Women in the Heart of God (4a)

The Data From the Divided Monarchy Literature


[updated 11/8/96]
This period of time stretches from the division of the Kingdom after the death of Solomon, until the destruction of Jerusalem after 600 B.C.

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 HISTORICAL data.

One: The Historical Data from the Divided Kingdom-period narratives.

We can arrange this material under the following categories:

  1. The importance of the Queen-mother (and the Queen)

  2. Specific ways God used women in His plan

  3. Interactions between God and women in the text

  4. Aspects of the literary portrayal of women in the lit

  5. Indications of their relative "equality" within the culture

  6. Passages illustrating their legal status

  7. Indications of their roles in the cult and other public life

  8. The outstanding women heroes and role-models of the period.


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  1. The importance of the Queen-mother (and the Queen)

    It is commonly assumed that, since all the kings of Israel were men, that women had no access to governmental power. We will see that this is very wrong, esp. in this period. Not only will we see an offical 'court prophetess' (i.e. Huldah), but we will see a continuation of the queen-mother position instituted by Solomon in I Kings 2.

    Some might object that their power was only derived from their relationship with a male (which is actually excepted at least once in the biblical record with Athaliah--2 Kgs 11). But strangely enough, this makes access to power MORE AVAILABLE to women than men. Think about this: ANY women could marry a king and so become a queen, and possibly a queen-mother if any of her sons came to the throne (a study of the backgrounds of the queen-mothers of Israel would show an incredible diversity of backgrounds of the wives). But a male could only become a king if he were born of the reigning king! Bloodlines are so much more restrictive than are marriages--for accession to power.

    In the U.S.A, there was a popular saying when I was a kid--"any boy could become president." But in Israel, this was NOT the case--"NO boy can become king--except one of the handful born in the court!". But, "any woman could marry the king--and become a queen" would have been true in Israel of this period (and was actually demonstrated in actual practice.)

    Let's look at some of the passages that illustrate aspects of the status, power, and influence of the queen.

    The queen-mother figure (and to a lesser extent the queen) exerted considerable influence in governmental affairs. She was a recognized leader, had an official position, and was the subject of diplomatic visits. She was involved in the active ruling of the country to the extent that it was not incomprehensible for one to reign by herself for years.


  2. Specific ways God used women in His plan.

    There were a number of situations where God used women to further His plan in history--with the instruments of His work spanning the entire spectrum of social status--from queen mother to captive slave girl in Syria. Let's look at some of these.


  3. Interactions between God and women in the text

    There are several passages in which God's direct interaction and/or relationship with women per se can be seen.

    1. I Kings 17.9: "Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food." [Notice: We have already noted that God gave a direct command to this foreign widow.]

    2. I Kings 17.13ff: Elijah said to her, "Don't be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.'" [Notice: as the story continued, God delivered a special prophecy of hope and assurance to this woman, from the leading national prophet!]

    3. 2 Kings 4:
      The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves." 2 Elisha replied to her, "How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?" "Your servant has nothing there at all," she said, "except a little oil." 3 Elisha said, "Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don't ask for just a few. 4 Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side." 5 She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. 6 When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another one." But he replied, "There is not a jar left." Then the oil stopped flowing. 7 She went and told the man of God, and he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left."
      Notice that God provided for this widow of a prophet--through the ministry of Elisha.

    4. The only two resurrections of the dead in the OT are both to the women patrons of Elisha and Elihjah (above). The fact that one of these women was destitute, while the other was wealthy, indicates that it was NOT simply 'compassion' on the widow--the only thing common to them was their sex.

    5. 2 Kings 8.1: Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, "Go away with your family and stay for a while wherever you can, because the LORD has decreed a famine in the land that will last seven years." 2 The woman proceeded to do as the man of God said. She and her family went away and stayed in the land of the Philistines seven years.

      Notice that God delivered a very practical prophecy to this woman--and apparently not to anyone else!

    6. The case of the prophetess Huldah in 2 Kings 22.14ff, clearly shows that He interacted with women prophets in the same basic fashion as men prophets. The process of prophetic inspiration in generally considered one of the most intimate of relationships with God.


  4. Aspects of the literary portrayal of women in the lit.

    The historical material falls into the same pattern we have seen before--women are used to show the 'better qualities' we are to have. They are also represented in the narratives as having a wide range of important function in this generally difficult time.


  5. Indications of their relative "equality" within the culture.

    There are many general indications of female 'equality' before God in the narratives. They are held equally guilty, are equally punished, have a high degree of influence, and are valued highly (and coordinately).


  6. Passages illustrating their legal status

    There are two very interesting pieces of data in this period--the story of Elisha's patron, and the occurrence of women's names in genealogies.

    First, in the story of Elisha's patron, she is forewarned by God of a coming famine and flees to a foreign country (2 Kings 8):

    Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, "Go away with your family and stay for a while wherever you can, because the LORD has decreed a famine in the land that will last seven years." 2 The woman proceeded to do as the man of God said. She and her family went away and stayed in the land of the Philistines seven years. 3 At the end of the seven years she came back from the land of the Philistines and went to the king to beg for her house and land. 4 The king was talking to Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, and had said, "Tell me about all the great things Elisha has done." 5 Just as Gehazi was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, the woman whose son Elisha had brought back to life came to beg the king for her house and land. Gehazi said, "This is the woman, my lord the king, and this is her son whom Elisha restored to life." 6 The king asked the woman about it, and she told him. Then he assigned an official to her case and said to him, "Give back everything that belonged to her, including all the income from her land from the day she left the country until now."
    Notice that this woman has access to the King of Israel (v5), has a public official assigned to her case by the king (v6), is given her home and land back(v6), and even is given the income from the property accrued during her absence!

    Now, EITHER this woman is doing all this WITHOUT her husband (who was alive, but old, in 4.14) or, more likely, she is doing this as a widow (although with a son). In either case, this is remarkable access to legal structures.

    Second, in 2 Chrn 31.17-18: And they distributed to the priests enrolled by their families in the genealogical records and likewise to the Levites twenty years old or more, according to their responsibilities and their divisions. 18 They included all the little ones, the wives, and the sons and daughters of the whole community listed in these genealogical records.

    The important thing to notice here is that the wives and children were listed in the genealogical records--one of the cornerstones of their legal system.


  7. Indications of their roles in the cult and other public life.

    There are a couple of "public" scenes in the narrative and a few indications of cultic roles by women.

    1. The case of Huldah the prophetess is obviously related to the central core of Israel's covenant with God.

    2. 2 Chrn 20.5,13: Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the LORD in the front of the new courtyard and 13 All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD.

      Notice that this public fast/assembly/covenant action was attended by ALL the relevant parties--including the wives.

    3. 2 Chrn 35.25: Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the men and women singers commemorate Josiah in the laments. These became a tradition in Israel and are written in the Laments.

      Jeremiah PROBABLY wrote these laments before the Exile (on the occasion of Josiah's death), and the Chronicler's remark about the men and women singers probably points back to the period immediately after the death of Josiah. Thus, women were involved in the public lamenting of kings and transmission of tradition in the nation.


    4. The outstanding women heroes and role-models of the period.

      Several major heroes emerge from the historical data in these narratives:

      1. The patron of Elijah (directly interacting with God)
      2. The patron of Elisha (a model of support and tenacity)
      3. The widow of the prophet (with such great expectations of God)
      4. Huldah, the prophetess (spoke the word of God fearlessly to the king)
      5. Joash's mother (who saved the good king's life)

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    Summary:

    There are several major points that arise in this set of data:

    1. We saw the emergence or development of THREE powerful female roles: patron, queen-mother, prophetess--with seemingly NO restrictions on women's access to these.
    2. Key figures of the period were supported or saved by women (Elijah, Elisha, Joash).
    3. In this period we saw the only OT resurrections--ALL done for women.
    4. We saw women as models of faith in, and obedience to, the revelation of God.
    5. They are seen to have had access to the 'normal' legal systems of the day.
    6. They are shown to be strong personages, esp. in dealing with God's messengers.
    7. They are seen to be active in public life and in cultic and/or informational ministries.

    Interestingly, in spite of some claims that womens' roles were REDUCING during this period, we have seen the opposite--their influence and power in the society was increased substantially, through the growth of several important social roles: patron, queen-mother, prophetess. The portraits painted of them are real, vibrant, strong, influential--and loyal to their Father.


    The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.christian-thinktank.com] (Reference Abbreviations)