Its has been a few months since I’ve written one of these posts, and so this continuation is long past overdue. I’ve selected two passages from the Old Testament today, as part of a compare/contrast method. Some recent discussions I’ve had about female moral agency and the role of wives led me to choose these two passages, for each showcases a particular kind of woman. To be specific, we have an example of a righteous woman and an unrighteous woman. We start with the righteous woman (although she came later in time):
8 One day Eli′sha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. 9 And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, who is continually passing our way. 10 Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”
11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. 12 And he said to Geha′zi his servant, “Call this Shu′nammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, “Say now to her, See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” 14 And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Geha′zi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” 15 He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16 And he said, “At this season, when the time comes round, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your maidservant.” 17 But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Eli′sha had said to her.
18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 And when he had lifted him, and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. 21 And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out. 22 Then she called to her husband, and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the asses, that I may quickly go to the man of God, and come back again.” 23 And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” She said, “It will be well.” 24 Then she saddled the ass, and she said to her servant, “Urge the beast on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out, and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
(2 Kings 4:8-25)
Next we move to a very unrighteous woman indeed:
Now Naboth the Jezre′elite had a vineyard in Jezre′el, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samar′ia. 2 And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” 3 But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” 4 And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezre′elite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food.
5 But Jez′ebel his wife came to him, and said to him, “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?” 6 And he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezre′elite, and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it please you, I will give you another vineyard for it’; and he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” 7 And Jez′ebel his wife said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise, and eat bread, and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezre′elite.”
8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who dwelt with Naboth in his city. 9 And she wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people; 10 and set two[a] base fellows opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.” 11 And the men of his city, the elders and the nobles who dwelt in his city, did as Jez′ebel had sent word to them. As it was written in the letters which she had sent to them, 12 they proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people. 13 And the two base fellows came in and sat opposite him; and the base fellows brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death with stones. 14 Then they sent to Jez′ebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”
15 As soon as Jez′ebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jez′ebel said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezre′elite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” 16 And as soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezre′elite, to take possession of it.
(1 Kings 21: 1-16)
There are many things to note in these two passages. The first and most obvious is of course their behavior: the Shunammite woman is righteous and Jezebel is clearly not.
But also look at the role of the men in the passage. The Shunammite woman’s husband persuaded her husband into whatever course of action was taken. She persuaded him to set aside a room for the prophet, and for her to seek him out after their son’s untimely death. Compare that to Ahad- he is passive and basically lets Jezebel do all the hard (and depraved work). Then he moves in afterwards to benefit from her misdeeds.
One wife offers counsel and advice, the other essentially takes headship away from her husband. Not an accident, that. I think every married Christian should ask themselves which role they would play in this story. There is a lot to be learned from that kind of self-reflection.