Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and I would first like to say to all who are now reading this blog, whether male or female, Happy International Women’s Day!
As a dude who grew up in the particular culture I did, I’m wary of things like International Women’s Day – and for no good reason I might add.
Sometimes, I’m worried that I’ll be supporting something I’m “not supposed to” since there are many groups with baggage or maybe strange politics surrounding the day. But, I think International Women’s Day is certainly a day worth celebrating. I also think it’s a day that God would want to celebrate as well, based off certain passages in the Old Testament.
Now, there are many people who have read the Bible who know that the Old Testament was not the most friendly place for women. In fact, the Old Testament seems to degrade women and their place in society, because truthfully that was the society out of which the Hebrew scriptures came.
However, if one reads the Old Testament carefully, one can find tiny glimpses of a God who does not simply abandon women to the position of concubines, slaves and, frankly, property.
I definitely do not want to ignore those troublesome texts in the Old Testament, but rather, I want to focus briefly on a text that ought to astound most of us who grew up in church, especially as it relates to the treatment of women in the Old Testament.
The story opens with a woman who has fled from her master’s camp into the desert to die. Her name is Hagar, an Egyptian slave (who, as a side note, is not a “hero” in the New Testament, but don’t let that color her role in this story). She had been chosen by her owner, Sarai, to bear the “promised” child that would become the inheritor of Abram’s estate. Tensions ensued when Hagar learned she was pregnant. Hagar began to despise Sarai, and Sarai began to mistreat Hagar, so Hagar fled.
She’s found by the angel of the LORD in the desert, next to a well. After a conversation in which the angel of the LORD tells her to return to her master and to submit, and promises her the same thing He promised to Abram, Hagar says something that ought to take the astute reader’s breath away.
All of this story leads to a single verse I would like to point out, a verse that says this: “She [Hagar] gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen[c]the One who sees me.” The Hebrew for this name? El Roi.
Now, what does all this have to do with International Women’s Day?
Well, if you didn’t know, up to this point in the Bible, no one has given a name to the LORD. All the characters so far had received names from God that he had given them to use (Elohim or Yahweh). Hagar is the first person in the Bible to give a name to the LORD.
Let me say that again in a different way.
Hagar is the Bible’s first theologian, and she was an Egyptian female slave.
She is one of the first people to interact with God and to then name him. Isn’t that theology? To interact with God and to discover his nature and personality? No other person in the biblical narrative has done this yet. Not Adam, not Noah, not even the famous patriarch Abraham.
Further, if one fast-forwards to the Exodus story, the characteristics of God that lead to the Israelites delivery begin with his “seeing” and “hearing” the cry of the Israelites, characteristics that are both present in Hagar’s naming of God.
Hagar was the first to see God for his character that ultimately led to the founding of his people and their delivery from slavery.
This happens not just in the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament, in a very similar way. Who is the first person to see Jesus risen from the grave? Hint: It’s a woman.
It’s almost as if God is keen to let women in on who he is before the news gets out to the rest of society (read: men).
So, in conclusion, I would say God is for women. It may not seem that way, and if one reads the Bible and thinks the opposite, I don’t know if I could blame them. But, the God “I see” is one who is not unconcerned about the plight of women, especially those who have been abandoned or shoved to the edges of society.
To end this blog, I find it worth repeating: God is for women. God was for women even before International Women’s Day was a thing. So enjoy this month (especially as the weather begins to change), and join God in celebrating the value and worth of all women, even the one’s who have been forgotten and disregarded by the world.
The featured image is The Woman Taken in Adultery, by Titian. I viewed this back in September of 2017 in Vienna. I am constantly astounded by Jesus’ ability to protect and empower the women he encountered. In the gospel story, Jesus stands in the gap for the woman and then empowers her by saying, essentially, “There are none who condemn you now because of your past life, and neither do I, so go and choose to be free of it, choose to sin no more.” The painter subtly captures all this with the posture of the men in the image. All the men who brought the woman to Jesus are slightly inclining away from the woman or looking away, while Jesus is the only one who is inclined toward the woman, a subtle but explosive detail that puts the heart of the gospel narrative into image. Jesus leans in and looks, while everyone else leans and looks away.