In the two books of Samuel, we encounter alot of MEN. There are some men that give us hope, for sure. But so much of what we encounter in Samuel 1 and 2 can be summed up as MEN’S MESS.
Men doing this, men arguing about that. Men betraying men. Men fighting over and oppressing women. Men running here and there and stabbing each other accidentally on purpose with swords. Men plotting and scheming. Men acting like idiots. Men acting like cowards. But lest we forget, that IS THE POINT. These men simply aren’t enough to do what needs doing, and that is SO the point.
But here is another point. 1 Samuel begins not with those men but with a mother in Israel, Hannah.
Hannah longs to have children, and she goes to the temple in Shiloh to plead with the Lord. Hannah is so filled with the Holy Spirit, so close to her God that she speaks in a language without words, in a voice that can’t be heard by men. Such is her state that the Levite Priest Eli thinks she is drunk.
How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.1 Samuel 1:14
But of course Hannah is not drunk. She hasn’t gone the way of Adam or of Noah. She has not drunk the wine that bites like a serpent. And in her holy state of communion with God, she rebukes the Priest,
Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman, for I have spoken until now out of my great concern and provocation.1 Samuel 1:16
Hannah is a woman of wisdom who speaks in her heart to the Lord. And she isn’t the only one. In 2 Samuel 20, we encounter another wise woman.
The background to this is a worthless fellow, Sheba. In 2 Samuel 20:1, this good-for-nothing man Sheba sets his sights on David’s increasingly weak leadership and seizes his moment. He starts by parading around, spreading disloyalty to the King, blasting on his trumpet all kinds of false teaching, all around town.
TOOTY TOOT TOOT David’s not our man.
HONKY HONK HONK Every man to his tents!
Well, poor old David realizes Sheba is real trouble, worse even than his wayward son Absalom, and he sends Joab the Scheming General after him.
Sheba ends up hiding in the city of Abel Beth-Maacah, and Joab starts an all out assault on the whole city. All this violence for one man? Oh yes indeed.
The city of Abel might have been flattened in this machismo mayhem were it not for a certain wise woman. She calls out from the city to General Joab and tells him, “Come here … Listen to the words of your maidservant.”
I don’t know about you, but I hear Hannah in her rebuke. And like Eli, Joab can do nothing in the face of such strength except say, “I am listening.” The wise woman goes on.
I am of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You are seeking to destroy a city, even a mother in Israel. Why would you swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?2 Samuel 20:19
This woman of peace speaks the truth, and Joab answers her directly. Sheba is the problem. It’s Sheba. All of this is for that worthless fellow Sheba. And here, I need to stop talking and just show you the text.
And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head will be thrown to you over the wall.”2 Samuel 20:21-22
Then the woman wisely came to all the people. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri and threw it to Joab.
So he blew his trumpet, and they were dispersed from the city, each to his tent.
Every man to his tent! Well, it looks like Sheba got his way after all, just not exactly in the way he wanted.
Reflecting on this passage in light of God’s redemptive story, I can’t help but think it was wise, true peace-seeking, mighty women of the Old Testament like these which Paul had in mind when he wrote about the conduct of both men and women.
The next time you read Paul’s letters, perhaps you’ll see, as I do, that the Apostle Paul’s command to the church of Christ is designed to remind them all of how
God has worked His holy will through women,
as a personification of God’s people
throughout redemptive history.
Do you see what I mean here yet? These stories concentrate our attention by giving us multiple layers of female symbolism, loaded with meaning. Paul is telling the NT church to stop acting like those who don’t know Christ, and instead apply themselves to the text.
Consider, for example, that in his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul is alluding to Hannah and to the wise woman of Abel as well as to the city itself, of which formerly people used to say “They will surely ask advice at Abel”, where reside a people who are “peaceable, faithful, even a mother” (2 Sam 20:19).
To give you a taste of this, let’s read again below what Paul says in 1 Timothy 3 and then in Titus 2 (see also 1 Tim 5:2). But this time, keep in mind what God was teaching through the women of 1 and 2 Samuel, Hannah and the Wise Woman of Abel, as well as others that come to mind (Deborah! Abigail!). This isn’t some ‘Dare to be a Daniel’ message. This is Paul calling the church to behave like the people of God’s promise: Queen Mother and Bride.
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable …
Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.1 Timothy 3: 2-3, 11
Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverence.
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women.Titus 2:3-5
Neither of these passages are designed to oppress women, and don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise! No, says Paul, both men and women are called to behave like the true Israel, the Mother of Israel of the Old Covenant and the Bride of Christ in the New (Revelation 12).
And in Titus specifically, I hope you’ll now see Paul’s command with fresh eyes …
The older women must teach the younger women, not because this is all women can or should do, but rather so that the younger women don’t forget their calling to draw the mind of all of God’s people to these deep truths. As women who commune with God without words. As women who tell the king’s general to stand down and who call God’s people to true peace. As mothers who speak truth and love. Wise women. Women of the Word. Women of Christ.
Thank you, Valerie. How sad that the foremost Puritan domestic manual (William Gouge’s Of Domestical Duties, Treatise 3, “On the Wife’s Duty,” revived and updated by Reformed Heritage) devotes all eight mentions of Hannah to assuring women that Hannah’s vow though made without her husband’s explicit consent indeed had her husband’s implicit consent:
“The things whereabout an husband’s consent is to be expected, are such as he by virtue of his place and authority hath power to order: as for example, ordering and disposing the goods, cattle, servants, and children of the family, entertaining strangers; yea, also ordering even his wife’s going abroad, and making of vows, with the like: now then distinctly to lay down a
wife’s duty in this first branch of obedience, it is this: A wife must do nothing which appertaineth to her husband’s authority simply without, or directly against his consent.” While not denying a wife is called to submit to her husband, I lament, “How much has been lost to the women of the church by such a reductionistic treatment of a faithful mother in Israel?
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Wow – what a sad and sorry reading. And also, plain boring!