Proverbs 31 Woman

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The last woman we are looking at in our series on women in the Bible, is the woman described in Proverbs 31. She is not a real person who has lived, but the description of an ideal woman of character. I have always hesitated to study the Proverbs 31 woman because it always brought to mind images of churchy women, with big hair, attending Christian women’s conferences, and trying so hard to be perfect. But that is not at all what the Proverbs 31 woman is about and I believe that many women have the same misconceptions that I did.

So, to understand it we just need to lay a little ground work before we dive in. There are just a few things we need to understand first.

  1. Culmination of Proverbs – First, we need to see that this passage occurs at the very end of the book of Proverbs for a reason. It is the culmination of everything that has been taught leading up to this. The picture of the “wife of noble character” is meant to give the reader an image of what it would look like to apply all the teachings in the book of Proverbs to one particular life and situation. So instead of giving us a picture of what a perfect wife looks like – it’s meant to give us a picture of a wife of noble character based on the teachings of Proverbs. This means, that we can do the same with whatever circumstance we are in ourselves, whether man or woman. So this Proverb isn’t just for married women with kids, or for a man looking for a wife – it is for all people to help them to understand what it means to live out the teachings in Proverbs.
  1. Not a Full Picture – Secondly, this also means that it is not a full picture of who we are called to be as Christians. It does not cover all the bases of how we are called to live as Believers. So for example, it doesn’t really talk about humility or prayer, although we know that both are part of living out the Christian life. Instead it focuses on the themes of Proverbs such as diligence and prudence. And all of these stem from wisdom, which is the over-arching theme of the entire book of Proverbs. So basically, we are being given a practical picture of what wisdom looks like in real life.
  1. An Acrostic – Lastly, this entire passage is an acrostic. An Acrostic is something that is ordered or structured based on the first letter of each line. In this case it is the Hebrew alphabet. So each line in this passage begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and goes in order from what we would call “A to Z.” This means that there isn’t a logical/linear ordering of what is said, it is more poetic. This is why we have this handout. To help us study the Proverbs 31 woman I have divided the passage into 3 overarching categories. So put away your Bibles, and just use this sheet tonight….unless you think you can follow ok using your own Bible.

The Premise

Let’s start by looking at the first verse, verse 10, and also the second to last verse, 30. (And as a side note, you all know I generally prefer the NIV over the ESV, but in the case of Proverbs I am sorely disappointed by the NIV’s translation and I think the ESV stays much more true to the Hebrew and doesn’t distort the meaning with poor word choices like the NIV does, so that’s why this handout is from the ESV). Ok, verses 10 and 30…

10    An excellent wife who can find?

She is far more precious than jewels.

30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,

but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

These two verses basically establish for us the premise, or the purpose of this passage. Verse 10 begins the passage with a rhetorical question making a statement. An excellent wife, who can find? or in other words, an excellent wife is hard to find, she is rare. And then the next line backs-up this statement, An excellent wife is far more precious than jewels. Let’s dissect this for a minute…

Excellent – what does this description mean? Well, here the NIV does actually help us a little. It translates this word as “noble” which means “fine personal qualities and high moral standards or principals.” So basically, the word excellent is referring to her outstanding character…which the rest of this Proverb is going to describe/unfold for us.

Precious – secondly a wife with outstanding character is described as being more precious than jewels. This means that a woman such as this is to be valued and not wasted or treated carelessly. So our passage is going to describe a woman that is rare and more valuable than any other kind of woman.

Then jumping ahead to verse 30, we get more of an understanding of what it is that motivates this woman and makes her so great. It tells us that all she does flows from her fear of the LORD. Now remember that a synonym of the word used here as “fear,” is “reverence.” All she does stems from her reverence for God, her deep respect of her heavenly Father. And the book of Proverbs is based on this exact thing, that all wisdom and knowledge flows from a fear/reverence of God. Proverbs 1:7 is said to embody the theme of Proverbs and it says,

7                The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Remember what we just talked about, everything in Proverbs is about living wisely, and here it tells us that wisdom starts with a deep respect for the Lord.

Now, some women are intimidated by the description of the Proverbs 31 woman, and others have responded to it in unhealthy ways all because they miss this and don’t first begin with a fear or respect for God. In light of this, what are some bad motives some women might have in their desire to be a Proverbs 31 woman? Instead of fear of the Lord what reason might some women have for trying to live this out?

  • Comparison – trying to live up to others
  • Competition – trying to be better than others
  • Perfectionism – desire to be the best or be perfect
  • Super-mom – trying to live up to Mrs. Jones and do it all
  • Image – trying to look good, be attractive to others, reputation

As the author here says in verse 30 it has nothing to do with a desire to be charming or beautiful. Not that those things are bad or that a woman with character can’t also possess those qualities. But the point is, they can’t be the driving force or the goal. Being a woman of character is not about looking good or getting people to like you, it is simply about pleasing the Lord and living your life for Him. And we need to be sure to keep this in mind as we look at the description of this woman and how she lives.

 Two Categories

So I have basically “filed” each verse under one of two categories to help us as we study it. There are many sub-categories we could put them in as well, but since most of this lesson was composed in airports, planes, hotel rooms, and such I decided to stick with just two.

DILIGENCE

The first category I want us to look at is the one I have titled “Diligence,” or “Hard-Working.” We could probably even say “Dedication.” Let’s walk through these verses, and then we’ll put them together.

v.13            …[she] works with willing hands.

The first half of this verse says ”She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.” So it’s referring to basically an every day menial task she has to do. The NIV says she works with “eager” hands and the NAS says she works with “delight.”

So the picture we get here is of a woman working hard with a good attitude and with purpose. She doesn’t give in to a bad attitude about the tasks before her, she doesn’t get bitter, or lazy, or take shortcuts. Instead she does her work with pleasure and stays focused. Many of us might have experienced this in the first few weeks of a job, but we all understand the slippery slope into laziness and bad attitudes. But a woman of character does not give in to those things, but instead works eagerly and willingly.

v.14            She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.

So here we are given an analogy of what she is “like.” Merchant ships went to far away places to bring back items to enhance the lives of the people there. Items they could not get for themselves. Here, it says that just like the merchant ships she “brings her food from afar.” Basically what this is simply saying is that she goes out of her way to feed her family well. The modern day comparison I thought is that rather than picking her kids up Happy Meals at the McDonald’s on the corner, she goes a little out of her way, to the Farmer’s Market to get her family healthy and good quality food. She does what she needs to do to feed her family well even though it might mean extra effort on her part.

  v.15            She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens/servant girls.

In that day and age just about every home of decent means had servants who helped run the household. And the head of the house’s duty was to feed the servants as well as the family. In Luke 12:42 Jesus refers to this person as needing to be faithful and wise in regards to when they will feed the servants and the rest of the household.

And here it tells us she gets up while it is still dark to feed the servants and the household. Why do you think she would do this? What would be the benefit?

  • If she can get that out of the way early then she has more time to get her duties done.
  • The earlier she feeds the servants the quicker they will get to work as well
  • So by getting up while it is still dark she increases everybody’s effectiveness and productivity.

This is not easy for most, but it is wise to do which is why Proverbs 20:13 says,

13             Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.

A woman of noble character does not let a love of sleep keep her from the work that is laid before her each day and she is willing to sacrifice in order to be productive and effective.

v.17            She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.

The phrase “dresses herself with strength” here is actually “girds her loins” in the Hebrew and is a saying throughout the Old Testament. And it’s equivalent to maybe us saying “roll up your sleeves” or “toughen up.” So basically it is saying here that she rolls up her sleeves even for physical labor. She is wiling to get dirty to get the job done. And because of it she has strong arms. She gives her work all she’s got and she’s stronger because of it.

v.19            She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.

Ok, so a distaff is basically the spool the raw flax and wool come on, and the spindle is the spool it is stored on once it has been spun. Again, a very physical duty she does. Spinning her own materials rather than buying them at much higher prices already spun. This is another picture of her diligence and physical exertion

v.27            She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Verse 27 gives us an overarching statement that summarizes all of what we just read. Everything she is doing here is part of her job as head of her household. This means she sees all the work she does not as meaningless, but as meaningful, like a real job. And because of that she does not give in to laziness. Proverbs 19:15 tells us that laziness just breeds sleepiness and un-productivity leading to poverty – she rejects this and does not enjoy the indulgences of laziness but instead reaps the fruit of her labor.

What are some ways that we can be idle or lazy at work?

  • Facebook, email, surfing web pages, etc…
  • Socializing too much with co-workers
  • Not staying focused on the tasks that are a priority but instead doing what we want to do
  • Not wanting to go above and beyond and do things we haven’t been asked to do or things we really don’t enjoy
  • Not giving it your best effort everytime

All people are tempted by these things, even the Proverbs 31 woman, but the difference is making a commitment to not give in to them and avoiding them at all cost.

DISCERNMENT

This brings us to the second category, “Discernment” or “Stewardship” which primarily involves our judgment and decision making abilities. So again, let’s go through each verse and then we’ll put it all together…

            v.13            She seeks wool and flax…

Now, this seems like a very simple and mindless thing to add in, but if anyone has ever had to pick out textiles before, then you know that it is not. Wool and flax were the primary materials for making clothing and homegoods and one of her biggest jobs would have been finding quality materials at good prices. The Hebrew word translated as “seek” here means “to seek, to inquire, to investigate.” So she’s not just popping into the Wal-mart of textiles, but she is really applying herself to find the best materials for the best price. She is using her judgment and her engaging her mind because she see the greater purpose in even the smallest tasks that she has to do.

v.16            She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.

Here we read something that we might find surprising. As head of the household part of her job is investing money and expanding their assets. She had financial responsibility and independence. And here we see two aspects of her discernment….

  1. She is a good steward of their finances. She doesn’t just go out and buy a field on impulse, instead it says she “considers” it, which means she weighed her options, she was careful, thoughtful, and used wise judgment.
  2. She used the earnings of that investment for the good of the family. Instead of taking that money and buying that name brand purse she had always wanted, or getting the massage and pedicure she deserved for her hardwork – she turned around and invested it right back into the land by planting a vineyard on it to make it even more profitable for the family.

In this one verse we see how seriously she takes her role in her family by using great discernment in being a good steward over what they have.

v.18            She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.

This verse is referring to the things she does that bring income to her family. And it says that she perceives or sees that it is profitable. The literal Hebrew word is taste, she can tasted the profit of her labor and it fuels her to keep working, even at times into the night. Now we need to be careful not to walk away from this Proverb thinking we don’t need sleep, because we do. But what it is saying is that at times we do need to make sacrifices to get our work done, at times we will need to work into the night.

v.20            She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.

Now this verse is one that could have been in a category all on it’s own, maybe called “charity” or “generosity.” But since I was trying to simplify it I chose to include it under discernment because of the nature of what it says she does. First, it says she opens her hand then it says she reaches out. Both of these pictures are of her actively moving towards the poor and needy. This means, on top of all she has to accomplish each day, she is also making time to go to the poor and needy and serve them.

This is very humbling for us to hear because most of us feel we are too busy to fit hands-on charity into our schedules. But here’s a woman with more to do in a day then I have to do in a week and yet she is actively making it happen. It is a result of her discernment and stewardship that she does it. It is a priority to her and so she make sure that it is a part of her weekly duties.

And why does she do this? For the same reason we read in verse 30 at the beginning, out of her deep respect for God. In Deuteronomy 15:11 God reminds His people that He commands them to reach out to the poor and be generous. And Proverb 22:9 says,

9             He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor.

v.24            She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.

Here we read yet another way she makes money for her family, she makes linen garments/clothes and sells them. It also says she delivers sashes to the merchants. Now it is unclear as to whether she is selling or giving her sashes to them, and each translation uses a different word. But either way, we still get the picture of her involvement in commercial activity as part of her household duties. And we can all imagine that this takes wisdom, prudence, knowledge and so on.

v.26            She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

Lastly in this category, it touches on something that has not been talked about. What she speaks to others, what comes out of her mouth. And it goes right along with the theme of wisdom in Proverbs. We read in Proverbs 10:31 that,

“The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom,”

And that is exactly what it says about her here, that her mouth brings forth wisdom. Now there are actually several ways the second half of this verse is translated so there are two ways to look at it. One view says the correct literal translation would be that the “law of loving-kindness” is on her tongue, which would imply that she teaches God’s covenant love to others (NIV). Or it could be more like “loving instruction” which you see is how the ESV comes up with teaching with kindness. But either way, we get an idea of what she not only does, but also what she says.

The Result

Finally, I just want us to take a brief look at what the result is of a life lived in this way. What are the fruit of her life and the way she has chosen to live it? The last verse in this passage says,

31             Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

The gates refer to the city gates, which in that time served as the center of economic and civic life. It’s where the leading men of the city gathered. So what is the fruit of her hands? How is it that she will be praised by others?

She is Valued –

11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,

and he will have no lack of gain.

12 She does him good, and not harm,

all the days of her life.

23 Her husband is known in the gates

when he sits among the elders of the land.

28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;

her husband also, and he praises her:

29 “Many women have done excellently,

                                                            but you surpass them all.”

  • One of the results of her noble character is that her husband trusts her, and we really saw that didn’t we especially in the financial independence and responsibility she had. He lacks no gain because he can only gain from having a wife like this.
  • She seeks to do him good and not harm
  • v.23 Seems a little out of place at first, but most likely what it is there for is to show that her charater and choices have contributed to her husband’s success and reputation. Who she is has earned him respect.
  • Her children and her husband praise her, she is valuable to them and they see that she is rare and precious.
  • v.29 is her husband basically saying, some one can do noble things, but you are noble.

She Benefits Too –

21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,

for all her household are clothed in scarlet.

22 She makes bed coverings for herself;

her clothing is fine linen and purple.

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,

and she laughs at the time to come.

  • One of the rewards of her diligence and discernment is that she doesn’t have to live in fear of what is to come, and she can even smile at the future. She has done all she can do, she knows her preparation will pay off.
  •  And not only that, because of her hard work she is able to provide nice things even for herself – she is well dressed. For some reason we think that you choose one or the other, but here she choose character and as a result she was able to cloth herself with beauty. In a sense, her clothes were and outward visual of who she was on the inside.

Remembering What it’s About

As we close I just want us to briefly go back to verse 30 and remind ourselves what this is about…

30            Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

As we seek to be women of noble character, like the woman in Proverbs 31, we need to remember that at the foundation of it is worship. She lives the way she lives because of her faith in God and her reverence of Him. Just as we are called in Romans 12 to “offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices” the Proverbs 31 woman is also living her life as a sacrifice for God, worshiping Him through the way she lives.

 Questions for Discussion & Application:

●       Read verse 30 aloud. Why is charm deceitful/deceptive and beauty vain/fleeting? Why is being a woman of character who fears the Lord better?

●       What are some areas of your life where you struggle to be discerning and be a good steward?

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Lydia & Priscilla, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Two Working Women in the Bible

In the U.S., 60 % of women work outside the home. There are 9.1M women-owned businesses in the U.S. And, of married working women, ½ of them are the primary breadwinners in their family. With so many of us in the work force, it’s important for us to look at how God works through women who are professionals. What does it look like to be a Christian woman in the business world?

We’re going to see that God uses women in big ways in the spread of his gospel, and he uses them in and through their vocations, their jobs, their callings. They weren’t called to quit their job when they become a Christian or got married. We’ll see that we are to serve God through our work and where we are in life. Our texts tonight are found in Acts 16 and 18. The two women we get to look at are Lydia, who was a dealer of purple cloth, and Priscilla, who was a tentmaker. We’re going to look first at Lydia, who was the first convert to faith in Europe, and then at Priscilla, who labored alongside her husband and Paul in teaching others. Both women were able to learn first-hand from Paul, because they invited him into their homes.

Context of the book of Acts in the Bible

Open Your Bibles to Acts 16. To put into context where these women’s stories are in God’s overall story in the Bible, they’re both in the book of Acts. Acts occurs after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It tells the story of the founding of the church and its growth through the Holy Spirit in the early days. The disciples went out to convert and teach the Jews and Gentiles about Jesus. Acts is where we meet Saul of Tarsus, who is dramatically converted on the road to Damascus, and who receives the new name of Paul. The second half of Acts charts his 3 missionary journeys. Our stories of Lydia and Priscilla are found during his 2nd journey.

Lydia- Acts 16:11-15, 40

Paul and Friends Go to the City of Philippi. Look at Acts 16:11-15.

“From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.”

We encounter here the group of missionary men: Paul, Timothy, Silas, and Luke; Luke’s the one who wrote the book of Acts. They have just been traveling in the Northern regions of Asia, but were forbidden by the Spirit from actually entering Asia or preaching the gospel there. Paul then saw a vision of a man of Macedonia (modern-day Greece) standing and begging him saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). That’s where we meet Paul and his companions here in verse 11. They are following the Spirit and moving to Macedonia. This is their first time onto the continent of Europe.

Verse 12 tells us that they are staying in the city of Philippi, which is the city Paul will later write the book of Philippians to.

Verse 13 then tells us “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.” Paul seeks them out, sits down and begins speaking to the women who had gathered there. I love that it was a man in Paul’s vision that called them over, and when he gets there, he finds a group of women praying.

They Meet Lydia, a Dealer of Purple Cloth. In verse 14, we are introduced to Lydia. It says,

“One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God.”

Right here, we learn 4 things about her. First, her name is Lydia and she was among the women gathered for prayer, and she was listening to Paul’s message. Prayer is important to her and to the life of her community.

Second, it says she was a dealer of purple cloth. What do you think of when you hear the color purple? Think in ancient days what purple signifies… What do you think this tells us about Lydia?

  • purple would be associated with royalty, with wealth,
  • she is known as dealer- has her own business
  • think of an art dealer- she would have to have money to buy goods then sell them at profit

She is successful and has her own business. In the next verse we’ll see that she has her own household as well, which would have included servants.

So, third, we learn that she’s from the city of Thyatira. Remember that Thyatira was one of the 7 churches in the book of Revelation that we just got finished studying. That church had tolerated the woman Jezebel. Lydia is from modern-day Turkey but is now living in Greece. Actually, the city she is from is from the region called Lydia. So it has been speculated that her name comes from the region where she’s from, which is famous for the purple cloth. She probably got her name by being so closely associated with her business and trade.

The fourth thing we learn about her is that she is a worshiper of God. The phrase worshiper of God is used elsewhere to describe Gentiles, not Jews, who went to the synagogue and sometimes converted. She would already be learning about God and studying him. She is already seeking the Lord.

God Opens Lydia’s Heart to Believe

And it’s here that God meets her. The next thing we read in verse 14 is that “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Paul is now telling the women about the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures in Jesus Christ, preaching Jesus as Lord who has come to give forgiveness, in God’s name, for the repentance of sins. God is the one who acts in opening her heart to understand these things and to believe.

When I was living in NYC, God opened my heart to understand the gospel. I remember sitting in church during one of my pastor’s series, he had been preaching for 6 weeks on the same topic. I began to notice that he was basically repeating the same message at the end of each sermon. Finally, one Sunday, it hit me. It was like the light-bulb finally went off in my head. I began to understand the gospel. Christianity is not just about getting saved to get into heaven. It’s about a way of life. God loves us and went to the cross to bring us back to him and give us new life. Christianity isn’t about following a set of rules to get into heaven, but it is about God who came down to us to show us the way to him. We don’t have to work our way up to find favor with God, but he’s already shown us how much he loves us. I was to follow him because I understood why he died for me. I was to follow him out of thankfulness for his great love and mercy towards me. That changed me. I know that only God could open my heart to truly begin to understand this and to live a new way.

Lydia Invites Them to Stay in Her Home

Look back at verse 15 then, here we learn that Lydia is baptized, together with the members of her household. Then she invites the men into her home. She says, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” (which they should, since they just baptized her), “come and stay at my house.” Then Luke tells us that she persuaded them. Why do you think Lydia persuaded them to stay at her house? Why would she want these men to stay with her?

  • to serve them- she would have the space
  • to welcome them,
  • also to learn from them

Yes, she, this successful, well-known businesswoman, has now invited them to come and stay in her home so that she can (serve them, but also) learn from them.

Lydia’s House a Place of Refuge

We next encounter Lydia in verse 40. Paul and Silas have just been imprisoned in the Philippian jail, God has miraculously saved them from it; the jailer has been converted and, with his household too, baptized. Verse 40 says that after they “came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.” After their ordeal, they return to her house. Lydia has now opened her home as a place of meeting for this young group of believers and as a refuge from the persecution that is going on in the city.

Lydia’s life has changed. She knows that her work takes on greater importance and significance now that she follows Jesus. She takes in as much as she can, learning, and opening her home to the missionaries, new believers and the growing church in Philippi.

Priscilla- Acts 18:1-3, 18-19, 24-28; 1 Corint 16:19; Romans 16:3-5

Next, we get to look at Priscilla. She, too, is a woman with a vocation who is called by God to be an integral part of his church. Look at Acts 18:1-3. We learn that Paul has now traveled down through Athens and come to the city of Corinth. Inverse 2, we are introduced to Aquila, Priscilla’s husband. He is a Jew, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius, the emperor, had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Commentators believe they were part of a group expelled for following Christ and causing an uproar in the city. Many believe they would have been taught by some Jews who were present in Jerusalem at Pentecost and who returned to Rome telling about Jesus’ death and resurrection and giving of the Spirit.

The end of verse 2 tells us that Paul went to see them and verse 3 tells us that “because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.” So they all make tents for their profession. They have a trade and work with their hands. She is a working woman too, like Lydia. It’s because of their job and skill that Paul hears of them, comes to them, and ultimately stays with them while he’s in Corinth. Because of their shared trade, they were able to invite Paul into their home. We can assume that the 6 days they were working together that he would have taught them more about Jesus. Paul ends up staying in Corinth with them for a year and a half.

Moving to verses 18-19, we learn that “Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.” And in verse 19, “They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila.” He preaches in the synagogue, but when they want him to stay longer, he declines and heads on out, leaving Priscilla and Aquila there alone.

Why do you think Paul takes them with him from Corinth, and then leaves them there in Ephesus? (Why take them at all?)

  • he’s been training them
  • he trusts them
  • he’s ready to leave them and let them carry on the work

So yes, Paul would know that they were ready to then go and do the same work on their own. He had taught them and discipled them, and now they were ready to do the same in the city of Ephesus. This is just what we see does actually happen.

Priscilla and Aquila Teach and Train Apollos

In verses 24-28, a man named Apollos, a Jew, from Alexandria in Egypt, came to Ephesus. “He was a learned man, [or well-studied,] he had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.” So here comes this great preacher, who’s a very smart man, who knows the Lord, has a gift of speaking, and taught accurately about Jesus, but he didn’t know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, only the baptism of John.

Verse 26 says, “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” What do you think we learn about the process of making and being disciples from this story?

  • you have to learn, to study,
  • invite someone into your life,
  • can do it while working,
  • then share it with others

Notice the difference in how Priscilla and Aquila handled this situation and how we today might handle this situation. They don’t call Apollos out publicly; they don’t tell him he’s wrong or kick him out of the synagogue, but instead, they invite him into their home and teach him more adequately about Jesus. (Notice how much private instruction and discipleship is going on in the home and through shared work in this story.) They gently correct him in his theology. Apollos went on to be an instrumental leader in the church at Corinth.

So God had used Priscilla and her husband and worked greatly through them. Paul came to them because they shared a profession with him. He stayed with them for a year and a half, and then took them with him on to Ephesus. And because he would have trusted them, he left them there to begin the church and to teach others and make new disciples who would then go on to teach other people in the process. God was multiplying the church through Priscilla and her husband and because of their profession.

The Importance of Priscilla and Aquila in Paul’s Work

The end of their story, we can piece together from a few mentions in the rest of the NT, in Paul’s letters. From the closing of the book of Romans (16:3-5), we learn that Paul considered Priscilla and Aquila his fellow workers in Christ Jesus. Not only are they fellow tentmakers, but now he calls them his fellow workers in Christ Jesus. It also says there was a church meeting in their house. They have been instrumental in starting various churches and in training up leaders, all because Paul came to them one day, because they were tentmakers like he was. God met them in their work. Just look at how big God’s plans were for using them, when they were first kicked out of Rome for following Jesus.

To wrap up Lydia and Priscilla’s stories, we see that they’ve come a long way in their faith from when they first were encountered by Paul. Work was an integral part of who they were. But God didn’t just call them to be a really good purple cloth dealer or a tentmaker. He did do that, but he called them to be disciples of Christ too, first and foremost. He called them to learn about him and to be a part of the church, of God’s community, to encourage others and to teach and disciple others, even as they continued their work.

Application- What does this mean for our lives today?

Two things I want us to take-away from Lydia and Priscilla’s stories:

1. You are important in God’s mission and your work is important. God works through every one of his people to proclaim his gospel. Turn to Colossians 3:23-24. God has this to say about our work: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for men…it is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Do you approach your work with all your heart, knowing that it is the Lord Christ you are serving? Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to convict you and help you live into this. Our work includes our jobs, but includes all of life. In all of life, know that you are serving the Lord.

2. You are called to be a disciple and learner, but also a disciple-maker and sharer of your faith. Be thinking about what it means to learn from someone and then to lead someone. God has called each of us to be a friend to others, and to share Christ with others. This doesn’t just mean you should be trying to convert that family member who won’t even give you the time of day, but we should be doing this with Christians too. Reach out to someone in your small group or a friend, invite them over to hang out, have coffee together or a meal. But be intentional in your conversation. Ask them where they are in their faith, what are their struggles, how can you be praying for them. And then pray together.

Conclusion

To sum it up, this is what God is at work in the world doing. He is drawing people to himself, opening our hearts, teaching us, but also calling us to learn and pass it on, to not just be consumers of information. We are a part of what God is doing in the world. He uses us where we are, in our jobs: either as a boss, as a business owner, as an artist, a writer, a lawyer, a teacher, a manager, or as an employee working for someone else. Everything we do witnesses to God and the one whom we serve.

Questions for Application and Discussion

  • What are some practical ways you can begin to approach your work and life with a Col 3:23-24 mindset? (“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for men…it is the Lord Christ you are serving.”)
  • Discuss ways that you personally can grow in learning then passing on what you’re learning to someone else. Commit to doing this with one person this week.

Mary & Martha: Luke 10:38-42

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Tonight we are looking at some women in the New Testament who many of you are already familiar with, Mary and Martha. So go ahead and turn to Luke 10 and while you turn there I’ll just give us an idea of where we are at in Jesus’ story. By the time Mary and Martha come on the scene, Jesus is pretty well established. His teachings have become more widely known and He has already performed many miracles. The first passage we are going to look at tonight is going to be very brief, but in just 5 short verses it gets straight to the heart of what many women struggle with. And by looking at the three passages that talk about Mary and Martha we are going to see a beautiful development of these women and their faith, specifically of Martha’s. So it really will be a great picture for us as women. So let’s look at this first encounter starting in verse 38

 38                As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

So we can assume here that Martha is meeting Jesus for the first time even though she has probably heard a lot about him. We aren’t told how Jesus ended up at Martha’s or why it was her house that was opened to Him. Maybe she was known for her hospitality, maybe she ran a bed and breakfast type business out of her home. We also don’t know if she was just hosting them for the day and maybe a meal or two, or were they staying the night? Who knows.

But what we do know is she has opened her home to 13 men which tells us that Martha is hospitable, gracious, and a servant. In the NIV it says Martha “opened her home to him” but in the NAS, the literal translation of the Greek it says “Martha welcomed Him into her home” which tells us it wasn’t out of obligation but that it was her desire to have them there. So maybe in addition to being hospitable she is also interested in who Jesus is and in His teachings she has heard about. Let’s keep reading…

 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

Now we meet Mary, Martha’s sister. While we learn that Martha has opened her home to Jesus, what we learn about Mary is different. In contrast to Martha, she is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to His teaching. So we are given to brief glimpses of Martha and Mary. In this brief picture of Mary, what can we learn about her? What might be implied in her actions? First you might notice that she’s not helping Martha to get the house and food ready, maybe she’s not the “worker bee” type. Maybe she’s more relational, more type B. Sounds like she may be the younger sister. Perhaps she sees the importance of having Jesus right there and makes it a priority to listen to Him. Either way, she sees learning from Jesus as more important than the other details that need to get done.

Another question we might ask here is, seeing that Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to His teaching, what does this imply about Jesus? What might we learn here about Jesus? He is ok with a woman at His feet, just like a disciple. He viewed women knowing Him as being just as important as men knowing Him and His teachings. He did not tell her to go do the “woman’s” work. So the scene is set, now let’s read what happens next…

 40a But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.

Verse 40 begins with a key word “but.”  Now, when you are telling a story and you insert the word “but” generally that means there is a problem, or something that doesn’t line up, or there’s a contradiction, or you are going to contrast two things. So what is being contrasted here? Mary and Martha. Mary is focused on Jesus…but Martha is distracted. First, let’s look at what she is distracted by, and then let’s look at what it means that she is distracted.

The Preparations

It says here she is distracted by “all the preparations that had to be made.” We already know that 13 men showed up at her door unannounced and that there is a possibility that they will need to eat and need a place to sleep. So these preparations might include preparing meals, making beds, cleaning their feet, drawing water from the well, and so on. And we remember that in that day and age you didn’t just run to the store to buy some bread, you actually had to make it by hand. These things were going to take a lot of work and a lot of time.

The text uses the word “had” to let us know she is not going above and beyond as maybe a modern Dallas woman might do with little favors and such for their guests, no what she is doing is what “has to be done” in order for them to simply be fed and possibly have a place to sleep. So what we need to understand is that the problem is not “what” she was doing. The literal translation of this verse is that she was distracted by “much service/serving.” She was serving others, which we know was at the heart of Jesus’ message to mankind. So if taking care of preparations and serving was not the problem, then what was the problem? What was the “but” referring to?

Distracted

Well, the clue that is given to us here is that she was “distracted” by her service. The Dictionary defines distracted as “unable to concentrate because one’s mind is pre-occupied.” The Greek word that is translated here as distracted means “to be worried.” And the definition of worry is “to become anxious by dwelling on difficulty or troubles.” One translation’s notes (NET) explains that the connotation of this Greek word is that she was being “pulled away.”

So let’s put this all together to more fully understand what was wrong with what Martha was doing, what was the problem? All of these explanations imply one thing, that there is something that she should be concentrating on but she’s not, something that she is being pulled away from. And therefore, her new focus, what she is distracted by, we’re about to see, has led her to be anxious, worried, and to dwell on her difficult situation. We are going to unfold this more in a minute. So now let’s read what Martha does next, the rest of verse 40 says…

 40b She (Martha) came to him (Jesus) and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Maybe in the beginning Mary was helping Martha, but she quickly was pulled away and was now enjoying their new company and enjoying herself, instead of serving as Martha was doing. While Martha was doing all the work, Mary was relaxing with the boys. So, Martha finally goes to Jesus to make things right.

Look at Martha’s progression here:

  1. Jesus, don’t you care? (about her, about justice, etc…)
  2. Look at what Mary has done wrong!
  3. Look at the trouble I am in because of her!
  4. Jesus, do what I think you should do to fix this situation – tell her she’s wrong and to get up off her duff and help me.

Personal Example

My guess is that each of us has been in a similar situation at least once in our lives before. Just 2 months ago I was in a very similar situation. We had just found out we were pregnant and 5 days later were throwing an engagement party for some dear friends of ours. And not only were we hosting, but I was making all the food and beverages for the party. So that day Michael helped me hang lights, prep food, and set-up. At the beginning he even helped get drinks, grill some meat, and set out the food. But then, suddenly, there was a turning point. And I can still see this image in my mind. Here I am in the kitchen surrounded by drink tubs full of melted ice and overflowing trashcans – ready to cut the cake and pour the champagne, and Michael is nowhere to be found.

Then I look out on the back porch, where the party was, and he is just snuggled right into the middle of the table surrounded by all his friends, with a cold beer in his hands. He was just as relaxed as ever having the time of his life. And here I was newly pregnant and feeling it and not sure what to do first because there was so much to be done! I remember bouncing between feelings of injustice (it just wasn’t fair that he wasn’t slaving away too, we were both the hosts) and feelings of jealousy (I wanted to rest and enjoy our guests too but I couldn’t because there was too much to do!)

Well, this is exactly what Martha was thinking too. And she did exactly what we all want to do in a situation like that….she went straight to the “authority figure,” ratted out the injustice, and demanded He make it right….all while questioning the love of Jesus…don’t you care? Now, while I controlled myself from doing that during the party, I did share my “feelings” with Michael afterwards and definitely used the pregnancy as my pity-ploy and my own version of “don’t you care?” So what will Jesus say in response? Let’s look at verse 41

 41  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things…

 First, Jesus begins by focusing on her, not Mary. This is something that since we were children we have hated! When you feel wronged by another person the last thing you want the person with power to do is to point out your fault in the matter. But this is exactly what Jesus does…Martha, you are worried, upset, (NAS) bothered, (ESV) anxious, troubled, about many things…so again, this reiterates what the narrator already implied by describing Martha as “distracted.” Then Jesus says…

 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What is the first word here we should take note of? BUT. So again, there is going to be a contrast. The first time there was a “but” it contrasted Martha’s diligence with Mary’s neglect of the preparations. But now, to the reader’s surprise (and I’m sure to Martha’s) Jesus turns that on it’s head. In contrast to Martha’s worry and anxiety, Jesus says Mary’s choice to instead sit at his feet and listen to His teaching is

  1. The one thing that is needed/necessary
  2. That it is the better decision
  3. That it will not be taken away from her – so in other words, No Martha, I will not tell Mary to get up and help you! He will not take away from her this time she has to sit at His feet and learn.

Change vs. Choice

The first thing we need to notice about Jesus’ response is that He did not say, “Be more like Mary.” He did not say, better is the one who listens than the one who serves. It wasn’t about Type A vs. Type B. Jesus was not concerned with their personalities. One isn’t more Christlike than the other.

Instead, He pointed Martha to the one thing that was equally attainable to them both, regardless of personality or gifts. He simply said Mary chose better, she chose what was needed. When faced with the choice to work or to worship, she chose what was better, worship. So Jesus wasn’t asking Martha to change, but to choose.

This speaks loudly to people like me who are very task-oriented. We aren’t called to set aside the duties of our lives to worship and study the Word 24/7. But, there is a time for work and a time for worship. We all face this tension every single day. Each morning I know I need to start my day with Jesus and in the Word. I know it is the better choice. But there are days when I let my “preparations” take over, become more important, and I don’t make the better choice. That’s what Jesus is talking about here.

Martha’s Progression

The next thing we need to notice is how Martha’s choice to work instead of worship affected her. Look at the progression…

 1.     Distracted – First, she allowed herself to get distracted by all the preparations. This means she allowed something inferior to steal her attention away from what was superior. She was majoring in the minors instead of the majors, as we might say. Another way to put it is that she didn’t keep as a priority what was most important so what was least important distracted her. She chose serving over time with Jesus and then allowed that service to distract her from what was most important.

 2.     Distorted – And when we do this, the 2nd stage, is that it causes our vision to get distorted. We begin to think our new focus is actually more important. Martha, got distracted by all the preparations, serving others, and then began to see her situation as a burden, allowing herself to become full of anxiety and worry. And then she also began to believe that the work that had to be done was more important than spending time with Jesus who was the reason for it all. Her serving was no longer about others, it was now about herself. Her serving was no longer filled with joy, but filled with bitterness and selfishness. Her vision was distorted and she could no longer see clearly.

3.     Doubt – Then, the 3rd “D”, the 3rd stage, is that it led her to doubt Him. To doubt Jesus’ goodness and love for her. She really meant it when she asked Jesus “Don’t you care?” At that point her vision was so distorted that all she could do was doubt Him. And we do exactly the same thing, when we don’t make time with God a priority and we allow ourselves to get distracted from Him, our vision becomes distorted and we can no longer see the circumstances of our lives clearly, and this almost always leads us to doubting God. And it all comes down to taking our eyes off Jesus and putting them on inferior distractions.

Cart Before the Horse

When we choose to put other inferior things before our time with God it is the same as that old saying, putting the cart before the horse. It just won’t work. When we put the things of this world and our “work” before our relationship with God and our worship of Him our vision will become distorted and our faith will suffer.

Why is this? What happens when we spend time with Jesus? How does it affect us and the way we view and live our lives? Well first, it gives us perspective that we can’t have on our own. It helps us to see God’s hand in our lives. This is also where we find His peace and it calms us. When we spend time with Him we learn to trust Him. We find rest and refreshment. It also reveals what should be our priority and gives us guidance and direction.

Example:

Just last week a friend and I were venting about a frustrating situation and after about 15 minutes of that we finally just prayed about it. And the second we started praying peace just washed over both of us. And God began to give us both a clearer perspective on the situation, calming us, and helping us to trust Him with it. This is just a small glimpse of what happens when we make time with God a priority in all things. Venting was honestly a distraction that was leading to a bad attitude and clouding our vision, but the second we made the better choice we saw why it was the one thing that was needed.

It will not be taken away from her

The last thing that Jesus said to Martha was that Mary had chosen better and that ”It will not be taken away from her.” Just a minute ago I explained that Jesus was saying here that He would not make Mary stop listening to Him, He would not take that away from her. But I think that is only half of what He meant.

The other half, is that what Mary was getting out of those moments at Jesus’ feet would stay with her forever. God’s Word is eternal. What we learn about Jesus stays with us throughout our lives. I have heard many many testimonies of kids raised in Christian homes whose parents made them memorize scripture. Later those kids rebelled and walked away from God. But then they all talk about how in their darkest moments they would recall entire verses from the Bible that they had memorized 10, 20 years before. This is because God’s Word, as it tells us in Hebrews, is living and active. It is eternal and it is full of life.

And Jesus knew that Mary and Martha would need what He had to say for what was to come. If you read John 11 before you came, then you saw that it was the story of Lazarus, their brother. And he dies because Jesus did not come to save Him when He found out Lazarus was sick. He intentionally stalled and let Lazarus die. But when Jesus does finally show up after Lazarus is dead He encounters a very changed woman. Martha’s house is full of people, yet the minute she hears Jesus is in town she drops everything to go to Him. Then she goes on to express a very strong and solid faith in the light of such a tragedy in her life. She even confesses that Jesus is the Messiah which is something that His own disciples are still struggling with..

Martha humbled herself to Jesus’ rebuke and obeyed His words. Somewhere along the way she began to put Him first and make knowing God a priority. Imagine how Martha would have responded to her brother’s death and Jesus’ neglect, if her faith had not grown. How much more would she have felt that it wasn’t fair and that Jesus didn’t care?! But she doesn’t say this because her vision is no longer distorted.

Conclusion

Let’s finish tonight by looking at the last little glimpse we are given of Mary and Martha. Turn to John 12.

 1   Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Martha served, and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. One might think by looking at this scene that nothing has changed. But we know, that for Martha, everything has changed. She has learned that there’s a time to worship and a time to work, and that worship should always be our priority before work. And not only that, but she has also learned how to make her work a form of worship. Her perspective is clear, so instead of becoming distracted, anxious, and focusing on the difficulty of her work – she can now see it as a joy, as her service to the Lord, she is using her gifts of hospitality and service to honor Jesus. It really is a beautiful transformation to see.

As we look at Martha, the lessons she learned, and the transformation that took place in her life we need to ask ourselves: Am I choosing to worship Jesus before the things that have to get done? Do I see my time in the Word, with God as the one thing that is necessary in my day? And if you are not sure how to answer those questions, then I bet another way you could figure it out is by looking at your attitude, your perspective on life, and your view of God to determine whether you are or not. Do you find yourself doubting God and His goodness? Then make time with Him your number one priority.  Do you often get buried under anxiety and worry, dwelling on the difficulties of your life? Then remember that there is only one thing that won’t be taken away from you…that your relationship with God through Jesus, and His Word.

And remember in this that in all the different spheres of your life….work, family, friends, neighbors, commitments, etc…God is not calling you to change who you are in order to follow Him…but to choose to put Him first in all things. And then to let your life flow out of that as a form of worship.

Questions for Discussion & Application:

●       In what ways do you relate with Martha’s story?

●       What distracts you from spending time with God and causes you anxiety and worry?

Deborah & Jael: Judges 4-5, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Did you know that of the Forbes 100 most powerful women, 3 are supreme court justices (or judges), 9 are the heads of state (or the leaders of their countries), and 4 of them are first ladies (known because they are wives)? Of these 16 powerful women, 8 of them tell us that they are mothers too. We see in our modern world that women have been honored for their gifts and talents and have grown into roles of power and influence.

Last week, we talked about the one of the most helpless of women, Hagar, a slave in a foreign land, who is taken as a 2nd wife to Abram just to produce an heir. In contrast, tonight, we get to talk about two women who were on the opposite spectrum. Deborah was among the powerful elite of Israel during the time of the judges, and Jael proved her valor through a courageous act. We’ll see that even in the ancient world of the Bible, there were women honored for their gifts and talents and who had roles of power and influence in God’s kingdom. We meet Deborah and Jael in Judges 4 and 5.

Deborah was known for her wisdom and discernment in deciding disputes between the Israelites. She was a prophetess, receiving direct words of revelation from God. She was a leader of the entire Israelite nation. Like we saw with Mary 2 weeks ago, she knew her primary role was to follow God, in all the aspects of her life. Like the 16 powerful women of today, Deborah, too, was a judge, a leader of her nation; she also was a wife and a mother.

Jael also stepped into her divinely appointed task at the right time. She, like Deborah, rose to the occasion and was able to deliver the people of God from their oppressors. Through their stories, we’ll see how God sends a redeemer. The Lord rescues his people from themselves by sending a judge to deliver them from the oppressive evil at work in their world.

Context of the Book of Judges in the Whole Bible

Before we jump in, I want to give us a little context on the book of Judges. I want us to see how it fits into God’s overall story of redemption in the Bible. We know that God’s story culminates in the NT with the sending of his own son, to rescue or redeem humanity. We know how the story ends, but sometimes we don’t know how to read and understand these OT stories. So we have to start by seeing them as a part of the larger whole.

The book of Judges comes early on in God’s story. It is after Israel’s time of slavery in Egypt and after God dramatically rescues them through the Red Sea from their oppressors (a story very similar to the one we have tonight). After wandering in the wilderness, they finally were able to enter the Promised Land.

This is where the book of Judges comes in. The Israelites are in the land, but they are still surrounded by their enemies. They don’t yet have a king, and they haven’t been sent Jesus Christ. We’ll see though, that because all of God’s story points forward to Christ, there will be ideas and themes in this story in Judges, that point us to Christ as the ultimate redeemer and leader of his people.

The Circle of Repentance in Judges 4-5
Open your Bibles to Judges 4 and 5. These two chapters tell the story of the only female judge in Israel’s history, really, the only female leader of the people of Israel. Chapter 4 tells the story in narrative form, and Chapter 5 retells the story as a song of praise, written in poetry, praising the Lord for his role in the story. The two chapters complement each other and give us a full picture of what happened during the time of Deborah. I am going to weave the two chapters together tonight where Ch. 5, the song, sheds light on Ch. 4, the narrative.

Stages 1-3: Evil, Oppression, Crying Out. Starting in verse 1, we read:

“After Ehud [the previous judge] died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD. So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help” (Judges 4:1-3).

We learn that the people of Israel had gotten themselves into this situation because of the evil that they had done, which would include serving the gods of the Canaanites (Judges 5:8). So the Canaanites, Jabin and his commander Sisera, had 900 iron chariots, and they cruelly oppressed the Israelites for 20 years. For 20 years, the people of Israel were abused and oppressed, beaten down both physically and emotionally by this Canaanite king.

The Circle of Repentance Defined
In the book of Judges, there is a common pattern that emerges in each of the stories. Over and over again in the book, we find a circle of repentance with 5 stages that the people go through. There are 5 stages and we see all of them play out in this story. The 5 stages of the circle of repentance in the book of Judges are:

  1. Israel does evil in the eyes of the Lord; they fall away from God, often beginning to serve the gods of the other people in their land (we see this in 4:1).
  2. They are oppressed. God sends others to oppress them for their disobedience and seeking their own ways (we see this in 4:2-3).
  3. They cry out to God for help. The oppression is too much for them to bear, so they turn back to God and cry out to him, usually in a last-ditch effort and act of desperation (it took them 20 years in this case) (we see this in 4:3).
  4. God raises up a deliverer for them: a judge. The judge is usually a military leader who saves the people (this will be the bulk of the story).
  5. The fifth and last stage is peace. God gives the people and the land peace and rest for the life of the judge (we won’t see this until the very last verse of the story in 5:31).

But, like I said, it’s a cycle, so it repeats. After a time of peace, the people forget the Lord again, do evil, are oppressed, cry out, then a new judge is raised up to deliver them and give peace, again.

Their Oppression

So after turning from God, the Israelites in this day were oppressed. We learn from the next chapter, Judges 5:6-8, what their oppression was like. Look in verse 6, we see that the roads were abandoned and travelers took to winding paths, out-of-the-way, because they were afraid. In verse 7, we see that village life had ceased-there was no social interaction-and inverse 8, that there was not a shield or spear among 40,000 in Israel. Not only were they afraid, and hiding out, but they had no means of protection either. They were completely weak and vulnerable and under the control of Jabin and his powerful chariots.

Stage 4: God Raises Up a Deliverer: Deborah

It’s at this point in the story that we meet Deborah. Look back at Ch. 4, verse 4, we read:

“Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading [or judging] Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm [tree] of Deborah…and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided” (Judges 4:4-5).

Deborah was both a prophetess and a judge or leader for the people. The only other judge in Scripture that was also a prophet was Samuel, who we studied last fall. What qualities do you think she would need to fill these roles (prophet, leader, judge, wife, mother- 5:7)? How about: wisdom, discernment, understand hearts of men and women and children, trust in God, balance of many roles, etc.

1. Deborah as Judge
We’re studying a judge in the book of Judges, but what was an ancient judge? Was it someone who held court with a gavel, like in our modern day? Well, there’s an aspect in which Deborah does do this as she settles disputes among the people, but the ancient judge was also a ruler, a rescuer, and deliverer for the people from their enemies. The role went well beyond settling cases of disagreement. What they do is a gift and calling from God; they delivered their people.

2. Deborah as Prophetess
In verse 6, we see God speaking through her, giving his plan of rescue for the Israelites. She sends for Barak, son of Abinoam, saying:

“The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands'” (Judges 4:6-7).

God reveals to her to summon Barak to lead the people out from under the oppressive hand of Jabin. But, we see in his response, a lack of faith in this word from God. In verse 8, he says, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Barak wavers. He hears the command of God, but he’s willing to disobey if Deborah doesn’t go with him. His response goes to show that there really wasn’t any male leadership in Israel at that time. Deborah replies in verse 9 that she will go with him, but because of the way he’s responded, she says,“the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.” A woman will be the one to deliver Israel and to give them the peace and rest.

Then verses 9-10 both tell us that “Deborah went with him.” What do you think Deborah would be feeling as she goes into battle with 10,000 men? Maybe: scared, afraid, or trusting in God? What would give her the emotional strength/faith to do this? Maybe the roles she’s already been called to, her past interactions with God, trust in her abilities, having received direct words from God (prophecy), wisdom in deciding disputes, trust God’s word is true…

Yes, so her strength would come from God. In Judges 5:2-3, she praises God, and says that the people willingly volunteered themselves to serve with God, then she sings to the Lord. In5:9, she says her heart is with Israel’s princes and willing volunteers. She gains strength from the people-her community-as well as God. Later we’ll see she has strength in God because she sees him at work in nature…and because she knows the Lord has gone out ahead of them (seeverses 4:14, 5:21, and 5:31).

3. Deborah as Commander of the Battle
Next, we move to the scene of the battle in Ch. 4, verses 12-16. Barak’s 10,000 men are to fight the 900 iron chariots of Sisera. While the numbers might seem to be in Israel’s favor, they are still severely outmatched. The riders of the iron chariots had been oppressing them for 20 years, you’ll remember. So, Barak goes, because Deborah is with him. And we see that she’s now taking on a military leadership role as well. In verse 14, we see she’s the one who commands the troops, giving the battle cry to “Go!” The Lord has revealed to her that today is the day they will defeat Sisera. The Lord says that he has gone out before them.While Deborah goes with the troops and with Barak, the Lord has gone out ahead of them.

So Barak’s men charge down the mountain toward Sisera and his chariots, and verse 15 says that “the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots.” Not Barak routed Sisera, but the Lord did. We learn that Sisera abandons his chariot and flees on foot; meanwhile all the other men were killed by the sword (verses 16-17).

4. The Lord as Deliverer
What has happened though, we don’t really get much more information here in Ch. 4? We do know that it’s the Lord’s battle and that he had a hand in it, but how could they beat the iron chariots and why would Sisera abandon his? Ch. 5 gives us more information about the way God wins this battle for them. So look at Ch. 5, the second ½ of verse 4, we see that “the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water. The mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai, before the LORD, the God of Israel” (Judges 5:4b-5). God sends a storm. The ground would turn to mud, and iron chariots on wheels pulled behind horses aren’t going to get too far. The chariots would get stuck, and Sisera’s power would be rendered ineffective.

Ch. 5, verses 20-21 adds that “From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong!” says Deborah (Judges 5:20-21). So the rain and the swelling of the river swept away the power of Israel’s oppressors. The Lord routes the army by his mighty hand and his mighty power. The battle was not won by man, but by the Lord. God is the divine warrior who ultimately rescues his people, using the team of Deborah and Barak to help carry out his plan. (Verse 21 tells us that Deborah’s soul gains strength from seeing God working a natural miracle.)

5. Jael as God’s Instrument
But what’s happening with Sisera? Back to Ch. 4, verse 17-22, remember that he escapes; he flees from the battle as the only survivor. On his escape route, exhausted, he comes upon the tent of an ally.

Verse 17 tells us that he comes to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, who had friendly relations with the Canaanite king Jabin. But, verse 11 above tells us that he would be distantly related to the Israelites too, by marriage through Moses. So he would have loyalty to both sides.

In verses 18-21, we learn that Jael, lures Sisera into her tent, telling him not to be afraid. He accepts her hospitality. She covers him and offers him milk to drink, rather than the water he requests. She promises to divert anyone who comes looking for him, but as soon as he falls asleep, she carries out a different plan. She takes a tent peg and a hammer and drives it through his head, killing him instantly.

When Barak comes looking for him, Jael calls out to him, telling him in verse 22, “‘Come, I will show you the man you’re looking for.’ So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple-dead.” Jael has just killed a man. What are we to make of Jael’s actions? Is she a hero or a treacherous woman? What would do you think would drive her to do this?? Are we to follow her lead?

  • remember that the honor would go to a woman, it was already prophesied
  • this is in warfare
  • we should not follow her lead… (see below, “ancient warfare vs. modern”)

6. Jael’s Actions Blessed

Let’s look at what this story has to say about Jael’s actions. Ch. 5 sheds more light for us. Look at verse 24 with me:

“Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk. Her hand reached for the tent peg, her right hand for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. At her feet he sank, he fell; there he lay. At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell-dead” (Judges 5:24-27).

Here Jael is called most blessed of women for her role in killing the commander of the oppressive army. She is the one who literally delivers the people in this story; she is God’s instrument. Back in Ch. 4, verse 23, the writer says that “On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king.” Jael, a woman and wife, a tent-dweller and foreigner, stepped into the role that God called her to. She was willing to save the people from their enemies and to rescue them when needed. She dealt the decisive blow that saved the people.

7. Ancient Warfare vs. Modern
But what about for us? Are we to follow her example in battle? Do you think that God wants us to be sure and kill our enemy if he ever is passing by our house? The NT would definitely tell us no, this is not God’s way now that he has sent Jesus. By the standards of ancient warfare, though, these two women were both heroes. But today, we don’t fight battles like they did in the OT. Now that we live in the NT times, our enemies are the spiritual forces of darkness.

Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Since Christ has come, the battle is different…He has already won, so instead of literal armor, we put on the spiritual armor of God. Yes, we will still see flesh and blood enemies, but we are not to fight them in the same way. We are to use our spiritual weapons and armor.

Stage 5: Peace
At the end of this story, Ch. 5 verse 31, we see the final stage in the circle of repentance, after Sisera died, “then the land had peace forty years.” The circle for this judge was complete. The cycle of Deborah as judge with Jael as her warrior ended with lasting peace for 40 years.

Christ as Ultimate Deliverer and Giver of Peace
Let’s begin to wrap up by looking at what would this story have meant for the original hearers? They would have seen that through Deborah and Jael’s courage and faith, the Lord rescues his people Israel from the trouble they got themselves into by doing evil in his sight. God sends a judge to redeem the people from their oppression and situation. But since it’s a circle of repentance, it happens over and over again; they needed a new judge, each time they got themselves into this circle. The point of this story in Judges is that God intervenes to send someone to help rescue Israel during times of oppression.

For us, we have to look not just at how the original hearers would have taken this story, but how we are to take it now that Christ has come. In the context of the whole Bible, we learn that God is the ultimate one who redeems his people, even as we saw in this story-it was God who routed the army. As we look forward to the NT, we see that Jesus is the redeemer, he is the leader, who finally and ultimately delivers his people from themselves. Deborah and Jael’s story, these two women, point us to Christ’s work. Outside of a saving relationship with Christ, we are weak and poor, oppressed by the spiritual forces of darkness; we are in need of God’s divine intervention. We need Christ as our savior, redeemer, and judge to fight the battles for us, because we have no hope of winning them on our own or of bringing lasting peace on our own. Only he can do it.

Application and Conclusion
What does this mean for you and me? Well, we no longer have to bear the oppressive weight of evil. We don’t have to wait for the redeemer, the deliverer, he’s already been sent. We don’t have to wait for God’s peace; it too has already been sent.

Now yes, we may still today see this same circle of repentance play out in our own lives; we are human after all… We need to be aware of it, but we also need to recognize that we are not left in it. We need to repent when we stray from God and come back to him. The more we grow in our Christian walk, the less we should enter into the depths of this cycle. What I mean is that we shouldn’t move so far out in disobedience that we don’t even acknowledge the Lord anymore. We need to learn to recognize that he has been there, right beside us, all along, and that he has already rescued us from our worst battle with sin and evil.

In conclusion, God’s promise is that he is the one who provides the victory and the one to accomplish it: his son. As women, we need to be willing to step into the roles he has called us and to use the gifts he has given us. We also need to learn to have strength in our faith in God and trust in him to deliver us, from whatever our situation may be.

Questions for Discussion and Application:

  • What is an area of your life right now where you feel trapped in the circle of repentance (disobey, feel oppressed, cry out, be delivered, then have peace)? How can you begin to move forward out of this?
  • How has God called you to step out as a woman to a role that might be uncomfortable for you? How do these women’s stories help us gain perspective on God in our own lives?

Hagar: Genesis 16:1-16

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The second woman we are going to be looking at in our 6 week study on women in the Bible is a little more of an obscure character. Hagar in the Old Testament. So turn to Genesis 16 and let’s look at Hagar’s story.

Verse 1 introduces us to the characters in this story, it says…

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar”

Here’s the Cliff Notes version of who Sarai & Abram (who we will later know as Sarah & Abraham) are and where they are at in their lives. When Abram was 75 God called him on a journey and promised Abram that he would have offspring and that He was going to make him into a great nation. During this journey they encounter the Pharaoh of Egypt and to make a long story short, Pharaoh makes them very wealthy giving them “sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.” (12:16) They finally settle in the land God said He would give to them. So in Chapter 16 this is where we find Abram and Sarai, he is 86 and she is like 76, and they are waiting for this child God is supposedly going to give them.

The other character we meet is Hagar, who we are going to be focusing on tonight. And here we learn that Hagar is Sarai’s “Egyptian Maidservant.” From these two words we actually learn a lot about Hagar. In Genesis 12:16 it told us that Abram received from Pharaoh livestock and servants as a sort of bribe. Hagar was most likely one of those servants who was given to him. Just knowing this we can really begin to paint a picture of what Hagar’s life was most likely like. Society treated her like a piece of property, equal to sheep, cattle, donkeys, and camels. Servant sounds ok, but in reality she was a slave. And in that culture as a woman she had even less value and worth. So think about what Hagar must have felt and how she must have viewed her life. She was torn from her family, her friends, and even from her culture and her country when Abram left Egypt with her as part of his newly acquired property. She had no choice in the matter, she is now a slave to a strange foreign couple being dragged away from everything she had ever known.

So those are our main characters, so now let’s set the stage, verse 2…

2 “so [Sarai] said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said”

 In verse 1 we learned that in their old age they are still childless, which is a problem since God had promised them off-spring and He told Abram it would be a blood child. So Sarai, in verse 2, does what just about every woman would do in a situation like this. She has given God plenty of time to do His part, but He hasn’t, so she analyzes the situation and concludes that even though God told Abram He would have manyy offspring, He has kept Sarai from having children, which must mean He wants her to have children in a different way so she needs to come up with plan B to help God carry out His plan.

And she decides that since she can’t have children, Abram will have them through her servant Hagar. Now what we need to understand here is that in their culture it was a common practice protected by the law to have children through a servant if you were barren. Verse 1 makes this clear when it says she was childless but she had a servant, what that means is that she had another option. And it says in verse 2 she would build her family through Hagar…so when this baby is born it would not be Hagar’s, it would be Sarai’s. Sounds like a good plan, and Abram agrees to it. (and I would love to spend a lot of time on why Abram is such a passive husband in this story, but it’s not our focus, maybe another time!)

So Sarai carries out her plan, look at verses 3-5

3 “So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.  4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.  5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

So Abram marries the servant Hagar, sleeps with her, and she gets pregnant. I think we can only begin to imagine how Hagar felt about all of this. Abram is 86 and Hagar is most likely somewhere between 14 and 30. How might this little arrangement affect Hagar? How do you think she is feeling? Put yourself in her shoes. What do you think that was like? She’s not married which means she is a virgin!! She may have been disgusted to have to have sex for the first time with an old man who is also a foreigner. Perhaps she feels hollow, like she is nothing but an object, a means to and end, without a say in the matter. The one thing she had was her own body, and now even that didn’t belong to her. She was robbed. Being a wife and mother was the highest calling on a woman’s life in that day and age. Just like you and I, she dreamt of that. Can you imagine all your dreams coming crashing down on you as you realize what your true fate is and that your fairy tale will actually never come true.  Perhaps at night she dreamt of the day a man would save her from her situation and give her purpose and meaning in life. But, instead she must live a nightmare. And we can bet she was hormonal! I know this sounds funny, but seriously, in those first few weeks your hormones go nuts. We got in the biggest fight of our marriage when we were two weeks pregnant only to find out several days later that I was pregnant and the hormones had played a big role in it. On top of all of this remember that she actually has no rights to that baby, if Sarai wants it as her own she can take it and even send Hagar away.

Now we can understand why it says in verse 4 that Hagar despised her mistress when she found out she was pregnant. In the dictionary it explains that to despise someone is much worse than to dislike them, “it suggests looking down on someone with great contempt and regarding the person as mean, petty, weak, or worthless.” The ESV even says here that “she looked with contempt” on Sarai. It was visible and full of hate.

Now for the irony of all ironies. In light of the contempt Sarai is receiving from Hagar in verse 5 she turns to Abram and blames him for everything. But we know, this was all her plan! Abram didn’t do anything to her, she did this to everyone else. Secondly, she completely fails to recognize her mistreatment of Hagar and only sees the “wrong [she is] suffering.” Even if what she forced Hagar to do was common and protected by the law, she doesn’t for a moment consider Hagar’s feelings and the situation she is now in.

But again, Abram passively bows out of this sticky situation and tells Sarai to do what “she thinks is best.” And evidently what she thinks is best is to mistreat Hagar right back. Which is also a natural human self-protective response. And in response, Hagar runs away.

Now the scene changes and the focus becomes solely Hagar, and we are introduced to a new character. Look at verses 7-8,

7   The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert…  8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.”

 What is the most amazing thing about what it says happened in verse 7? Well, first is that the angel of the Lord appeared. The Angel of the Lord is a messenger from God who represents God Himself and speaks the very words of God. So the Angel represents God’s presence. But what is truly amazing is that the angel of the Lord found Hagar! She was an Egyptian slave woman, she was not even of God’s people. She didn’t know God and didn’t believe in Him. But she had probably heard of YHWH since Abram had a relationship with God. And here we are told the Angel of the Lord comes to her. He finds her. She wasn’t seeking Him out or even praying to Him as far as we know. But God came to her in her darkest hour and revealed Himself to her.

And when He finds her He asks her about her situation. Where have you come from and where are you going? So basically, what happened Hagar and what are you planning on doing? By coming to Hagar and asking these questions God is treating Hagar as a human, an individual. He shows her that her life has purpose and meaning enough for God to take notice and show concern. Everything in the world has told Hagar she is worthless and that her life has no meaning, but God is showing her that He sees her very differently and that she does matter in His eyes. And in one sentence she gives her exasperated answer, she is running away from Sarai. That says it all.

Now if you were in a situation where you were being mistreated, even abused by your employer, and you prayed to God for help and guidance, what kind of answers would you expect to get from God? Maybe, I’ll protect you, you’re going to be ok, everything is going to work out. Or at least, run away and take care of yourself and your baby…I will judge and punish Sarai for what she has done. And He could have said, Go back to Abram and tell him what has happened and I will be sure he will protect and love you. But instead, God says what we would least expect and what seems most harmful to Hagar.

“Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”

He tells her to humble herself. To return to a harmful and horrible situation and to submit to a crazy woman. He never once tells her “Yes, Sarai is wrong and I will judge her for that.” Think about it, if she goes back and submits to Sarai it will look like Hagar is accepting responsibility and admitting fault! WHY would God tell Hagar to do something that is so obviously harmful and oppressive to her? Why wouldn’t God vindicate Hagar or at least free her from an unfair situation?

Our Limited Perspective

When we are in a situation that isn’t fun, that is oppressive, or is causing us sadness or pain, our natural instinct is to run. The way we see and understand the world we think that God would never want us to be in such difficult places, that He would want us to do whatever we can to be happy and live a peaceful life. But our vision is limited, temporary, and often worldly. And when we look at our lives through our limited perspective  we often fail to see God’s greater plan or even consider that God’s plan might include a difficult situation. So we justify running away.

But God’s perspective is not only bigger, it is eternal. And sometimes God’s will for our lives does include us submitting to difficult situations or hardships. Sometimes doing that is even required in order for God to do what He plans to do. And this is not an oppressive thing, it is always infused with God’s love for us and the knowledge that He will always care for us and be with us in those lowest and darkest of times.

When we view Hagar’s situation through those lenses, what might God’s plan have been for Hagar? What good could we possibly see in her returning to Abram and Sarai? Perhaps this was God’s protection over her and her child. She would certainly be safer in their home than out in the desert where she could be raped, robbed, and abused. She would have a safer and healthier pregnancy there than homeless. How would she feed and care for her child living on the streets? And what about breaking the law? By running away from her owners she was breaking the law. She may have been killed for it or even separated from her child once he was born. He would have most likely been sold in slavery as well.

As we think of these things you might be tempted to say “But we don’t know any of this for sure so why create false ideas? We can’t put words in God’s mouth.” Well, think of it this way – We do know that God always has a plan. As Romans 8:28 says, His plans always include not just His eternal purposes but also our good. The Psalms tell us that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. So truly, what the whole of Scripture tells us is that we can look for those things. We should consider what in God’s plans is for our good, for our protection, because He loves us, and so on. That is what it means to have an eternal perspective, it means not just seeing our life at face value, but seeing beyond it to God’s purposes and looking for meaning in all things good and bad. And even then, when we don’t see what good could come of something, submitting because we trust God and His care for us.

But God doesn’t just leave it at that, He does give her a little more to hold on to and to encourage her. He says in verses 10-12,

10  “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.

11                “…You are now with child

                        and you will have a son.

            You shall name him Ishmael,

                        for the LORD has heard of your misery.

12                He will be a wild donkey of a man;

                        his hand will be against everyone

                        and everyone’s hand against him,

            and he will live in hostility

                        toward all his brothers.”

Why would knowing these things be encouragement to Hagar? Why would it help her to return? It validates that He is God because He knows what no man could know. He knows her child, He knows it’s gender which in those days you couldn’t know til the child was born! When Michael and I first saw our baby at the sonogram we both immediately thought of Psalm 139 where it says that God knew us in the womb. I was amazed to think this child that I sometimes wonder if it’s still there or not, is known by God before I will ever even meet him/her. And God doesn’t just know each person before they are born, He knows what every day of their life will hold. And I guarantee as Hagar heard this she also realized that it meant God knew her in an intimate way as well! It shows that He isn’t just telling her to go back on principal but that it is part of a bigger plan. He’s helping her see beyond the dark hole she is in now. In a way God is telling her Ishmael is her son, not Sarai’s. That she will have many descendants. All that matters is how God sees it and that’s the validation she needed to hear. It is her body and the child in it is hers. He gives the child a name which will forever remind Hagar that God sees and hears her since Ishmael means “God hears.” She is not invisible or hidden. And by giving the child a name God helped Hagar to think of the child as a person, to make decisions for the best of that child, to care well for the child, and to know there is purpose in that life. The horrible way he was conceived is now validated and given purpose.

Now in the midst of this encouraging news God also gives her a little bit of bad news in verse 12, your son will be like a wild ass and he’ll clash with lots of people. But regardless of God telling her this she responds in verse 13 saying,

“You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

And I really think this reflects how this encounter with God has already matured Hagar and given her faith. Her focus is no longer herself and her sad situation, instead she is overwhelmed and encouraged to simply know that God sees her, that she matters, that He will be with her and has a purpose for her life….even if that means she will have more hardships to face. This is enough for her.

We live in a broken and fallen world and the reality is that even with God at our side we will face problems, sorrow, and hardships. But what Hagar learned that day was that knowing God is with us, sees us, and has purpose in all things, makes all the difference. A relationship with God meant more to her than having a perfect life, just like what we saw with Mary last week. And this is what an eternal perspective is, seeing past the temporary and worldly, to see the spiritual and eternal.

In her book, Lost Women of the Bible, Carolyn Custis James says that when Hagar realized this,

“[It] freed her to do the extraordinary – to love her neighbor, to put the interest of others ahead of herself…, and to reflect the image of God in her relationships.” (p.94)

It’s amazing to see the power of stepping away from our lives to regain perspective. Sometimes we get so buried under the complexities of our lives that we can no longer see the big picture and gain perspective. So we have to learn to retreat, to turn to God with those things, and to listen for His voice through His Spirit and His Word giving us encouragement and understanding of the harder things in our lives. I bet many of you are in need of that right now just as Hagar was…

So in verse 15 we read Hagar’s response to her encounter with God, to this retreat which helped her to gain a God-centered perspective on her life. She returned because the God who sees her commanded her to return. She did it knowing the outcome wasn’t going to be everything she had ever dreamed and hoped for. But that’s because it wasn’t the outcome that motivated her anymore, it was simple obedience to the God of creation, humbling herself to His greater plan.

Conclusion

Last week we talked about when we are living in unexpected situations in our lives and things in our lives look nothing like what we had thought. I think tonight’s story about Hagar builds beautifully on top of that. God’s command to us is to “Stay and submit to it.” and the encouragement we can take with us when we do is that God sees what we don’t see. That we are never alone in it. That He is with us. That He has purpose in the dark and lonely places you might find yourself in.

That simply knowing God sees us and loves us can motivate us to do things we never would have imagined doing on our own. And that if you know and trust that God is good and that He loves you, then that thought will bring you hope and joy not despair. Hagar was truly one of the first people in the Bible to see God in a personal way and it changed everything about how she lived and viewed her life. And that is what you and I can learn from the life of a woman who in the world’s eyes was worthless – but whose legacy has lived on to teach women like us thousands of years later some of the most important lessons of our lives….how would Hagar have ever known that that was one of the purposes of such a hardship in her life?

Questions for discussion & application

●       What is an area (or areas!) of your life right now that you feel buried in and are in need of some perspective?

●       What lessons from Hagar’s encounter with God can you apply to those areas of your own life to help you gain perspective?

What are some ways we can “retreat” to gain perspective?

Mary the Mother of Jesus, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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What happens when our lives don’t turn out as we expect?  Take for instance, Elizabeth Edwards.  Elizabeth was the wife of failed presidential candidate John Edwards.  They met in law school, married, and had two beautiful children.  They were living the American Dream.  They had the perfect life.  But suddenly one day her life took a turn for the unexpected.  Her 16-year-old son was killed in a car accident.  After a period of grief, they had two more children. And she was already 52 years old at this time.  They moved to DC since John had been elected senator, and he soon set his sights on being President.  During his campaign, there were allegations that he was having an affair with a staffer, which he strongly denied.  But soon, he was exposed, found out.  He had been having an affair and even had a child with this other woman.  Elizabeth separated from her husband and later contracted cancer, and died.  Her story is sad, really sad.  I don’t intend to minimize her suffering in any way.  But I can guarantee you that her life didn’t turned out how she expected…

What happens when our lives don’t turn out as we expect?  Where do we turn?  Who do we turn to?  I honestly don’t know who Elizabeth Edwards turned to, but tonight we’re going to study another woman whose life also didn’t turn out how she expected.  But we do know where this woman went; we know who she turned to.  Tonight we get to study, Mary, the mother of Jesus.

How We Can Relate to Mary, the Mother of Jesus?

The first woman we get to focus on is Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Mary is a woman that you and I can relate to, even though it might not be completely obvious at first.  You might be thinking: what do I have to do with the mother of God?  I’m pretty certain I’m not going to have a virgin birth to the Savior of the world, or be visited by angels.  Nobody is going to write a Christmas pageant starring me, but Mary, like us, lived a life that was unexpected.  Mary’s life didn’t turn out like she would have dreamed it would as a young woman.  She didn’t have the perfect life, in fact, it was far from it.  Most likely she would have been shunned and an outcast in her culture, everywhere except in the close community of Jesus’ followers.

Our lives often turn out way different than we expect as well. What are some ways that our lives don’t turn out as we expect?  What expectations do you feel there are put upon you? I know most of us grew up thinking that we need to get married by a certain age, have a certain number of children, and stay at home to take care of them, or at least while the children are young.  But we know that this isn’t reality for most of us.  A lot of you are like I was, young and searching, searching for meaning in life, a job I enjoyed, a man who would love me, so we could have the “perfect” life.  The reality is that many of you are still single and maybe “getting older” by the world’s standards, some of you are in hard marriages or have even experienceddivorce.  If you’re still really young, you’ve probably experienced a broken heart at least once. Others of you may be finding out that this career you’re in isn’t all that satisfying and you long for something more. Probably none of us expected our lives to look like what they currently look like.  Most of our lives have already or will turn out to look a lot different from what we expected.  The same was true for Mary.  Let’s look at her story.

Mary’s Story- Unexpected Changes

Turn in your Bibles to Luke 1 ~ Mary’s story starts in Luke Ch. 1, verse 26.  Right off, we learn that Mary was a virgin and she was pledged to be married to Joseph; these are two important social customs.  First, virginity was super-important in this culture.  There are actually OT laws that say: if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, then she was to be stoned to death by the men of the city.  So there’s a lot at stake in a woman being a virgin on her wedding night.  When the angel visits Mary, she is a virgin, she’s not yet married; the author Luke makes sure we understand it.  He repeats it in verses 27 and 28, and later in verse 34.  It’s a very important fact, especially if he’s going to mention it three times.  It’s important because it emphasizes the work of forming Jesus in Mary’s womb is the act of God alone but it also emphasized that Jesus really was human, he was born from a woman in the natural way that children are born. So he’s really human.  The second social custom we’re talking about is being pledged to be married was a legal contract, just like marriage.  The only way to get out of this pledge, or betrothal, was to file for a divorce.  It was different from our modern engagements, which we can back out of, if need be.

When the angel appears to her, she is terrified and wonders: why in the world is this heavenly being standing here talking to me.  If this were me, I would probably think, “Oh no, what have I done?”  In verse 30, though, we see that the angel tells her not to be afraid and he says her name.  “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” He goes on to tell her inverse 31“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” 

 Then the angel tells her a little bit about whom this son will be.  Verse 32“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Mary responds to the angel in verse 34“How will this be…since I am a virgin?”  At this moment, life is turning upside down for Mary, she’s not going to get to live the life she expected, and she knows it.  I mean, there’s an angel standing there talking to her.  Mary’s reputation, her dreams, the respect of her community is going out the window. No one is going to believe her story.  Wouldn’t this be the perfect cover-up for getting pregnant before marriage…? “I promise…an angel visited me…” But this is only the beginning; Mary’s life is heading for much more unexpectedness.

In verse 37, the angel says this is all going to happen, because “nothing is impossible with God.”  Mary trusts in the Lord then, and accepts what is to happen.  She could have questioned him, but she didn’t.  She said, “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.” She’s basically saying, “Ok, I’ll do it.”  Mary’s world is about to turn upside down, but she trusts God’s goodness and plan, and is willing to be used by him.  She’s willing to serve God in what he’s called her.  She’s not, like you or I might, trying to make excuses, back out, procrastinate, stall, or ignore.  But, she accepts and moves forward.

 Birth of Jesus

The birth story continues, but now Jesus is the main focus.  This is the Christmas story.  Mary, fully pregnant, has no access to a clean room or midwife to give birth.  She gives birth in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn.  This is not an ordinary son that Mary has given birth to.  She knows it.  She knows that her life will be nothing like what she might have expected prior to that first visit by the angel.

There are a few other stories including Mary that I want us to look at tonight.  We can’t look in depth at all of the stories that the Bible says of her (she’s mentioned at least in 8 different places). I want us to notice how Jesus, her son—who she knows is God—continues to upturn her expectations for her life.  And he does this for us too, in our own lives…Let’s look at 2 incidents.

 1.  Mark 3:31-35

In this story, Jesus is now a grown man.  He has been teaching in a house, and people are beginning to oppose him.  They are saying he’s possessed by an evil spirit, Beelzebub, or Satan.  Look with me starting in verse 20 for a little context.  It says, “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”  So Mary, along with Jesus’ other brothers, heard he was not eating, they thought he was crazy, and went “to take charge of him.”

So in verse 31, they arrive at the house and send someone in to tell Jesus that they are there. They’re definitely trying to pull rank here, hoping to get through the crowd because of their relationship to him.  They’re trying to use their backstage passes, with its perks and privileges, to gain access to Jesus.  They want the VIP treatment.  When Jesus is told that they are outside looking for him, he turns the situation into a teaching opportunity, like he often does.  In verse 33 he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then looking and pointing to the people sitting inside around him, he says “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”  Jesus is telling the people that there is no special treatment in his kingdom.  There are no VIP, backstage passes.  No one is better than another.  In fact, so long as you do God’s will, you are his family.  Jesus is pointing all of them, Mary and his brothers, and us, to the truth of his ministry and the truth of his calling and telling them what his kingship looks like.  We all have access to Jesus.

In saying this, Jesus challenges Mary’s expectations.  Not only that, but he’s challenging her identity as well.  Carolyn Custis James, who will be at PCPC next Thursday, has this to say.  She says that she felt her biblical calling was to be a wife and mother.  And because of this, she felt lost when she was single (James, Lost Women of the Bible, 177).  What Carolyn saw is that in this story, Jesus calls Mary to see that her primary role is not as mother, but as a follower of Christ.  Jesus calls each of us to see that following him is what ultimately matters and must be foremost in our lives.  Our true identity is to be a follower of Christ, in all we do and in all our situations in life.

2.  Luke 11:27-28

This exchange also comes after the same story, where Jesus is accused of being possessed by the demon Beelzebub.  As a little background, in the ancient culture, being a mother was really the highest achievement a woman could hope to attain.  The more sons the better and the greater the sons were, the greater the honor would be to a woman.

Well, in this story, after Jesus is teaching them, a woman calls out in verse 27, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”  Jesus, though, in true form, challenges the expectations that a woman should be known by the work of her son.  He says in verse 28, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”  Again, Jesus challenges their expectations and assumptions about Mary’s role as mother, about her identity.  He says that it is better to hear the word of God and to obey it: to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and to follow him. Carolyn Custis James again says,

“Jesus zeroed in on two sacred institutions for women—motherhood and family—and redefined them both.  According to Jesus, a woman’s life is truly blessed not when she becomes a mother, but when she hears and obeys his Word.  The crowning glory for a woman (as for a man) is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  This is a woman’s true identity and the only path to blessedness.  To base our identity on anything else is to stand on shaky ground,” (James, Lost Women of the Bible, 177).

So Mary’s expectations about her life and family have turned out much different than she would have thought.  Her life didn’t look like a normal person’s life and then, even in having such a unique and amazing son, her expectation of what it meant to be his mother is also challenged.

Unexpected Ending to Mary’s Story

Now we come to the unexpected ending of Mary’s story. Remember that the angel in Luke 1told her that her son would reign on David’s throne and that his kingdom would never end. Well for everyone, what would happen to Jesus was unexpected, to everyone except Christ. Even his disciples did not expect that he would be crucified.  Jesus told them time and time again that he was going to suffer and die and be raised again, but they didn’t expect it, not until they saw him crucified, hanging on a cross, dying the death of a criminal.  The people, they were expecting a great military leader, someone who would fight to the death, but would triumph and overthrow the Roman government and give Israel back her land.  But Jesus’ death was not what anyone at that time really expected to happen.  His story looked different than what they thought.  It certainly looked different from what Mary had every right to expect of her son.  One minute she’s called blessed among women, and the next her son is traded out for the most notorious criminal, Barrabas, to be crucified.  What shame this would bring on her as a mother.

This week, right now, is Holy Week.  Christians all over the world are remembering the final week of Christ’s life before his death and the lead-up to his crucifixion on Good Friday, which is this Friday.  As we remember this time in Jesus’ life, you and I get to see from the perspective of Mary, Jesus’ mother, as well.  We get to see her part in Christ’s story and how Christ kept pointing her to his greater purpose, to what his kingdom really meant, what it meant to truly be a follower of Christ: to follow him to the cross.  He pointed her beyond her role as mother to him.

Mary was there on the day that Christ was crucified.  Imagine the agony of watching the brutality that her own son had to suffer and experience.  But even as he hung on the cross in excruciating pain, he saw her and spoke to her.  He told John to take care of her, that she was now John’s mother and John was her son.  Even in his death, Jesus took care of his own, his followers.  But, thankfully, Mary’s story doesn’t end at the cross any more than Jesus’ did.

Mary: A True Follower of Jesus

The last that is written of Mary is actually found in Acts 1:14.  Turn there.  After Jesus’ resurrection, after his 40 days on earth, the disciples gathered in the Upper Room to wait for the giving of the Holy Spirit, for the day of Pentecost, we see that Mary is there.  She’s waiting with them.  Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”  By this time, although nothing in her life turned out as she would have expected, Mary had learned what it meant to trust God.  She learned to embrace the truth and the plan that God had for her life.  She knew he cared for her and brought her through all of life’s unexpected turns.  She quit holding onto the things that she thought should be important and began to turn to the truth: to turn to Christ.  “Jesus’ word for Mary is the same as it is for women today: ‘Follow me.’ It is a way that is open to all of us.” Mary helps us find our true identity by being women who follow Jesus (James, Lost Women of the Bible, 180).

Application of Mary’s Story to Our Lives

I want to leave you with a few questions to think over, jot them down and ask yourself these questions during the week or later tonight.  Spend some time thinking about them.

  • How has your life turned out differently than you expected?
  • What were your expectations based on? (Your parents’ ideas? The culture’s definition of success or womanhood?)
  • How do Jesus’ words to Mary point you in a different direction?

Remember that Mary’s life didn’t look like what she would have expected or probably chosen for herself.  But through her son and her encounters with him and his teaching to her, she learned what it meant to really be a follower of Jesus and to have him be the basis of her identity.  She didn’t know how to do this automatically because she was his mother, but she had to learn from him, just like you and I do.  God wants us to have life and to have it fully. That’s why he sent Jesus to us.  So let Christ be the one to define your life, to give you meaning.  Let him be the one by whom you set your expectations by.  Pray that you would be able, through the Holy Spirit, to follow God’s will, to hear his word and to obey it, not because you have to, but because you trust your life to the one who overcame death to give you his own life, true life.  So, live into this life that Christ has given you.

Conclusion

When life doesn’t turn out as you expect, allow Jesus, even his words to Mary, to point you back to him as our risen Lord and Savior.  Jesus has lived the truly unexpected life, so that our lives don’t have to be unexpected, so long as we are following Christ to the cross.  We just have to look to his life to understand our own.

Questions for Application and Discussion:

  •      What did you expect your life would be like?  How have you seen the Lord at work in this?
  •      What does Jesus say is woman’s highest calling?  How would your life be different if you really believed this?