Widows in the Bible

Robin Gallaher Branch: “In the Bible, widows are teaching tools”

Professor Robin Gallaher Branch of Victory University in Memphis, Tennessee, explores the role of widows in the Bible, explaining that they are not always the elderly and impoverished “wizened whiners” that we imagine. Very often in the Bible, widows are used as teaching tools to help make a special point.

Widowhood presents a difficult time in a woman’s life, especially when compounded with a diminished ability to meet financial needs, a common circumstance in the ancient patriarchal world of the Bible. Widows in the Bible, therefore, become a special teaching opportunity for the Biblical authors to present theological insights. In the January/February 2013 Biblical Archaeology Review Biblical Views column, Professor Robin Gallaher Branch presents several examples of how, in the Bible, widows can serve as special textual markers to alert readers that something significant is about to happen.

In both the New Testament and Hebrew Bible, widows are repeatedly the subjects of miracles. Following the death of her husband, a widow’s best hope for security would be her son’s ability to provide for her. The loss of a son was thus an even greater tragedy for a widow. Three miracles concerning widows in the Bible prevent or restore the loss of the widows’ sons so the family can survive (1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:1–7; Luke 7:11–17).

The case of the widow Naomi, however, has a twist because her redemption comes unexpectedly through her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth, rather than her own sons (Ruth 2–4).

In other examples from the Bible, widows such as Abigail and Judith use their beauty and resourcefulness to take care of themselves and others.
 
For more about the role of widows in the Bible, read Robin Gallaher Branch, Biblical Views: “Biblical Widows—Groveling Grannies or Teaching Tools?” in the January/February 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Not a BAS Library member yet? Sign up today!
 


 

More from Robin Gallaher Branch in Bible History Daily

The Bible and Sexuality in South Africa

Barnabas: An Encouraging Early Church Leader Part 1, Part 2

Judith: A Remarkable Heroine Part 1, Part 2

With Age Comes Experience

What’s Funny About the Gospel of Mark?

SBL Meeting Gives New Insights on Paul

Getting to Know SBL’s John Kutsko

Studying the Ancient Israelites

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  1. Daniel says

    As John Allegro pointed out many years ago. Of all the living creatures its only human females that bear 12 fruits per year.

    The Tree of Life (at least the one in the Bible) is the human female

    Revelation 22:2
    In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

  2. Kurt says

    How Do God and Christ View Women?

    HOW can we have a complete picture of how Jehovah God views women? One way is to examine the attitude and conduct of Jesus Christ, who is “the image of the invisible God” and who reflects perfectly God’s view of matters. (Colossians 1:15) The dealings Jesus had with the women of his day show that Jehovah and Jesus respect women and that they certainly do not approve of the oppressive treatment that is so common in many lands today.
    Consider, for example, the occasion when Jesus spoke to a woman at a well. “A woman of Samaria came to draw water,” says John’s Gospel account, and “Jesus said to her: ‘Give me a drink.’” Jesus was willing to talk with a Samaritan woman in public, even though most Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. According to The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, for Jews “conversation with a woman in a public place was particularly scandalous.” Jesus, however, treated women with respect and consideration and was neither racially prejudiced nor gender prejudiced. On the contrary, it was to the Samaritan woman that Jesus for the first time plainly identified himself as the Messiah.—John 4:7-9, 25, 26.
    On another occasion Jesus was approached by a woman who for 12 years had been suffering from an embarrassing and debilitating flow of blood. When she touched him, she was instantly healed. “Jesus turned around and, noticing her, said: ‘Take courage, daughter; your faith has made you well.’” (Matthew 9:22) According to the Mosaic Law, a woman in her condition was not supposed to be in a crowd of people, let alone touch others. Yet, Jesus did not berate her. Rather, he compassionately comforted her and addressed her as “daughter.” How that word must have put her heart at ease! And how happy Jesus must have been to cure her!
    After Jesus was resurrected, his first appearance was to Mary Magdalene and another of his disciples, whom the Bible refers to as “the other Mary.” Jesus could have appeared first to Peter, John, or one of the other male disciples. Instead, he dignified women by allowing them to be the first eyewitnesses of his resurrection. An angel instructed them to inform Jesus’ male disciples about this astonishing event. Jesus said to the women: “Go, report to my brothers.” (Matthew 28:1, 5-10) Jesus was certainly not affected by the prejudices common to Jews of his day, according to which women could not serve as legal witnesses.
    So, far from being biased against women or condoning chauvinistic attitudes toward them in any way, Jesus showed that he respected and appreciated women. Violence against them was completely contrary to what Jesus taught, and his attitude, we can be sure, was a perfect reflection of the way his Father, Jehovah, sees things.
    Women Under Divine Care
    “Nowhere in the ancient Mediterranean or Near East were women accorded the freedom that they enjoy in modern Western society. The general pattern was one of subordination of women to men, just as slaves were subordinate to the free, and young to old. . . . Male children were more highly esteemed than female, and baby girls were sometimes left to die by exposure.” That is how one Bible dictionary describes the prevailing attitude toward females in ancient times. In many cases, they were almost put on the same level as slaves.
    The Bible was written at a time when customs reflected this attitude. Even so, divine law as expressed in the Bible showed a high regard for women, which was in marked contrast with the attitudes of many ancient cultures.
    Jehovah’s concern for the welfare of women is evident from the several instances in which he acted in behalf of his female worshippers. Twice he intervened to protect Abraham’s beautiful wife, Sarah, from being violated. (Genesis 12:14-20; 20:1-7) God showed favor to Jacob’s less-loved wife, Leah, by ‘opening her womb,’ so that she bore a son. (Genesis 29:31, 32) When two God-fearing Israelite midwives risked their lives to preserve Hebrew male children from infanticide in Egypt, Jehovah appreciatively “presented them with families.” (Exodus 1:17, 20, 21) He also answered Hannah’s fervent prayer. (1 Samuel 1:10, 20) And when the widow of a prophet faced a creditor who was about to take her children as slaves to pay off her debt, Jehovah did not leave her in the lurch. Lovingly, God enabled the prophet Elisha to multiply her supply of oil so that she could pay the debt and still have sufficient oil for her family. She thus preserved her family and her dignity.—Exodus 22:22, 23; 2 Kings 4:1-7.
    The prophets repeatedly condemned the exploitation of women or the use of violence against them. The prophet Jeremiah told the Israelites in Jehovah’s name: “Render justice and righteousness, and deliver the one that is being robbed out of the hand of the defrauder; and do not maltreat any alien resident, fatherless boy or widow. Do them no violence. And do not shed any innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:2, 3) Later, the rich and powerful in Israel were condemned because they had evicted women from their homes and mistreated their children. (Micah 2:9) The God of justice sees and condemns as evil such suffering caused to women and their children.
    The “Capable Wife”
    An appropriate view of a capable wife is presented by the ancient writer of the Proverbs. Since this beautiful description of the role and the status of a wife was included in Jehovah’s Word, we can be sure that he approves of it. Far from being oppressed or being viewed as inferior, such a woman is appreciated, respected, and trusted.
    The “capable wife” of Proverbs chapter 31 is a vigorous and industrious worker. She works hard at what is “the delight of her hands” and engages in trade and even real estate transactions. She sees a field and proceeds to buy it. She makes undergarments and sells them. She gives belts to the tradesmen. She is vigorous in her strength and activity. Moreover, her words of wisdom and her loving-kindness are greatly appreciated. As a result, she is highly esteemed by her husband, by her sons and, most important, by Jehovah.
    Women are not to be the oppressed victims of men who take advantage of them, mistreat them, or subject them to abuse of any kind. Instead, the married woman is to be the happy and accomplished “complement” of her husband.—Genesis 2:18.
    Assign Them Honor
    When writing to Christian husbands about how they should treat their wives, the inspired writer Peter urged husbands to imitate the attitudes of Jehovah and Jesus Christ. “You husbands, continue . . . assigning them honor,” he wrote. (1 Peter 3:7) Assigning honor to a person implies that one values and respects such a one highly. Thus, the man who honors his wife does not humiliate her, downgrade her, or treat her violently. Rather, he demonstrates by his words and his deeds—in public and in private—that he cherishes and loves her.
    Honoring one’s wife certainly contributes to happiness in a marriage. Consider the example of Carlos and Cecilia. At a certain point in their married life, they often found themselves arguing without ever coming to a conclusion. At times, they just stopped talking to each other. They did not know how to resolve their problems. He was aggressive; she was demanding and proud. When they began studying the Bible and applying what they learned, however, things began to improve. Cecilia observes: “I realize that Jesus’ teachings and the example he left have transformed my personality and also my husband’s. Thanks to Jesus’ example, I have become more humble and understanding. I have learned to seek Jehovah’s help in prayer, as Jesus did. Carlos has learned to become more tolerant and show more self-control—to honor his wife as Jehovah desires.”
    Their marriage is not perfect, but it has stood the test of time. In recent years they have had to face serious difficulties—Carlos lost his job and had to undergo surgery for cancer. Yet, these upheavals have not shaken their marriage bond, which has grown even stronger.
    Since mankind’s fall into imperfection, women in many cultures have been treated dishonorably. They have been physically, mentally, and sexually abused. But that is not the treatment Jehovah intended for them. The Bible record clearly shows that no matter what cultural views may prevail, all women should be treated with honor and respect. It is their God-given due.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/102008002?q=Women+in+Bible&p=par
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/s/r1/lp-e?q=Women+in+Bible&p=par


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