank-you prayer to God. To summarize the rest of the story, the king commanded that Haman be hanged for his presumptuousness. King Ahasuerus promoted Mordecai, and the Jews (including Queen Esther) were spared. God is always working behind the scenes. There are times when most of us have questioned events in our lives and wondered where God was. The story of Esther tells us he’s here for us. God’s hand is not only guiding his church, but also working out circumstances in our individual lives. So, when you get a little discouraged or you can’t understand why certain things happen to you, remember Esther.
Rahab saves her family
Back even before the time of Deborah and Barak, let’s look at another remarkable Old Testament example of feminine faith— that of the innkeeper Rabab. Some scholars believe she (like most female innkeepers) was a harlot, others deny the possibility. But one thing we do know: she is the only woman other than Sarah who is listed by name in God’s account of his faithful in Hebrews.
Rahab lived in the age-old city of Jericho during the time that Joshua was leading the Israelites out of the desert into the promised land. According to archaeologists, a double wall of brick protected the city. Rahab’s house was probably built over the 12-to-15-foot space that separated Jericho’s 12-foot-thick inner wall from its 6-foot-thick outer wall.
The city of Jericho was the most important city in the Jordan Valley. The Canaanites of Rahab’s time excelled in the arts and sciences. Morally, however, they were perverse. Their pagan religions were lewd and base, their civilization was decadent. Even though Jericho was heavily fortified, the Canaanite inhabitants of Jericho were understandably nervous about the Israelite hordes camped close by on the plains of Moab.
As they walked toward Jericho, two Hebrew spies sent by Joshua, Israel’s military leader, may have noticed Rahab’s house, with its window on the side of the massive outer wall of the city. When they entered the city, they were no doubt pleased to learn that this particular house on the wall was a place where two strangers would be accepted.
Rahab had heard about the miracles God had performed to rescue Israel from the Egyptians. She knew that the Amorites across the Jordan had been conquered. When the Israelite spies came to her house, she seized on the chance to save her family from what she saw as certain destruction.
Her neighbors had heard the stories, too. But, unlike her, they trusted in the thick walls of Jericho. Somehow, out of all these people, Rahab could see beyond the brick and stone of her familiar world and trust in the Hebrews’ God. It must have been difficult to decide to forsake all that she knew and was comfortable with.
Following the spies’ instruction, she acted on her faith and marked her home with a sign—a red rope. God respected her trust in him, and she and her family were spared when Jericho’s walls fell. One woman of faith out of a whole city. You can read the account of Rahab’s deliverance in Joshua 2-6.
Jesus and women
Jesus Christ constantly surprised his followers by the way he treated women. Women were real people to Jesus. Ignoring local custom, Jesus expected women as well as men to listen to and follow his teachings. Remember the account of Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha for criticizing her sister Mary because she chose to listen to Jesus rather than help serve the male guests?
"And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-42).
Jesus revealed the marvelous truth of his messiahship to, of all people, a Samaritan woman (John 4:21-26). The Jews despised the Samaritans and their religion. For a Jewish man to speak to a woman in public, especially a Samaritan woman, was unheard of at the time. Jesus’ disciples were astonished when they saw him so at ease with women, talking to them, teaching them and admonishing them, as he did men. Women were amazed as well—and appreciated his concern for them, expressed so openly.
The multiple hundreds of thousands of women of faith over the centuries go unrecorded for the most part. Whatever our backgrounds, wherever we live, we all, no doubt, have our personal Joan of Arcs to add to the list.
About 100 years ago, women weren’t satisfied with the world they saw around them and began to complain. Women campaigned against war, alcoholism, long work hours, low wages, child labor, high infant death rate, and filthy living conditions.
In the United States in 1909, Nannie Helen Burroughs gave her National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C., the motto: "We Specialize in the Wholly Impossible." The National Training School, a model for many others, "offered young African American women a liberal-arts education and more....
"Mary Breckenridge of the Frontier Nursing Service sent nurse midwives riding on horseback through the woods of Kentucky in the 1920s. Jane Addams founded Chicago’s Hull House, one of the first and most important of the establishments of the settlement house movement, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931" ("Smithsonian News Service," Mary Combs).
Edie Mayo, curator in the Division of Political History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., adds, "What is truly astonishing is the fact that they accomplished most of it without the power to vote."
These few and far between examples from the past are fine, you may think, but what about now? Can today’s women expect God to answer their prayers? Can they have faith? Does God discriminate against women today?
God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35). He expects women, as well as men, to faithfully believe in him. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28, New King James). God expects both men and women to actively express that faith by following him.
Why is active faith in God so important? To answer that question, we must first understand what faith is— and what it isn’t.
Here’s one definition of faith: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is absolute confidence in God’s will, God’s purpose, and absolute belief that God through his Son Jesus Christ will answer your prayers –all this before you see any physical proof.
Deborah knew before she called for Barak that God would grant Israel the victory. But how? Everything she could see and hear seemed to point toward Israel’s defeat. Sisera had 900 chariots; he had thousands of well-trained and well-armed troops. Barak had neither. From what could be physically detected, it was not logical (in human terms) for Deborah to expect to win. But Deborah had faith in God, and knew that he would help Israel overpower the mighty Canaanites.
Deborah’s faith was not an emotion. It wasn’t some kind of feeling she had worked up over several hours or days. Her faith was not just hope, either. Wishful thinking does not win battles against iron-tipped chariots and battle-hardened troops.
Deborah’s faith was the unwavering belief in the face of overwhelming odds that God exists and that he will do what he promises he will. This faith is based on experience of what God has done, knowing he will not change his great purpose for humans. It is the kind of faith that wins wars and, in Rahab’s case, saves lives.
The kind of faith that leads us to believe in and obey God is the only kind that pleases him. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6, New King James).
Those who believe don’t let circumstances cause them to doubt God. And God answers their prayers. "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord" (James 1:6-7).
Is faith out-of-date?
How strong is your faith? Can God look down at you as one he could add to his list of faithful servants? Or does faith seem to be an old-fashioned virtue, not as necessary in our modem technological world? Jesus wondered whether in the latter days of our civilization faith would be a scarce commodity. "Nevertheless when the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).
Does having faith still matter? Yes, it certainly does. The gift of faith—true godly faith—is needed for our salvation. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8, New King James). To learn more about this kind of faith, click here.
God does not discriminate. Whether Abraham or Sarah, Barak or Deborah, Hebrews says that the world was not worthy of those faithful people. Male or female, let’s be sure we have the faith to make his list as well.
Faith, Hope and BBQ Sauce
In 1991, if you took Route 98 west through Columbus, Mississippi, crossed the Pearl River, continued to the second bridge over the railroad tracks, drove up the dirt road until you passed the Highway Department’s garage, and asked someone where Leatha’s is, then you could have found one of the best restaurants in the United States. There were no signs; it was nothing fancy. A ramshackle house, rickety tables and chairs, and an assortment of old plates, cups and flatware. But the steaks were thick, the chicken tender and cooked just right. And the barbecue sauce was prepared from a formula that only Leatha knew. You’d never forget it, nor Leatha herself. (The restaurant has moved to Hattiesburg, and as of 2003, 80-year-old Leatha still works there). Leatha Jackson is a grandmother with a simple formula for success—her secret recipe for BBQ sauce and an ironclad faith that God helps those who help themselves. She was raised in poverty. From age 5 to 25 she picked cotton. But her dream was to own and operate a restaurant. "In those days, a poor black girl in rural Mississippi with a third-grade education didn’t have too much chance," she said. "But my father taught me to trust in God. When I got my first job in a restaurant, I didn’t even know how to split a hot dog bun and put a wienie on it," she remembered. She learned cooking and food management by watching others. Then she took the plunge and opened a small restaurant in her home far off the beaten track. There was no money for advertising. "We couldn’t even afford a sign," she said. "So I asked God for customers, and they began coming." When her husband became ill, Leatha, who had always refused welfare and never owed anything, was forced to mortgage the property to meet the unexpected medical expenses. "We were $100,000 in debt. But I knew God would not put on us more than we could bear." And she paid the debt off. Leatha has personal interest in each of her customers. In fact, she provided a service that few other restaurants could match. "When I have done all I can to serve them, I sometimes go to my room and pray for them. I thank God for each one. I ask him to help me give them good food, and to treat them right. Then I pray for their spiritual and financial welfare. I want them to be happy." Leatha’s is a family business. There are jobs for her children and their families—"if they are willing to work," she adds. She sees the business as a way to keep the family together. "It’s like a bundle of sticks," she explains. "Separate us and we are easily broken. Together, we’re strong." In a world of ruthless greed and cutthroat competition, Leatha’s decent, hard-working little enterprise is a reminder that "old-fashioned" values still work. Be fair, treat people right, give good value for a fair price, work hard, share with others and don’t be greedy. And above all, trust God to look after you.