The literature of this period come from two types of sources--historical and prophetic. The historical material is given in I Kings 12 through the end of 2nd Kings, and II Chronicles. The prophetic literature that falls into this period occurs in the books of Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Of these, Jonah, Amos, Hosea dealt with the Northern Kingdom (generally), and Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah focused on the Southern Kingdom.
This period is a period of high turmoil, so there is little or no 'leisure literature' of the period. (Lamentations was produced AFTER the Fall of Jerusalem, and will be covered in THAT time period.)
So, in this period, we have TWO sources of primary data: the historical data in the narratives/literature between the division of the Kingdom (in I Kings 11-12) and the Fall of the Jerusalem, and the data in the prophetic writings within that period. In this section, we will focus on the HISTORICAL data.
One: The Historical Data from the Divided Kingdom-period narratives.
We can arrange this material under the following categories:
- The importance of the Queen-mother (and the Queen)
- Specific ways God used women in His plan
- Interactions between God and women in the text
- Aspects of the literary portrayal of women in the lit
- Indications of their relative "equality" within the culture
- Passages illustrating their legal status
- Indications of their roles in the cult and other public life
- The outstanding women heroes and role-models of the period.
It is commonly assumed that, since all the kings of Israel were men, that women had no access to governmental power. We will see that this is very wrong, esp. in this period. Not only will we see an offical 'court prophetess' (i.e. Huldah), but we will see a continuation of the queen-mother position instituted by Solomon in I Kings 2.
Some might object that their power was only derived from their relationship with a male (which is actually excepted at least once in the biblical record with Athaliah--2 Kgs 11). But strangely enough, this makes access to power MORE AVAILABLE to women than men. Think about this: ANY women could marry a king and so become a queen, and possibly a queen-mother if any of her sons came to the throne (a study of the backgrounds of the queen-mothers of Israel would show an incredible diversity of backgrounds of the wives). But a male could only become a king if he were born of the reigning king! Bloodlines are so much more restrictive than are marriages--for accession to power.
In the U.S.A, there was a popular saying when I was a kid--"any boy could become president." But in Israel, this was NOT the case--"NO boy can become king--except one of the handful born in the court!". But, "any woman could marry the king--and become a queen" would have been true in Israel of this period (and was actually demonstrated in actual practice.)
Let's look at some of the passages that illustrate aspects of the status, power, and influence of the queen.
6 So when Ahijah heard the sound of her footsteps at the door, he said, "Come in, wife of Jeroboam. Why this pretense? I have been sent to you with bad news. 7 Go, tell Jeroboam that this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `I raised you up from among the people and made you a leader over my people Israel. 8 I tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, but you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commands and followed me with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes. 9 You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made for yourself other gods, idols made of metal; you have provoked me to anger and thrust me behind your back. 10 " `Because of this, I am going to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam. I will cut off from Jeroboam every last male in Israel -- slave or free. I will burn up the house of Jeroboam as one burns dung, until it is all gone. 11 Dogs will eat those belonging to Jeroboam who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country. The LORD has spoken!' 12 "As for you, go back home. When you set foot in your city, the boy will die. 13 All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only one belonging to Jeroboam who will be buried, because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the LORD, the God of Israel, has found anything good.Notice that (1) Jeroboam trusted his wife with this important task--instead of his other possible agents; (2) God delivers a prophecy to the wife, and entrusts it to her care and delivery; (3) no criticism of the queen-wife is made; (4) her son is actually complimented in the message from God!!; and (5) she faithfully performs all the tasks she is asked to do--in spite of the possible reprisals of her husband due to the 'strong' message.
Notice carefully that the queen mother was a 'position' that was NOT automatic! The fact that the good king Asa 'deposed' his grandmother indicates that 'queen mother' was a position with definite authority and power. This would have involved public announcements as well. [see also 2 Chrn 15.16]
Here was a diplomatic party from the Southern kingdom to the North. The relatives of the king of Judah were paying a 'political' visit to the relatives of the king of Israel. Notice that the dignitaries mentioned included the king and the queen mother BOTH, and the families of BOTH. The queen mother is apparently a very important personage.
Notice that this queen mother had sufficient power and influence to rule "without a male" for SIX years! She must have had adequate support from the large majority of court "males". The significance of this for our study here is that the populace didn't apparently think it too odd. In other words, the queen mother was apparently involved enough in the day-to-day ruling of the kingdom to not be 'out of character' in ruling alone. This indicates that the range of power and responsibility of the queen mother, although not delineated in the bible, was considerably larger than is commonly imagined.
There were a number of situations where God used women to further His plan in history--with the instruments of His work spanning the entire spectrum of social status--from queen mother to captive slave girl in Syria. Let's look at some of these.
Notice: God had specifically instructed a foreign woman to take care of his 'lead' prophet of the time! This person gets a direct command from God (non-mediated) and is the single means of support for the prophet Elijah.
Compare with the end of the story (verse 17): "If you will not," said Naaman, "please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD.
This "conversion" of a gentile military commander, from the worship of the foreign god Rimmon, to the true God YHWH, started with a captive Israelite slave girl speaking up! She somehow knew about Elijah and had faith in his prophetic ministry. She apparently also cared enough for her master and mistress to speak up.
Here we have a future queen mother keeping the future good king Joash alive. Joash will be a positive influence on the nation, but he would have been killed by Alhaliah had his mother not been used of God to save his life.
Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophetess Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the Second District. 15 She said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 `This is what the LORD says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.' 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, `This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 19 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. 20 Therefore I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.'" So they took her answer back to the king. 1 Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. 2 He went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets -- all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD. 3 The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD -- to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.In this event, the good king Josiah had discovered what was apparently the core of the book of Deuteronomy. He sends his royal 'cabinet' to the prophetess Huldah, who delivers a message to the king from the LORD. This message is so used by God to stir the king to action, that massive reforms sweep the nation, staving off disaster for a while. God used His faithful daughter Huldah to get a message of judgment (and implicit hope) to the person who could make a difference.
"It is possible that Huldah's career involved some sort of official position in the temple, since the Mishnah--a compilation of Jewish commentary and traditions completed in about 200CE--states that the two southern gates to the Temple Mount were called the Huldah Gates (Middoth 1.3). But she seems especially to have merited renown as a scholar, for it is on that basis that the king and high priest seek her opinion on the authenticity of the newly discovered scroll...The nature of her reputation seems all the more extraordinary when one realizes that Hilkiah immediately seeks her counsel, apparently never considering an approach to a male member of any school of priests, prophets, or sages." (WS:TSOS:144).
Patronage is a system that generally occurs in most developed societies. There are people of means who basically support (financially) individuals with specialized functions in the culture. We are most familiar in Western culture with things like 'patron of the arts'--meaning someone who donates resources/money to art institutions and artists. But there have also been patrons of the sciences and patrons of the church. [Patronage was highly developed in the Greeco-Roman world, as we shall see in the NT section of this course.]
Of relevance to our study here, is that God assigned 'patrons' to support his prophets, while they carried on full-time ministries to His people. These patrons were NOT men--they were women. The two most famous prophets to the Northern Kingdom--Elijah and Elisha--had patronage relations of this sort.
We have already seen how God had apparently spoken to this woman, but here we note that the subject of that command was patronage of the famous prophet Elijah. She keeps him alive for quite some time (although she was actually funded by a miracle from YHWH--vv.13-16: Elijah said to her, "Don't be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.
14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.'"
15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.
16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah. ). Notice that this woman was a poor widow, with a son.
Although this was apparently not a full-time deal (although Elisha probably took food from the couple for his journeys), it was significant enough for Elisha to consider how to 'repay' the woman (no mention of the husband) in vvs. 13-14. [This relationship continued for quite some time.] Notice that this woman was a rich wife, without a son.
There are several passages in which God's direct interaction and/or relationship with women per se can be seen.
The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves." 2 Elisha replied to her, "How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?" "Your servant has nothing there at all," she said, "except a little oil." 3 Elisha said, "Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don't ask for just a few. 4 Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side." 5 She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. 6 When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another one." But he replied, "There is not a jar left." Then the oil stopped flowing. 7 She went and told the man of God, and he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left."Notice that God provided for this widow of a prophet--through the ministry of Elisha.
Notice that God delivered a very practical prophecy to this woman--and apparently not to anyone else!
The historical material falls into the same pattern we have seen before--women are used to show the 'better qualities' we are to have. They are also represented in the narratives as having a wide range of important function in this generally difficult time.
There are many general indications of female 'equality' before God in the narratives. They are held equally guilty, are equally punished, have a high degree of influence, and are valued highly (and coordinately).
There are two very interesting pieces of data in this period--the story of Elisha's patron, and the occurrence of women's names in genealogies.
First, in the story of Elisha's patron, she is forewarned by God of a coming famine and flees to a foreign country (2 Kings 8):
Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, "Go away with your family and stay for a while wherever you can, because the LORD has decreed a famine in the land that will last seven years." 2 The woman proceeded to do as the man of God said. She and her family went away and stayed in the land of the Philistines seven years. 3 At the end of the seven years she came back from the land of the Philistines and went to the king to beg for her house and land. 4 The king was talking to Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, and had said, "Tell me about all the great things Elisha has done." 5 Just as Gehazi was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, the woman whose son Elisha had brought back to life came to beg the king for her house and land. Gehazi said, "This is the woman, my lord the king, and this is her son whom Elisha restored to life." 6 The king asked the woman about it, and she told him. Then he assigned an official to her case and said to him, "Give back everything that belonged to her, including all the income from her land from the day she left the country until now."Notice that this woman has access to the King of Israel (v5), has a public official assigned to her case by the king (v6), is given her home and land back(v6), and even is given the income from the property accrued during her absence!
Now, EITHER this woman is doing all this WITHOUT her husband (who was alive, but old, in 4.14) or, more likely, she is doing this as a widow (although with a son). In either case, this is remarkable access to legal structures.
Second, in 2 Chrn 31.17-18: And they distributed to the priests enrolled by their families in the genealogical records and likewise to the Levites twenty years old or more, according to their responsibilities and their divisions.
18 They included all the little ones, the wives, and the sons and daughters of the whole community listed in these genealogical records.
The important thing to notice here is that the wives and children were listed in the genealogical records--one of the cornerstones of their legal system.
There are a couple of "public" scenes in the narrative and a few indications of cultic roles by women.
Notice that this public fast/assembly/covenant action was attended by ALL the relevant parties--including the wives.
Jeremiah PROBABLY wrote these laments before the Exile (on the occasion of Josiah's death), and the Chronicler's remark about the men and women singers probably points back to the period immediately after the death of Josiah. Thus, women were involved in the public lamenting of kings and transmission of tradition in the nation.
Several major heroes emerge from the historical data in these narratives:
There are several major points that arise in this set of data:
Interestingly, in spite of some claims that womens' roles were REDUCING during this period, we have seen the opposite--their influence and power in the society was increased substantially, through the growth of several important social roles: patron, queen-mother, prophetess. The portraits painted of them are real, vibrant, strong, influential--and loyal to their Father.
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