In lesson one, we talked about three wicked women found in the Bible: Tamar (A Wicked Disguise), the woman of Samaria (A Wicked Outsider), and the woman who wiped the feet of Jesus (Wicked Tears). In this lesson we will look at more women in the Bible and see what it was that made them wicked!
A Wicked Woman of the Night
How a Shady Lady Tells a Lie and Saves the Day
Joshua 2; 6:22-25
Joshua son of Nun secretly sent out from Shittim two men as spies: “Go. Look over the land. Check out Jericho.” They left and arrived at the house of a harlot named Rahab and stayed there. The king of Jericho was told, “We’ve just learned that men arrived tonight to spy out the land. They’re from the People of Israel.” The king of Jericho sent word to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you to stay the night in your house. They’re spies; they’ve come to spy out the whole country.” The woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, two men did come to me, but I didn’t know where they’d come from. At dark, when the gate was about to be shut, the men left. But I have no idea where they went. Hurry up! Chase them—you can still catch them!” (She had actually taken them up on the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax that were spread out for her on the roof.) So the men set chase down the Jordan road toward the fords. As soon as they were gone, the gate was shut. Before the spies were down for the night, the woman came up to them on the roof and said, “I know that God has given you the land. We’re all afraid. Everyone in the country feels hopeless. We heard how God dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt, and what he did to the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you put under a holy curse and destroyed. We heard it and our hearts sank. We all had the wind knocked out of us. And all because of you, you and God, your God, God of the heavens above and God of the earth below. “Now promise me by God. I showed you mercy; now show my family mercy. And give me some tangible proof, a guarantee of life for my father and mother, my brothers and sisters—everyone connected with my family. Save our souls from death!” “Our lives for yours!” said the men. “But don’t tell anyone our business. When God turns this land over to us, we’ll do right by you in loyal mercy.” She lowered them down out a window with a rope because her house was on the city wall to the outside. She told them, “Run for the hills so your pursuers won’t find you. Hide out for three days and give your pursuers time to return. Then get on your way.” The men told her, “In order to keep this oath you made us swear, here is what you must do: Hang this red rope out the window through which you let us down and gather your entire family with you in your house—father, mother, brothers, and sisters. Anyone who goes out the doors of your house into the street and is killed, it’s his own fault—we aren’t responsible. But for everyone within the house we take full responsibility. If anyone lays a hand on one of them, it’s our fault. But if you tell anyone of our business here, the oath you made us swear is canceled—we’re no longer responsible.” She said, “If that’s what you say, that’s the way it is,” and sent them off. They left and she hung the red rope out the window. They headed for the hills and stayed there for three days until the pursuers had returned. The pursuers had looked high and low but found nothing. The men headed back. They came down out of the hills, crossed the river, and returned to Joshua son of Nun and reported all their experiences. They told Joshua, “Yes! God has given the whole country to us. Everybody there is in a state of panic because of us.”……[When the time came] Joshua ordered the two men who had spied out the land, “Enter the house of the harlot and rescue the woman and everyone connected with her, just as you promised her.” So the young spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, mother, and brothers—everyone connected with her. They got the whole family out and gave them a place outside the camp of Israel. But they burned down the city and everything in it, except for the gold and silver and the bronze and iron vessels—all that they put in the treasury of God’s house. But Joshua let Rahab the harlot live—Rahab and her father’s household and everyone connected to her. She is still alive and well in Israel because she hid the agents whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
- To many of us, the annihilation of every living creature in Jericho sounds cruel and inhumane. But Scripture portrays the conquest of Canaan as a judgment against the sins of the people in the land. Among other things, the Canaanites were said to have practiced child sacrifice. Do you think God judges people in similar ways today by bringing destruction to their lives? Why or why not?
Like Noah and his family, Rahab and her people escape the great destruction that comes as punishment for the sins of those who live in the land. Instead of a boat, it is a house that shelters them. Because Rahab believed in Israel’s God and risked her life to help his people, she and her family are saved.
Had anyone from Jericho been able to tell the story, her role would have been described not with words like courage and faith, but with words like treachery and deceit. As it is, not one person was left alive who could contradict the story as it has been handed down through all the generations of God’s people.
Leaving the ill-fated city behind, Rahab and her family settle with the Israelites. One of her descendants will be David, the greatest of Israel’s kings. More remarkable than that, she will be known to later generations as the great, great, great-beyond-counting grandmother of Jesus, who is the Christ.
- Rahab was willing to risk her life to protect the Israelite spies. What kind of risks have you taken that express your trust in God?
- In Exodus, Moses is the hero who grows up right under the nose of his enemies. In this story, God uses Rahab as the “insider” who will help his people overcome their enemies. What does this say about God’s ability to work on behalf of those who belong to him?
A Wicked Surprise
The People of Israel kept right on doing evil in God’s sight. With Ehud dead, God sold them off to Jabin king of Canaan who ruled from Hazor. Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim, was the commander of his army. The People of Israel cried out to God because he had cruelly oppressed them with his nine hundred iron chariots for twenty years. Deborah was a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth. She was judge over Israel at that time. She held court under Deborah’s Palm between Ramah and Bethel in the hills of Ephraim. The People of Israel went to her in matters of justice. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “It has become clear that God, the God of Israel, commands you: Go to Mount Tabor and prepare for battle. Take ten companies of soldiers from Naphtali and Zebulun. I’ll take care of getting Sisera, the leader of Jabin’s army, to the Kishon River with all his chariots and troops. And I’ll make sure you win the battle.” Barak said, “If you go with me, I’ll go. But if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” She said, “Of course I’ll go with you. But understand that with an attitude like that, there’ll be no glory in it for you. God will use a woman’s hand to take care of Sisera.” Deborah got ready and went with Barak to Kedesh. Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together at Kedesh. Ten companies of men followed him. And Deborah was with him. It happened that Heber the Kenite had parted company with the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ in-law. He was now living at Zaanannim Oak near Kedesh. They told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor. Sisera immediately called up all his chariots to the Kishon River—nine hundred iron chariots!—along with all his troops who were with him. Deborah said to Barak, “Charge! This very day God has given you victory over Sisera. Isn’t God marching before you?” Barak charged down the slopes of Mount Tabor, his ten companies following him. God routed Sisera—all those chariots, all those troops!—before Barak. Sisera jumped out of his chariot and ran. Barak chased the chariots and troops all the way to Harosheth Haggoyim. Sisera’s entire fighting force was killed—not one man left. Meanwhile Sisera, running for his life, headed for the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite. Jabin king of Hazor and Heber the Kenite were on good terms with one another. Jael stepped out to meet Sisera and said, “Come in, sir. Stay here with me. Don’t be afraid.” So he went with her into her tent. She covered him with a blanket. He said to her, “Please, a little water. I’m thirsty.” She opened a bottle of milk, gave him a drink, and then covered him up again. He then said, “Stand at the tent flap. If anyone comes by and asks you, ‘Is there anyone here?’ tell him, ‘No, not a soul.’” Then while he was fast asleep from exhaustion, Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg and hammer, tiptoed toward him, and drove the tent peg through his temple and all the way into the ground. He convulsed and died. Barak arrived in pursuit of Sisera. Jael went out to greet him. She said, “Come, I’ll show you the man you’re looking for.” He went with her and there he was—Sisera, stretched out, dead, with a tent peg through his temple. On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the People of Israel. The People of Israel pressed harder and harder on Jabin king of Canaan until there was nothing left of him.
On the very day Sisera perishes, Deborah and Barak sing this song:
“Most blessed of all women is Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women….She grabbed a tent peg in her left hand, with her right hand she seized a hammer. She hammered Sisera, she smashed his head, she drove a hole through his temple. He slumped at her feet. He fell. He sprawled. He slumped at her feet. He fell. Slumped. Fallen. Dead….So may all your enemies perish, Lord! But may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.”
Thus ends the story of how Deborah arose, a mother in Israel, and how Jael, a tent-dwelling woman, shamed the enemy and delivered the people God loved. After that, the land of Israel enjoyed peace for forty years.
- In the Old Testament, God often judged people by allowing them to suffer the natural consequences of their failure to trust and obey him. How does that dynamic play out in today’s world, in the lives of individuals and nations?
Among the patriarchal society of Israel, women rarely held leadership positions. One exception was in the area of prophecy, in which women as well as men could be prophets. In addition to being a prophetess, Deborah was considered a judge or leader in Israel before the Israelites had kings. Unlike modern judges, the leaders referred to in the book of Judges were hero-deliverers whom God raised up in order to rescue his people whenever they repented of their sins and cried out to him for help.
- Throughout the Old Testament, we see a clear pattern emerge. God’s people cry out for help. He rescues them. They fall away and become oppressed. They cry out for help. He rescues them. What does this cycle tell us about God? About human nature? About what to do when you feel oppressed?
By choosing two women to rescue his people, one of whom was a foreigner, God was shaming his enemies and showcasing his own great strength, as though tying one hand behind his back to defeat them.
Of the two women in the story, Jael would have shocked her contemporaries the most. Throughout her story, she always took the initiative. Even though her husband was at peace with Jabin and therefore with Sisera, she appears to have acted independently, thus breaking their treaty. It would also have been considered highly improper for her to greet Sisera and invite him into her tent. Also, hospitality in the ancient Near East was considered a sacred obligation, so sacred that the host was expected to protect their guests at the cost of their life if necessary. Yet Jael reverses the usual formula by killing the man who has taken refuge in her tent. Even in the final scene, she takes the initiative by stepping outside her tent to meet Barak when he comes looking for Sisera.
Just as Deborah had prophesied, the glory for the victory went not to Barak but to a woman. Actually, it went to two women. To Deborah who began the war and to Jael who finished it.
- Through Deborah, God promised he would go ahead of his people and fight for them. How has God fought on your behalf?
- When was the last time God asked you to do something you were afraid to do? How did you respond? What were the results?
A Wicked Sorceress
How a Witch Conjures the Dead
1 Samuel 28:3-25
Samuel was now dead. All Israel had mourned his death and buried him in Ramah, his hometown. Saul had long since cleaned out all those who held séances with the dead. The Philistines had mustered their troops and camped at Shunem. Saul had assembled all Israel and camped at Gilboa. But when Saul saw the Philistine troops, he shook in his boots, scared to death. Saul prayed to God, but God didn’t answer—neither by dream nor by sign nor by prophet. So Saul ordered his officials, “Find me someone who can call up spirits so I may go and seek counsel from those spirits.” His servants said, “There’s a witch at Endor.” Saul disguised himself by putting on different clothes. Then, taking two men with him, he went under the cover of night to the woman and said, “I want you to consult a ghost for me. Call up the person I name.” The woman said, “Just hold on now! You know what Saul did, how he swept the country clean of mediums. Why are you trying to trap me and get me killed?” Saul swore solemnly, “As God lives, you won’t get in any trouble for this.” The woman said, “So whom do you want me to bring up?” “Samuel. Bring me Samuel.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out loudly to Saul, “Why did you lie to me? You’re Saul!” The king told her, “You have nothing to fear…but what do you see?” “I see a spirit ascending from the underground.” “And what does he look like?” Saul asked. “An old man ascending, robed like a priest.” Saul knew it was Samuel. He fell down, face to the ground, and worshiped. Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by calling me up?” “Because I’m in deep trouble,” said Saul. “The Philistines are making war against me and God has deserted me—he doesn’t answer me anymore, either by prophet or by dream. And so I’m calling on you to tell me what to do.” “Why ask me?” said Samuel. “God has turned away from you and is now on the side of your neighbor. God has done exactly what he told you through me—ripped the kingdom right out of your hands and given it to your neighbor. It’s because you did not obey God, refused to carry out his seething judgment on Amalek, that God does to you what he is doing today. Worse yet, God is turning Israel, along with you, over to the Philistines. Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. And, yes, indeed, God is giving Israel’s army up to the Philistines.” Saul dropped to the ground, felled like a tree, terrified by Samuel’s words. There wasn’t an ounce of strength left in him—he’d eaten nothing all day and all night. The woman, realizing that he was in deep shock, said to him, “Listen to me. I did what you asked me to do, put my life in your hands in doing it, carried out your instructions to the letter. It’s your turn to do what I tell you: Let me give you some food. Eat it. It will give you strength so you can get on your way.” He refused. “I’m not eating anything.” But when his servants joined the woman in urging him, he gave in to their pleas, picked himself up off the ground, and sat on the bed. The woman moved swiftly. She butchered a grain-fed calf she had, and took some flour, kneaded it, and baked some flat bread. Then she served it all up for Saul and his servants. After dining handsomely, they got up from the table and were on their way that same night.
- What are some words you would use to describe the character of the woman of Endor? Consider any positive as well as negative attributes.
- We know that Saul was desperate to hear something positive from God. What do you think motivated the woman of Endor to try to communicate with the spirit world? How do you think her experience with Saul and Samuel might have affected her?
Fortune tellers used various means of divination, including observing patterns of oil dropped into water, interpreting dreams, reading the stars, and drawing meaning from the entrails of animals.
Though condemned in the Bible, the practice of necromancy—of attempting to communicate with the dead—was practiced throughout the ancient Near East, where people employed magic in an attempt to control their lives by controlling the gods. Such practices were usually motivated by fear and the desire for power.
By contrast, Israel’s all-powerful God could never be controlled, though he could be trusted to watch over those who remained faithful to him. Unlike pagan gods, he communicated, not through secret patterns, but through prophets and occasionally through dreams.
- Have you or has anyone you know ever engaged in the practice of magic? For example, through use of astrology, tarot cards, a Ouija board, or visiting a fortune teller? What motivated you?
- This story showcases how far Saul had fallen. Though a courageous and naturally gifted man, he met a tragic and pathetic end. What does this story reveal about the consequences of trusting yourself more than God?