According to the Genesis creation account, God created both male and female in His image. Eve could not have been inferior to Adam, or her seed, Jesus Christ, would have been inferior. God blessed them and gave them joint dominion over the earth and all living creatures (Genesis 1:26-28). But when they sinned, the rules of engagement changed. They lost their dominion, and Satan usurped it. Banned from Eden, God pronounced judgment on all parties: The serpent, Eve, and her husband Adam. Three consequences were borne by Eve and passed down to all women:
1. God greatly multiplied her sorrow—pain in childbirth (Gen.3:16).
2. She became subordinate to her husband (Gen.3:16).
3. Women became the object of relentless satanic attack, because God had said to the serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen.3:15).
Notice, the enmity was not just between Satan and her seed, but between Satan and the woman. We know this prophecy specifically refers to the Messiah—Jesus Christ. It is His heel that crushed the serpent’s head—not hers. Galatians 3:16 states: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not unto seeds, as many, but as one, and to your seed, which is Christ (Messiah).” Clearly, the seed of the woman referred to the coming Messiah, Jesus.
But Satan did not know who the seed was until He came! So for 4000 years, he went after all women, because they are his enemy. The subjugation and maltreatment of women that began in Eden escalated over the centuries.
But when Messiah, Jesus Christ, came—He changed the rules of engagement again!
The Gospel of Christ is the great emancipator! Jesus came to set the captives free, and this includes women! Everywhere today on this planet where the Gospel of Christ is not in effect, women are treated like property and even sex slaves. Most Eastern cultures treat women as inferior to men. Islam claims women are not as intelligent as men, and they have few rights in Islamic culture. In some countries, women are denied education, socialization, and are victims to abuse and violence. They are even executed for being raped while their perpetrators go free.
Women Had No Rights
In Bible days, there was a patriarchal society in which women occupied a subordinate position, and were treated as inferior to men, socially and spiritually. This differed from father to father, husband to husband, and even from a rabbi to rabbi. Some men were more controlling and restrictive than others; some more compassionate. This played a part in how a man treated his wife and daughters. But overall, women were for sex and having children.
Consider this prayer prayed by many Jewish men in those times: “God, I thank Thee that I was not born a dog. I thank Thee that I was not born a Gentile. I thank Thee that I was not born a woman.”
Daughters were closely supervised and kept from any situation thought to be potentially immoral. When a girl reached a marriageable age, she was traded by her father who received a bride price from her husband-to-be. If his family was well off, or if the girl was really pretty, a higher price could be had (Jacob worked seven years for each of his wives). The girl had no say—she went from the authority of her father to the authority of her husband.
The role of the wife was housekeeper (without modern conveniences), and as child bearer with many pregnancies. The more children she bore, the more she was valued. After childbirth, she was regarded as unclean, and had to go through a process of purification: 40 days for a male child and 80 days for a female (Lev.12). Discrimination against girls was primary!
If a wife displeased her husband for any reason, he could divorce her, but she was not granted the same right (Deut.24:1-4). If she was suspected of adultery, she had to undergo a frightful water ordeal, but no such test was required for a husband suspected of adultery (Num.5:11-31). If the test revealed that she was innocent, she would conceive. And if she was guilty, she was cursed. But the man was off the hook!
A man was not to touch a woman except his wife, not even accidentally, and was only to talk to his wife or sisters. He was never to be alone with a woman except his wife.
When it came to inheritance, women had no property rights. She could only inherit from her father’s estate if there were no sons. Then if she married, she had to marry only in her own tribe so that the property would remain within the tribe.
Women could not serve as witnesses in legal proceedings or even attest to a situation in an eyewitness account. Their testimony was considered hysterical and unreliable.
Women could not share equally in worship. Ten men had to be present in order to have a service. If there were nine men and one woman, it was not permitted. Women were separated from men in the congregation. Singing was done only by the men. As a rule, girls were not taught the Torah (Old Testament) as boys were. Some rabbis went so far as to declare: “Let the words of the law be burned rather than committed to women.”
WOW! This especially hits hard with me! To think that I would not be allowed to read and study God’s Word, because I am a woman! I literally could not bear life without the Bread of Life—the Bible! I feel as Job did: “I esteem God’s Word above my necessary food.” If my house were on fire, and I had time to get one or two things, I’d grab my raggedy, torn, marked-up Bible first!
Good News for Women!
The Gospel means “good news,” and when Messiah came, He not only crushed the serpent’s head—He loosed women from their bondage! “For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal.3:26-28). This means we all claim God as our Father!
“And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal.4:6). The Greek term for sons (huios) does not refer to gender, but to relationship. (Otherwise, it would contradict 3:28). It was a legal term referring to the sons’ rights of inheritance. In Christ, we not only can inherit from our Father, we are joint heirs, equal heirs with Jesus Himself!
“For we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ…” (Rom.8:15-17). Jesus elevated women to their original equality!
Some of the Ways Jesus Elevated Women:
One of the most desperate women who came to Jesus for healing was a woman who had been plagued with an issue of blood for 12 years. Not only had she suffered so long, but had gone to many doctors, spent all her savings, and instead of getting better, was worse. At some point she must have heard of Jesus, and determined in her heart that if she could come in contact with Him, she would be made whole. We can safely assume that she knew it was forbidden in the law for her to touch a rabbi, especially when she had a discharge of blood. But undaunted, she pressed her way through the crowds that thronged Him, reaching for the tassel on the hem of His garment. Upon contact, immediately, her bleeding stopped, and Jesus felt healing power exit His body. He stopped and asked who had touched Him, and the woman, trembling, confessed it was her. But He did not rebuke her! He praised her for her faith and determination: “Be of good comfort—Don’t be afraid! Your faith has made you whole. Go in peace.” And Jesus also went in peace—without going through the cleansing ritual the law required when a man came in contact with a woman with a discharge of blood. (Mark 5:24-34).
He was the Game-changer who came to break down the barriers of gender and the ceremonial taboos of the old covenant!
The first female evangelist was a Samaritan woman Jesus travelled out of His way to meet. Waiting alone at Jacob’s well, Jesus was tired, hungry and thirsty. The disciples had gone to town for food. It was noon, hottest time of the day, when she came to the well. Respectable women came early in the morning or late in the evening when it was cooler. But she was far from respectable. To her shock, Jesus asked her for a drink of water. This was wrong on so many levels: She was a Samaritan, and the Jews and Samaritans had no relations. She was a woman, and we know this taboo. And she was a very sinful woman.
But Jesus is the Game-changer! He broke through the barriers of gender, race, culture, and law. He did not downplay her sin, but told her she had already had five husbands, and was then just shacking up with a man. He told her that if she would ask Him for a drink, “I would give you living water that you would never thirst again.” She thought He meant H2O, but He was really saying: “I know you are thirsty, because you are not satisfied. Five husbands could not satisfy you. Sex is not what you really want. What you really want is love, and I can love you like no man can!”
Their discourse continued as Jesus explained to her the spiritual aspects He was speaking to. Under conviction, she changed the subject, speaking of the coming Messiah and was blown away when He told her, “I that speak unto you, am He!”
What He had never said to even one of the scribes, Pharisees, and religious people, He chose to be totally open to and said to a woman, because He knew she was ready to receive the truth! At that moment, the disciples returned with lunch, and marveled that He was talking with this woman. Meanwhile, she ran into the city “to the men” who apparently knew her well, and they were attracted to her words: “Come, see a man which told me all things that I ever did. Is not this Messiah?” They came to hear Jesus for themselves. “And many believed on Jesus for the testimony of the woman which testified, He told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:4-42). The testimony of this sinful woman, transformed by the Gospel, brought in a harvest of souls.
After His resurrection, Jesus appeared first unto a woman, Mary Magdelene, out of whom He had cast seven demons, and gave to her the auspicious duty to testify of His resurrection: “Go tell my disciples I am risen and will meet them in Galilee.” (John 20:11-18). It didn’t make sense for Jesus to send a woman with the message she had seen Him! Such testimony would be considered hallucinogenic. Imagine what the disciples thought about Jesus appearing to her first!
On one occasion Jesus was invited to dinner at a Pharisee’s house. During the meal, a notoriously sinful woman came with an alabaster box of expensive ointment. She knelt at Jesus’ feet, and weeping, washed them with her tears. When she had dried them with her hair, she poured the precious ointment upon His feet. The Pharisee criticized Jesus in his heart that if He were a true prophet, He would know how sinful she was. Jesus, reading his thoughts, rebuked him, and pointed out that he had not provided water for His feet (which was a common courtesy); nor had he anointed His head with oil. Jesus commended her, because she had shown Him great love, and forgave her sins, saying: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:36-50).
Later, Jesus was anointed in similar manner by Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ grateful sister, after He raised him from the dead. Jesus allowed those two women not only to touch Him, but to wash and kiss His feet!
This Mary was also given the unprecedented privilege to sit at a rabbi’s—Jesus’ feet and hear His words alongside the men, whenever He came to their home. Her sister Martha was the proverbial Martha Stewart of the New Testament. She preferred to cook for Jesus and His disciples, but she was frustrated because instead of helping, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. She complained to Jesus: “Make her help me!” She didn’t ask to trade places with her. But Jesus gently reprimanded her: “Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42). He treated Mary as an equal of the men.
The Matter of Adultery
The Pharisees came to Jesus on the matter of divorce, asking if it was lawful for a husband to divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus answered by reaching back to the creation account in Genesis 2 when God said, “A man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. Wherefore, they are no more two, but one flesh.” To this Jesus attached the solemn warning: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
By quoting what God said in the beginning, with one fell swoop, Jesus effectively declared marriage to be monogamous and heterosexual.
They rebutted that that Moses commanded a man to give his wife a bill of divorcement, implying that it made it okay to divorce. But Jesus said that it was only allowed because of the hardness of their hearts, but in the beginning it was not so. God did not command—He allowed them to divorce their wives, because men were so hardhearted and treated their wives like property. They would just send them away. History records that a man could divorce his wife for any reason, even if he didn’t like the way she fixed his breakfast. But Jesus made it clear that unless it was for the cause of adultery, if a man divorced his wife and remarried, he was an adulterer! (Matthew 19:3-9).
One day the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. They eagerly reminded Him that Moses had said that such was to be stoned, and asked Him what He thought. They conveniently left out the fact that Moses had said both the woman and the man were to be put to death (Lev.20:10). Jesus did not even mention this. Instead He said: “Go for it! Whoever is without sin, first cast a stone at her.” (In other words, You go first!) Then He stooped down and wrote on the ground. What did He write? Their sins? The 10 Commandments? In any case, they were convicted by their own consciences and left one by one from the oldest to the youngest.
Then Jesus said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?”
She answered, “No man, Lord.” Jesus replied: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and sin no more.” He did not condone her sin; nor condemned her to die. He forgave her and warned her not to return to her sinful ways. Once again, He changed the rules of engagement for women on every level.
Coming next month: Women in the Pulpit