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Published Date: April 30, 2000

Published Date: April 30, 2000

Featured Articles

Featured Articles

Cogs in the Wheel

Four unnamed women in the Old Testament and their impact on the history of Israel

How often has a momentous event in history occurred because of a small deed done or a word spoken? We will never know, but much of history would probably be different had this deed or that conversation never taken place. We want to look at the contributions of four nameless Old Testament women and see how they were involved in the course of Israel’s history.

The Woman Of Thebez: Judges 9:53 (Judges 9:1-57)

Abimilech was the half-Canaanite son of Gideon by a Shechemite concubine (Jud. 8:31). After the death of Gideon, and desiring to be king of the region,

Abimelech went to Shechem to enlist the aid of his mother’s family. With the help of his kinsmen, he hired a band of thugs, proceeded to where his brothers lived, and murdered all but one of his seventy brothers. He proclaimed himself king with the support of the citizens of Shechem and nearby Beth-millo.

After three years, the people of Shechem turned against Abimilech and sided with Gaal. He was the leader of a roving band that had come to Shechem to take advantage of the unrest there. Abimelech responded vigorously, cruelly slaughtering the people of Shechem, razing their city, and sowing the ground with salt. Those who had taken refuge in a nearby fortress tower (about a thousand men and women) were burned to death by Abimelech and his fighting men.

Next, Abimilech and his men went to Thebez and took that city. Thebez also had a tower fortress, and the inhabitants fled to it and shut themselves in; many climbed to the roof ramparts. Abimelech and his followers began to pile brushwood against the door as they had done at the previous town. As Abimelech was engaged in this, a woman dropped on his head an upper millstone (a piece of a hand mill, part of every household [Deut. 24:6]). Mortally wounded, Abimelech begged his armor bearer to thrust his sword through him so it wouldn’t be said that a woman had killed him.

This woman’s action ended the rebellion, delivered her people, and there was peace in the land for many years.

The Female Courier: 2 Samuel 17:17 (2 Samuel 17:1-18)

Absalom was conspiring to create a rebellion in order to dethrone his father, King David. Because of this, David and his household and followers fled Jerusalem and encamped by the ford crossings of the Jordan River. David’s friend

Hushai the Archite was told to stay in Jerusalem and appear to join Absalom’s rebellion, but in reality he was to serve as a “mole” for David. Arrangements were made for two young men—Jonathan, son of the priest Abiathar, and Ahimaaz, known to be a swift runner—to wait by the spring of water called En-rogel located outside the city walls. Here they would receive news to take to David.

A trusted female servant in Hushai’s household was used as the courier from Hushai to the two young men. Eluding the lookouts posted by Absalom, she brought the news to Jonathan and Ahimaaz that David should quickly cross the Jordan. (She probably used the business of drawing water from the spring as a reason for being there.) Receiving this information, the two set off to contact David, but they were spotted by a boy who reported them to Absalom. Realizing they had been discovered, they hurried to a town along the way.

The Bahurim Woman: 2 Samuel 17:19-20 (2 Samuel 17:18-22)

Bahurim was located near the Mount of Olives on the road from Jerusalem toward the Jordan River. A woman saw David’s young men being chased by Absalom’s forces. She had them hide in a well in the courtyard of the house by the road. She grabbed a cloth, covered the mouth of the well with it, and spread grain over the cloth as if it were drying in the sun. The pursuers rushed up to her as she stood in her yard and asked if she had seen two young men running past her home. She said she had seen them and that they had gone on, crossing the brook (Kidron). Having sent Absalom’s men in the wrong direction, she helped Jonathan and Ahimaaz out of the well and they went on their way to deliver the message that David should cross the Jordan River.

By the bravery of these two women, a major battle between Absalom and David was avoided, allowing David to regroup and eventually to defeat Absalom. Commenting on the actions of these two women, Alfred Edershim has written:

Here we gladly mark how different from the present inmates of Eastern harems were the mothers, wives and daughters of Israel—how free in their social intercourses and how powerful in their influence: the religious and social institutions of the Old Testament forming in this respect also a preparation for the position which the New Testament would assign to women.*

* Bible History, Old Testament, vol. 5, p. 25.

The Wise Woman Of Abel: 2 Samuel 20:14-22 (2 Samuel 20:1-23)

In this portion of 2 Samuel we have three major characters. First is Joab, a nephew of King David, a skilled general of David’s army who helped establish the monarchy. Joab was a complex man filled with violence, cruelty, and opportunism; yet he could be resourceful, magnanimous (2 Sam. 12:26-31), and a peacemaker (2 Sam. 14:23, 31-33). Then there is Sheba, who is described as “a worthless fellow” (2 Sam. 20:1, RSV). Sheba was of the tribe of Benjamin, a tribe that, at that time, largely remained loyal to Saul and against David. The third character is known only as a wise woman who lived in the town of Abel. She appears to have been known in Abel for her wisdom, and she apparently had considerable influence in the community.

Sheba had begun a rebellion against David. At first he had a lot of followers, mostly from Israel, while those of Judah remained loyal to the king. Sheba was causing considerable trouble. Joab had lost the favor of King David. By pursuing Sheba, he set out to be reinstated as commander-in-chief, that position having been taken from him when he made sure Absalom was killed despite David’s request to spare his son (2 Sam. 18).

Joab discovered Sheba had taken refuge in the town of Abel, which seems to have had a reputation for wisdom and the settling of disputes. Abel was surrounded by a wall, and Joab and his warriors set up a siege. They built a mound against the wall that would enable them to more effectively batter down the wall. A wise woman of the city called from the top of the wall that she wanted to speak to Joab. He approached and agreed to listen to what she had to say. She mentioned Abel’s reputation for wise counsel and that Abel was “a mother in Israel” (a city with dependent villages, called daughters). She asked him why he was trying to swallow up such a beneficial town. Joab replied that he had nothing against Abel except that Sheba, leading a revolt against King David, had taken refuge there, and he meant to take him. He told her that if they would give up Sheba, he would withdraw his forces.

It would appear that Sheba had not revealed why he had hidden himself in Abel. Upon learning why Joab was there, she told him that Sheba’s head would be thrown over the wall, proving their loyalty to King David. The woman went to the citizens of Abel, explained the situation, saying that the only way to stop the fracus would be to cut off Sheba’s head and throw it over the wall. This having been done, Joab dispersed his forces to their homes and he returned to Jerusalem, reclaiming his position as commander-in-chief of the army.

The quick thinking of this wise woman prevented the destruction of her town and the considerable bloodshed that would have ensued. A rebellion was put down and peace regained.

What These Women Can Teach Us

So what are we to learn from these brief stories? It is that even if you are not on the “cutting edge” of the affairs of your lifetime, famous, or making history—neither were these women. They did what they could, with willingness and courage. We are also called to be faithful and attentive, all of us, wherever we are, and whatever we are doing. Remember this:

Behold! God is mighty, and yet despises no one, nor regards anything as trivial. He is mighty in power of understanding and heart. (Job 36:5, Amplified)

Our God is a God of the small things as well as the large. Each one of us can make a difference in one way or another.


The Amplified Bible. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1965

Alfred Edersheim, The Bible History, Old Testament, Vols. 3, 5. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952. Vol. 3, 147-51; vol. 5, 22-26, 34-36.

Edith Deen, All of the Women of the Bible. New York: Harper

& Row, 1955, 357, 359, 360-61.

J. D. Douglas, editor, New Bible Dictionary, 2d ed. Wheaton, IL: InterVarsity Press/Tyndale House, 1982.

Herbert May and Bruce M. Metzger, editors, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, RSV. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Thanks for Your Help

Most readers will recall receiving a recent survey asking for information about Priscilla Papers as we plan for the future. We learned a lot about you. For one thing, you overwhelmingly like and value this journal. About one-quarter of you who received the two-page questionnaire took time to fill it out and return it to the CBE office. We greatly value your help. Among the things we learned:

  • Three-fourths of you are college graduates; 20 percent have earned doctorates.
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  • More than half of you read all of the articles in every issue; the rest read half or “some.”
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