Wicked Women of the Bible by Ann Spangler (Lesson Three)

In lesson two, we talked about four wicked women found in the Bible: Rahab (A Wicked Woman of the Night), Deborah and Jael (A Wicked Surprise), and the Medium of Endor (A Wicked Sorceress). In this lesson we will continue to look at more women in the Bible and see what it was that made them wicked! Please know that for the remaining two lessons, I have switched from simply reading the biblical text to providing more of a synopsis of the characters’ stories.

abigail

Wicked Smart

How a Quick-Witted Woman Averts a Foolish Disaster

1 Samuel 25

Abigail’s story began when Samuel died. He has been David’s main protector and counselor at the court of King Saul, and without him David is in real danger. David is a clever, opportunistic young man, and Saul knows it. Saul has little option but to expel him from the court. It is shearing time, and the mood is similar to a harvest festival:  boisterous, unruly, lots of food and wine. David, expelled from King Saul’s court, is now living rough in the hills above the pasture land on the plains. He has become a magnet for every malcontent in the area—there are about 600 of them altogether. Knowing that the shearing festival promotes a certain generosity among owners of sheep and cattle, David sends some of his followers to one of the richest men in the area with a request for some payment for his services. What has David done to deserve payment? Nabal refuses, pointing out that he has no obligation to feed bandits. At this point David must stand his ground or lose face with his followers. He orders four hundred of his men to gather up their arms and follow him down from the hills to attack Nabal’s house. Meanwhile, a young man in Nabal’s household goes privately to Nabal’s wife, Abigail, and tells her what is going on. He says that since David’s followers have refrained from attacking the shepherds or stealing their flocks, Nabal ought to pay for the favor. He explains that he would go to Nabal himself, if only her husband were not likely to get angry at this suggestion. Can she help? Abigail is not only beautiful, she is quick-witted and shrewd. She knows her husband will refuse David’s demand, so without letting her husband know what she is doing, she gathers up several donkey-loads of food. Since David’s band numbers at least four hundred, the food is merely a gesture to show whose side she is on. She is trying to prevent a confrontation that would be disastrous for both David and Nabal. David is on his way to Nabal’s house when he meets Abigail. He is still full of bluster and threats, but she is charming – an apparently docile, beautiful woman begging for forgiveness for her husband’s blunder. She falls to the ground, bowing low, begging forgiveness for a husband she describes as a fool. Her beauty and her flattery—and perhaps also the sight of the food—win David over. In a lordly speech he forgives Nabal for objecting to extortion, and forgives her as well for being married to a man who has refused to submit to his demands. Abigail leaves David and goes to her husband. The harvest festival is going on. Nabal, along with everyone else except Abigail, is drunk. Seeing that she will get no sense out of her husband, Abigail retreats to her quarters and waits for her husband to sleep it off. In the morning she goes to him and tells him what she has done: taken authority into her own hands in direct defiance of his wishes, and given food supplies to the bandit David. When he hears about his young wife’s treachery, Nabal suffers a stroke: “his heart died within him and he became as a stone.” About ten days later he dies. On hearing of Nabal’s death, David immediately makes a statement that absolves him of all blame. Abigail is now a rich widow, and David loses no time in turning the situation to his advantage. He sends his servants to ask Abigail to marry him. He already has a wife, King Saul’s daughter Michal, but he has abandoned her when her usefulness came to an end. Abigail, now most unwelcome in her own home, accepts his offer gracefully. She leaves her home accompanied by her five maids, travels to David, and becomes his wife.

  • What words would you use to describe Abigail’s character?
  • Is there a word you used to describe Abigail that represents a quality you wish you had more of in your life? What is it?

Abigail’s household was probably sizable since her husband was a wealthy landowner whose large herds would have produced a hefty income. Her ability to put her hands on so much food at short notice and the fact that she had servants to command as well as five maids who traveled with her when she married David are further evidence of her wealth.

In most households, women are responsible for threshing and grinding grain, kneading dough, baking bread, cooking, weaving, making clothes, preserving food, and hauling water. It probably took the average woman at least three to four hours every morning simply to grind enough grain for the day’s bread. While girls often acted as shepherdesses, some women were so poor that they had to glean in the fields or hire themselves out to do fieldwork, work that was normally reserved for men. Instead of performing these chores herself, Abigail would have had servants who handled them under her direction.

  • What do you think Abigail’s life may have looked like after agreeing to marry David?

(Her life would have changed drastically when she married a warrior who was living with his men and their families in the wilderness. Just prior to the death of Saul and Jonathan, she was kidnapped by a band of raiders along with David’s other wife, Ahinoam, as well as many other women and children. Fortunately, Abigail and the others were soon rescued by David and his men. She would likely have been present in David’s palace when Michal returned to him. Abigail and David had a son named Daniel.)

  • Abigail is the consummate mediator, effectively brokering peace in the midst of a perilous situation. Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation, putting yourself at risk in some way in order to be a peacemaker? What was the circumstance and outcome?

mary-magdalene

Wicked Crazy

How a Demon-Possessed Woman Becomes a Devoted Disciple

Matthew 27; Mark 15 & 16; Luke 8 & 24; John 19 & 20

There is nothing romantic or sexy about Mary’s story. Her hometown Magdala was a thriving center of the fishing industry, producing smoked fish in large quantities, for sale to the surrounding countries. She had a serious illness, but just what it was we do not know. At the time, people believed that some illnesses like schizophrenia or epilepsy were caused by evil spirits, which entered the body and controlled it. Mary is described in the gospels as having seven of these demons living inside her body, the number seven being an indication of the severity of her illness—she was very ill indeed. At some point in her life, Mary met an itinerant miracle worker called Jesus, and the power of his personality and teachings bowled her over. He cured her of her illness, and she became a whole-hearted supporter of this man and his mission. When things went badly wrong at that fateful Passover in Jerusalem, Mary stood resolutely by Jesus. None of them knew what would happen. When the worst that could happen did happen, Mary was there. She had been close to him during his life, and she would be close to him when he faced death. The men disciples fled—there was every possibility they might be the next victims of the Roman authorities. But Mary stood as near to the cross as she could, watching every dreadful action, hearing every scream. No one can imagine what it was like for her, or for the other women standing there. When Jesus was finally dead, silent at last, they took him down from the cross. Then Mary faced the task that every Jewish woman had to do sooner or later—preparing the body of someone she loved for burial.  This entailed washing the body, gently wiping it with a mixture of spices, and then wrapping it in linen strips. While this was happening, prayers from the Scriptures were softly chanted. The women’s work had to be done quickly because the Sabbath was about to begin. But there had not been time to buy the ointments and spices, so they knew they would have to come back after the Sabbath to complete the task. At the earliest opportunity, they returned to the tomb where his body had been placed, but there was no one there. The soldiers were nowhere in sight, and the place seemed deserted. Jesus’ body was gone. A young man at the tomb said that Jesus was gone, but gone where? Mary collapsed on the ground. Everything was wrong. His body should have been there. Then someone spoke to Mary, said her name, and she recognized the voice. It was Jesus. She was mute with shock. She made as if to grab hold of him, but he pulled back. Don’t hold on to me, he said. Just tell the others. She ran back to the house where the men were hidden. He’s alive, she said. He’s alive.

  • Imagine that Jesus has just spoken your name as you stand weeping outside of his empty tomb. What would that feel like? How would this experience impact your understanding of who he is? Of who you are in relationship to him?

Mary Magdalene was the most prominent witness of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Since women were not considered reliable witnesses in early first-century Israel, many scholars see this as more evidence of the validity of the New Testament. They point out that no writer of that period would have willingly included such information unless it were true.

Throughout the centuries, many writers have mistakenly portrayed Mary Magdalene a harlot, confusing her with the woman who lived a sinful life and who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. But the gospels merely identify her as a woman suffering from demonic possession. After her deliverance, she became a devoted disciple of Jesus, traveling with him along with other of his followers, both male and female. Some scholars believe she may have been a leader in the early church. Her name is preserved in all four gospels.

  • Mary was devoted to Jesus. What do you think it means to be a follower of Christ?

(Though most of the disciples fled once Jesus was arrested and tried, Mary and many other women were with him at the crucifixion. As a woman who remained faithful to Jesus throughout his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection, she is a model of what it means to follow Jesus.

  • What do you think compelled Mary and the other women to stay at the cross? Do you think you would have had the strength to do the same?

jezebel

Wickedness Personified

How the Bad Queen Jezebel Learns It’s Not Smart to Fight with God

1 Kings 16, 18, 19 & 21; 2 Kings 9

Jezebel was a princess from the rich coastal city of Sidon in Phoenicia, where her father was king. He had taken the throne, and was a force to be reckoned with. Strong men often have confident, ambitious daughters, and Jezebel proved to be just that. She married Ahab, son of a famous warrior king of Israel called Omri, who had also taken the throne and was one of the great warriors and builders of the ancient world. When she moved to Israel, Jezebel stayed loyal to her own gods, the gods of agriculture and weather. She believed in them, and was probably a High Priestess in the worship of Baal, her most loved god. He was god of storms, rivers, and water, but she probably also worshipped his divine wife Asherah, who personified the fertility of all females and was a fierce champion of the family. When Jezebel presided over worship and sacrifices, she wore the ritual make-up and clothing of a priestess. The people of Israel wavered between Yahweh and Baal, and there was mutual hatred between the priests of Yahweh and Baal. Each side was more than happy to murder their opponents. Jezebel championed the priests of Baal, and she found herself confronting the Israelite prophet Elijah. In a dramatic showdown on Mount Carmel, hundreds of her priests were slaughtered by the devotees of Yahweh led by Elijah. Jezebel swore revenge, and Elijah went into hiding for a time. Despite her modern reputation as a floozy, Jezebel seems to have been fiercely loyal to her husband Ahab. He was almost constantly engaged in leading the army and fighting battles, and Jezebel would often have been in charge of keeping government on track while he was away at the battlefield. She grew used to exercising power. Jezebel’s father in Sidon was an absolute monarch, and she believed that a king’s word was law. But this was not the Israelite view. Many of the tribal groups were still reluctant to accept centralized government, and thought their king had too much power already. In one incident, Jezebel’s husband Ahab needed a plot of land to serve the palace at Jezreel. The owner of the land, Naboth, would not sell. He wanted to resist the creeping social change that was occurring all over Israel at the time, as the rich grew richer and the poor grew poorer. In this impasse, Ahab fell into some sort of black depression—though a great warrior himself, he always lived in the shadow of his famous father. Jezebel decided to act. She ruthlessly arranged the judicial murder of Naboth, and took over the land that was necessary for palace expansion. She thought she was within her rights; many people disagreed. Her husband died a noble death in battle, and her son Ahaziah succeeded to the throne. Two years later he died in a supposed accident, falling from a high balcony in the palace. Her second son, Joram, became king, but after some years he was attacked and murdered by Jehu, a sinister man who had once served in Joram’s army. In the ensuing violence Jezebel was killed, flung by her own eunuchs from a high balcony. She died as a queen should, magnificent and defiant, hurling insults at her murderers even to her last breath. She had dressed herself in royal regalia, and applied make-up to her eyes and face, and put on her royal crown. When she was thrown down from the balcony, she fell onto the pavement of the palace’s central courtyard, and the attacker, Jehu, ran his iron-wheeled chariot back and forth over her dying body. Then he went into the palace for a celebratory dinner. Afterwards, Jehu remembered that her body was still lying in the courtyard of the palace, and ordered that it be buried. She was, after all, a queen. But the palace dogs had got to it first, and all that remained of this royal woman was her head and her hands.

One of the strongest female characters in the Bible, Jezebel is also one of the few women who is depicted as entirely evil. In addition to slaughtering Israel’s prophets, she actively promoted Baal worship, using her considerable wealth to support 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah.

Considered a god of storms and fertility, Baal was widely worshiped throughout the region and was called various names, like Baal Hadad, Baal Hamon, or Baal Melqart, depending on the location. In a polytheistic society, people believed that the gods operated within a hierarchical structure. Powerful, ruling deities were associated with certain nations, while lesser deities were connected to clans and families. Ahab and Jezebel may have been attempting to replace Yahweh with Baal as Israel’s national God.

Instead of flattering Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah repeatedly risked his life to strike at the heart of royal power. He knew that idolatry would destroy his people because they would become like the idols they worshiped rather than like the holy God who had chosen them for his own.

  • The root of Jezebel’s wickedness was embedded in idolatry, which is a distorted form of worship. Idolatry consists of giving primary importance to something or someone other than God. In what subtle and not-so-subtle ways do you recognize idolatry in today’s culture?
  • What kinds of things tend to function as potential idols in your life—someone or something other than God to which you ascribe ultimate worth? In what ways, small or large, does this someone or something turn your heart away from God?
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