One of my great-grandmothers was named Achsah Jane Curry. I don’t know much more about her than this: she was Scotch-Irish, blind, and smoked a corn cob pipe (or so it says on the back of an old family picture). I like her already just hearing that, even though smoking is a terrible habit. (Yikes…what interesting tidbits will people write on the back of old family pictures of US?)
Given that the name Achsah (pronounced Axa) is well, a bit odd…I’m assuming that she was named after Aschsah in the Bible, found here, as it’s not a name one would make up.
Brave and articulate and living in a time of harsh patriarchal oppression, biblical Achsah stuck up for herself and negotiated successfully for her future. While I’m tempted to give her all the credit, some goes to her father, Caleb.
The name “Caleb” may be ringing a bell with the reader, and this is why: Shortly after Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea and across the wilderness, he sent Caleb, Joshua and ten others to “spy out” the Promised Land. Upon their return, Caleb and Joshua were ready to help lead the invasion—but the others were scared, saying the Hebrew people were “like grasshoppers,” not up to the challenge. Because of such intransigence and fear, God become enraged, sentencing the people to forty years in the wilderness.
After those four decades, Moses and others died, but Joshua and Caleb, because of their bravery, were allowed to cross over into the Promised Land.
Even in that holy land, there were many battles to fight, for it was already inhabited. When Achsah grew old enough to marry, her father, then 85, offered her as the prize for the man who would defeat the Canaanites in battle. The winner was Othniel, Caleb’s nephew: a man of strong lineage, character and physique. As was the custom, Caleb gave Othniel land—unfortunately, it was mostly desert.
And then occurred the act for which Achsah is remembered: approaching her father with the intent of acquiring land with water, because dry land is worth little and is no good without it. She first asks her husband to request it from Caleb, then, upon prompting from her father, she asks for it herself—and receives more than she had requested. Her future is set.
By biblical standards, this girl and her father had a good relationship with each other. In the 21st century, it would be an anathema to be named the prize for the best warrior in battle. In those days, however, if a man emerged as the victor in war, he was (most likely) a strong warrior, a leader of men, a good strategist, intelligent, and brave. Such qualities would also be attractive in a spouse.
It’s all about context: When a sperm donor is sought in current days, hopeful parents page through records and pictures of potential fathers, looking for signs of intelligence, good health, strong genes and attractive physical attributes. Some prospective parents go so far as to request certain eye and hair tones.
DNA sampling and father-to-be catalogs were not available some twelve centuries before Christ. Rather, seeing a man in action would say a great deal.
Contemporary readers may miss the apparent love between father and daughter here; the sense that comes through in the Bible is that they cared deeply for each other. Likewise, we may miss the logic and planning of a brave young woman as well: she has practically and strategically worked within the system to assure a bright future for herself and her family.
Of course, things COULD have been different…but I tend to see things through a silver lining. Hopefully, this story is as positive as it presents itself in the Bible.
I like what develops in the book of Joshua: women are speaking up and using the power they have, albeit limited, to secure their futures. Cast against the dominant male power structures of the times, that thread is more like a strong cord, linking such figures as Achsah, the daughters of Zelophehad, and Rahab. And such a connection deserves recognition.
What might we learn from Achsah?
- Assess what we have.
- Ask for what we need.
- Draw on the positive traits of ancestors past.
- Plan well for the future.
- Achsah was offered as a prize to a warrior for winning a key battle. What were the pros and cons of that action, in that time?
- Achsah gives proof to the statement, “Ask and you shall receive.” Think about your life this past year. Were their times that you could have stepped forth and asked for something…and wished you had?
- What makes Achsah important in the history of Bible women? What kind of characteristics did she show? What might her actions teach us?
Credits: Scott Gunn Photo