Watch a few documentaries about wild animals, and you will see footage of a mother protecting her young. Do you know what happens when another animal bothers a lion cub? The lioness springs into action. Her claws come out, her fangs protrude, and she lets out a roar that can be heard miles away. God created female lions with an instinct to fiercely protect and fight when needed. When a lioness is provoked, watch out!
God calls women to defend the vulnerable and fight injustice with a similar ferocity. Those who violate and abuse the vulnerable should have to think twice, for fear of provoking God’s daughters. Yet women in the church are often expected to hide their claws and fangs and act as domesticated as possible. They are taught to be quiet—even in the face of danger. Men, it is said, are meant to do all the protecting while women simply offer loving encouragement.
But the women whose lives are honored in the pages of the Bible weren’t timid. They were bold and courageous, and they took initiative. They challenged the status quo, they pushed boundaries for God, and they risked their lives when others stood silent.
One such woman is Jehosheba, who lived during a tumultuous time in Israel’s history when God’s people had abandoned him in favor of Baal. War and violence were commonplace. Jehosheba’s brother, King Ahaziah of Judah, had just died, leaving a power vacuum. Now, Jehosheba found her family embroiled in a ruthless struggle for the throne. Second Kings 11:1–3 says:
When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family. But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah; so he was not killed. He remained hidden with his nurse at the temple of the Lord for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.
It’s hard to imagine that a queen would slaughter her own grandchildren, but that is exactly what Athaliah attempted to do. Her insatiable thirst for power led her to murder anyone whose claim to the throne was stronger than hers—even her own grandsons. Only when she had snuffed out the line of David would her rule be secure.
Despite the danger, Jehosheba did not run away or stand aside, but experienced supernatural courage. There was no time for submission or passivity—or to wait for a man to step in. Her nephew’s life was at stake, and the royal line was in danger. God needed someone with courage to take action. And he needed her to act fast. Like a lioness protecting its cub from danger, Jehosheba leapt into the fray, delivering Joash to safety. In the end, Athaliah was overthrown in a coup, and the seven year-old Joash was installed as the new king. Israel’s royal family was saved, and the line of David—and of the coming Messiah—was preserved. All this happened because of a woman’s bravery in the face of terror.
And Jehosheba is not the only Old Testament woman whose courageous actions altered the course of history. In Exodus, we read that Pharaoh ordered the slaughter of all Jewish boys at birth. He commanded the midwives to carry out his edict as they were attending to pregnant Hebrew women. In response, two brave midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, performed one of history’s first recorded acts of civil disobedience. Exodus 1:17–20 says:
The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.
These women deliberately defied a royal edict, and could have been executed on the spot. They didn’t wait for men to step up and oppose Pharaoh, nor were they acting in obedience to any man’s instruction. They boldly risked their lives by using their unique position as midwives to spare the lives of untold numbers of Hebrew children, and then used their cunning to survive an encounter with Pharaoh. These women, acting as God’s agents, took the initiative and prevented genocide.
Women as Righteous Trouble-Makers
Why are the stories of these strong, tenacious women included in the Bible? They are evidence of God’s call on women to be fierce protectors, to use whatever means necessary to accomplish God’s work and to stand up to injustice. Is there room in your worldview for spunky women like Jehosheba, Shiphrah, and Puah? What about the fearless women of our own time?
Many Christians today wouldn’t endorse the behavior of these fearless biblical women. In many of our churches, women who take the initiative are viewed with suspicion. We have promoted the idea that femininity is best exemplified by passivity, domesticity, and a bland politeness. This attitude has squelched the callings and spiritual gifts of countless women. How many Jehoshebas, Shiphrahs, and Puahs have we sidelined because we’ve taught them from birth that bravery is a masculine quality and that in order to please God they should always defer to men?
What if these women were part of our churches today? Would Jehosheba have been told, “If God wants to stop Athaliah, he will direct one of the priests to intervene”? Perhaps Shiphrah and Puah would have been warned, “Women aren’t supposed to make trouble.”
But God does indeed call his women to stir up trouble! He has given women mouths to challenge evil, hands to rescue the babies that the devil meant to destroy, and minds to outwit and overthrow injustice. He even designed a mother’s body to aggressively protect her children when needed. According to a study by Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook and published by Psychological Science in 2011, this well-documented phenomenon, known as maternal aggression, is a hardwired response triggered naturally by breast feeding. Certainly, God did not design a mother’s body this way in order for her to always stand aside! Women, as much as men, are created to obey God’s calling to protect the vulnerable and aggressively fight for justice, no matter the cost, or how much trouble they may stir up.
Agents of the Holy Spirit
Women have always been righteous trouble-makers and indomitable agents of the Holy Spirit, thwarting injustice at just the right time. Women have overcome every conceivable obstacle in order to save the weak, nurse the sick, and protect the underdogs of society. When children are in danger, when women are abused, when girls are exploited, when families are being destroyed by drugs or alcohol, or when society is in danger, women are often the first to help. Women are called to be just as fierce, powerful, and courageous as any man in carrying out God’s work.
Many women have brought peace and healing to the world because of their love for God and neighbor. A devout Christian who grew up in the Netherlands, Corrie ten Boom, along with her family, bravely hid Jews from the Nazi regime during World War II. Corrie and several members of her family were arrested for their actions. She and her sister were sent to a concentration camp, where her sister later died. A week before all the women her age in the camp were killed, Corrie was released due to a clerical error. After the war, she traveled the world preaching God’s love and telling her story.
In her book, The Hiding Place, this soft-spoken daughter of a watchmaker explained where she got her courage: “Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel” (The Hiding Place, 47).
If you read the writings of other great Christian women activists—the Quaker women who opposed American slavery, the Methodist women who fought alcoholism during the Prohibition era in the United States, the Presbyterians of the 1800s who started hospitals in Africa, the many female missionaries who established homes to rescue Indian girls from prostitution, or the women who are working tirelessly today to stop the global sex trafficking industry—you will find that their lives have a common thread. All have been consumed by a holy love.
Jehosheba, Shiphrah, and Puah were consumed by a love that compelled them to rescue the weak and the innocent and to defy their leaders. They saw injustice and didn’t stay quiet or submissive. They sprang into action, ready for battle. I believe that just as God called on many Old Testament women to be his powerful agents, he calls and equips today’s women to act boldly and love fiercely. When a woman’s love is fierce, no one, least of all the church, should stand in the way.