Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Brave Bible Woman

There are many brave women mentioned in the Bible. For example, it would have required a great deal of courage for Abigail to face 400 armed men who had been insulted and were intent on revenge (1 Sam. 25:1ff). And it would have required courage for Rahab to commit the capital crime of treason against her own people of Jericho by siding with and helping the Israelites (Josh. 2:1ff). It would also have required courage for Priscilla and her husband Aquila to risk their own necks in order to save the apostle Paul (Rom. 16:3-5a). Not to mention the bravery and spunk of Deborah (Judg. chs 4 & 5), Jael (Judg. 4:17-22; 5:24-27), Queen Esther, the woman of Thebez (Judg. 9:53; 2 Sam. 11:21), and several women in Moses’ life.

The unnamed female servant, mentioned briefly in 2 Samuel 17:17, and the unnamed woman of Bahurim, who we can read about in 2 Samuel 17:18-21, also qualify as brave Bible women.

The Female Servant involved in Intelligence (2 Samuel 17:17)

Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying in En Rogel. A female servant would go and inform them, and they would then go and inform King David. It was not advisable for them to be seen going into the city [of Jerusalem] 2 Samuel. 17:17 (NET)

The unnamed female servant lived in Jerusalem at a time in Israel’s history when King David and his son Absalom were enemies. Absalom had treacherously seized his father’s throne, and David had fled from Jerusalem to spare the whole city from being sacked by Absalom’s men. Throughout this episode, there were desperate political intrigues with undercover agents and informants at work.

David had asked the priests Abiathar and Zadok to return to Jerusalem so that they could be his eyes and ears (2 Sam. 15:27-29). And he organised for a line of communication to be set up between the priests in Jerusalem and the priests’ sons Jonathan and Ahimaaz who were staying at the nearby hamlet of En Rogel in the Kidron Valley.

Between the two priests and their two sons was an important link in the chain of communication. This link was supplied by the female servant. She may have been chosen because she was unlikely to arouse suspicion. En Rogel contained a spring (or well), and a female servant going to the spring to fetch water or wash clothes would have been an unremarkable sight.

The unnamed woman received reconnaissance from the priests and passed it onto their sons. Her task required loyalty, secrecy, and bravery. This was a woman whose word was trusted. (The messages were probably not written down; at that time most messages were oral.) Absalom’s men, however, would not have hesitated to kill her as a spy.

The Brave Woman of Bahurim (2 Samuel 17:18-21)

As it turned out, Absalom did find out that Jonathan and Ahimaaz were acting against him and that they were staying at En Rogel. So the two sons fled to the town of Bahurim (approximately one kilometre south of Jerusalem). Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to the servant girl, but we know that Jonathan and Ahimaaz were aided by another brave woman.

In Bahurim, the two young men entered a house, perhaps a designated “safe house,” and they climbed down a well situated in the central courtyard. The quick-thinking lady-of-the-house covered the mouth of the well cover and then scattered grain over the covering. Absalom’s servants went to the house and asked the lady about Ahimaaz and Jonathan. The woman didn’t deny seeing the two men, but she gave Absalom’s servants false information: “They’ve crossed the stream.” (The woman’s husband is very much in the background in this story.)

It’s unclear whether Absalom’s men believed the woman. 2 Samuel 17:20c may indicate that the men searched the house, or it may indicate that they crossed the stream and went on a fruitless pursuit. Either way, the two sons were not discovered. Ahimaaz and Jonathan made it back to David and forewarned him about Absalom’s imminent attack (2 Sam. 17:21).

Many women in the Bible are portrayed as enterprising, resourceful, and courageous. They were engaged in vital tasks and roles that benefitted God’s people and furthered God’s work. The Bible acknowledges these women. This post is my way of acknowledging the actions of the two brave women in 2 Samuel 17.

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The “Shame” of the Unnamed Women of the Old Testament

12 thoughts on “Two Brave Women in 2 Samuel 17

  1. Now this is fantastic. I had not ever given any notice to the female servant who ran reconnaissance! Never noticed her. And the other woman who covered the well, well, I hadn’t really thought about her. Thanks so much Marg, again, for bringing these fantastic women to our attention.

    This is such an encouraging post. Bravery is an attribute of many women. Courageous women are common, we just don’t necessarily take notice of them, more fool we! But that’s all changing.

    1. Absolutely! Neither courage and cowardice are tied to one gender or the other. 🙂

  2. LOVED this! I’ll have to read it to my boys. They love “spy” stuff. There are some great stories of women doing similar things in modern wars. In American history, there are some fantastic accounts of female spies during the Civil War that were written down during the time period so we have them preserved. http://civilwarsaga.com/women-spies-in-the-civil-war/

    1. Thanks for the link, Dalaina.

      Yes, in modern and ancient wars! But we (the church) still try to keep good women down. 🙁

  3. Always love posts that show the bravery of God’s women…He doesn’t seem to make any other kind ☺

    Thanks again for another perspective that we never hear about from the other side…

  4. Thanks for pointing out these 2 brave women that can easily be missed, I had not noticed them before.

    What do you think about the lie she told in the 2nd story? Do you think she broke the commandment about not bearing false witness? (I do not, since it was not in court.) Do you think she was wrong or sinned? (I do not, since this was during a war and deception is a part of war.)

    1. Hi Donald,
      There are several Bible stories where a person lied to protect someone else (e.g., the Hebrew midwives to protect the Hebrew baby boys) or to protect themselves (e.g., David pretending to be mad). I have no problem at all with these lies. My understanding of “you shall not bear false witness” is that it refers to saying false things about someone to their detriment.

      1. You just cleared up a HUGE thing for me with this statement! In leaving an abusive relationship, I realized I was now suddenly in a war with an adversary. Someone was going to win, and someone was going to lose on many different fronts. I truly believe I have the kids’ best interest at heart. He does not. He would use the kids in order to hurt me at every turn. (Solomon’s decision – one adult cares about child – the other adult only wants to see the 1st adult hurt and doesn’t care what that does to the child in the middle.) So how do I protect myself in order to have the most resources available to care for the children? Do I dare lie? (when he lies all the time) I don’t – LIE – out and out. But I do use all of the “Image Management” skills HE taught me throughout the marriage. (I had to learn these image management skills – lying by omission and commision in order to protect his precious image to those outside the marriage even though none of it was true behind closed doors.) So I use those skills in court. Does this mean I am just as bad as him? No. Do I do that to others? No. I am truthful, up-front, honest through and through. BUT we are called to be WISE AS SERPENTS. That means we have to know how serpents think. We have to anticipate when and how they may strike so we can protect ourselves. If I wasn’t striving to be wise in this area – the children would be seriously negatively affected by the judgements handed down in court. He would say that I am saying false about him to his detriment – but that’s because I am saying TRUTHFUL things that hurt his image. In eternity – these things are GOOD that they are brought to light because it’s the only hope for his repentance. God is truth and in him there is no shadow at all. I do what I must do to protect the innocent. To create an environment where they can live in healthy relationships. Thank you for helping clarify that commandment so much!! (sharing my story for others who may be in similar situations)

        1. p.s. – I don’t lie in court. I am, however, very selective about the evidence and story presented, always looking towards the best outcome for the children. He did have me “lie by commission” during the marriage. I had to – or he would make me pay later. I won’t and don’t perjure myself in court – just clarifying that. But I have wrestled with how much energy I am putting into “image management” – is that a form of lying? or is that just me being wise and careful. Of course – all of it is protecting me, so that I can protect the children. So that’s a great relief.

  5. I included the unnamed servant girl of 2 Sam. 17:17 in my short story collection “Bold Girls of the Bible.” She deserves to be noted. Also consider the daughters of Shallum, who helped rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah 3:12 and the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers 27:1-11. Why haven’t these girls been uncovered and celebrated?

  6. Have you ever written about the Hebrew slave girl in the house of Naaman who pointed out the way to God to him, and by doing this got herself an important line in the holy scriptures?

    1. Sadly, I only have one sentence about her here:
      https://margmowczko.com/25-biblical-roles-for-biblical-women/
      She is number 17.

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