Miriam by Sarah Beth Baca

Watercolour and ink portrait of Miriam by Sarah Beth Baca.
Used with permission of the artist. All rights reserved.
Prints of this portrait can be purchased here.

Moses was one of Israel’s greatest and most revered leaders. However, there were several occasions where he would have perished or been killed if it had not been for the courage, wisdom, and enterprise of several women. Here is a brief look at these brave Bible women who God used to achieve his purposes.

1 & 2. Shiphrah and Puah—Exodus 1:15-21

The Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah courageously defied the authority of Pharaoh by disobeying his wicked edict to kill the newborn Hebrew boys. These midwives jeopardised their own safety to protect and save the life of Moses and the other baby boys. Shiphrah and Puah feared God more than they feared Pharaoh, and God blessed them because of their righteous actions—actions which were motivated by their reverence for God (Exod. 1:15-21).

3. Jochabed—Exodus 2:1-3

Moses’ mother Jochabed[1] discerned that there was something special about her infant son, and she protected him by hiding him for three months from Egyptian authorities. When she could no longer hide him at home, Jochabed made a waterproof basket and placed her baby in it. She placed the basket in the Nile among the reeds and entrusted her son into God’s care. Jochabed was fearless in her efforts to keep her baby boy safe (Exod. 21:1-3; cf. Heb. 11:23).

4. Pharaoh’s Daughter—Exodus 2:5-10

Pharaoh’s daughter[2] found the baby in the Nile and felt sorry for him. Even though she realised that he was a Hebrew, she rescued him, offered protection, and later adopted him. We can assume that Pharaoh’s daughter would have encountered considerable difficulties in persuading other members of the Egyptian royal family to accept the Hebrew child as her adopted son. She was successful, however; and Moses was raised in the Egyptian royal palace where he received an excellent education as a student prince. His palace education, training, and experience would be very useful when Moses had the difficult task of leading the Israelites (Exod. 2:5-10; cf. Acts 7:21-22).

5. Miriam—Exodus 2:4-8

Moses’ older sister Miriam[3] had been standing on the banks of the Nile, watching over her baby brother in the basket, to make sure he was safe. When she saw that he was being rescued, young Miriam bravely approached Pharaoh’s daughter and persuaded her to have the baby nursed by his own mother, Jochabed. This arrangement meant that Moses received optimum love and nurture within his own family for a few years before being surrendered to Pharaoh’s daughter when he was still a little boy. Miriam later became a prophetess and she was recognised as a leader alongside her brothers Moses and Aaron (Exod. 2:4-8; cf. Micah 6:4).

6. Zipporah—Exodus 4:24-26

In this mystifying passage of scripture, we read that God was about to kill Moses. Moses’ first wife Zipporah astutely recognised the cause of God’s wrath. She took the initiative and appeased God’s anger, even though she found it all very distasteful. Zipporah, like the others mentioned above, protected Moses, and even saved him from death (Exod. 4:24-26). [Read more about Zipporah here.]

Brave Bible Women

The Bible has many examples of women who were willing to risk their lives to help others. Brave Bible women include: Jael (Judg. 4:21; 5:24-27); the woman who killed Abimelech (Judg. 9:53); Rahab (Josh. 2:1-6); Abigail (1 Sam. 2:1ff5)[4]; the servant girl who was given a dangerous task (2 Sam. 17:17-18); the woman of Bahurin (2 Sam. 17:19-20); Esther (Esth. 4:11, 16); and Priscilla who risked her life for Paul’s sake, as did her husband Aquila (Rom. 16:3-4).[5]

The Hebrew word for “helper” (ezer)—used in Genesis 2 to describe the first woman—can actually mean “rescuer”.[6] (More on the meaning of ezer can be found in my article, A Suitable Helper.)

Christian Women Today

Christians who narrowly define femininity, and rigidly prescribe certain attributes and roles for women, are doing women, and the church, a great disservice.[7] Men and women are different and, generally speaking, they have different strengths and abilities; however we need to look beyond gender, and discern the spiritual gifts, abilities, and calling of the individual person. We need to be cautious that we do not underestimate the abilities or curtail the activities of the brave and courageous women who God wishes to use today.


Endnotes

[1] Moses’ mother Jochabed is named in Exodus 6:20 and Numbers 26:59.

[2] We do not know the name of Pharaoh’s daughter, but, in the Midrash, Jewish Rabbis have given her the new name of Bithiah (bat-yah) which literally means “the daughter of the LORD”: “Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son; you are not My daughter, but I call you My daughter” (Lev. Rabbah 1:3).  (Source)

[3] While Miriam may have been too young to be called a “woman” at the time Moses was a baby, I have included her because she is female and she played a valuable role in ensuring the safety and well-being of her youngest brother.

[4] It would have been no mean feat to confront David and four hundred of his men who had been insulted and were intent on revenge with their swords at the ready. Yet Abigail approached David and humbly and graciously offered him a “peace offering”. Her quick actions saved her household from disaster and she kept David and his men from unnecessary bloodshed. More on Abigail here.

[5] Other Bible women also showed commendable initiative, shrewdness and courage; women such as: Tamar (Gen. 38, esp. Gen. 38:26), Naaman’s wife’s servant (2 Kings 5:3); Ruth (Ruth, esp. Ruth 1:15-18; 2:2); The Wise Woman of Abel Beth Maacah (2 Sam. 20:15-22), etc. The “virtuous” or “noble” woman in Prov. 31:10, might also be called the “courageous” (Greek: andreia) woman.

[6] The Hebrew word ezer is a combination of two roots: `-z-r, meaning “to rescue, to save,” and g-z-r, meaning “to be strong.” R. David Freedman, “Woman, a Power Equal to a Man”, in Biblical Archaeology Review 9, (1983) 56-58. Quoted in Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter Kaiser, et al., (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 93. I recommend reading the relevant passage here.  (The link to my article A Suitable Helper is below.)

[7] Complementarians are Christians who have narrow ideas about the roles of women. Complementarians believe that it is the man’s role to protect women, and not vice versa, yet there are very few Biblical examples of men protecting women. One clear Bible account of a man rescuing and protecting women also involves Moses. In Exodus 2:16-19, Moses rescued and helped shepherdesses who were being harassed. One of these shepherdesses would become his first wife Zipporah.

© 29th of August 2010, Margaret Mowczko


Related Articles

25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
A Suitable Helper
Protecting the Weaker Sex
Old Testament Priests and New Testament Ministers

Further Reading

A more scholarly article on these 6 women is here.