Although Bible women for the most part are shadowy, subordinate figures, particularly in the Old Testament, there were those like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth and Esther who were outstanding, each having a distinction of her own, as our next chapter shows. What is striking is the fact that whether the women were queens or commoners, chaste or bad, their lives are frankly portrayed, proving the Bible to be a faithful biography of humanity.
The sacred record of woman’s special creation (Genesis 1:26, 27; 2:18-24), declares not only her full humanity but also her superiority to the lower animal world which God also brought into being. Woman appeared as the counterpart and helper of man, and being part of his inmost being holds an intimate relationship to him. Adam, being a collective term for mankind, includes women. “Let us make man ... and let them....” “In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:26, 27). Woman is the feminine of man. While higher criticism and evolution discredit the Biblical record of woman’s formation from the rib of man (Genesis 2:21-24), the passage emphasizes, most profoundly, the inseparable unity and fellowship of a woman’s life with that of man’s. She is not only man’s helper (Genesis 2:18), but also his complement, and is most essential to the completion of his being. Matthew Henry’s comment on the creation of Eve is most expressive—
If man is the head, she [woman] is the crown, a crown to her husband, the crown of the visible creation. The man was dust refined, but the woman was double-refined, one remove further from the earth.... The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.
Eve, then, was Adam’s second self and differed from him in sex only, not in nature. Priority of creation gave Adam headship but not superiority. Both man and woman were endowed for equality and for mutual interdependence. Often woman excels man in the capacity to endure ill-treatment, sorrow, pain and separation. Throughout history, man, through pride, ignorance or moral perversion has treated woman as being greatly inferior, and has enslaved and degraded her accordingly. Among many heathen tribes today woman is a mere chattel, the burden-bearer, with no rights whatever to equality with man.
While the ancient world was predominantly a man’s world, woman enjoyed a status in Israel not generally experienced in the East. The Jews, holding to the revelation given to Moses of woman’s endowments, worth and rightful position, were outstanding among other oriental nations in holding woman in high esteem, honor and affection. Christianity, as we are to see, brought full emancipation to womanhood, and wherever Christ is recognized as Saviour and His truth is obeyed, woman is esteemed as man’s loved companion, confidant and, in many ways, his better half.
Before dealing with the manifold features of the life of Bible women, it may prove helpful to briefly outline the approach to women in the Scriptures. We take, first of all—