Bible women suffer horrible loss, and at times are like pawns moved around on a patriarchal chess board, but they remain bright lights in sacred history.
Ever wonder what it was like for women in biblical times? We know this much: life was exceedingly tough, especially in the violent pre-monarchy years. Women were routinely assigned marriage partners by their fathers or brothers for economic and political reasons. They were considered property and treated as such; love was not part of the equation.
Outside of the father/brother machine, other ways of obtaining women for marriage included taking a captive maiden or two as victory “spoils” in war; entering into a marriage contract with concubines (girls and women from lower-class families with little bargaining power) for the purpose of bearing children; or raping a girl or woman, making her permanently “unfit” and undesirable for other men and, ironically, leaving the rapist as the best potential husband material.
While clearly a number of presumably solid relationships did exist (Sarah and Abraham, Rebekah and Isaac, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Deborah and Lappidoth), marriage was built on the social structures of the day, including the importance of having children. Without children, it was believed, an individual’s life and worth would dissolve into the desert sands, leaving nothing for the future, or for God. As always, historical and social context must be noted. Some concubines, for example, had some protection, in that they were given food and shelter and a family name for their children. Tragically, raping a girl and then marrying her, in those times, was seen as more beneficial than condemning her to a beggar’s life or a life of prostitution, one of the few ways women could earn money.
And there is the concubine in Judges 19, not on record has having spoken, but one of the most violently abused women in the Bible. Thrown out the door by her husband one horrible night to satisfy the demands of desert hospitality, she is raped all night by a mob of violent men. In the morning he finds her clinging to the threshold, but when he says, “Get up, let us be going,” she does not move. He then cuts her up into twelve pieces and sends one piece to each of the twelve tribes of Israel for help in avenging her death.
This is a throughly sickening story, hard to stomach. One can only hope that God has granted her eternal peace, removing from her all memories of that abhorrent event. Given that she was from Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born, and that she died near Jerusalem, the place where Jesus was crucified, I can only think that God, more than anyone, heard her cries and responded; that Jesus was part of the equation in giving the poor woman peace and healing, even after death.
The point here: Life in biblical times was exceedingly difficult, especially for women—and that makes their accomplishments even more extraordinary.