Significant Women

This week we begin a new series entitled ‘Significant Women’. Starting with Eve we will examine what the bible has to say about women who played a significant role in God’s plan of redemption. Some are well known, some are not. Some we know by name and others are anonymous; some are good some were not, but all had a part to play and together we will see what God has to say through them.


  1. All about Eve

Genesis 3:20

The name of Eve is inseparable from Adam and the creation story in Genesis. We know her as the first woman, she was also the first mother and wife and even dress maker but was never a daughter or sister. We don’t know old or where she was when she died though Jewish Legend is that she was buried in cave of Machpelah later secured by Abraham as a family burial place. W know from Genesis that she bore three sons that are named but other sons and daughters were born to Adam and presumably Eve (Genesis 5:4). Eve wasn’t the only name given to this first woman and there are two different accounts of her creation, just to confuse things. Despite all this she is undoubtedly the most significant woman who has ever lived.

The first account of Eve’s (as we will call her) creation is in Genesis 1:26,27. In this description we are told that God created man in his image, both male and female were created and they shared the title of the name ‘man’. This name in the original language is Adam and male and female were not distinguished from one another and shared the name. They were both created in his image and shared equal responsibility in caring for and managing God’s creation.

There is a Jewish legend drawn from the Babylonian Torah and is called the Alphabet of ben sirah that argues that Eve was the second woman to be created. Briefly it states that God first created a female known as Lilith who was entirely equal to Adam but felt she was treated as inferior. She rebelled and left Eden and while she was away God created a second woman to support Adam. This woman became Eve. There is not enough space to deal with this in more detail here but we will return to it in a future reading. For now we will treat it as a myth designed to explain why there seems to be two creation accounts and move on to Eve’s significance.

Genesis 2 provides the second account of Eve’s creation and at this time God instructed Adam to call her woman (Genesis 2:23) because she was taken out of man. In the story of creation we read that in every stage after God had had acted he declared that what he had made was good and after he created man, all of creation was very good (Chapter 1:31). However by the time we move to Chapter 2:18 God says that it was not good for man to live alone and so he decides to create woman. Most scholars belief this is a description of what happened in the account of man and woman being created in Genesis 1 and not something that occurred later.

God gives his explanation for the creation of woman. It was to provide companionship to Adam (it was not good for him to be alone) and to work with him in caring for creation. The word ‘helper’ is used in Genesis 2:18 to describe the woman’s role, many have understood this to mean that she had a lesser role, she was subordinate to Adam who was the boss, and she just did as he directed. The word in its original language is pronounced ezer and is used of God in Psalm 70:5: ‘But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help (ezer)and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay!’ So it is clearly not intended to mean that woman was inferior to man. It can also be translated as ‘complement’ not to suggest that man was somehow deficient, after all he was created in the image of God, but that together they would reflect God’s image in the manner in which the cared for his creation.

We have yet to get the passage where woman is named Eve and that occurs after the tragic events in the garden which we look at next time. What is important though is to note that woman was created in the image of God in every respect equal to man. God intended that man live in relationship with others and together with woman he and she are expected to care for God’s creation and show every aspect of his nature.  

  1. In what way do men and women reflect the character of God together?
  2. God said it was not good for man to live alone, why not?

Do you think that women are created as a little less important than men?



  1. The man and his wife
    Genesis 2:24,25Another term is introduced for this first woman, that is she is a ‘wife’. There is obviously no history to draw from to explain this word and it is the same Hebrew that is translated elsewhere as ‘woman’. The significant difference in Genesis 2:24,25 is that she was brought to the man to be united as one flesh (Verses 23,24) in what became the first act of marriage. This union is described as being indivisible and God creates in each of them a desire to hold on tightly (cleave) to one another.In some translations the word ‘cleave’ is used and the same word can to mean cut apart at other times, which can be confusing! Here it is used to put the new relationship of a husband and wife in the context of the husband’s (and wife’s) relationship with their parents. They must leave one in order to cleave to the other! This new relationship of marriage is the most important, historically the definition of marriage was understood as the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others for life. The husband’s first responsibility was to care for, protect, pursue and cling to his wife. It will not be long before Adam fails in this task.Both Adam and his wife were completely innocent at this stage. While the possibility of rebellion against God existed, it had not happened. Sin had not entered the world and therefore was no consciousness of evil, guilt or shame. This is summed up in the statement that they ‘were both naked and were not ashamed.’ There was no embarrassment, they knew nothing else. The also had no one to compare themselves with and so as far as they were concerned, whatever shape they were in was just as it should be, perfect.God had imposed one restriction on Adam, they he was not to eat of tree of knowledge of good and evil, and if he did he would die. Some scholars believe that this instruction was given some time before the creation of Eve and that he had already begun his work of naming all the animals and it was only after completing that task that the woman was created. Most, however think that both Adam and his wife were included in the warning.At some point, which may have been very soon after Adam and his wife were joined together or sometime later a serpent appeared and began to speak to Adam’s wife. There would be no reason for her to suspect anything, she was entirely innocent and naïve. There is no explanation of why a serpent would be able to speak or whether this was unusual either, but this one was craftier than all the other animals. He began to question Eve and challenge her understanding of what God had said. He accused God of misleading her and asked her to repeat exactly the instructions she and Adam were given. She did this but added an extra, she said God had told them that they could not even touch the tree while in fact he did not do that. She also described it as the tree in the middle of the garden while God had said it was tree of knowledge of good and evil.

    Eve gave into the temptation that was presented to her and encouraged Adam to do the same, which he did. Adam was with her and failed in his primary responsibility of caring for and protecting his wife. There is no suggestion that he tried to dissuade her or prevent her from taking the fruit. Instead he may even have been waiting to see what would happen next and when there was no obvious ill effects he was quick to join in. The basis of the temptation was not the attractiveness of the fruit, but that Adam and his wife could become like God and decode for themselves what was right or wrong. Immediately they gave into the temptation sin entrd the world and they were ashamed.

  1. What do you think an ‘indivisible union’ means?
  2. What do you think are the most important responsibilities of a man toward his wife?
  3. What are wife’s responsibilities to her husband?


  1. The Mother of all living
    Genesis3:8-24Once Adam and his wife realized they were naked and were ashamed they tried to hide themselves by sewing together some fig leaves. It seems like it was God’s custom to visit them in the cool of the day, whether he was visible to them or just made his presence known is not stated but they heard him and recognized who it was. Still ashamed they hid behind the trees hoping that God would not notice them. But he called out to them and asked where they were.When God asks a question, it is not because he is looking for information. Nothing is hidden from him, he knows all things – he is asking Adam to admit to what he has done. Adam betrayed himself by stating he was naked; he could only know that if he had eaten of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil and God challenged him to confess that he had. Instead of just asking God’s forgiveness and mercy by acknowledging his fault he immediately blamed his wife. Rather than protect her he tried to make her responsible for his own failing. In fact he went a step further and blamed God. If God hadn’t given this woman to him none of this would have happened! God didn’t argue with Adam but turned to the woman and asked what she had done. She in turn tried to avoid responsibility and blamed the serpent.There was no defense and no justification, all three parties were guilty and all would suffer the consequences of their actions. First of all the serpent was condemned to live in the dust and be at war with the woman and all of her offspring. Even in this judgement God reveals that he has not abandoned the woman and it is through her that the final judgment on the serpent would come. In the very of act of executing the sentence on humanity God reveals his plan to redeem itThe woman receives a two fold judgement. In the first place she would experience increased pain in child birth. Since she had not yet given birth she would have had no idea what this meant, but she knew she was going to have children. God had not abandoned her, God’s decree that she and her husband multiply and fill the land had not been removed. God would still be with her and help her. Later in Chapter 4:1 She names her first son Cain, declaring that she had him with the help of the Lord. The second judgement had to do with the relationship between her and her husband. Where once they were to act in harmony, cooperating and supporting each other now there would be competition and disunion. Some translations state that verse 16 reads “your desire will be for your husband” while others put it that ‘’your desire will be contrary or against your husband’’. As this is a judgment or curse it must have a negative effect. The word ‘’desire’’ appears three times in the bible, once here, again in Genesis 4:7 when Cain is told that sin was crouching like a lion because its desire was contrary to him. The third time is in the Song of Solomon when it speaks of sexual desire which is a legitimate expectation in marriage (7:10). It is most likely that what is intended is that the cooperative relationship that should typify marriage would be broken. Wives would seek to control or make choices independently of their husband and he would try to impose his authority, to dominate and force his wife into submissionAdam was condemned to a life of toil, where once food would be plentiful, and labour enjoyable, now it become a burden. The seeds of decay had been sown. From the moment sin entered the world so did death. It wasn’t immediate but it was inevitable. God’s plan of redemption is to bring healing to all of these relationships, to restore marriage to his original plan that ‘creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.’ (Romans 8:21)

    On hearing this Adam named his wife Eve because she was the mother of all living. And then God hid their shame by making for them clothes from sacrificed animals.

  1. If God were to ask you were you are, how would you answer?
  2. When Adam and Eve were caught out they tried to avoid responsibility, how easy is it to do that?
  3. God plans to restore marriages to the biblical ideal, how do you see that reflected in your life if you are married, or in broader society?


  1. What about Lilith?
    Genesis 1:26-28There are number of myths associated with Lilith who, in some Jewish writing, is presented as the first wife of Adam. The most well known account of her creation and life is found in the Alphabet of ben sirah written sometime between 700 and 1000 A.D. It is sometimes used to explain what seems to be two different accounts of the creation of the first woman in chapters one and two of Genesis. Much of the ‘alphabet’ account is graphic and only suitable for adult readers and so will only be touched on here!According to the most popular account Adam and Lilith were created at the same time equal in every way with the shared responsibility for subduing the world and managing it. Adam however insisted that he had authority over Lilith and she had to serve him. This was reflected in their most intimate relationships: ‘They quarreled immediately. She said: “I will not lie below you.” He said, “I will not lie below you, but above you. For you are fit to be below me and I above you.” (Alphabet of Ben Sira 23a-b). Lilith would not accept Adam’s dominance and left Eden to live in the wilderness near the Red Sea where according to Jewish legend she became a demon. Adam complained to God that Lilith had left him so God created another woman who was named Eve.God sent three angels after Lilith to bring her back but she refused claiming: ‘’I was created only to cause sickness to infants. If the infant is male, I have dominion over him for eight days after his birth, and if female, for twenty days.” She is attributed to be the cause of child deaths, abortion and other sickness. Children could be protected if they wore a bracelet with the names of the angels inscribed on it. Lilith is also said to have had relations with other demons which produced demonic offspring and to assault males while they were sleeping alone and producing offspring through them.

    Lilith did return to Eden where she saw Adam and Eve embracing and was filled with jealousy. She then took on the form of a serpent and approached Eve with the temptation to eat the forbidden fruit which ultimately caused sin to enter humanity. This myth, and others with some similarities seem like fantasy and yet in recent times it or at least the character of Lilith has been adopted by sections of the feminist movement. There is a Lilith Fair and the magazine ‘Lilith’ was inspired by Lilith’s fight for equality with Adam. In that magazine Avina Zuckoff writes: ‘Not only does Lilith immediately recognize tyranny for what it is, but she immediately resists it, too. Nowhere do we see her complain (as Adam does); she states her case and takes risks for her dignity. She is courageous and decisive, willing to accept the consequences of her action. Her strength of character and commitment to self is inspiring.’ To these women Lilith is seen as heroic and a champion of the cause of equal rights. Of course that does require ignoring the unsavoury aspects of the myth.

    The Genesis account ascribes equality to men and women without the need to resort to the level of fantasy familiar to ancient pagan cultures. In the first statement of their creation it is clear that equal responsibility was given to man and woman to manage and care for God’s world and to reflect his character in their union together. Paul writes to the Galatians: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28). While he writes to the Christians at Ephesus about relationships in marriage he prefaces his comments with: ‘submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Ephesians 5:21) and he says this in the context of being filled with the Holy Spirit. While within marriage husband and wife may undertake different roles and responsibilities they do this from the place of equality and unity. There is no place for a domineering attitude or enforced submission to either party.

    Lilith is not a representation of an ideal that women can identify with as an independent woman who challenges the oppressive system in which she is placed. She is a myth. The ideal is presented for us in the pages of the bible and while the nearest we may find to an ideal is in Proverbs 31.  The reality is that all of creation, including men and women are flawed and their example will always be short of the ideal.

  1. Why do you think people find it necessary to create mythical a figure like Lilith?
  2. How should equality between man and woman be demonstrated?
  3. What do you think about women’s groups adopting the name Lilith to promote themselves?


  1. The Temptation of Eve
    Genesis 3:1-6We are familiar with the temptation of Eve, how a serpent spoke to her and encouraged to do the one thing God had told she and Adam not to. Like many of the stories in the bible this one doesn’t provide all the details and can lead to speculation or guesswork about how it all happened.It is curious that Eve doesn’t comment on the fact that a serpent spoke to her – was this usual? We don’t even know what language was spoken and how they learned it. Because we usually read these stories in a language and culture that is familiar to us we often project our own experiences on to the text. For example, as I come from a predominantly white and western culture where English is my spoken language, I imagine they are speaking in that language. It is said that Adam and Eve were both very beautiful and so I assume that they will look like what I think beautiful people should be. Of course as there were no other human beings there was nothing to compare their beauty with so whatever their appearance they were beautiful because they were made in the image of God and there was no sin or decay to spoil there appearance.

    Were the words spoken by the serpent said out aloud? When Satan tempts me, it is nearly always through a conversation in my mind and not something that is heard by others. Could this be the case with Eve and would it explain why Adam stood around doing nothing? As suggested above this is entirely guesswork, but there seems no reason and no audience for the words of Satan through the serpent, to be audible. Whatever the case, either mentally or out aloud the serpent engaged Eve in a debate. John Owen the Puritan scholar and preacher makes the point that all of us will be tempted and we cannot avoid it, but what we must not do is enter into it. Jesus told his disciples in the Lord’s prayer to ask they are not led into temptation. He was tempted, but he never entered into it. It has been said that you cannot stop a seagull flying over your head, but you can stop it making a nest in your hair, this makes the same point in a different way.

    The problem for Eve was not that she was tempted, but that she entered into it. Instead of walking away, or exercising the authority she had been given over creation and dismissing the serpent, or maybe even enlist the support of Adam, she entered into a discussion with Satan. Eve started to weigh up the benefits of eating the fruit compared with the possible negative results. In verse six we are given the three things that Eve considered: It was good for food, it looked good and it would make her wise. Story books usually describe the fruit as an apple, again reflecting the culture of those who write them. If these books were written elsewhere they may have suggested a banana, a lychee or even durian though most likely a pomegranate! It doesn’t matter what type of fruit it was only that God had told these first humans not to eat it.

    Eve had never encountered death or decay and perhaps she did not understand the enormity of what that would mean. Whether she did or did not know she listened to the serpent when he told her that God clearly did not mean what he had said and having compared that with all the good things that would come from eating the fruit, she made her decision to eat it. The basis of Satan’s temptation was to make Eve doubt God and to become independent of him. Why should she obey God when she could make her own decisions, why limit her personal freedom when there were things she could enjoy. Not much has changed since then; Satan continues to tempt us to seek short term pleasure over eternal benefit, to be free to make our own choices rather than accept God’s guidance and direction and ultimate salvation.

    You will always be tempted, be careful not to enter those temptations.

  1. Do you find that you argue with yourself or debating whether or not you should do something?
  2. Are there temptations that you struggle not to enter into?
  3. What can you do to avoid entering these temptations?


  1. Leaving Eden
    Genesis 3:22-24Adam was expelled from the garden of Eden after disobeying God. Eve is not specifically mentioned but it sems she accompanied Adam, although there are some Jewish writers who think that she may have followed sometime later. We don’t know how long Adam and Eve were living in the garden before the encounter with the serpent, but it was all they knew. Now they had to leave.

    Eve and her husband had to leave the security of what they knew, and there was no going back. There is an unfinished sentence in verse 22. It is almost as if God had started to say something, but he didn’t even want to think about it, so he broke off and walked away. Immediately it seems he evicted Adam, and Eve went with him. Just to make sure Adam didn’t try to get back in God appointed Cherubim to guard the entrance. Cherubim is the plural form of Cherub which means there were more than one of them. Cherubs are often pictured as young chubby people, often with curly hair and wings. They appear on Christmas cards and at other times. In fact, the cherub was God’s warrior, Jewish scholar Nick Schaser calls them God’s bouncers. They are positioned alongside the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies to prevent unauthorized people from approaching the mercy seat and are said to have a frightening appearance.

    When Adam was questioned by God about his disobedience he put the blame on Eve, going further he said that really it was God that caused the problem because he gave Eve to him in the first place. There was no sense of repentance or seeking forgiveness, just an “It’s not my fault” statement. Not to be outdone Eve blamed the serpent. The entrance of sin had already begun to sew disunity in the relationship, neither was prepared to accept responsibility, and at least Adam blamed his partner. Having become aware of their failure and tried to hide their shame they had lost their innocence and each blamed the other.

    God intended that Adam and Eve live together in perfect harmony, complementing each other as they exercised dominion over all of His creation. Now they were avoiding responsibility and being thrown out of the garden. Once their work was an act of worship and fellowship with God, now it would be hard and arduous. Child bearing was intended to be a pleasant experience, now it was going to be painful and complicated. While they had always worked together as one, now they would be in competition for who was in control. Neither Eve nor Adam had any experience of life outside of the garden. All they knew was the peace, tranquillity and fruitfulness of Eden, not only would they have to leave behind this paradise, they would have to do it without the unity they had once shared.

    God’s plan of redemption is the restoration of all things and perhaps at the head of the list is the relationship between man and woman. Not everyone enters or stays in the state of marriage. Jesus himself was not married and is the perfect example of humanity. But for those who God does call into marriage his purpose is that together they are bound mystically into an indivisible union where there is no competition or blame shifting. Where each seeks the best interest of the other and recognizes the gifts and graces in each other. The couple will complement each other in completing the God given purposes he has established and be subject to another as they are led by the Holy Spirit. Marriage is the representation of how Christ relates to the church and it is where man and woman together make known the character of God. It is no surprise then that it is a primary target for satanic attack, just as it was in Eden. It should also be no surprise that Paul ends his comments about marriage and family with instructions to put on the whole armour of God as we face our spiritual battles (Ephesians 6).

  1. Have you had to leave the security of what you know? How important was it to be in unity?
  2. Does blame shifting go on in your relationships?
  3. Do you think your marriage is an object of spiritual attack?


  1. The first mother
    Genesis 4:1-2

    Eve and her husband, Adam left the garden and prepared for a life of hard work and uncertainty. We have no information about how they went about it, where they lived or what their domestic arrangements were, but at some time Eve became pregnant. This was not only her first child, this was the first child to ever be born, the first pregnancy. Unless God downloaded all the relevant information directly about reproduction and birth the only recourse they had was to observe the animals! How long did pregnancy last, what was birth like, what were they supposed to do and when should they do it? All Eve knew was that it was going to be painful.

    Most women are apprehensive about the birth of their first child, but usually they have the support of others who have gone through the experience, and trained people to help with the delivery. Not Eve she had Adam who knew as much or less than she did and of course God, but apart from that she was on her own. The whole process of conception to delivery is dealt with in about 12 words! There was no talk of ante natal classes or post natal depression, no epidurals or pain relief, no support from parents or friends. Eve was about to go through an experience that no one had ever gone through. She would need strength and faith beyond anything we can imagine.

    When the time came Eve delivered her first child who she named Cain, claiming that she had gained or acquired a man-child (or son) with the help of the Lord. What the nature of that help was is not stated, it may have been in providing the strength and comfort she needed or in more practical ways, but whatever it was God had not abandoned her. She was not left alone to face this traumatic experience, he was with her to help. Unless Abel was a twin, Eve was undeterred by her experience and conceived again. This time the baby that was conceived was called Abel. Genesis 5 records that after Adam was 130 years old he had another son who was named Seth and in the next 800 years he produced a number of other sons and daughters. Josephus the Jewish historian claims that Adam fathered 33 sons and 23 daughters and there have been a number of other guesses, but no one knows the exact number. It is assumed that Eve was the mother, but that is not stated and neither is the age at which she died.

    Eve was the first mother and with Adam one of the first parents. They had no one to guide them apart from God. When they reached adulthood both Cain and Abel had taken on farming activities. Cain looked after the land and produced crops while Abel kept animals. At some time they both decided to bring an offering to God, each from the result of their farming activities. Abel’s offering was accepted by God but for some reason Cain’s was not. It seems that the issue was with Cain’s attitude and God rebuked him, in a sense telling him he should do better and learn to exercise self control: ‘’If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Instead of accepting the rebuke Cain took his anger out on his brother and killed him. Cain was driven away from his family by God as punishment and in that one moment Eve the first mother grieved the death of one son and the exile of the other.

    Eve was the first mother of a rebellious child and tragically the first to lose one son to a violent death and the other thrown out of the house. We don’t know how she grieved or coped with the loss of both of her children only that a while later she produced another son through whom salvation would come. Eve was a woman of significant strength and faith. We know her as the person who rebelled against God and gave in to temptation. But she is the woman that God never abandoned, was still used to initiate God’s plan of redemption and to prepare the way for all those who have come after her.

  1. God never abandons his purpose for you, no matter how often we stumble – what do you think of that?
  2. How would you cope with the circumstances of life that Eve faced?
  3. Eve was the closest woman to God that ever lived and yet was mother to a rebellious child and gave into temptation. How can you draw comfort from this?




  1. Sarah, a princess
    Genesis 12:1-6Sarah and her husband Abraham (named Sarai and Abram at the time but for sake of clarity we will stick with Sarah and Abraham) were a childless couple living in a place called Ur. It is not certain exactly where that was, but most scholars agree it was near the Euphrates River, perhaps in where southern Turkey is now. It was part of what is called the fertile crescent a rich and stable environment for agriculture. Abram was the third son of a wealthy family, his father and oldest brother had died and it seems he had responsibility for his nephew Lot, perhaps since his father, Abraham’s oldest brother had died. Sarah and Abraham were past middle age (at least in our times, maybe still young for then). Sarah was probably also from a prominent family because one of the meanings of her name is ‘princess’.There is no indication that Abraham’s father, Terah, and his family were worshippers of God but one day God spoke to Abraham. This event is recorded in Genesis 12:1. It is not said how God spoke, whether in a dream, a vision, directly to Abraham’s mind or in an audible voice, but Abraham heard him and understood that it was God who was speaking. The message Abraham heard was that he was to leave his home and his family and if he did God would bless him and make him the head of a great nation. There is no record of Abraham discussing this with Sarah, just that he gathered his things together and headed for the land of Canaan with all his possessions, Sarah and also his nephew Lot. Lot was a middle aged wealthy man by this time (Genesis 13:5,6) so there does not seem to be any reason to take him and it was also contrary to God’s instruction to Abraham to leave his family behind. It wasn’t long before they separated from one another.Hebrews chapter 11 remarks on Sarah’s great faith and the evidence of it begins in this event. She and Abraham were childless and yet were wealthy landowners and prominent citizens in their community. The land they farmed was fertile and productive and they were assured of a safe and certain future. Now this God, with whom it seems they had no previous contact somehow tells Abraham to leave everything behind and head to this desolate land. They probably didn’t know the language of the people where they were going or the cultural practices, they had no guarantee that they would succeed as farmers and sheep herders, assuming they even knew they were going to Canaan. The climate was unstable, the soil poor and the people unfriendly. All they had on which to base their decision to leave their home and security was a message given to Abraham. I imagine that Abraham did discuss this, and I suspect Sarah must have taken some convincing.If you are a husband or wife how would your partner react if you came home one day and said: “I have just heard from God and he told me to leave everything: family, home and business and just start travelling. He said he would tell me where to go on the way and that one day I would be really successful and famous”? The bible tells us that when Abraham went he was considered righteous because of his faith. No mention is made of the faithfulness and trust of Sarah and yet she went with him believing God and in expectation of the promises of God being fulfilled.Sarah had to leave everything she knew, and which made her safe and comfortable. Not much is recorded about Sarah’s own family. She was the daughter of Terah, Abraham’s father but not of his mother, this made her his half sister, a fact that Abraham later used to deceive Pharaoh. She was reportedly outstandingly beautiful even though at the time she and Abraham left their home she was 65 years old. This prominent, wealthy and beautiful member of the ruling class gave up everything to go with Abraham in response to God’s command. Sarah was a woman of great faith and of great courage.
  1. Sarah left everything to follow God, what would you struggle to leave?
  2. Has God ever spoken directly to you?
  3. Are you prepared for a great adventure if God invites you to follow him into uncertain places?


  1. Leaving Home
    Genesis 12:4-9Sarah and Abraham began their journey toward Canaan, which was a large place already inhabited by people who may not have welcomed the presence of these potential colonizers. Abraham, Sarah and Lot didn’t travel by themselves, they would have with them servants, workers and their families, herds of animals and all of their possessions. In chapter 14:14 we are told that Abraham had 318 trained fighting men who were born in his household. This was large community of people, and Abraham was its leader and Sarah the first lady (to use the American idea).They didn’t seem to have a particular destination in mind and travelled in stages. They arrived at Shechem where they set up camp. For the first time God appeared to Abraham and so he set up an altar there. God promised Abraham that the land he was on would be given to him and his children. There were two problems with this though: Abraham didn’t have any children and Canaanites were already living in the land. Evidently this didn’t deter Abraham though he took down his tent and he and his people headed into the hills and set up camp again. The place names that are given in the account in this chapter weren’t used for some time after this journey but were called by them when the story was first written.At this second camp Abraham built another altar and for the first time we read of him calling on the name of the Lord. There is still no indication that Sarah participated in this or any act of worship or that any conversation took place between the two of them about their destination. They didn’t stay in the hills very long and once again headed south. The area they headed toward was called the Negeb which means dry, and it was a harsh place. There were no maps in Sarah’s day and certainly no GPS! They may have received information from other travellers which prompted them to head to this barren area or they may have been checking out the land that God had promised to them. They had left the fertile area near the Euphrates River because God had promised them a land of their own. What they had seen so far may not have filled them with enthusiasm, but they continued south.They arrived in the Negeb and presumably once again set up camp. We need to remember this was not a camping holiday, a whole community of men, women and children together with their livestock and all of their possessions were involved. No doubt the servants were trained not to complain, but they must have been a little discontented with what was happening. It is not stated how long they were in the Negeb, but a famine struck.The dream Abraham had, which he shared with Sarah and used to convince her to leave her home for the unknown, suddenly must have looked like a mistake. Leaving luxury, influence and a position in society for a journey through a barren land to end in the desert facing a famine would have tested the most faithful of saints and neither Sarah nor Abraham fitted that description yet. What had seemed so attractive, so promising at first now must have seemed an illusion. Sarah had faithfully followed her husband’s lead, trusted him and committed herself and her future to the message he had received from a god she didn’t even know. What now? Could she go home, would Abraham admit he was wrong or should she leave him. These are all speculation, we don’t know what conversations took place between Sarah and Abraham, but from what we later learn about her she doesn’t seem the type of person who would just meekly follow without making her opinion known! All we know for sure is that they packed up the camp and their belongings and left, not for home, but further away toward Egypt. They were leaving the promised land, couldn’t they trust God to keep them, did they need to take matters into their own hands?
  1. Have you ever started a something new with enthusiasm only to have things turn out to be disappointing?
  2. What happens when you convince others you have a great idea but it all seems to go wrong?
  3. When Abraham and Sarah left Canaan to go to Egypt did this show he didn’t trust God?


  1. To Egypt
    Genesis 12:10-20The situation in the Negev was desperate enough for Abraham and Sarah to travel to Egypt in search of food. God had promised Abraham that he would possess the land of Canaan, but either his faith was weakened by his circumstances or there is another plan in place that is not mentioned. In any event he was not certain how the Egyptians would react and he was particularly concerned about his own welfare. Sarah was beautiful and a woman of power and influence and it was not uncommon for rulers and kings to eliminate husbands to allow them to take for themselves wives as trophies.Abraham came up with a scheme, he told or agreed with Sarah that she should say that she was his sister and not his wife. This was almost half true, she was a half sister – the daughter of Abraham’s father but of a different mother, but she was wholly his wife. Abraham would have known that this idea placed Sarah at the risk of being taken by Pharaoh but might have saved his own life. Mary Evans generously puts it this way: ‘’It may be thought that Abram was careless of his wife’s safety and that the only thing that counted for her as a woman was her looks. However, the pair apparently saw themselves as fleeing from certain death in the Canaanite famine and assumed that Sarah’s unusual beauty meant that she was likely to be taken anyway. The only question was whether Abram himself could survive. As a husband he would not; as a brother he might’’. Maybe The couple thought they could find a way out if their plan failed. Whatever their thinking it does not seem God’s advice was sought or that faith in God’s promised was depended on. Sarah could have at any time revealed the truth which would certainly have resulted in bad news for Abraham but security for herself.The inevitable happened, Pharaoh took an interest in Sarah and then took her into his household. In the language of the Old Testament, when a woman was taken it usually meant for the purposes of sexual relations and it is thought by most scholars that Sarah became part of Pharaoh’s harem. Abraham on the other hand did very well out of the situation, for her sake pharaoh ‘dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.’ However, God was not pleased and caused a series of plagues to attack Pharaoh’s house.Pharaoh somehow came to realise that that the plagues were because of Sarah and two suggestions have been offered for them. Either the plagues prevented Pharaoh from consummating his relationship with Sarah, or they were the result of him doing so. At this time God had not promised that the nation born to Abraham would come from Sarah and maybe Abraham thought that if necessary he could find another wife. None of this is included in the text and so it is speculation and an attempt to make sense of the story. Pharaoh was understandably very unhappy, but surprisingly took no action against Abraham except to expel him from Egypt with all that he had. Abraham had arrived in Egypt as a refugee looking for food and left a very wealthy man.

    Read from the perspective of our times and values this is an uncomfortable story. There are questions that arise including those around the faith of Abram and his relationship with Sarah; his willingness to use others, specifically Sarah to further his own interests; and why God did not condemn the behaviour. Was Sarah a willing participant in the deceit or was she used. Throughout the passage however the mercy and purpose of God is shown. Abraham left Canaan where he was sent, and God blessed him with wealth. He lied and used his wife in Egypt, and God preserved him and restored Sarah to him. He went afraid for his life and he left a rich man. God had a purpose for Abraham and Sarah was an essential part of it. By her actions she protected Abraham, whether out of faithfulness to him or in her own interests but by placing herself in a place of great personal risk she ensured protection and ultimate deliverance by Pharaoh.

  1. What do you think of Abraham’s actions?
  2. Sarah placed herself at great risk, should she have refused to do as Abraham asked?
  3. God does not judge either Abraham or Sarah in this story, why not?


  1. A Plan gone wrong
    Genesis 16:1-2It had been ten years since Abraham and Sarah had left their home and these had been turbulent times. They had wandered the length of Canaan before finishing in Egypt. After their deceit was discovered by Pharaoh they were thrown out and returned to Canaan. Once there Abraham and Lot discovered that they couldn’t live together so Lot headed off to live in the valley near Sodom while Abraham and Sarah remained in Canaan. Not too long after Lot settled in his new home, Sodom was attacked by a conspiracy of kings and he and the people of the city were taken captive. Abraham gave chase and rescued the captives and returned to Sodom on his way back home. As he approached the city he was met by the King of Sodom and the mysterious Melchizedek, the King of Righteousness. During this encounter Abraham acknowledged that his victory was due to Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth and this may mark a change in Abraham. He rejected an offer to share in the spoils of war and afterward God appeared to him in a vision.God promised Abraham that his reward would be great, but Abraham complained that what reward could there be because the promise that he would be a father to many nations had not happened and he didn’t even have a son. Maybe the son of his servant would be his heir? God assured him that it would his biological son and made a covenant to guarantee it. Abraham believed the promise, and he was considered righteous because of it (Genesis 15:6). Throughout all of the events leading to this Sarah is present but silent. Had Abraham shared the vision with her, did she still expect to have children of her own or would Abraham displace her?Sarah decided to take matters into her own hands, she had a Egyptian maid, probably taken when they were evicted from Egypt, whose name was Hagar. Sarah brought her to Abraham and said: “God has prevented me from having children of my own, take Hagar and use her as a surrogate”. Of course that is not the language she would have used, but that is what was planned. Abraham should have sex with Hagar so that she would become pregnant. As a servant she had no rights and the child would become Sarah’s. Like many of the stories we read from a culture that is not what we know we find parts of it offensive. Hagar was not treated as a person with rights or feelings but as a means to an end. Likewise sexual relationships were not emotional bonds (at least not always) but a device to produce children. Hagar was not consulted, she had no choice and did as she was told.

    Hagar may have become pregnant at the first attempt, but equally may not have. How Sarah would have felt about a young slave girl sharing her husbands bed each night isn’t certain, but if she had felt insecure before this certainly wouldn’t have helped. Hagar did become pregnant, and it changed her attitude to Sarah. Once a slave girl she was now Abraham’s wife, and the mother to be of his child. Instead of serving Sarah, she now despised her, maybe she laughed at her inability to have children, barrenness was considered a curse and that might have become a taunt to use as a weapon. She might have assumed she would take Sarah’s place and would be favoured above her. What we do know is that she looked at Sarah with contempt.

    Sarah’s plans had gone wrong. This was supposed to ensure the blessing and Sarah’s role as the matriarch of the people, instead she was being tormented by an Egyptian slave girl. Her response was to blame Abraham. She was right to do so. The promise was made to Abram and despite the custom of the day he was married to Sarah and God’s plan was to bless the nation through their union. He should have said no. Taken the leadership that was given to him, but he chose to appease Sarah instead. His only response was to say, ‘’she is your servant, do what you want’’. She was angry and possibly out fear for her own position acted harshly toward Hagar. Was that physical mistreatment, emotional abuse, deprivation of food and care? It is not said but it was severe enough for Hagar to run.  She was heavily pregnant, had no possessions, no means of support, nowhere to go and she ran. And Abraham did nothing.

  1. Could Abraham have done more to calm Sarah’s anxiety?
  2. How should Abraham have responded to Sarah’s plan?
  3. Sometimes it is essential to say no, or take a stand, how do we deal with conflict when it occurs?


  1. A promise to Sarah
    Genesis 16:15-21God found Hagar in the wilderness just when she had given up all hope. He assured her of his protection but told her to return to Sarah and submit to her. The circumstances of that reunion are not recorded, but she did return and in due time gave birth to a son who was named Ishmael. God had promised that even though this son was not the heir of the promise made to Abraham he would also be the father of many nations. For the next 13 years the family lived together and no doubt a bond was formed between Abraham and his only son. The bible doesn’t mention how the family lived together in that time or particularly how Sarah coped after the disaster of the failure of her earlier plan. Then one day God appeared to Abraham.God said to Abraham that he was going to recommit to the covenant he had made though this time there was a condition: Abraham had to walk before him and be blameless. In return God would make him the father of many nations. The covenant would be sealed or confirmed by the right of circumcision. All the males would need to be circumcised and any future male children would go through the process when they were eight days old. God then goes on to tell Abraham that it was Sarah that was going to be the mother through whom this promised was kept. To mark this both Abraham’s and Sarah’s names were to be changed (Abraham was formerly Abram and Sarah was Sarai).  The minor changes reflected that now they would be father and mother of nations rather than just many people.

    Abraham reasoned, or argued, with God and asked that Ishmael be the one through whom the promise would come. He no doubt had bonded with him and may have been worried that he would just be cast aside. He may also have been concerned for Sarah’s health, but God insisted it was to be Sarah and in fact the child would be born in one year’s time. It is not stated that Abraham mentioned this to Sarah, but he arranged for all the males in his camp and for himself to be circumcised.

    After this had taken place, the Lord and two companions visited Abraham and Sarah again. Abraham didn’t recognize them at first but seeing three strangers he rushed to provide a meal for them. Sarah prepared part of the meal but stayed in the kitchen out of the way while Abraham chatted with his guests. They repeated the earlier promise made to Abraham, this time calling Sarah by her new name. Meanwhile Sarah was eavesdropping and by now Abraham had realised that he was speaking to the Lord, Yahweh. God affirmed that in one year the promise would be fulfilled. Sarah heard all this but didn’t believe it. The text says she laughed to herself, she knew she could no longer have children, she had gone through menopause, biologically it was not possible. By this time, it is likely she had accepted that she wouldn’t bear a child and the promise would need to be fulfilled in some other way. Not only was she worn out, but she was married to an old man, natural childbirth was out of the question.

    The Lord heard her laugh and asked her why. Did she think this was not possible, couldn’t God do what he promised? Was it too hard for him? Sarah denied that she had laughed, and perhaps she had only laughed to herself, but God knew her heart. He didn’t condemn her, but he made sure that she knew that he was aware of what was in her mind. In Hebrews 11:11 we read: ‘And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.’ Something changed in Sarah, frustration and doubt had turned to faith. When faced with the question: “Is anything too hard for God” she had to acknowledge that if she said yes, then God would cease to be God; but if she answered no, then she could fully trust in him to do all he had promised.

  1. Why did God make Sarah wait for 25 years before she was able to see the evidence of his promise?
  2. Have you ever laughed at the thought God could do the impossible in your life?
  3. Have you ever decided that you were wrong about God’s promise to you and just given up hope?


  1. On the Road again
    Genesis 20After Sarah and Abraham had received confirmation of the promise earlier made to Abraham, the two angels who were the companion of the Lord decided to tell Abraham that they were about to go down into the valley and destroy Sodom, the town where Lot lived. This destruction was judgement for a host of sins including Injustice, adultery and other sexual sin including homosexuality, pride, greed, failure to look after the poor, ‘abominable things’ and of lack of hospitality. Abraham bargained with the angels to secure the deliverance of Lot and his family and the angels went on their way. The next morning Abraham rose early and looked down in the valley and ‘the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.’ (Genesis 19:28). Lot and his daughters had escaped but the text doesn’t say whether Abraham knew that or not. Whether that was the reason or there is some other explanation Abraham decided to head south again toward the Negev.

    The travelling community got as far as Gerar and as they approached the city Abraham told Sarah to once again claim to be his sister and not his wife. She is now nearly 90 years old and while she may have been considered physically beautiful 25 years before it seems unlikely that she would still have the same physical attraction. Some Jewish scholars suggest that when God promised Sarah that she would have a child that he restored her youth, however it seems likely that if that had happened there would be some record of it. It is more likely that she could be used to form a political alliance. Whatever the reason Abimilech the Philistine King took her into his house. On this occasion God intervened immediately. He appeared to the king in a dream and essentially said, “If you touch her, you’re a dead man!”

    Abimilech argued his innocence to God, and God believed him and warned him to return Sarah to Abraham and that Abraham would pray for him. Abimilech was recognized for his integrity, which was lacking in Abraham and Sarah who was complicit in the deception. Abraham, however was still God’s chosen one and God calls him a prophet whose prayers would be answered. Understandably Abimilech was not pleased with Abraham and rebuked him. Abraham tried to excuse himself with a feeble excuse. He said there was no fear of God in the place and yet it was the fear of God that had made Abimilech return Sarah, the fear of God that woke him up at night and the fear of God that was behind Abimelech’s conversation with God. Of the two men, Abimilech showed a reverential fear of God while Abraham only showed fear for his own safety. In fact like Adam many years before he attempted to pass the blame on to God – In verse 13 he states that it was because God caused him to wander that all these things happened. In other words, if God had left him where he was everything would have been fine.

    When Abraham and Sarah practiced the same deception on Pharaoh they were expelled from Egypt, this time though not only did the king tell them that they could live anywhere they wished, he gave Abraham a 1000 pieces of silver which he explained to Sarah was a testimony to his innocence. While there is obvious similarity between this event and the previous occasion in Egypt there are also differences. In Egypt the promise had not been guaranteed through Sarah so she was in a sense dispensable, another wife would do. Now however the promise had been made that Sarah would bear a son. If she had a sexual relationship could she become pregnant through Abimilech? Was she already pregnant? It was essential that the line of promise was kept and while Abraham’s actions had put that at risk, God in mercy intervened. Mary Jane Chaignot writes: “It is God who safeguards the promise by making it impossible for the king to have any contact with Sarah. And it is important to point out that this merciful act of God isn’t just extended to Abraham, but also includes the household of Abimelech, the household of a righteous and just king.”

  1. When faced with risk Sarah and Abraham resorted to deception. In what ways did they show lack of trust in God?
  2. Not long before Sarah had been asked whether anything was to difficult for God, why did she doubt?
  3. Despite their very human failure God still acknowledged Abraham as a prophet and kept Sarah from wrong actions so that she would still receive the promise made to her. Do you find comfort in this?


  1. A promise fulfilled
    Genesis 21:1-7

    A year after God promised Sarah that she would have a baby, Isaac was born. This may mean that she was pregnant during the time she was in Abimelech’s house given all that happened between the promise being made and its fulfillment. This makes the actions she and Abraham took even more remarkable. Isaac was given the name which means ‘he laughs’, a reminder of Sarah’s scornful laughter when she heard God’s promises but now her genuine laughter of joy and happiness.

    Sarah began the task of motherhood but once Isaac was weaned, probably at the age of about three, a dark cloud appeared. According to the custom Abraham held a great feast to celebrate Isaac, but Ishmael was unhappy. He was now about 15 or 16 and up until that time was the son who would inherit the wealth and title of his father. Even now as the oldest son he could expect that to be so. He could see that slipping away and his place in the family was being taken from him. Sarah saw him laughing with scorn or mocking Isaac and was angry. She told Abraham to get rid of Ismael and his mother Hagar. This was Abraham’s son, and he was not happy with the idea, but God told him to listen to his wife.

    Sarah was not a meek woman prepared to sit in the background and afraid to speak her mind, so it is surprising that she went along with Abraham’s deception of Pharaoh and Abimilech. Once before she had insisted on a course of action that saw Hagar run away and now she demanded that she be sent off on her own. Despite Abraham’s displeasure God told him to listen to his wife. This wasn’t a matter of Abraham making a decision just to ensure marital peace, God had a purpose and Sarah was instrumental in it. Abraham needed to listen to his wife. He did as Sarah asked and sent Hagar off into the wilderness with the absolute minimum of resources, once again God met her at her place of need.

    In the meantime, Sarah, Abraham and Isaac grew together until one day the unthinkable happened. God appeared to Abraham and told him to offer his son as a sacrifice. Abraham didn’t argue, or bargain with God as he had done before but at the fist opportunity took his son to the place of sacrifice. It is not said whether he had told Sarah what he was about to do but some Jewish writers believe that he did and it caused Sarah to die of a broken heart, this would mean Isaac was 37 years old. Whatever age he was, he was not a child but at least a vigorous young man. If Sarah knew, she would have been overwhelmed with grief – her only son, who she had waited so many years for, believing the promise of God, was going to be killed. How could Abraham agree to such a thing. We hear much about Abraham’s faith, but what of Sarah’s? Perhaps Abraham did not tell Sarah, hoping that God would change his mind or provide an alternative. Maybe even bring Isaac back to life in a miraculous way. Sarah did not know what was happening on the mountain she may have been entirely ignorant or at home in inconsolable grief. The text only tells us that after God delivered Isaac by providing a substitute sacrifice, Abraham, Isaac and the men with him returned to Beersheba and lived there.

    Sarah is the only woman in the bible whose age at which she died is known. She was 127 years old only 37 years older than Isaac. Like Abraham she was not perfect, she conspired with her husband to achieve what she wanted in manner that was likely to do damage to God’s plan’s. She seemed to lack faith and yet in Hebrews 11:11 it is said that it was her faith that caused her to conceive, and Galatians 4 makes it plain that it was through her that the promise of the New Covenant came (vs 22,23). Twice she is referred to as an example of righteousness: Isaiah 51:1,2 and 1 Peter 3:3-6.

    God saw beyond Sarah’s fault and acknowledged her faith declaring her to be righteous. Like her, you and I stumble, try to interfere with God’s purposes for us and generally mess up. But as with Sarah, God turns away from our weakness and failings and sees only that we are his children who he loves and for whom he has a purpose that will be fulfilled.

  1. God told Abraham to listen to his wife, what do you think about that?
  2. Do you think Abraham told Sarah about why he was taking Isaac up the mountain
  3. In what ways can you identify with Sarah, or Abraham or their relationship?




  1. A Wife for Isaac
    Genesis 24:1-8After the death of Sarah, Abraham turned his attention to finding a wife for his son. Isaac was now 40 years old and had not married and Abraham was aware that the promise that he become the father of many nations depended on children being born to his descendants.  He had taken another wife, Keturah who was probably already a concubine but now elevated to the status of wife on the death of Sarah, but the children born to her, and any other concubine (including Hagar) were excluded from his inheritance (Chapter 25). Abraham called his most trusted servant and entrusted him with the task of finding a wife for Isaac.The servant, who may have been Eleazer was given specific instructions. The intended wife must come from Abraham’s family line, specifically that of Nahor, Abraham’s brother and she must be a virgin. The servant accepted the responsibility and set about getting the journey of about 900 kms organized, it would take him about three weeks. Apart from provisions for the journey he also took a collection of presents for the family of Nahor. As he travelled the servant devised an elaborate plan to help him to discern God’s will. He would find a well to stop at and if a young woman came who was a virgin and offered to provide water for his camels, then this would be the one. Not an impossible test, but a difficult one! The idea of depending on circumstances alone as a guide to God’s will is dangerous as God often acts in spite of circumstances not because of them, however in the case it worked.The servant arrived at the city of Nahor and found the well. He began to pray to God in line with the test that he had set and before he had finished praying a ‘very attractive’ young woman, who by the clothes she wore was identified as a virgin came to fill her water jar. She offered to provide water for the servant’s camels and as she did so the servant sat by silently seeking further direction from God. When the young woman finished watering the camels the servant gave her some expensive presents and asked who her family was and if it was possible for him to stay at their house. She explained that her father was Bethuel, the son of Nahor and yes there was plenty of room. Then she ran to tell her mother what had happened, it is probable that her father was no longer alive and that while the home passed to his wife it would be his son Laban who took responsibility for it and the family.Once Laban heard from the young woman, who is now identified as Rebekah he ran to meet the servant. It is interesting that the text tells us that when Laban saw the gifts that Rebekah had been given he was motivated to invite the servant to come into the house and eat with them. Without delay the servant explained his mission, emphasizing the wealth and prominence of Abraham and how Isaac was the sole beneficiary of his estate. He asked Laban whether he would agree to him taking Rebekah to be married to Isaac. Laban agreed to the proposal and the servant brought out all the presents he had brought. After a night of eating and drinking the servant got up early intending to be on his way, but Laban and the family were reluctant for Rebekah to leave so soon and maybe he could wait for ten days or so. The servant insisted that he leave straight away and so the family suggested it would be a good idea to ask Rebekah what she thought, perhaps they thought she would like to stay and think it through, but her response was immediate “I will go”.
  1. What do you think of asking God to meet a set of conditions so that you can be sure of his will?
  2. Abraham set specific conditions that needed to be met in choosing a wife for his son. Why was he so insistent that they be met?
  3. Rebekah’s response was immediate. She didn’t know Isaac or the place she would be taken to, what do you think prompted her to decide so quickly?


  1. Rebekah and Isaac
    Genesis 24:61-67It seems another divine coincidence that just as Rebekah and Abraham’s servant returned to Abraham’s home, Isaac was just coming back from where he had been looking after the sheep and was taking an evening walk. Perhaps he was thinking about what was ahead and no doubt still reflecting on the passing of his mother. While he wasn’t present when the servant was given his mission, he no doubt would have been made aware of it. Now just at the right time he looked up and saw a caravan of camels coming toward him. Rebekah noticed him at the same time and dismounted from her camel asking the servant who it was that was coming toward them.The servant identified Isaac and Rebekah quickly covered her face with her veil in accordance with the custom. This was the practice when a woman was committed to a marriage or betrothed, and evidently this was already decided even without Isaac’s knowledge. The servant then explained what had happened, the discussion may have taken a little time and Rebekah probably took not part in it. She showed no nervousness though and was apparently quite prepared for the marriage to be consummated. There is much debate about how old Rebekah was at the time, with the general consensus being that she was in her early teens. There is no way of knowing for certain however, the drawing of water rules out a girl who was very young although betrothal of girls younger than ten was not uncommon There are other details that fit a teenager too. She knows where she fits in the family line (24:24). She knows whether her household has enough space to take care of the servant and his companions (24:25). She is old enough to decide whether she wants to leave immediately (24:57-58). Laban and her mother do not say she was too young to make decisions. She had female servants (24:61), suggesting she is in charge of them. By the standards of our times she was very young – too young to be married, but in the Old testament once a girl was old enough to bear children she was old enough to be married. A girl was called a woman from the age of 13.Once Isaac was made aware of all that led to Rebekah being brought to him, he took her into his mother’s tent and she became his wife – in other words they began a sexual relationship. It is difficult to imagine what Rebekah was feeling at the time. She was young, a virgin and meeting a 40 year old man for the first time with the expectation that she would become his wife. Was she anxious, nervous even a little scared? We are not told, and the marriage is passed over quickly and no reference is made to their life together over the next 20 years.Like her mother-in-law Rebekah was unable to conceive. A promise had been made and Isaac prayed on the basis of this promise. Unlike Abraham and Sarah before them they did not try to make things happen through alternative means, but they faithfully waited and prayed. Finally Rebekah conceived but the pregnancy was not easy. There was a fight going on in her womb which led her to prayer. Rebekah may have already been a prayerful woman, but now her prayers took on a greater urgency. She wanted to know what was happening, there was no ultrasound in those days and it seems Rebekah did not know she  would give birth to twins, would the child be born alive, would she survive? God answered her prayer very specifically, giving her what amounts to a prophecy about the future. She was having twins and they would become leaders of two different nations. Those nations would be divided from one another and the one that came from the younger son would rule the other.
  1. Rebekah though very young showed remarkable courage, what do you think of her story?
  2. Marriageable age in the Old Testament was the ability to bear children, how do you feel about that?
  3. Why did God make Rebekah and Isaac wait 20 years before producing children?


  1. Twins are born
    Genesis 25:24-28There are seven miraculous or extraordinary births recorded in the Bible, although every birth is miraculous and I am sure that the parents, especially the mother consider it to be extraordinary! Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s mother, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary the mother of Jesus all bore children when they should not have been able to or in answer to prolonged periods of prayer and waiting. The birth of Rebekah’s sons however is the first record of twins.There had been a struggle in the womb which had distressed Rebekah and drove her to prayer. God appeared to her and told her about the twins but also that there would be conflict between them as they grew up. He also said that the usual order would be changed, the older would serve the younger – this contradicted the custom and practice of the times and whether Rachel shared that information with Isaac is not stated.The time came for the birth and the first child was produced, he was red and very hairy and he was called Esau. Some scholars believe he was a red head which was unknown in Canaan. The second child emerged and he was holding the heel of Esau, so he was named Jacob which is close to the Hebrew aqab meaning to take the place of or deceive. In a time when names were perhaps more significant or meaningful than now, to grow up named as someone who is a deceiver would be a burden. Perhaps Jacob grew up believing that this was his destiny and decided to act accordingly. As they matured the two boys showed that they were not only very different in looks but also in temperament. Esau grew up to be an able hunter, an impatient man who could not delay satisfying his desires and could not plan ahead. He is described as quick tempered and ready to kill when he felt betrayed. While Jacob is described as a ‘man who dwelt in tents’ and who proved to be shrewd, calculating and manipulative.The obvious differences in personality and physical character have caused scholars to ask how this could be so with twins. Dr Talit Reisenbergera Hebrew scholar and author of “The Concept of Motherhood in the Bible” suggests that they were born with transfusion syndrome which results when one twin is born with too many red blood cells, and may suffer from hypertension and an enlarged heart, while the other twin will have hypotension, and be anaemic and dehydrated. That is way beyond my level of understanding or knowledge but if Jacob was born as a sickly child it may offer some explanation as to why there was such a strong bond between him and his mother.Esau’s personality and temperament drew him to his father, and sadly he made no secret that he was the favoured son. He was skillful hunter, an outdoors man, enthusiastic, active and passionate. Isaac had probably taught him to hunt and father and son might have shared time together camping and preparing food. Jacob though preferred to stay around the house, cooking and spending time with his mother. Rebekah made it clear that she loved Jacob more than Esau.  Sadly the favouritism shown by Isaac and Rebekah resulted in patterns of behaviour that were destructive to the family and the individuals concerned. It is always a challenge not to respond differently to children on the basis of their personality and our own preferences, but as would be seen in Esau and Jacob there can be tragic consequences.
  1. How important is it to choose names, nicknames and labels for our children wisely?
  2. How can we avoid preferring one child over another when their interests either match or differ from our own?
  3. How could Isaac and Rebekah have acted differently as parents?


  1. Bowl of stew
    Genesis 25:29-34Esau had been out hunting while Jacob remained at home preparing a meal. Jewish history states that Jacob was cooking a lentil stew for his father Isaac after the passing of Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather and the father of Isaac. Lentils are a traditional mourner’s meal for the Jews. Rabbi Louis Ginzberg explains: “the round lentil symbolizes death: as the lentil rolls, so death, sorrow, and mourning constantly roll about among men, from one to the other.” Esau may have been hunting to also prepare his father’s favourite meal but was unsuccessful.Whether those accounts are accurate or not we read that Esau came home from his hunt to find Jacob preparing his stew. He told Jacob that he was exhausted and that he wanted some of the stew that was on the stove. He describes it as ‘that red stew’ and it is later called lentil stew. Experts in these things say that there are red lentils but when they are cooked they turn yellow, so Esau was prepared to eat them raw! He wasn’t going to wait, he was starving and needed food.Jacob saw an opportunity and offered stew in exchange for Esau’s birthright. In the Hebrew custom there were two parts to the passing on of the mantle of leadership, the first was the birthright, the second when this was confirmed by the father’s blessing given prior to his passing. The birthright meant that at his father’s death Jacob would become head of the household with authority over his brothers and sisters (27:29, 37; 49:3); he would receive his father’s special blessing (27:33-36); he would Inherit a double portion of his father’s possessions (Deuteronomy 21:17); and he would be responsible for the future of the divine promises (28:13-14). Rabbi Kaminker points out “Originally, the firstborn was intended to serve God in the Tabernacle and later in the Holy Temple, so Jacob wanted to gain that privilege, feeling that Esau’s wickedness made him unworthy of performing this service.” The Israel Bible puts it this way: ‘Jacob was so disgusted by Esau’s behavior that he decided Esau was no longer deserving of the birthright. Someone who could live only in the present and care only about himself was not worthy of being the spiritual heir of Abraham and Isaac and could not be the one to carry on the holy work of bringing awareness of God to the world. For this reason, Jacob insisted that Esau relinquish his birthright in exchange for the bowl of lentil stew.’ There is a strong tendency in Jewish history to paint Jacob in a very good way, while Esau as the villain. That is not always supported by the words we read in the bible.Esau seems to treat Jacob’s suggestion as it if was not serious, what is the value of a birthright of he was going to starve to death? But Jacob was not put off, he insisted in Esau giving his word and promising the birthright to him. Esau was an active person and that is probably shown in the verbs rapidly given in verse 34: he ate, drank, rose and went. No time for reflection or consideration, he lived in the moment and later regretted the consequences. He treated his birthright with disdain, and in this sense, he despised it, or treated it as being worthless. He agreed to the deal and the birthright was transferred.

    It appears that neither Rebekah nor Isaac was aware of this transaction, and even if they had Isaac could have set it aside when he proclaimed his final blessing. Esau the impulsive, live for the moment, passionate brother to the cool, calculating, reflective Jacob. One the favourite of the father the other of his mother, both brought up in an environment of competition and rivalry with personalities formed by the tension between parents and each other. Unwittingly Jacob had put in place the events that would lead to the fulfillment of the prophecy given to his mother before the twins were born.

  1. In many ways we are shaped by the environment we grow up in, how have you been shaped by yours?
  2. If you have children, how are you shaping them?
  3. Which of Esau or Jacob comes out of this story as the better person? Or is there one?


  1. Like father, like son
    Genesis 26:1-16It is a little difficult to work out when the story in these verses took place. Not everything in Genesis is in chronological order and sometimes stories and events are inserted at particular places to illustrate a point God wishes to make. In this case the events may have taken place after Jacob and Esau had become young men or before Rebekah became pregnant. It may have been placed after the account of the birth of the twins and selling of Esau’s birthright so the flow of the narrative wasn’t interrupted. Or it may have occurred after those events but before the final blessing of Isaac.There is a familiar theme in the story, there is a famine and Isaac, like Abraham before him sets off in search of food and water. He had planned to go to Egypt as his father had done but when he got to the land of Gerar, God told him to stop there. He also confirmed the promises made to Abraham and to Sarah that they would take possession of this land and ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed’. This promise was not made because of anything Isaac had done, but because of the faithfulness of his father Abraham.Gerar was the same place that Abraham and Sarah had gone to during a previous famine. On that occasion they had tried to deceive Abimilech by claiming to be brother and sister, but God had protected Abimilech. The name Abimilech is a title meaning the ruler or king, though it could also be used as a personal name. The Abimilech now in power in Gerar may have been the grandson of the one in Abraham’s day.

    Abraham and his community settled in Gerar, this was not intended as an overnight stop, they intended to stay at least for a while. At some point the local men started to take an interest in Rebekah, she was a good looking woman but was she available? If this story relates to the time before the birth of the twins she would most likely have been younger than 35, if after they were born more likely to be in her late forties or fifties. Whichever it was Isaac was worried that these local men would just treat him as an obstacle and remove him if they knew he was her husband. So like his father before him he lied. He said she is my sister and therefore available! She was a cousin, not even a half sister.

    One day though Abimilech saw Isaac and his wife behaving in a manner that was not what was to be expected from a brother and sister. Translations of the bible put what he saw as Isaac caressing Rebekah, sporting, fondling with her even laughing with her. What is clear is that they were acting intimately. He immediately called Isaac and demanded an explanation. Isaac gave the same excuse his father had done and was rebuked by Abimilech. By this time Isaac was a very wealthy and powerful man, so much so that in verse 16 Abimilech  told Isaac to leave because he had become much mightier than he was. This may explain why he took no action against Isaac, but also casts doubt on Isaac using fear on the reasons for his deceit.

    Was Rebekah a willing partner to this deceit? If her sons were young men what were they thinking – how did they react? Those questions and not answered from the text but it maybe that this episode brought a change in Rebekah and her relationship with Isaac. When we first met Rebekah she was an innocent young girl full of hope and excitement. Twenty years of not being able to have a baby would have changed her, but now being exposed to the deceit of her husband and to be put at danger because of his personal fears must have affected her feelings. The next episode in her life is her own deception and scheme to promote Jacob over Esau, the seeds of that may well have been planted in the events at Gerar.

  1. What would Rebekah have felt about Isaac’s deception?
  2. If the twins were young men, how would this deception affect them?
  3. How would the relationship between Isaac and Rebekah be changed by this event?


  1. A Fractured family
    Genesis 27:1-40A marriage that had begun with much hope and expectation, one that was based on a serious desire to know God’s will and do it. One in which Isaac would marry only the woman that God clearly chose for him and together with her carry on the responsibility of the promise made to Abraham that they would produce a nation of believers. Things had gone sour. It may have begun when Rebekah was unable to have children and she became disappointed and perhaps bitter. There is nothing to indicate that Isaac was unfaithful but there may have been doubts and accusations made. Finally, Rebekah became pregnant, after 20 years! But the pregnancy was difficult and then she received this message from God which amounted to a prophecy. She would have twins but they would fight with one another and the younger one would come out on top. Had she told Isaac, did he believe her?Then there was the business with the birthright, Jacob manipulated Esau into giving it to him and they grew further apart. Already Isaac’s favourite he cemented himself in his good books. Meanwhile Rebekah grew closer to Jacob and made her favouritism obvious. Then to cause further damage Esau went and married a couple of Hittite women and somehow they made life bitter for both Rebekah and Isaac. Somewhere in all of this they spent some time in Gerar where Isaac lied to the king about Rebekah being his wife to save his own skin and put her in danger. Isaac was now losing his eyesight and possibly his health was poor enough for to think he was dying, so in accordance with the custom of the day he decided to give his final blessing.

    Charles Spurgeon writes: “All four of them – Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau – did not trust each other. Worse yet, they did not trust the Lord. Each one of them schemed and plotted against each other and against God. The whole story reflects no credit upon any of the persons concerned”. The final blessing given by the father was normally a public event with all relevant people and witnesses present. Isaac chose to give this one privately and he only invited Esau. If he knew about Jacob’s scheme regarding the birthright, he may have been going to reverse it. The blessing either confirmed or changed what was assumed by the birthright and perhaps that was his plan. If he knew of the prophecy given to Rebekah he was evidently going to ignore it and make sure Esau became the next leader. Rebekah may have intended to prevent Isaac from doing this and to make sure that God’s will was done, or she may have decided that Jacob, as her favourite should receive the blessing instead of Esau.

    Whatever her motivation she formed a plan, to which Jacob agreed, that they would dress Jacob up like Esau and he would deceive his father. Isaac would be tricked into giving the blessing to Jacob. They put the plan in place, Isaac was deceived and when Esau discovered what had happened he was furious. He begged Isaac to still bless him in some way but Isaac poured salt in the wound by telling Esau that there was nothing left to give. Everything was Jacob’s. No doubt Isaac loved his son, and he was upset that he had nothing to give Esau, but he had intended to give him everything and Jacob nothing, and now the order was reversed. The rivalry between husband and wife, and the two sons resulted in one getting everything and the other nothing. Isaac lived another 40 years after this event, he outlived Rebekah but didn’t live to see his sons reconciled. A marriage which began with such promise had come to place of bitterness, recrimination and vengefulness. Something had gone terribly wrong.

  1. What do you think contributed to the change in Rebekah?
  2. Little is said about Isaac apart from the incident at Gerar how could he have acted differently?
  3. How dangerous is it to choose favourites from your children?


  1. A Righteous prophet or a manipulator?
    Genesis 27:41-45When Esau discovered how Jacob had taken the blessing he thought was his, he was understandably furious. He obviously believed Isaac didn’t have long to live so he decided to wait until the period of mourning was over and then kill Jacob. The bible tells us that he said these things to himself but either he spoke aloud or later discussed it with others because Rebekah found out. The Rabbi’s believe that Rebekah was a prophet and God revealed Esau’s plans to her directly.

    Once Rebekah discovered Esau’s intentions she formed another plan of her own. She would tell Isaac that she couldn’t stand the idea of Jacob marrying a Hittite as Esau had done and he should be sent to her brother Laban so he could marry within the family. Some writers, perhaps seeking to put the relationship between Rebekah and Isaac in a better light claim that the couple formed the plan together and agreed to send Jacob away. Isaac did as suggested and confirmed his earlier blessing on Jacob before directing him to go to the house of Rebekah’s brother in Paddan-Aram to find a suitable wife. There is no universal agreement about how old Jacob was when he was ordered to find a wife but most agree it is between 71 and 78 years old. For some reason Jacob had not married and now needs to be told to do so, after all the future of God’s people now depends on him having children.

    When Esau hears Isaac bless Jacob and send him away he went and found another wife, this time a descendant of Ishmael. Meanwhile Jacob began his 900km journey toward the home of Laban. Rebekah’s plan was that Jacob stay out of harm’s way until Esau had calmed down and then she would call him back. Possibly she reflected on the time when as a young girl a stranger came to take her as wife for Isaac, a transaction that only took a matter of days. In the one day Rebekah lost both of her sons. Esau went off with his wives to find his fortune elsewhere while Jacob ran in fear for his life to Laban. It would be over 20 years before he would return and by that time Rebekah had died.

    Rebekah, ‘is portrayed by the midrash as a prophet: God revealed His plan to her when her sons were still in her womb, and, with her prophetic perception, she knew that Esau planned to kill Jacob. Rebekah wins the midrash’s praise for her ability to distinguish between the wicked Esau and the righteous Jacob. She aided in the execution of God’s plan, by causing Jacob to receive Isaac’s blessing.’ (The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women). The midrash (the method of interpreting the Hebrew Bible that was developed by the rabbis) contains a lot of commentary of Rebekah most of which is designed to show that she always acted with the sole purpose of implementing God’s will.

    One tradition is that Isaac and Rebekah did not have children because Isaac was sterile. The Mishnah (or oral law) states that if a man marries a woman, and she has not given birth after ten years, he should divorce her so that he will be able to have children with another wife. Isaac and Rebekah lived together for twenty years without children, yet he did not divorce her. The reason being Isaacs infertility. Other traditions and explanations exist to elevate Rebekah to the status of righteous prophet.

    There is always more than one way to explain an event and Rebekah can be viewed as an innocent young woman of great courage and faith who was embittered by a difficult life and lost dreams. Her love for her favoured son resulted in her manipulating circumstances for his benefit but also resulted in loss to her other son. She can also be seen as that same young woman who understood God’s plans and needed to act to ensure they were fulfilled, even though it meant deceiving her husband, whom she loved and was faithful to, and losing both of her sons on the same day. In the end neither son was present to mourn her passing and her death is not recorded in the bible.

  1. What are your feelings toward Rebekah?
  2. Isaac seems passive throughout much of the story, could he have acted differently?
  3. Did Jacob have any alternatives to the way he behaved?




  1. Encounter at the well
    Genesis 29:1-12Rachel was the youngest of two daughters born to Laban the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob. As a young girl, probably around 14 or 15 years of age she was responsible for looking after her father’s sheep. It was the custom for Rachel to go to the nearby well at the same time each day and to meet with the shepherds of other families, when they were all gathered they would roll the stone away from the well and water the sheep. The stone was there to either to prevent contamination or animals falling in and was heavy enough to need more than one person to move it.One day as Rachel went on her way to the well she noticed a stranger there talking with the other shepherds. This was not a young man and it was probably unusual for someone of his age to be talking with young shepherds in this way. As soon as Rachel reached the well the stranger got up and moved the stone away, this was either a demonstration of significant strength or he enlisted the help of the other shepherds. It was obvious that he was a man used to authority and having people do as he asked. Once the sheep were watered the stranger embraced Rachel and kissed her.The story does not reveal Rachel’s feelings or the reaction of the shepherds to this stranger old enough to be a grandfather suddenly embracing the young shepherdess. She had arrived without any prior notice, hadn’t introduced himself and now was acting in very inappropriate way toward Rachel. The shepherds knew each other well, this was a daily routine for them and they probably talked with each other while the sheep were being watered. It is likely that they felt protective toward Rachel, but were a little intimidated by this strange visitor. The stranger quickly introduced himself to Rachel, he was a relative of her father and the son of her aunt Rebekah. He was very emotional; the text says that he wept aloud. On his journey to the home town of Rachel and her family Jacob had experienced a dream in which God appeared to him and confirmed the prophecy that his parents had spoken to him. God also assured Jacob that he would be with him until he had accomplished what God had planned for him. Jacob had given a conditional response to God’s promise suggesting that while he was overwhelmed by the words of God, he was not yet fully committed to him. He may have seen in this meeting with Rachel the first evidence of God’s word being kept and his promise to keep and protect Jacob being fulfilled.Once more the details of the conversation that might have occurred between Jacob and Rachel are hidden from us, but we are told that as soon as she heard Jacob’s story she ran and told her father. Many years before a similar encounter took place between the servant of Abraham and Rebekah and that time the servant came bearing expensive gifts and evidence of great wealth. This time Jacob came with nothing. He didn’t offer presents or make any other announcements, just that he was a relative. When Laban heard what Rachel had to say he ran to meet Jacob and invited him into the family home.Jacob stayed with Laban and his family as a guest for a month, but it seems that he worked for Laban in some capacity, maybe to pay for his food and shelter. No doubt he spent time with all of the family members, but it seems a particular bond or attraction was formed between him Rachel. Once the month was up Laban decided that Jacob should pay his way which would change his status from a family guest to a hired worker.
  1. How do you think Rachel would react at the approach of this stranger?
  2. Jacob had not previous contact with the family of Laban, why would he be so emotional?
  3. Why would Laban’s attitude to Jacob change so that he was change from family member to employee?


  1. A proposal of marriage
    Genesis 29:15-20Jacob had been living with Rachel’s family for a month and Laban, her father decided it was time to change the nature of their relationship and put Jacob to work. He began negotiations with Jacob asking what he thought was a reasonable amount to be paid. Jacob had become infatuated by Rachel, or as the text says: he loved her. She was the better looking of the two sisters with a good figure and she presented herself well. Her sister Leah on the other hand was described as having weak eyes. One commentary on the Torah suggests that they were equal in beauty and in their erect stature and were twins. Jacob however was only interested in Rachel. So Jacob suggested to Laban that he would work for seven years in exchange for Rachel as his wife.Laban sidestepped the suggestion by Jacob, he said that Jacob would probably be better than any other man but did not give a certain yes or no. Marriage in eastern communities of the time were negotiated by the groom and the bride’s father. The bride was not usually consulted and it was often decided because of business of political interests rather than any emotional bond. It as not uncommon for the two parties ‘to the marriage not to have met and for there to be a wide difference in age. Rachel does not seem to have had a say in this deal.On an agreement being reached about the intended marriage a price was set. This was called a bride price or mohar. The amount agreed by Laban and Jacob was seven years wages – in today’s economy that could be half a million dollars, she must have been a very special person! Once the terms were agreed the bride would be betrothed to her future husband and would remain in her father’s house until the payment was made and the groom had prepared a home for her. When those conditions were met the husband would take his bride from her father’s house to his own dwelling and there they would consummate their marriage and officially become husband and wife. It was possible in some circumstances for the marriage to be consummated before the total bride price was paid but any resulting children would not become legal heirs until payment was received in full.Jacob was so overwhelmed with Rachel that the seven years passed very quickly, but as soon as the time was up he went and spoke with Laban. Laban apparently did the right thing and organized a major wedding feast. The bride was not always present at these events and Leah may not have been either. Once the meal was over, which was no doubt accompanied by significant consumption of alcohol Jacob was ready for what he had been waiting and working for those last seven years. He was no doubt excited although quite probably drunk by this stage. Laban brought his bride to him and they went into Jacob’s dwelling, the bride would have been fully covered and would have a veil that hid her face. This would not be removed until they entered the bed chamber which was quite probably in total darkness.No doubt Jacob enjoyed intimate relations with his bride during the night, but when it was light, he realized he had been deceived. This was not Rachel, it was Leah! It is difficult to understand how he could not have known, it was dark, and she would no doubt have entered wearing a bridal veil, but didn’t they speak? Perhaps he was so drunk or so busy enjoying himself he just didn’t know or pay enough attention to his bride. It is impossible that this deception could take place without the knowledge of Leah and Rachel. Leah had been rejected, but now Rachel was – or did she agree? How did each woman respond? When was the decision made to substitute Leah for Rachel, had they known for a long time?
  1. What do you think of the concept of arranged marriages?
  2. Could the sisters have agreed together to this deception?
  3. How do you think Jacob should have responded?


3.The Confrontation
Genesis 29:21-30

When Jacob realised he had been deceived he immediately confronted Laban. “Why did you deceive me?” He demanded. “I served you for seven years so I could marry Rachel, and all this time you intended to cheat me, why?” Laban responded with what appears to be a shrug of the shoulders and “That’s not how we do things around here, the oldest must marry before the younger”. We are not told when the substitution was planned, maybe Laban had assumed a husband would be found for Leah before the seven years was up. Maybe he did not think he would find a suitable partner for Leah that gave him the benefit he wanted from the union. Whatever the reason, it is impossible that this deception could have taken place without Leah and Rachel knowing of it and possibly agreeing to it.

According to the Rabbi’s Rachel was involved from the beginning and may even have been the chief planner. According to this view, Rachel was by far the better looking of the two and was concerned that Leah was being overlooked and possibly neglected. “Rachel had to choose between her love for Jacob and her compassion for her sister, and she decided in favor of the latter. The most extreme description of Rachel’s act of self-sacrifice is described in the Lamentations Rabbah, a Jewish commentary, and is that Rachel hid under Jacob and Leah’s bed on their wedding night. When Jacob spoke with Leah, Rachel would answer him, so that he would not identify Leah’s voice’’ (From the Jewish Women’s Archive). Rachel is presented as a merciful and compassionate person who gave up her personal benefit for the sake of her sister. This is an explanation designed to present Rachel in the best possible way but also seeks to give a reason for how the deceit could be carried out with the knowledge of the three parties while being hidden from Jacob.

Whatever the reasoning behind the scheme Jacob was not pleased and Laban made another offer to him. If he would spend the week with Leah as husband and wife and agree to serve another seven years after that, then he could have Rachel as well. Jacob evidently agreed to this arrangement and once the week was up ‘he went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah’. At the time of Rachel’s marriage to Jacob the Midrash states she was 22 years old. Some traditions suggest she was the younger of twin daughters and in fact initially Jacob preferred Leah but thought she had been promised to Esau. “When Rebekah bore Esau and Isaac, there were born to Laban two daughters, Leah and Rachel. They sent letters to each other and agreed among themselves that Esau would take Leah; and Jacob, Rachel. Now Leah would ask about the conduct of Esau and would hear that his conduct was bad. So she would cry all the time and say: Thus my lot has fallen to this wicked man. And for this reason her eyes became weak” (Midrash Tanchuma Buber, Vayetzei 12). Rachel as the generous and compassionate sister agreed to allow Leah to marry Jacob in her place.

There is no supporting evidence for this suggestion, but what is stated is that Jacob made it obvious that he loved Rachel and had no interest in Leah. The word hated is used in verse 31 but the way it is used here means the opposite of love. ‘Whereas love draws and unites, hate separates and keeps distant…The hated person is utterly unappealing’ (Van Groningen in TWOT). The result was that Leah was once more rejected and Rachel was elevated as the favoured wife and like Jacob, the younger took the place of the older.

  1. What do you think of the traditions that try to explain the events around the marriage of Rachel?
  2. If Rachel did not agree to way Jacob was deceived, what do you think her reaction would be?
  3. If Rachel was involved in the conspiracy to deceive Jacob, how would that affect their later relationship?


  1. A serious rivalry
    Genesis 29:31-35Sex and marriage were treated very differently in the times of Rachel and her family than they are now. Marriage was defined in the beginning as a man and a woman becoming one, an indivisible union blessed by God and lasting for life. By the time of Rachel it was common for a man to have more than one wife and to use other women as concubines, primarily for the production of children. Marriage was often little more than a business arrangement decided for the benefit of two families, and the bride to be was seldom involved in the arrangement. When there was more than one wife the first or favoured one would become the female head of the household or chief person. While sex was part of marriage and was the act that created the union, it was common for the husband to have sexual relationships with other women for the purpose of having children and this does not seem to have been an issue with the other wife or wives. They were not jealous of the sexual activity but were jealous if one of the other women bore children while they did not.Because of Jacob’s attitude toward Leah and his probable neglect of her, God blessed her by enabling her to conceive. At the same time Rachel was unable to do so. In one Jewish tradition Rachel thought she could not conceive because her deeds were not as good as Leah’s. Another view is that because the bride price had not been paid any child born to her would not be a legitimate heir and would remain the ‘property’ of the bride’s father. The Bible simply tells us that he blessed Leah because she was unloved. This may seem a harsh penalty for Rachel to bear especially if she had acted out of compassion in changing places with Leah.Leah had four children in succession, while Rachel was still childless. The names given to her sons by Leah indicate that because she had children, she hoped Jacob would change in his attitude toward her, sadly this does not seem to have happened. Rachel was envious of Leah and took her frustration out on Jacob saying, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Rather than showing understanding or compassion, Jacob angrily responded, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” His choice of words shows that he is emphasizing that the fault is not with him, but Rachel. It is Rachel, and not him who is the problem. Instead of showing understanding, he increases her pain by telling her that he already has four sons from Leah.

    Rachel, desperate to have children to call her own and envious of her sister, took her maid Bilhah to Jacob and told him to have children through her. Because she was a maid the children would belong to Rachel. Jacob raised no objection and subsequently Bilhah produced two sons. In naming her sons Rachel saw her firstborn as an answer to her prayers, she called him Dan which means ‘judge’ because God had judged her and found her worthy. The second she called Naphtali which means wrestlings, because she said she had wrestled with her sister and prevailed against her.

    Rachel was the favourite wife, but when she was unable to bear children she lost her position as the most important. Now she had children of her own, even though born through a surrogate she felt she had regained her place. Meanwhile Leah thought that by having children Jacob would change and love her. Neither had their hopes fulfilled, Rachel still desperately wanted to bear children and Leah was still unloved.

  1. Bearing children was always considered a blessing in Biblical times, why has that changed?
  2. How should Jacob have acted toward Rachel?
  3. Sometimes married couples think that if they have children things will change between them for the better. What do you think?


  1. Finally a child
    Genesis 30:9-24The competition between Rachel and Leah for Jacob’s affection continued. Now that Rachel had children to call her own, Leah’s insecurities resurfaced. She was no longer bearing children herself and so she copied Rachel’s example and presented her own maid, Zilpah, to Jacob so that she might have babies through her. Sure enough Zilpah became pregnant and bore two sons, Jacob does not appear to have been consulted in the arrangement and no consideration was shown to Zilpah, in the same way that Bilhah’s feelings were not a factor in Rachel’s decision. The maids, or servants were the property of Leah and Rachel who were free to use them for whatever purpose they chose.Rachel still desperately wanted to bear her own children, specifically a son and so when one day Leah’s oldest son Reuben found some mandrakes, a plant that was believed to increase fertility and stimulate sexual desire, Rachel asked Leah to give them to her. Leah refused so Rachel bargained with her saying that if Leah gave the mandrakes to her, then she could have sex with Jacob. Leah agreed and her words are quite pointed, she told Jacob that he had been hired, his services had been bought like a male prostitute or a stud. He didn’t raise any objection and Leah conceived again. She gave the son she bore the name Issachar which means wages, a name that would remind him, and others of the circumstances of his birth through his life.

    The mandrakes didn’t seem to work for Rachel, and Jacob was content to continue to have relationships with Leah and she conceived twice more. First a boy she called Zebulon meaning dwelling, or perhaps honour and then Dinah, a daughter and the only female born to the union. Finally God answered Rachel’s prayers, there is no record of Jacob praying for her, unlike his father Isaac who prayed that Rebekah would conceive. The scheme with Bilhah produced two sons but didn’t satisfy her need and the mandrakes didn’t produce the result she hoped for. In God’s time he remembered and he acted. Rachel conceived and gave birth to Joseph, whose name means ‘add to’. The bible records two statements made by Rachel on the birth of her son. Firstly she declared that God had taken away her disgrace. To be childless meant being an object of scorn, God had withheld his blessing, possibly because of some failing on the part of the wife. Now God had taken away that shame and Rachel could assume her role as the preferred wife without any criticism of her failing to be a mother. Secondly she asked God for another son – she was still not satisfied.

    The Rabbis suggest a number of reasons why Rachel was finally able to conceive. One tradition maintains it was because of prayer, her own prayer, her sister’s prayer, Jacob’s prayer, and the prayer of Zilpah and Bilhah; another tradition suggests God remembered Rachel’s silence when Leah was given to Jacob instead of her. Yet a third tradition explains that Rachel deserved pregnancy because she brought her rival wife (Bilhah) into her house. It is also probable that seven years had elapsed and the full bride price had been paid, so any child born to her would now be a legitimate heir.

    Jacob has no part in naming his children but is content to participate in this feud between his two wives, benefitting from their rivalry. His attitude toward Leah was the cause of the conflict and there is no evidence of him acting charitably toward her, rather he just went along with Rachel’s plans and subsequently Leah’s participation. Once Leah paid the cost of Jacob’s services her attitude toward him may have changed. It seems that Leah thought that sex and child birth would bring a change in Jacob and Rachel was willing for Jacob to have alternative sexual partners to meet her need for a child of her own. Sadly having got what she so desperately wanted, she was still not satisfied.

  1. In what ways does Jacob demonstrate failure as a husband?
  2. Rachel possibly though having a child would solve her problems and give her fulfilment, did it work out that way?
  3. What do you think about the way Leah was treated?


  1. Leaving Haran
    Genesis 30:25-43; 31:1-55As soon as Joseph was born Jacob met with Laban. His contract was complete, he had served the seven years required, now it was time for him to leave. Laban however was aware of how he had prospered from Jacob’s service and even claimed that he had discovered through divination that God had blessed him because of Jacob. There is no evidence either before this event or afterward that Laban was a worshipper of God, but he evidently knew that Jacob was, and so used this to support his request for Jacob to stay. Twice he asked Jacob to name his price. How much would it take for hm to stay? Jacob insisted he didn’t want wages but would enter it what was basically a business arrangement.

    Laban and Jacob negotiated terms, neither party acted in good faith each expecting the other to cheat, but eventually agreement was reached. Jacob proved to be a shrewd businessman but also a very capable farmer and benefitted greatly from his skill and trickery so much so that he ‘increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys’ (30:43). Jacob’s success wasn’t appreciated by Laban’s sons and they started to grumble and fear that they were going to lose their inheritance. Laban’s attitude also changed and he was no longer friendly toward Jacob. Jacob realized that conflict might be coming and hearing from God in some way, he decided it was time to leave.

    Jacob called Rachel and Leah into the field, possibly so he wouldn’t be overheard and explained the situation to them. The text puts Rachel’s name first making it clear that she is the number one wife even though Leah was the first to be married and older of the two. Jacob claimed to have been cheated 10 times by Laban, this is a common number used to express completion or finality and now it was the time to leave- were they willing? It is unusual for the husband to invite the opinions of his wives and yet Jacob did, asking both for their agreement. For perhaps the first time in a while Rachel and Leah agreed with each other, as far as they were concerned their father had treated them like servants, had spent their dowry and they had nothing left. There was nothing to keep them. They acknowledged that it was God who had transferred Laban’s wealth to Jacob, so they were prepared to leave. Their decision seems based on financial considerations.

    Jacob wasn’t open about his decision to leave, he waited until Laban was away shearing, about three days journey, before sneaking away. Unknown to Jacob Rachel stole her father’s gods or teraphim and took them with her. No explanation is given for doing this and a few opinions have been offered: it may have been to stop Laban using them for divination to find Jacob or because they represented ownership of land. It might be that Rachel just wanted to get back at Laban for the way he had treated her. Jewish tradition is that Rachel wanted to stop her father from worshiping false gods. ‘The Rabbis claim that Rachel did so for the sake of Heaven. She said: “We are leaving—shall we leave this old man in his corruption [i.e., idolatry]?” (Jewish Women’s Archive). On this basis Rachel is praised for her actions.

    Jacob had become very wealthy, he had worked hard and had prospered, he had also used trickery to succeed when hard work was not enough. He seems to have avoided direct confrontation and used his own cunning to get the result he wanted. He avoided Esau, didn’t confront Laban directly when he tried to cheat him and didn’t intervene in the conflict between his wives, and yet God blessed him according to his promise. He entered Haran with nothing but a staff to lean on (Genesis 32:10), now he was leaving with two wives, concubines, 11 sons and a daughter and significant wealth and livestock. 20 years had passed, he had run from Esau on his way to Haran, now he was running from Laban on the way home.

  1. Jacob seems unwilling to take a stand when he was cheated or threatened, is this always the best policy?
  2. The agreement of Rachel and Leah seems based on what was best financially for them, what do you think about that?
  3. Why do you think Rachel stole the teraphim?


  1. False God’s and trickery
    Genesis 31:22-55

    The third day after Jacob had left Haran with his family, Laban was told. He immediately gave chase and after a journey of nearly ten days he caught up with them, they were probably about 500kms from Haran. He immediately confronted Jacob and demanded to know why he sneaked off without telling him they were going. Initially Laban argued that he would have liked to hold a feast and celebrate in style, and he had been denied the opportunity to say goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren. While there is no pause in the text it is possible that Laban realized he wasn’t convincing Jacob, so he changed his approach.

    Now Laban offers a veiled threat, telling Jacob he was foolish and that he, Laban could do him harm, and he probably would have if God had not warned him not to. ‘’But why’’ he asked, “did you steal my gods?” Jacob didn’t know that Rachel had taken the gods and impulsively and foolishly effectively sentenced Rachel to death if she were found out. He told Laban to look for himself if he didn’t trust him. Clearly Laban didn’t and proceeded to firstly check Leah’s tent and the servants and then Rachel’s. When he went to search Rachel’s tent, she was inside sitting on a saddle in which she had hidden the idols. Claiming to be menstruating she apologized for not getting up and Laban went away empty handed. It is curious that gods that were used for searching out things or divination could be lost and needed to be found! The laws of ceremonial cleansing may not have applied to Laban but if they did then these gods had been rendered unclean by Rachel sitting on them. It is also possible that Rachel was actually pregnant at the time.

    Jacob, in his eyes justifiably, was very angry at the unjust accusation made against him. He demanded that Laban explain himself and then went on to pour out his own complaint. He may have been storing up his anger and annoyance for some time and now gave vent to his feelings. He ended by reminding Laban that God had in fact already rebuked him. Laban though, put his side pointing out that according to custom all children born while a person was a servant became the property of the owner, despite the biological ties that bound them, as well as any livestock and flocks.

    Having made his case Laban proposed that they put their animosity aside and make an agreement, or a covenant. They would build a memorial to remind them that God was a witness to each of them and particularly to ensure that Jacob did not mistreat or replace either of his wives, Laban’s daughters. They agreed that neither Jacob nor Laban would pass that memorial in order to do the other harm. Jacob offered a sacrifice to commemorate the covenant and they spent the night sharing a meal with all of the family.

    The next morning Laban got up early, said goodbye to his daughters and their children and returned home. Laban does not reenter the story. He appears as a devious, calculating person who used whatever means to get the best return he could. In light of the culture his behaviour was not unusual and in some ways would have been applauded, after all he was trying to do the best by his own family. The model of dishonesty and trickery though was evident through the family line and in Jacob and his family as well. Unknown to her Rachel did not have long left to live she would not see her home or her family again.

  1. Why was Laban so willing to mistrust his daughters?
  2. Jacob’s reasoning for secretly leaving was fear. What does this say about his confidence in God?
  3. Laban seems to have acted reasonably in the end by proposing an agreement. What do you think caused the change?




  1. Passing the baton
    Genesis 35:16-29After the families departure from the place where they met Laban little is said about Rachel or Leah, while present in the background their voices are not heard until they have neared their destination. There is significant difference of opinion about how long it took for Jacob and his family to travel from Haran to Hebron with figures of between 3 and 40 years suggested.The British Bible School offers the following comment: ‘Let us now draw some conclusions about Jacob’s life. If you notice, he would have been in his 70s when he arrived in Haran. We usually think of Jacob as being a young man, falling in love with young Rachel. While Rachel may have been young, Jacob was getting on in years! Notice, as well, that although Isaac was old and felt he was about to die when Jacob stole the blessing (Genesis 27), the reality is that he still had over forty years of life left! Jacob left a single man in his 70s owning nothing and returned with two wives, two concubines and 12 children and immense wealth in his 90s. And he still had over twenty years to live in the vicinity of his father. It would seem that Isaac could have known all his grandchildren that were Jacob’s, as they arrived in that area about 15 years before his death. We also see that Joseph would have been in slavery and presumed dead before Isaac’s death – in fact, Joseph became first minister in Egypt a year after his grandfather’s death’. Other sources suggest the trip took as little as three years and another view is that it was 11 years to Bethlehem where the family stayed before relocating to Hebron for 12 years. On this basis they lived with Isaac for about 17 years before he died.In the passage quoted the deaths of Rachel and Isaac are recorded and in verse 8, Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse had died. While the text puts their passing in close relation they were separated by a number of years. Rebekah had already died although her passing was not commented on, only that she was buried in the family grave at Machpelah.As the family continued their journey Rachel went into labour, it was obviously a difficult and traumatic experience. As the pain increased Rachel became afraid and, in an attempt to calm her the midwife told her she had delivered another son. As she heard these words she had enough life left to name her child Benoni which means either the ‘son of my sorrow’ or the ‘son of my strength’. However, Jacob changed the name to Benjamin which means the ‘son of my right hand’ and Rachel died. The child for which she longed and prayed for ultimately became the cause of her death. Still a young woman, she would not live to see her children grow to adulthood or fulfil the promise God had made to her. Rachel was not buried in the family tomb but by the road on the way to Ephrath, no explanation is given but, ‘The commentators explain that Rachel was intentionally buried there, in Bethlehem, on the side of the road on which the Jews were forcibly marched into exile following the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash. This was in order that they would be able to pray at her grave for their salvation.’ (The Israel Bible). One explanation for Rachel’s death is that it was the fulfillment of Jacob’s judgement that the one who had stolen Laban’s gods would die.In Ruth 4:11 the elders of the city hope that Ruth would be like, ‘Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel.’ Her legacy incudes two of Israel’s greatest deliverers in Joseph and Esther, as well as Joshua and the first King, Saul. More than a hundred years after the exile of the northern tribes of Israel, Jeremiah had a vision of Rachel still mourning, still grieving for her lost children (Jeremiah 31:15) and this is quoted by Matthew in his gospel (2:18). With the death of Rachel the mantle of mother of all of the family passed to Leah.
  1. The story of Rachel and Jacob is often described as a tragic love story, what do you think?
  2. Do you think Jacob should have changed Benjamin’s name when he did?
  3. What do you think Leah’s attitude would be now?


  1. Not forgotten, nor forsaken
    Genesis 29:16,17Two short and unflattering verses introduced Leah. She is held up in contrast to her younger sister Rachel who was physically beautiful and presented herself attractively. All that is said of Leah is that she had weak eyes. For a young woman, or we might suggest a teenage girl, to grow up with that description would be traumatic. To be compared unfavourably because of a physical characteristic is the cause of distress to many teenagers today, the same would no doubt have applied in Biblical days, otherwise there would have been to need to mention it. To realise that when the two of them entered a room she would be ignored because of her younger sister would have been hurtful.There have been a number of suggestions made about what it meant for Leah to have ‘weak eyes’. One view is that she had been promised in marriage to Esau and that on hearing of his evil deeds (which are not mentioned in the bible, if they existed) she wept continuously. A second suggestion is found in some translations that she was cross eyed, and the most probable is that like Isaac she had poor eyesight. In the days of Leah, there were no optometrists and glasses (spectacles) were not an option, so to have poor eyesight would be a burden that, apart from miraculous intervention, could not be remedied.Jerry Rabow comments: ‘the Bible describes very few of Leah’s qualities, recounts very few of her actions, and quotes even fewer of her statements’ he continues, ‘she has only two short lines of direct dialogue, and the text expresses only brief and indirect indications of her thoughts and feelings about just a few of the most momentous events in her life’. Yet she has possibly the most direct and enduring legacy of what are called the matriarchs of the Bible. She is added to the group of four foundational matriarchs of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel in Jewish history.Leah is often overlooked, stories about Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel are well known and often feature in sermons and Sunday School messages, but Leah is passed over, and only referred to as part of Rachel’s story. In her time she was also overlooked and much or her story, at least until the passing of Rachel is an account of her efforts to earn the love and desire of her husband, Jacob. Rabow describes her as ‘as love driven, love obsessed, and always, always, love denied.’ She grew up in the shadow of an attractive, popular younger sister who was the centre of attention. It is possible that her father feared that she would not find a suitable husband and so used his own cunning to trick Jacob into marrying her. He may have done this out of compassion, or because he didn’t want to lose the dowry she could bring once she did marry. Sadly it seems she was made aware and probably reminded of her shortcomings and that will have moulded her character.Many children grow up in similar households today. They live in the shadow of a brother or sister who is more attractive, smarter, more athletic or more popular or is the mum or dad’s favourite. They may struggle to find their own identity, and sometimes sadly revert to inappropriate behaviour to find their place. They may struggle with insecurity and try to earn the love they should be unconditionally given. They are children who believe they have to achieve academically or in some other way or they won’t be loved or accepted.

    Leah was loved unconditionally by God, he elevated her when others ignored her, he gave her significance when her family dismissed her. She was chosen by God and given what she had been denied. Just as Leah knew God loved her, so each one of us can know the same unconditional love and acceptance which does not depend on our performance, our looks or our ability. He loves as a father should love, generously, without favouritism and freely. Your significance, security and acceptance is dependent wholly on the unconquerable love of your heavenly father. Like Leah, you are chosen, not forsaken, you are who he says you are.

  1. How do you think Leah would feel growing up in Laban’s household?
  2. Have you ever felt less valuable because you are compared to more successful others?
  3. Do you know you are chosen and will never be forsaken?


  1. Marriage and children
    Genesis 29:31-35The time came for Jacob and Rachel to be married. A feast was prepared and Jacob took his bride into his tent to make Rachel his wife, but as we know when Jacob woke in the morning he realized he had been tricked and Leah had taken Rachel’s place. Understandably angry, Jacob confronted Laban who shrugged off his complaint but offered to give him Rachel as well as Leah if he served him another seven years. It is practically impossible to believe that Leah was a last minute substitution, so certainly she, and probably Rachel as well were parties to the deception.Leah knew she had not been chosen by Jacob, indeed she had been passed over in favour of her younger sister. Even if she had agreed to this arrangement she would have been well aware she was unwanted and not chosen. Of course she may have seen this as her opportunity for marriage that might otherwise have been denied to her and Jacob’s family was wealthy and he was the heir to the eventual inheritance. When Jacob rushed out of their bedroom to confront Laban, she was rejected again.
    Jacob agreed to Laban’s proposal and Leah knew this meant that she would be the second wife in the family. It was obvious that Jacob loved Rachel and while he fulfilled his responsibilities to Leah it was from duty and the desire to have children not from love or affection. God noticed Leah’s distress though, as he always notices when we are in distress or in pain. He enabled her to conceive, a blessing denied to Rachel. In quick succession Leah bore four sons and each time she named them to reflect her hopes and feelings.Leah named her first child Rueben and said that now she had born a child, specifically a son, Jacob would change towards her and love her. This did not happen unfortunately. She bore a second son and called him Simeon saying that God had heard her complaint and surely now Jacob would no longer reject her. There was still no change in Jacob though. Her third son was named Levi, which means ‘attached’, Jacob must love her now, after all she had given him three sons and Rachel had produced none. Everything stayed the same, Rachel was still loved, and Leah rejected. Something changed in Leah because when she gave birth to her fourth son, who she called Judah she no longer focused on her pain and her need, this time she said “I will praise the Lord”. Her circumstances had not changed, but she had. Leah was able to praise God through her pain and rejection and God continued to bless her. She had learned contentment in the love of God.Leah stopped bearing children and in the meantime Rachel decided to have children through her maid who bore to Jacob two sons. Leah followed her example and her maid produced two sons as well. Rachel who still could not conceive sold Jacobs sexual favours to Leah for some mandrakes found by her son The mandrakes were believed to stimulate desire and improve fertility, unfortunately for Rachel they didn’t produce what she wanted. God was still listening to Leah though, and she conceived twice more and bore two more sons. She seems to have given up on trying to gain Jacob’s love and now was content for him just to honour her. Finally Leah bore a daughter who she called Dinah, there is no significance attached to her name and she is the only daughter that is born to Jacob.

    Once Leah stopped bearing children, God enabled Rachel to conceive and eventually Joseph was born. Jacob then approached Laban and asked to be released from his commitment to him. Laban convinced Jacob to remain with him and become a partner in the family business and Jacob, Leah and Rachel remained in Haran for another six years.

  1. Leah thought that her marriage could be ‘fixed’ by having children, or giving to Jacob what she though he wanted. Is this a good strategy?
  2. The birth of Judah signaled a change in Leah’s attitude, why do you think that was?
  3. Leah learned to be content, how hard would that be and is it something you may need to do?


  1. Leaving Home
    Genesis 31:1-16The relationship between Jacob and Laban was not built on trust, each attempted to cheat and take advantage of the other. Eventually friction between them and their families grew to the point that Jacob realized it was time for him to leave. He had become very wealthy but at the expense of Laban and conflict was inevitable. Rather than try to resolve the tension, Jacob called Rachel and Leah to tell them that he wanted to leave and wanted to know their opinions. Rachel is mentioned first in the exchange which indicates her position as the preferred wife and probably spoke on behalf of both of them. They agreed to do whatever Jacob thought right. Jacob waited for his opportunity and when Laban had gone to shear his sheep, a journey of three days, he and his family left without explanation or farewell.The journey they took was lengthy, Laban pursued them and after an interchange with Jacob he returned home. Jewish tradition states that he sent messengers to Esau telling him of Jacob’s movements and asking him to attack Jacob. Jacob was still afraid of Esau’s vengeance and when he heard that he was camped nearby he developed a plan to appease him and protect his family. As it happened when Esau did meet Jacob their reunion was peaceful and at least on the surface one of reconciliation. Esau proposed that Jacob accompany him, and Jacob agreed, only to head in the opposite direction when Esau was out of sight. He headed toward Shechem where he set up camp.Staying in Shechem had tragic consequences for the family, and in particular for Dinah the daughter of Leah. When Dinah left her family’s camp to meet the local women, she was abducted and raped by Shechem, a prince with the same name as the city. Rochel Holzkenner writes “Any woman who has experienced sexual abuse understands the depth of affliction unleashed from one mere act of violation. It rips apart the very fabric of our feminine dignity, and it requires a lot of concentrated healing to restore our sense of self-respect. Dinah, a princess in the house of Jacob, was violated and afflicted.”

    Dinah was the last of Leah’s children and as a young girl, used to the protection of her brothers she was probably self-confident and used to some independence. Once Shechem had violated Dinah his ‘his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob’ and he wanted to marry her. A proposal was put to Jacob who became aware of the assault against his daughter, but because his sons were away working, he chose to do nothing. When the sons returned and found out what happened they were incensed and conspired together to take vengeance. They came up with a complex plan that required all the men of Shechem to be circumcised as a condition to agreeing to Dinah’s marriage and then when they were recovering Simeon and Levi, two of her older brothers killed every male and looted the city taking away all the wealth including the women and children.

    When Jacob heard what had happened his only response was that they had put him in danger by their actions. Their reply was to challenge Jacob by asking “Should they get away with treating our sister as a prostitute?” Jacob consistently chose to avoid conflict and if possible, use his own cunning to escape the need for direct confrontation. There may be reasons why he delayed responding to the violation of Dinah but it is difficult to understand how he could fail to act in defense of his daughter. Leah was the mother of Dinah and this point is made in the text, the two brothers who avenged her were Leah’s sons. Leah is silent throughout this tragic episode and we are not told how she responded or what lasting effect it may have had on her as a mother. As a person, a vulnerable young girl, Dinah is almost incidental to the story, we do not know her feelings or the effect this tragedy had on her life, though we do now she remained unmarried and in the home of her father.

  1. How would Leah respond to the attack on Dinah?
  2. What would her response to the inaction of Jacob be?
  3. Shechem raped Dinah, but Simeon and Levi killed every male and took captive woman and child. What do you think of their actions?


  1. Bethel and Beyond
    Genesis 35Having been instructed by God to go to Bethel and live there, Jacob prepared his family to leave. There seems to have been a change in Jacob because before leaving he instructed his household and all those that were travelling with him to prepare themselves. They were to ‘put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments’. The presence of foreign gods indicate that idol worship was common in Laban’s household but the practice had been adopted in Jacob’s as well. The gods that were to be disposed of would have included those stolen by Rachel if she still had them. They were to ceremonially cleanse themselves and change their clothes as a symbol of purification. Jacob explained that he was going to build an altar to God, last time he was at Bethel he built a pillar, this time it was going to be an altar. Jacob was given all the false gods as well as jewelry associated with idol worship, but rather than destroy them, he buried them under a tree.When they arrived at Bethel, Jacob built the altar and worshiped God in memory of God’s deliverance. It was also the place where Deborah’s nurse died and was buried. We don’t know when Deborah joined Jacob and she may have been sent by Rebekah with a message to return to Hebron. While at Bethel, God appeared again to Jacob and affirmed the promise made to Abraham and Isaac that the land would be given to him and he would become the head of God’s people. He also changed his name to Israel, which means to strive with God. In chapter 32:28 God had explained that Jacob had fought with God and prevailed and so would be given this name.

    The family moved on from Bethel but before they reached their next destination, Ephrath, Rachel died in child birth. Normal custom was that Leah would now assume the role of number one wife and be considered the female head of the family. Some tradition insists that Rachel’s maid was elevated to the status of wife and therefore the mother of both Joseph and Benjamin, this is unlikely though. The family resumed their travels toward Hebron and stopped at the Tower of Eder, one of many towers built for shepherds to guard their flocks. This tower is believed to be between Bethlehem and Hebron.

    One sentence describes an event that would have significant effect on the future leadership of Israel. Rueben, Leah’s oldest son had sex with Rachel’s maid. Some Jewish writings suggest Rueben went into Bilhah’s room and sat on her bed to comfort her. When Jacob discovered them he overturned the bed in anger and threw Rueben out. Other passages in the bible (Genesis 49:4; 1 Chronicles 5:1) however speak of Rueben defiling his father’s bed and doing so his status as the oldest son was forfeited and given to the sons of Joseph. As seems to have been Jacob’s habit, he took no action at the time and it was not until he was on his deathbed that he addressed the offence. Bilhah was not just Rachel’s maid, she was the mother of his brothers. Whether Bilhah was a willing participant is not said but given the customs and practices of the day she would have had no power to refuse and in today’s society, sex in those circumstances would be considered rape.

    Jacob, Leah and the family moved on and finally arrived at Hebron where his father was still alive. Expecting to die 20 years earlier, Isaac had outlived Rebekah and Jacob’s wife Rachel. Now Jacob had returned with his twelve sons, his daughter Dinah and with Leah as his wife and mother to the family.

  1. Leah effectively becomes the step mother to Rachel’s sons, how would she respond to that?
  2. What do you think would have been her response to her oldest son’s actions?
  3. Leah has gone from the unwanted, unloved wife to the female head of the family would that change her?


  1. The death of Isaac
    Genesis 35:27-29These short verses introduce the change in leadership of the family of Abraham. Isaac died and the mantle of leadership was passed to Jacob. He had been renamed Israel by God while he was at Bethel and his descendants would now be Israelites. The sons of Abraham also included Ishmael and Esau through Isaac and all of their descendants. Not much is said about Isaac’s passing or how he had spent the years of Jacob’s absence. If he had a problem with his eyesight that he did not recover from, then he would have been dependent on others for the care of his family and wider household. After he died his two sons Jacob and Esau buried him. This is the first reference to them after their separation on Jacob’s road from Haran, notably Esau is mentioned first, recognizing him as the older son even though he had been displaced by Jacob.

    Jacob and his family remained in the area of Canaan as livestock owners. At the age of 17 Joseph was given responsibility for leading the sheep to good pasture but he also took the opportunity to give bad reports to his father about his brothers. His father showed his favouritism to Joseph as he had done to his mother Rachel and not only listened to, but probably encouraged Joseph to report on his brothers. He also gave him a special robe which set him apart and identified him as someone with authority. Not surprisingly his brothers (except for Benjamin who was still an infant) grew to dislike him to the point of hatred. This was made worse when Joseph reported to them a dream in which all of his brothers would bow down to him. This was followed by a second dream showing not only his brothers but his mother and father also bowing down. Leah, at that time would have assumed the role of mother, Jacob rebuked Joseph but did nothing further except store the dream in his mind.

    By this time the dislike of Joseph’s brothers for him was extreme, but Jacob continued to show favouritism to him. One day when the brothers were feeding the sheep at Shechem, the place where Dinah was raped and the men of the town murdered, Jacob sent Joseph to them so he could bring a report back to him. Whether Jacob understood the effect his preference was having on his family is not stated. The son of Rachel was preferred over those of Leah, just as Rachel had been preferred over Leah. Did she try to change Jacob’s attitude toward his sons, or remain passive? Nothing is said about Leah or any words she and Jacob might have exchanged.

    Jacob added to his folly by allowing Joseph to go to his brothers dressed in his special robe, emphasising how much he was the favourite son. What follows is a well known story; Joseph’s brothers effectively kidnapped him and sold him to passing slave traders. They subsequently sold him to an Egyptian official named Potiphar. The brothers returned to Jacob with Joseph’s robe dipped in blood and allowed him to believe that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. The son Jacob had so desperately wanted was lost, presumed killed and the wife he had loved was dead. He refused to be comforted and the next years of his life were marked with grief.

    Throughout this story Leah is mostly silent, nothing is recorded of her feelings or any opinions she may have shared. She had competed for the affection of Jacob and for the status of preferred wife. She had now gained the role but still may not have enjoyed Jacob’s affection. She was surrounded by tragedy, the rejection of her husband, the death of her sister, rape of her daughter, her son having sex with his father’s wife and now her step son lost and probably dead. Through all of this She remained the constant in Jacob’s life and earned the title of one of the matriarchs of the people of Israel.

  1. Do you think Leah could have challenged Jacob’s obvious preference for Joseph?
  2. How dangerous is it for a parent to show obvious favouritism to one child over others?
  3. Leah seems to have accepted a passive role, unlike Sarah and Rebekah, what do think about that?


  1. A builder of Israel
    Ruth 4:11

    The Bible does not say when she died, but Leah is buried in the cave of Machpelah, along with Jacob her husband (Genesis 49:29-31). We also know little about her life as the mother of the children of Israel from the time of settling in Canaan to their journey to Egypt. In the book of Ruth though she and Rachel are held up as builders of the family of Israel. This is a reference to their role in bearing and bringing up children and as was the custom, the maids of both sisters is overlooked. Leah’s role is the far more significant of the two in terms of the number of children she bore and the length of time she spent as their mother and wife to their father. Nevertheless, Rachel is mentioned first, again recognizing that she was Jacob’s first choice.

    When Leah first met Jacob he was fleeing from his brother and had no money or resources. He took refuge in the home of Leah’s father where his affection for her sister grew and culminated in a proposal of marriage. Leah was substituted for Rachel on her intended wedding night, and subsequently Jacob took Rachel as a second wife. Competition and conflict characterized their relationship and God, seeing that Leah was badly treated enabled Leah to conceive, but withheld that privilege from Rachel. Eventually Rachel did give birth to Joseph, and shortly afterward died while her second son, Benjamin ws being delivered.

    Jacob had grown up in an environment of rivalry and conflict as well. He schemed with his mother to deprive Esau, his brother of his rights as the elder son and had run to Laban’s house in fear for his life. This history of parental favouritism, conflict and deception was a feature of his life and also of his children. Leah and Rachel had been exposed to similar patterns of behaviour in the home of the their father Laban. The final act of Jacob before his death was to bless each of his twelve sons. In doing so he reversed the order of the accepted or customary practice because of offences committed by his sons. He had taken no action at the time, but now he would hold them accountable.

    Rueben was the first to be born and would expect to be the anointed leader, but he had ‘defiled has father’s bed’ by having sex with Bilhah, the maid of Rachel and mother of his half brothers. He forfeited what should have been his. Simeon and Levi were the next born and may have assumed the right of leadership would pass to one of them, but Jacob recalled their cruel savagery in killing all the men of Shechem and told them that they would lose their share in the promised land. Geoff Thomas writes: “How different things seemed to be when these boys were born. Their rejected and neglected mother, Leah, had thought, “Now my husband will be joined to me. He will be bound to me by our natural affection for our sons, and our mutual child support. There will be this band holding the marriage together;” so she thought. So the name given to the third son was ‘Levi’ and ‘Levi’ comes from the word to bind. “Now Jacob and I will be bound together. I know he loves Rachel more than me, but I have given him three sons.” So she was full of hope at the sight of three little boys running around the family home. She would see lots more of Jacob the doting father, and so there would develop a love relationship between them both.”

    The mantle was passed to Leah’s fourth son Judah fulfilling the prophecy of Isaac in Genesis 27:29, and Leah’s own words at the time of his birth. Through Judah the Messiah would come, the eventual fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham. To Joseph was given the double blessing through each of his sons, and through them would come the northern tribes of Israel known as Ephraim. Little is known of Leah, and few of her words are recorded, yet her significance cannot be ignored.

  1. What can you learn from Leah’s life?
  2. Should Jacob have dealt with his son’s failures at the time they occurred?
  3. What is most important about Leah’s legacy?




1.The Woman who ran
Genesis 16:1-14

Hagar was a servant of Sarai, the wife of Abram. She was an Egyptian girl either sold or given to Sarai when she was in the house of Pharaoh in Egypt. When Sarai and Abram were forced to leave Egypt they took Hagar with them and she continued to serve Sarai. We know nothing of Hagar’s past, who her parents were, whether she had brothers or sisters or any of the circumstances of her life. As a servant to Sarai she had no rights and was in every sense the possession of her mistress.

God had promised Abram that he would become the father of a nation, and his wife Sarai naturally assumed that the children would come through her. However she was unable to conceive and after many years she became desperate and convinced Abram he should have a child through Hagar. This was not an unusual practice in those times and in fact it was common for wealthy slave owners to have sex with female servants and choose how they should be treated. It was possible for children born to those unions to be ‘adopted’ by the father and have the usual rights of those born in marriage. So, what Sarai suggested was not unusual.

Abram subsequently did have sex with Hagar and eventually she became pregnant. As the child grew within her, her attitude toward Sarai changed. Instead of being the obedient servant who understood her place in society, she began to treat Sarai with contempt. What that meant is not stated but maybe she laughed at her inability to have children, barrenness was considered a curse and that might have become a taunt to use as a weapon. She might have assumed she would take Sarai’s place and would be favoured above her.  Sarai responded out of frustration and possibly fear for her own position and acted harshly toward Hagar. Whether that was physical mistreatment, emotional abuse, deprivation of food and care is not said but it was severe enough for Hagar to run. She was heavily pregnant, had no possessions, no means of support, nowhere to go and she ran.

Hagar headed toward Egypt and tired, worn out and fearful she lay down next to a spring at the edge of the desert, and there God found her. Hagar may have thought she was lost, but God always knew where she was and he sent an angel to her. Hagar didn’t go looking for God, He took the initiative, he found her. This is the first time an angel appears in the Bible and it is to a pregnant slave girl on the run from her owners. The angel was probably an appearance of the son of God in human form and he spoke to Hagar calling her by name and remined her of who she was. She was a servant girl, but had forgotten her place and because of it was persecuted by Sarai. She was asked two questions: Where have you come from? And where are you going?

God always knows the answers to the questions he asks us, he wasn’t seeking information, but confession. Hagar answered the first question honestly but had no answer to the second. Was she expecting a word of encouragement, a suggested way out, an alternative course of action? If she was she didn’t get it. “Go back and submit’’. The Angel reminded her of who she was and in doing so was probably pointing out that she had brought herself under the penalty of death as a runaway slave. She should not have run, she should have stayed and submitted. Does that seem fair? Is it like telling a person to return to a situation of domestic violence? Shouldn’t the Angel have gone and had a word with Sarai and Abram?

God sent her back with a promise. She would live and she would have a son. He had a purpose for her life, but she needed to go back where she belonged. God found Hagar in the wilderness and saw her pain, she was not where she should have been, but once she acknowledged that God, blessed her, restored her and assured her that she was not forgotten.

  1. Hagar thought that she was rejected and without hope, but was never out of God’s sight, how do you respond to that?
  2. God told Hagar to go back and submit. How hard would that be to hear?
  3. Both Hagar and Sarai were at fault (so too was Abram) but God offers no judgement, why not?



  1. The Woman who named God
    Genesis 16:10-15God found Hagar in the wilderness where she had run to escape the persecution of Sarai, her mistress. Rather than offer soothing words or encourage her to move on with her life, He instructed her to return and submit to Sarai. I posed the question whether this would be like telling a woman subject to domestic violence to return home and submit. The answer to that is clearly and emphatically ‘No’. While we find the idea of slave ownership offensive by the standards of society that exist today, it was normal in the days of Hagar and Sarai. Hagar was a slave, and while she was used for the purpose of child bearing she was not the wife of Abram, she had no rights and no independence, to run from her owner brought her under the penalty of death. The reference to submission in this story does not relate to any relationship that exists between husband and wife. Nowhere in the bible is the idea of domination of the husband or subservience of the wife suggested or endorsed. In the New Testament the apostle makes clear in Ephesians 5 that the marriage relationship is one of mutual submission when he writes: “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”. God had a purpose for Hagar and in telling her to return to Sarai, he was effectively asking her to trust him for her protection.God’s instruction came with a promise. Hagar would become the mother of a multitude through the son she was carrying. She was to call him Ishmael which means: “God hears”. God had seen her pain and didn’t rebuke her, but instead gave her a blessing. He did not offer an easy life, there would be conflict. He could have allowed Hagar and her unborn child to die in the wilderness – He didn’t allow it. God specifically intervened so that wouldn’t happen; He could have allowed Hagar to live, but to leave Abram and Sarai, but He didn’t; He could have erased her son from the story, but chose not to; instead he specifically commanded Hagar to go back to Abram and Sarai and submit to them.How did Hagar respond? Was she afraid, disappointed, disillusioned? Did she expect God to provide a way out, remove the obstacles, change her circumstances? Did she become bitter? Her response was thankfulness! She named the well where she sat “well of the Living One who sees me.” And called God by the name El Roi, the God who sees. She acknowledged that he was the God who looked after her. This is the first and only time that God is given a name by a man or a woman, and it is woman, a foreigner, a pregnant slave girl who had run away from her masters. God had seen Hagar and he had heard her; both of those names were ascribed to him in this place.There are many parts of this story that we cannot identify with. The idea of slave ownership, using a young servant to produce children and the suggestion that a wife would tell her husband to have sex with her maid to produce a child are all offensive concepts. But there are parts we can identify with. We may believe we are being unfairly treated, by an employer of someone else, our marriage relationship maybe unsatisfactory, we are unfulfilled or believe no one listens to us so we just want to leave and start again. We may actually have done that or for some other reason we have lost hope and think we have no future. God knows where you are, he knows your pain and he hears your cry. He does not rebuke you, but he restores you. He may tell you to go back because that’s where his purpose and promise will be fulfilled, but he will never leave you nor forsake you.Hagar went back to Sarai and Abram and told them what had happened, and they believed her. Abram adopted the child by naming him and he gave the name that the Angel had prophesied, Ishmael. God went before her and prepared the way, he had seen her and heard her, and she knew he was the God who looked after her.
  1. Are you content with where you are? What should you do?
  2. How hard is it to submit to the authority of others, especially when they are unreasonable or ungodly?
  3. Do you know that wherever you are God sees you, he hears you and he cares for you and you are never out of his thoughts?


  1. The Woman whose eyes God opened
    Genesis 21:8-21Hagar and her son Ishmael lived with Abram (whose name had been changed to Abraham) and Sarai (now Sarah) for thirteen years, and then Sarai gave birth to her own son according to God’s promise. Ishmael grew up as Abraham’s only son and probably expected to become his heir. Abraham may well have thought the same until he was told by God that Sarah would have a child even though physically that was now impossible. When Sarah’s son, Isaac was weaned she saw Ishmael laughing scornfully at him and became angry.Perhaps Sarah remembered the way Hagar had acted when she was pregnant and Sarah could not conceive. Maybe she was worried that Ishmael would claim the right of inheritance as the older son, whatever the reason she insisted that Abraham get rid of both Hagar and her son. Abraham was reluctant, after all Ishmael was his son, probably now about 15 years old. They had lived together all that time and Abraham probably was preparing him to take over the leadership of the community when he could do it no longer. They may have gone hunting and fishing together and enjoyed each other’s company. He didn’t want to do it, but God told him to ‘listen to your wife and do whatever she tells you’. These would be difficult words to hear especially in a male dominated society. It seemed unfair, wasn’t there another way? But Abraham did as he was told and the next morning he gave Hagar some bread and a container of water and sent her and her son away.Hagar was once more in the wilderness, perhaps she remembered the time when she was pregnant when God met her there. This time though she doesn’t seem to have a destination in mind and she wandered around the area of Beer Sheba until her water had run out. She was broken, she had nothing left physically or emotionally so she put Ishmael in the shade of some bushes and sat a little distance away, not wanting to see his suffering. She could not stand to see him die a terrible death of thirst and wept bitterly. But God had heard Ishmael’s cries and called Hagar, “What is wrong? I have heard your son’s cries, I know where he is”. What an extraordinary question, ‘what’s wrong?’ Hagar was dying of thirst, she was lost and broken. Rejected and thrown away with nowhere to go and no one to care for her, and her son was dying before her eyes. Why would God ask, ‘what’s wrong’? God was reminding Hagar to trust him, he had promised to be with her and her son and he keeps his promises.God told Hagar to get up, take hold of her son and believe. As she heard God’s voice and responded in faith, He opened her eyes. She saw a well! Had it been there all the time and she just didn’t see it? In her distress had she become so overwhelmed that she could not see the provision God had made? She no doubt ran to the well, filled her container and gave it to Ishmael to drink.  Sometimes when we think things can’t get any worse God will tell us to get up, take courage and believe. He promised never to leave you, nor forsake you and he keeps his word. As you respond in faith believing in his promises, he will open your eyes to the provision he has made for you.

    Hagar did not understand why she been thrown out of Abraham’s home, she did not know why she had become lost in the wilderness without hope. All she could do was cry out and God spoke to her. He reminded her that he was with her and still had a purpose for her, she was not forgotten, she was still significant, she had value, she was loved by God. Hagar continued their journey and God fulfilled his promise, Ishmael become the founder of a great nation just as God said he would, and because Hagar had been sent away she was no longer a slave – she had been set free!

  1. Have you ever been so overwhelmed by your circumstances that you fail to see God’s provision?
  2. What seems to be Abraham’s cruel actions led to Ishmael becoming a significant leader and for Hagar to be set free from slavery. How do you respond to that?
  3. Do you need to hear God say “Get up! Take courage and believe”?


  1. A Cheated Woman
    Genesis 38Judah, the son of Jacob and Leah, had a friend called Hirah, he was an Adullamite. One day when he was hanging out with Hirah he met a Canaanite woman, and contrary to God’s instructions not to marry outside of the people of Israel, he married her. Her name was Shua and over time she had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. Er eventually married Tamar who was also a Canaanite.Er must have been a particularly evil person because we read that God put him to death. Tamar had not produced any children and by what is known as the Leverite law that existed in Eastern culture, the responsibility went to the family to provide someone to take the place of the deceased. The intention was to allow the woman to have children, but also to ensure the family name. The child born would belong to the deceased relative. Judah could have accepted that responsibility, but his wife was still living so he gave Tamar to his second son, Onan.Onan was happy to have sex with Tamar but he was not prepared to father children by her and as the text tells us ‘he would waste his semen on the ground’. We are not told why he was so reluctant, but he obviously thought he could deceive Judah, he obviously couldn’t fool Tamar and he didn’t fool God. Because of his refusal to follow the customary law and ensure the continuation of the family name, God put him to death as well. Judah did not know the reason why his sons had died, and he may have suspected Tamar was at fault so although he should have told Shelah, his third son to accept the Leverite role, he told Tamar to wait until he had grown up. We don’t know how old Shelah was but obviously some considerable time passed. David Lamb asks: ‘Can you imagine waiting years to have sex with an underaged relative? Is it possible to get even creepier?’ There are many cultural practices of the past that we struggle to comprehend, and this may be one of them! ‘According to Near Eastern custom, known from Middle Assyrian laws, if a man has no son over ten years old, he could perform the Levirate marriage obligation himself; if he does not, the woman is declared a “widow,” free to marry again’ (Tikva Frymer-Kensky). So either Shelah was over ten years old or he chose to keep Tamar confined to widowhood rather than set her free.

    After some time Judah’s wife died and he went and found his friend Hirah again. It was in his company that he found his last wife, so perhaps he was looking for someone to replace Shua, but together they went to Timnah to shear their sheep. For some reason some of the local people thought it was important to tell Tamar where Judah had gone. It is possible that they were aware that Judah had failed in his commitment to Tamar and thought she should confront him. They addressed him as her father-in-law, although he failed to protect and provide for her as a father-in-law should in those circumstances.

    Tamar formed a plan, she changed her clothes so that she no longer looked like a widow, covered herself with a veil to hide her identity and went and sat by the roadside. She dressed as a public woman: ‘who might be found along the roadway (as virgins and married women should not be). She could engage in sex, but might also be sought out for lactation, midwifery, and other female concerns.’ (The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women). Tamar knew her father-in law well enough to predict that when going shearing with his old friend, he would probably take the opportunity to visit a prostitute. She also knew that once she bore a child with Judah as the father, her ties to his family would dissolve and she could then marry whomever she pleased or even remain with Judah.

  1. How had Judah failed in his responsibility to Tamar?
  2. Why do you think Tamar is the first woman named in the New Testament?
  3. Was Tamar right to do what she planned?


  1. An Honourable woman
    Genesis 38Judah failed to keep the commitment he had made to his daughter-in-law. He had promised that when his youngest son was old enough he would arrange for him to marry Tamar so that she could have a child. Tamar decided not to just let things go, but evidently didn’t feel she was able to challenge Judah directly so she formed a plan to shame him into making a just decision. Tamar’s plan was simple: she covered herself with a veil so that Judah won’t recognize her, and then sat at the side of the road where Judah would pass by; women sitting by the roadway were apparently available to passers by.Assuming she was a prostitute Judah propositioned her and promised to pay the standard fee which at that time was one goat. Since he didn’t have a goat with him, he gave her his signet ring, cord, and staff as a guarantee that he would return and pay what was due. The transaction was completed, he had sex with Tamar and went on his way and Tamar returned home and resumed he role as a widow. After Judah arrived home, he sent his friend with the goat to reclaim his things, but the “prostitute” was gone. In fact no one knew anything about a prostitute being there.

    Three months later it became obvious that Tamar was pregnant and since she was unmarried the citizens of her town assumed she had committed adultery and felt it necessary to tell Judah. On hearing this, instead of calling for witnesses as Judah should have done, he immediately passed sentence. “Bring her out and burn her”. It is ironic that the one who made Tamar pregnant was now self righteously passing judgement on her. Maybe he saw the opportunity to remove Tamar and find a way to avoid assuming his responsibility to her, but he wasted no time in deciding to condemn her. While we have the benefit of knowing the story and know who the father actually was, Judah has no reason to suspect it was his child. In sentencing Tamar to death he was condemning not only on his daughter-in-law but also his own sons/grandsons — his own heirs

    As she was being taken out to be executed, Tamar sent the items Judah had entrusted to her saying that whoever owned them was the father of her child. Immediately Judah recognized them. He could have had the death sentence carried out and avoided being discovered but instead, he says, “She is in the right more than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” Judah was unrighteous because he was selfishly attempting to fulfill his sexual desires. Tamar, was righteous because she was trying to honour her deceased husband Er, by continuing his heritage. Even though her father-in-law Judah did not follow the law, she remained loyal to her deceased husband, she allowed Judah to keep his dignity and allowed him to save face when she did not openly present the evidence, even when she was facing her own death. Yes, there is no doubt there was self-interest in Tamar’s actions, but she acted to provide a future for herself and the continuation of the line of Judah.

    Tamar’s place in the family and Judah’s history are secured. She gives birth to twins, Perez and Zerah therefore restoring two sons to Judah, who had lost two. To us it would make sense to think that by Tamar acting as a prostitute she would be disqualified from the list of female heroes but Scripture refers to her exclusively in favourable terms. At the end of the book of Ruth, the people of Bethlehem pronounce a blessing on Ruth that recalls the fruitfulness of Tamar, mother of Perez (Ruth 4:11–12). There is no word of judgement spoken against either Judah or Tamar although the actions of both of them challenge our own sense of right and wrong.

  1. Attitudes to sex and marriage where very different in Biblical times to now, what do you think about that?
  2. There seems no objection to the availability of prostitutes and the of men using their services, what do you think?
  3. Tamar was considered to be more righteous than Judah and is preserved in the line of Jesus, where there better candidates that could have been mentioned?


6.Remember Lot’s wife
Genesis 19

No name is given to the wife of Lot in the bible, but Jewish tradition names her as Adit (or Idit) who was born in Sodom. Lot was the nephew of Abraham and together they had left their family home in pursuit of the land God had promised to Abraham. When they separated Lot chose to live in the valley near Sodom. Later he moved into the city and by the time this part of his story occurs he was sitting in the gate as a city leader and judge.

Sodom was know as an ungodly city that was inhospitable to strangers, whose people were sexually immoral and ungodly. The apostle Peter writes that Lot was a righteous man ‘who lived among them day after day, tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard’ (2 Peter 2:7) and yet, perhaps because of his wife and family he continued to live there. God decided that Sodom was so wicked it and all of its people need to be destroyed but he agreed to relent if he found 10 righteous people, and so two angels were sent to the city to investigate.

When they arrived Lot convinced them to stay in his home no doubt aware that they would be in danger if they stayed in the open. Jewish tradition states that the people of Sodom had a law preventing hospitality being offered to strangers and when they discovered what Lot had done, they confronted him. The intention of these people was to abduct the angels who they thought were men and homosexually rape them. Lot tried to convince them of their sin but they would not listen and threatened to do the same to him. Lot even offered to give them his two unmarried daughters so they could rape them instead but they refused. The angels struck the people with blindness and dragged Lot inside the house.

Lot was told to get his wife, daughters and the two men that his daughters were engaged to and run from the city. God was going to destroy the place and all those who remained in it but when Lot told his family they thought he was joking. They were reluctant to leave until finally the angels took them by their arms and pulled them out of the house telling them to flee to the hills. The two future sons-in-law would not go and Lot and his family were reluctant to go as far as the hills and asked to go to a small town nearby instead, the angels gave them permission, but told them to hurry and not to look back. Once they got there God destroyed Sodom with what would look like a volcanic eruption, but Lot’s wife looked back. The words that are used in the Hebrew language suggest that she looked longingly at what she had left behind. She did not want to leave, that was her home where she thought she belonged. She enjoyed the life of the rich and famous and because she lingered and didn’t find refuge she turned into a pillar of salt. There are a lot of opinions about what that meant but she died in that place possibly covered in fiery lumps coming from the sky.

Lot and his daughters were afraid to stay in the town and headed to the hills where the angels had originally told them to go. There they found a cave and set up their home there. Geoff Thomas writes: ‘They were two young women, their lives before them, living in a cave with their Dad. They had come down in the world a long way and they talked to one another, “We don’t have any children and there’s no prospect for us in these mountains of ever finding a husband.” And so they did what we would think is unthinkable. The older girl suggested that they take turns in getting their father drunk and then having sex with him so that they would become pregnant. They did not believe God could provide for them, they came from an immoral city were sexual sin and crime was acceptable and now they decided to ignore the ordinary moral conventions and produce children by their father. Perhaps if their mother was with them, they would have acted differently, but she wasn’t. They carried out their plan and produced two children one called Moab, which means ‘from the father,’ and Ben-Ammi, which means ‘son of my close male relative.’ From these two came the Moabites and Amonites who later attempted to wipe out the sons of Abraham.
In Luke 17:32 Jesus refers to this story when he speaks about the coming kingdom. Salvation was offered to Lot’s wife, 7 times she and Lot were shown mercy and protected. But the lure of Sodom was too great, she could not accept by faith the promises of God and longed for the attractions of a sinful world, and so she turned back. She may not be named in the bible but the choices she made had a significant effect on her family and the history of the Jewish people.

  1. Why do you think lot’s family thought he was joking?
  2. Lot’s wife didn’t want to let go of her friends and life in Sodom. What are the things that you might be reluctant to let go of?
  3. The behaviour of Lot’s daughters was not about sex, it was about having children. Why didn’t they return to Abraham if they wanted children?


  1. Who is Zuleika?
    Genesis 39

    In both Jewish and Muslim tradition Zuleika (or Zelicah) is the name given to the wife of Potiphar an Egyptian official. She is not named in our Bible but her story is told as it plays a significant part in the history of Israel through Joseph the son of Jacob.

    Jacob was the spoilt favourite son of Jacob who was so hated by his brothers that they sold him into slavery and allowed his father to believe that he had been killed by a wild animal. As a slave he was sold to Potiphar. Something changed in Joseph, he went from being an arrogant and privileged young man to a valued and trusted servant of Potiphar. He was appointed to a place of authority in the house so that he was responsible for all of the other servants and the running of the household, the only things that were kept from him were the food Potiphar ate, and his wife Zuleika. Joseph was respected, well rewarded and important and enjoyed the complete trust of Potiphar.

    In the course of his duties Joseph inevitably came to the notice of Zuleika. We are told that he was very handsome and presented himself well, and Jasher, a Jewish book of legends says that Zuleika couldn’t keep her eyes off him. Bruce Oekama writing for the Engedi Resource Centre notes ‘A glance at artwork from that time period in Egypt will reveal that royal women were not known for their modesty. And knowing the power of lust, you might be able to imagine how Potiphar’s wife may have been dressed as she whispered, “come to bed with me, I desire you, we are alone, nobody will know …”’. Joseph resisted Zuleika’s advances, but she persisted day and after day. In the eastern culture of the day slaves were commonly used for sexual pleasure, and his master’s wife was issuing Joseph a command. Still he refused. As a young man with normal sexual urges he was faced with the an opportunity and an excuse to have sex with Zuleika. He could argue he had no choice and justify himself in satisfying both his and Zuleika’s desires. But he did not.

    The book of Jasher paints a very elaborate picture of what took place. According to it, Zuleika was so affected by the temptation she felt that she called her maids to check Joseph out. She arranged for them to cut some fruit in preparation for a meal while Joseph went about his business. They were so distracted by Joseph’s looks that they all cut their hands while they were staring at him. Zuleika said that if they couldn’t keep their eyes off him just for a little while, what hope did she have being in his presence all day? The maids convinced Zuleika just to grab Joseph next time he came close. The Bible doesn’t confirm that account but Zuleika did make a grab at Joseph and in his haste to get away she tore his robe from him.

    When Potiphar came home, Zuleika accused Joseph of assaulting her which understandably made Potiphar very angry. He had a number of options available, the usual punishment for such an offence was death, and a ‘lesser’ penalty would be castration. Potiphar did neither of these but imprisoned Joseph, this indicates the possibility that he wasn’t convinced by Zuleika’s story and the regard he had for Joseph. Recent commentary has suggested that Zuleika was telling the truth and she was the victim of a male dominated culture and should be believed. The same thinking suggests that no matter how immodestly she behaved it was not an invitation for sex. Neither God’s word as recorded in the bible or Muslim and Jewish tradition support those views.

    Joseph was imprisoned and from that place he was eventually delivered and became the governor of Egypt a position from which he rescued and protected Israel in preparation for their journey into the promised land.

  1. What enabled Joseph to stand firm under such strong temptation?
  2. God used the offences of others to bring about his promises, what are your thoughts?
  3. Throughout the stories of the women of Genesis, sex its use and misuse plays a significant role – why?



Anonymous Women

  1. Jochebed
    Exodus 2:1-10Jewish author Nissan Mindel says about Jochebed that she ‘surely was one of the greatest Jewish women that ever lived. Think of it: Moses, who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and who received the Torah on Mount Sinai. Aaron, who was the high priest and the father of all the kohanim (the priests responsible for service in the Temple). Miriam, who was a prophetess, in whose merit the children of Israel had water during the forty years wandering in the desert. Was there ever a mother who had three more famous children?’ Despite this high praise, little is said about her in the Bible. In the account of Moses’ birth she is not even named and neither Aaron, Miriam nor her husband, Amram are mentioned.Jochabed was the daughter of a Levite, which makes her a descendant of Leah and Jewish tradition is that she was one of the 70 of Jacob’s family who entered Egypt. That tradition goes on to say that she had been conceived in Canaan but born in Egypt and was 130 years old when Moses was born. We only have the Biblical account to be certain about and that simply tells us that a Levite man who we know from other passages, married a Levite woman and she conceived and gave birth to Moses. This took pace at a time when Pharaoh was persecuting the Israelites out of fear of their increasing numbers. They had been made slaves but because they continued to multiply he ordered that all male children should be killed. Two of the midwives given the responsibility for carrying out that command were Shiphrah and Puah, another tradition is that Shiphrah was Jochebed and Puah was Miriam and they refused to carry out the order.Seeing that his plan failed, Pharaoh ordered that all male babies should be thrown into the River Nile to be drowned. Wen Moses was born Jochebed refused to follow Pharaoh’s orders and for three months she kept Moses hidden. This would have been not only very difficult but extremely dangerous. If she had been found out not only would Moses have been killed but she be executed. But eventually it became impossible to keep Moses hidden so they made up a waterproof container, put him inside and then placed him amongst the reeds at the edge of the river, a place where they knew he would be discovered and hopefully rescued. Sure enough Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river to bathe and seeing a baby lying in a container took pity on him and pulled him out of the water.Moses’ sister Miriam was hiding nearby and when she saw what happened she asked Pharaoh’s daughter if she would like Miriam to go and find a nurse to look after him. No doubt this was a plan made in advance by Miriam and her mother, and it worked out just as they hoped. Pharaoh’s daughter agreed and Miriam went and got Jochebed. Pharaoh’s daughter instructed her to take Moses and nurse him and even offered to pay her wages! For the next three or four years Moses was cared for by his mother and his family. In that time they had opportunity to instill in him as much of their history and heritage as he was able to receive so that when he was handed over to the household of Pharaoh he had a foundation in the faith of his fathers.According to the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, Jochebed and Amram acted in great faith, and because of it they did not fear the command of Pharaoh (Hebrews 11:23). They trusted God and knew that he had a purpose for their son. Nothing is said about how Jochebed brought up Aaron and Miriam but their lives testify to the example and faith of their mother. While the Bible says little about Jochebed, her faith lived on in her children and her courage made way for the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and prepared for their entry into the promised land.
  1. Why do you think Jochebed and her family are not named in the story of Moses’ birth?
  2. Jochebed’s faith overcame her fear, how can that work for you?
  3. The rescue of God’s people depended on the courage and faith of an anonymous woman, who had to make a stand that put her at risk. Is God calling you to make a stand?


  1. Miriam, the sister of Moses
    Exodus 2:1-10Five women are involved in the rescue of Moses and his early preparation as the future leader of the people of Israel. They are two midwives who refused the order of Pharaoh to kill newborn Jewish babies, Shiprah and Puah; Moses’ mother, Jochebed; his sister, Miriam; and Pharaoh’s daughter. None of the last three are named in the account of Moses birth and deliverance from Pharaoh. Some traditions of Jewish Rabbi’s identify Jochebed and Miriam as the two midwives, or at least a midwife and her assistant, so that would mean there are only three persons. The same traditions state that Miriam was only six or seven years older than Moses and if this is true, then she would only have had a very minor role as a midwife. In order to give Miriam a stronger role, other Rabbi’s argue that Miriam, or Puah would have been 14 or what was marriageable age for those times. Miriam had another brother as well, Aaron.Later in Miriam’s story (Exodus 15:20-21) she is called a prophet, and Rabbi Menachem Posner writes that the Talmud (the main source of Jewish theology) states that she began to prophesy before Moses was even born, she predicted that her mother would give birth to a boy who would lead the Israelite slaves to freedom. That prediction or prophecy is not recorded, if indeed it happened, in the bible.Miriam is a major player in the rescue of Moses. She was a self-confident young girl who acted with great courage and her quick thinking resulted in Moses being saved from almost certain death. Moses parents, Jochebed and Amran had hidden their baby son for three months after his birth following the order from Pharaoh that all male Hebrew babies should be drowned. No doubt as Egyptian soldiers travelled through the Hebrew camp looking for evidence of babies being present, they would be in continuous fear. Not only was the life of Moses at risk, so was theirs. Neither Miriam, nor Aaron would have escaped the consequences of their parent’s actions. After three months of desperately trying to keep Moses quiet and his presence hidden they knew that they had to do something. They trusted God and believed that he would protect Moses and so they decided to take a significant risk and put him in a waterproof box and place him among the reeds of the river Nile.Miriam may have been part of the plan, and if so her silence is remarkable. Young children are not known for keeping secrets and Miriam would have been tempted to tell her friends about her hidden baby brother. Jochebed may have slipped out of the house quietly one morning, telling no one what she was doing, but the alert and curious Miriam noticed and followed behind. She hid herself in some bushes and watched as her mother gently placed Moses in the water and she stayed and waited to see what would happen. How long Miriam waited is not said, but eventually a group of women including the daughter of Pharaoh came to the waters edge. When Pharaoh’s daughter saw the basket and what it contained she realized it was the desperate attempt of a Hebrew woman to save the life of her baby and she pulled it out of the water.Quick witted Miriam saw her chance and took it. She ran over to pharaoh’s daughter and suggested that she could find someone to nurse this baby. After all a lot of Hebrew women had lost their babies and there would be many available to care for this one. Pharaoh’s daughter agreed and Miriam rushed off to fetch her mother. Was Jochebed waiting expectantly for this, or was she at home weeping over the loss of her child? We are not told. But we do know that through the courage of  young girl what was lost was restored, a mother’s faith was rewarded and Miriam was established as a future leader of Israel.
  1. The future of the nation of Israel depended on four women and a young girl. What part have women played in moulding your life?
  2. Jochebed acted in faith – how severely was her faith tested when she abandoned Moses to the river?
  3. Miriam was a young girl who had great courage and faith. Do we recognize these things in children or do we assume they are not yet old enough to be used by God?


3. Miriam, the mother of rebellion
Exodus 15:1-21

Chana Weisberg writing in The Jewish says about the conditions in Israel, “While the physical labour was backbreaking, the moral toll was similarly exacting. The family unit was shattered, wives separated from husbands, who were forced to remain at their work sites in faraway fields. The people were demoralized and depressed, stripped of any vestige of dignity or self-respect. Under the daily terror of the taskmaster’s whip, it seemed useless to hope for a better tomorrow. The Jewish nation’s heart had become too dulled, their minds too numbed, and their bodies too worn to muster any faith. One part of the nation, however, did not succumb, and carried in their hearts an inextinguishable spark of 0ptimism. They retained their human dignity; they continued to believe in a better life. Encouraging their families daily with superhuman strength, they remained confident that their prayers would be answered. This group of slaves was the Jewish women. How did these Jewish women discover their reservoirs of hope amidst a hopeless situation? The women had a leader and a teacher to emulate. Her name was Miriam.”

Miriam is only mentioned a few times in the bible and she is always overshadowed by her younger brothers, Aaron and Moses. Nissan Mindel writes that this is because ‘Like the true mother in Israel that she was, she undoubtedly devoted her time to the women and children, and did not otherwise take part in public life.’  Other writers suggest that as the Bible was primarily written by men and for men, so the role and identity of women is often understated. The prophet Micah identifies Miriam along with Moses and Aaron as the leaders who brought the people of Israel out of Egypt and to the edge of the promised land (Micah 6:4). While there are legends and suggestions we are not told in the Bible whether Miriam married or had children and her role as a leader receives little attention.

The first time the leadership of Miriam is recorded is in Exodus 15. After God miraculously led the people through the Sea of Reeds and drowned the pursuing Egyptians behind them, Moses sang a song of victory. Miriam responded by leading the women to not only sing, but to dance and play their tambourines. Through her leadership she provided space for the women, often overlooked and overpowered by the men to make themselves known and heard. It is no coincidence that they celebrated the drowning of the Egyptians when so many were commanded to drown their own children many years before. Miriam who had saved Moses from a watery grave, now led these women in triumph and celebration of their miraculous deliverance.

What was it that caused these Jewish women to make sure they brought their tambourines when they fled Egypt in such a hurry? Was it because they were so certain of God’s deliverance that they wanted to make sure they were ready to sing and dance? Was it because it was in praising God that they found hope in their despair? Was it Miriam that suggested they prepare themselves this way? We are not given the answers to these questions, but I believe there is truth in all of them. Miriam was a prophet and a leader, she had been a child living in the shadow of death and persecution, but God had been with her and prepared her for the challenge of leading her people out of Egypt and into the land he had promised to them.

Who are the Miriam’s today? The young girls and women who will courageously act and take a stand. Who are those who will step up and lead their people, stand alongside their brothers and sisters, lead the singing, prepare the tambourines and take the risks. Those who may be anonymous but know that God knows their name.

  1. Are you a Miriam, married to one, have one for a sister or daughter?
  2. How can you develop the girls and women in your life to become like Miriam?
  3. How can you provide a space for women to be heard?



  1. Miriam, a fallen leader
    Numbers 12Moses grew up in the house of Pharaoh, but as an adult he became involved in a conflict with an Egyptian which resulted in Moses killing the man. In fear of retribution Moses fled to the nation of Midian where he met and married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro. When God called Moses to go back to Egypt to rescue his people Moses sent Zipporah and his two sons back to their father’s home, probably for their safety. He did not see his family again until Jethro brought his wife and the two boys to Moses in the wilderness after their escape from Egypt. Their reunion is mentioned in Exodus 18 where it notes that Moses met and spoke with Jethro but makes no comment about any interchange between he and Zipporah, or his sons.Some time later we read that conflict flared between Moses and his brother and sister, and at the centre of the trouble was the Cushite woman he had married. The fact that this woman is identified as coming from Cush twice is significant. She is not named and has no speaking part, but we know where she comes from. What was Cush is now the area we call Ethiopia, Sudan and even the northern parts of Kenya, people from that part of Africa were dark skinned and are described elsewhere in the Bible as both ‘smooth’ and beautiful. For some reason Miriam and Aaron had a problem either with the fact of Moses’ marriage, or the person he married and started to share their concerns with all who would listen.One of the greatest threats to leadership and unity is gossip and the sharing of complaints. Miriam and Aaron started to challenge Moses’ leadership because of his marriage and threatened the mission that God had put before them. ‘Why should Moses be the only who hears from God?’ they said, ‘Aren’t we also leaders?’ The source of the conflict may have been unrelated to Moses’ marriage but that was a useful excuse to bring criticism. We are not told what happened to Zipporah, was she still alive? Did Moses have two wives? Why did he marry a ‘foreigner’ or was skin colour or race an issue? Many opinions have been offered and we are not told, but it is interesting that Moses chose to marry someone who was not of Israel. As always there are Jewish traditions, some say Zipporah and the Cushite woman were the same person, but if that were so, a significant period had passed before has marriage became a problem and no criticism had been made.Whatever the stated objection that Miriam and Aaron had it seems the most likely issue was jealousy. God heard the criticism and noticed that Moses didn’t respond and became angry. He called the three of them outside and strongly rebuked them both. It seems Miriam had taken the lead and bears the weight of the rebuke. God clearly told them both that the decision to choose a spokesman was his and his alone, there was no one like Moses and he was the indisputable leader, he was faithful, by implication meaning they were not, and Miriam and Aaron should be afraid to speak against him. With that, his presence left them and when they looked at each other anxiously, perhaps wondering what was going to happen next, Miriam had broken out in a skin disease which turned her body white. The bible uses the term leprosy to refer to a whole range of skin ailments which are not what we now call leprosy (or Hansen’s disease). Such an affliction would exclude her from the camp and was seen as visible evidence of being cursed by God.

    Moses and Aaron immediately prayed for Miriam and God relented although he still insisted she remain in isolation for seven days. At the end of this time Miriam was restored both physically and to leadership. She had become distracted and put her personal interests above God’s calling on her life, but while there was a consequence it did not disqualify her from the ministry to which God had called her. All of us a prone to stumble, but God is the one who holds us by the hand and lifts us again. Failure is never final.

  1. Have you noticed how sharing of complaints or gossip damage leadership and unity?
  2. Can personal ambition distract godly people from God’s purposes?
  3. Have you ever felt that because you have stumbled in some way that God has passed you by?


  1. The end of the chapter
    Numbers 20:1Key moments in Miriam’s life are associated with water. She first appears as Moses is rescued from the Nile, she is prominent as the people of Israel crossed the Sea of Reeds and witnessed the army of Egypt drown as they tried to pursue them. The Rabbi’s claim that as they travelled through the wilderness, the people were accompanied by a rock from which an abundant supply of water constantly flowed. It was called Miriam’s Well, and it existed because of Miriam, who was righteous woman and a prophet in her own right. So long as she lived, the rock was a fountain of living water that sustained the people. Once Miriam died the water dried up and once again the people turned on Moses. Miriam, Aaron and Moses all died within a year of each other and none of them entered the promised land.Micah credits all three siblings with delivering Israel from Egypt: “For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” (Micah 6:4) and Miriam’s influence cannot be minimized. The Bible provides little detail about her as a person and over time there have been attempts to create a story around her. Some of those stretch the imagination such as the legend of the rolling rock that accompanied her while she was alive, while others place her within the family of Israel by suggesting various marriage partners.Miriam’s story demonstrates how God’s hand is in every event of our life, no matter how insignificant or difficult it may seem. It shows how we can have courage regardless of our circumstances, because God has a plan for our lives. Miriam didn’t know what was going to happen when Moses floated downstream, but she had faith that God would watch out for him. As a result, not only was her little brother able to live and be raised by his true mother – he was positioned to eventually lead the Israelites out of Egypt. (Walter R. Rossi). We are also reminded of the danger we face when we doubt or question God’s plans. When we think that God has somehow got it wrong, and we have a better idea. We may not always understand why he does what he does or the way in which he intends to do it, but he calls us to trust him and wait.

    Miriam’s story should encourage us to continually trust in God, but also to respond to God’s work in our lives. Miriam led the Israelite women in praise, thanking and praising him for deliverance, we are called to respond the same way. Our gratitude to God should not depend upon how pleasant our circumstances are, we are called to praise God and thank Him through the trials and the triumphs as well.

    Unlike most women in the Bible, Miriam is never called wife or mother. There are suggestions though that she was married. Josephus quotes a tradition that she was married to Hur, while others argue for a marriage to the Caleb, the father of Hur, and more recently Uzziel the younger brother of her father, Amram has been suggested. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Women comments that ‘Jewish traditions, however, cannot tolerate her status as single’. The bible is silent about those aspects of Miriam’s life although there is no reason to assume she remained single.
    Miriam knew how to act when necessary and how to take bold stands, but she also knew how to sing. Without her actions there may have been no Moses to lead the people, but in her singing she brought joy and praise. God is looking for those who will act courageously, often against the structures or power, but also those who know how to sing. It is time for a new generation of Miriam’s!

  1. Can you identify with Miriam, or see her characters in the women in your life?
  2. As you look back over your life can you see God’s hand at work?
  3. Do you have the courage to make bold decisions, but also to teach others to sing?


  1. An unlikely rescuer
    Joshua 2:1-7

    After the death of Moses Joshua took over the leadership of Israel and guided the people into the promised land. Once there they faced an immediate obstacle, they were confronted by Jericho, a large city protected by a wall. There is no certainty about how big the wall was, but it was able to accommodate houses and places of business. There were probably two walls parallel to each other, the outer wall being the main defense and the space between the two occupied by the townspeople and visitors. If the people of Israel were going to live in Canaan, they had to capture this city.

    Joshua sent two spies to Jericho to see how strong their defense was and if there were any weaknesses they could exploit. The two men, according to the The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women   ‘come to Rahab’s house for lodging, information, and/or sex.’ Rahab is described in the text as a prostitute, ‘Rahab’s house was located on the wall of the city, probably near the town gate. The location of her house made it convenient for people to come into her house and easy for them to leave the city. Since traders and merchants would frequently pass through Jericho, they probably would patronize the house of Rahab and make it easy for her to be well informed of events outside of Jericho.’ (Claude Mariottini). There have been attempts to make Rahab’s occupation more ‘acceptable’ by describing her as an Inn keeper or provider of food, and it may be that she combined the two activities.

    Rahab is evidently the head of the household which would consist of her parents, siblings, presumably nieces and nephews and possibly servants. No reason is given for why this would be the case, or why she pursued the life of a prostitute. Jewish tradition is that she began her career at the age of ten and had been following this trade for 40 years. Dr.Amy Cooper Robertson writing in The points out that, “While society does not provide prostitutes with traditional status or power, the rabbis note that sex work can give a woman considerable practical power: she hears the stories and secrets of the men who visit her, and sees powerful men in their most vulnerable moments.”

    The two spies visited Rahab’s house with the intention of lodging there, but their presence became known to the king who sent soldiers to find them. Rahab heard of the king’s plan and hid the spies under some flax that was left to dry on the flat roof of her house. When the soldiers arrived she convinced them that the men had escaped and told them to go after them while they had the chance of capturing them.

    The two spies probably chose Rahab because according to Rabbi Malbim: ‘the Israelites were aware of Rahab’s important position in Jericho, and this explains why Joshua’s two spies head straight for a brothel of all places’. Her house was on the city wall probably near to the gate where travellers would come and go, and so they would not look suspicious, and nothing happened in Jericho that Rahab didn’t know about.  But Rahab was a Canaanite, a woman, and a prostitute, she lived on the margins of society physically and in every other way, yet she was God’s choice to make the way for the people of Israel. She stands as an example of God’s transforming power. Pushed to the edge of town, tolerated but despised, not welcome in the homes of the rich and powerful, used but also abused Rahab was an unusual choice, but she was God’s choice. Nothing in her past disqualified her from receiving God’s mercy or from being used for his glory. Rahab the prostitute is the second woman named in the New Testament and is recorded as hero of faith in Hebrews 11.

  1. Why do you think this story is recorded in the Bible?
  2. Nowhere in the bible is Rahab criticized for being a prostitute, why not?
  3. Are there any sins that disqualify a person from being used by God?


  1. A promise made
    Joshua 2:8-21

    Rahab explained to the two spies that were taking refuge in her house why she had hidden them and pretended to the soldiers that they had already left. She recounted what she knew about Israel, how God had miraculously delivered them from Egypt and the battles they had won on their way through their wilderness. She said that the people of Jericho had heard they were coming and they been overcome with fear. She acknowledged that the God of Israel was the one true God and these spies provided her with her only chance of escape.

    Rahab had helped these men and now she wanted them to promise to protect her and her family. She not only wanted a solemn promise but some sort of sign to guarantee they would keep it. Having received the word of the spies she threw a scarlet coloured rope out of her window and let the men down so that they could escape. The two spies gave their guarantee but told Rahab that it depended on her hanging that same rope from her window when Jericho was attacked. If she did that then she and all who were in her household would be saved, but if she didn’t do it then they would be free of their promise. If she told anyone why they had been in Jericho then they would also not protect her. Rahab agreed to their conditions and the men went on their way.

    When Joshua attacked Jericho and entered the city he ordered his men to rescue Rahab and all of her family and she joined the people of Israel (Joshua 6:22-25). Jewish tradition is that Rahab married Joshua and from their union came a number of significant figures including the prophets Jeremiah and Huldah. There is no evidence in the bible of that though and Matthew 1:5 indicates that she married Salmon who was possibly one of the two spies. Hebrews 11:31 says that Rahab acted as she had because of her faith and this is confirmed by James in chapter 2:25 of his letter. Rahab had not only heard the stories about Israel but believed in the promise that God had made. She rejected the false god’s of her own people and put her faith in the God of Israel. It wasn’t enough to believe though, she had to demonstrate her faith by her actions and she did this by hiding the spies and enabling them to complete the mission they had been given.

    When Rahab and her family survived the battle of Jericho, they became part of the nation Israel, at that time a collection of tribes and not cities.  While she may later have married, at that time Rahab was the head of the household, this was uncommon in Israel, if it existed at all. Amy Cooper Robertson comments, ‘the rabbis seem to imagine that Rahab moves from one moral extreme to the other with the proverbial flip of a switch – from a sinful life of sex work as a Canaanite woman, to a pious life as the matriarch of prophets among the people Israel.’ Life is much more complex than that! Has Rahab herself changed, or does the arrival of the spies simply allow her an opportunity to express the faith she seems already to have had? Had she struggled with the knowledge that her life was out of control but lacked the courage to make the changes she needed to? The arrival of the spies brought the crisis that forced the decision to be made. Sometimes we are aware that changes need to be made, but circumstances or lack of courage stop us from making them. It takes a crisis to bring us to the place of decision and drive us to take action  to bring the change we need.

  1. Are there changes you need to make to your life, or will you need a crisis before you make them?
  2. Rahab had faith, but she needed to act on it. Is this what James means when he says that faith without works is dead?
  3. The story of Rahab proves that no one is outside of God’s transformative grace. What does that mean to you?




1. The most successful judge in Israel
Judges 4:4-5

After Joshua died the people of Israel lost their way. They began to follow the beliefs and practices of the Canaanites and were constantly at war. As different leaders won significant battles they assumed the role of judge. These were not people who decided about points of law, or guilt and innocence but were strong persons with influence who the people would come to sort out disputes, but also provided leadership in battle. The fourth of these judges, the one who held that position for the longest time and was the most successful was Deborah. She was the only female judge and was also a prophet.

No comment is made in the Bible that suggests it was unusual for a woman to have this role, the point is made but without explanation. Most English translations state that she was the wife of Lappidoth, although she could also have been from the place, Lappidoth, or the meaning of the word which is ‘’fiery’’ could describe her character. There is no person named Lappidoth elsewhere in the Bible. Some people believe she was married to Barak who was a military leader and prominent in her story.

When Deborah became judge Israel was in a mess. There was unrest everywhere, the people were afraid to travel the streets alone and they were being threatened by the king of Canaan with his 900 chariots of iron. The Israelites retreated to the hills where chariots were of no use and because they believed  there was some safety. Unlike other judges there is no record of Deborah having been victorious in any battle, and she also did take a position of authority in determining issues brought before her. We read that she sat under the palm tree where people would come to her for judgment. Deborah was evidently a woman with a forceful personality, who was trusted by the people and caried the authority to lead and challenge the people. As a prophet she was recognized as being God’s spokesperson, she did not predict the future but received direct communication from God which she then spoke to the people.

Deborah is presented as a heroic figure who courageously led the people of Israel in a time of crisis. It would be reasonable to ask why God chose to use a woman at this time, but no explanation is given. She is not the first female prophet and not the first or last to demonstrate strong leadership ability. Apart from this, she was God’s choice and it wasn’t because there were no men available! There was something about Deborah that made her the right person for the time, no reference is made to her family circumstances though she may have been married. We are not told about her background; was she the daughter of prominent leaders or warriors? She appears on the scene as a judge already fulfilling her role of settling disputes. She rapidly assumes authority in calling on the military leader to go into battle against King Jabin of Canaan and has the influence to convince the people to follow her lead. God raises up those he chooses for the mission he has for them and often his choices challenge the social order and conventions that exist. God is still looking for godly revolutionaries to take a stand for him today.

1.God doesn’t provide a reason for choosing a woman, should we be surprised?
2. In what other ways does God challenge the usual ideas of culture and society?
3. Do you think your age, gender or ethnicity limits what God will ask of you?



  1. A Call to Battle
    Judges 4
    For twenty years the people of Israel where tormented by king Jabin, so much that they were afraid to go about their normal business and retreated to the hills to escape the threat of the king’s iron chariots. Then as was often the case God chose a leader to step up and liberate his people. There are many times in Israel’s history, as recorded in the bible, that God chose people who were unavailable, unwilling, or even inadequate and ill-equipped. Many like Gideon were afraid, some didn’t like the task God gave them such as Jonah while others found a host of excuses like Moses. From our point of view there were those who seemed to lack moral character and were just unsuitable, but that was no barrier to God’s choice. At the time of Jabin’s oppression it seems that Barak had been given the task of standing up for God and Israel, but he was unwilling. So God chose someone who had courage, leadership ability and was very willing and this was Deborah. There were men available, but they were passed over, Deborah was God’s choice because she was the right person at the right time and she didn’t let him down.Deborah, besides being a judge or civil leader was a prophet and while the people had turned away from God she had not. She heard from God that it was the time to make a stand and confront Jabin so she called the commander of the army, Barak to her and passed on God’s instructions to him. Barak was reluctant to go into battle and said he would only go if Deborah went with him. This reluctance is often seen as weakness or lack of courage on Barak’s part and this may be true. However Barack is included among the great champions of faith in the letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:32) and it was probable that he wanted to be sure of God’s guidance and direction, and what better way than to have a prophet alongside him?It is also probable that Deborah saw in Barak’s reluctance, lack of faith or courage and so she assured him of victory, but also told him that he wouldn’t get the credit. That would go to a woman. Barak and the people would no doubt assume that Deborah meant that she would get the credit, after all she was leading from the front, she didn’t lack courage and in faith she was going to do what God had told her. However that wasn’t to be, God had another woman in mind.God is still choosing to use women and men to lead and serve his people from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. We must always be careful that we don’t try to limit God’s choice, because of our own history, cultural expectations or opinions. God does not limit himself to what we think he should do. He delights in elevating the rejected, restoring the broken and upsetting the self righteous. Deborah wasn’t chosen because God thought it was time to have a woman leader, but because he had prepared her for this moment. She was the right person. You might not be a Deborah, but God has chosen you. While Gideon was hiding at night time, God called him a mighty man of courage, when Jeremiah said he was too young, God told him ‘do not say I am only a youth, wherever I send you, you are to go’. Amos said “I am not a prophet, or even the son of a prophet, I am just a gardener, but God took me and told me to go and prophesy”. God took a woman who had been married five times and was living with a man she was not married to and used her to tell her whole town about Jesus; and he used a six year old girl to rescue Moses.God formed you, he has prepared you and he has a place for you. Young, old, male or female, European, African or Asian you are God’s choice, there are no mistakes, no better options, you are chosen, you are special, you are unique and you are his. ‘Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, is with you. He will not leave you or abandon you’ (1 Chronicles 28:20)
  1. Do you ever feel that you are not good enough?
  2. Are there beliefs you have carried from your past which stop you from believing God has a place for you?
  3. What has God uniquely created you to be?


  1. Get Up!
    Judges 4:12-22At Deborah’s command Barak called the army of Israel together on mount Tabor to prepare for battle. When King Jabin heard about this he assembled his troops under the leadership of his general, Sisera. The two armies were ready but neither one was taking the initiative. Perhaps Sisera was waiting for the Israelites to come down from the mountain so he could use his chariots while Barak was nervously considering his options. He was outnumbered and he didn’t have the weapons available that Sisera had, but he couldn’t just stay at the top of the hill. Perhaps growing restless, Deborah called out to Barak: ““Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?”Time for waiting was over, it was no good putting things off, now was the time Barak had to summon up his courage and attack his enemy. In this part of the story there is little detail about the battle but Deborah describes it in song in chapter 5. She describes how God brought thunderstorms and caused earthquakes to prepare the way for Barak and the army of Sisera was defeated. Rather than stay with his men as a leader would be expected to do, Sisera ran from the battle. He fled to the tent belonging to a woman named Jael, her husband Heber was an ally of King Jabin, but was not present. He may have been involved in the battle and could even have been killed.When Sisera got close to Jael’s tent she came out to greet him. She invited him to turn aside and come into her tent. There has been a lot of speculation about Jael’s actions, the invitation expressed in the way it was is often associated with the words of someone seeking a sexual encounter. Her actions in giving him the best she had, rather than the water he asked for and in covering him with a blanket may also encourage speculation. On the other hand, Sisera was known as an evil man and rape of women taken in war was common, so Jael may have been acting to protect herself. She may also have been a woman of genuine faith and saw the opportunity to strike a blow for the people of Israel. Her motives are not explained but her actions fulfilled Deborah’s prophecy.Jael hid Sisera under a blanket and gave him milk to drink while she went to stand guard at the door of the tent. When things were quiet and Sisera was asleep, Jael took a hammer and tent peg and crept over to where he was lying, she took the peg and drove it through Sisera’s temple with her hammer, pinning him to the ground, dead. Jael heard Barak rushing toward her in pursuit of Sisera so she went out to meet him and immediately took him into her tent to see what she had done. The Canaanite army had been destroyed and their general killed, the final victory was gained by a woman just as Deborah had prophesied. Jael was not an Israelite, she was married to an ally of the enemy of Israel and yet she, along with Deborah were used by God to deliver Israel.

    Jael does not appear again in the bible but she provides an example of a woman who when faced with an opportunity, took it. She didn’t have much but she used what she had, she took risks and stood against her community to take sides with the people of God.  In chapter 5:24 she is called the most blessed of women because of her courage and her actions, one of only two women to be given that description, the other being Mary, the mother of Jesus.

  1. God chose to use two women to deliver Israel, why?
  2. Jael was not from Israel, just as Rahab was not and yet God chose them, what does that suggest?
  3. Barak received credit for his faith, why is there not more said about his actions?


  1. Deborah’s song
    Judges 5Following their victory over King Jabin and his army, Deborah and Barak sang a song of victory. The song contains more details about the battle than the accounts in the earlier chapters and uses some colourful descriptions as well. Jeremy Myers writes: ‘The Song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5 sounds a bit like a drinking song one might have heard in an Ancient Near Eastern bar frequented by fighting men.’ He is referring particularly the last part of the song when the activities of Jael and response of the mother of Sisera are mentioned. Of course the celebration of victory in battle would also be the subject of rowdy celebration as well.The song begins with an invitation to the nearby kings and princes to hear what God had done. She relates to historical events in which God supernaturally aided the people of Israel when they were confronted by their enemies. She reminds them of the days of a previous judge, Shamgar, when the Israelites were prevented from using the highways either by being attacked or forced to pay excessive tolls. They need to take side roads and keep away from their attackers. This was the state of Israel until God raised up Deborah. She describes herself not as a warrior or judge, or even a prophet but as a mother. The fact that she was a woman had already been well established and now she again emphasises her gender. There is no record of her having children, so she was not referring to her biological offspring but to her nurturing role. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7 the apostle Paul describes himself and his colleagues as: ‘we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children’. There is no doubt that Deborah was a fiery character, as Paul could be, but they were motivated by genuine care and compassion.Deborah and Barak had called on the tribes of Israel to come and help in the battle and a number responded. Deborah was of the tribe of Ephraim and they were there, so too were the Benjamites; the son of Manasseh, Machir came with the commanders of his army; leaders from Zebulon and Issachar also willingly came. Rueben though was too busy sitting among the sheep whistling, he thought about going but never did. Gilead (or Gad) wasn’t interested, and Dan was too busy with shipping interests. Asher was just resting near the ocean, perhaps having a holiday. On the other hand, both Zebulon and Naphtali were more than willing to offer themselves in battle.

    The came to the battle and God was on their side. The flooded river washed away the chariots and even the stars were against them, though it is not clear what that meant. The army of Sisera was totally destroyed, the chariots were bogged in the flooded river and when Sisera saw that they were beaten he jumped out of his chariot and ran to find refuge in the tent of an ally. He got to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber and she invited him in. The account of Jael killing Sisera in this song is much more graphic that in the earlier story, and an added element is that Sisera fell at her feet suggesting that he may not have died instantly or the story may just have been embroidered a little.

    Sisera’s mother meanwhile was at home waiting and worrying for news of her son. Where was he, what had happened she wondered? Her attendants tried to reassure her and so she thought that everything was ok, Sisera was obviously delayed by looting and raping women, he would be home soon. The fiery Deborah had no sympathy for this mother ‘I hope all of God’s enemies die the same way’ she said. The song is about three women, Deborah the prophet and warrior that God raised to deliver Israel, Jael who acted with courage to take the opportunity presented to her, and Sisera’s mother who right to the end excused the actions of her son, even though they were clearly offensive and immoral.

  1. When Deborah called the tribes to come some were too busy with business or other things. When God calls you will you be too busy?
  2. Deborah was fiery but saw herself as a mother first, how do these two descriptions work together?
  3. How could Sisera’s mother comfort herself with why she though he was delayed? Do we sometimes justify behaviour that is clearly wrong because it is displayed by people we love?


  1. From pleasant to bitter
    Ruth 1The key figure in the book of Ruth, one of the shorter books in the bible is probably Naomi rather than the woman who the book is named after. She is the prominent figure who initiates most of the conversation and is central to all that happens. Her story begins in the time of the Judges of Israel, the closing verse of it’s book states that there were no kings in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. One of the consequences of this lack of moral responsibility was that they incurred God’s displeasure and famine resulted.One of the prominent households in Bethlehem was the family of Elimelech. Some scholars believe this man was the brother of Salmon who had married Rahab and was considered a prince of Israel. When the famine hit, Elimelech, contrary to God’s command decided to find refuge in another country and so he took his family, Naomi and two sons to Moab. This was a place that was constantly at war with Israel and followed extreme pagan practices. He went probably with the intention of waiting out the famine and then returning. But Elimelech died; some say that God put hm to death because of disobedience while others that he had allied himself to the king of Moab and died in battle. Naomi’s sons had grown to adulthood and both married Moabite girls, and while there was no specific law against marrying Moabites all intermarriage was discouraged because the other nations served other gods (such as Molech). After about ten years both sons died, possibly as casualties in battle.

    Naomi is first introduced as the wife of Elimelech, her identity was wrapped up in her marriage to this prominent land owner of Bethlehem, but then he died. Her identity changed from wife to widow. Still she was a mother, and that was a blessing to the Jews, but then her sons also died. Now she was no longer a mother, but childless. The way Naomi understood herself and was understood by others was taken from her, she was a widow in a foreign land probably without the hope of re-marrying and having children. Yes, she had two daughters-in-law, but they were foreigners and young enough to find new husbands. There were no grandchildren for her to care for.

    Naomi heard that the famine was over and decided to return to Bethlehem, there was nothing to keep her in Moab and maybe she could sell of the land Elimelech had or find someone to look after her. Her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah accompanied her part of the way until Naomi tried to convince them to return to their home and maybe find other husbands. Naomi complained that God had acted against her and now things were really bitter, it was better for them to go back. Orpah didn’t seem to need much convincing and she turned back, Ruth however refused to leave Naomi and insisted she would remain with her.

    The two of them travelled together until they reached Bethlehem. The news of their arrival quickly spread and the whole town came out to meet them. They were astonished at the appearance of Naomi though, perhaps the tragedies of her life had changed her appearance. Leaving town as a young woman full of promise, she was returning as a childless widow without hope. “Is this Naomi?” they asked? “Don’t call me Naomi, that name means pleasant. Call me Mara or bitter instead. God has dealt very bitterly toward me” she replied. This was not a happy home coming, Naomi claimed she had gone away full but God had brought her back empty.

    Naomi had lost her identity as well as those things that brought her safety and security. She and her husband had left the land of God’s promise in search of refuge elsewhere and instead found tragedy. Now she was bitter and God was to blame.

  1. Naomi found her identity in her marriage and children – where do you find your identity?
  2. Naomi blamed God for her misfortune, could she have responded differently?
  3. What does Ruth’s response to Naomi tell us about her role as a mother-in-law?


  1. The grain harvest
    Ruth 2When Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem the barley harvest had begun. The harvest of barley was followed by that of wheat and together they lasted about seven weeks. Each year the Jewish community celebrate the Feast of Weeks which commemorates this period of harvest and at that time they read the Book of Ruth.

    Naomi had found somewhere to live although no details are provided about where that was. She may have been poor in spirit because of the loss she had suffered but we don’t know whether she was completely without resources. However, she and Ruth needed food and they had no way of providing for themselves, both were widows and depended on the hospitality of others. A provision of Jewish law required that when a landowner harvested his crop he was to avoid going into the corners of his field, the grain that was there ws to be left to the poor and needy, any grain that fell from the sheaves that were harvested was also to be left. “When you harvest your grain, always leave some of it standing along the edges of your fields and don’t pick up what falls on the ground. Don’t strip your grapevines clean or gather the grapes that fall off the vines. Leave them for the poor and for those foreigners who live among you” (Leviticus 19:9,10).  Knowing this Ruth asked Naomi whether she could go and find someone who would be kind enough to let her follow the reapers and collect what was left.

    Naomi agreed to Ruth’s idea, and she did as she had suggested. Either by coincidence or intentionally Ruth began to work in a field belonging to Boaz, a wealthy landowner and prominent citizen of Bethlehem. Immediately he noticed Ruth and discovered who she was, Boaz told her to stay on his land and stay close to the other young women working there. He also instructed the young male workers to keep their hands of her and make sure she was provided for. Boaz had heard about Ruth and the way she had supported her mother-in-law and was going to reward her for her faithfulness.

    When it was time for their meal break Boaz invited Ruth to join him and the other workers and eat with them. When she had eaten and got up to return to work, he called his young men aside and told them not only to let her take from the crop that was left but to deliberately pull some out of the bundles they had so that she could pick it up. They were not to speak harshly toward her in any way.

    Ruth continued to work until evening and then took what she had collected along with some of the food she had been given at mealtime home to Naomi. Probably surprised by the amount Ruth had collected, Naomi asked Ruth where she had been working, and Ruth told her it was on the land owned by Boaz. This was great news to Naomi, Boaz was a relative, not only that but someone who had the responsibility to come to the rescue of a relative who was in difficulty.  A redeemer had to be a blood relative, have the resources needed to pay what was needed and be willing. The first two of those conditions were met by Boaz but they didn’t know whether he would be willing. No doubt Naomi was hopeful that Boaz would accept the responsibility and Ruth seemed keen as well and added that Boaz had instructed her to stay close to his young men. In fact, Boaz did not do that and Naomi may have suspected that Ruth was looking for a potential husband and instructed her to instead stay with his young women because it would safer.

  1. Do you think Naomi was wise to put Ruth in a place of personal risk?
  2. Why hadn’t a relative come forward to support the two widows already – did that add to Naomi’s bitterness?
  3. Despite her circumstances Naomi was able to recognize God’s hand at work, are you able to see God at work even when things seem to fall apart?


  1. A Dangerous plan
    Ruth 4

    When reading and trying to understand the Bible we are often faced with the challenge of dealing with different cultures and languages among other things. But the Bible was written so that people could understand and respond to it and so it is always best to assume it means what it says rather than to look for hidden explanations, or to change it to suit our own values or ideas. This chapter poses some challenging questions and it is frequently interpreted to mean something different from what appears obvious.

    Some time had passed since the harvest, some writers say what comes next occurs at the celebration of the harvest, while others suggest as much as a year had passed, and this event came at the time of the next harvest. Whichever is the case Naomi decided it was time for Ruth to secure her future, in other words a husband to look after her. The right husband would keep her, Naomi’s husbands name in Israel, would secure Ruth’s inheritance, which was held in trust by Naomi, and provide rest and safety to Ruth. So she decided to play matchmaker and her choice was Boaz.

    Naomi knew that during their celebration of the harvest all the men gathered together for a night of eating and drinking so she told Ruth to put on her best dress and perfume and go to the place where the party took place, the threshing floor. When Boaz was under the influence of wine and gone to sleep she was to sneak up, pull his blankets away and lay down at his feet. She was to stay with him until Boaz noticed her and then do whatever he told her to do.  Robert L. Deffinbaugh writes: ‘’I do not believe that there is some unique cultural interpretation here. Folks, when a woman bathes, puts on perfume and dons her best dress, and then secretively climbs under the covers with a man who has had his fill of food and wine, I don’t think anyone in any culture would read this in any way but what we all assume.’’ Some writers suggest that this was a common cultural practice but even if it where (which is unlikely and not supported anywhere else in the Bible) it could have ended very badly.

    It may be that Naomi had expected that Boaz or another relative to have come forward to offer protection to Ruth and that had not happened so she decided to take matters into her own hands. She may have been worried that Boaz would refuse anyway and decided to encourage a sexual liaison that forced him to act, much as Tamar had done with Judah. It is surprising that rather than engage Boaz in a conversation she came up with this plan taking care to keep the activity of Ruth secret and unknown to Boaz. Ruth was to use the cover of darkness, sneak up on Boaz and wait for him to initiate any action he wanted to take.

    There is no suggestion that Naomi had consulted or heard from God in devising her plan. In fact an earlier plan was for Ruth to go back to pagan Moab and marry a local and no doubt follow the gods of that nation. Ruth agreed to Naomi’s new plan, in fact verse 6 says that she did all that she was commanded to. Ruth was under Naomi’s authority and was expected to be completely obedient. However she did not do exactly as Naomi had said and took her own initiative and thanks to the righteous character of Boaz and the intervention of God the result was much better than it might otherwise have been.

  1. What do you think of Naomi’s plan?
  2. What would you expect Boaz’ response to be?
  3. Naomi seems to think that Ruth’s future depended on her being married was there another option?




  1. A Son for Naomi
    Ruth 4When Ruth returned to Naomi the next day, she was immediately asked how she had got on. Naomi was keen to discover whether her plan had succeeded and Ruth explained exactly what had happened. The outcome was better than could be expected, Boaz had effectively agreed to marry Ruth! Naomi no doubt was excited, knowing the character of Boaz she was sure he would make arrangements without delay. There was a problem though, Boaz wasn’t the nearest relative and someone else could step in.Ruth was part of a package deal, Naomi wanted to sell her inheritance which was a piece of land and the nearest relative had first option. Initially he was keen, no doubt seeing there was possibly a bargain to be had, but Boaz pointed out that was a condition attached. If the relative redeemed, or bought the land then he also took responsibility for Ruth as well, and that meant having a child by him to secure Elimelech’s inheritance in the tribe. So if he bought the land then he got Ruth as well! The relative decided that was not something he wanted partly because he thought any children of his own may be forced to share their inheritance with Ruth, so he refused and offered the land, and Ruth to Boaz. A custom of earlier days was that when a person refused to redeem a relative in this way they would take off their sandal and give it to the other person. While that evidently was no longer the practice he chose to follow the custom in this case.Boaz was able to say before witnesses that he acted righteously and legally bought the land in question, and  that he had also bought Ruth. Now Elimelech’s name would remain in Israel. The witnesses all agreed and expressed the wish that Boaz would be like Perez the son of Judah who Tamar his daughter in law and borne. In this way they compare Ruth to Tamar and apart than both being foreign women their circumstances were very different. The text tells us that Boaz took Ruth, which in the language of the bible means that they became husband and wife.At some point Ruth became pregnant and gave birth to a son. There is no reference to the women of the town congratulating Ruth although they may have spoken to her and those comments are not recorded. But they congratulated Naomi! God had provided her with a redeemer and now she had someone who would care for her in her old age. They did acknowledge that Ruth was a blessing to Naomi and had shown that she loved her far more than even seven sons could have done. Naomi then took the child and became his nurse and the women announced that a son had been born to Naomi! The woman who was bitter and had complained she had left full of promise and come back empty now had a daughter worth more than seven sons and was the grandmother to king David.Through Naomi, Ruth was introduced to Boaz and entered the genealogy of the Messiah. Naomi left Israel with her husband to escape a famine, living in a land God had told them not to associate with. She suffered the tragedy of the death of her husband and both of her sons, facing not only the prospect of having no one to provide for her, but the loss of her identity as a wife and a mother. She blamed God and accused him of being the cause of her bitterness and tried to manipulate things so that somehow she would survive. But God had other ideas, he turned her plan around so that she was not only provided for but she was blessed beyond anything she could have hoped for, her daughter-in -law gave birth to the grandfather of the King and from that line came Jesus the Messiah.
  1. The women of the city don’t seem particularly interested in Ruth, why would that be?
  2. There is a ‘But God’ moment in this story, have you experience a moment like that?
  3. Naomi was overwhelmed by her circumstance and became bitter, nowhere in this book is she condemned or criticized by God, what does that mean for you?


  1. A Royal princess
    Ruth 1:1-18According to Jewish tradition Ruth and Orpah were sisters and were granddaughters of Eglon, king of Moab, who was a grandson of Balak, the king during Moses’ time. Both of these kings were continually hostile toward the Israelites: Balak employed Balaam to curse the Israelites (Numbers 22-24); while Eglon joined the Ammonites and Amalekites and occupied Israel for eighteen years until he was killed by the Ehud (Judges 3). The Moabites were descended from Lot and his oldest daughter after they escaped from the destruction of Sodom.How Ruth and Orpah became associated with the sons of Naomi and Elimelech, who had left Israel to escape the famine, is not revealed. Some writers suggest the sons had served in the Moabite army and came to notice because of their bravery but that is probably more legend than fact. They did meet though and later married. The family lived in Moab for ten years but in that time Elimelech and his sons, Mahlon and Chilion all died leaving three widows. The reason for their death is not mentioned although Jewish writers believe it was punishment of Elimelech for leaving Israel in a time of hardship and discouraging those left behind. He also failed to trust God but chose to find safety in a land that was antagonistic to God and his people. Significantly the name Elimelech means: ‘my God is king’. The two sons were condemned for not insisting their wives convert to Judaism and were punished accordingly. They may have died in battle or from ill health. Neither Ruth nor Orpah had produced children.To be a childless widow in the world in those times was to be among the lowest, most disadvantaged of anybody. There was no one to provide support and life depended on the generosity of strangers. Naomi had no other family in Moab, there was no one to go to for help. These three women were in an utterly hopeless, and desperate situation! Of course if Ruth and Orpah were daughters of the king they might have been able to find support there, but perhaps they had been cut off because of their marriages. Naomi decided that the only choice she had was to return to Bethlehem. Custom dictated that her daughters-in-law accompany her at least part of the way and so they set off together.After they had gone some distance Naomi stopped and told the two women that their best interests lay in returning home, but neither wanted to go. There was obvious affection between them and so they refused. Naomi though insisted that there was no future in going on with her and that they should go back and possibly find other husbands to care for them. Orpah was persuaded and turned to go but Ruth was not and declared to Naomi that: ‘where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” This statement marks what many accept as Ruth’s conversion to Judaism and her total commitment not just to Naomi but the God of Israel. Jewish tradition is that in turning back Orpah renounced God and turned to life that was directly opposed to Him and his people. She is believed by the Rabbi’s to be the mother of Goliath and his three brothers who later fought against Israel.Ruth and Orpah were confronted with a choice, and they decided differently. The stories regarding Orpah may not be entirely accurate, but she did return to a godless land. Ruth chose to commit to a life of faith. They shared the same history, same challenges and were given the same opportunities, but they made different choices. And for them as they say, the rest is history.
  1. Do you know anybody that faced the same choice as you, but has gone down an entirely different road?
  2. Can you look back at a time when you wished you had made a different choice?
  3. Are you able to make the same type of commitment as Ruth did?


  1. A New home
    Ruth 2According to tradition Ruth was a Moabite princess. She was a young woman used to the best things in life and with her future ahead of her. Now she was on journey that would introduce her to a life of poverty; her mother-in-law had lost everything, her husband was dead and she was heading into the unknown. In going with Naomi, Ruth was leaving a life of privilege and status to become a lowly convert. It was not even clear if she would be permitted to marry a Jew.  What was she thinking as she walked beside Naomi to this foreign land? Ruth’s experience was unusual in some respects, but in others it is similar to those of many migrant women who choose to move to another country for a better life. A land of different language and customs, where they may be accepted by some but will be rejected or ignored by others. They may have had well-paying jobs and positions of influence, but now those things are not acknowledged. A future of uncertainty that means leaving family and friends and all the things that bring security and comfort for an unknown future.Like many of those migrant women, Ruth was not prepared to be idle. Almost immediately after she and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem, she asked her mother-in-law if she could go and find work in the field of a local farmer, because it was harvest time. Ruth had lived in a Jewish family and probably knew that the laws of Israel provided that “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” (Deuteronomy 24:19-21). Ruth was both a ‘sojourner’ or visitor and a widow and she could expect to benefit from that law. Naomi agreed and Ruth went to work.Ruth came to the notice of the farm owner, a man named Boaz and so he asked his labourers who she was. As a young woman used to living among the wealthy and powerful Ruth would have stood out and no doubt Boaz was curious. The farm supervisor told him that Ruth was a Moabite and the daughter-in law of Naomi and had asked permission to pick up the leftovers after the reapers had done their work. He said that apart from having a short rest Ruth had worked hard all day. Boaz was impressed and told Ruth to stay on his property and that he had ordered his workers to not only look after her but not to get any ideas about even touching her. In those times, a young widow working among farm labourers was at risk and Boaz wanted to make sure she was safe. Ruth immediately fell to the ground in humility and asked Boaz why he was being so good to her. He responded that he had heard all about her, how she stayed with her mother-in-law when she could have gone after a husband among her own people and now she had come to Israel seeking refuge among God’s people.Once Ruth had thanked Boaz she went back to work, and once again he instructed his men not to touch her, but to provide for her. Even making sure they left some grain for her from what they had harvested. Ruth did not ask anything of Boaz apart from what the law required of him. She was willing to work hard for what she received and did not try to take advantage of her previous status or her position as the daughter-in-law of a prominent Jewish citizen. She had demonstrated her humility and commitment to Naomi, and that she did not want to rely on others giving to her what she could work for. Her hard work ws recognized by the labourers and her faithfulness by Boaz. She had begun her new life as she intended to continue: faithful, committed and generous.
  1. Do you see similarities between Ruth’s experience and that of today’s migrant people?
  2. What can we learn from Ruth’s example?
  3. Ruth put herself in a place of risk of potential harm, and had to accept doing work that she would previously refuse to accept – have you ever been in similar situations? What was your attitude?


  1. Hope for the future
    Ruth 2:14-23
    Ruth continued to work hard all that day pausing only for a meal break. Boaz shared his meal with her which seems to go further than what would be expected from normal generosity. Perhaps he was already becoming attracted to her and had some hopes of his own. Nothing is said in the story at this point, but Boaz made certain that Ruth was kept safe and well looked after. At the end of the day Ruth had a good amount of barley that she had collected as well as some of the food left from the meal she had earlier shared. So she gathered all she had and returned to the city where she was staying with Naomi.Naomi was obviously impressed with what Ruth had achieved and asked where she had been working. When Ruth told her that it was on the property of Boaz she was overjoyed, the bitterness she had complained about evaporated as she gave thanks to God and called for a blessing on Boaz. She then told Naomi that Boaz was someone that under Jewish law had the responsibility to redeem them. He wasn’t the only one and in fact no doubt she knew he was not the closest relative and there were others who could exercise the right of redemption. It seems that Ruth had been impressed by Boaz as well. He was not a young man and Jewish tradition is that he was a widower; the Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women writes that though the Book of Ruth does not mention that Boaz had a wife and children, it is highly unlikely that an important established man such as he would have remained a bachelor. There are stories connecting him with other possible marriages, but there is no certainty about them, and when he encountered Ruth he was a single man.Ruth exaggerated her story a little claiming that Boaz had told her to stay with the young men working in the field, when in fact he had told her to stay with the young women. Naomi may have suspected that Ruth was looking for someone to take an interest in her and reinforced Boaz’ suggestion that she stay with the young women. Jewish tradition is that Ruth was forty years old and she may have been worried that her ability to bear children was coming to an end. But it wasn’t safe or appropriate for a single woman to be alone with the male workers and so Ruth accepted the advice and kept close to the young women and each day went to work until both the Barley and wheat harvests were over. There is no mention of any further contact between her and Boaz in that time and at the end of the day’s work Ruth returned and lived with Naomi in the home they shared.As Ruth diligently went to work each day, she no doubt wondered about what her future would be like. Naomi had talked about a redeemer but nothing had happened. There was no husband on the horizon so if she was going to have children should she try to find a suitable man? Could she, as a Moabite expect to marry a Jew anyway and at forty years of age, what were her chances? Maybe this was going to be how she would spend the rest of her life, finding work in somebody’s fields. And the harvest would soon be over, what happens then? Perhaps Naomi ws right and she should have styed in Moab. Ruth had made a great commitment based in faith and courage, no doubt reinforced by genuine affection for Naomi. But things hadn’t worked out, did she start to doubt, had she made a mistake? There is no indication that Ruth doubted that she had made the right choice, her faith was still strong and her commitment unwavering. She had put her trust in God, and she would wait for him
  1. Have you ever started a journey with enthusiasm, but it didn’t work out as you expected?
  2. Ruth may have dreamed of a future with Boaz, but was afraid it might not be real – have you ever felt that way?
  3. While Ruth waited she kept turning up for work and just did what she needed to – how do you spend the time between hearing from God and seeing his word fulfilled?


  1. At the threshing floor
    Ruth 3The harvest was over and the work that Ruth was doing would come to an end. It may be that Naomi thought that by now someone, preferably Boaz, would have approached Ruth, or Naomi on Ruth’s behalf with an offer to marry Ruth or least buy the land that she owned, but nothing had happened. Tradition is that Boaz was now an 80 year old widower and maybe he was reluctant to make a move or was just slow and methodical in getting around to things. So Naomi decided to give him a push. She had time to come up with a plan, but she needed Ruth to play her part.Naomi called Ruth over for a heart to heart talk. It was the custom for a mother to try to find a suitable marriage partner for her daughter, but as Ruth’s mother was not present Naomi accepted the responsibility to become a matchmaker and now she had a plan. “Isn’t it time for me to find you a husband,” she asked, “so that you can settle down and be provided for?” At the heart of every marriage was the prospect of children and Naomi may have been thinking of Deuteronomy 6:3, “Hear therefore, O Israel, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly,” when she said she wanted it to be well with Ruth. Naomi had done her research, she knew Boaz would be at the threshing floor that night and that he and his workers would have spent time eating and drinking before he went to lay down at the pile of grain. Boaz weas a landowner and a wealthy man, but he shared the work with his labourers and the celebrations as well. Someone would usually stay with the grain pile overnight to deter thieves and Boaz took on that responsibility. Naomi had discovered all that out and it was essential to her plan.

    Ruth was to beautify herself, applying perfume and wearing her best dress and then go down the party at threshing floor but to make sure Boaz didn’t recognize her. When Boaz went to lie down she would wait until he was sleeping and then sneak over, pull back his blankets and lie down next to him. He would eventually realise she was there and then would tell her what she should do. Ruth agreed to the plan and although what she expected would happen isn’t mentioned, the expectations of a man waking in the middle of the night to find a young, single woman lying beside him are not difficult to imagine.

    Understandably there is much speculation about this part of the story. There are suggestions that lying down at someone’s feet in this way was culturally appropriate and a sign of seeking refuge, at the other end of the scale the idea of uncovering a man’s feet was an invitation to sex. Those who hold that view suggest that like Tamar before her, Ruth would hope that she would become pregnant and in essence force Boaz to marry her.

    As it happened Ruth did not do exactly as Naomi had proposed, rather than wait for Boaz to tell her what to do, once she had made herself known she immediately made a request. In asking Boaz to spread his wings over her (this can be translated as the corner of his robe) she is effectively asking him to marry her and assume responsibility for her. Boaz could have been offended or even taken advantage of the situation but instead he agreed, but it wasn’t going to be straightforward. He was thrilled and surprised that rather than go looking for a virile young man to marry, Ruth would consider him but there was another relative that could step in and ‘purchase’ Ruth and that was a problem that would need to be resolved. Boaz told Ruth to stay where she was, but to get up early and leave without being seen and he would attend to what needed to be done the next day.

  1. What do you think of Naomi’s plan? Is it something you would suggest to your daughter?
  2. How much risk do you think Ruth was taking?
  3. What was in Boaz’ mind as they lay together on the pile of grain throughout the night?


  1. The deal is done
    Ruth 4:14-18; 5:1-12When Ruth got up in the morning, after what I expect was a sleepless night, she planned to creep away from the threshing floor hoping to avoid being noticed. Boaz says a strange thing though, he says “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” He may have been expressing a prayer to God, speaking out loud or telling Ruth to hide the fact that she was a woman. Otherwise some of his workers must have noticed her which is very thing Boaz wanted to avoid. Then he told Ruth to bring him her shawl which he proceeded to fill with barley. Some translations say there were six measures, while others six ephahs, either way that would have been between 120 and 150 litres, far too much for her to carry. So it is more likely that there were six measured amounts without specifying how much. The barley probably served a number of purposes, in the first place it was a gift to Naomi, and may have formed a dowry for Ruth. It would also have given a disguise to Ruth as she left the threshing floor. As she walked through the street carrying a bag of barley she could offer an explanation for her presence there as she had gone to get some grain for her family.

    When Ruth got home Naomi asked her how she had got on. She must have been curious since Ruth had been out all night, had Naomi’s plan succeeded, what had they been doing all night? When Ruth said that nothing happened, they just lay in bed and talked for a while and in the morning Boaz just generously gave her a weeks supply of food before she left, Naomi may have been a little doubtful. But Ruth told the whole story, and managed to convince Naomi, who was so pleased she assured Ruth that since Boaz was such a fine upstanding man he would sort everything out that day.

    In fact Boaz did exactly that, he met the other closer relative in the gate of the city and gathered together some other city leaders as witnesses. Some traditions hold that the closer relative was a brother of both Boaz and Elimelech, and so they were both uncles to Ruth through marriage. He explained that the relative had the chance to buy Elimelech’s land off Naomi which the relative was keen to do, but Boaz then explained the condition. If he got the land he also accepted responsibility for Ruth and for producing children through her on behalf of Elimelech, now he wasn’t so keen and passed up the opportunity. Boaz though was hoping for this outcome and immediately announced that he would purchase the land and along with it Ruth. It was his intention that she would have children to keep the name of Elimelech alive in Israel.

    While this was no doubt an act of self interest on behalf of Boaz, he had acquired a piece of land and an attractive young woman half his age as a wife, but it was also a step of faith. In the time Ruth was married to Mahlon she had produced no children, what if she was unable to? Nevertheless, the witnesses to the transaction, expressed the wish that Boaz and Ruth would produce offspring just like Tamar and Judah had done and he, Boaz would earn great fame because of his behaviour toward Ruth.

    While Boaz and Ruth were compared with Judah and Tamar there were significant contrasts as well. Boaz acted righteously at all times and didn’t take advantage of Ruth when he could legitimately have done so. Judah mistook his daughter in law for a prostitute and used her to satisfy his own lust while acting unfaithfully toward her. Yet both unions were blessed by God and the children produced became ancestors of Jesus the Messiah.

  1. What could have gone wrong for Ruth?
  2. What do you think of Naomi’s actions throughout the story?
  3. What do you think of the way Boaz acted?


  1. Marriage and a future
    Ruth 4:13-22

    Once the formalities were over Boaz took possession of the Elimelech’s land and also Ruth. In modern society the idea of a wife being  her husband’s possession is to many people offensive, in the days of Ruth however it was the accepted practice. This did not diminish the character or the worth of the wife though, as God intended she was equal to her husband and complemented him. As seen by the example of many Biblical women a wife would often exercise significant authority in the home and in wider society. Ruth and Boaz were quickly married and before long she became pregnant, fulfilling the hopes of Ruth and Naomi as well as Boaz.

    Some Jewish traditions claim that Boaz died on his wedding night and didn’t live to see the birth of his child though there is no evidence of this in the bible or elsewhere. If this were so then Ruth would once again become a widow and would be forced back into a relationship with Naomi, although presumably she could still seek another husband. Similar traditions claim that Ruth was 40 years old when she met and married Boaz. If that were so she would have been at least 30 when she married Mahlon, her first husband and that would have been very unusual for the times. It was common for young women to marry when they were in their early teens in which case Ruth may only have been in her mid twenties when she married Boaz. There is no record of her and Boaz either having other children or not going on to live long and fruitful lives.

    Throughout the story Ruth is referred to as a Moabitess and this is significant. According to Deuteronomy 23:6, ““No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.” Earlier in Deuteronomy 7:1-4, the following appears: ‘When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you…You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons,  for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.’ The reference in chapter seven does not include either Moabites of Ammonites but the later passage does, how then could Boaz marry Ruth? According to the Rabbi’s and later scholars the prohibition in chapter 23 only refers to males and females were exempted if they had converted Judaism, as Ruth had done. So there was no impediment to the marriage. This was especially important as King David descended from the union of Ruthe and Boaz and would have been ineligible to be king if that law applied.

    In the final verses of the Book of Ruth, Naomi once again becomes the key character. Throughout the story Ruth plays mainly a passive role, apparently content to let others give her direction. There is evidence that she wasn’t entirely submissive though and made decisions of her own that sometimes were different to the plans she was given. Of the three main characters in the Book, the story begins and ends with Naomi, besides her the two main players are Boaz and Ruth. It is a story of redemption and restoration. At the start Naomi is bitter, but in the end she is blessed. Ruth leaves Moab as a widow and with no plans, by the time the story ends she has given birth to the one who becomes grandfather of King David. Boaz was an older man spending his days with his farm labourers, but God brought him and Ruth together to make way for the Messiah. None of the characters could have anticipated what God had planned for them, they all played the part God had for them showing courage and determination which was combined with their trust in the provision and protection of God.

  1. Just like the characters in this story, you are essential to God’s plans – what part do you think he has for you?
  2. Like Ruth, you may not know where your journey will end, are you comfortable with that?
  3. Do you sometimes think that God has chosen the wrong path for you?




1.A woman of favour
1 Samuel 1:1-8

In the beginning of the first Book of Samuel we are introduced to Elkanah. He is described in Jewish literature as a righteous and important Israelite. He was from the tribe of Levi, and lived in the territory of Ephraim. Elkanah insisted in meeting the obligation for every Jew to visit the Tabernacle at Shiloh on the three feast days each year. He led the pilgrimage to Shiloh, taking his entire family and many others who joined him. ( While we are given the details of his family background the story is not really about him and moves quickly on to his two wives.

The two wives of Elkanah were Penninah and Hannah. Hannah was probably Elkanah’s first wife, but she was unable to have children. Jewish tradition is that by the time the events in this story take place Hannah and Elkanah had been married for 19 years and throughout that time she was desperate to have a child, especially a son. The Mishnah, which was the unwritten Jewish law, required that if a couple had been married for ten years without having any children, then the husband was obligated to take another wife, so that he could fulfil the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. According to tradition this was the reason why Elkanah married Penninah, but he always preferred Hannah and made that obvious by giving her preferential treatment.

Despite Elkanah’s favouritism of her, Hannah was desperately unhappy. She was well cared for, had all she needed and was loved by her husband but more than anything she wanted a child and without that she was miserable. George Stein writes in the British Journal of Psychiatry: ‘we learn of Hannah’s great distress because of her infertility and a sufficient number of symptoms are mentioned to make a diagnosis of depression. Thus, Hannah is weeping, feels bitterness, misery and sadness…Further, there is irritability, loss of appetite, general distress, vexation and anxiety’. Elkanah did his best to comfort her but without success. Like many men Elkanah was not very sensitive and in trying to console Hannah he posed three questions: ‘Hannah, why are you crying and why aren’t you eating? Why are you so sad?’ One Rabbi puts it this way: “Would Sarah, who was childless, sit and cry all the day? Would Rebekah, who was barren, not eat? Would Rachel, who was childless, sit by herself, depressed?” It is highly unlikely that type of ‘counsel’ would bring comfort and would be more likely to increase the pain Hannah already felt!

Hannah’s torment was made worse by Elkanah’s second wife who went out of her way to provoke Hannah. Penninah knew that Hannah was the preferred wife and lived in her shadow and the pain she bore. But Peninnah had children, the one thing Hannah desperately wanted and she used that as a weapon against her. We read that this went on year after year, Peninnah provoking Hannah at every opportunity while Hannah sunk further and further unto depression. This is not a happy picture, Elkanah a husband and father desperately trying to make Hannah happy but failing miserably. He had run out of ideas, what else could he do? The questions he asks Hannah, betray his own frustration and irritation. Peninnah overlooked and rejected trying to find significance and value in the children she had and taking her frustrations out on Hannah. And Hannah, depressed, not eating or sleeping, obsessed with one thing that overshadowed everything else. But Hannah did not lose her faith In God who could make everything different and as usual she accompanied her husband to Shiloh where she would once more pour her heart out to the God who hears.

  1. What do you think of Elkanah’s attempts to comfort Hannah?
  2. What advice would you give to Hannah?
  3. All of Hannah’s life, and that of her family and relationships where defined by the one thing she was denied – have you ever had that experience or know someone who has?


  1. A Promise is made
    I Samuel 1:9-18Hannah and her family went to the Tabernacle in Shiloh as was their custom. They would offer sacrifices and prayers in the morning and then share a midday meal before returning to worship in the early evening. The general atmosphere was one of festivity and celebration as the people remembered God’s deliverance. There would have been a cloud of gloom over the family of Elkanah though, Hannah’s desperation for a child dominated her and all those she came in contact with.While Hannah suffered greatly from what we might now call depressive illness, she did not respond negatively toward her treatment by Penninah and retained her trust in God. She attended the feast, but after the meal she got up from the table and went toward the Holy Place where she began to pray. At first she prayed out aloud, she was deeply distressed and begged God to let her have a son. She promised that if God answered her prayer it would be enough just to have a son, she didn’t need to raise him, in fact she would give him back to God as soon as she was able. The implication being that the son would remain in the temple under the care of the priests. In a similar way Jochebed gave up her son to the daughter of pharaoh where he was prepared for ministry.After Hannah had made her vow to God she continued to pray, but now she had no words. Her lips moved but no sound came out. Stein writes: ‘There is also a curious loss of voice while she prays. This could be no more than silent prayer, but as she is mouthing the words, the high priest Eli believes her to be intoxicated. This picture is typical of aphonia, a hysterical conversion symptom commonly associated with depression.’ Depression as an illness wasn’t written about until the 17th century and the writer of this story had no idea of what that might mean, and as Stein suggests Hannah may have been doing no more than pray silently, keeping the words to herself. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome that ‘Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words’ (Romans 8:26), this may well have been the experience of Hannah.Eli, the priest, though thought differently and rebuked Hannah asking if she was drunk. It is curious that the priest saw an outburst of emotion while praying as a sign of drunkenness! If Eli had genuinely believed Hannah to be drunk he should have acted to remove her from the temple immediately and that may have been his intention. Hannah responded to Eli’s rebuke carefully, his authority in the Temple was absolute and he commanded the greatest respect. Hannah explained that she was not drunk, in fact even though it was customary for wine and strong drink to be consumed at the feasts, she hadn’t touched a drop (Deuteronomy 14:26). She was pouring out her soul to God in prayer because of her anxiety and frustration. She was not worthless but was desperately seeking favour from God and was overcome with emotion.Eli offered no apology but acknowledged Hannah’s prayer, expressing the hope that God would meet her need. Evidently Hannah took this a sign that God had heard her because there was an immediate physical response. Her appetite returned and the look of misery and hopelessness was gone. She had hope, God had heard her and answered her prayers. Life would be different, where there was sorrow now there would be joy, her world was a different place.
  1. How easy would it have been for Hannah to blame God or lose trust in him?
  2. Have you ever been so overcome by your need that you don’t have the words to say?
  3. Hannah offered to give up the very thing she was desperate for, could you do that?


  1. A child is born
    1 Samuel 1:19-24Hannah had poured out her heart to God and believed she had received a reply. She was going to have a baby! There was no doubt in Hannah’s mind and everything changed for her, the sad face was gone, so were the drooping shoulders and lack of appetite, she had hope. Only a woman who has longed for a child but been unable to conceive could understand the pain and anguish Hannah would have felt. There were no clinics or hospitals to go to for help, understanding of fertility and counselling services did not exist. A woman who could not have children was called barren and she was that way because God had closed her womb, only he could open it and Hannah believed God would do that.The family got up early and worshipped. The change in Hannah would have been noticeable, but had she told Elkanah and Peninnah, and if she did would they have believed her? The phrase: ‘Elkanah knew Hannah his wife,’ in verse 19 means they had sex, so they may have been abstaining because of the festival or because of Hannah’s emotional state, in any event it seems the conditions weren’t there for Hannah to be pregnant. Many women these days don’t like to make their pregnancy known until they are absolutely sure, and some wait until it is obvious, though with the loose clothing that was worn at the time that could have been some months. Not so with Hannah and we are not told how or when she informed Elkanah and whether that changed the relationship between her and Peninnah. This long awaited event is dealt with in a few words: ‘in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son’. Hannah named her son Samuel, which can mean offspring of God’. We can assume that the pregnancy was ‘normal’ but was Hannah nervous or apprehensive? Was she worried that something might go wrong, or did she grow in faith as she waited in anticipation? Jewish tradition is that Hannah was 130 years old when she gave birth to her son, the same age as Jochebed the mother of Moses, but this is probably no more than an attempt to make parallels between Moses and Samuel.When the time came for Elkanah to go back to Shiloh he probably expected Hannah to go with him, but this time she said no. There is a subtle change in the family dynamic, Hannah is assertive and told Elkanah what she planned to do, he simply agreed with her. Hannah’s plan was to wait until Samuel was weaned, probably when he was two years old, and she would accompany her husband and present Samuel to the priest. Her intention was that Samuel would stay there and not return with his mother and father. Hannah was going to keep the promises she had made, and God had kept his word. Like Moses so many years before, Hannah was going to hand over her son into the care of others. She would have no say in how he was brought up, what he would learn and how he would be treated. She had to place her trust in the priest and of course in God.Many children are sent off to boarding schools at a young age and the pain of separation, even with regular visits is significant. Hannah would see her son when she went to the tabernacle for the feasts, but there was no phone or internet, no mail service or skype. The son for whom she prayed so desperately and for so long was going to be given up and while she would always be a mother to him, she would still be surrounded by the children of Peninnah while her child was separated from her. She had made a promise to God and she would keep it, but couldn’t God find another way?
  1. Do you think Hannah told Elkanah straight away that she was going to get pregnant -how do you think he would respond?
  2. Would Hannah have been nervous through her pregnancy?
  3. Hannah had promised God that she would surrender her child, do you think she regretted that?


  1. A Promise is kept
    1 Samuel 1:24-28The time came when Samuel was weaned, that was usually between the ages of two and three, although some writers suggest he could have been as old as eight. So Hannah and Elkanah knew that they had to honour the promise Hannah had made to God. I wonder if during that two to three years Hannah had hoped, even prayed for another way, she had promised God and she would keep her word, but was it possible for God to relent. After all when God tested Abraham having told him to sacrifice Isaac, he provided an alternative just at the last minute. Maybe God would do the same for Hannah.God may have asked you to give up something that is important to you, I don’t mean a bad habit, but something which is good. You might have said you would, but it is a struggle and you keep hoping you won’t have to go through with it, just show you are willing. Hannah may have felt like that. But she prepared herself with the sacrifices and gifts that were needed and headed to Shiloh. The text doesn’t tell us that Elkanah was with her, but he probably was and this may have been the time of one of the feasts when the whole family would go. She wouldn’t have been able to make the journey with an infant son a three year old bull (there may have been three bulls in total, only one of which would be the sacrifice) along with flour and wine on her own. Hannah would have been sorrowful at the idea of giving up her son but was committed and so she went on their way.On their arrival at the tabernacle the bull was sacrificed in accordance with the laws and customs of the Jews (Deuteronomy 12:5,6,11) and then they took Samuel to Eli the priest. He may not have recognized Hannah and so she reminded him that she was the woman who some time before was standing near him praying. Some years had passed and it seems that praying in the presence of Eli was unusual enough for him to remember it. When Hannah had spoken to him before she did not say what she was praying for, only that she was in great distress at the time and was pouring out her soul to God. Now she tells him that the child she was holding was what she prayed for and here he was, the answer to her prayers. She then told him that as a condition of her prayer she had promised to give him into the service of the temple for as long as he lived.The Bible is often economical with details, and that is certainly the case here. How did Eli respond? Was he surprised, shocked? What was he to do with a two year old child, how would he look after him? According to the Scripture he had two sons of his own but they were worthless men (Chapter 2:12) who not only bullied the people when they came to sacrifice but treated God with contempt, is this the type of home to bring up a two year old? Hannah may have asked herself similar questions, was this a really bad decision, how would Samuel turn out? I remember many years ago a pastor asking the question “Do you trust God enough for your children?” This is a provoking question, we naturally want the best for our kids, we want to protect them from harm and help them make the right choices, but sometimes they make decisions we struggle with, or find themselves in place where they are at risk. Do we trust God enough at those times, or do we insist that we know best and must control every aspect of our child’s developing life? Can God keep them safe; will he lead them down the right paths or must we superintend his activity? Hannah made a courageous and faith filled decision, she entrusted her only son to the priest believing that God would keep him and prepare him for the purpose he had had established for him.
  1. How would Hannah feel as the time grew near for her to surrender Samuel?
  2. Has God ever told you to let go of something you really cherish?
  3. Do you trust God enough for your children, your marriage or you loved ones?


  1. Hannah’s song
    1 Samuel 2:1-11The song of Hannah shows the remarkable change that had taken place in her. When she is introduced she is a depressed, unhappy woman who could not rise above her grief. She was in conflict with her husband’s second wife, and he seemed unable to offer the support she needed. Consumed by grief she poured her heart out to God asking for the gift of a son, and promised that if he would answer her prayer then she would commit her son, Samuel to serve in the temple for all of his life. She went to Shiloh weighed down with anxiety and depression, but left rejoicing believing that God had answered her prayer. Time went by, Samuel was born and when he was weaned Hannah and Elkanah presented him to the temple, where they worshipped God together. At some point Hannah stood in front of the those gathered and sang her song. A broken and distressed woman had become a leader of worship and a prophetic voice to the congregation.The song begins with a declaration of praise, she is praising God with her strength, her heart and her mouth. What she does, how she feels and what she says are all directed toward the God who has delivered her. She laughs at her enemies because she knows they are God’s enemies and therefore cannot defeat her. He is her rock and beside him there is no other. She moves on to sing of the proud and the arrogant who set themselves against God, there will come a time when they are held to account. The things the enemies of God have relied on will be broken. They thought themselves rich and secure but disaster was coming, but the hungry and the poor will be satisfied when God restores them in their place.Hannah no doubt had her rivalry with Peninnah in mind when she sang the next lines. The one who was barren would have seven children, in fact Hannah only had six (chapter 2:21), but the one who had many would find no satisfaction. Some Jewish tradition says that a number of the children of Peninnah died leaving only two, and these two were given into care of Hannah, so excluding Samuel, she had seven. There is no Biblical evidence for this though. It is God who controls life and death, wealth and poverty, humility and the place of honour. Indeed the pillars of the world, everything that holds it up are God’s to place where he wills.

    We may see the pillars of our world as economic strength, political security, sustainability, the rule of law or any number of alternatives. The World Economic Forum has five as does Islam, but whatever they may be they only exist by the will of God and they will survive only by his grace. Nations come and go, but we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea (Psalm 46:2). God is in control and Hannah reminds those who are listening to her song that if they are faithful then God will guide their feet. Their adversaries are God’s adversaries, and he will destroy them.

    Conflict and battle were familiar to Israel, there were conspiracies of kings, enemy nations and godless people who wanted to destroy God’s people. But the people of God could be comforted to know that those enemies only existed by God’s permission and the time would come when he would hold them to account. We live in a similar time. There are forces committed to destroying the work of God, his church is attacked through the media and the godless legislation that is passed in many places. But we have the certain promise that God’s church is built on the rock, and it will not be overcome. This is our sure and certain hope and like Hannah he calls us to worship him with our strength, our heart and our mouths!

  1. God was able to bring a dramatic change in Hannah, can he do that for you?
  2. Hannah committed her strength, heart and words to praising God, how might you do that?
  3. In a world of conflict and strife how can you maintain hope and freedom from anxiety?


  1. A Woman of Legacy
    1 Samuel 2:18-21The woman who play significant parts in the bible story are often known because of the children they bore. Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel are all known as matriarchs or mothers of Israel because it is through them that the promise to Abraham to be a father of a nation was made. But others like Jochebed, the mother of Moses; Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist; Mary, the mother of Jesus; and Lois and Eunice, the grandmother and mother of Timothy, along with Hannah are known because of child they brought into the world. This does not diminish them in any way, but without the child the mother would be unknown.The fact that these women were chosen to give birth to these significant leaders tells us that they were highly regarded by God and that he entrusted them with responsibility for nourishing children who became prophets, priests and kings. Jochebed gave birth in a time when pharaoh was having all new born sons killed; Elizabeth and Hannah were both infertile; Mary was young and unmarried while Eunice probably brought up her son as a single mother with only her own mother for support. God did not make things easy for them. They had it tough, they faced opposition from their communities and even their own families, they endured the ridicule of others, in some cases financial hardship and the criticism of religious leaders. But they were faithful and persistent and God trusted them. Each of them left a legacy which surpasses their own reputation but would not exist without them.

    Hannah left her precious and only son with Eli in the tabernacle and returned home. Once a year she would go back with her husband to take the yearly sacrifice required of all families. And every year she would take a little tunic or robe that she had made to give to Samuel. While the bible is silent about the reunion of mother and son, it must have been emotional and heart breaking. As Hannah gave to Samuel the little robe she had so carefully made she did so knowing that she would shortly leave him and would not see him again for another year. We don’t know of Elkanah’s response or whether he was able to offer words of comfort to Samuel or to Hannah, the Bible does remind us that it was not uncommon for men to weep, so perhaps he too shed a tear or two.

    Eli, who had rebuked Hannah when he first saw her as a distraught woman who he assumed had been drinking, now regularly blessed her and Elkanah. He had seen that God had heard and answered her prayer, and no doubt was impressed with her faithfulness. He asked God to give Elkanah the promise of more children through Hannah because of her prayers. After receiving this blessing the family headed home, no doubt sorrowful but also confident that they had been faithful. Their faith sustained them and in time Hannah had five more children, three boys and two girls. The woman who was childless, depressed and broken was now blessed beyond what she had asked. No doubt the birth of five children could not take the place of the one who was given up, but God had left Hannah with a legacy that has been the cause of blessing to generations.

    Samuel grew up to be the last judge of Israel, he was also a prophet and a priest. He led the transition of Israel to the rule of kings through Saul and later anointed King David. He did this because his mother prayed and would not give up. She risked the rebuke of the priest and the faced the torment of a jealous rival, but she had a sincere faith and knew that her God was the God of the impossible. He is your God too.

  1. Many of the women who left significant legacies were ordinary women who dealt with everyday problems, what set them apart?
  2. These women could not control their sons or direct the path they took, what could they do?
  3. Hannah overcame significant loss and remained faithful – how easy is it to allow a loss we suffer to affect our faith and commitment?


  1. The Woman who loved King David
    1 Samuel 18:20-29According to Cheryl Exum in the the Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women only one woman in the Jewish Bible is said to have loved a man. Love is often spoken of but always it is initiated by a man except this one time. The woman concerned was the second daughter of King Saul, Michal.

    King Saul was very insecure, his popularity was fading but a young man named David was everybody’s hero. He had recently killed Goliath and was making a name for himself in battle. Saul offered to give to him Merab his oldest daughter as a wife if he was truly courageous in battle. He hoped that David would take too many risks and would be killed. David was successful in battle but rather than receive the prize of the King’s daughter she was passed on to someone else. But Saul’s second daughter had her eyes on David and we are told that she loved him. When Saul became aware of that he formed another plan, hoping to trap David and have him killed he offered her to David. David had no money or resources and no way of paying the dowry necessary to marry a princess, so Saul made him an offer. If he would go and kill 100 Philistines and bring back their foreskins as evidence then he could have Michal.

    This seems a very barbaric and offensive thing to ask, apart from the danger attached to it, but the foreskin was evidence that the victims were not Jews, all of whom would be circumcised and that they were in fact dead. David did more than he was asked and came back with 200! Saul held up his end of the bargain and gave him Michal but now he was even more insecure. He recognized that God was on David’s side and that Michal indeed loved him.

    There is nothing to indicate that David returned Michal’s affection. His actions seemed more in keeping with achieving an advantage over Saul and maybe securing his own safety. David returned to the battlefield and nothing more is heard of Michal until David came back following a great victory. Saul, either in a jealous rage or while suffering some mental anguish threw a spear at David trying to pin him to the wall and kill him. David went home to find refuge but Michal warned him that Saul was looking for him and that his life was in danger. Michal helped David to escape by lowering him through a window and before the searchers came looking she made up a dummy and laid it in the bed hoping to fool them. Michal took a serious risk in opposing her father and taking David’s side. She first of all said he was sick and when they were not convinced she claimed he had threatened to kill her if she didn’t let him go.

    Michal could not have prevented David from leaving even if she wanted to which has led some commentators to believe that by letting him go she meant she was releasing him from their marriage. Michal demonstrated her love for David by doing what she could to protect him, no mention is made of David’s feelings. There was no emotional goodbye’s or promises to come back. She was left to face the anger of her father the king while David made his getaway. The time between the marriage of Michal and David and his escape through the window is not said, however long it was though, it seems David was away for most of it. Michal sought a marriage based on love and was prepared to risk everything for it. David married for his own advantage and had little regard for his wife or her safety.

    While the events in the life of David and Michal are unlikely to be repeated today, there are many marriages that are one sided. Too many unions are sacrificed for success on the battlefield of the workplace or academia. Too many run out the door to discover their next victory while they leave their spouse at home to face the consequences of their absence. What did the future hold for Michal when love wasn’t enough?

  1. Love is not an emotion it is a verb – what do you think of that statement?
  2. What can you do if someone you love doesn’t respond as you want them to?
  3. Have you ever been guilty of chasing your own dreams while leaving your spouse to deal with the battle at home?




  1. An Abandoned wife
    1 Samuel 25:40-44After Michal helped David to escape from Saul he headed off to live with the prophet Samuel for a while. From there he engaged in a number of military campaigns and kept up his relentless feud with Michal’s father King Saul. Michal does not appear in the story again until 1 Samuel 25:44 and then only by name.
    There are many occasions throughout this time that David had opportunity to contact Michal or arrange to have her brought to him but he did not. At one stage when he was on the run and went to stay in Moab, he arranged for his parents to be taken there for their safety but no mention is made of Michal. It is as if she has been wiped from his life. David continued his campaigns and along the way married two more women, Ahinoam and Abigail, both wealthy women; one of them, Abigail the recently widowed wife of Nabal who had refused to help David. These wives were not taken one after another but at the same time, and of course he was still married to Michal.David continued his activities, now with the wealth of his two new wives to support him and the loyalty of the many who had joined him in his campaign against the rule of King Saul.  As David Clines writes: ‘Michal’s fate is worth only a footnote. Her last reported deed had been the risky act of lying to her father in order to save David’s life; but since then David has done nothing but ignore her’. At some stage Saul had decided to end David and Michal’s marriage, possibly to prevent David from claiming kingship through her, and so he gave her as a wife to another man. Michal’s new husband was Palatiel who is otherwise unremarkable though he features later in the story. Michal loved David, but was abandoned by him and then replaced with two other wives, in the meantime she was given to another man to satisfy her own father’s desire for revenge.On one occasion while David was away from his new home involved in another battle his town was attacked and along with others his two new wives were captured. David immediately went to their rescue. Later he moved his base to Hebron and once more took his ‘two wives’ with him (2 Samuel 2:2), while there he fathered six children through six different wives! After Saul died his son Ish-bosheth, Michal’s brother became king of Israel. Judah though, adopted David as its king and the two groups were in continual conflict. David won the battle and immediately demanded that Michal be returned to him. This is the first time we read of David actually seeking any contact with Michal, and it was for political expedience not because of any act of love.Abner, the cousin of Saul was given the task of separating Michal from her husband and what follows is, according to Doerksen, ‘one of the most painful few verses in the entirety of a book filled with painful moments’. We know nothing about Palatiel apart from that he loved Michal, perhaps just as she had loved David. When the messengers came to take her away, he followed them weeping and pleading for her not to be taken. David didn’t even think it was worth his time to go in person to meet his wife but sent others on his behalf. We don’t know Michal’s feelings toward her second husband but it is more that probable that she would have responded to his obvious love for her, and now she was being torn away on the orders of someone who had used her and abandoned her, just as her father had done.Michal, a woman who had loved unconditionally but was abandoned. Used by her husband and her father to satisfy their own ambitions and now had finally found security and stability with another man, she would be cruelly used again to satisfy David’s lust for power.
  1. This is a sad story of lust and ambition which has Michal as a casualty. How does it make you feel?
  2. What good can you see in this story?
  3. How do you relate to Michal – is it possible to become a casualty of the ambition of people you love?


  1. The final showdown
    2 Samuel 6:16-23When David climbed out of window of the bedroom shared by him and Michal, he was a young man who had proved himself to be courageous and heroic in battle. He relied on the resources of the palace available to him through his marriage, by abandoning Michal he left all that behind. When they were reunited after the forced separation of Michal and her second husband, he was a powerful leader, appointed king of Judah and soon to take over all of Israel. He had acquired a number of wives and other mistresses and fathered many children. This was not the young man Michal had loved and risked her life for.After David was anointed king of Israel, he decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The Ark represented the glory of God and demanded great ceremony and celebration. So David and his men did exactly that. There was a huge procession involving music, dancing and the sacrifice of animals, as one writer puts it: ‘David, at the head of a procession, dances in front of the Ark like a mad man. As he dances his clothes tear away. There are animals being sacrificed left and right. Blood is flowing from them. There is music playing loudly, and everything is like a fever dream’. Other commentators express it slightly differently portraying David’s acts as just a jubilant expression of worship.Whatever the commentators think, Michal was not impressed! She went from a young princess in love with her hero to someone who ‘despised him in her heart’. She waited at home until David had finished the ceremonial activities and all the people had gone home, no doubt the humiliation, pain and suffering she had endured was building up as she sat alone waiting for the chance to confront David. When he arrived at the door, she didn’t let him in and went out to meet him, and she didn’t hold back. I can imagine her standing in the street, hands on hips or with her finger pointing accusingly at David. Sarcastically she said: “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” Clines argues: ‘She cannot bear to see the man she has loved flaunt himself as sexually available—presumably, that is, to anyone but her. His self exposure earns the acclaim of the bystanders, but is in fact a humiliation to him, if only he could recognize the fact; and it is a humiliation to her as well’. She was the King’s daughter, this would never have happened in his day!Having first given an explanation for his actions David effectively tells Micah that he doesn’t care what she thinks. More than that he doesn’t care about her opinion of him as long as the young girls who were watching were impressed! David justifies his indifference to Michal and lack of care for her feelings on the basis of his need to express himself the way he wants to. God had chosen him above her father surely she can understand that and join the others in celebrating with him. The final comment on Micah is that she had no children to the day of her death. Some writers take this to mean she had no children by David and some Rabbis suggest she died in child birth. Whether Michal was unable to bear children or David shut her out of his life and his bed isn’t revealed, but it drew a line under the reign of Saul.The story of Michal is a sad one, it is the tale of a young woman passionately enthusiastic to marry the man of her dreams only to have those dreams destroyed. She became the sacrifice on the altar of success and while her husband enjoyed his reputation as a great man, a warrior, king and champion who relentlessly pursued what he believed was God’s will, he failed in the first responsibility God gave him. That together with his wife they would become one flesh and glorify him.
  1. How easy is it to justify neglect at home on doing God’s will?
  2. In the end David treated Michal as if her opinions didn’t matter to him, how hard would that be to take?
  3. What good can you find in this story?


  1. Beautiful and Intelligent
    1 Samuel 25:1-13It was shearing time, an event accompanied by much eating, drinking and celebration. This is the context for an encounter between David and two other main characters, Nabal and Abigail. While these two were husband and wife they are presented in almost direct contrast from one another, there is nothing positive said about Nabal, but nothing negative is said about Abigail. She is described as being beautiful and intelligent, while he is harsh and mean and the story that follows highlights the outcome of their character.David was in hiding from King Saul and his chief protector, the prophet Samuel had just died. He had gathered together an army of ‘everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul’ (1 Samuel 22:2), and he was operating what some have called a ‘protection racket’. David was offering to guard the property of the shepherds and land owners of the area in exchange for payment. It was this that brought him and Nabal together. Nabal was a very wealthy man and when David heard he was nearby he sent ten of his men to request food and drink in exchange for the protection he had been given. Some commentators stress that David was excessively courteous while others have the view that what David was asking was a reminder that things could go badly if he turned David down.Nabal refused the request in an insulting manner, basically calling David a nobody who was nothing but a runaway servant. Why should he give the food he had set apart for his men to this bandit? David reacted badly and summoned 400 of his men to get ready to go and confront Nabal. Hearing this, one of Nabal’s young men, obviously afraid of what he expected to happen ran and told Abigail. He insisted that while David and his men were around they were safe and they never suffered any losses, but it was  no use trying to talk to Nabal because he was worthless and just wouldn’t listen. For a servant to speak that way of his master would be to invite severe punishment and the fact that he felt he could do so to the man’s wife tells us about the relationship between Abigail and Nabal.As soon as she heard what the young man had to say Abigail prepared a selection of their best produce and prepared to take it to David. It was not enough to feed his army, but was a token of peace. Abigail did not need to be convinced about the manner in which Nabal had acted, she believed the servant without hesitation and acted to resolve the situation. She did not tell Nabal what she was doing but set off toward David’s camp. David saw the donkeys and companions approach and probably without knowing who she was or why she was approaching went to meet her. When they met, David immediately told Abigail what he had planned. In his words he had protected Nabal, but he had given him nothing in return and the original language of the text a little crudely writes “May God punish the enemies of David severely and double it, if by the morning light I leave alive so much as one person who urinates against a wall.”

    Abigail jumped off her donkey, fell down before David and launched into a fairly long speech. In it she accepted responsibility for the mess they were in, though it was clearly not her doing. She explained that her husband was not just a fool but was worthless. She hadn’t seen David’s men come with their request and if she had the result would have been different. So far David had not taken revenge and brought any guilt on himself and if he would continue to at the same way then God would surely bless him and rescue him from his enemies. The only thing she asked was that David would remember her in the future.

  1. What do you think of Nabal’s response to David?
  2. Did David overreact?
  3. How do you respond to Abigail’s actions?


  1. A Woman of discretion
    1 Samuel 25:32-42Abigail had given her speech to David in which she asked for mercy and also spoke prophetically about David’s future. the Talmud identifies Abigail as one of the seven female prophets in the Hebrew Bible, however, she may have been simply one of those who understood the times and interpreted them correctly. David listened to what she had to say and then responded to her request.David confirmed that he had intended to punish the whole household of Nabal violently and if it were not for Abigail’s intervention they would all have been dead by morning. This seems an excessive response to what was an insult, and reflects something of the nature of the times and the character of David. He did accept that if he had carried out his intentions he would have incurred bloodguilt as Abigail had said. Bloodguilt made a person ritually unclean and liable to punishment, even execution. David accepted Abigail’s reproof and praised her discretion and courage. He also accepted the gifts she had brought and told her to go home in peace. Remarkably he said he had obeyed her voice and would give her what she had asked.When Abigail arrived at home there was a huge party going on. Nabal, probably happily unaware that he had just escaped a massacre was eating and drinking himself into a drunken stupor. Abigail left him to it and said nothing. First thing in the morning, when Nabal was awake, probably suffering the effects of his night of alcohol and food and with a major hangover, Abigail told him exactly what she had done. Nabal was told that David was on his way to kill him and the whole family if Abigail had not intercepted him. When Nabal heard these words, his heart stopped. He either had a heart attack or suffered a stroke and ten days later he died. There are some commentators who suggest Abigail poisoned her husband, taking the opportunity to get rid of a harsh and nasty husband, but there is no evidence of that in the Biblical account.

    David saw that the death of Nabal was a direct response by God to the insult David had received. This still seems extreme. David’s intention was to kill every male and would have done if not for Abigail. In the end only Nabal died. David does acknowledge that if he done as he had planned he would have been acting wrongly and that God, through Abigail had prevented him from doing so. There was no doubt in David’s mind that Nabal was killed for insulting him.

    The marriage of Nabal and Abigail was not a happy one. It was no doubt an arranged marriage and there may have been a wide difference in age between them. Nabal was a very rich man and would have been well sought after by the parents of an eligible young woman. Abigail does not come across as a subservient person and was quite prepared to say insulting things about her husband to her servants and to David and his men. She was also prepared to act on her own initiative and didn’t seek the approval or agreement of her husband before deciding. The servants knew this and were prepared to bring their concerns to her rather than to Nabal directly. The contrast between them is highlighted by references to Abigail’s wisdom, beauty, discernment and humility, while Nabal is characterized as hard, selfish, inhospitable and arrogant. David, as the third character of the story presents as being impulsive, violent and demanding, although he did accept correction and acknowledged his wrongdoing.

  1. What do you think of Abigail’s actions?
  2. Did David overreact?
  3. Was David right in assuming God punished Nabal for insulting him?


  1. A Quick rebound
    1 Samuel 25:39-42As soon as David heard that Nabal was dead he sent his servants to go and get Abigail. He had decided it was time to add another wife and Abigail had proved that she was just what he wanted. He already had Michal, though King Saul had handed her over to another man and Ahinoam, although the circumstances of that marriage are not known, now he wanted Abigail as well.Polygamy or marriage to more than one person was still contrary to God’s law though allowances were made in Jewish custom especially for kings. Most marriages were political alliances of for the purpose of child bearing though this does not seem to be the case of Abigail. She had been described as beautiful, intelligent, discerning and had shown her humility. She was now also a wealthy widow though whether she would inherit Nabal’s wealth is not said. David didn’t waste any time he sent his servants with instructions to bring Abigail back to him.

    Abigail didn’t need any convincing, she humbly told David’s men that she was ready to do as she was asked. She, like David wasted no time but hurried to gather her thigs and with five servants of her own to help her, she jumped on a donkey and followed the servants back to David. There was no courtship but immediately she and David became husband and wife. While David took Abigail and his second wife Ahinoam with him she takes no further part in the story. Although she bore a child named Chileab, in 2 Samuel 3:3; (but called Daniel in 1 Chronicles 3:1) he is not mentioned in the royal rivalry that followed either. That leads some commentators to believe that he died while he was young.

    One writer says: ‘In fact, Abigail is an ideal wife. She didn’t submit to her husband’s stupidity; rather she protected her husband and his interests. She took the initiative when he was unable or unwilling to act, and she even apologised for his rude behaviour.” Like many of the significant women of the bible Abigail was courageous and independent. She was in a marriage that was in no way honouring to God and yet remained true to her own faith. She was prepared to accept personal risk and by doing so prevented the death of a whole household over the petty behaviour of her foolish husband. There is no question that her actions led to her own advantage but David recognized that she had been sent by God to rebuke him when he said: ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me!’ Was Abigail content to be  second or third wife, and later one of eight apart from David’s mistresses? It is difficult to understand how she would, but of course times were very different. We know though that it was an issue for Rachel and Leah as well as Hannah and Penninah, and it was contrary to God’s ideal plan for marriage.

    This is not an ideal love story, but one in which complex characters acted out of self interest. God used Abigail to rebuke David and by it escaped a poisonous relationship. David added an attractive third wife and also connected himself to the tribe of Caleb through Abigail. Nabal lost everything, including his life because of his selfish and insulting behaviour. The story does not seem to have much impact beyond what is detailed here, there is no development that come from it, no children that rise to significance and no great territory gained. There are lessons about courage, faith, humility and discernment we can learn, and we can also notice that God uses people in every circumstance of life, including women caught in dysfunctional marriages to change the course of history and to speak prophetically into their generation.

  1. What do you think of Abigail’s motives?
  2. Why was Abigail so willing to leave and marry David?
  3. Can God use people in dysfunctional and broken relationships to speak prophetically to our generation today?


  1. When Kings go to Battle
    2 Samuel 11:1-5It was springtime and according to the bible it was the time that Kings went out for battle. There were a few reasons for that, firstly in winter rain would fill river beds and turn the ground to mud which would make it difficult for chariots and horses. Then spring brought plant growth and the soldiers could use the crops they were travelling through for food, and as the weather became warmer there was less need for extra clothing and coverings against the cold. What was usual was for the King to go at the head of the army, but when Israel was at war with the Ammonites, David stayed home.

    Perhaps David had become to used to the life of a king, or he was tired, but whatever the reason he was not where he should have been, with his men. His failure in leadership led to tragic consequences. One afternoon, toward evening David was relaxing on the roof of his palace, he may have been attracted by sounds from below and he got up to see what was happening. It is possible that his roof top was shielded by a lattice like that mentioned in Judges 5:28 or at least a parapet wall as required by the law, but he looked down and saw a beautiful woman bathing.

    There is much said about the appearance of this beautiful lady, the assumption is usually that she was on the roof of her own house and she was naked. It may be that neither of those assumptions are true. The Bible doesn’t say where she was bathing, it may have been in a courtyard, or even at a stream, but wherever it was it was visible from the roof of the palace. Bathing customs in those days were very different to now, women did not have the luxury of a private bathroom, and they bathed in more public places. Sometimes they bathed with clothes on, or with a loose cloth wrapped around their bodies so that they were never completely naked. This is still the case in many places today. However she was dressed, she attracted David’s attention and so he asked who she was.

    One of David’s attendants, obviously after he too had checked out the object of David’s interest, said that she was Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah. Both of these men were members of David’s 30 member personal bodyguard and were well known prominent citizens. The Bible doesn’t expressly say what was on David’s mind at the time but he sent messengers to go and bring Bathsheba to him. David was the king, when he asks for you to come, you come. There is no indication that there was anything secretive about this summons; he sent messengers, she would have had to travel through a number of gates and doors to get to where he was and would no doubt have seen and been seen by many people on the way. Whatever David’s purpose and what Bathseba had assumed the result, was that she and David had sex together and then she went home.

    ‘’What must she have felt like, pulling her clothing around her, walking out of his bed chamber, through the palace, and home? Did she pass the king’s servants, or the messengers who had brought her to the king? What did they say to her, or did they just stare at her? What knowing looks were cast behind her? Shame flamed on her face. Perhaps she was going over and over in her mind how she could have let this happen, blaming herself.’’ (D. and D. Garland). There is conjecture about whether Bathsheba was a willing participant in this act. However, given the power relationships that existed then (as they do now) the most reasonable view is that this was a case of rape and the while Bathsheba could be accused of acting unwisely, David was always in absolute control of the outcome.

  1. Did David fail as a leader?
  2. Could Bathsheba have refused David’s request for her to go to him?
  3. What reasons could Bathsheba have had for believing she could safely go to King David?


  1. Another perspective
    2 Samuel 11:2-6

    Like many of the bible stories there are varieties of interpretation, especially when they involve sex, politics and murder, the story of Bathsheba and David is no different. One view of the event is that Bathsheba initiated David’s interest and effectively seduced him, another is that she was a more than willing partner in adultery and a third is that Uriah brought it on himself.

    In the first case it is argued that Bathsheba knew that David rested on his roof top at certain times of the day so she deliberately chose that time to bathe. She made sure that he had a good view and did so while naked. David’s reputation was well known, he had at least eight wives besides a number of mistresses and was not hindered by the marital status of the latest young woman to take his interest. Bathsheba didn’t need to be persuaded when David’s messengers came but happily went to David’s bed chamber. If this was her plan it didn’t end as she would have hoped, they may have enjoyed an evening together but she was then sent home, only to later discover that she was pregnant.

    Having told David of her pregnancy she conspired with him to first of all try to pass on the pregnancy to her husband Uriah, but when that failed joined David in his scheme to have Uriah killed. Once that had occurred she was able to marry David as she had hoped. If Bathsheba was a willing adulterer along with David, then the story is essentially the same, though without the obvious attempts at seduction.

    The third interpretation has been advanced by Jewish writer Jacob Isaacs and others. He states that the custom of the day was that before married men went into battle they wrote out a certificate of divorce so that their wife would be free to marry again if they didn’t return. Uriah had done this on behalf of Bathsheba, and David, being a prophet knew that his successor would be born to Bathsheba. So when he found out that Uriah had issued her with a certificate he summoned Uriah and told him that he didn’t want to wait and he and Bathsheba should divorce immediately. Uriah angrily refused and insulted the king, who then decided to get rid of him through other means. He sent him back to the battle but told his commander Joab to make sure Uriah was at the place of the most danger, and if he seemed to be threatened not to put his other men at risk to rescue him. Uriah was subsequently shot with an arrow and died.

    One of the reasons that there is so much speculation is that Bathsheba nowhere has a voice; the only words she utters are “I am Pregnant”. We don’t hear her account or are given any hint about her feelings, she is almost entirely passive throughout the story. She may have been a willing conspirator in adultery or murder, or a victim of abuse but her story is not told. We do get an idea though in the final words of the chapter when we read that the thing David did displeased the Lord. Nowhere in the story is Bathsheba criticized, God was displeased with David, the sin was his and the penalty, though shared by Bathsheba, was his to bear. While our focus is on Bathsheba it is impossible to ignore David. He was told who Bathsheba was, the daughter of a friend and hero, the wife of another of David’s close and loyal followers but not only did that not prevent him from satisfying his lust with her, but he chose to murder the husband to hide his guilt. The consequences of his actions led to more bloodshed, disasters in his family and the kingdom. Everything put at risk for one afternoon of illicit sex when he should have been leading his army in battle.

  1. Which of the interpretations of this story do you find most believable?
  2. It is said that stories are often written form the perspective of the abuser and not the victim what do you think?
  3. Do you think that if Bathsheba was a victim she would have been believed?




  1. A Cover up
    2 Samuel 11:6-26When David heard that Bathsheba was pregnant he immediately looked for ways to deny responsibility. He called his commander and told him to send Uriah to him. When Uriah arrived David asked him how the war was going but said nothing about Bathsheba’s pregnancy. Uriah must have found it strange that although he was a respected member of David’s bodyguard, that he would be brought back from the battle to chat about how things were going.After their chat David’s plan became obvious, he encouraged Uriah to go back to his home and refresh himself, but Uriah chose not to go. When David found out he tried to convince Uriah that he had earned a break and he really should go home. Uriah was insistent though, he didn’t think it fair that he enjoy the comforts of home, including sex with his wife while the rest of army were camping in the open. David didn’t give up, although he pretended to, and told Uriah to stay for a couple of days and then he could go back to the battle. He managed to get Uriah drunk, but still he wouldn’t go home.It is possible that Bathsheba didn’t even know Uriah was back in Jerusalem, there was probably gossip about, but she may have been kept ignorant. David’s plan was clear, if Uriah would go home and sleep with his wife, then they could suggest that the child was his and everything would go back to the way it was. But Uriah wouldn’t play along. Finally David came to the conclusion that if he couldn’t pass off the pregnancy as being due to Uriah then he needed to get rid of him and provide the way for him, David to marry Bathsheba. Was Bathsheba consulted about this, did she agree to it, was she part of the plan? The bible doesn’t say and there are many opinions.The next day David completed his plan, he wrote a letter to Joab and handed it to Uriah to pass to him. He was giving Uriah his own death sentence. He wanted Joab to find the most dangerous place of the battle and put Uriah right at the front of it. Once he was in position the rest of the troops were to abandon him so that he would be killed. There was no subtlety and no way this act of murder could be kept secret, but the description of the battle suggests that Joab didn’t entirely follow David’s instructions. Joab did place Uriah in the place where the battle was fierce but he and others fought alongside him. Uriah did get killed as David had intended though and Joab sent a messenger to David to tell him.Somehow Bathsheba heard that her husband had been killed, though apparently not from David. Since she announced that she was pregnant there is no record of any conversation between them and even now she has found out, probably by a messenger. She mourned the death of her husband probably for the customary period of seven days. Was she genuinely upset or secretly pleased because now she might escape the penalty of adultery? We are not told. Bathsheba may have been genuinely committed to Uriah, but was abused by David and pregnant as the result, her future was not good and she had to deal with the pain, anguish and shame of the assault without the support she needed. Alternatively, she may have foolishly given into temptation and opportunity and faced the prospect of her whole life being ruined and possibly being punished and at the very least being thrown out of her home.David didn’t deny his own failure and took Bathsheba into his own house as his wife. Subsequently she bore him a son, but their trials were not over. The sin that David tried to cover up and the subsequent murder of Uriah was entirely his responsibility, and God was going to deal with him because of it.
  1. How do the actions of Uriah compare with those of David?
  2. How do you think Bathsheba felt when she heard of the death of her husband?
  3. An abuse or a moment of foolishness -what do you think? Why was David held entirely responsible?


  1. A Tragic result
    2 Samuel 12:1-24Uriah was dead and David had taken Bathsheba as a wife, he did not deny that he was the father of the yet unborn child but did not accept responsibility either. He may have thought that as king he was free to do as he pleased and after all there does not seem to have been any outcry from the people or the family of either Uriah or Bathsheba. There may have been of course, and it is just not recorded. But God had being watching and he was very displeased.God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin, he used a parable about a rich man seizing a pet lamb from a poor family for himself rather than use one of his own sheep to feed a guest. David was outraged at the story and the selfishness and thoughtlessness of the rich man and declared that the man deserved to die or should at  least compensate the family four times over. Nathan declared to David, “you are that man” and proceeded to announce God’s judgement on him. The child Bathsheba bore would die, he would have bloodshed and conflict within his own family, would always be at war, and his own wives would be given to others. David had acted in secret, but God would punish him publicly.Bathsheba gave birth to a son, but he became fatally sick. While David thought there was a chance his son may be healed he fasted and prayed sincerely, desperately and earnestly, but as God had said he would, the child died. Nothing is said of how Bathsheba coped during this period. This was her son, the circumstances of the pregnancy were not what she would have wanted – but he was her son. In today’s morally bankrupt world there would be many who would argue that this was a good result, after all he was the result of abuse or rape and an abortion would have been a reasonable option. This would not be how the people of Bathsheba’s day would have believed. A child was a blessing, a gift from God to be valued above all else. Abortion was never going to be an option and the loss of a child was grieved.It is evident that God held David entirely responsible for the events leading to Bathsheba’s pregnancy, she is never condemned nor criticized. Judgement was pronounced on David – he would bear the consequence of the sin. However Bathsheba would lose her child, she would endure the pain that would cause. Verse 24 tells us that David comforted Bathsheba after the death of her son, this does not seem to be something that is usual for David and that part of his nature is not remarked on. Infant mortality was high in their day, scholars say between 30 and 40% of all live births, and the death of a child was not a remarkable event although still traumatic, especially for the mother. We are not told how Bathsheba acted, whether like David she fasted and prayed or struggled with her own mental health, we do know that she needed to be comforted. The death of a child is always traumatic, probably the most difficult funerals I have conducted are for babies. Now there are counseling services and support groups to help parents deal with the grief and anguish of loss, that was not the case in Bathsheba’s day. As in the case of he events around he first contact with David, Bathsheba is not given a voice and the story focuses on David and his sin rather than her pain.David’s response to Bathsheba seems more sympathetic than he had been to other wives, though Margaret Mowczko suggests that this meant that he had sex with her (‘A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba’ 2014). Bathsheba became pregnant and in due time gave birth to another son, who David named Solomon.
  1. David thought that he had got away with his behaviour, but God had other ideas. What do you think of that?
  2. Can you relate to Bathsheba?
  3. There is a suggestion here that life just moves on despite the tragic events. Is that possible?


  1. The Queen Mother
    1 Kings 1:1-48As the years go by Bathsheba fades from the story and does not reappear until King David is very old and sick. In the years that have passed since the tragic death of Bathsheba’s first son and the subsequent birth of Solomon the story continues with the rape of David’s daughter, Tamar by his eldest son Amnon, her half-brother. In revenge her full brother Absalom killed Amnon (2 Samuel 13). Absalom was then exiled and later rebelled against his father, but David defeated the rebels (chapter 14–19). This is followed by yet another rebellion, led by the Benjaminite Bichri, which too is put down (chapter 20).David was no longer able to rule as he once had and as his health failed him his servants decided he needed a young woman to sleep with him, not for sexual purposes but to keep him warm, it is probable that David had become politically and sexually impotent. They found the most beautiful young woman they could and gave her the task of looking after David. Once a leader had lost signs of virility and strength it was expected that he be moved aside or disposed of. It was not appropriate to have an impotent king! Almost immediately Adonijah who was the son that was presumably next in line for the throne, realizing that David was no longer up to the job decided to set himself up as king.Adonijah didn’t consult with David or Nathan the chief prophet but gathered his followers together and held a party at which he declared that he was going to be king. Neither Nathan nor Solomon were invited. Nathan understandably was worried, not just because he was a supporter of Bathsheba and Solomon but because it was likely that they and he would be killed as potential rivals if Adonijah did become king. So he formed a plan with Bathsheba to go to David, tell him what Adonijah had done and to remind him of a promise he had made. Nathan told Bathsheba to speak to David and tell him how presumptuously Adonijah had acted, and that he was in fact trying to take the kingship from David before he was ready. He was also going to be asked to remember the promise he had made many years before that Solomon would be king. There is no record in the bible that this promise was ever made, but Nathan would come along later and confirm that he too knew about it. Some Jewish writers state that Bathsheba insisted on this promise before she would agree to sleep with David after the death of her son, but this is probably an invention to explain what is not written.Bathsheba and Nathan both carried out their parts and David responded as they hoped he would. He recalled his promise, whether or not he had actually made it, and immediately arranged for Solomon to be crowned as king, but without informing Adonijah. A great ceremony was held with sacrifices and various rituals together with much feasting and drinking which Adonijah inevitably heard about. On asking what it was for he was told that Solomon had been crowned King and now his own life was in danger. All of his supporters had deserted him and now he expected to be executed. Solomon’s first act as King in waiting was to decide Adonijah’s fate, when Adonijah asked for mercy, Solomon agreed provided that He acted in a worthy manner.

    Bathsheba was now the Queen Mother, the most powerful woman in all of Israel. She had a conspiratorial relationship with Nathan who had stood beside her as David was convicted of his offence against her. He also co-named Solomon, Jedidiah which means loved by the Lord, he would now stand by her as Solomon became king. Bathsheba was now a capable political actor in royal affairs, she had risen from a young woman married to Uriah the Hittite, an otherwise unknown wife of a soldier. Throughout the scripture she is referred to as the wife of Uriah and only once, after the death of her son, as David’s wife and yet now she is a person of significant influence, authority and power. God had raised Bathsheba from the most tragic of circumstances to play a major role in the future of Israel.

  1. What do you think of Bathsheba’s rise to power?
  2. Why is Bathsheba always called the wife of Uriah the Hittite?
  3. Should an event in the past shape a person’s future?


  1. The King is dead, long live the king
    1 Kings 2:13-25King David died and Solomon formerly took over the throne. The first recorded event was a request made by Solomon’s brother Adonijah to Bathsheba that she approach Solomon with a request that he be given his father’s maid, the beautiful Abishag as a wife. Just as Nathan had done earlier, Adonijah recognized that Bathsheba was a person of influence and diplomacy who could speak to the king on his behalf. On the surface it seems that Bathsheba had no problem with the request and agreed to present it to the new king, her son Solomon.While Bathsheba raised no objection it seems unlikely that she would not understand what the implications of Adonijah’s request would be. While David had not had sexual relations with Abishag she was considered to be his concubine and when a rival married or slept with one of the wives (or concubines) of the previous king it implied that they had taken the king’s place. When David’s son Absalom rebelled and set himself up as king in his father’s place he publicly and openly had sex with the concubines that David left behind in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 16:20-22). He was demonstrating the political impotence of his father, and it was time for him, Absalom to take over. Bathsheba would have been aware of this and yet agreed to represent Adonijah with his request.Solomon did not need to have the implications of Adonijah’s request explained to him. He knew immediately what was being suggested, it can only be assumed that Adonijah believed either that Solomon was naive, that he, himself was foolish or was badly advised. Whatever the case Solomon spelled it out: “And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom also, for he is my older brother, and on his side are Abiathar the priest and Joab the son of Zeruiah.” He answered his mother, then he ordered Adonijah’s execution. He had made a vow that he would not put him to death as long as he acted worthily, but now he hadn’t and Solomon was free to have him killed. Once the sentence was carried out Solomon ordered the exile of the High Priest and the execution of Joab, the commander of the army. Solomon had now established himself with unrivalled power and authority.

    It is suggested that by acting the way she did Bathsheba orchestrated the whole thing. She knew how Solomon would react to Adonijah so just pretended to genuinely present his request. She established a strong power base for Solomon and for herself a Queen mother, their relative positions were secure. Professor Karl S. Ehrlich writing in the states: ‘The picture that thus emerges of Bathsheba in 1 Kings 1–2 is of a consummate political player, who is quite capable of working within the system available to her to advance her position and that of her son through a targeted program of manipulation, whether of David to appoint Solomon coregent or of Solomon to have Adonijah permanently removed’. It is possible to have a more sympathetic view that acknowledges Bathsheba’s genuine desire to care for her dying husband and secure her own and her son’s future without the suggestion of political manipulation.

    Claude Mariottini sums it up this way: ‘We must salute Bathsheba, a wise mother and skillful strategist who was successful in helping her son achieve his goals in life. Although Bathsheba had to live with the man who murdered her husband, although she had to grieve the loss of a child, and although she was put aside in her old age for a younger woman, Bathsheba was able to overcome these tragedies and achieve a position in life where she was able to help her son and make a significant contribution to the political life in her son’s government.’

  1. Do you agree with Mariottini’s summary?
  2. Have you changed your opinion’s abut Bathsheba in any way?
  3. What has God spoken to you about through this story?


  1. A Widow will provide
    1 Kings 17:8-16It was the middle of a drought and Elijah the prophet was hiding out from King Ahab by a stream near Cherith. King Ahab ‘did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him’ (1 Kings 16:33) and Elijah had confronted him to deliver God’s judgment. It was not going to rain again until God said so. There would be drought and famine and many would suffer because of Ahab. Once he delivered his message Elijah headed off to the stream where God miraculously provided for him. But the stream ran dry and he gave Elijah new directions. He was to go to a town called Zarephath where a widow would provide for him.Zarephath was a distance of about 140 -160 kms away in the kingdom of Phoenicia, which was ruled over by the father of King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel. This was a heathen place that worshipped false God’s, Zarephath had not escaped the famine and drought; why would God send Elijah there? Not only that but apparently he was going to be provided for by a widow, with no income, little food and in the middle of a drought. Elijah was going to be looked after by a poor, destitute, Gentile woman so off he went as God instructed him.

    Elijah arrived at the gate of the city where he saw a widow gathering sticks. She would have been identifiable by the widow’s clothes that she wore. He called on her to give him some water, and as she turned to go he added that she should bring him something to eat as well. The widow, who is never named, was probably exasperated – who was this man, where did he come from, what right did he have to demand food and water from her? She told him that she was about to use the last of her resources for herself and her son and then they would both die – they had nothing left. Elijah persisted though and told her that God had promised that he would provide for all three of them. He must have been very convincing because the widow went and did what he asked.

    Life was tough for widows, unless their spouses and fathers were or had been wealthy; they were socially and economically marginalized, and barely able to survive when things were good and clearly at-risk during droughts like this one. This widow had a young son and clearly not the supports that she needed. She was not of the same people as Elijah and didn’t worship the same God as he did but his God had said that he had commanded a widow to provide for him, and this must have been her. How did God command her? It is not mentioned in the bible, neither does it seem that she was waiting for him to arrive, but somehow God had commanded her and she did as Elijah asked. God had also told Elijah that he would provide for him in that place, not somewhere else. If he wanted God’s provision then he needed to go where God had sent him, because that was where the provision was.

    God prepared a gentile woman to provide food and shelter for one of his prophets, a man who was being hunted by his own king and was destitute. She had responded with remarkable faith by giving the last of her meagre resources to this foreigner because he convinced her that his God would provide. He had also shown remarkable faith by believing that a poor gentile woman that worshipped a pagan God would provide for him. God had prepared the widow in advance to meet the need that would come. Likewise he has prepared in advance whatever you need in the place that he has told you to go to. It may be that his provision comes through the most unexpected means or by more regular circumstances. But he will always provide for you when you are in the place he wants you to be.

  1. How would you react if God were to tell you to do something like he told Elijah to do?
  2. Elijah had to be prepared to accept help from a poor widow, how do you feel about accepting help?
  3. The widow had to be prepared to give everything she had in the hope of getting something better, are you?


  1. The Challenge of Home life
    1 Kings 17:8-16The widow and her son were in difficult circumstances. There had been a famine for some time and she was down to the ingredients for her last meal. There was no social security system in Zarephath and it does not appear that she had friends or family to draw on. Now an unknown traveller arrives insisting that she feed him out of her last remaining food supply. The widow fully expected to die, the prospect of watching her son starve to death in front of her must have been devastating and yet she responded to Elijah’s request and provided for him. Few, if any of us would have experienced the enormity of the distress this woman would have felt and yet all of us understand the pressures of having to cope with the demands of the world with limited resources. The pressure on relationships and frayed emotions when added demands are placed on us cause us to act in ways we would rather not, and the atmosphere of the home can be anything but calm and peaceful. But this is the home that Elijah was called to.

    There was no male figure, apart from the son, in the home and the fact of Elijah living there may have raised some questions among the neighbours. What was this widow doing opening her house to a foreigner? What would this do to her reputation? The evidence of her having no family to support her or others involved in her life suggest she was already cut off from the community, and this would only add to the gossip that may already exist. On top of this there is no record of Elijah having any experience as a father or family man and now he was going to live with this woman and her son for some time. As a Jew he shouldn’t be spending time with one of these godless people, let alone start living with her! What would people say, what about his reputation as a prophet? He was going to be forced to deal with all the challenges of home life without the benefit of being eased into it. How was he expected to cope with the burdens of being part of a home in difficult circumstances? What preparation did he have for dealing with the highly charged emotional atmosphere of a single mother and her son coping with every day needs when they didn’t have the resources to meet them? How was Elijah going to conduct himself and maintain his testimony as a righteous man? How was the widow going to adjust to having a middle aged man in her house as well as a son who she was already struggling to care for?

    Most of us are familiar with the demands of every day home life. They can be frustrating and challenging. Things don’t always go as they are planned and not everyone in the household shares the same dreams and expectations. This widow had no expectations, she had run out of food and she expected to die. At least that is what she told Elijah, she may have exaggerated a little, but she had no hope beyond the day. Now someone has come into her life and turned everything upside down. Not only did she have hope there would be a tomorrow, even though there was no evidence that things would be different, she had reason to look forward. For his part Elijah was being prepared in the most difficult of places to maintain faith and integrity, the home!

    With the every day pressures of life the home is a difficult place to display the fruit of the Spirit and the other characteristics of a faithful believer, how much harder would it be in the circumstances that the widow was confronted by and which Elijah had been thrust into. Elijah had a great work to do, but he would not be ready until he had been prepared in the home of this poor, foreign widow that had abandoned all hope.

  1. Why would God use a poor widow to prepare Elijah?
  2. Do you think the home is the hardest place to be consistent as a believer?
  3. How is God using your home to prepare you and the others that share it for the challenges ahead?


  1. The loss of a son
    1 Kings 17:17-24

    The unnamed widow, her son and Elijah lived together for some time, surviving on food and water miraculously supplied by God. The famine was severe and no doubt others around the widow had not been as fortunate as she was. There would have been sickness and death as people confronted the harsh reality of drought and famine. Elijah had promised that God would supply, and he did, the widow’s trust in Elijah and the command of God had been rewarded and they had formed some sort of domestic arrangement while Elijah waited for the next set of instructions from God. He no doubt was anxiously looking for God to tell him what to do next, the King was searching for him, he was surrounded by the dead and dying and living with a poor woman and her son. All of this caused by his words to King Ahab that it would not rain until he said it would. The widow no doubt was hoping for the drought to end so that she and her son could resume whatever was for her a normal life. The atmosphere in the home would not be one of joy and laughter, but tension and uncertainty.

    One day, further tragedy struck, the widow’s son became ill, and it became so severe that he died. For this lonely woman grief was added to her fragile existence. Her immediate response was to blame Elijah, it was his fault, God was using him to remind her of her sins and God’s judgement was to kill her son. She no doubt spoke out of intense grief and didn’t wonder why God would preserve her son’s life only to take it from him, or why Elijah would be sent to provide food and water if God was only going to judge her for past deeds. When things go wrong we often look for someone or something to blame and logic disappears. And Elijah and through him, God, became this widow’s target. We are not told what the widow had done that was so serious she thought God would take the life of her son, but it may explain why she was living isolated from her community and family. Elijah didn’t argue, or defend himself, he didn’t agree with her and point out her failures or sin, he simply made a request: ‘Give me your son’. What would be the widow’s reaction? Would there be a glimmer of hope that there would be a miracle of healing, or would she be full of apprehension as she wondered what next would happen, she couldn’t take much more. She had been ready to die, but given some extra time and hope – would that be stolen away? “’Give me your son’, why, how, his death is your fault why should I trust you?”

    Elijah took the boy from his mother’s arms, did she reluctantly let him go or confidently hand him over? We are not told but her anguish would have been real as Elijah took him away. We have the benefit of knowing what happened next, but she didn’t as she waited downstairs with hope mixed with fear. A short time later Elijah came down the stairs and presented the widow’s son back to her – alive! Elijah gave no explanation, didn’t comment on her lack of faith or how she should have trusted God all along, he just said: “See, your son lives.” The Bible text is short on detail but I expect there would have been tears of joy and relief, hope was restored, she had her son back, life had meaning once again.  Any doubts the widow had vanished as she turned to Elijah and said “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” Did this widow need her son to die to be convinced? She had seen miracles and lived with a prophet but still doubted, if this is so, that is an extreme lesson but still an evidence of God’s unlimited grace and mercy. God used this woman and her home to prepare Elijah, and he used Elijah to bring hope and life to her and her family.

  1. When things go wrong do we assume it because of some past failure or try to find someone to blame?
  2. How easy is it to think logically when we are emotionally hurting?
  3. What evidence do you need that God is real and he cares for you?



Women of Zarephath

  1. An Obscure woman
    Luke 4:24-26All that we know of the woman of Zarephath is that she was a widow, she had a young son and was isolated from her community. She had very limited resources and was not a Jew. We can assume that she had committed some offence which had resulted in her isolation and possibly meant she was living with guilt and shame. At the time Elijah encountered her she had lost hope and had no expectations for the future. But we also know that God had somehow prepared this woman to provide for Elijah who was on the run from King Ahab.At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he stood in the synagogue and read from the prophet Isaiah, then he sat down and began to talk. When his hearers began to question what right this carpenter’s son had to speak with them he answered by saying that a prophet was honoured everywhere except in his home town. Then Jesus referred to the widow of Zarephath and said to them that there were plenty of widows in Israel but God chose this woman, a foreigner to provide for Elijah. His point was that if his people rejected his prophets then he would send them elsewhere, even to gentiles. The listeners were angered by this because they believed that only they deserved God’s mercy, the idea that God would ignore the people of Israel in favour of a gentile woman was offensive to them.Even now there are those that resent the idea that God might bless or begin a great work in a church or denomination that is not the one they belong to. Or another country than theirs will be blessed, when of course theirs is the most important and best there is. God extended mercy to this woman who was at the lowest point in society, in doing so he overlooked others that could have met Elijah’s need. As Elijah walked from the stream at Cherith to Zarephath he would have passed many needy people that would have benefited from God’s care and yet he chose this woman and seems to have ignored them. God did not seek out the rich and famous the influencers or celebrities, not the rich and powerful but a poor, foreign widow who had given up hope.God still chooses those who he knows will believe in his promise and respond in faith. They will probably still doubt and only reluctantly follow him, but they will follow and they will trust him and he chooses them. These people may without knowing provide encouragement and support to others God has sent their way, they may be expected to act in a way that seems ridiculous or risky, but will respond in hope. These will be people just like you and me. When life is hard, circumstances difficult, resources limited , when you have nothing left to give it is then that God may speak to you about an opportunity he has prepared for you.
    Like the widow, God may ask you to give that little you have left, he may ask you to give up the one thing you value above all else and he wants you to do this based only your faith that he will provide. You may think you are obscure, just someone making their way, not well known or a particularly high achiever, just a normal person without much to offer, but God says to you, ‘give me what you have’ and I will bless and multiply what you give me. God said that he had commanded the widow before he told Elijah to go to her. Listen for the voice of God preparing you for an opportunity you have not even begun to think about yet!
  1. Do you believe God can use you to be essential to something he has planned?
  2. What limitations prevent you from stepping out in faith to something new?
  3. Do you actively listen for God’s voice? How do you do that?


  1. The Silence is broken
    Luke 1:5-7There was a succession of kings in Israel and Judah, some of whom were good but others were not. The kings and their subjects consistently rebelled against God and tested him, still prophets and godly leaders were sent to turn them back to true worship. Inevitably the disloyalty of the people led to them being taken into exile after the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed about 600 years before Jesus was born. The Jews were given permission to return and more than 100 years later a second temple was built and while Jewish governors were appointed they remained under the authority of the Persian kingdom. A number of prophets were sent by God to challenge his people, the last one being Malachi about 400 years before Jesus, then there was silence.In those silent years there was a succession of conflicts resulting in the Jewish people being ruled by the Greeks, Egyptian, Syrians and then the Romans, then in 37 BC The Roman Emperor appointed Herod the Great as king of the Jews. Herod was not a Jew, his father was an Idumean and his mother the daughter of an Arab Sheik, his main purpose was to serve the interests of Rome and he did this in whatever way he could. He was married ten times and executed at least one of his wives as well as several of his sons. Any rival was quickly disposed of and all of his decisions were aimed at preserving his own position. He upset the Sadducees by getting rid of the Royal House of which they were a part and the Pharisees by breaking the law of Moses. When he erected a statue of an eagle, the symbol of the Roman Empire on the Temple in the middle of Jerusalem he earned the hatred of the majority of the faithful Jews.God was silent and the religious leader had no true faith. Many of the Jews had exchanged the true worship of God for a compromised religion that still maintained the symbols of their faith but none of its vitality or integrity. It was a dark place and yet they longed for the promised deliverer, the Messiah who would come and restore them as the kingdom of God and evict the foreign rulers from their land. Where would this hope come from? Where was the promised King and deliverer? Who would set them free? God had a plan and to prepare the way and he chose a most unlikely couple.Elizabeth and Zechariah were an obscure couple even though they had an impeccable religious pedigree. The parents of both of them were priests, and Zechariah followed in the footsteps of his father, what better choice for a wife could there be than the daughter of a priest? Both of them are described as righteous and that they were blameless in all of God’s commands and laws. What a remarkable testimony! They were near perfect, Zechariah had even been chosen to serve in the temple, a once in a lifetime opportunity. But there was a cloud on their horizon, Elizabeth couldn’t have children. The one thing that would fulfil Elizabeth’s hopes was a child, specifically a son. A son was necessary to carry on the family line, but also to provide for his mother if his father died, nothing was more important. The Jews understood the law in Deuteronomy 7:12–14 to mean that childlessness was a sign of God’s disfavour or sin and a woman who could not conceive was the subject of ridicule and scorn. Yet both Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous and blameless, what had gone wrong?The couple were now elderly and past the point of being able to produce children and yet their faith remained consistent, they didn’t give up but continued to worship and serve as well as they were able. God chose this couple to prepare the way for the restoration of his kingdom. After over 400 years of silence God would speak and it would to be to this unknown, elderly couple who thought their opportunities in life and gone. He still had a purpose for them.
  1. Can you see any similarities between the time of Herod and our times?
  2. The Jews looked in hope for someone to come and deliver them, what is our hope placed in?
  3. Why would God choose an old, impotent couple to prepare the way to announce the coming of the Kingdom?


  1. An Extraordinary promise
    Luke 1:8-25Priestly service in the temple was decided by drawing lots from within the priesthood. There were so many of them that each priest would only have one or two opportunities in his life time. Zechariah had been chosen and he was serving in the temple where among other things he would offer up prayers for the people. He may never have been at the altar of incense before and may have been unsure what to expect, but what he did not expect was to be joined by an angel. Understandably he was both troubled and afraid and the angels first words were “do not be afraid”. Whether the angel’s words had the effect of calming Zechariah is not said but what he said next would really have been unsettling.The angel said Zechariah’s prayers had been heard and his wife would have a son! While praying for the people as his priestly role required Zechariah may have offered a special request for his wife, or it may have been the undoubtedly countless prayers that he and she had offered over the years. He may have been praying for so long that he didn’t really expect an answer, but now an angel had turned up to tell him that not only had his prayers been heard, but he would have a son, and in fact he would call him John. The angel went on to tell Zechariah the plan God had for his son’s life, how he should live and what he would achieve.Zechariah had hope but now when faced with an impossible answer to his prayers his faith failed him and he asked for proof. The angel replied that he was one that stood before God, how could Zechariah question him? So he gave him proof, Zechariah would not speak again until after his son was born. He had just been given the most exciting news possible but would be unable to share it, how would he tell Elizabeth and would she believe him? Zechariah obviously had stayed in the temple longer than usual and the crowd outside were getting restless, what was keeping him? Was he O.K.? Had he had a heart attack or had God struck him down? They didn’t know what had happened in the temple and when Zechariah finally emerged he was frantically using hand signals trying to communicate something. He could not speak, how do you tell someone that your elderly wife who was beyond the age she could have a child was actually going to get pregnant in sign language? He kept trying to make them understand and eventually they thought that he must have seen a vision and so left him be. We might expect that with such a burden on his heart he would have hurried home, but he did not. He waited util he had finished his service which was not until twilight at the end of the day (Numbers 28:3), and then he went home.Some days later Elizabeth did conceive, had Zechariah managed to convey the angel’s words or was this entirely unexpected for her? We are only told that once she found out she kept herself hidden. Why did she do that, it was not normal practice? Perhaps as is often the case today she wanted to be sure that her pregnancy was far enough advanced to be certain, maybe it was because she was physically having a difficult time. Whatever the reason Elizabeth did not shout her pregnancy from the rooftops, she told no one about the child growing inside her. She quietly accepted this extraordinary gift from God, and anticipated the time when the disgrace she had endured will turn to joy.
  1. Have you been praying for something for so long you don’t really expect an answer?
  2. If God were to promise you a miracle would you believe it?
  3. Zechariah continued his work and Elizabeth said nothing, how would you react?


  1. A Surprise visit
    Luke 1:39-56When Elizabeth was six months pregnant she had returned home and her young cousin made a surprise visit. Mary had just been told by the same angel that had spoken with Zachariah that she was going to have a baby. Now Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph but they had not had sex and she was a virgin, the idea that she would be pregnant would ordinarily be unbelievable and of course there were many who would think impossible, and that Mary had been immoral and unfaithful. Mary had been told that the child she would bear was the result of the Holy Spirit ‘overshadowing her’ and he would be the son of the Most High God and would be the promised king. Elizabeth’s own miraculous pregnancy was offered as evidence that God would do as the angel had said and now Mary had hurried to meet her.It may be that Mary went for some reassurance or support, it could also be argued that once her pregnancy became known she would be threatened by an unbelieving community that would be convinced she had been unfaithful and she wanted to escape their accusations. Others have suggested she went to escape the anger of her parents while others take the opposite view that her parents sent her for her own protection. We don’t know the reason she went but once she arrived Elizabeth welcomed her. When Mary called out to Elizbeth the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumped for joy, this was not just the kick she might usually expect but something much more significant and Elizabeth knew that Mary was somehow special and God had amazing plans for her. She knew that Mary was pregnant even though there would be no physical evidence and prophetically she described Mary as the ‘mother of her lord’.The Angel had told Zechariah that the child he and Elizabeth would bring into the world would prepare the way for the Lord, but had he been able to explain that to Elizabeth? He could not speak and although he could write it would have been difficult to explain all the angel had said. But Elizabeth knew and recognized that God had spoken to Mary and perhaps the child she would bear was part of God’s plan for the son Mary would produce. It is likely that Mary and Elizabeth exchanged more words than are recorded here, Mary probably had questions about Elizabeth’s pregnancy and what she should expect. She may also have asked advice of her elderly relative of how she would cope with the scrutiny of others, and the response of Joseph and her family. Mary was little more than a child, probably a young teenager, and Elizabeth an elderly woman and yet they shared a miraculous intervention by God and were bound together in God’s redemptive plan for mankind. They had much to talk about.

    Mary launched into a song which reflected her understanding of her nation’s history and reflects the words of Hannah who had also experienced the miraculous intervention of God in the birth of her son Samuel. Elizabeth would have listened to the words Mary recited and wondered at the humility, faith and strength of this young girl and may also have also anxiously thought ahead to how Mary would manage throughout her pregnancy. She would no doubt have also reflected on how the paths of the two promised sons would cross and in what ways they would share in the great redemptive plan of God.

    Mary remained with Elizabeth for three months, probably leaving just prior to the birth of John. By now she was three months pregnant and there was no way she could hide her pregnancy, so no doubt apprehensively, she returned home.

  1. Do you think Zachariah was able to explain everything to Elizabeth or did God reveal it himself?
  2. In what way could Elizabeth as older, righteous person counsel Mary?
  3. Do you think Elizabeth wondered about what the future held for her son? What would her hopes have been?


  1. It’s time
    Luke 1:57-80With its usual understatement the bible announces that the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth and she delivers a son. Despite her age it seems that Elizabeth’s pregnancy and childbirth were without incident and her friends and relatives heard about it and came to celebrate. Whether she had support during the birth is not stated, but the community realized that this birth was an expression of God’s mercy. There is nothing to suggest that at this stage they thought there was any special significance other than it was miraculous because of Elizabeth’s age. But they came and no doubt celebrated in the way families do at the birth of a child. Zachariah was still unable to speak and was a silent observer, though no doubt he made his feelings known with signs and gestures.The Jewish law required that a male child be circumcised when he was eight days old. This was a sign of his consecration to God and acceptance into the nation of Israel. So on that day the relatives came to assist in the ceremony. This was the time when the child would normally be named by his parents and so when the time came they presumed he would be called Zachariah after his father. Elizabeth prevented them though and told them that he would be called John. It seems that the relatives (whoever they were) were pushy though because they argued with Elizabeth and when she insisted they decided to go over her head and ask Zachariah. He was probably unable to hear as well as being unable to speak, because they communicated to him with signs rather than just asking him. He may have been standing there looking on while Elizabeth and the relatives were arguing and wondered what was happening, but now they included him. When Zachariah understood what he was being asked he requested that he be given a writing tablet on which he wrote: ‘His name is John’.  This came as a surprise to the group gathered around, but a greater shock was to follow immediately, he began to speak!

    Zachariah’s first words were to bless God, but the response of the neighbours and relatives was fear. What had happened, what had they just witnessed? Now they realized this was something more than a child born to a woman in her old age as miraculous as that was. They went from that place and talked among themselves and no doubt to anyone who would listen about what they had seen wondering what would become of this child.

    Zachariah though was the second person in the New Testament to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the first was Elizabeth. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit Zachariah pronounced a prophesy pointing to the coming of the Messiah. In the original language of the New Testament the entire prophesy is one sentence and our English translations have added some punctuation which makes it a little easier to read. Once his words were complete both he and Elizabeth disappear from the Biblical record. We don’t hear of them again. Some traditions suggest that they died shortly afterward and their son, John was placed in the care of the Essenes, a devout group of Jews living in the desert that were known to adopt children and train them in their ways. There is no evidence of that but there are similarities between the way John later described himself and the Essenes. All we know is that he was in the wilderness growing in wisdom and strength until he began his public ministry.

  1. The last words we know that Elizabeth spoke are, ‘’his name is John” she then disappears from the story, why is that?
  2. What emotions do you think Elizabeth was experiencing knowing what her son would become?
  3. Elizabeth had to deal with her pushy relatives without the vocal support of her husband, how would she feel?


  1. Meanwhile in Galilee
    Luke 1:26-38While Elizabeth was preparing herself for the coming birth of her promised son, the angel that had spoken to her husband had travelled to Galilee. He found his way to the home of a young girl called Mary where he was going to deliver a message that would turn her world upside down. Mary was engaged to be married to a local carpenter named Joseph but the marriage was still some time off and they hadn’t had any intimate relations. In the days of Mary the custom was that a formal agreement would be entered into by the parents of the bride to be and her future husband in which they committed to the future marriage. A consideration called a bride price or dowry would be agreed and a date set. In the meantime the groom would go and prepare a house that he would take his wife to on their wedding night and in the meantime she would live with her parents. The betrothal or engagement was a binding agreement that could only be terminated by divorce or death of one of the partners.

    I don’t know if Mary was used to having angels visit, but she didn’t see surprised when he arrived, but she was shocked by his message. First of all he declared that Mary was favoured by God and that he was with her. What could that mean, was he preparing her for something else, why would she be especially favoured by God, and why would an angel be sent to deliver the message? It is likely that Mary was a young teenager, perhaps 14 years of age, and she may have been mature but this was outside of anything she had experienced. We are told that she tried to discern what sort of message this was, and the next thing she heard was ‘don’t be afraid’, that probably didn’t help. The angel went on to reinforce that she had found favour with God and not only was she going to have a baby but she would call him Jesus and he was going to rule forever!

    A lot of what the angel said may not have sunk in as Mary tried to make sense of what the angel said and in our language she said something like, “Well that’s not going to happen, I am still a virgin. Joseph and I haven’t even had sex yet’. She didn’t comment on the part about her son being great, the son of the Most High God and ruler for eternity, there were some practical issues that needed to be addressed first. The angel then answered in a matter of fact sort of way, “Well that’s alright because the Holy Spirit will come and the power of the Most High God will overshadow you, and just in case you think that can’t happen, your cousin Elizabeth who is old and past the time of being able to have children is now six months pregnant- see, nothing is too difficult for God”.

    Whether Mary understood or was in shock she responded, “Ok then, I’m fine with whatever you say”. Of course Mary probably didn’t speak like that, she was no doubt far more reverent, but the angel didn’t stay around to answer questions, he departed from her. The Bible deals with one of the most, if not the most, significant event in history and deals with it in a couple of paragraphs without much detail. I, perhaps like some others want to know more. How did Mary feel, was she anxious, nervous, worried? How would she tell her parents, what about Joseph? What would the neighbours say, where would she live, how would she cope? Why me? Was that real, or was I dreaming? Did that angel say something about me being the mother of king, was he serious? How can that happen?

    Mary was an ordinary young girl with not much life experience, how would she cope with what she heard, what would she do next?

  1. Whatever God has asked you to do it cannot compare with what was being expected of Mary – how do you respond when God challenges you?
  2. Do you think Mary entirely understood what the angel had said?
  3. Mary was young, do we sometimes assume children are too young to accept a challenge to do something extraordinary?


  1. When was he told?
    Matthew 1:18-21

    This is one of the questions that the bible doesn’t give us an answer to – when did Mary tell Joseph she was pregnant, or did he find out some other way? Once the angel had made his announcement to Mary she headed off to spend time with her cousin Elizabeth, she and Joseph may not have had much contact at that time even though they knew that they were to be married sometime in the future. Did she tell him before she went, or three months later when she came back and her pregnancy was becoming obvious?

    Before Mary left to visit Elizabeth there would have been no physical evidence of her pregnancy, if we assume that she became pregnant immediately after the angels visit. If, as a young girl with possibly the same romantic notions common to her age and expected future as other girls, Mary was to tell people that she was pregnant even though she had never had any intimate relations with a man, –without the physical changes to back up her claim, she would have been dismissed as a dreamer or worse. Who would believe her? Even if she didn’t add the part about the angel and her future son being the son of God. Mary was probably still trying to process what all this meant and is more likely to have kept it to herself. Other than the fact that Luke tells us that she left in haste, we don’t know how long she waited before going to Elizabeth or what explanation she gave for going. Certainly when she arrived Elizabeth recognized her as the future mother of God’s son.

    When Mary returned home she was at least three months pregnant and presumably showing evidence of that. Even with the loose clothing worn by women, the close living environment would have made it impossible to hide at the very least from her family. What would the reaction of her family be? Would they believe her, what would they tell Joseph, did they think the child was his? Should they quickly bring forward the marriage. It was not unusual for couples who were engaged to have intimate relations before being formally married and any child born was considered to be legitimate, but Joseph knew Mary’s child wasn’t his.

    Joseph’s first reaction was to get out of the marriage. He assumed Mary had been unfaithful, but because he was a ’just man’ he wasn’t willing to publicly shame Mary, but he also didn’t want to go through with the marriage. So Joseph decided to somehow divorce her quietly or privately. In a public divorce involving unfaithfulness the husband would write and read a bill of divorce out aloud in which he would point out the failure of his wife and put her to shame. When a couple were betrothed, or engaged, this was how the forthcoming marriage would be dissolved. One suggestion is that Joseph simply didn’t intend to read a bill of divorce and would just negotiate a settlement with Mary’s parents. A second opinion is that they would live as man and wife without ever consummating their marriage, sharing a home but not the marriage bed. The first suggestion is the most probable.

    Before Joseph got a chance to put his plan in place he had a visit from an angel, for him it was in a dream. The angel explained the situation to him and Joseph believed him, which shows he was not only a just and gracious man, but one of great faith also. When he woke from his dream he arranged to formally marry Mary and took her as his wife.

  1. What was going on in Mary’s mind after she heard from the Angel?
  2. What would Mary’s parent’s reaction have been to her pregnancy/
  3. What do you think of Joseph’s reactions?




  1. To Bethlehem
    Luke 2:1-7Sometimes when we are wondering what is going to happen next in our lives, how we decide about the future, what we should do, God may speak clearly through the bible, or through the words of others, and other times he just changes circumstances, even political decisions that force us to make choices we may have been reluctant to.When Mary and Joseph began their life together the Roman Emperor decided that all male citizens needed to go to the place where they were enrolled for the purposes of paying tax, this was their birthplace. For Joseph this meant a journey of about 150 kilometers from Galilee to Nazareth. It wasn’t necessary for him to take Mary, but he chose to. Luke describes Mary as ‘betrothed’ to Joseph, while Matthew identifies Joseph as Mary’s husband (Matthew 1:19). It may be that Luke was emphasizing that their marriage had not been consummated while Matthew is pointing out that legally at least they were married. Joseph chose to take Mary on this long and difficult journey, away from the security of home while pregnant and no doubt anxious. He, as a righteous Jew would have been aware of the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), but was he convinced, and would he have gone if he didn’t have to? Leon Morris comments “We should perhaps reflect that it was the combination of a decree by the emperor in distant Rome and the gossiping tongues of Nazareth that brought Mary to Bethlehem.God had arranged circumstances to remove any possibility that Joseph and Mary would fail to see the need to be in Bethlehem for the birth of his son. No doubt he could have sent an angel to tell them to go there, but he chose not to. He arranged for a godless emperor to issue a decree, that the Jewish citizens would have felt at least inconvenient and probably complained about but were forced to obey. By taking Mary with him, Joseph took her away from the critics and rumour mongers in her home town, and also, perhaps without fully realizing, he was fulfilling the words of the prophet Micah.We sometimes assume that Mary and Joseph arrived in Nazareth just at the time when she was due to give birth. That may not be the case, they may have travelled earlier but the journey would take at least a week, and Mary was entering the final stages of her pregnancy. Some commentators suggest the journey was a little as four days but as Nicole De Prue writes: “Most Bible scholars, in my experience, are men, and I don’t think they really understand what it would be like to travel as a pregnant woman in her third trimester.” Apart from travelling time, there would have been some practical demands, such as food and toilet breaks, De Prue continues, “A four-day journey [would indicate] that Joseph doesn’t care about Mary. There was no need to rush. I think Joseph would have taken a slower pace for Mary’s sake. He would have prioritized her health and safety.”They would not have been the only travellers on the road, every citizen had to return to their place of enrolment and they would be headed in each direction. This posed an additional problem for Mary and Joseph, when they arrived in the town, it was packed, there was no room in the inn. Tired, anxious, emotional, very pregnant and alone apart from Joseph, Mary now had no where to lie down and rest and prepare for the most significant event of her young life.
  1. Do you sometimes miss the part changed circumstances play in discovering God’s plan?
  2. Have you experienced a time when God forced you to make a decision by doing something you were unhappy about?
  3. Can you imagine the emotional and physical stress Mary would have experienced as she left home and headed toward Bethlehem?



  1. Shepherds and angels
    Luke 2:6-21
    The birth of Jesus, the son of God is dealt with very briefly by the gospel writers. Matthew doesn’t mention it and Luke writes: “while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son”. He does add a little detail saying that Mary wrapped her baby tightly in soft cloths called swaddling clothes, which was a completely normal thing to do. What was different from usual though was that she then placed him in an animal’s feed trough because there was no room in the inn.There has been a lot of discussion and debate about the place of Jesus birth. Most artists impressions are of a stable and frequently there are a variety of animal in attendance. Some insist that it was a cave which was sometimes used to house animals. Another view is that it was a room attached to an inn and accessible through there. Some scholars claim that the word translated ‘Inn’ is incorrect and should say ‘lodging house’. This was a large dwelling which had two levels, the upper being the place where guests slept and downstairs was where the activities of life took place and from where access to outside stables would be gained. Those that hold this view believe that Joseph would almost certainly have tried to get accommodation with a relative, it was his home town after all, but because everywhere was full they had to sleep downstairs. The manger would have been accessible from where they were. Ultimately all this is speculation and inspired guesswork. What we do know is that they found no room where they might have expected to find it and the only place for their new born child was an animal’s feed trough, the most humble of beginnings for a king.We are not told the time of Jesus birth, a very different situation than what exists for the birth of most babies today. We would expect reports of the baby’s size, weight, time of birth and name if possible and we may ask how the mother is feeling. Not so for Mary and her son. Later that day an angel paid a visit to a group of shepherds while they were keeping guard over their flock. The shepherds were understandably terrified by the appearance of the angel, and despite being told not to fear, things didn’t improve when thousands of other turned up, all of them praising God! But the angel gave them instructions and some clear directions,  when the shepherds had calmed down enough to understand what was being said. Earlier that day in the nearby town of Bethlehem a baby was born, no ordinary baby this was a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. The implication was that they should go and see him and since it was likely that more than one child would be born in Bethlehem that day the angel said not only would the baby be wrapped in swaddling clothes, which was normal, but the one they were looking for would be lying in a manger an animal’s trough, which was certainly not normal.When the angels had delivered their message they left the shepherds alone. No doubt they needed to try and make sense of what they had heard but once they made a decision they hurried into Bethlehem to check out the angelic story. After searching for the couple whose child was sleeping in a trough they found Mary and Joseph just as the angel had described. Excitedly they told all those gathered there, apparently a crowd had gathered, what they had been told, and those who heard wondered. Did they believe the story, had the shepherds been dreaming, was what they said possible? As for Mary, she knew, she had met the angel before and so had Joseph, and so she stored up all that was said to keep and work through when she had the time and space she needed.The last we hear of the shepherds is of them leaving the side of the manger and going back to their flocks but making sure they told everyone they met what they had heard and witnessed. They had come to see a baby, they left glorifying and praising God.
  1. Why do we make so much of the Christmas story when the bible is so brief in the way it reports it?
  2. The birth of Jesus was very humble, there was no fuss and no ceremony, how is that different from the way we remember it?
  3. The shepherds response to seeing the baby was extravagant worship, what will be your response to Christmas?


  1. Dedicated to God
    Luke 2:21-38The Jewish law required two specific rituals for a new born boy. The first was circumcision which was to show the child was part of God’s family descended from Abraham and at which time the baby was usually named. The second was presentation in the temple and the provision of a sacrifice. Both of these rituals represented acts of dedication to God, circumcision took place when the baby boy was 8 days old and the dedication after 40 days. During that period the mother was considered unclean, if the baby was a girl she would be unclean for 80 days and the dedication would take place after that.Mary and Joseph were committed Jews, not only because it was the the nation to which they belonged by birth but because they were committed to following God’s law. There were many who were Jews by birth but did not give evidence in their lives of any commitment to keeping God’s law. It is the same today. There are many people who attend church or live in what some people call a ‘Christian country’ but have no interest in following God’s ways or living by faith. For Mary and Joseph following God’s customs and laws was not a burden, but something which sustained their faith.After eight days Jesus was circumcised and he was named Jesus, as the Angel had instructed. In Hebrew the name Jesus is Joshua, and it means ‘’the Lord saves”, this was an indication of the purpose for which he was sent and the one for which his cousin John was sent to prepare the way. Mary and Joseph already knew the name given to their son, but at the circumcision ceremony they made it publicly known. They still had no idea what the future held for them or the son they had been entrusted with, and those thoughts probably filled their mind as they presented their son to be circumcised.When the time came Joseph and Mary travelled to the temple to present a sacrifice in thanksgiving for their son. At the time if a first born son was presented to God the parents had the opportunity to redeem or buy him back by making the correct offering. If they did not do that then, their son could either remain in the Temple or commit to a life of service. A special provision was made for those who didn’t have the resources to give the prescribed offering at the temple which was ‘a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering’ (Leviticus 12). If they were really poor they were permitted to offer two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering, this was called the ‘offering of the poor’ and it is what was presented by Mary and Joseph. The cost of redemption of the first born son was a sum of money equal to the value of a first born lamb, there is no record of that being paid by Joseph and Mary. The priest had the ability to reduce the redemption price if the parents were particularly poor and it is likely that this happened in the case of this couple.

    Mary and Joseph followed the requirements of the law exactly. They were unable to afford the sacrifice normally expected and that might indicate a lack of family support for either or both of them. However they did what the law allowed and fulfilled their responsibilities. They were both carrying the burden of a message that no one else had heard or understood and as the carried out these rituals which pointed to the coming of the Messiah they could not help but wonder what it would mean to their new family.

  1. Jesus was born in humble circumstances but God did not change them even so that they could meet the obligations. What do you think about that?
  2. It wasn’t enough to be born a Jew to become one, in what way is that the same as going to church thinking that that will make you a Christian?
  3. We are not expected to follow laws to secure our salvation but they exist to strengthen our faith – do you find God’s commands a burden or a benefit?


  1. Hope fulfilled
    Luke 2: 25-38On the day that Mary and Joseph attended the temple there were two other significant people present. One was a lady name Anna who was a widow and a prophetess who had faithfully gone to the temple every day. Anna was 84 years old and each day she would pray and fast in the temple in the hope of seeing the one who would come and bring release of Israel from captivity – the Messiah. Just at the time Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to the priest she was there worshipping God.The other significant person was an old man named Simeon. Unlike Anna it does not seem it was his practice to be always present in the temple, but on the day that Mary and Joseph were there, the Holy Spirit had led him to go. Luke describes Simeon as righteous and devout and sometime earlier, perhaps many years before the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Christ. “Christ’’ comes from the Greek word to mean the ‘anointed one’ which in Hebrew is ‘Messiah’. We are not told how the Holy Spirit revealed this to Simeon, it may have been in a dream or a visit from an angel or in some other way, but Simeon was convinced and so he waited in faith and hope.Simeon took Jesus from Mary’s arms, probably raising him up and prayed a blessing on him. Now Simeon was content, he could pass from this life knowing that God’s promise had been fulfilled. Here was the saviour, the one who bring light to the darkness, glory to Israel and revelation to the gentiles. Understandably Joseph and Mary were amazed at what they heard. The angel had revealed to each of them separately who their son was, and the shepherds had confirmed it, but now this elderly stranger is saying the same thing. Then Simeon addressed Mary, this was unusual in that the husband would normally be spoken to, but Simeon said a couple of things to Mary which may not have brought comfort. According to Simeon’s words Jesus was appointed not only to be a light to the gentiles but to bring about the rise and fall of many in Israel. That he would be opposed and Mary would have her own soul pierced, in other words she would experience great grief.

    No doubt Mary and Joseph were encouraged by the blessing they had received but now as they prepared to leave the temple their joy had been dampened by this latest message. What could it possibly mean? They understood the prophecies made about the Messiah who was to come and now they had been told a number of times that he had been born and was entrusted to them. They were a poor couple, with no resources, little support and no idea of what the future may bring. No one who is as parent for the first time has experience to draw from, and even if they have family and friends, well trained medical staff and educators available to them and the financial capacity to access the services they need it is a venture into the unknown. There is joy but there is also anxiety – will I do the right thing, what if something goes wrong, where do I go to for help? For Mary and Joseph they were not only first time parents, their son was the Messiah! How would they manage, how could they manage?

    Luke stresses that four of the main characters in the story are elderly. Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna. Four righteous and faithful but otherwise unknown people who had waited patiently and with faith for God’s promise to be fulfilled. They now fade from the picture as a young Mary and the baby, Jesus move to centre stage. The old is being taken away and the new is coming. Hope is fulfilled as the light of the world has come.

  1. Anna and Simeon waited faithfully for God’s promise to be fulfilled, they didn’t give up. How hard is it to wait?
  2. God trusted Mary and Joseph with his son, if you are a parent he has trusted you with your child. How do you handle that privilege and responsibility
  3. How hard is to recognize that you have done your part and now it is the time to move aside?


  1. Powerful visitors
    Matthew 2:1-6After the events in the temple, Joseph, Mary took Jesus home to Bethlehem and Luke is silent about the next period of their lives. They evidently settled into a home and concentrated on building their life together as a family. It may have been the house of a family member or one that they borrowed or rented but while they were there they received a deputation of important visitors.When we see pictures of the scene of Jesus birth, especially those on Christmas cards we often see three mysterious men with them. They may be called the three wise men or the magi and we are told that they travelled from the East guided by a star to the place of Jesus birth. While there were travellers from the east, they didn’t attend the birth of Jesus, and there may have been more than three of them. Matthew relates the story that wise men had travelled from the East, though he doesn’t say how many there were. These were important, powerful figures but are not identified as kings. Magi were a class of priests in Persia, and they may have had that role, or even been advisors to the king. The term wise men referred to a wide range of people whose practices included astrology, dream interpretation, study of sacred writings, the pursuit of wisdom, and magic. It is unlikely that they would travel alone but would have been accompanied by servants and assistants and possible a small army to protect them from attack. They had brought with them gifts for this baby that they believed was to be king of the Jews.

    The first stop was with King Herod who was not happy to see them. He was desperately trying to hang on to his political power and now here comes these visitors declaring that they were being led to find the king of the Jews, the title Herod claimed for himself. Once he had consulted with his own advisors and heard of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem he sent the visitors in that direction with instructions that when they found him they should come back and tell him. Herod pretended that he wanted to worship this new born king, but in reality he wanted to have him killed. The visitors went on their way and as they came near Bethlehem the star which had appeared before settled above the house where the family were living. It is described as a house but no other details are given. It may also have been as much as two years after Jesus’ birth.

    The wise men presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus, but no doubt given into the care of his parents. Instead of returning to Herod they were warned in a dream to go another way and so they returned home. The wise men had told Herod they had come to worship this king of the Jews, and when they saw him with Mary and Joseph that is what they did, then they left. Nothing is written about anything else that might have been said, or whether they shared a meal or stayed a couple of days. They had done what they had come to do and then they left. This was a long and expensive journey filled with risk and yet these men and their companions undertook it just for the opportunity to worship at the feet of Jesus. Even though Luke didn’t feel it necessary to comment about, Matthew was short on detail and none of other of the Bible writers mention it at all, but it was important enough to be included in the Bible. We can engage in endless speculation about who these men where, how old Jesus was when they arrived, how many of them there were and where Joseph’s family was living, but we are not given the answers to those questions. The wise men didn’t speculate, they came to worship and that is what they did.

    We are not told how Mary and Joseph received these powerful guests, were they embarrassed about their home, anxious, disturbed? How did they respond to these expensive gifts, what would they do with them? Like other events that Mary experienced no doubt she treasured this one in her heart to call back to mind in the years ahead.

  1. The wise men came to worship Jesus, they had no other agenda. What is on your mind when you attend a place of worship?
  2. Is it important to know all the details that are hidden from us?
  3. What effort are you prepared to make to be able to worship God?


  1. A warning and escape
    Matthew 2:13-18After the wise men and their fellow travellers had left Bethlehem on their way home Joseph had a dream. An angel, possibly the same one that visited him before, brought him a warning. King Herod was looking for Jesus to kill him and the family was in danger, they must flee to Egypt and stay there until they were told to return.

    At about the same time Herod realized that he had been tricked by the wise men and in anger he ordered that all of the male children in Bethlehem and surrounding areas should be killed. In this way he thought he could deal with the threat against his rule. It seems probable that Joseph got the warning before Herod had made his extraordinary decision, but nothing was hidden from God. Joseph immediately responded to the angel’s warning and taking Mary and his son set off for Egypt, a journey of about 150kms. Egypt was part of the Roman Empire and major roads joined it to Judea so travel between the two regions was common. There was a large Jewish community in Egypt and Joseph and Mary would find refuge there. There are traditions held by the Coptic Christian church in Egypt that Jesus and his family visited as many as 25 places in Egypt and travelled throughout their stay which have been for two or more years.

    While Jesus was no longer a baby, this would have been stressful for the family. They may have used the proceeds of the gifts of the wise men to support them but they were not wealthy. Herod was determined to have Jesus killed and it is possible that a passerby that knew them could report where they were to Herod in the hope of getting a reward. We are not told where the Family lived in Egypt, only the reason they went and when they would return home. Legends suggest that they remained away from home in Egypt for two years, living at Matareya, a few miles from Cairo. This is the place where water miraculously came from a spring near a sycamore or palm tree that Mary leaned on after suffering from the heat of the day.

    Herod’s plans came to nothing, it was not long before he died and the angel returned to tell Joseph he could go home. So once again the family set out for a long journey, this time they were going home. On the way Joseph heard that one of Herod’s sons had taken his place, he was just as cruel as his father and was hated by all the Jews. Joseph was afraid to go back to Bethlehem and his fears were confirmed in a dream, so he headed back to where his part of the story began, in Nazareth. Nazareth did not enjoy a good reputation and was not thought of as desirable place to live, so much so that later Jesus was mocked by the question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Joseph and Mary may have intended to settle in Bethlehem or find some other place to live, but God’s plan was for them to return to Nazareth.

    It seems that God’s plans are never straightforward, even when it concerns his son. Circumstances were arranged so that Mary and Joseph would travel to Bethlehem which fulfilled the prophecy of Micah. Anna and Simeon turned up in the temple at just the right time and then because Herod was alarmed by the wise men he planned to kill Jesus which meant a trip to Egypt. Instead of returning to Bethlehem they went to Nazareth, the place where their story started. God’s plans for you are probably not straightforward either and the place where you are now is probably not where you thought you would be. God’s purposes for you will be fulfilled, they won’t be without ups and downs and detours and obstacles along the way, but he will finish the work he has planned for you as you trust in his leading.

  1. Could God have been more obvious in the way he led Mary and Joseph?
  2. Do you try to plan the future for you and your family and get upset when the plan gets messed up?
  3. What does God use to guide you?


  1. The day they Lost Jesus!
    Luke 2:39-52

    Joseph and Mary settled into family life in Nazareth with their son, Jesus and as it was required by Jewish law each year they would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It was usual for parents to take children especially sons with them and as they approached their 13th birthday they would be expected to become familiar with the Temple and all of its services. The following year a son would be admitted to adulthood and expected to participate in all the aspects of the Passover. And so, we read that Jesus, as a 12 year old went with his parents.

    This is the only reference to Jesus’ childhood and marks a turning point in the relationship between and him and his parents. The family group travelled to Jerusalem along with many other families, they would travel together for safety and companionship, it was a long way and would take several days. The Passover started with the Feast of Unleavened Bread that lasted for 7 days. Once the feast was over Mary and Joseph joined the other travellers and headed for home. Probably they travelled separately, the men together following the women in a group.

    At then end of the day, they realized that Jesus was not with them! Perhaps each thought he was with the other or travelling with other families or children. Whatever the case he was not there, so the search began. To realise your child is not with you or where you expect him or her to be causes immediate anxiety, even if it only a short time. There would be recriminations, shifting of blame and a raft of emotions. The parents searched throughout the camp without success and the next day headed back to Jerusalem, a day’s journey. When they eventually found him, he was in the temple, sitting among the teachers listening and asking questions. Imagine the relief, which probably resulted in an outburst of emotion, frustration, even anger. Mary asked, “How could you do this to us, your dad and I have been looking everywhere for you – we’ve been out of our minds with worry”. They are not exactly the words Luke records for us, but I suggest that might reflect a little of how Mary and Joseph felt.

    Jesus reply at first glance seems almost rude: “Why were you looking for me, didn’t you know I had to be in my father’s house?” These are the first recorded words of Jesus, and with them he claims that God is his father, not Joseph. Mary and Joseph knew that, but it still must have been a blow to Joseph. Things were changed, yes Joseph had been God’s choice as the ideal person to bring Jesus to the brink of adulthood but now his allegiance had changed, he had to be about his Father’s business. Jesus was still a child and perhaps there is innocence about his question of Mary; why didn’t she realise this is where he needed to be? He might even have believed that they were still in Jerusalem and wouldn’t possibly leave without him. The Bible does answer those questions for us but does indicate that Mary and Joseph didn’t yet understand what he meant.

    The family returned to Nazareth and Jesus submitted himself to his parents’ authority, while his mother continued to reflect on the events and the words that had been spoken. “How do you raise a son whom you believe to be the Messiah? That would be hard enough. But how can she understand that she is raising the Son of God himself? A boy, who, when he calls God his Father, means it literally? Mary cannot take all this in. Perhaps if she had, she would have been completely paralyzed by self-consciousness. But she treasures these moments and ponders them in her heart” (Wilson).  Meanwhile Jesus grew physically, spiritually and socially until he was ready to begin the ministry he had come for.

  1. How would you feel if you couldn’t find your son, how would you react?
  2. Do you think Jesus’ response was harsh?
  3. Jesus submitted to Mary and Joseph even though he knew he was the Son of God – do you find it hard to submit to the authority of others when you know you have better credentials than they?




  1. They have no wine
    John 2:1-12These words of Mary mark the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  Mary and Jesus had been invited to a wedding in a place called Cana, some of the disciples also attended. Joseph however is not mentioned, most scholars believe that he had died sometime between Jesus’ presentation in the temple and this event as he is not mentioned by name again. Not everyone agrees though and some suggest that was he just not present at the wedding. From what we read in the story it seems that Mary was well known to the family who had organised the wedding and it was because of her that Jesus was invited. Weddings could last for as much as three days or even a week and would involve eating and drinking, dance and celebration, they were a major social event.

    At some point perhaps Mary noticed some agitation among the servants and went to find out what the problem was, and discovered they had run out of wine! In the custom of the day to run out of wine was a social sin, the hosts would be terribly embarrassed and would be ridiculed by all those that found out. Without making any direct request Mary simply told Jesus, “They have no wine”. Jesus’ response seems almost unkind, he addressed his mother as ‘woman’ which suggests no relationship between them and reflects no empathy for the people who were faced with a crisis. In effect he says that this is none of his business, why would she tell him, what is he supposed to do about it?

    Whatever Mary thought she basically ignored what Jesus said and told the servants just to do whatever he told them. She wasn’t put off but interceded on behalf of the guests. Some scholars see in this introduction a parallel with God’s actions in creation. The wedding took place on the sixth day of Jesus’ first week of public ministry, and he addressed his mother as ‘woman’. On the sixth day of creation as recorded in Genesis God created both male and female and he says in Genesis 2:23, “she shall be called woman”.  Jesus had said his time had not yet come, but Mary decided that it had and so she just told the servants to do what they were told!

    Jesus didn’t argue or complain he just told the servants to fill the big jars of water standing nearby. There were six stone water jars each capable of holding about 100 litres that held water for washing, not drinking and when full they would not have been carried easily. Filling them would have take some time and effort. Once they were filled completely Jesus told the servants to draw some out and take it to the master of ceremonies for tasting. They did so and he was astonished because the wine he tasted was much better than what he had been drinking earlier. This good wine would bring great credit to the hosts and as some suggest is also as a sign of the kingdom of God, the new wine of the kingdom that Jesus was announcing is much superior to the old wine it replaced.

    After the wedding was over Mary, Jesus and the disciples went to Capernaum where they stayed for a few days before travelling to Jerusalem for the Passover. The story reveals the character of the mature Mary. She cared about others and was prepared to act on their behalf, she was confident and willing to exercise authority. She wasn’t put off easily and put her trust completely in Jesus, and she didn’t try to tell him what he should do or interfere but let him get on with it. And she didn’t draw attention to herself.

  1. What do you thin k of Jesus’ response to his mother?
  2. Mary noticed what was going on around her, how easy is it to get caught up in celebration that we miss the stress others might be under.
  3. What speaks to you about Mary’s character?


  1. A mother’s concern
    Mark 3:21, 31-35After Mary and her family attended Jerusalem for the Passover which was their custom each year, Jesus left home to begin his public ministry. He was about 28 years old and had no doubt been away many times, probably for extended periods, but now he was formally leaving. Mary and Joseph had other children after the birth of Jesus although the tradition of some churches insist that Mary remained a virgin until her death and if there were brothers and sisters they came from an earlier marriage of Joseph. There is no record of an earlier marriage for Joseph and nothing in the bible contradicts the idea that he and Mary enjoyed normal intimate relations within their marriage and Matthew 1:25 supports this view. Jesus is said to have four or five brothers and multiple sisters in the Bible (Mathew 13:55–56; John 2:12; Acts 1:14). And the names of his brothers are given, James (Galatians 1:19), Judas (the brother of James, Jude 1:1), Joseph, and Simon. These brothers and sisters probably had families of their own by the time Jesus began his ministry and would have given Mary plenty to keep her occupied.

    We next hear of Mary in Mark’s gospel (the story appears in Matthew and Luke as well) when the family heard that he was so busy preaching and teaching that he hadn’t even stopped to eat. We have already seen that Mary was sensitive to the cares of others and she and the family went to find him. They meant to take him away for his own good because they though he had lost his mind (Verse 21). They were unsuccessful in their attempt though and Jesus continued to preach and teach the crowd, but now they were accusing him of being possessed by a demon. He finally retreated into the house where he was staying where he continued to speak, probably from the front porch of the house. The crowd had followed and surrounded him and when Mary and the family arrived they could not get close to him so they called out.

    Jesus may not have heard his mother call, but some in the crowd did and said to him: ““Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” It is not certain what they expected him to do, he was hemmed in by the crowd and probably unable to get to them, but he didn’t try. Instead he replied: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mary had come out of deep concern for her son and now she is turned away, her role as a mother was rejected. Her emotions are not recorded but she must have been hurt. How could her son treat her like that, what did he mean? Mary does not appear again for some time while Jesus went about his ministry, although she no doubt kept herself informed and probably joined the crowd from time to time.

    When any parent feels that they have been rejected by their child it is painful, that can be worse if they feel they have been replaced by another. Years before this Joseph was confronted with the same emotions when after being found in the temple Jesus told him that he had to be in his father’s house, and that father was not Joseph. Now Mary is told that she was no more significant than any in the crowd that did God’s will, and neither were his brothers. This seems incredibly harsh and thoughtless and it probable that Jesus was making the point to his hearers that so far as the kingdom of God was concerned everyone is equal, there is no special privilege to be gained by being related to a religious leader, even to the son of God as Mary and his siblings were. Mary was human just like you and me and she would have been wounded by Jesus words and we don’t know whether she was able to talk to Jesus later about his words or the way they were delivered, but God healed her wound and the words of Simeon may have come to her mind, that a sword would pierce her soul. Perhaps now she was starting to understand what it meant to be the mother of the Messiah.

  1. How would you feel if you thought you were being rejected as a parent?
  2. Do you think that your parents have ever felt that you had rejected them?
  3. Do family concerns ever get between you and what you believe is God’s purpose for you? How can you resolve that?


3.”… stood the mother, weeping”
John 19:25-27

While there is no question that Jesus maintained a relationship with his mother and family throughout his ministry, apart from the reference to them anxiously caring for his welfare in Mark 3 and elsewhere, Mary does not appear again until the day of his death. Of the gospel writers only John mentions her presence. For Mary this must have been a time of immense and inconsolable grief. Her miracle son, entrusted to her care was brutally tortured and nailed on a cross to die. In his final days he was subject to public humiliation and betrayal by his closest friends and now she was left standing with her sister and two friends and the disciple John as soldiers argued over who would get the clothing torn from his body, overshadowed by the cross on which Jesus hung in agony.

It is impossible to imagine the pain that Mary would feel, she was a woman of great faith and courage but she was a mother who loved her son. She looked on possibly hoping that even then a miracle would happen and God would intervene, but he did not. There were others who had followed him that were watching, but from a distance, but this little group stood near enough to hear Jesus’ final words. Before he announced that he had finished what he came to do, even in the extremity of his own suffering he saw his mother. Looking at her, no doubt with love tainted by pain he addressed her as ‘woman’ as he had years before at the start of his ministry, then he pointed to the apostle John and said “behold, your son!” Then he turned to John and pointing to his mother said: “Behold, your mother!”

In the 14th century a Latin Hymn called Stabat Mater which means, the ‘mother standing’ was composed. It is based upon the prophecy of Simeon that a sword was to pierce the heart of Jesus’ mother, Mary (Luke 2:35) It is made of 19 three line segments or stanzas, the first of which is: “At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last”. It is still used in some traditions especially as part of the Stations of the Cross, a series of reflections used during Easter. This stanza reflects the faithfulness of Mary, but also her grief. A mother always knowing but not understanding that the son she bore was a gift of God, miraculous and unique and only loaned to her and Joseph for a season. Knowing that his coming pointed to the kingdom of God, but also remembering the words of the angels, the shepherds, Anna and Simeon and the wise men but not ready for this moment. Not understanding that his death would lead to his resurrection, that the hope that was swallowed by the desolation of death, would  be realised in the triumph of life, Mary stood there weeping.

Jesus’ final act was to entrust his mother to John, the disciple who was closest to him in life. A man who probably also shared meals, conversation and laughter with Mary and Jesus’ family in the times they relaxed in the family home. This was a man Jesus trusted, he stood close to the cross while the others were either at a distance or had run away. He had stood with Jesus on the Mount of transfiguration, prayed with him in the garden, went fishing and ate with him and now stood with Mary, comforting and embracing her in her grief, while he no doubt wiped tears from his own eyes. God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus, he knew what it would cost her, and he also knew that of all the women he could choose, she was the right one. Jesus now entrusted her to John, knowing that she was in the best hands possible.

  1. The loss of a child in any circumstances brings unimaginable grief, can you imagine Mary’s pain?
  2. The pain of death may be eased by the promise of the resurrection, at least in small part, Mary did not have that hope – How would she find consolation?
  3. The western church does not pay much attention to the grief or role of Mary, perhaps because of the excesses of some denominations, why do you think that is?


  1. Always faithful
    Acts 1:12-14The days following the crucifixion of Jesus were full of drama and Mary’s emotions must have gone through extreme ups and downs. The women who had watched on while Jesus was crucified were the first to see the empty tomb and hear the angel tell them that Jesus was risen. They rushed to tell the disciples and we know that John had taken Mary into his home, so she may have been with them. Even if she wasn’t she would have been among the first to hear. The disciples were still full of doubt and Jesus appeared to them a number of times before they were convinced. For 40 days Jesus visited with them, sharing meals teaching them and performing miracles before he gathered the disciples on a mountain he had directed them to and told them that was going to return to his father in heaven and that they should wait in Jerusalem for the holy Spirit to come. Even at that time not all that heard him believed, some still doubted.

    On the day of the crucifixion Mary was devastated and overwhelmed with grief, the next day was one of uncertainty and sorrow as she dealt with the death of her son. On Sunday though there was fresh hope – he had been seen; he was alive! Did she understand? Was Jesus here to stay? Mary may have had contact with Jesus during the 40 days he spent with the disciples but if she did it is not recorded. Now as she possibly stood with the others on the mountainside he heard him say that he was leaving and all that she could do was wait. For what? What did it mean, what were they to do? The disciples asked Jesus what was to happen, but he just told them that the Holy Spirit was coming and they had to tell everyone what they had seen, he wouldn’t tell them any more and suddenly Jesus vanished into a cloud. As everyone stood and stared after Jesus two angels arrived and asked them why they were staring into heaven, Jesus would come back just like he said he would, in the meantime they were to wait as he had told them.

    The faithful but confused band of followers travelled together until they reached Jerusalem and once there they entered the upper room of a house in which they were staying and devoted themselves to do what Jesus had said, wait and pray. Among those that were in that room was Mary the mother of Jesus. The last weeks had been traumatic for all of them, but possibly for Mary most of all. She had witnessed the arrest and torture of her son and his ultimate cruel execution, hear of his betrayal by one of his closest disciples, Judas, and the strong, courageous Peter deny that he even knew him. Then his body disappeared only for him to come back to life. He stayed for a while and then disappeared again telling them just to wait for the Holy Spirit. The Jews had executed Jesus and the disciples were afraid that they may be next so they stayed out of sight waiting and praying and hoping.

    Many of us are familiar with the story and we know how it ends. We knew that Jesus was not defeated by death and would rise again. We also knew that when he ascended to his father he would send the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost to live in all those that accepted by faith the things that Jesus had done for them. But the disciples didn’t know that, neither did Mary, they were confused but in faith and obedience they devoted themselves to prayer. We hear no more of Mary although there are many stories and legends written about her. One of those is that she lived in Ephesus with John who had become the leader or Bishop of that city and died there. There is no evidence of that in then bible or in historical accounts though, so while it may be true, we don’t know. The last we know of Mary is that she was faithfully and hopefully waiting in prayer for the coming Holy Spirit and the return of her son.

  1. How hard is it to wait when the future is uncertain?
  2. Do you think that Mary and Jesus would have met after his resurrection?
  3. Mary is never mentioned as being a leader or prominent figure in the church, why do you think that is?


  1. The other Mary
    Luke 8:1-3There are four women named Mary in the gospels. Of course there is Mary the mother of Jesus, but there is also Mary of Bethany who is the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-41, John 11–12:3). Mary the mother of James and the wife of Cleopas. Mary, the mother of John Mark, is mentioned in Acts 12:12. And then there is Mary Magdalene who besides Jesus’ mother is most spoken of in the gospels.

    There is mystery around this Mary which even includes her name. Magdalene may mean that she came from a nearby place called ‘Magdala’, or it may be a nickname meaning tower or strength, which is the English translation of magdala. Some writers even suggest it relates to the practice of braiding hair or hairdressing. When she appears in Luke’s gospel she is identified as a woman who has been delivered of seven demons and was now a follower of Jesus. She along with other ladies mentioned in the text are credited with providing for Jesus and the disciples out of their own means. She is not connected with any male figure, which is unusual, and we can conclude that she was an unmarried and wealthy woman. She may have been a widow though some people identify her with the ‘sinful’ woman in Luke chapter 7 who is sometimes referred to as a prostitute. That is a tradition that was developed  by Pope Gregory in 591AD and has no other support in the Bible, and in fact the woman in Luke 7 is never called a prostitute either.

    It wasn’t only male disciples that followed Jesus, there was a large group of women as well. This doesn’t mean that they all left their homes and followed as a group, like a travelling mob, but they listened to his teachings and supported him as they were able and encouraged each other. Mary Magdalene was a prominent disciple who followed Jesus in Galilee and to Jerusalem. She is always listed first in groups of named female disciples and she is mentioned in all four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. Tradition is that the male disciples were led by Peter while the female disciples were led by Mary Magdalene. She is thought to have been a strong leader and support to Jesus which earned her the nickname ‘the tower’, she was a constant presence in critical times during his ministry. Mary (or Miriam) was the most common Jewish name at the time, and it was not unusual for nicknames to be used to distinguish between people with the same name.

    We might know her best as the first person to go to the tomb on Sunday morning, and as the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection. After she discovered the empty tomb she ran to tell the disciples who at first did not believe her. Peter and John then ran to the tomb where John looked in, while Peter entered the tomb. They still did not understand and left to tell the others what they had seen. Mary stayed behind though, weeping. Two angels appeared and asked her why she was crying, so she answered, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13). Then she turned and saw Jesus but didn’t recognize him. Jesus asked “Who are you looking for?” (v. 15). Mary still did not recognize Jesus until he called her by name and then he told her to tell the disciples what she had seen and so she became the first preacher of the good news to the same men who had just been at the tomb. To be sent out with a message or commission means to be called an apostle and so Mary is sometimes referred to as the ‘apostle to the apostles’.

    It is perhaps surprising that given the low status of women in that day that Jesus chose to appear to Mary and the other women, and that the first preachers of the resurrection were not men, but women. He appeared to Mary and the women who followed him and served him. Jesus could have just as easily appeared to Peter, John, or to the disciples hiding behind locked doors. He chose to appear to Mary. Women as well as men were credible witnesses to the gospel and were sent to preach it to all with whom they came into contact. And the women were faithful in proclaiming the Gospel, even to the disciples. (Shawna R. B. Atteberry).

  1. Jesus relied on women for financial as well as personal support, how do you respond to that?
  2. We know nothing about this woman’s background or what the seven demons were that possessed her, is it important not to exaggerate or rely on our past – even if it shows God’s grace?
  3. Mary was a strong and committed leader, how important is it to have women like that today?


  1. The women of the gospels
    Matthew 27:55-56

    “Jesus demonstrated only the highest regard for women, in both his life and teaching. He recognized the intrinsic equality of men and women, and continually showed the worth and dignity of women as persons. Jesus valued their fellowship, prayers, service, financial support, testimony and witness. He honored women, taught women, and ministered to women in thoughtful ways.” (James A. Borland)

    There are 42 women identified in the gospels, not all of them are named  but each was a real person who contributed to the gospel story. Some have prominent roles, like Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalane, the unnamed Samaritan woman whose conversation with Jesus by the well is his longest recorded conversation. There are Mary and Martha, and a group that gave financial support and many who were healed of sicknesses and relieved of their burdens. There were wives of prominent leaders (Herod, Pilate, Chuza, Herod’s household manager). Then were those who provided examples to the disciples, like the woman caught in the act of adultery, one who had been crippled for many years, a widow and the one who gave all she had and the lady with a questionable reputation who anointed Jesus. There were also family members, the mother of Jesus and the mother-in-law of Peter, the daughter and the wife of Jairus, Jesus’ sister and the children who sat among the crowds and miraculously fed with a few loaves and fishes. Women were never excluded and featured among Jesus’ closest friends and disciples.

    Both Matthew (Chapter 27:55-56) and Mark (Mark 15: 40-41) refer to the many women who stood at a distance watching the crucifixion while a smaller group stood alongside the cross. When Jesus travelled to Jerusalem he stayed in the nearby Bethany in a house where two sisters and a brother lived, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. While Lazarus is well known because Jesus miraculously brought him back from death, Martha is the lead character. She ran the house and was probably the oldest of the three. They were wealthy enough to provide for Jesus and others and were possibly orphans. Mary’s strong faith caused her to ignore social conventions and ignore household duties to sit at Jesus’ feet as a disciple while Martha identified herself as a disciple by addressing Jesus as ‘Rabbi’ or teacher. It is probable the Jesus stayed in their home in the days prior to his crucifixion.

    The Samaritan woman who Jesus engaged in conversation at the well near Sychar also broke with convention by debating theology with Jesus. Rather than being drawn into argument Jesus revealed to her what was her real need and then she rushed off to her local town to tell everybody the good news about this man who told her everything she ever did. A woman of questionable character anointed Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair, weeping as she did. The pharisee whose home they were in was offended but Jesus accepted her and used her example to convict the pharisee of his failure as a host. At another time a woman was dragged before Jesus and accused of being caught in  adultery. The penalty for such an offence was to be stoned and the pharisees wanted to see what Jesus would do. There should have been witnesses and the partner in adultery should also have been present but was not, so in other word’s it was a set up. Jesus turned it on its head and while he did not ignore the sin, he forgave the women and convicted the accusers, who sneaked away with heads down.

    Jesus did not use women as sermon illustrations but embraced them as friends, co-workers and traveling companions. He shared their needs and met them when needed. He accepted help from them and elevated them before others. He broke with conventions and did not relegate them to secondary status and he trusted them and gave them the dignity that God had created them with.

  1. Have you thought about the way women are mentioned in the gospels?
  2. Some feminists argue that the bible ignores or diminishes the role of women, what do you think?
  3. Are women treated as God intended in Christian life and ministry today?


  1. The women of the first church
    Acts 1:12-14; 2:42-47

    When Jesus left his followers to return to his father, he promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to them to empower all who received him to be his witnesses (Acts1:8). He instructed them to wait until that happened before leaving Jerusalem. Thy gathered together in an upper room, possibly a large room built on the roof of a house. There was enough space for 120 believers to gather together where they prayed and waited as they had been instructed. The group consisted of the leaders of the disciples but also many others including women. One of those who was present and the only woman named was Mary the mother of Jesus. It is probable that those mentioned in Luke 8 and at least some who stood watching as Jesus was crucified were also there although they are not identified.

    The women mentioned in the gospels, with the exception of Mary are not identified again and Mary only in this short passage. This is not limited to women though, many of the named men in the gospels are not mentioned again, and that includes the disciples, beyond these verses. The writer is Luke, the same who wrote the gospel and his emphasis throughout is to focus on the activities firstly of Peter and then Paul after his conversion, so it is mainly those who are directly connected with them that are featured in the book of Acts. Included in Luke’s record are many women, some of whom play prominent roles and others are mentioned as part of the larger story.

    Many years before, the prophet Joel prophesied that in the last days the Holy Spirit would descend and
    ‘Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
    Even on my servants, both men and women’. As the believers waited and prayed they were suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit just as Joel and Jesus had said they would and immediately began to speak to the crowds outside who were gathered to celebrate Pentecost. Miraculously they were able to speak in languages that all who were gathered could understand which shocked and amazed them. After Peter gained the attention of the crowd he preached his first sermon empowered by the Holy Spirit, and many responded. On that day the church was born. The church is mot an organisation, or institution but people who gather together through faith in Jesus Christ and on that first day 3000 people joined the disciples.

    In the early days of the church the new believers met together in homes to explore this new faith that that they had experienced. The home was the domain of the woman of the house and as Michael Wiltshire writing in the Junia Project notes: ‘House churches, the primary channels for the sustainability of the early Church, were funded and led by women such as Lydia (Acts 16:11-40), Nympha (Col. 4:15) and Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). In 1 Thess. 5:12 Paul suggests that such house-church leaders had significant authority as he tells his readers to be thankful for those who “have charge of you in the Lord.” In both Jewish and Greco-Roman culture, women did not always have equal access or rights in the public sphere, thus the home was the most socially acceptable and encouraged place for women to speak, teach, and take responsibility. It is within this household context that the Church was raised into infancy.’

    On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all who believed, there was no discrimination in regard to age, gender, race, ethnicity. All were empowered to be witnesses and to prophecy. There were many women who opened their homes to the new believers and shared their experiences as well as their meals with them. And so the church grew.

  1. Why do you think the Bible makes so little of famous believers?
  2. The church was conceived in an upper room but was born in the marketplace – what does that mean?
  3. The church experienced its greatest time of growth when it met in homes – what do you think about that?




  1. Restored to life
    Acts 9:36-42The church grew under the preaching of the disciples and as the new believers lived out their new faith in their communities. One of those who had a great impact on the widows of her town was Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, the Greek translation of her name. The text says ‘she was full of good work and charity’, this indicates that she didn’t sometimes help the poor and needy but that this was the manner of her life. In particular she supported the local widows through her work as a seamstress. No male is mentioned in the story of Tabitha which probably means she was a widow. It was common for husbands to be significantly older than their wives and so it was not unusual for a widow to be relatively young, though if she had not remarried it would mean that she was independently able to care for herself. Tabitha had her own house and it had an upper room which suggests she was quite wealthy.Sadly for the local community Tabitha became ill and died. Contrary to usual Jewish custom she was prepared for burial but laid in the upper room of her house. It was usual for the deceased to be buried immediately and not prepared in this way, so it may be that the grieving widows that attended her were hoping for a miracle to bring her back to life. It is possible that Tabitha’s home was the centre of the church in Joppa, the town where she lived and some writers suggest that she may have made her home available for poor widows. Tabitha is the only woman in Acts that is called a disciple, there may have been others but only she is called that. The writer of Acts, Luke may have been pointing out the prominent role Tabitha had in the local church.
    At that time Peter was in Lydda, a town about 20 kms away, and Tabitha’s fellow disciples decided to send a couple of messengers to ask him to come to them. The return journey would have taken at least a full day, and perhaps two so that when Peter arrived Tabitha had been dead some time. When he got to the house the disciples took him up to where Tabitha was laying, where she was surrounded by a number of grieving widows. These women began to show Peter the evidence of Tabitha’s good work, the clothes she had made for them and others. No request was made of Peter, but no doubt impressed by their grief and the impact Tabitha had on them, he told them to leave the room while he knelt down and prayed. This was not the time for a show or for Peter to draw attention to himself, but once he prayed he turned to Tabitha and told her to get up. Immediately Tabitha opened her eyes and once she saw Peter she sat up. We don’t know if Peter and Tabitha had met before or knew each other except by reputation, nor do we know what Tabitha thought as she opened her eyes. Did she know she had been dead and brought back to life, or what had been happening? Peter gave her his hand and helped her to stand and then called the others back to the room. There is no record of what was said, only that Tabitha was presented alive. We can only assume there would be joy, amazement, tears and overwhelming gratitude, but we have to imagine those things.
    No more is said about this remarkable event except that soon the whole town knew, and many believed. Peter expressed no doubt that God could restore Tabitha, he didn’t require an audience or a special ceremony. Tabitha is significant because she was a woman of faith who inspired the trust and confidence of her church community. She committed herself to ministering to the needy and because of her example a whole town came to hear of the miraculous power of Jesus.
  1. Tabitha was known by reputation as being full of good works and charity, what is your reputation in the community?
  2. Tabitha used what she had to serve God and the effect was the evangelization of the whole town, how can you use your resources?
  3. What do you think Tabitha thought when she opened her eyes?


  1. A House of Prayer
    Acts 12:5-17As the church continued to grow, so did opposition firstly from the Jews and then Herod the Roman appointed ‘king’.  A number of the leaders were persecuted and some killed, finally in an attempt to please the Jews, Herod arrested Peter and put him in prison. While he was there the church committed themselves to pray for him and God heard those prayers and in the night sent an angel to miraculously release Peter from custody.When Peter realized he had been set free he went to Mary’s house where he knew the church was gathered to pray. Mary was the mother of John, better known as Mark who later became a co worker with Paul, he was also a relative of Barnabas and probable author of the gospel of Mark. When Peter arrived at Mary’s house he knocked on the door to the outer gateway. It seems that Mary owned a substantial house with an outer courtyard and it was on the door to this that Peter knocked. Eventually a servant named Rhoda came to the door and asked who was there. When Peter answered, Rhoda was so overwhelmed with Joy that she left him standing there and ran inside to tell the others. Rhoda is identified as a servant and yet knew Peter well enough to recognize his voice. Perhaps he had been a frequent visitor and most likely Rhoda was part of the church that met in Mary’s house. Luke also wanted to make sure that his readers knew her name, she was not an insignificant servant, but a valued member of the church.When the believers were interrupted in their prayers by Rhoda they thought she was mad. How could Peter be at the door? He was in prison that was why they were praying, maybe they did have faith that God would answer their prayers, but maybe not so quickly! Rhoda persisted, and still they doubted and argued. Finally some of them decided to look for themselves and when they opened the door, there was Peter! The people were amazed and no doubt began asking questions, excitedly speaking over each other because Peter had to silence them, motioning to them to be quiet and probably sit down. Then he told them how an angel had appeared and released him and led him out of the prison. Until then Peter had been the prominent leader in Jerusalem but now it seems he passed that responsibility over to James and went on to Caesarea.Mary was one of those independently wealthy women who made her home available for the church to meet. She was no doubt a prominent woman whose son later became a companion of Peter and of Paul. When Peter was released from Prison he knew where he should go to find people praying and that was Mary’s house. While she was wealthy enough to employ at least one servant, Rhoda, the relationship between them seemed stronger and more familiar than that of merely an employer and employee. Rhoda was overjoyed to hear Peter’s voice which tells us that they knew each other and that she was a person of faith who had no issue with interrupting her mistresses’ guests and persisting against their arguments. The circumstances are unique but they present a picture of the church active and vibrant meeting in the home of a gracious woman and which consisted of the wealthy as well as servants, males and females, the prominent and the anonymous. A church which believed in the power of prayer, even if God’s speedy response took them by surprise. A church which knew that even when persecuted they would continue and trust in the God who would deliver them.
  1. What do you think of the disbelief of those praying for Peter’s release?
  2. Is the church pictured here what you expect to see today?
  3. Aside from Peter the only two members of this house church are Mary and Rhoda, what does that suggest to you?


  1. Down by the river
    Acts 16:11-15Luke’s account of the acts of the apostles shifts its focus from Peter to Paul, not because one was greater than the other but because Luke became Paul’s companion. As they travelled together Luke recorded what he saw and heard and described how the church grew through the districts where they travelled. During one of the journeys Paul planned to go into Asia, but God interfered with his plans and through a dream he and his team were directed to head to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10). They arrived in Philippi which was the major Macedonian city and also a Roman colony but one where there not many Jews and probably no synagogue.It was Paul’s habit to first of all connect with the Jews of the cities he travelled to and as it seems there were not many in the city he went to the river side where he thought there would be a place of prayer. It was common for Jews to establish prayer houses outside of cities often close to a water source which was useful for ritual washing and cleansing. When they found a place of prayer they found it was occupied by women, if they were surprised by that, Luke doesn’t mention it. It was the Sabbath and Paul, and his companions may have expected men to be there but if there were, they are not mentioned. This wasn’t a ladies meeting but a gathering of people for prayer.One of the ladies present was Lydia who is described as a worshipper of God. The fact that she is named is significant because many characters in the Bible are not, but Luke thought it important to name Lydia. She was a God fearer, which may mean she was a Jew, but she may not have been. Her home town was Thyatira and she was a successful businesswoman. No male figure is mentioned as having been in her life so she may have been a widow or divorced. Divorce was common and simple to arrange under Roman law and that might have been Lydia’s situation. She was a retailer of purple died cloth an expensive commodity and was evidently very successful. ‘It was only the wealthy elite who wore garments dyed purple or trimmed with purple, or had soft furnishings in their homes, such as couch covers, that were purple. Tyrian purple, a dye derived from marine molluscs, was especially costly’ (Mowczko), She owned her own house and had staff to maintain it.Lydia was impacted by the words of Paul and responded to the message of the gospel that he presented, so that she and her household were baptized. Whether it was immediately or within a few days isn’t stated but given the presence of water and Lydia’s request for Paul to stay in her home it is likely that it was straightaway. Baptism in the early church took place immediately after a person professed their faith in Jesus as Christ; we see that on the day of Pentecost, with the Ethiopian Eunuch, the Philippian Gaoler and Lydia. The more recent practice or trend toward ‘waiting until you are ready’ has no Biblical precedence. Once baptized Lydia convinced Paul and his companions to stay in her house.

    Lydia is believed to be the first convert in Europe and the founder of the Philippian church. Mowczko writes: ‘A church was established in Philippi because of Lydia’s open heart and her open home, and it grew because of her patronage, her initiative, her courage, her ministry.’ God changed Paul’s itinerary so that he would meet Lydia at the place of prayer, he chose her ahead of time. Just like he chose the widow of Zarephath before he told Elijah to go there. Lydia was a businesswoman who God chose, blessed and enabled to host the church in her home and pioneer the evangelization of Europe.

  1. There is no suggestion that Lydia gave up her business once she became a believer, How can God use your business life to build his kingdom?
  2. Lydia did not wait to be baptised, is this something you should consider?
  3. God chose a female business person to open the door of evangelism to Europe – why did he do that?


  1. The Woman at Mars Hill
    Acts 17:22-34As Paul and his companions continued their travels they encountered persecution in a number of places and eventually found their way to Athens. Athens had lost some of its former glory and significance but was still a centre of philosophical debate and when Paul arrived there he was dismayed to see idols and statues of many different gods. The philosophers were so careful not to leave any out that they even had one dedicated to an ‘Unknown God’ just in case. This provoked Paul to preach at Mars Hill also called the Areopagus whose court exercised authority over civil, legal and religious life in Athens.The Areopagus provided a forum for the cultural and intellectually elite of the city to meet and hear the latest ideas and Paul was taken there to explain his ideas. According to Luke the Athenians had nothing better to do than spend all day listening to whatever was new. Paul took his opportunity and preached the good news about Jesus to his hearers and when he had finished some mocked him, others wanted to hear more and there were a few who responded to his message. Two people are identified by name as responding to Paul’s message, one was Dionysius who was a member of the Areopagus and therefore a person of significant social standing. While there were philosophers present, Dionysius is identified by his role in the court which emphasizes his position as a civic leader.The other person mentioned by name is Damaris, a woman. It is not certain that she was at the gathering on Mars Hill or that she may have heard Paul at another time. Damaris is an obscure person of whom little is known however Luke made sure to name her while others were left anonymous which suggests that she was somehow significant. Respectable women were generally prevented from attending the court of the Areopagus unless they were the students of the philosophers or filled the role of Hetaira, the Greek polite term for a mistress, who was beautiful, sophisticated, educated and respected and was, one of the most liberated women of ancient Greece. They were kept by wealthy, powerful men, often politicians, as either a hostess or  companion at parties known as symposium, a perk denied ‘respectable’ wives and daughters of ancient Greece’. Some writers suggest that she was married to Dionysius, but it is probable that this would have been mentioned by Luke if true.

    It is also quite possible that Damaris was an independent, wealthy woman who responded to Paul either at the Areopagus or at some other time in Athens. Tradition says that Dionysius became the first Bishop or overseer of the church in Athens which met in his home and Damaris was one of its founding members and served with him there. Of course if she was his wife, then she would have hosted the church in her home. There are many people mentioned throughout the Acts of the apostles and not all of them are named. They represent the wide sweep of society from servant girl to civic leader, businesswomen and widows, ordinary people going about their daily activities through the rich and powerful. All those who believed in the good news of Jesus became part of the church without discrimination. The usual norms of society were turned on their head by the revolutionary teachings of Jesus. Damaris was possibly the first convert in Athens, we know almost nothing about her but God through Luke made sure we know her name, just as he made sure we know the name of Rhoda and Tabitha and Lydia.

  1. What do you think of God’s selection of people to tell us about?
  2. God does not choose people based on their status, talent or bank balance – do we treat people differently because of these things?
  3. In what way does or should the gospel turn social norms and customs on their head today?


  1. A maker of tents
    Acts 18Paul and his companions left Athens after his sermon at Mars Hill having no doubt spent some time teaching and encouraging the new believers there, especially Dionysius and Damaris. His next stop was Corinth, which was a Roman colony and a very significant town. Around that time Emperor Claudius had ordered that all Jews living in Rome should leave, and this included those that identified as followers of Jesus. The title ‘Christian’ was not in use and the believers of the early church were for the most part Jews who remained committed to the Jewish community. It is likely that many of those who were expelled sought refuge in cities like Corinth and among them was a married couple, Priscilla and Aquila. Paul, found them, and formed a relationship with them, whether he sought them out is not stated but they may have been recommended to him.Priscilla and Aquila were committed to reaching people with the good news of Jesus and were also businesspeople. They were tent makers by trade which was also a skill that Paul had been trained in and together they set up business where they worked together for eighteen months. Every Sabbath Paul would go to the synagogue to try and convince the Jews there and no doubt they shared their faith while they conducted their business. We don’t know anything about the way the business was run, but we can assume that the quality of work was unquestioned, customer service was of the highest standard and bills would have been paid on time. When Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica he told them to make it their ambition to: ‘lead a quiet life, mind their own business and work with their hands, so that their daily life would win the respect of outsiders and they would not be dependent on anybody.’ (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12) There is no doubt he and his business partners would have followed that advice.

    Aquila and Priscilla had arrived in Corinth as refugees having left Rome under the order of Claudius. It is reasonable to assume they had been tent makers in Rome and would now try to use those same skills to provide for themselves in Corinth. When they are mentioned in Scripture they are inseparable, while the order of their names may change there is never one without the other. They present as couple who were together in business and in ministry. They also shared a friendship with Paul and no doubt gave him a great deal of support as he carried out his missionary efforts, he mentions them a number of times in the letters he wrote and entrusted them with the care of more than one house church. In Romans 16:3 Paul mentions that Aquila nd Priscilla had risked their lives for him, where this happened is not mentioned but it may have been when the three of them were in Ephesus.

    The time came for Paul to move on and so he decided to head off to Ephesus, taking Priscilla and Aquinas with him. Evidently they set up home and may have set about restarting their business while Paul spent his time in the synagogue trying to convince the Jews. Priscilla and Aquila tried to persuade Paul to stay longer but he refused and insisted that he move on toward Antioch and beyond, meanwhile he left the young church at Ephesus in his partners hands. Priscilla and her husband were trusted and faithful co-workers with Paul and had gained his confidence to the point where he could leave them to care for the church knowing it was in good hands. They used their skills and business acumen to support themselves and provide for the church as well while at the same time teaching and equipping the new believers that joined them there.

  1. In what ways can the marriage of Priscilla and Aquila be seen as a model?
  2. Priscilla and Aquila saw their ministry as an extension of their work, rather than treat their business just as means to make money to fund their ministry what do you think about that?
  3. Priscilla and Aquila were forced to leave their home and start again, thy used that as an opportunity. What challenges have you faced that have become opportunities?


  1. A more accurate understanding
    Acts 18:24-28After Paul had departed from Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla were left to care for and oversee the local church which met in their home. Further evidence of their success as businesspeople is that they had a home large enough to accommodate the local church, which if even it was small would stretch the limitations of most houses. It is probable that the house was also their place of business, and the living area occupied the upper levels.

    A visiting teacher named Apollos arrived from Alexandria, a well known centre of learning with a famous library. Apollos was well educated and a gifted speaker and he attended the synagogue to tell people about Jesus. The text tells us that he was ‘mighty in the Scriptures’ and had been instructed in the ways of the lord; his teaching was accurate except for one thing, he did not properly understand the significance of baptism. As a Jew he was familiar with the rite of baptism which was practiced to signify repentance from sin and allow people to attend the temple. The baptism that was taught by the apostles and demonstrated at Pentecost though was of a different nature, this was a sign of identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sin. John the baptist preached a baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming kingdom, but the baptism of Jesus announced that the kingdom had come and the believer had received the Holy Spirit as an evidence of being sealed and make secure.

    Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos teach and recognized that he needed to have the difference explained to him and so they took him aside to do that. The order of their names is interesting because it normally indicates which person took the more significant role, in this case it is Priscilla. This has led to debate over whether or not women should teach men, with some people insisting that they should not while others cite this as an example of why they should. Paul makes no distinction between the two disciples and does not insist that Aquila took Apollos aside, but instead indicates that they both did. The preeminence given to Priscilla’s name seems to suggest that she had the main role in explaining to Apollos. For his part Apollos raised no objection and accepted the correction gracefully.

    With this new emphasis to his preaching Apollos went on his way and became well known for his skill in refuting the arguments of the Jews. He was so effective that some disciples in Corinth considered him greater than both Peter and Paul! Of Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila, Alexander Whyte writes: ‘I admire all three so much, that I really do not know which to admire the most; Aquila and Priscilla in their quite extraordinary wisdom, tact and courage, and especially love; or Apollos in his still more extraordinary humility, modesty, and mind of Christ’. God used Priscilla and Aquila to build and care for the church, to use their gifts and talents for the benefit of the community and to have the courage to address false teaching, even when it came from a celebrated academic and public speaker. Lockyer notes that: ‘As husband and wife, and humble tent makers, Aquila nd Priscilla greatly enriched the ministries of Paul and Apollos whom God, in turn, used to establish churches.’

  1. Have you ever heard a well known preacher say something you know to be incorrect but were too intimidated to speak with them?
  2. What do you think of Priscilla taking the lead in speaking with Apollos?
  3. Apollos became well known as an effective and gifted preacher, but he became that through the correction of a couple of tent makers. Have you ever thought that the work you do is insignificant or cannot be used by God?


  1. Better together
    Romans 16:3-5

    Whenever Priscilla and Aquinas are mentioned in the Bible they are together, they are never spoken of separately and neither is elevated above the other. They appear in four books, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians and 2 Timothy and always as a team. We know that they were tent makers, had been refugees and immigrants and Jewish believers, but beyond that we know little about their domestic life. If they had children they are not mentioned, they may have been childless which of course would have made their movement from city to city, and even to other countries easier, or else children they had may have grown into adulthood. It does seem that they were independent and capable enough to move on as the need arose.

    Aquila was from Pontus, a region near the Black Sea in Turkey while Priscilla may have been Roman. They lived in Rome but were expelled when Claudius the emperor got tired of the infighting between the Jews and the Christians and forced them all to leave. On arrival in Corinth they met Paul and went into business with him which they carried out for eighteen months while preaching the good news about Jesus and caring for the community of new believers. When Paul decided to move again they went with him first to Syria then to Ephesus which is now in present day Turkey.

    Paul left them in Ephesus when he continued his journey of visiting and encouraging churches and at some point, Priscilla and Aquinas returned to Rome. Claudius was probably dead by this time but now Nero was in power and due to his persecution it is likely that once again they were forced to leave and returned to Ephesus. They were there when Paul sent them his final greetings while he was in Prison in Rome (2 Timothy 4:19). Priscilla and Aquila were refugees and migrants, they were constantly strangers in a strange land. One writer speaking of Priscilla notes: ‘To those who are currently immigrants themselves, she is a heroine and an example.  To those who fear that immigrants may bring negative things to a society, it is worth remembering that immigrants like Priscilla, Aquila, and Paul also made the growth of Christianity possible because they were willing to face discrimination to share the Gospel.’

    When Paul wrote to the churches in Rome he made a point of praising this faithful couple. He calls them his fellow workers, noting once again their equality and complementary nature of the ministry. Together they had worked alongside Paul, not just in business but in sharing the good news of Jesus. Evidently at some time they had risked their necks for him, no explanation is given about how they did that so they may have assisted him escape from the persecution of others or find a way out of a difficult situation that put them at risk. Paul extends his own thanks but points out that all of the churches of the Gentiles owed them their gratitude as well. This is high praise and suggests that without the support of this courageous and committed couple Paul would not have been able to establish the churches he had. Then he asks that greeting be given to the church that met in their house. They had previously cared for (or pastored) churches in their home at Corinth, Ephesus and now at Rome as well.

    While Paul was in prison awaiting execution he made sure that he made sure that Timothy gave his greetings to a couple who had stood with him and shared the triumphs and pain of ministry. Together with Paul they advanced God’s kingdom through planting and nurturing many churches and serve as an example of how God can use skill in business, hospitality, courage and partnership in marriage to fulfil his purposes.

  1. Can you identify with Priscilla and Aquilla?
  2. How do you think their marriage demonstrated Genesis 1:26,27?
  3. How can you use your talents and abilities to grow the church?




  1. A trusted letter carrier
    Romans 16:1-2

    While Paul was in Corinth he needed someone he could trust to deliver his letter to the church at Rome. This letter carrier was going to have to undertake a fairly difficult journey in times of persecution and not just drop the letter into the hands of the receivers but read and explain it to them as well. The letter has become known to us as the Book of Romans and is a handbook of Christian belief and practice, it has been studied and used in the church ever since. Even if all of the church could read, which is unlikely, the letter carrier would read aloud the letter, answer questions and explain the meaning when necessary. Paul needed to be sure of his letter carrier!

    Most scholars believe that the person he chose was Phoebe who he commends to the church in Romans 16:1. She is identified as a servant or minister of the church a Cenchreae a coastal town near to Corinth. The word that is translated ‘servant’ is diakonos which can be translated as minister or servant but is also used to refer to a deacon, an office within a local church. There is some argument that Phoebe could not have been a deacon because she was female, but there is no compelling evidence for that and the early church accepted that she had a recognized leadership role. Paul uses the word of himself and others who engaged in preaching and teaching in the early church. Specifically Phoebe served the church in Cenchreae, and Paul recognized her as a sister in faith and ministry.

    The church in Rome, which consisted of a number of house churches and probably included Priscilla and Aquila were encouraged to make Phoebe very welcome and help her in any way they could. This may even have been a suggestion to provide accommodation which is something Aquila and Priscilla had done in the past for Paul and his companions. As explanation Paul, says that Phoebe had been a patron to many including him. A patron can be described as a person who supports with money, gifts, efforts, or endorsement, it may also suggest defending the person or organization from harm. Phoebe was evidently a key person in Paul’s ministry and in the affairs of the church. She was obviously wealthy, independent and had a good standing in society. To be entrusted with this letter demanded the highest level of trust and loyalty, and Phoebe could claim both.

    Like many figures in the bible little is said about Phoebe’s personal life, there is no reference to a husband or children, and we don’t know her history or background. She only appears here in the pages of the bible and then disappears from view immediately afterward. What we do know is that she was a trusted companion and supporter of Paul, she served the church in a leadership role and was willing and able to use her resources in support of Paul and many others. It is to Phoebe that we owe thanks for the letter to the Roman church; while Paul was its author he needed Phoebe to get it to Rome and to read it to the church. Paul no doubt had many supports and companions that enabled him to serve as he did and many of them will remain anonymous. Luke makes sure that we know of Phoebe though and the essential role she played in the beginning of the church.

  1. Little is known of Phoebe but she was significant in the early years of the church, do you sometimes feel that you are insignificant?
  2. Phoebe put herself at God’s disposal through Paul, are you prepared to make yourself available to God?
  3. Do you think that you should get credit for the things you do for the church?




  1. Significant for the wrong reasons
    Romans 16:7

    This brief request by Paul to extend greetings to two people has caused significant debate and controversy. The main issues are whether Junia (or as some translations have it, Junias) is male or female and whether or not this person was an apostle or just well known to the apostles.

    The opinion of the earliest commentators is that Junia was a woman, and she was an apostle, or leader in the church. John Chrysostom (349- 407 AD) the archbishop of Constantinople and famous preacher was opposed to the idea of women in leadership roles but wrote of Junia: “To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.”

    That Junia was female was the consistent view of all church scholars until the 13th century when Giles of Rome, a minister to Pope Boniface insisted that Junia and Andronicus were honourable men. His view was that apostles were always men and so Junia had to be one also. The problem is that in the Greek language the only thing that determined gender in the name was an accent that didn’t come into use until the seventh century, so it could have been male or female. Bible translations were divided on whether to use Junia or Junias even though the name Junias (the male version) doesn’t appear anywhere in ancient Greek literature while Junia (the female version) does. Despite Giles’ efforts the prevailing view remained that Junias was female, and remained the way the name was translated in the Greek text until first Alford in 1858 and then Nestle in 1927 changed it to the male form which is the basis of many Bible translations. In 1980 it was changed back and now usually Junia is accepted as female! The reasons for the debate seem more about personal preference and prejudice than actual study of the language and accepted views of the earliest witnesses.

    Assuming then that Junia is a woman, was she an apostle or just well known to the apostles, and what was her relationship to Andronicus? Most writers believe that Junia and Andronicus were a married couple  who may have been biologically related to Paul or at least part of the same Jewish clan. Paul states that they were believers before he was, and it is possible that they were witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus and members of the earliest church communities. The title of apostle has different meanings in scripture; it is the title given to the first disciples, but then others including Paul, Barnabas, Silas and others were added. These men were recognized as the early leaders of the church. The word itself is Greek and refers to someone who has been sent with a message or a with particular role to fulfil, so it is also used to refer to missionaries, those who begin new ministries, plant churches and so on

    There is little debate that Junia along with Andronicus was outstanding or honourable among the apostles and was counted as being one with them (although not all translators agree!). She is significant because she is mentioned along with other women including Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary and Julia as being foundational members and co-workers with Paul and others in the growing church. It is a pity that she is better known because of the argument around her gender and right to be an apostle than for the service she rendered to Paul and to the church, and through them to us.

  1. How easy is it to let argument over pet issues hide the value of a contribution?
  2. Junia was mentioned along with others because of the service they offered to Paul and the church, what might she have done?
  3. Is it important to know whether Junia was a man or a woman?



Lois and Eunice

  1. Building a heritage
    2 Timothy 1:1-5

    There is only one person in the bible called a grandmother and she only appears briefly in one verse and yet her influence impacted the growth of the early church in a significant way. In 2 Timothy 1:5 we read that two ladies had a profound impact on a young man named Timothy, one was his mother, Eunice and the other is his grandmother, Lois. The second letter that Paul wrote to Timothy contains instructions on how this young man should equip himself to take over from Paul who was in prison expecting execution at any moment, Timothy was serving the church at Ephesus and was Paul’s chosen replacement.

    Eunice is mentioned in Acts 16:1 but not by name. We learn that she was a Jewish woman married to a Greek man. She was a believer and may have come to faith during an earlier visit by Paul to her town that is mentioned in Acts 14. Nothing is said of her husband expect the expressive use of the word ‘but’. Eunice was a believer, ‘but’ he was a Greek! Timothy had been brought up in the Jewish faith but was not circumcised which means that his family were not fully accepted in the Jewish community. It is probable that by the time Paul established a relationship with the family that the father of Timothy was absent, either dead or perhaps divorced. He may have refused to allow Timothy to be circumcised as a baby or else the Jews may have refused to allow it because his father was a Gentile or non-Jew. It seems that Timothy grew up without a father’s influence but he had the faithful example of both his mother and grandmother.

    It was unusual for a Jewish woman to marry a Greek, although that is not remarked upon and his father evidently had not become a Jew. Eunice and her mother had both become Christians before Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5) and their example was so strong that Paul gave them credit for the faith that he saw in Timothy. In 2 Timothy 3:14,15 Paul remarks how Timothy had been taught the scriptures from when he was an infant and in the absence of a faithful father this task would have been undertaken by his mother and grandmother.
    When Paul met with the family in Acts 16 he was so impressed with Timothy that he decided to take him with him, but because Timothy was not circumcised he would not be able to serve in the synagogues as Paul liked to do. So Paul stood in the place of Timothy’s father and arranged for him to be circumcised so that he would be fully accepted by the Jewish community. From then on Timothy became the spiritual son of Paul, and was groomed to take over from him.

    These two ladies, Lois and her daughter Eunice invested in the life of Timothy. First of all they established him in the Jewish faith, even though he would not have been fully accepted by the community. It is likely that his mother also would have struggled to find the support she needed. Lois too may have been criticized for allowing her daughter to marry a non-Jew and the whole family may have been denied the full benefits expected of by those who were properly established in the Jewish faith. They did not allow these things to prevent them making sure that Timothy was well trained and exposed to the truth of God’s word and when they had accepted the good news of Jesus, they were able to see the fruit of their example in the life of their son and grandson.

    Like Eunice and her mother we may not have a supportive community, or a supportive spouse. But we can be a godly influence in our children’s or grandchildren’s lives, or even the lives of other children. Perhaps more than ever, we need godly grandparents like Lois who will encourage and support younger generations and their parents in the faith, especially for those who are separated from biological parents by distance or for some other reason.

  1. While as a parent you are not responsible for the choices your children make, are you providing an example of sincere faith?
  2. Who are the influences in the lives of your children and grandchildren?
  3. Are you investing in the lives of younger people and being an example of faith, establishing them in the truth of God’s word?



Women in the Church

  1. God’s household
    Galatians 6:9-10While it is not intended that these daily notes enter the debate about the role of women in the church generally, it is impossible to ignore the significant part they played in its birth and growth in the early years. As has been described women were identified as hosting churches in their homes, financially supporting other churches and people in ministry, co-working with noted apostles, pioneering new endeavours, and earning the titles of disciple, deacon and apostle. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul assumes that women would be active in prayer and prophesying in public gatherings and he entrusts them with the tasks that were most important in establishing the new communities of faith. In Romans chapter 16, twenty-nine people are mentioned and more women than men are described in terms of their ministries.In the first two hundred years of the Christian church, most meetings were held in homes. Women were involved in each of these house churches. Prisca, with Aquila, hosted and led a house church in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19), and later in Rome (Romans 16:3-5). Apphia was a prominent member of a house church in Colossae and is one of three people greeted in Philemon 1:1-2. Nympha hosted a church in her home in Laodicea and is greeted in Colossians 4:15. Gill and Cavaness note: ‘These households could be sizable domestic communities including immediate family, extended family members, servants/slaves, and employees. In the ancient world, both men and women could be householders and patrons. Women’s experience as managers of these households, their “social authority, economic power, and political influence,” established their leadership in other domains in Greco-Roman society and even synagogue leadership in Jewish society.’Meetings were held in other places as well and the new believers continued to meet in the synagogue and at other times, but a feature of the early church was meeting together in homes. The term ‘household of faith’ is familiar in the New Testament and reflects the social climate but also the desire of these first Christians to meet and learn from one another. The pattern that is described in Acts 2:42-46 was consistent in these gatherings, as they focused around a shared meal, referred to as the breaking of bread together. There would probably be readings of Old Testament teaching, or at least passages quoted from memory (the New Testament did not exist until many years later), they may have a letter from another church or apostle to share and there would be words of encouragement given. How they were organized is not clear, but probably the householder would take the lead and others would participate as they felt led by the Holy Spirit.

    The offices that became associated with the church did not exist although converted Jews who were elders would no doubt continue in that role. The church was dynamic and adjusted to the needs of those that met together and the demands of broader society. All of the first believers were Jews and didn’t consider that faith in Jesus would mean abandoning their history and culture but eventually it became clear that Christians and Jews would inevitably separate. As the church grew and developed its own identity it also took on structures and organization that resulted in women being pushed away from the roles that they held and men taking over almost all leadership positions. Women though have always remained essential to growth of the kingdom, and the household remains the primary building block of the church. It is in these households that men and women of faith have grown and developed into the leaders that shape our lives.

  1. Is it time for the church to rediscover its roots?
  2. In what ways does the church today reflect a household of faith?
  3. How can women best serve the kingdom?


  1. The Ideal woman
    Proverbs 31:10-31Some women who read this passage see it as a threat or an impossible expectation. A standard that if they were compared to they would inevitably come short. In fact the ideal woman of Proverb 31 does not exist but as Ilze Janzen suggests: she is ‘an example of the woman modern women can strive to become. The woman of Proverbs 31:10–31 is a positive role model that modern women can look up to.’The woman described in this proverb is the manager of her household. She is responsible for every aspect of the functions of the house and its occupants and makes sure that everyone plays their part. This woman doesn’t simply delegate but contributes to the physical needs of the household, she is especially involved in her own business which is the production of all forms of textiles. She not only turns the raw product into useable materials, or what we might call adding value to the resources provided from the agricultural activities of her family, but she then produces finished articles of bedding and clothing for her own family and for selling to others.

    Not content with the production, wholesale and retail of the clothing and linen trade she invests in property and manages the real estate portfolio, getting involved in commercial transactions and decisions about the financial future of the family. She sets a standard for others by taking care of the poor and providing a moral framework for her children to follow. The household is identified as hers (verses 15,21,27), but she doesn’t claim it as her own, she is in a relationship with her husband and together they share responsibility for the household, but it is evident that it is she that exercises power in the activities of the home.

    This is a woman who is industrious, generous and competent. She is also honest and trustworthy, her husband knows that she will only seek what is good for him and their children, and that she will sacrifice her own comfort and desires to make sure others will not go without. When she speaks it is thoughtful and wise, and if she needs to correct or teach it will always be with kindness, she carries herself with dignity and looks out the world with confidence. This is a remarkable picture and a standard that may seem beyond reach. It is a picture though of a woman who is not subservient, relegated to the kitchen and absent from the decision making of the home. She has the independence and power to make decisions that affect the financial, social and physical conditions and future of her home and family. She is pictured as an example of an ideal or noble wife.

    In return her children will call her blessed. What mother would not want to have her children publicly praise her and call her blessed? Her husband too, who in this case is a city leader, makes a point of telling everyone what an excellent wife and mother she is. He confidently insists that there is no better wife he could wish for and even though the years may take their toll on her looks, her faith and optimism in God will never diminish and she will remain the target of his praise and thanksgiving. She should be and would be rewarded.
    This woman is pictured as the ideal, something to aspire to. Not because of the set of skills he had but because of her character and faithfulness. She was not secondary to her husband but was equal to him as together they committed to live faithfully and pass on that faith to their children. Together, male and female they were created in the image of God and brought together to complement each other in fulfilling the purpose God had for them.

  1. What do you think of this woman’s example?
  2. If you are a wife or mother would you like your husband or children respond to you as hers did?
  3. If you are a husband, daughter or son is this how you speak of your wife or mother?


  1. What makes a significant woman?
    Psalm 139:13-18Significance can be described as a quality or character that should mark something as important but is not obvious and may or may not be recognized by others. The English word ‘significance’ does not appear in the bible and the nearest to it ‘signification’ is only used negatively to mean that something ‘without signification’ cannot be understood. The idea of signification is to make known or clear, often using words or signs. Words such as important, powerful meaningful or remarkable which can be similes of significant may be found and the context will determine their meaning. So what is the idea of a woman who is significant meant to suggest?

    The women mentioned in this series have had an important role in God’s eternal plan of redemption. They may not have been aware of the part they played and they may have been ignorant of the effect it would have. Some of these women are not well known while others are what might be called Biblical celebrities! Some are obvious such as Eve or Mary the mother of Jesus while many are more obscure like Damaris or Susannah. Some women intended their actions for good while others like Potiphar’s wife had the opposite intent, some acted entirely out of self interest while there were those whose desire was to serve others. They were not significant because of the their personal agenda or characteristics but because God worked in and through them to bring about the plans and purposes he had for the redemption of the world.

    The Contemporary English Bible puts 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 this way: ‘My dear friends, remember what you were when God chose you. The people of this world didn’t think that many of you were wise. Only a few of you were in places of power, and not many of you came from important families. But God chose the foolish things of this world to put the wise to shame. He chose the weak things of this world to put the powerful to shame.’ These thoughts are reflected in the women that God chose to be significant. That is not to say that there were not those who were wise, or in places of power and influence, or from important families, but this is not what made them significant.

    Some of these significant women were married, while others were divorced, widowed or single; some were old, like Elizabeth and Anna while there were children like Miriam, who was later significant as an adult and young teenagers like Mary, the mother of Jesus and Rachel and Rebecca. There were business women including Lydia and Priscilla, women of high social standing and those of dubious backgrounds (Rahab, Mary Magdalane and the woman of Samaria). There were servants (Rhoda, Hagar) and independent and wealthy supporters of Jesus and the apostles. They were called wives, mothers, grandmothers and sisters, prophets, apostles, deacons and disciples, some were poor and oppressed while others rich and powerful. Each one was made in the image of God, chosen and set apart by him and recorded in his word as an example and encouragement for our sake.

    As we read the stories of the Bible and see the characters who appear there, we can see the hand of God actively encouraging and guiding each one so that the way is prepared first of all for the coming of his son, and then the building of his church. Even now he is guiding and encouraging ordinary men and women into places of significance where their words and actions will be important in determining the future of not just their families and friends but the world beyond them, for eternities sake.

  1. Do you feel significant?
  2. How often do we look at ‘celebrities’ as our examples?
  3. Who have been the significant people in your life?


  1. Finding your significance
    Psalm 8:3,4

    There are three things (at least) that all of us need, the first is to be significant, then it is to be safe and finally to be loved. Much of our life is spent trying to satisfy these needs, often in the wrong way! Starting from the end, we all want to belong, to know that someone cares for us, loves us and will accept us despite our faults. We want that love to be unconditional but often fear that it won’t be so that we behave in a particular way to achieve those things that will make people love us. We want to be safe, physically, emotionally and socially. It is important to know that we won’t be harmed especially by those we care about and that we hope care for us. We may feel physically unsafe because we are in a place of risk, or emotionally vulnerable because we are teased or bullied, put down or rejected and we will try to find ways to cope or avoid those situations.

    The third of this trio of needs is to be significant, to have value or worth. To mean something to somebody, and hopefully more than just one person. To be missed when we are not there, to be important enough to be included. These three things are obviously inter-related and consume much of our energy and resources. We may think that we can find them in one person who will become our partner for life, or in  our vocation or hobby or social network, we may seek them in the church or some dream that we pursue. Deep down we may know that God offers all of them through a relationship with Jesus, but we may still feel unfulfilled.

    The writer of Ecclesiastes struggled with these thoughts and concluded that whatever he did, it was pointless, a striving after the wind. He tried chasing wisdom but the smarter he got the less he understood, so he thought he would try just filling his life with what made him happy, but even though he said that there was no pleasure he deprived himself of it was all meaningless. So, he thought he would try to live wisely and that was no good, so maybe he would become a workaholic but again that left him empty. He was wealthy, powerful and had everything he could ever want but it was all vanity. Other people saw him as being important and they wanted his friendship, but only for the advantage they could gain. He saw himself as insignificant, of no importance and toward the end of his book in chapter 12 he writes: ‘Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; … the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity’.

    Many of things we turn to, or encourage our children to seek in which to find significance are like those of the writer of Ecclesiastes. Get a good job, buy a nice house, earn a lot of money, win a medal, drive a good car. Go to the gym and bulk up, or slim down. Change your hairstyle or your clothes, find the right person to marry, get a job title that makes you sound important, have the best garden in the street. None of those things are wrong in themselves but they will not give you the significance that you seek. At best they will go some way to fill the emptiness for a while, but only for a while.

    You are significant, God created you for a purpose and loves you unconditionally. He calls you to trust him and cast your anxieties on his shoulders, because he cares for you. He has promised to never leave you, nor forsake you and to present you spotless when he comes again. He has trusted you with the Holy Spirit to live with and guide you and even when you don’t have the words, he prays for you. He promised that nothing would separate you from his love and in all of these things you are more than a conqueror. You are the child of the king, the inheritor of eternal life and you will reign with him. It doesn’t get more significant than that!

  1. Where do you go to find significance?
  2. Do you feel significant, safe and loved?
  3. When you plan your future what are your ambitions and why?