Women in the Heart of God (4b)

The Data From the Divided Monarchy Literature


[updated 11/9/96]
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 PROPHETIC data.

One: The Prophetic Data from the Divided Kingdom-period prophetic literature.

We can arrange this material under the following categories:

  1. Indications of cultural power

  2. Indications of relative 'equality' in the culture

  3. Situations in which females were used by God in His plan

  4. Glimpses of aspects of women's lives.

  5. Indications of value

  6. Instances of God's care for women

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.

.............................................................................

  1. Indications of cultural power

    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."

    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.'

    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.

    What this indicates is substantial cultural/social power on the part of women.


  2. Indications of relative 'equality' in the culture

    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.

  3. Situations in which females were used by God in His plan

    Here we have a few bits of very interesting data.


  4. Glimpses of aspects of women's lives.

    1. Adornment was not frowned upon: Does a maiden forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? (Jer 2.32)

    2. Aggressive 'pursuit' of love was accepted: How skilled you are at pursuing love! Even the worst of women can learn from your ways. (Jer 2.33)

    3. Dancing was a part of their life: 4 I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful. (Jer 31.4--God draws from the everyday image.)

    4. Marriage was altogether an honorable estate:

      • It was used for the image in Hosea of God's relationship to the nation.
      • Bridegrooms were to rejoice over their brides: as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Is 62.5--also an image picked up by God for His relationship with Israel.)

  5. They were significant agents in the household: For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -- a man's enemies are the members of his own household. (Micah 7.6)


  6. Indications of value

    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").

    1. to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; (Is 56.5)

    2. From our youth shameful gods have consumed the fruits of our fathers' labor -- their flocks and herds, their sons and daughters. 25 Let us lie down in our shame, and let our disgrace cover us. We have sinned against the LORD our God, both we and our fathers; from our youth till this day we have not obeyed the LORD our God." (Jer 3.24ff)

    3. They will devour your harvests and food, devour your sons and daughters; (Jer 5.17)

    4. They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire -- something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. (Jer 7.31)

    5. The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have? 10 Therefore I will give their wives to other men and their fields to new owners. From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. (Jer 8.9ff)

    6. And the people they are prophesying to will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and sword. There will be no one to bury them or their wives, their sons or their daughters. I will pour out on them the calamity they deserve. (Jer 14.16ff)

    7. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. (Jer 29.4ff--notice they were supposed to bear daughters also!)

    8. 35 They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin. (Jer 32.35)

    9. Everyone was to free his Hebrew slaves, both male and female; no one was to hold a fellow Jew in bondage. 10 So all the officials and people who entered into this covenant agreed that they would free their male and female slaves and no longer hold them in bondage. They agreed, and set them free. (Jer 34.9f)

    10. Woe to you, O Moab! The people of Chemosh are destroyed; your sons are taken into exile and your daughters into captivity (Jer 48.46)

    However, in this period we get some NEW data--positive literary images involving daughters, wives, mothers, and God.

    1. We have already seen in the historical section, the emergence of whole populations as the 'daughter' of a city/state. This is much more pronounced in this section. In addition to the obvious Daughter of Zion (e.g. Mich 1.13; 4.8, 13; Isaiah-6x; Jer 4.31; 6.2) and Virgin Israel (e.g Amos 5.2; Jer 18.13; 31.21), we get "daughters of": Gallim (Is 10.30), Tarshish (Is 23.10), Sidon (Is 23.12), Babylon (Isaiah 47.1,2,5), Egypt (Jer 46.11, 24), and Dibon (Jer 48.18). There is absolutely NO HINT that any of these images are negative in the least.

    2. Indeed, we even begin to get exalted portraits of this Daughter of Zion:

      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!

    3. But beyond even this, we start to get images in which Israel is portrayed as the daughter of YHWH or the wife of YHWH--a VERY high valuation of those images!

      "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)

    4. But the most AMAZING of all, in these prophetic passages, are the texts in which God uses a female image for Himself--to communicate His depth of care, concern, commitment to His people:

      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)

      "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)

      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.


  7. Instances of God's care for

    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)

    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)

    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.


........................................................................................

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)

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)

The broader context of this issue can be seen in parts of Psalms 127 and 128:
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)

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)

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.
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)

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.)

To show that the link is between "disgrace" and "no-contribution-to-inheritance" see:
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)

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)

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:
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)

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.]

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:
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).

.................................................................................

Summary:

In the prophetic literature of this period, we see old and new elements in our picture of women in the bible:

  1. We see the same indications of cultural power in the Queen mother.
  2. We see NEW indications of cultural power in the ABUSE of that power by women.
  3. Women are still equally responsible to the covenant demands, equally judged and guilty when in the wrong, and equally punished in history.
  4. Women are NOT held to a higher sexual standard than men--BOTH sexes are held to high standards by God.
  5. We saw that even widows--the allegedly "non-entitites of the ANE"--had legal rights and status in Israel.
  6. We have several passages in which God uses females as signs and as judgments on the men.
  7. Women still manifest the social role of 'singing newspapers'.
  8. The glimpses we have of women's lives indicate that their distinctives were honored.
  9. Women show up in 'indications of value' throughout the literature.
  10. VERY significantly, we have the NEW data in which YHWH is portrayed in female imagery, or as husband/father to Israel the wife/daughter.
  11. We see the deliberate specification of females per se in the promises of the future by YHWH.
  12. We saw that the objections about 'disgrace' and 'soldiers vs. Women' did NOT indicate a low/constrictive view of women

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.


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