By Betty Dunn, Crosswalk.com
Do you feel like good moral behavior is on the decline? Are you shocked by what is acceptable behavior today? If you read history, however, you’ll notice bad behavior continuing forward since Adam and Eve. The Bible addresses standards for godly behavior through strong characters in Bible history and direct instruction.
This article will examine Bible passages in which three strong women in the Old Testament played a major role in furthering God’s kingdom. The article will also paint a broad picture of strong women based on other Scripture.
Who Are Examples of Strong Women in Scripture?
Several Old Testament women stand out as examples of practicing Christian behavior.
Miriam, with her brothers Moses and Aaron, led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan. Miriam rounds out the trio of leaders as a woman of action who lifts the spirits of the wandering Hebrew people at an important time.
Miriam was a feisty leader from her early years. As a young girl, Miriam helped rescue baby brother Moses, hidden by his mother to avoid the pharaoh’s decree that all baby boys be killed. Miriam watched the pharaoh’s daughter lift Moses from the reeds on the bank of the Nile River. Then Miriam fetched their Hebrew mother, who nursed Moses until the pharaoh’s daughter raised him as her own royal son (Exodus 1:22—Exodus 2:10). Miriam saved the first leader of the Israelites heading to the Promised Land.
Miriam continued to support Moses in his leadership of the Israelites. She showed her pluck in leading the celebration after God parted the waters of the Red Sea. The Israelites had safely arrived on the far shore of the sea and—observing the dead bodies and ruined chariots of the drowned Egyptian army in this wild escape adventure—they were ready to party. Miriam led the women in banging a tambourine, dancing, and singing for joy, “The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea” (Exodus 15:19-21).
I imagine exhausted men lounging along the bank at the far side of the Red Sea, watching the festivities and perhaps joining in the rousing chorus of the song of praise. Miriam and her girls took the lead role in remembering to give thanks to God for saving them on their perilous journey. Miriam was a lively cheerleader for God’s chosen people, passionate in all her ways, who encouraged the Israelites to persevere and follow the long course to the Promised Land.
Miriam’s sense of girl power comes not without its struggles, however. She wanted a more important role in the exodus; she wanted to be farther up the mountain, as high as Moses on Mount Sinai. She demanded of God, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” This bossy older sister wanted more props. Miriam was brought up short by God. She was stricken with leprosy and exiled for a week outside the Israeli camp (Numbers 12:2-15). This is rough discipline from the Lord of the Israelites. It is similar to how an Old Testament father would have punished an impudent daughter.
A leader serves how God sees fit, we may infer from this narrative. He uses our abilities to further his mission. And we are not always happy with the role we are to play or the tasks we are asked to accomplish.
Often, I have felt undervalued in my roles of wife, mother, and employee, worrying about what everyone else in the family or at my workplace was doing. Who wants to clean the litter box or drive children to all their activities? Who wants to do all the footwork and let the committee chairmen get credit? Yet I am a supportive creature by nature. Sometimes, as in Miriam’s case, we are cornered into using gifts the way God wants us to in our life journey, not the way we would like to use our gifts. That is leading as a strong woman of God. A true leader serves others.
The Bible narrative identifies Miriam as “the prophetess” (Exodus 15:20). She listened with her heart to what God called her to do with her people.
Deborah was another strong woman of the Bible, one of the rare women in ancient Hebrew days who did have power as a judge and prophet. She held court under a palm tree in a serene setting near Jordan, where the emigrating Israelites’ culture and beliefs were oppressed by the dominant culture of the Canaanites. Deborah was the Israelites queen for a time and led them through the Battle of Mt. Tabor.
God told Deborah he would deliver the 900 iron-plated chariots of the Canaanite army under the command of Sisera into her hands. Her Hebrew army commander Barak told Queen Deborah he would attack Sisera with his 10,000 soldiers only if Deborah went into battle with him. Deborah agreed to lead the Israeli troops and she prophesied, “Very well . . . I will go with you . . . (but) the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman.” Sure enough, Barak’s Israelite army, directed by Deborah, prevailed over Sisera’s Canaanites and peace ruled in the region for 40 years after the battle (Judges 4:9-16, 31b). The Hebrew people’s faith in their God and identity as His people grew as a result of Deborah’s steely actions.
In her battle victory duet with Barack, giving God the praise, Deborah referred to herself simply as “a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7). She was another strong woman, true to God’s calling, and a servant of her people.
Abigail also served her people in the Old Testament account of her wise and generous bequest to her future husband and king, David. When her “surly and mean,” greedy, no-good, first husband Nabal refused to return hospitality to David, Abigail quickly and covertly intervened to avoid David’s slaughtering Nabal’s and Abigail’s tribe.
David and his men were in Nabal’s region during sheep hearing season. David declared it was “a festive time” and sent ten of his soldiers to Nabal for provisions. Nabal would be returning a favor if he gifted David’s men; David’s soldiers had protected Nabal’s shepherds and livestock when they were encamped in David’s territory. The cordial invitation to donate food to David’s soldiers was refused, though Nabal had a stronghold of 3000 sheep and 1000 goats. Nabal wanted to provide strictly for his own servants, he said, not strangers.
David and his troops were on the way to seek revenge for Nabal’s huge breach in hospitality when Abigail met them with a caravan of donkeys loaded with 200 loaves of bread, meats, and wine. Standing before this receptive, hungry audience, Abigail launched into a long speech:
“I did not see the men my master (David) sent,” Abigail said. She claimed she knew nothing of her husband’s despicable actions and was now making up for it with David. Referring to herself as “your servant,” she fed “master” David’s camp and cooled his anger. Abigail’s long speech before dinner is full of flattery—with a reference to a powerful slingshot—and favorable predictions for David’s life. Her speech changed David’s heart.
After the feast, Abigail came clean and told Nabal what she did for David. Shocked at his wife’s behavior, Nabal’s “heart failed him” and he became “like a stone.” Nabal was dead in 10 days and Abigail lived happily ever after as the second or third wife—depends how you’re counting—of the future King David. (1 Samuel 25:2-44)
Was she deceptive? Maybe not, since her actions appear to be more intuitive and impulsive than premeditated. Was she a convincing speaker? Most definitely. She talked David into putting down his weapons of revenge. Your conscience will be clearer if you don’t attack Nabal’s household, she told him.
Abigail had a generous heart and a kind spirit. God used Abigail’s strengths to persuade a future king not to fight his own war.
Bible Verses about Strong Women
Her actions reveal that Deborah was nothing if not strong and dignified, a war general. Abigail was strong in going against her husband’s decision, bravely facing David, and telling Nabal what she did. Miriam must have been laughing when she threw a little party—with her tambourine, song, and dance—that encouraged the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land.
“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” Proverbs 31:26.
Her words are inspired by God when Deborah speaks to Barak, telling him she’ll go to battle again the Canaanites. God gave her confidence she would receive honor. Abigail oozes kindness in her words and gifts for David. Miriam’s spirit expresses itself when she “opens her mouth with wisdom” and sings for joy.
How Does the Christian Definition of Strong Differ from that of the World?
A strong woman has Christlike strength.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” Galatians 5:22-23a.
A strong Christian woman lives by the fruits of the Spirit. She heeds the urging of the Spirit by studying the Bible, praying, and reflecting. Her life becomes an act of worship, the phrase Ashley Judd used in her memoir, All That is Bitter and Sweet, to describe her work as an advocate for struggling people in Southeast Asia.
“God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day” Psalms 46:5.
Bible women’s lives and our lives often do not go as expected. More powerful armies did not defeat a smaller army and a woman assumed battle leadership in Deborah’s historic time. A woman’s words—spoken or in song—led followers in all three of the strong women’s Bible narratives, in a culture in which women were usually kept silent.
God worked within these women and blessed their success. The women did not “go it alone.” Accepting who they were, being their own marvelous selves, they relied on God’s strength and were victorious.
Encouraging Bible Verses about Strong Women and Role Models
“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” Proverbs 3:3.
Mary the mother of Jesus “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19). As strong women, we need to speak with discretion. Read the article When She Speaks to learn when and how to speak in blessed family, work, and friend relationships.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" Galatians 3:28.
Strong women are empowered by God to be strong people. Encouraging Bible verses apply to men and women. This article on Bible verses for women will boost your spirits.
What Does it Mean to Be a Female Role Model in Christ?
Jesus recognized Mary of Bethany’s strength in the New Testament account of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha of Bethany’s home. Mary knelt at Jesus’ feet and soaked up his words while her sister Martha fussed with household chores she thought were necessary to accommodate their holy house guest. Jesus said to the two women, “Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42). There will always be time to do housework. Jesus won’t always be with them.
As a party planner and holiday hostess, I admire Martha for taking the initiative to invite Jesus to their home. Martha’s strong character is also displayed in her fulfilling her responsibilities, the grind of cooking, cleaning, and worrying. I remember exhausting routines when my children were young, and I worked and went to school. Mary, on the other hand, lived in the moment; she savored time with and instruction from Jesus. He made it clear that Mary’s role was more important; it took strength to stop everything and listen to Jesus, to tap His divine wisdom, instead of being swallowed by housework and entertaining duties. There is a time to cease the busyness and listen, Jesus implies.
May the stories of Bible women inspire you to set Christlike priorities and a plan of action in your life. Listen to God for guidance and listen to others. Remember the examples set so long ago. The names change and the setting differs, but the same concerns arise in our lives. We may be called to unify an unfocused group, like Miriam; we may fight a battle with dignity and courage like Deborah; and we may pour sweetness on hurt and anger, like Abigail.
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Becca Tapert
Betty Dunn hopes her articles in Crosswalk.com help you hold hands with God, a theme in her self-published novel Medusa. A former high school English teacher and editor, she is working on new writing projects from her home in West Michigan, where she enjoys woods, water, pets, and family. Check out her blog at Betty Dunn and her website, www.elizabethdunning-wix.com