Women and authority in the Bible, Part I

Women often held positions of power, authority, or prominence in the Bible.
Photo: AP Photo

WASHINGTON, September 2, 2013 — Since Adam and Eve, lines of Biblical authority have flowed through the men in the family. After they ate from the one forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3:16 says of the woman Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

In verse 17, the ground is cursed because Adam listened to his wife and tried the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil at Eve’s suggestion.

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The surety of death for both Adam and Eve is the culmination of the curse given in the end of verse 17.

Most Bible narratives support the idea that the authority in the family belongs to the family patriarch. The twelve tribes of Israel were named after the sons of Jacob, later named Israel. Daughters were less desired in the agrarian society of the Hebrews because they were not as fit for war or farming in an age when most combat was hand-to-hand, and most farming was brutally physical work.

This doesn’t mean women didn’t take part in the religious life of the Hebrews. This is made obvious in the beautiful story of Ruth in the Old Testament.

Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi had returned home from Moab after their husbands had both died. Naomi’s other widowed daughter-in-law, Orpah, had stayed behind in Moab.

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When Ruth and Naomi returned to Israel, they hoped for a kinsman redeemer, a near relative to take them in and to marry one of them and provide a male son through them to extend their family name and lineage.

They were not expected to remain on their own or to be left homeless. Their male relatives were to take responsibility for the women in this case. The nearest male relative was required by Hebrew law to take them in and provide food and lodging until a male heir was born and raised to support the mother and the family.

The kinsman redeemer would assume responsibility for them and be given authority in their situation. Men were considered lawbreakers, or at least irresponsible, if they did not rise up an heir and provider for a widow of near kinship.

In the Bible, whenever someone takes responsibility for a person, object or situation, God gives them authority in that area. The inverse is also true. When Adam and Eve were not responsible in their charge from God to avoid the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they lost their position of authority over the garden of God.

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The same principle holds true today. With God, authority follows responsibility.

Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth was instrumental in finding both of them provision in Israel. As Ruth worked the fields, she found someone who would take responsibility for them as well as provide for them — Boaz, a wealthy kinsman farmer who fell in love with the young widow Ruth.

Another kinsman was first in line to take responsibility or redeem Ruth, but his estate was already settled, so he opted out and Boaz took his place. Authority had to be transferred by handing over a sandal as a symbol of the transfer.

This happened with the elders assembled at the city gates.

Ruth, a foreigner, married Boaz and became an extremely important part in the biblical narrative. From this union came the grandfather of Israel’s King David, and later in the lineage, Jesus Christ himself.

There are numbers of cases where men in the Bible were irresponsible and women took over. When Moses ignored God’s command to circumcise his son, an angel stood in the road waiting to kill Moses for disobeying.

Moses’s wife, Ziporah, took responsibility and circumcised their son, and there was a special respect for her from then on out in the scripture.

Deborah appears in the Book of Judges in the Old Testament as a prophetess and a judge who “held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided (Judges 4:5 NIV).”

Wow! A woman was the chief judge over the whole country. That is some kind of authority! Deborah gave a prophetic pronouncement to Barak in her authoritative role as a prophetess, another position of authority, to go and attack Sisera, a Canaanite commander.

Barak wouldn’t go unless Deborah agreed to go with him, even though he was obviously a recognized military commander of the Israelites.

Deborah’s agreement to go along came with a condition: the honor for defeating Sisera would go to a woman. One would think that Deborah was speaking of herself, but she wasn’t. Sisera’s troops were defeated as Deborah had said, but Sisera fled to a friendly area and went into a friend’s tent welcomed by the friend’s wife, Jael.

When Sisera asked for water, Jael gave him milk and he fell asleep exhausted. The great Sisera’s end came as he lay sleeping and exhausted as Jael drove a tent peg through his temple into the ground. Another woman bests a man and fulfills God’s plan in the process.

The story of Abigail, an obviously submissive wife, is found in Samuel 25. The soon-to-be king, David, had been careful to take care of those within territory he had taken in battle. One farmer and landholder named Nabal had been under David’s protection and David sent servants to ask for provisions from this man who summarily rejected them even though David had protected Nabal and all he had.

When Abigail found out about it, she gathered enough food for David’s small army and headed toward his lines. He was coming to destroy Nabal and all that he had when Abigail met him. She took responsibility for the negligence of her husband and David spared her, her husband, and her property.

Nabal spent the night drunk and the next morning, Abigail told him what had happened and he immediately had a stroke and “became like a stone,” dying about ten days later.

When David heard this, he took Abigail as a wife, obviously because of her character and wisdom.

She achieved position and saved her own life and estate because she took responsibility to make things right.

There are many other examples in scripture of women being given authority in God’s plan because they were willing to take responsibility and be obedient to God’s will and purpose.


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Randall Furrow

Randall Furrow is an ordained minister who hails from King George, VA. 

He lives there with his wife, Dr. Meredith Furrow, the most organized person in the world.  In church, you'll usually find Randall singing or playing the guitar or piano.  He is an avid song writer and enjoys telling jokes and talking to others about God and religion and the Bible.  He holds a M. A. in Theological History from Oral Roberts University where he enjoyed biblical language studies and some involvement in the music ministries there. 

Randall is owner of Alphaboot Computers, Inc., which has recently opened its second store.  He does in-house and traveling on site computer repair in the Northern Neck area of Virginia and builds, buys, and sells computers.  Randall's ministry, besides music, is primarily one-on-one although he speaks to small groups several times a year. 

He occasionally does sound mixing for a local recording studio and enjoys recording audio and midi via computer.  He has two children, David and Amanda, both wonderful college students.

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