Many of the personal names people are known by today go back to the early twilight of human history when man learned to distinguish his fellowmen by names, and a large number of our names, especially surnames, are the simple names of Bible characters. Further, the Jews of old attached special significance to their names, most of which had definite meanings, emphasized by the frequent occurrence of the phrase, “He shall be called.” William Camden (1551-1623), the English historian, in Remains Concerning Britain wrote—
It seemeth to have been the manner, at the giving of names, to wish the children might perform and discharge their names as when Gunthram, King of the French, named Clotharious at the font, he said, Crescat puer et Lujus sit nominis executor—meaning, “Let the boy grow up and he will fulfill his name.”
In early English history Bible names associated with personal traits and also dramatic incidents were chosen as font or baptismal names, as the lists of female names in Webster’s Dictionary reveal. Thus Eve, because of her association with the creation of the world, along with its cognates, Eva and Evelyn, enjoyed widespread popularity as did several poetic names as Sarah, meaning, lady, princess, queen; Susanna, Lily; Hannah, grace; Miriam, bitterness or sorrow; Esther, star; Hagar, flight, etc.
A remarkable feature of the Puritan Age was the choice of names expressing the sense of humiliation and consciousness of sin. There is no other explanation for the mentality of parents choosing names like Delilah, Tamar and Sapphira for their daughters. In these modern days when reason proudly rejects the Puritan faith, it is well to remember what we owe to the men and women whose Bible names bore witness to a consecration of life to what was best and noblest.
As we hope to prove, the women of the Bible form the most remarkable portrait Gallery in existence. Many of them are among the immortals, with records imperishably enshrined for us in God’s biography of humanity. As H. V. Morton expresses it—
They form a feminine picture gallery unmatched in the whole of literature. Their histories, the diversity of their fate, and the influence which the story of their lives has exerted on the World, make them unique. Why, one may wonder, do these women so far from us in time and so briefly described, live so vividly in the imagination? It is not merely because they happen to occur in Scripture: it is because they are so palpably alive.
George Matheson develops a similar thought in his Representative Women of the Bible.
Amid the galleries of the ancient world there is one whose female characters are unique: it is that of the Bible. As I look into this Judaic Gallery that which arrests me most is the beginning of it and the end of it. At its opening and at its close the hand of the artist has been strikingly at work, and in each case on a female portraiture. The hall of entrance and the hall of exit are each occupied by a picture of Woman. The pictures are different in execution and unlike in their expression; but in each the idea is the same—the enfranchisement of the feminine soul.... The entrance portrait is that of Eve, a hymn of female conquest expressed in colours.... Woman is recognized as the prospective possessor of the Garden of Life—the future mistress of the home.... At the other end of the Gallery—the completing end ... we have an exultant woman proclaiming to all the earth the tidings of her emancipation. “He that is mighty hath done great things for me.” We hear womanhood rejoicing in the lifting of her chain ... the prediction of the morning that the female spirit should bruise the serpent’s head.... One of the effects of Christianity has been the enfranchisement of Woman.... Yet not simply one of the effects of Christianity: it is the effect of which all other changes are results.
Further, our expositions of Bible women who stand out in their race and time as no women of later generations stand out, will be allied to present-day application—a feature W. Mackintosh Mackay has so admirably developed in his Bible Types of Modern Women. We shall see how the best among female characters in Scripture who were trail blazers for larger freedom of thought and action have contributed to the present high status of womanhood; and how the worst Bible women remain as signals marking the dangerous shoals, quicksands and rocks of life. Circumstances wrecking their lives still exist as death traps.
As human nature has not changed much through past millenniums, the whole of womanhood, which is presented to us as the women of the Bible, unchanging, unvarying from age to age, is a feminine portrait gallery drawn with a marvelous stark economy and unsurpassed in its variety in the whole of literature. Eve is the mother of all those mothers who have seen their favorite first-born branded with shame. Among our friends can be found an acquaintance devoted and firm-minded like Sarah; a monument of fierce and doting motherhood such as Rebekah was; a well-favored Rachel, “whose easy charm vanishes into an envious and petulant old age.” Within our own families we have opportunities of studying Mary and Martha. As for Potiphar’s wife she “moves through the newspapers in a variety of guises, and Delilah is a character known to the police and the legal profession: the female Judas who is always willing to entrap a Samson for silver.”
For the sake of convenience we have chosen to list the named women of the Bible alphabetically rather than chronologically. In this way it is easier for those who use the material to identify each character. As truth is the common property of us all, the writer sincerely hopes that the sketches he has drawn will prove to be useful in the ministry of those who have opportunities of winning girls and women for the Master. Eternity alone will reveal the extent of the influence of women whose spirit came to rejoice in God their Saviour, and who, having discovered the Well of Life, left their waterpots.