Patty Craig: A Slice of Time
A little more than a year ago at the IGA checkout, I impulsively purchased a special National Geographic publication by Jean-Pierre Isbouts entitled Women of the Bible. I have read portions of it, but not every article. The publication includes three chapters: (1) the life of a woman in Biblical times, (2) leading women in the Hebrew Bible, and (3) leading women in the New Testament. Three women in the second chapter caught my attention: Zipporah, Deborah and Esther. These women were important in biblical history.
First, Zipporah was a Midianite woman who became the wife of Moses (Exodus 2:15-22). The Midianites were an Arab people who occupied desert areas in southern Transjordan, northern Arabia, and the Sinai. Moses met the seven daughters of Reuel, priest of Midian, at a well; rescued them from shepherds who were harassing them; and filled their jugs with water. In gratitude, Reuel (also called Jethro or Hobab) offered Moses hospitality, and at some point, gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She and Moses had two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Before the exodus from Egypt, Moses sent Zipporah and the children away (likely back to her family). After the exodus, her father visited Moses, bringing Zipporah and her two sons. Moses went out to greet Jethro, taking him into his tent, but nothing is said about Zipporah. In Numbers 12:1, Moses’ sister and brother, Miriam and Aaron, spoke against Moses because of his wife, but they do not mention the wife’s name (Zipporah: Bible | Jewish Women's Archive (jwa.org)). Still, Zipporah was Moses’ wife – Moses, who talked face-to-face with God (Exodus 33:11) and led the children of Israel out of Egypt. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments – not once, but twice. Zipporah’s life must have been unique.
Second, Deborah was one of the judges during the time when Israel took the land of Canaan. She was the only female judge and the only judge known as a prophet. In Judges 4, she was settling disputes brought to her in the hill country of Ephraim. Deborah sent for Barak to be her general, relaying God’s command to take ten thousand men to Mount Tabor to begin a battle. When Barak responded that he would go only if she would go, she agreed, but informed him that he would get no glory from the victory because the Lord would deliver Sisera (the captain of Jabin’s army) into the hand of a woman. Barak and his warriors destroyed all the Canaanites except Sisera, who fled from the battle, taking refuge with a Kenite woman, Jael, who killed him. The Song of Deborah, in Judges 5, provides some details about the battle (Deborah: Bible | Jewish Women's Archive (jwa.org)). Deborah’s story revealed her strength of character as well as her prophetic gift. During this timeframe, a female leader was exceedingly rare. I would like to learn more about this woman who led the Israelites for a time.
Third, Esther was a young Jewish woman living in exile during the Persian diaspora who became queen of the Persian Empire and saved the Jewish people from destruction. Esther was an orphan, the cousin and adopted daughter of Mordecai, from the tribe of Benjamin. Esther’s Jewish identity was not common knowledge. After becoming Persian King Ahasuerus’ queen, her cousin Mordecai displeased the grand vizier Haman the Agagite. Mordecai refused to bow before Haman, and his refusal so angered Haman that Haman decided not only to put Mordecai to death, but also to slaughter all of the Jews. He secured the king’s permission to do this, and a date was set, Adar 13 in the Jewish calendar. When Mordecai learned of Haman’s plot, he informed Esther. Yet, Esther could not approach the king without being summoned, on pain of death, and the king had not summoned her in thirty days, implying that she had fallen out of favor. Nonetheless, after praying, she appeared unsummoned before King Ahasuerus, who not only did not kill her, but promised to grant her request. Esther requested the king attend a dinner party. The king, accompanied by Haman, attended Esther’s banquet and again sought to discover her request. Again, Esther invited them to a dinner party. At the second dinner party, Esther revealed Haman’s plot, and for the first time revealed her identity as a Jew, accusing Haman of plotting to destroy her and her people. The unpredictable king defended his queen, Haman was executed, and the Jews received permission to defend themselves from their enemies. Esther’s story ends with Mordecai being given the office of grand vizier (Haman’s former position) and the Jewish establishment of the Purim celebration (Esther: Bible | Jewish Women's Archive (jwa.org)). Esther was loyal, she was a problem-solver, and she was courageous. I believe Esther was placed in her royal position for “such a time as this” (Esther 4:14, NIV).
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30, NIV) – even today. Understandably, the Bible tells us only so much of each story. Most certainly, the stories of Zipporah, Deborah and Esther are important in Jewish and biblical history.