After reading the book “Becoming Women of the Word” by Sarah Christmyer, I encouraged our zoom group to choose one woman from the Bible to think about and talk about when we have our last meeting on the book. I know that some of the ladies will be talking about their confirmation saint. But what do I talk about?
I have been thinking all week about this topic. What do these women have in common besides being included in the Bible? The women we talked about started at Eve, the first woman, and went all the way through the Old Testament to Mary, Mother of our Lord. Several of the women intrigued me, as I learned more about them, at the choices they made and their way of life. Some of the women I knew only a little about as I had heard about them at Mass, but nothing more. Four of these women caught my attention as I reflected on the Christmyer book over this last week. These women are Deborah, Hannah, Esther, and Judith. And, of course, Eve, our first mother.
“Eve, the first woman, woke up to love…she was created specially by God to solve that one not-good thing. Eve woke up to completeness and to relationship.” From the very beginning Eve knew she was loved and was a necessary part of God’s awesome creation. Eve was beautiful to look at and wonderful to be with – she was loved by her partner, Adam. Eve also had a mind of her own, a way of thinking that was different than Adam’s. Eve made her own decision – in the beginning – a decision that changed the course of human history from what it was meant to be. From what we read of Eve’s life, we can speculate that her life was difficult and filled with pain, heartbreak and loss. From the names Eve gave her sons, we see also that Eve had a deep and abiding relationship with God. While Eve had not trusted God in the beginning, Eve had turned back to God as time went on.
Though Sarah, Miriam, Leah and Rachel, and Rahab’s lives were interesting – they didn’t particularly appeal to me as I felt no connection to them. I will always love Ruth for the way she lived her life, for how much she loved and because her story gave so much joy to my mom in her last years.
Deborah, Hannah, Esther and Judith – What did these four women have in common that led to their astounding and memorable lives? Why are they called “mothers of faith”? What do they have to teach me? I have come to believe that they are women of deep prayer, trust in God, obedience to His Word and a willingness to act on His behalf. They are also women who love greatly for in some way they each risked their lives and happiness for another.
Deborah – She lived during the time of the judges after Joshua had died. Deborah was known for her wisdom, her fairness and her trust in the Lord. Our book tells us that “Deborah stands out for her wisdom, openness, and obedience to God. Like Rahab, she acted on what she believed. She heard and declared the word of God.” Because of Deborah’s trust in God, she was unafraid; she knew that God was more powerful than any army. Deborah accompanied Barak, God’s chosen general, as he marched against the Canaanites and witnessed the defeat of their powerful enemy.
“Deborah heard and declared the word of God.” One does not hear God’s word unless one prays, that is, listens to God whether it be through the natural world, reading of Scripture or other spiritual books or carrying on a communication with Him. Deborah could trust God because she knew Him. Deborah knew her people’s history, so she knew that God was faithful to His promise. When God said to Deborah, “Are you coming?”, she followed.
We meet Hannah next in our study. Hannah, whose name means, “grace”, is loved by her husband but she is barren – Hannah has no children, although her husband’s second wife, Penninah does. On one of the yearly visits to the shrine at Shiloh with her family, Hannah pleads with God to give her a son. Her powerful prayer is answered a year later, and after he is weaned Hannah returns the son to God to serve Him at the shrine. Hannah’s son became the great prophet, Samuel. Hannah gave God a great gift in her son, Samuel, but as we know God is never outdone – He gave Hannah more children.
What is astounding to me about Hannah is that after she prays, she is at peace. Does she hear an answer to her prayer immediately? How is it that Hannah can trust, that her prayer changes her demeanor unless she heard an answer to her prayer? Is Hannah’s faith so large that she trusts God implicitly? How did she come by her faith? Like Deborah, did Hannah know the history of her people? The author states, “Hannah knew that God was able to help her, she believed He would hear and understand her need.” Is Hannah’s trust that God had heard her prayer a response to the question that God poses for all of us, “are you coming”?
Esther – the story takes place in a far off land where many Jews have been sent into exile. Through a series of circumstances, many almost miraculous, Esther has become the queen. No one knows that Esther or Hadassah is a Jew, that “she carries God’s hidden presence” within her. When an enemy within the palace convinces the king to destroy all the Jews, Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, tells her, “if you keep silent at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” Esther knew to go to God as she realized how powerless she was and how desperate the plight of her people were. How did she come to the realization that God could and would help? Was it through what she had learned as a child? Esther knew the history of her people and believed that God would be true to His promise to protect them. She asked all the Jews of Susa, where she was living, to fast and pray with her.
Esther was prepared to forfeit her life to save her people. Only after Esther prayed, did she act. Was it in the act of praying that her plan was formulated? Did she listen to the Lord and gain wisdom from Him? From where comes the courage to risk one’s life to save another? Did Esther hear the Lord’s voice and see His outstretched Hand, beckoning her to follow?
The final woman who interested me is Judith. Like the story of Esther, this is an amalgam of many stories meant to teach a lesson to the people. Whether it is true in all its details is not its purpose, for it is meant to call people to faith. Judith is a widow, who after she loses her husband, abandons her home and lives in a tent on her roof. She only inhabits her home for the Sabbath and feast days as a way of honoring God. Perhaps there were practical reasons for living on the roof – it would have been cooler as the breeze was not blocked by stone or stucco walls. However, it is more likely that Judith wanted to be closer to God. Judith’s daily habit of prayer, the author tells us, “has given her a perspective that the others in her town don’t have.” Judith had “the respect of the entire community because they knew of her total devotion to God.”
When a powerful enemy surrounds the city and threatens to annihilate the people, Judith warns the people not to test God by giving Him a set time to act. Instead Judith “fell on her face and cried to God. She was so certain of God that she was ready to risk her life so that He could act.” Judith prayed that God would give her the wisdom and strength to do what she knew had to be done. “Judith armed herself with the gifts God gave her – beauty and wit.” When she was finally alone with the enemy general, she prayed twice for God’s help and strength. And then Judith cut off the head of the enemy. Throughout the entire trial Judith prayed and trusted in the Lord. Her people were saved by her courageous actions. When God asked her to follow, she reached out for His hand and took it.
What gift do all these stories have for me? What have I learned from them? Do I have the courage and strength to take God’s Hand when He calls me and to follow Him? Do I have the love for others that these women displayed? I pray that I do, yet only time will tell.