Category Archives: Learn it

Authentic :: Mary

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary the last couple of weeks. For obvious reasons, given that it is the Christmas season and she gets a lot of press this time of year, but also for the fact that she absolutely astounds me. No, really. We are talking about a teenager who said yes to something that would radically alter her life without seemingly thinking twice about it. I’ve worked with a lot of teenagers over the years (let’s see roughly 25-30 per class, 6ish classes a year, 12 years…That’s like 1,800- 2,160 teens) and a good many of those teens do not accept authority, suggestion or direction; you tell them to do something at least 3 times with a personal anecdote about why they should and a good bit of the time (I don’t know the exact percentage), they do the opposite or at least not exactly what you advise and then come back and ask you what went wrong. Despite the permanent facepalm imprint on my forehead, all I know to tell them is: you didn’t listen.

Mary was one of those rare exceptions. The angel told her what to do and she did it. Now I’m not dogging teens, cause quite frankly it’s not just a teenage problem. It’s a faith problem and I’m not sure I have the kind of faith Mary had. Of course I hope I do, but let’s just say there are many reasons why God didn’t choose me to be the vessel that would birth his one and only son. 

Greatly Troubled

Luke has always been my favorite gospel. The man was a doctor and his logical approach to these happenings make everything seem less ‘fairytale’ and more real. He starts off the Gospel in chapter 1: 3 stating that he has “carefully investaged everything” and will write an “orderly account”. This makes my type one heart just soar with expectation—because Luke, well, he just gets me. His gospel starts from the beginning with John the Baptist before we ever hear about Mary, but then he is the only one who gives us an account of Mary’s experience. Starting in chapter 1: 26-38, he carefully documents the encounter. And clearly this is written by a man, because we are not given a lot of information about how Mary reacts other than upon hearing the news that she is “highly favored”, she is “greatly troubled.”

Her reaction to this greeting is curious, but let’s get real. No matter what this angel had said, Mary was probably freaking out. To put it in perspective: Mary couldn’t have been more than about sixteen (chances are she was younger since she was ‘pledged to be married’ and that could happen at a very young age in ancient cultures). This giagantice man-angel, who had to be pretty darn intimidating, appears to her—alone. The first thing you are going to wonder is if you had too much wine with the last meal, long before you ever register what the man is actually saying. However, the fact that the text tells us that she is reacting to the words and wondering what it might mean (vs. 29), reveals more about her character than anything else. 

When you are told you are ‘highly favored’, we can expect one of three reactions: 

  1. Blatant pride (‘Of course I am. I’m me and I’m the greatest. Who wouldn’t favor me’) 
  2. False humility (‘Oh stop it. I’m not that great, after all!’)
  3. True humility (‘Come again? What do you mean?’)

Mary wasn’t faking—she was truly humble in a moment that could have puffed her up, she wondered at what the greeting could mean. I would like to say that I’d respond in the same way to those words, but the truth is, I spend most of my life hungering after words of affirmation and when I get them I’m more on the #2 reaction where I say ‘Oh, stop’ but really I feel in my heart that I deserve every bit of that praise. I’m not saying that reactions one and two are always bad, but God certainly appreciates a truly humble heart and I don’t think he would have chosen Mary if he didn’t know that her humility was genuine. After all, we really don’t deserve any kind of acknowledgement for our ‘awesomeness’ because each and every one of us is a sinner and the only one who really deserves the praise is God. Not that we can’t appreciate others for what value they bring to our lives, but we can definitely lean more toward ‘greatly troubled’ and away from ‘proudly justified’ as we strive to be more like Jesus—or in this case, his mother. 

I am the Lord’s Servant

Again, in Mary’s response in vs. 38 I think perspective is colored by the gender of the author, but also because the author had no way of being inside Mary’s head. Yes, ultimately she said “I am the Lord’s servant” and that may have been the end of the story…but I wonder if she didn’t have a slightly longer conversation with the angel. Women—even in ancient cultures—tend to want a few more details than what is recorded in history. Times have changed, but the nature of a woman’s needs have not. I suspect there is a little more to that conversation, but Luke’s pragamtism and second hand account leaves us with the finality of Mary’s response, which, after all, is all we need to know. I’m not suggesting that she turned the angel down at first, but I am suggesting that she may have hesitated, or wept, or asked ‘why me?’ Not in a bitter, surly way, but in a humble—how could the Lord possibly think I’m worthy of this?—way. Like the first time a mother holds her first born child. She looks down at that infant in absolute wonder that not only did she help create that little human, but that God entrusted her with this little human’s life and she wonders, what have I done to deserve such a blessing? 

And the truth is, it’s not what you have done, Mary (or any of us), it’s the potential the Lord sees in us that showers us with his blessing and favor. God didn’t choose Mary because she got all A’s on her report card and swept the house the right way every day, or because she could make a perfect latke. No, he choose her because he saw her heart and he knew that she would say yes in the right way and be a conduit for the rest of his plan. Just like he sees in each of us the potential to fulfill his plan and entrusts us with what he knows each of us can be successful with. 

Each of us has a choice, like Mary, every day. We can say “I am the Lord’s servant” or we can say “I am my own servant” and that choice defines how and where our lives will run. As Joshua so elegantly puts it: “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euprhrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living..” or yourself and the gods of America, the money, power and narcisism that runs rampart in our world (Joshua 24:15). It is up to us to decide. Mary could have said ‘thanks, but I’d rather live the picket-fence life Jospeh and I had planned.’ She could have seen her pristine reputation as proof that she was still favored when she turned the Lord down, and he would have found another vessel. His plan is never derailed by our choices. But he knew she wouldn’t say no. Because she choose to serve the Lord—she chose a hard path, but the only one that would bless her in the long run: to serve the Lord no matter the consequences. 

And the truth is, it’s not what you have done, Mary (or any of us), it’s the potential the Lord sees in us that showers us with his blessing and favor. 

Community Support

The most realistic part of this account, to me, is not Mary’s response to the angel. It’s not her humility. It’s not the fact that it all came to pass. To me it’s that the second the angel left, and she ‘hurried’—ya’ll she RAN to Elizabeth, her girlfriend. Because all ladies know that when something is going to change your life, you go and find another lady who is older, wiser, and who has some experience with angel visits, and you spill your guts out to her. I love that not only did she run to her, she shared her heart. They laughed, they cried, and girls, you better believe, they sang together. Because let’s face it, 2000 years has not changed girl talk or slumber parties. There will always be secrets shared and songs sung. And boy did these two ladies share secrets: miracle babies and unimaginable blessings—promises through the pain that living in a broken world would inevitably bring. Because let’s face it: this was a happy moment that would soon be followed by heartache, judgement and hardship. Mary risked everything in saying yes to the Lord, and she knew she would need support and instead of wallowing in uncertainty she RAN to the support that God provided: Elizabeth. 

It’s hard sometimes to recognize that we need support outside ourselves. Our culture preaches independence and self reliance. But God did not intend for us to live life that way. In the very beginning he stated: “…It is not good for man to be alone…” (Genesis 2:18) and that rings true even today. Living a Christian life is not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard sometimes. Look at Mary: she had it all (reputation, favor, a fiancé)—and then she said yes to God and nearly lost it all. But God is faithful and the community he builds for us is meant to support us in all of the hardships that accompany saying yes to God and living counter-culturally. 

Photo by Court Prather on Unsplash

Saying yes was risky, but saying no even more so. After all, it was that one simple act of obedience that quite literally saved the world. 

Authentic :: Ruth


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The way we react to the circumstances in our lives reveals truths about our character in ways we don’t fully understand. I tend to get really angry when things are out of my control. Mostly it is that seething, under the surface, she is way too quiet kind of anger, but when life is really stressful, I can get mean angry. Short. Unkind. Snarky. Boy do I use a snarky retort as a weapon sometimes. What I am less quick to do in stressful, uncontrollable situations is trust that God is working through the mess to his own glory. And my benefit. Then I feel pretty stupid. And sorry. And guilty.

I don’t love admitting that, but it definitely reveals my struggle with control. Ruth did not have this problem. Her reactions reveal a strength of character worth both admiring and emulating. 

Life Happens

So here’s the deal (Ruth 1: 1-10). Elimelech, Naomi and their two sons Mahlon and Kilion are from the town Bethlehem. Yeah, it’s the same place you’ve probably heard of with a manger and a stable and a pretty famous baby. Only this is like way before that baby’s birthday and there was a famine in Bethlehem, so Elimelech takes his family and moves to Moab. They live here for 10 years and LIFE HAPPENS.  First a funeral, Elimelech dies. Then a couple of weddings. Mahlon and Kilion marry two Moabite women: Ruth and Orpah. And then, a couple more funerals. Just as soon as we find out the two sons are married, they’re suddenly gone. What we don’t hear of during this 10 years is any birth announcements. Tragedy heaped upon tragedy leaving Naomi, Ruth and Orpah utterly alone. A stranger in a strange land, Naomi has a choice: stay or go. And so she decides to go. Packing her bags and her daughters-in-law they head back to Bethlehem.

 On the road, Naomi gets real (Ruth 1: 11-14. She shows them their future. Now Ruth and Orpah have a decision to make: stay orgo.

Three women. One choice.

Evidence that the decisions we make now can shape the future we will have. Ultimately what it comes down to—do we want to trust God and  follow Him despite the unknowns? Or do we give into our fears and insecurities?

But God

By Ruth 1:15-22 the two  women arrive in Bethlehem at the beginning of the harvest. They’ve both experienced a great deal of loss and trauma, but are handling it in very different ways.

Naomi has fled home seeking comfort in the familiar. Basking in self-pity, she renames herself Mara (bitter one) and even her attempt to send her daughters-in-law home is a way for her to wallow in mental self-flagellation as she wastes away into obscurity. Her own private punishment.

Ruth is a radical. Though she is now the stranger in the strange land and her situation is as hopeless—or more so—than Naomi’s, she takes a RISK and TRUSTS the Hebrew God, a God she couldn’t have known for more than a few years at bestbut for whom she is willing to sacrifice everything. Even, perhaps, her life.

Ruth followed Naomi out of faith, love and trust. 

  • Faith in God. 
  • Love her Naomi and her late husband.
  • Trust that no matter what life throws at you, God will have your back. 

Photo by Luca Micheli on Unsplash

Reaping what you Sow

I don’t believe in coincidence. Ruth made a tough decision that changed her entire life. Actually, it made her a legend. Ruth saw a problem, she came up with a solution, she sought the guidance of her authority, and she executed a well-thought-out, albeit risky plan.

Consider the harvesting process. Each of these steps is crucial in Ruth’s story (Ruth 2:1-13)

  • Ripened standing grain is cut by men with hand sickles. 
  • Grain is bound by men and women into sheaves.
  • Stalks of grain left behind were gathered, a process known as gleaning. HOWEVER, the gleanings were specifically to be left for the poor and widowed (Leviticus 23:22).

Ruth knows the risk of working in a field, isolated and vulnerable, with so many working-class men. She’s a beautiful young widow–a foreigner seen as a second-class citizen. Unwanted advances and even rape would have been possible in this position. Yes, the gleanings were  meant to help the widows and poor survive in a harsh patriarchal society, but men do not always follow the rules of God and so risk was inevitable. Fortunately, God was there with her every step of the way. 

  • The sheaves were transported to the threshing floor. 
  • Grain was loosened from the straw, a process called threshing, by the treading of cattle or toothed threshing sledges
  • The grain was tossed into the air with winnowing forks so that the wind, which was stronger in the afternoons, would blow away the straw and chaff leaving the grain at the winnower’s feet. 
  • The grain is sifted to remove foreign matter.
  • The grain is bagged for transportation and storage.

Only with great risk can you achieve great reward.  In Ruth 3: 1-13 Naomi sees an opportunity for redemption. Ruthobeys—without question. But the plan is not without great risk. In fact, it is a radical move. Placing herself in this position with a man—any man—makes Ruth incredibly vulnerable (verse 7).

Boaz’s reaction reveals his own character as well. Instead of taking advantage of this woman in this vulnerable, brazen position, he immediately begins thinking about how to protect her reputation and even how he can protect her. He’s humble, but strong. He’s a real man. In the novel Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck describes one character, Slim, in this way: 


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“A tall man stood in the doorway. He held a crushed Stetson hat under his arm while he combed his long, black, damp hair straight back. Like the others he wore blue jeans and a short denim jacket. When he had finished combing his hair he moved into the room, and he moved with a majesty achieved only by royalty and master craftsmen. […] There was a gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk stopped when he spoke. His authority was so great that his word was taken on any subject, be it politics or love. […] His hatchet face was ageless. He might have been thirty-five or fifty. His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought. His hands, large and lean, were as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer (17-18).

Steinbeck Of Mice and Men

To me, this can also describe Boaz, his character and his position in this narrative and with Ruth herself. 

Which is then amplified in Ruth 4:1-12. The morning after Ruth’s radical proposal (a modern woman?), Boaz acts both honorably and without delay. Proving yet again that God is always in control.

Trust God and do the Next Thing. 

Much in our lives seem out of our control, unfair or unclear. Ruth can relate, and yet instead of becoming bitter like Naomi, or angry like me, Ruth trusted God, even when the path led somewhere seemingly hopeless. As a result,  she was blessed beyond her wildest dreams. How do we learn to trust God and walk in his path even when life is hard? We practice. We look for ways to trust and lean on God rather than ourselves. We remind oursleves daily who is in control and we embrace opportunities to learn more about his power, grace, and mercy even when life gets tough.

Great risk often yields great rewards, but also could result in greater pain, but it is the only way we will reap the rewards he intends for us. And boy does he plan greatness, if only we will embrace it.


Authentic :: Esther


When I was in middle school I had a crush on this boy and so a friend of mine decided she would play matchmaker and asked him what he thought of me. I was sitting within hearing distance, and I’ll never forget his response. If pretty were a scale, he said holding up his hands so that she could see the invented spectrum, then Ashley is right here. And he pointed to the far end of the scale, which if translated into numbers would have put me around a 2 or 3.


Photo by Maria Molinero on Unsplash

Ouch.

I remember feeling a little stunned because it was the first time I had ever been made to feel less than, unacceptable, or unworthy. Up to that point I had a lot of confidence for a middle school girl. I made good grades. I had good friends. I was nerdy, but still accepted by most of my peers because I was so nice. But that moment something shifted inside me and I began to see the world a lot differently. 

I don’t share that story often because, honestly, I feel a little embarrassed that I let a jerkface boy create so much of my identity for so long. But the fact is, this happens all. the. time.  

As a woman, I’ve been made very aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, sure, but the beholder is quite often influenced by the onslaught of cultural imaging and stereotyping. I think most women can agree that these expectations can be a little overwhelming at the best of times and absolutely crushing at the worst. Because, quite frankly, it’s tough being a woman. 

It’s Tough being a Woman

Let’s face it, being a woman is not easy and when you have the weight of the world, at least your world, on your shoulders, things get evenmore complicated even faster. That’s Esther. Tough stuff.

So Esther is an orphan. When she was quite young her parents died. We don’t know how they died, just that both her mother and her father died and she is raised by a cousin—Mordecai (Esther 2: 5-7). A male cousin, no less. If that wasn’t enough trauma for one little girl when she wasn’t much more than a teenager she was taken into the Citadel at Susa as a candidate for “future queen” (Esther 2: 8). 

Sounds great, right? Queen? What little girl doesn’t want that? It’s not quite that simple. Don’t you know what happened to the previous queen, Vashti? After a lot of feasting and wine the King, Xerxes, summoned her to his presence. He wanted to show her off—like a real trophy wife. She refused—maybe cause she didn’t want to be groped and fondled by a bunch of rich drunk guys. Or maybe because she was spoiled and drunk herself. Regardless, when she refused the king, she was banished and never heard of again. Killed? Who knows? Maybe (Esther 1:19-20).

Also, let’snot forget that word candidate. She’snot guaranteed the title of queen, but once she is in the harem…well, she’s not coming out again. And well, pleasing the King doesn’t just mean looking pretty. That’s only part of it. I think you can follow my drift. Once you’re in that Harem, you are the king’s—so there goes Esther’s dream of any kind of normalfamily life.

Beauty Treatments for the Beautiful

After being ripped from her adoptive father’s home, in Esther 2: 8-18, we see this young protagonist spend 12 months in beauty treatments. Well, that seems odd considering the palace officials only brought the most beautiful young, virginal women to the harem to be considered as candidates in the first place. But if our culture has taught us anything, even the most beautiful women are often made to feel as if they are not doing enough to be as beautiful as they could be. This is why beauty pageants, though not inherently wrong, do often create more insecurities in women than they do promote positive body image. I have no real feelings for or against pageants, but I do have a lot of feelings about the way a focus on beauty affects the way women interact with each other and view themselves. As a result, we see a lot of problems in a culture which validates women based on beauty, and Esther experienced these problems first hand. 


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

To make matters worse, this atmosphere bred competition, and a brutal one at that. Esther wasn’t just competing against the other women either. She also had to contend with Vashti’s memory and even the cultural expectations as she hid her linage for fear of persecution. So, I can’t’ even imagine how the atmosphere of the harem inflamed her insecurities before and after being chosen as queen. 

Competition Never Ends

Later in the narrative, we find Mordecai, Esther’s adoptive father, entering the narrative as a bigger player than a conduit for the new queen’s upbringing. In chapter 2, he had even saved the king’s life by discovering an assassination plot. Unfortunately, this camaraderie and favoritism with the king is short-lived as jealousy expands not only in the harem but throughout the king’s men as well. Because let’s face it, when you build your whole kingdom on competition for favor, you are just asking for conflict among your people. Haman, an official of the king’s, wants o be top dog and he sees Mordecai as a threat (and he doesn’t even know the half of it! Since Esther remained silent about her lineage, no one even knows she is related to the Mordecai). Then, in Esther 3 Haman’s jealousy is just too much and we see it spinning out of control.

Haman devises a plot, not only to rid the country of Mordecai but of all Jews. His genocidal plan is received with indifference by the king. Which begs the question of what is actually worse—theactive hatred of Haman, or the passive indifference and allowance of the king?

Either way, Mordecai sees the danger, but alos the home and he pleas with Esther to go to the King about the edict. After all, Esther has the King’s ear and may be the Jews only hope. However, as we read Esther 4: 4-14, her response is heartbreaking. In verse 11 she reveals that thirty days have passed since she has been called to the King’s side. Her time is gone. She no longer has the King’s interest. Her husband has grown tired and bored with her and though he saw her high on the scale before, she is now feeling like she’s fallen to that 2 or 3. And she allows this to control her self-esteem, thoughts, actions and reactions. She let a jerkface man validate her identity, like so many women before her and so many women after her will do. And it crushed her. 

But Mordecai doesn’t accept this.

He reminds her that the King, her husband, this jerkface man does NOT control or validate her identity. You are a Jew! He reminds her. You are one of God’s chosen people, and He chose you for this moment! 

Xerxes may have chosen Esther as his queen, but God chose her as his daughter. And that reminder is all she needs to find the courage to act, because after all–despite what our culture tells us–men and women do not control our identities. Only God can do that and when we rest firmly in the knowledge that he has chosen us for a purpose and for his glory, then the way others percieve us no longer matters. 

Siezing your God-given Destiny

Esther 5 is so interesting because we see Esther taking charge and seizing her destiny and then at the last moment she seems almost to chicken out, but I’m not sure she hesitates for fear. Maybe, but I think it was the Lord guiding her words and steps. She fasted for 3 days and she’s hungry, tired, and scared, but it is in those vulnerable moments that we hear God speak with the  most clairty, because we stop trying to control our own destiny and we step into what he has planned for us. 

So, in Esther 6 we feel the increase of tension in a seemingly insignificant as we are waiting for Esther to reveal the plot to Xerxes.  Without the pause, we would have missed the most vital part of the whole story! GOD causes XERXES to have a sleepless night revealing an important hero—Mordecai. This downplays Esther, Mordecai’s, and even Haman’s role in the story and brings the TRUE protagonist to the forefront—GOD. Even though His name isn’t mentioned anywhere in the text, evidence that HE is still in control simply leaps off the page!

It is in those vulnerable moments that we hear God speak with the most clairty,
 because we stop trying to control our own destiny and we step into what he has planned for us. 

Esther 7:1-10 Finally shows us justice for Haman’s plot. In the remaining chapters, vindication for all the Jews comes through another edict where the Jews are allowed to defend themselves, but here ends Esther’s involvement in the story. Her words are straight from the Lord and she uses every moment to her advantage, thinking before she acted, and waiting for the Lord to move. 


Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

Waiting on the Lord is never easy, especially when justice and revenge are more appealing options, but the older I become the more I understand that our happiness doesn’t depend on other people, what they think or what they tell us, our happiness depends on stepping into who the Lord created us to be–not what some jerkface says we are. 

Authentic :: Hannah

Barrenness is a popular theme in Biblical history, especially among strong female characters. The definition of ‘barrenness’ is ‘unable to produce fruit’, or in women, offspring, which makes me truly wonder if this theme isn’t about child production so much as it is about fruit and fulfillment of purpose. In Hannah’s time as in Sarah’s barrenness was not only upsetting, it was also shameful because a woman’s purpose was to produce heirs for her husband’s line. Thus the practice of polygamy—though not God ordained—became popular. The culture believed this would solve problems, but as always when we try to solve problems out of God’s will and purpose for our lives it often leads to more problems in the end.


This theme isn’t about child production so much as it is about fruit and fulfillment of purpose.

Sanctified in Her Sorrow

Hannah was married to Elkanah. As the favored wife, but also the barren wife, she was like Elkanah’s first wife. So it is really no surprise that Peninnah, the second wife, though she produced many heirs for Elkanah, did not treat Hannah well. In fact, between the two women there was much animosity and conflict. In 1 Samuel 1: 1-7 Elkanah, Hannah and Peninnah’s roles are clearly defined in the first few verses. It’s significant that Elkanah is obedient in sacrificing to the Lord and that he is honoring both his wives. However, by having two wives and showing blatant favoritism he is perpetuating conflict in his household.

Hannah’s character, however, is never questioned. Throughout the narrative, she remains sanctified in her sorrow, which leads to her supplication and ultimately her songs of praise. Because when desperation turns to prayer and worry to praise, God moves in miraculous and wonderful ways.


When we try to solve problems out of God’s will and purpose for our lives it often leads to more problems in the end.

1 Samuel 1: 8: This one verse says volumes. Hannah is sad that her prayers are unanswered ‘year by year’ and finally the sadness overwelms her and she breaks down into unappeasable tears. Having sobbed myself to sleep more than once in my own life, I feel a deep connection to the level of emotion Hannah is feeling–when you can’t be strong any longer, and all you can do is cry out to the Lord in your sadness, the tears are heartbreaking. And Elkanah, being a man and likely unfamiliar with this kind of soul sickness (not all men are unfamiliar, but I think we can agree that weeping in this way is  more common to women–especially in ancient cultures), asks, “Am I not more to you than 10 sons?”

Elkanah, unknowingly devalues Hannah’s sorrow, insisting that his favoritism should be enough for her. But, can one person ever fulfill your every need? No, of course not! Nor should they try, because people, no matter how wonderful they are, will eventually disappoint us. And besides, it wasn’t ever really about having children anyway. It was about feeling purposeless and useless–like your very existence is a disappointment to everyone around you, including God. It’s about feeling broken. It’s about that deep, gut feeling that you are supposed to be someone else, but you can’t do it on your own and because you can’t you feel as though something is wrong with you. That kind of emptiness and longing, quickly turns to desperation…and there are only two paths from desperation: bitterness or earnest supplication. 


Photo by Artem Kovalev on Unsplash

Fortunately, Hannah’s desperation turns to earnest supplication and prayer.  I love that verse 9 tells us Hannah rose. She knows only one person can truly fulfill her needs: the Lord. Giving over everything she has to God, she throws herself on his mercy and begs for the fulifillment she seeks.

While Hannah is praying in 1 Samuel 1: 12-18 she is being observed by the high priest Eli, but he is quick to judge her. Which, if we are honest, though we have all sought acceptance in the Lord’s house, many of us have experienced this kind of judgment there as well– a judgment that wounds instead of heals the brokenhearted. At least, I know I have. For years I avoided the church because of the wounds afflicted in a place that should have been so welcoming. 

Eli is more concerned about appearance than he is about the condition of Hannah’s heart. Instead of greeting her, or listening to her, he accuses her of being a drunk. You can almost hear the sneer in his voice as he prepares to kick her out of his perfect temple. 

But Hannah is wise. She is patient and respectful even though this authority figure has insulted her, she knows a soft response turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). Although it is tempting to reply in a snarky way, her humility wins the authority figure to her side–a lesson we could all stand to learn from time to time. 

Fulfilled in her Faith

1 Samuel 1 19-28 shows thatHannah’s request is fulfilled, but almost immediately she must give up the fulfillment of God’s promise…or does she?

Giving up her child when he is 2 or  3 years old to the service of the church seems counterintuitive, but if we go back to the definition of barren and we think about fulfillment—Hannah never really wanted a child to fulfill her. She knew that, just like with her husband, a child would not fill the longing and ache in her heart. No. The only thing that would truly fill the hole was production of fruit. As a teenager I always thought Hannah was making one of those deals with God that we all try to make from time to time that fulfill some kind of selfish desire. As an adult, I see that Hannah’s supplication and promise was not at all about making a deal, but was really about fulifilling a purpose. 

Not that it would be without challenge. Any time you give up something you longed for, you will struggle with feeling empty until you remember who really fills you. And that will never be another person. Only God. 

3) Skim through 1 Samuel 2: 1-11. What do you notice about Hannah’s song?

By the end of the narrative (1 Samuel  2: 12; 18-21: ), Hannah is restored, and I think it is important to note that she doesn’t abandon her firstborn son. Sure, she dedicated him to the Lord’s work, but every year she visited and brought gifts, making sure that Samuel knew he was loved and chosen for a special purpose. As a result, God honors Hannah with more children and greater purpose than she could ever imagine! After all, Samuel would be the priest who would guide, direct and minister to the greatest King Isreal would know, David. 

Heed Like Hannah

Life is never easy. It’s filled with sorrow, disappointment, and conflict. Sometimes we are in conflict with others based solely on the circumstances that surround us. Sometimes we are judged by authority figures—perhaps even unfairly. There is always a human factor involved in every interaction we have. Often we have a choice to get ourselves out of these circumstances, but sometimes we are stuck. Either way, how we handle the conflict is what defines us as either strong Godly women or whiny, manipulatively selfish women. 


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It’s easy to believe that one thing will bring joy and fulfillment to our lives. We often fall into the trap of thinking ‘when I have that new pair of shoes, then I’ll be satisfied’ or ‘when I meet the right guy, that’s when I’ll really be happy.’ But, what happens when you get those things and they don’t meet your expectations? We either become embittered or we can take a lesson from Hannah who didn’t let her supplication rule her life, but focused on her own heart and motivation. If she hadn’t been so willing to dedicate her son back to the Lord, I wonder if he would have answered her prayer with so much grace and honor. I can’t say for sure, but I can say that the Lord is faithful, and we can learn a lot from Hannah’s heeding of his word. 

Authentic :: Deborah & Jael

As a woman of the 21st century, I have a special place in my heart for strong, intelligent women who can take charge while at the same time maintaining respect for everyone around her. It’s a tightrope not many women walk gracefully. Personally, I am hanging on to the tightrope with my feet dangling beneath more more often than I balance there. 

Currently, in my Bible study, we are going through the book of Corinthians and 1 Corinthians 6 highlights the church’s responsibility to settle civil disputes among the body rather than taking one another to court and displaying dirty laundry for the world to see. The question we contemplated was whether or not we view ourselves as being equipped to solve disputes among others. After all, we have the spirit of truth dwelling in us (John 14:17), teaching us all things (John 14:26), with a promise from God to grant us ability and wisdom (James 1:5), and we have the scriptures that we study (Hebrews 4:12). So, yes we are given the equipment. But that is very different than feeling equipped to be a mediator or judge. As a teacher, I’ve had to employ these skills and sometimes I get it right, often I have to back peddle, follow up, and even ask for forgiveness because let’s face it: teaching is a learning process too.  Deborah, on the other hand, not only had these gifts, she used the gifts and had confidence that the gifts God had given her would be put to amazingly good use. 

A Woman in Charge in a Man’s World

Deborah is the woman in charge. She is the judge over the Israelite nation before the days of the Kings. Not only is she a judge (and a woman) she is also named as a prophet. Interestingly, most judges during this time weren’t arbiters as we see in today’s society, but rather commanders and military leaders. Deborah, on the other hand, is seen in the opening of Judges 4 as a more passive arbiter—sitting beneath a tree and passing judgment over the disputes of the people. If she wasn’t already unique enough, this sets her apart even more.


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Furthermore, Deborah is judge during a bad time for the Israelites. They had once again done evil in the site of the Lord and so had been sold into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan and the commander Sisera. The Canaanites were a highly advanced and technological society—with iron chariots and better weapons than the Israelites (Judges 4:1-3). Actually in a lot of ways this situation is very similar to the time the Israelites spent in Egypt. Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait quite as long for deliverance.

When we first meet Deborah in Judges 4:4-7, she is doing her job: sitting under her tree, giving out judgments. Then a prophecy comes to her. It’s time for the 20 years of oppression to come to an end! So she sends for Barak and gives him very specific instructions for how to defeat Sisera’s army and what the result would be. Actually, she confirms what the Lord has already told Barak: take 10,000 men and attack Jabin’s army and I will deliver them into your hand. 

Now, Barak had heard this direction from the Lord and then it is confirmed by Deborah. That’s some pretty amazing confirmation, so at that point, I would expect Barak to be like “Let’s do this.” Yet, his response in 
Judges 4: 8-10 is kind of odd for a man of war: “I’ll go if you go.” 

Now nothing in the prophecy stated that Deborah needed to be a part of the military campaign. And, in fact, she would probably have been somewhat of a distraction as the men would feel it was their duty to protect her rather than fight all out. So this is an odd request.

But I get it. 

I’ve had a similar conversation with God and godly people before: this is what I want you to do (says God). Um, okay (says me) but only if…


 Our hesitancy can often cause us to lose out on blessings 

This kind of negotiation sets the tone for the kind of deliverance. Deborah tells him that she’ll go, but it’ll change the outcome–all of Sisera will be delivered nto the hands of a woman. This response transitions her from a passive to an active role and we expect that the army will now follow her lead rather than Barak’s–after all he’s using her as a kind of good luck charm.

At any rate, they go to battle and the actual scene is pretty short: Judges 4: 12-16highlights that the Lord is given all the glory and Deborah is giving all the orders. Her faith spurs the men into action. 

The Song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5: 4-5 details exactly how the Lord lead them into victory: a sudden storm causes these highly advanced ‘iron chariots’ to fail! Routed in the mud, the army flees and their military strategy is kaput.  That’s what you get when you rely too heavily on any one thing rather than in an all powerful God. The task before Barak seemed impossible…and yet Deborah knew the Lord would make a way. So, in the end, it is Deborah…and another young woman…who get the starring role next to God. Not the leader of the army. Because that is the thing about faith. Our hesitancy can often cause us to lose out on blessings God has in store for us. 

When Women Take the Lead

In Judges 4:17-22 we meet Jael, a second female character who, like Deborah, takes on a non-traditional female role. First, she appears to be quite welcoming to Sisera, inviting him in with sweet words and promises of protection. He enters because, after all, they are supposed to be allies. Instead of giving him water, she gives him milk. What a motherly thing she is doing here, nurturing this man and even lulling him to sleep. So cute! All the while, the audience here is building tension expecting what—Deborah to come in? But no, suddenly Jael picks up whatever is handy—a tent peg, and drives it through Sisera’s skull. YIKES! That is no easy task (in case you were wondering, that would have had to been a tremendous force to go all the way through the skull to the ground). Talk about subverting expectations for a climax. The prophecy came true, but certainly not in the way we—or even they (certainly not Sisera)—were expecting.


Sometimes we are called to a purpose we don’t quite understand. 


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We’re never told why Jael decides to murder Sisera. Her husband is his ally. All we know is that she fulfills God’s prophecy and is honored for this action. Sometimes we are called to a purpose we don’t quite understand. But, when we know we are following God’s will, we can rest in the knowledge that he will work it all out for our good (Romans 8:28). 

Judges 5 is perhaps one of the oldest poems in the Bible and relates the story in more detail. This song has a war driven tone and regales the history of Deborah’s people. 5: 24-27 relates Jael’s story and then we get to Judges 5: 28-30  where we see our final female character in this passage- Sisera’s mother who is waiting, in vain, for the return of her son.

Interestingly, all three female figures in Deborah’s story have motherly qualities, but both Deborah and Jael who are the protagonists are hero-ized for their non-traditional roles as they transition from passive to active participants in God’s story. To me this offers reminds me of the promise that God has equipped us ALL to do his work–not just the males. Females were not made to be minor characters, in a supporting role. They were made to help drive the plot forward, and God honors women who step into their purpose as much as he honors men. 

Leadership and Submission

The Bible tells us that females and wives are supposed to be submissive to male leadership and husbands. How do we reconcile the idea of ‘submissive’ with our own call to leadership roles like that of Deborah? Well I don’t have the answer to that, but I have some thoughts. 

The Trinity is made up of God, the father, Jesus, the son, and the Holy Spirit, helper. They are all three equally (one person, one God), and yet, they are 3 persons and each role is well-defined in a hierarchy. Jesus submits to his father (Luke 22:42), and the father sends the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). But Jesus still takes on a leadership role throughout his ministry and life. 

Submission doesn’t mean you are a doormat. It doesn’t even mean you can’t make your own decisions. Submission is merely a voluntary recognition that you are not the ulitmate authority on everything in your life. And since absolute power corrupts absolutely, being able and willing to submit is an important life skill for everyone. Therefore, women are not called to be men’s underlings, but rather to work alongside for a greater purpose: the highest authority, which is God’s. 


Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile. 


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Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile. Deborah and Jael both had very feminine qualities and they used these to their advantage to gain both strength and honor in their communities. And we can too.