Introducing Influential Women of the Bible
Some women in the Bible are standouts because of their long-lasting influential power. Some of them, through their actions, provided a direct and obvious influence, but others were influential in a more indirect way. No matter what the case, these women altered salvation history, and their stories continue to be told.
When Eve disobeys God and eats the forbidden fruit — and her husband does likewise — their rebelliousness becomes what Christians historically call original sin or the sin of Adam and Eve. Because Eve was the first woman representing all human beings, the Bible tells us that Eve’s sin also becomes ours, and all humans suffer the same punishment and guilt she did. This infamous credit also goes to Adam, the first man, because he disobeyed God (by eating the forbidden fruit) as much as Eve did.
Theologians have speculated for centuries about what would have happened if our first parents hadn’t sinned. Without original sin, a Redeemer or Savior wouldn’t have been necessary. So the big question that many religious scholars debated in the Middle Ages was whether Christ would have come to earth if there had been no first sin. This great mystery has never been resolved.
Many people speculate that Eve is the universal mother of the human race, not just spiritually but also naturally. Mitochondrial DNA (something every human being has) studies have shown that every man, woman, and child who lived, is living, or will live, is related to and descended from one human female that scientists affectionately call Eve. Studies like these may help to show that all people actually do belong to one global family of humankind.
Sarah is influential in the three monotheistic religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism owes a debt of gratitude to Sarah for her role in establishing the Hebrew faith, and Christians are equally appreciative. Because Jesus also comes from her lineage, Sarah has influence over Christianity. The Christian Messiah was a Jew and came from the Hebrew faith, as did his early followers.
Sarah even influenced the Islam religion. That’s because in her barren years, she requests that Abraham sire a child with her maidservant, Hagar. Although her choice to promote an Arabic (Egyptian) servant as surrogate mother wasn’t an easy one, she fears that her husband will have no one to establish the dynasty if she can’t have a child. Later, after Isaac is born, bad blood develops between these women, and Sarah requests that Hagar and her son, Ishmael, be exiled. That unfortunate turn of events allows Ishmael to establish his own dynasty, separate from the Hebrew one of Isaac. Muslims (followers of the religion of Islam established by the Arab prophet Mohammed in AD 610) see themselves as children of Abraham via the Ishmaelites.
Although her actions were unintentional and not altruistic, Sarah still influences Islam by being the catalyst that results in Abraham’s fathering a son with an Egyptian servant. Sarah’s initial suggestion that her maidservant Hagar have a child (Ishmael) with Abraham started a chain reaction of events that influenced the future.
Tamar is influential in that she is an integral part of the ancestry of King David and, ultimately, Jesus the Messiah. Her significance, however, is also due to her perseverance and her intelligence, which allows her to outwit her father-in-law, Judah.
Tamar is important for two reasons:
- Her maternal abilities (and wants) help to continue the lineage that will lead to Christ himself. Her influence goes beyond her biological reproduction capabilities, however.
- The difficult choices she makes influence how the lineage continues. She uses her smarts and guts, thereby eventually changing history.
Her first husband, Er, dies before they have any children. Then, according to custom, she marries his brother, Onan. Unfortunately, he dies just as suddenly — well before any little ones arrive. Only one brother, Shelah, is left, but he is too young to marry at the time.
Tamar patiently waits as her biological clock ticks. She’s in a difficult situation. People in those days depended on their adult sons and daughters to care for them in their old age. Judah, the father of three sons, had promised Tamar his last son when he was of age. But Judah doesn’t fulfill his promise. Tamar is left childless and also a widow two times around. Her fate is bleak until she outsmarts her father-in-law. Pretending to be a prostitute, she lays a trap for Judah, who sleeps with her, thinking she is a common harlot.
After his visit, she wisely keeps some of his personal belongings. And after she discovers she’s pregnant, she uses his possessions as proof that he is the father. Tamar’s plan works, and Judah owns up to his responsibilities. Twins Perez and Zerah are born, the first being a direct ancestor of King David and of Jesus as well.
Bathsheba is both gorgeous and brilliant, and although she’s no saint, she’s not a demon, either. The Bible doesn’t reveal what, if anything, she knew of David’s successful scheme to have her first husband, Uriah, bumped off while in battle. But it’s certain that Bathsheba’s very presence and beauty are influential on King David, and her later agreement to commit adultery and her subsequent pregnancy lead the king to plot the murder of her first husband. Bathsheba also influences her dying second husband, King David, by making him keep his pledge that their son, Solomon, will become his successor as king of Israel, despite Adonijah’s attempted seizure of the throne.
Bathsheba has a great influence on her second son — Solomon — as she raises him, and he becomes the wisest man on earth. Bathsheba finally seals Solomon’s fate when Adonijah tries to use her to get Solomon to give over Abishag, the former concubine of David. By making this bizarre request to Solomon on behalf of Adonijah, Bathsheba thus reveals (perhaps unintentionally) the never-ending scheming of Solomon’s half brother to steal the crown.
Bathsheba protects the lineage from King David, her husband, to King Solomon, her son, and through Solomon the line will continue to Jesus of Nazareth. Even though the kingdom will divide into two separate kingdoms — Israel and Judah — Bathsheba’s influence to preserve the dynasty is still successful. Unfortunately, she isn’t able to prevent her son in his later years from breaking the law of God and becoming an idolater, worshipping the false gods of his many wives. She does, however, keep Solomon on the throne, and according to the Bible, that’s enough to continue God’s plan for his people.
Zipporah, a daughter of Jethro and wife of Moses, is another influential woman of the Old Testament. Zipporah catches Moses’ eye as he heroically protects her and her six sisters from a bunch of thugs who are harassing them. She soon becomes Mrs. Moses.
Zipporah’s greatest influence probably stems from her actions in Exodus 4 — actions that change the course of history for Moses. Because Moses has not circumcised his son, he offends God so much that the Lord is about to smite him (the biblical way of eliminating a problem). Zipporah saves the day by circumcising their boy herself and throwing the foreskin at the feet of Moses. Whether Moses had inadvertently neglected doing this procedure or intentionally refrained from doing it, circumcision was nevertheless the sign of the covenant (the sacred oath between God and the Hebrew people).
Zipporah’s action is so influential that it actually saves Moses’ life that day, enabling him to continue on to Egypt, confront Pharaoh, and secure the release of all the Hebrew slaves.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a highly influential woman of the Bible. Not only does she give birth to the Christian Savior and Messiah, but she also provides a great example of Christian discipleship.
Her influence begins as she reacts to the angel Gabriel’s news that she will soon become a mother, despite the fact that she is a virgin. The heavenly messenger assures her that she’ll conceive by divine — not human — intervention. After Mary finds out that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her (she will conceive by the power of God and without the cooperation of a human father) and the child she is to mother will be called holy, the Son of God, she gives a reply that influences countless future generations: “Be it done unto me according to your word” (see Luke 1:38, King James Version). These can be considered the best words spoken by any disciple of the Lord; she is basically saying let it happen as God wills (and not her will), a sentiment of many people who practice their faith.
During Jesus’ adult life, Mary influences her son, even if only with a nudge. At the wedding feast of Cana, Mary is the one who mentions to Christ that the wine is all gone. Who but a mother would notice such a detail? Her request is followed by Jesus’ first public miracle, turning gallons of water into vintage, premium wine. After this event, mother and son no longer lead a quiet life, and Jesus begins his public ministry, teaching and preaching for the next three years.
Mary is also present, along with the apostles, at the descent of the Holy Spirit 50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus, an event called Pentecost. She is the only one who already “knows” the Holy Spirit, because it was by this power that she conceived a child without the biological cooperation of any human father. The one biological connection to Jesus is his mother, Mary, and the apostles stay close to her at least from the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus until the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Remember, the apostles didn’t have any photos of Jesus to help them remember him, but they had his mom, who reminded them of her son.
Even after her death, Mary’s influence in the early and medieval church is enormous. No other woman is the subject of as many poems, hymns, sculptures, paintings, and other artistic works. She influenced thousands of artists, poets, musicians, and theologians over the past two millennia. Medieval and renaissance artists did more than simply depict or represent the Virgin Mary as the subject in their works. They often sought to also honor her as sons and daughters might try to honor their own earthly mother.