I’ve been doing more teaching about women’s roles in ministry lately, in part because of the popularity of the Da Vinci Code. In it, Dan Brown highlights the ways Christianity has oppressed “the feminine” over the centuries. He gets some things right, but gets much of it wrong. It is, after all, a work of fiction. But the topic of women in ministry has been on my mind. (If you want to read an article I wrote on a Biblical view of women in ministry, click here.)
So a week ago, I was reading through the book of Judges in the Bible. It’s a bipolar book, cycling between upswings of faith and downswings of infidelity. But the people go from bad to worse, with the highs getting lower and the lows even lower still — it’s downright depressing. But in the middle of it all is a highlight I’ve never noticed before: Manoah’s wife.
In Judges 13, she was barren and thus childless — a stigma of the day. But an angel of the Lord appears to her and promises her a son who would deliver Israel from the Phillistines. He also gives her instructions on how to raise the unborn son, and she faithfully reports everything to her husband.
This is where things get interesting: Manoah prays for the angel to return to teach them how to raise the coming boy — even though his wife already gave him the instructions. Just like a man! When the angel returns, he appears not to Manoah, but to his wife again. But she retrieves Manoah, who asks the angel directly about what to do with the unborn boy. The angel reminds Manoah that he already gave the instructions to his wife, yet graciously repeats them again for his benefit. Here’s the kicker: Manoah doesn’t even realize it’s an angel until the end and when he does, he’s afraid that he’ll die for seeing God face to face. In response, Manoah’s wife corrects him, saying that if they were going to die, then God wouldn’t have accepted their offerings nor gave them instructions on how to raise their son. Duh! Who’s teaching who?
In a time when women were often seen as property (cf. the rest of Judges), who’s the hero here? An unnamed woman married to a Danite. Again, the Old Testament uplifts a woman in the most unlikely of places.