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Saturday, March 19, 2011

What Good Is a Woman? Esther, Jael and Christ : Introduction

What Good Is a Woman?
Esther, Jael and Christ
What Good Is a Woman? is a ten-lesson Bible study. I'll post a new lesson every week or so. Each begins with questions that I hope you will delve into on your own. I explored the Bible to find out as much as I could about how Esther and Jael resemble Jesus and tried to blaze a trail for you to follow. Don't accept my conclusions without following the trail for yourself. See whether it makes sense to you, and feel free to ask questions of me.


The Old Testament predicts in more or less veiled terms what the Christ will be like and what He will do. Particular persons who illustrate the character and mission of Christ are called "types of Christ." I believe that at least two Old Testament women, Esther and Jael, were types of Christ in the same manner as David and Moses.
            Esther and Jael carried His image and performed actions similar to His future actions. Each earned a place of honor in the Bible and the history of the church without breaking out of the traditional female role she occupied, that of queen or homemaker. Each worked for the physical salvation of the people of Israel and so prefigured what Jesus would do for the ultimate salvation of the church.
            At this point, the red flags go up. The feminist might say, "Well, if women represent Christ as well as men, then they can serve in all the same offices as men." The conservative theologian may fear that I intend to deify these females, or claim that God is therefore both male and female, Father and Mother. I can give no comfort to the first, but I hope to reassure the second.
            God's word, I believe, is one organic whole. It all ties together, and no part cancels out any other when it comes to the way God has ordered human life. I also believe quite firmly that it is a grave error to filter scripture through any political or sociological theory. On the contrary, theories such as feminism must be filtered through scripture, and the bits that don't fit must be thrown out. Trimming scripture to fit the theory is dangerous, an arrogant affront to a wise and generous God Who gives us His Word as a light unto our paths.
            The more I thought about Esther, the more parallels I began to see with Christ, but I could find no commentary that described her that way. My pastor said she is not normally portrayed as a type of Christ. My trusty Matthew Henry commentary emphasized God's providence in the story, but never mentioned Christ. A friend asked her seminary professors whether any books compared Esther to Christ. She got no titles, but did hear a nervous warning not to carry this idea too far. Notes in The Open Bible came this close: "The heroine has been an example of selfless devotion to the welfare of her people at the risk of her own life." To me, that sounded a lot like Jesus. To make sure, I would have to go digging myself. 
            I marvel at the way God has used great movements of history as metaphors for His plan of salvation. He could select human leaders, change the thinking of kings, transport whole nations in order to illustrate His loving intention of rescuing His people and remaking the world. If He did this with the Hebrews in Egypt, He might do the same with their descendants in Persia.
            I had to deal first of all with the question of a female as a sort of redeemer. How could she be, if women are not meant to be rulers of churches or heads of households? Is it legitimate to consider a female as a type of Christ? Genesis 1:27 offers the first clue. God made man in His own image, both male and female. No distinction exists between male and female in terms of bearing the image of God. A similar idea appears in Galatians 3:26-28. One's sex makes no difference when it comes to being baptized and "clothed with Christ." In Christ Jesus, all are one. I could not eliminate Esther or Jael as representatives of Christ simply because of their sex.
            My other main guideline would be the principle that Jesus demonstrated on the road to Emmaus to inform our interpretation of the Old Testament. As reported in Luke 24:27, he explained "the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." If information about Him appears in all the Scriptures, then surely it is legitimate to look for Him in every book and every story, even when the main actors are women.
            The Book of Esther is famous for what it leaves out, that is, the name of God. Jael's story, in Judges 4 and 5, borders on the bizarre. If we ask what the actions of these two women suggest to us about Christ, we may gain a better understanding of why they appear in the Bible at all. 
            University courses in journalism and English literature gave me a method for study. In examining these histories, I looked for parallels of names, numbers, phrases, situations and ideas. I considered authority and offenses against authority, condemnation and redemption. No parallel is quite perfect, because each situation involves human beings in earthly circumstances. Nevertheless, just as God cares for the sparrow, He has, I believe, allowed a pretty Jewish girl and an obscure "tentwife" to serve as representatives of Christ.
            Every woman bears the image of Christ, and every woman can accomplish great things for Him without abandoning her assigned post. If we comprehend this idea, women need not strive to become pastors, elders or heads of households in order to serve God. Esther and Jael show that we don't need those positions to participate in God's great works, works of depth, intensity, importance, realness and glory.


  1. P. G. Wodehouse refers to Jael, wife of Heber, quite often when referring to headaches.