Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Accomplished Bible Women, Not Usually Noticed!

Picture is by James J. Tissot, "David Dances before the Ark" (1896-1902), The Jewish Museum, New York, accessed at

I still remember an incident when I was in high school. I used to borrow the family car for the day, but to do so I had to bring my father to the train station and then pick him up in the early evening. I kept observing that, for some strange reason, whenever the men arrived, the wives would move over from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat so as to allow the men to drive. I never did that, but since it kept happening, one evening I asked my father if he wanted to drive home. He said, with a smile, “Oh, no. You go ahead,” and then he settled into his passenger seat, as if he were a king and I his chief chauffeur. This was a small gesture, but, for a sedate Dutchman, it was (and still is) counter cultural. He also showed his encouragement because he wanted me to follow in his own footprints. Having served as a Dutch consul, he wanted me to serve as an ambassador. I learned to be counter cultural too and have pursued the avenues God pressed upon me to travel, even if unusual for women: to be ordained as a minister and to teach the New Testament to potential ministers.
Fathers can have a great impact encouraging daughters into careers different from the average for women. We find that, as well, in the Bible. For instance, Ephraim, a son of Joseph, was one of the twelve patriarchs (Gen. 41:50-52; Num. 1:32; 26:35). His daughter, Sheerah, was quite a building contractor and architect. She built Lower and Upper Beth-Horon as well as Uzzen-sheerah (1 Chron. 7:24), cities that would last thousands of years. Built during the time of the twelve patriarchs, these cities had strategic importance and continued for many generations.[1] Some of their stone walls and terraces are still visible today. The cities were built on the boundary of Ephraim’s territory (Josh. 16:3, 5; 18:13). Solomon rebuilt them as fortified cities with walls, gates, and bars (1 Kings 9:17; 2 Chron. 8:5).[2]
When the exiles returned from Persia, they discovered that Jerusalem lay in ruins with its gates burned. The locals began to mock and ridicule the Jews and eventually attack them (Neh. 2:17, 19; 4:1-3, 7-8). Thus, the urgency to build strong walls was reinforced. Among the many builders, Shallum, son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs together with his daughters (Neh. 3:12). Each of the builders eventually had a sword strapped to her (or his) side while she built in case of attack (Neh. 4:18).
One of the marvelous ministries that King David began for temple worship was the troupes of temple musicians, singers, and prophets (1 Chron. 6:31-33; 2 Chron. 29:30). David, himself a composer, musician, and dancer,[3] asked the Levites to appoint as musicians Levite families. Heman the Ezrahite, Asaph, and Ethan were appointed to make a joyful sound with musical instruments: lyres, harps, and cymbals (1 Chron. 15:16-17, 19-24; 16:41-42; 25:1-8). Heman was a cymbal player. He had fourteen sons and three daughters and all of them played and prophesied with music in the temple (1 Chron. 25:5-6; 35:15). They dressed in fine linen (the same material as the priests had, Exod. 28:1-5) while playing at the east side of the altar (2 Chron. 5:12-14). After the exile, the temple assembly included 200-245 male and female singers (Ezra 2:65; Neh. 7:66-67).
We should not be surprised women were involved in worship at the temple since, as early as the entrance into Canaan, Miriam, Moses’s sister, a prophet and leader of Israel, led other women in song and dance in praise of God: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously” (Exod. 15:20-21 NRSV; Micah 6:4). Women served at the tabernacle from earliest times (Exod. 38:8; 1 Sam. 2:22). They were involved in the music ministry and in prophecy. (See also Deborah in Judges 4:4-5:31 and Huldah in 2 Kings 22:14-20.)[4] And for some of them at least their accomplishments were encouraged by their fathers.
May fathers today also encourage their daughters to excel in church and secular vocations, all to the praise of the Lord “for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (1 Chron. 16:41; 2 Chron. 5:13 NRSV).

[1] Josh. 10:10-11; 1 Sam. 13:18; 2 Chron. 25:13.
[2] Upper Beth-Horon was 1750 feet above sea level, while Lower Beth-Horon was 700 feet lower (W. L. Reed, “Beth-Horon,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 1:393-94.
[3] 1 Sam. 16:17-23; 18:10; 19:9; 2 Sam. 6:5, 14; 1 Chron. 13:8; 15:27-29, plus many psalms were written by David, such as Pss. 3-9; 11-32; 34-41.
[4] See also ch. 4, Aida Besancon Spencer, Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985).