Did you know that the Bible is filled with single people who were loved, called and used by God? Whether prophets or widows, eunuchs or church leaders, these single souls served God “with gladness and singleness of heart.” And the greatest among them was the Son of God.
In contrast to best sellers like The Da Vinci Code, Scripture provides its readers with a wholesome, balanced picture of Jesus of Nazareth. A healthy, celibate man, he enjoyed the hospitality of friends, wept at funerals, played with children and was at times misunderstood by his family. He paid his taxes in some- times humorous ways and cooked break- fast on the beach for those he loved. Along the way he regularly took time to be alone and nurture his relationship with the Father.
Providing him with a balanced spiritual community, his followers included married people like Peter (Matthew 8:14- 17) and Joanna (Luke 8:3), and single friends such as Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany (John 11:1-14; 12:1-11).
Sometimes those around him got carried away with the technical importance of marriage, as in the debate over the woman who had been widowed seven times. Focusing instead on eternal realities, Jesus told them, “How wrong you are! And do you know why? It is because you don’t know the Scriptures or God’s power. For when the dead rise to life, they will be like the angels in heaven and will not marry” (Mark 12:24-25).
Because he was a single man living in a marriage-oriented world, his choice to quote from Isaiah can provide particular encouragement for those who have ever felt marginalized because of their singleness:
“Thus says Yahweh: ‘Have a care for justice, act with integrity, for soon my salvation will come and my integrity be manifest.’ Let no foreigner who has attached themselves to Yahweh say, ‘Yahweh will surely exclude me from his people.’ For Yahweh says this: ‘To you eunuchs who observe my Sabbaths I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give you an everlasting name that will never be effaced. Those of you who have attached your- selves to Yahweh to serve me, to love my Name and be my servants, you I will bring to my holy mountain I will make you joyful in my house of prayer. Your holocausts and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ It is Yahweh who speaks, who gathers the outcasts” (Isaiah 56:1, 3-7).
Prophets: God’s visionaries in perilous times
God did not hesitate to call single people to speak prophetic truth whether they lived during the Exodus, the fall of Jerusalem or the life of Jesus.
A prophet and leader of the Exodus alongside her brothers Moses and Aaron (Micah 6:4), Miriam was the first female singer recorded in the Bible. Using her musical skill, she led her people in worship when they left Egypt after 400 years of slavery (Exodus 2:4-9; 15:19-21).
Told specifically not to marry nor have children (Jeremiah 16:1), God called Jeremiah to prophesy during the final turbulent years of the Kingdom of Judah. Taunted, unjustly accused and imprisoned, he witnessed the Babylonian invasion and fall of Jerusalem. Yet his words of promise from God still ring true: “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about a future full of hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Widowed after only seven years of marriage, Anna of the tribe of Asher spent a lifetime worshiping, fasting and praying. Recognizing the fulfillment of Messianic prophesies when Jesus’ parents brought him to the Temple to be dedicated, she proclaimed his arrival “to all who were waiting for God to set Jerusalem free” (Luke 2:36-38).
Eunuchs: Given a name better than sons and daughters
When God is in charge, being in the right place at the right time is never an accident. Perceiving God at work in their midst, these two eunuchs, Ebedmelech and Heget, broke through racial and cultural boundaries to do what was right.
Ebedmelech the Sudanese served King Zedekiah in Jerusalem just before the Babylonian invasion. When he learned that political leaders had thrown Jeremiah down a muddy well in the courtyard, he went before the king and declared, “Your Majesty, what these men have done is wrong.” Ordered to pull Jeremiah out before he died, the African courtier took workers to the storeroom, gathered up rags and instructed the prophet to pad himself so that he would not be injured by the ropes which pulled him to safety (Jeremiah 38:5-13). Highly conscious of his own tenuous position, Ebedmelech was rewarded by God with an intimate — and practical — promise: “I will keep you safe because you have put your trust in me” (Jeremiah 39:15- 18j).
In charge of King Xerxes’ harem at the palace in Susa, Hegei perceived Esther’s uniqueness out of all the candidates for Queen of Persia. Providing her with special foods and beauty treatments, he gave her seven servants (a sign of domestic power) and advised her before her royal interview. She became queen and saved the Jewish people from destruction (Esther 2:8-9, 15).
Daring daughters who claimed God’s promises
Full of youthful enthusiasm, these daring daughters defied convention to claim God’s promises.
On the eve of the Jews’ entry into the Promised Land, Zelophehad’s daughters set a legal precedent for the recognition of women. When their father died, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah of the tribe of Manassah could not inherit his goods or lands because they were female. The five sisters went to the entrance of the Tabernacle and presented their case to Moses, the High Priest and community leaders: “Give us property among our father’s relatives” (Numbers 27:4). When Moses consulted God, God responded, “What the daughters of Zelophehad request is right.” As a result they not only received their inheritance, but also a new Mosaic law was created: “If a man dies without leaving a son, his daughter is to inherit his property” (Numbers 27:9). Women’s property rights were recognized for the first time in history (Numbers 27:1-11).
Authorized by the Emperor of Persia to rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian invasion, Nehemiah turned politicians, perfume makers, priests, goldsmiths and merchants into construction workers. Together they reconstructed the city’s walls, towers, gardens and gates. Shallum’s daughters were among them. Daughters of the ruler over half of Jerusalem, they built the wall between the Tower of the Ovens and the Valley Gate (Nehemiah 3:12). Like Nehemiah, they believed in God’s promises for a brighter future.
Widows: Recipients of God’s generous abundance
In addition to providing for them under Mosaic law, God sometimes miraculously intervened to sustain widows during times of famine, hardship and loss.
The Phoenician widow of Zerephath and her son lived near the port of Sidon during a famine caused by drought when Elijah arrived. Close to starvation, she nevertheless obeyed the prophet’s request for food and water and, as a result, the three were miraculously fed (1 Kings 17:8-24). Nine hundred years later, Jesus praised her faith in his first public sermon (Luke 4:25). God’s promise to her still provides hope: “The bowl will not run out of flour nor the jar run out of oil before the day that I, the Lord, send rain” (1 Kings 27:14).
When her husband died, the widow of a prophet was saddled with his debts and the reality that her sons could be sold away as slaves. Following the prophet Elisha’s instructions, she borrowed her neighbors’ empty jars and poured her small supply of olive oil into them. God filled each one to the brim. Her debts were paid, her future secured (2 Kings 4:1-7).
Already bereaved, the widow of Nain was left without economic and emotional support when her only son died. Filled with compassion over her loss, Jesus first comforted her (“Don’t cry”) and then raised her son from the dead in front of a crowd of astonished mourners (Luke 7:11-17). It was the first time Jesus raised someone from the dead.
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh:’ Leaders of the early church
Whether young or old, rich or poor, single people were included in the early church from the very beginning. Phillip, one of the deacons originally elected in Jerusalem to distribute relief to the poor (Acts 6:5), had four daughters who prophesied or “proclaimed God’s message.” While living in Caesarea the family hosted Paul and his party just before Paul was arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 21:8-9).
An active, recognized group within the early church, widows “of a certain age” prayed, taught younger believers, collected alms and cared for orphans (1 Timothy 5:3-16). Dorcas of Joppa may have been one of these. Her philanthropy, compassion and skill as a tailor had already given her a wide following. When she was raised from the dead many became believers (Acts 9:36-42).
Half Greek and half Jewish, Timothy was raised by his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois in Lystra, a city in the Roman province of Galatia (Acts 16:1-2). Paul praised the abundant faith of all three (2 Timothy 1:5) and called Timothy “my true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). Jailed on occasion, he traveled to the Roman colony of Philippi (Acts 16:12), Macedonia (Acts 19:22), the Greek city of Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17) and Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2) to share the Good News.
Contentedly single, the apostle Paul worked alongside believers of every racial, marital and economic status, often praising them by name in his letters. Devoted to spreading the Gospel despite physical hardship, political opposition and separation from those he loved, Paul held energetic views on almost every topic. His affirmation of singleness was no exception:
“A man does well not to marry ... I would prefer that all of you were as I am; but each one has a special gift from God, one person this gift, another one that gift.
“I would like to have you free from worry. An unmarried man concerns himself with the Lord’s work, because he is trying to please the Lord ... An unmarried woman or a virgin concerns herself with the Lord’s work, because she wants to be dedicated both in body and spirit.
“I want you to do what is right and proper and to give yourselves completely to the Lord’s service without any reservation...
“The man who marries does well, but the one who doesn’t marry does even better” (1 Corinthians 7).