Friday, March 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Pretties

Well, we know that Esther was pretty, anyway (Esther 2:7). Ruth may have been as physically attractive as she was noble of character (Ruth 2:11 and 3:11). She's described as a Moabitess several times in the text, and Israelite men throughout the Old Testament seemed to find the women of Moab attractive, even when forbidden to mix with their people (Numbers 25:1; 1 Kings 11:1); etc.).

But that's not my point.

These two rather extraordinary women - Ruth for her boldness and character; Esther for her courage - have books in the Bible written about them. Moses doesn't have a book named after him. David doesn't have a book named after him. Books which do carry a person's name there often tell their story, and how God worked through them.

Esther's book is unusual in that it does not mention God at all, nor prayer, nor any of the practices of Israel (except fasting, which was almost always done in connection with prayer/mourning) - yet God's fingerprints are all over the ironies of the events which take place in it.

Similarly, God makes only cameo appearances in the book of Ruth; the strongest reference is to the fact that expatriate Israelite Naomi (mother of Ruth's late husband) "heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them." Most of the rest of the references are Naomi's prayers that God will bless Ruth's acquisition of a husband after being widowed - or the frequent prayers of blessing which season the conversations of Boaz.

They're not long books - Ruth has four chapters; Esther, ten - and it's almost as if the writers (men?) felt uncomfortable in their culture, directly attaching the work of God as something done directly through these women.

Yet the results of His actions through them are unmistakable. In the time of the judges before the kings, Ruth woos and marries Boaz, and bears a child who will become the grandfather of Israel's greatest king - David. And in the time after the kings, when Israel is divided, disbanded, and dispersed mostly to Persia, Esther's actions will save her people from genocide.

Inculturation dies hard.

Jesus would show extraordinary, unprecedented grace toward women in His time: speaking to them, touching and healing them when they were ill, permitting those with damaged reputation to speak to and touch Him, permitting them to witness the truth about Him, even commissioning them to tell others the blessed news of His resurrection. On sons and daughters, according to Joel's prophecy, the Holy Spirit was manifest upon His followers at Pentecost. Prisca as well as Aquila instructed the visiting Apollos. The Lord opened Lydia's heart at Phillipi, and her entire household - perhaps even including employees of her business - were converted as well, and a church began as she hosted Paul and Silas.

But even the gospel writers seem reticent to divulge too much detail; to imply too strongly that God actually worked through these women.

Inculturation dies hard.

Today, believers continue to perpetuate a church culture which is completely uncomfortable recognizing God's work through women; the partnership which they share with men in the ministry of the gospel.

We justify it by quoting two instructions of Paul given to mixed Jew-and-Gentile-believer churches in Corinth and Ephesus, where there were difficulties with women disrupting worship with questions, not learning in quietness, dressing and behaving inappropriately. While there might still be churches where these problems exist, it's not likely that they exist to these biblical extremes.

Inculturation dies hard.

But at some point, inculturation has to give way to common sense - and scripture. The demise of inculturated values which have too long outlived their value to culture has to begin somewhere.

In scripture, it largely begins with Sarah and Rebekah and Miriam and Deborah and Jael ... and these two beautiful women - beautiful not wholly because of their physical attributes, but mostly because of their character.

Because they were willing to let God work through them.

3 comments:

That Girl said...

...and selfish women don't turn out well - I have a lot of character issues to work on before I become a woman that would be written about favorably!

Keith Brenton said...

Thankfully, God chooses to use imperfect people - men and women - and often improves them by the using.

mmlace said...

I love this post!