In the “beginnings” of the Bible, in the book of Genesis, we find one of the most recognizable stories of Scripture – the story of Adam and Eve. Regardless of one’s familiarity with the Bible, whether a scholar, a student, a preacher, or simply someone who has little to no interest in Scripture whatsoever, everybody knows this story. The two narratives of creation (noted as Creation story A and Creation story B) are blended together to arrive at a composite of Adam and Eve’s encounter with God. Eve is created from the rib of Adam, seduces Adam into taking a bite from the forbidden fruit, and from this tragic trajectory, the role of women is further framed in patriarchy and “gender entrapment” for the majority of the biblical accounts.
Eve, it seems, sets us up, the feminine creation of God, for a real shakedown – one we cannot seem to escape, as the “weaker sex.” We, as women, carry the burden of the “curse” because of what our sister, Eve, did to her unsuspecting partner, Adam. This is how the story is told, this is how the story is preached, this is how the story is understood, and regrettably, this is how the story is projected on to womanhood.
Only when we decide to deconstruct this scriptural offering, looking carefully into the two Genesis texts, reading both accounts with new eyes, and looking for fresh revelation that has not been offered to us, do we find our way back to the authentic intent of these creation narratives, and also the many women’s narratives of Scripture, which have been misshapen by androcentric viewpoints.
For tonight’s bible study, we will consider three powerful women of Scripture: Eve, Abigail, and Deborah. Our assignment is to deconstruct the Proverbs 31: 10-31 text of the “Capable Wife,” to find the authentic female voice in this particular narrative and to discover the “imago dei” presentation of three of the most underrated figures of the Bible.
GENDER ENTRAPMENT is a term, coined by an African-American professor, Beth Ritchie, that defines the actions of women (particular African-American) who have been socialized and/or coerced into “catching a case” for their male partners involved in illegal, criminal activity. These women, ultimately incarcerated, are seduced into an entrapment circumstance by their desire to fit into the perceived role of “holding it down” for their men, i.e., women who are willing to do whatever it takes to be a suitable and reliable partner regardless of the ultimate results. (Introduction to Womanist Theology, pg. 9)
In contemporary cultural terms, we call these women “ride or die” chicks. For our purposes, we are using this term to explain how “gender entrapment” in Scripture diminishes the power, the voice, and relevancy of the being female in the Bible.
DECONSTRUCTION means to literally “take apart.” This method involves the strenuous re-examination of traditional interpretive methods of Scripture, often using the “hermeneutics of suspicion,” i.e., the lens by which it is understood that many of the biblical texts of Scripture were shaped by the light of misogyny and patriarchy.
IMAGO DEI means (in Latin) “image of God” or created in the image of God.
And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor (primary text)………………………………………………….
Proverbs 31: 10-31 (Read from the NRSV or NIV translation)
The ode to the “Capable Wife” in the book of Proverbs is very familiar to us. We have heard it many times before – especially on Mothers’ Days and the notable Women’s Days at our churches. As we sit in our pews, being “honored” as the mothers and wives that we are, a woman is often chosen to read this text, as we beam proudly and locate ourselves with the “Capable Wife.” Oftentimes reading this text from the vantage point of social location just makes us tired! The domesticity of it all: “getting up before dawn to prepare breakfast for the household, burning her lamp late into the night, busy hands spinning thread and twisting fiber, bringing food from afar,” and even more chores, just makes us weary! At the end of the pericope, the Capable Wife finally gets her due – “Reward her for all she has done, let her deeds publicly declare praise,” but only if she’s still able to stand.
Yet, embedded in the story of the Capable Wife, (a subtitle that clearly casts her role) in verses 25 and 26, is the real crux of the narrative. Here we find a scriptural and empowering feminine construct that is often ignored and misunderstood – Woman Wisdom. SHE (Wisdom) is found throughout the entirety of Proverbs, including the “Capable Wife” presentation. Woman Wisdom is personified as female. In fact, in Hebrew, the word wisdom is a grammatically feminine noun (hokma).
“In Proverbs, Wisdom (personified) is associated with God’s creative and ordering activities. Much more than the reflection of the traditional women’s roles – wife and mother, Woman Wisdom is created from the Lord and poured out on all of God’s works. “(Women in Scripture, pg. 548-551).
As we read Proverbs 8: 22-35, we will understand who Wisdom is. Ultimately, the word “wisdom” (sophia/Sophia in Greek) can refer to an aspect or attribute of the Divine.
Therefore, we see the Proverbs presentation of “the Capable wife” connects primarily to the profile of Wisdom, and only secondarily to the traditional roles of wife and mother. Ultimately, when we seek and find Woman Wisdom, She will NOT be diminished by the limitations of religious minutiae that seek to relegated Her to preparing breakfast and spinning yarn! No, SHE is DIVINE!
In this light, we can re-examine three powerful female figures of Scripture: Eve, Abigail, and Deborah.
As we use the Proverbs 31 text to “talk back” to these women’s stories, (1) how are their legitimate presentations as powerful, courageous, and self-affirmed women diminished with the secondary considerations of mother and wife? (2) how can we deconstruct their stories to find their authentic voices and contributions to the women’s narratives of Scripture and to our lives as contemporary women.
EVE – Deemed the “helpmate” or “helpmeet” to Adam in traditional, scriptural views, these terms are a bastardized and corrupted translation of the Hebrew word which aptly describes Eve as: “ezer kenegdo.” This phrase in Hebrew means “a corresponding strength,” for in Genesis, chapter 1, man and woman are both created in the image of God (imago dei). See Genesis 1:26: Then God said, “Let us make human beings (adam) in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals of the earth, and the small animals of the earth. So God created the human beings (the adam), in his own image. In the image of God, he created them, male and female he created them.
DEBORAH – Deemed the “Mother of Israel” by bible traditionalists. Deborah is so much more. Out of the 12 judges of Israel, Deborah was the only female judge/ruler, and the decisive figure in the defeat of the Canaanites. Prophet, warrior, military strategist, and hero to Israel, “there is no other heroine like Deborah in the Hebrew bible.” (Women in Scripture, pg. 67). See Judges 4-5
ABIGAIL – Deemed as the ideal wife of a “fool” (Nabal), her story presents the efforts of a capable woman who protects her husband’s interests, taking the initiative when he is unwilling or unable to act, and apologizing to David for his inappropriate and rude behavior. Yet, without Abigail’s courageous and timely actions, David would have wiped out her entire household, as he indicates in her story. Abigail’s prophecy (see 1 Samuel 25: 28-30) is often completely ignored, even though she prophesizes the future position of David as king. More importantly, Abigail, while not recognized as such, is a “kinswoman redeemer.” She saves her entire inheritance/household (“nahala”) from destruction.
The issue of scriptural gender entrapment seeks to disempower and devalue the contributions of the feminine narratives of the Bible. Women are cast in a role (i.e., what we do, instead of who we are). The limitations of assigning roles and destiny, in the dimness of patriarchy and misogyny, is not the destiny of God’s daughters. In the divine economy of God, we are as the wonder of God’s creation, and we are much bigger than what we could/can ever imagine for ourselves, or the “box” that others want to construct for us.
As serious students who seek sacred truth and understand the divine nature of Scripture; whereby the inspiration of the Holy Spirit breathes upon ALL of Scripture, including the stories of females and well as males, it is our sacred responsibility to continue to uncover the mythologies of “the weaker sex” by learning more about our sisters in the biblical texts and speaking their truth to all who will listen.
To God be the glory for the magnificence of God’s holy word.
OUR SENDING PRAYER
Like Deborah, we have fought a thousand enemies, and we are still standing because of You.
Like Hannah, we have cried a thousand tears, yet we still have joy because of You.
Like Mary and Martha, we have experienced times of doubt and even fear, yet we have the faith of a mustard seed because of You.
Help us, Oh God, to be as diligent as Tabitha, as relentless as Rizpah, as devoted as Mary Magdalene, and as worshipful as Miriam. We thank you for creating us, as women, in Your Divine Image. We will continue to give You the glory and the praise through our worship and through our service to Your Kingdom.
We claim the victory as Your daughters, through the matchless power of our brother, Jesus. In the magnificence and the might of the Holy Spirit, we thank You and we say together, “Amen.”
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