I grew up feeling valued by the church, but valued differently. I was under the impression that my job as a woman was to help with the work men were doing for the kingdom. While helping others in their ministries is incredibly important and no one needs to feel like they’re bringing less value if that’s a role that fits them well, I have learned that women are not the only helpers in the kingdom, and men are not the only leaders; Jesus simply calls His followers. And those followers have always been both men and women, in various capacities.
The past few years, I have absolutely loved reading the Bible and finding women who were bold in who they were, walking with strength and courage through the Holy Spirit. They convince me further and further how important women are to Jesus, and how He loves to see them glorify Him in innumerable ways.
Today, on International Women’s Day, I thought it would be fun to make a CliffsNotes-esque list of some of my favorite women in the Bible. These women and their stories are definitely inspiring and empowering for other women to read, but I want to make it clear that this isn’t a list I put together exclusively for women. It’s also important for men to be able to draw inspiration from stories about women. Everyone growing up in Sunday school, male or female, learned from stories about David, Moses, Daniel, and Paul; everyone can learn from stories about Deborah, Esther, Ruth, and Mary, too. When all are represented, all are accessible. I love that the Bible displays that truth.
Without further ado, here is the first half of some of my favorite stand-out women from the Bible:
Abigail– She was married to Nabal, a rich but selfish and thoughtless man who denied David’s request to allow him and his men to participate in a feast day while they were passing through Nabal’s land as they fled from King Saul. David was preparing to bring retribution, but when Abigail heard about what happened, she and her servants took abundant provisions to David and implored him to be a more noble man than her husband. Not only did she convince him to stand down, but when Nabal learned about it and died from shock, Abigail married David and later became a queen. I love how she wasn’t willing to make excuses for her husband; instead, she used the authority and respect she obviously had among their servants (who knew to go to her with the problem) to fix what he’d done. [1 Samuel 25, 27, 30; 2 Samuel 2:2]
Achsa– She was given to a man as his wife, but before going to live with him, she told her father to give her two springs along with the land he’d already given her. She was willing to vocalize what she wanted. [Joshua 15:16-19, Judges 1:11-15]
Anna– She was a widowed prophet who never left the temple, continuously worshipping and fasting. She met Jesus when He was a young boy and rejoiced over Him, knowing He was the fulfillment of what she had been waiting and praying for, and she proceeded to tell others who carried the same hope that their rescuer had come. Her hope was longstanding, and did not disappoint. [Luke 2:36-38]
Bathsheba– I know some might be weirded out to see her on this list, but honestly: if the king summoned you to his palace, would it cross your mind to refuse him? And if the king was as respected as David, would you suspect that he simply wanted to sleep with you? I don’t think she was to blame for what happened, and the Bible is pretty clear that both David and the Lord saw it that way, too. She mourned when she learned her husband was dead (David’s attempt to cover the affair up); she cared. After many years of being married to David, when he was an old man and one of his haughty sons had taken the throne without his knowledge, she (under the wisdom of the prophet Nathan, whom she seemed to have a good relationship with) approached David and reminded him of his promise to make their son Solomon king. And Solomon became the wisest king Israel ever had, which might be partly due to how she raised him. Bathsheba endured a lot of undeserved pain in her lifetime, but she didn’t live as a victim of those things. She is even mentioned in the genealogies of Jesus, to honor her. [2 Samuel 11, 1 Kings 1-2, Matthew 1]
Daughters of Zelophehad (Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah)– These five women were the only descendants of a man of the tribe of Manasseh; he had no sons and recently passed away, leaving his inheritance and his name to be forgotten. But they stood in front of the entire community– Moses, Eleazar the priest, tribe leaders, everyone– and petitioned for the right to be their father’s heirs. Moses brought their request to the Lord, and the Lord responded with a clear “yes.” They not only stood up to receive what was theirs, but they were the first to operate under the new law that allowed this to happen for other women in their situation. [Numbers 26:33, 27:1-11, 36:11, Joshua 17:3-6]
Deborah– She was a prophet and the only female judge (military leader) in Israel’s judge era. She, by word of the Lord, summoned the warrior Barak into battle, but he would not enter into battle unless she went with him; they had victory and the land was peaceful for forty years. The reverence and respect the people had for her is obvious. I also like that the fact she was married is mentioned, but isn’t a part of her identity or the value she brought; she had an additional calling apart from her marriage. [Judges 4-5]
Dorcas (or Tabitha)– Not a lot is said about her. But when the few words recorded about someone are that “she was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor,” that earns immediate admiration. People loved her so much that when she died and they found out Peter was in town, they begged him to help, and she was brought back to life. [Acts 9:36-41]
Elizabeth– She was the mother of John the Baptist, miraculously conceiving him in her old age, and that’s obviously cool. And when it came time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she didn’t lose her kindness, yet she was unwavering in the face of opposition to giving him the name the Lord declared he should have. But my favorite story we know about her is when she encouraged her cousin Mary about being pregnant with Jesus. Mary was young, unmarried, and, although willing, probably had a lot of fear about what was going to happen. But Elizabeth felt her baby leap at the presence of Mary’s baby, and, full of the Holy Spirit, spoke blessings over her and affirmed her. I also think it says a lot that Mary lived with Elizabeth for three months while pregnant with Jesus; it must have felt like a safe place. [Luke 1]
Esther (or Hadassah)– There is so much I could say about her; she’s one of the few women to have a book of the Bible named after her, and many of us know her story: how she was an orphan chosen among the captive Jews by the Persian king to be his new queen, discovered a plot to eradicate her people, and risked her own life to appear unannounced (i.e., unlawfully) before the king while he was with the man with the plot and plead for their lives– successfully. These events are still celebrated every Purim. Esther was a shining example of blooming where you’re planted, and of discerning when to be submissive and when to speak up. [Esther]
Eunice and Lois– These two are barely mentioned, but what we do know about them is beyond praiseworthy: they are Timothy’s mother and grandmother, who raised him with scripture, strengthening his faith as he grew up under an unbelieving father. They stepped up and refused to be passive about caring for Timothy in all ways. I can relate to Timothy in this so Eunice and Lois are obvious powerhouses to me. [2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15; Acts 16:1]
Hagar– She was Sarah’s servant, eventually given to Abraham because they hoped she could conceive a child for them. She did become pregnant, but being treated so poorly led her to run away into the wilderness– and God met her there beside a spring, encouraged her, and spoke promises over her. From then on she called Him “the God who sees me.” Later, after Hagar had returned but a few years later was sent away out of jealousy, she despaired once again in the wilderness, thinking her son was going to die, and the Lord once again met her there and promised to take care of her. They lived, and eventually she even arranged a marriage for her son; he became the father of the Ishmaelites. She just feels very tangible to me; she reminds me that even when I’m alone, I’m seen and cared for. [Genesis 16, 21]
Hannah– She was childless and achingly longed to be a mother, so she devoutly begged the Lord for a son, promising he would be dedicated to Him all his life. The priest Eli saw her praying and, thinking she was drunk, he rebuked her, but she graciously defended herself, and in response Eli blessed her prayer. She became hopeful, and soon she bore her son Samuel, who would become a favored and honored prophet and leader for decades upon decades; she kept her promise and he assisted Eli from boyhood. Her song of praise is wonderful, and her earnest, humble zeal for the Lord is, too. [1 Samuel 1-2]
Jael– When the commander of a Canaanite army fled to her tent because her husband was in good standing with the king, Jael welcomed him– then waited until he fell asleep, when she drove a tent peg through his skull and killed him. She handed him off to Israel, fulfilling Deborah’s words to Barak that the honor of the victory would go to a woman. This story is a bit strange and gruesome, but it’s interesting to see that she was willing to do what a lot of warriors had not done. Later a song calls her “most blessed among women.” [Judges 4:17-24, 5:24-27]
Jehosheba– The royal family was being massacred, but Jehosheba, sister of the recently deceased king and wife of the priest, took and hid away her brother’s baby and his nurse in the temple while the new wicked queen ruled. Six years later there was a revolt, and that baby, now seven-year-old Joash, became the youngest king to rule in Judah. He was a godly king and eventually restored the Temple. I love that Jehosheba was connected to people in power but knew her own power, and that it didn’t have to be over others but rather used for others. [2 Kings 11:1-3 , 2 Chronicles 22:10-12]
Joanna, Mary, Mary, Susanna, and Salome– These women are some of the named female disciples of Jesus. Many of them had been healed by Him, and some of them (such as Joanna) were married to men of influence and supported Jesus financially. They were also the first to go to Jesus’ tomb, intending to honor His body and instead finding it empty and meeting an angel who declared He was alive. They told everyone, including the eleven remaining disciples, what they’d seen. Not only did Jesus have female disciples, but He also had them be the first to deliver the news of His resurrection. Jesus honors and shares His glory with women. [Luke 8:1-3 , 24:1-12]
Jochebed– The Israelites were living in Egypt under a tyrannical ruler who feared their growing population and had begun a massacre of Hebrew baby boys, but Jochebed hid her baby, Moses. And when she could no longer hide him, she strategically placed him in a basket near where the princess would bathe along the river. The princess saw the baby, had compassion on him, and took him in, but she needed someone to nurse him. That was when Jochebed’s daughter approached the princess from the brush and offered to find a Hebrew woman to nurse him– and, of course, brought back his mother. Not only was Jochebed able to care for her son, but she preserved his life, and put him in a powerful position once he was weaned and the princess adopted him. [Exodus 2, Numbers 26:59]
Leah– She was Jacob’s first wife, given to him instead of her sister, whom he loved and worked an additional seven years to marry. But the Lord saw Leah in her situation, and blessed her with six sons. At first, Leah’s reaction to having children was, “Now Jacob will love me!” But Jacob’s affections didn’t change. Eventually Leah’s mindset changed, and when she had her fourth son, her reaction was: “Now I will praise the Lord!” And after having her last son, she viewed it as God’s reward and said that her husband would respect her; not necessarily love, but respect. We often tell her story in an attitude of “poor Leah,” and that’s definitely valid; her story is full of struggling against her favored sister for affection. But her story also contains her learning that she was valued beyond how people treated her, because the Lord loved her. [Genesis 29-31]
The second half of this list will be up soon! In the meantime, I’d love to hear about some of your favorite biblical women. Who stands out to you and why?