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THE WOMEN OF ISRAEL

by

Grace Aguilar

About the book

About the author

The longer paragraphs have been split for ease of reading and some very long sentences broken apart for the same reason.  All the headings have been inserted by us, as has all the coloured emphasis.  The italics are in the original and the Bible references are quoted in full with Roman numerals changed to Arabic.

 

Direct to Eve

 There may be slight differences in the Bible texts because the author is using a Hebrew Bible.


 

Author's

Introduction

 

There is no complete book of Hebrew women

AMONG the many valuable works relative to woman’s capabilities, influence, and missions, which in the present age are so continually appearing, one still seems wanting.

The field has, indeed, been entered: detached [separate] notices of the women of Israel, the female biography of Scripture, have often formed interesting portions of those works where woman is the subject; but all the fruit has not been gathered: much yet remains, which, thrown together, would form a history as instructive as interesting, as full of warning as example, and tending to lead our female youth to the sacred volume, not only as their guide to duty, their support in toil, their comfort in affliction, but as a true and perfect mirror of themselves.

The Old Testament is a great book

To desert the Bible for its commentators [the writer is referring to the Old Testament]; never to peruse its pages without notes of explanation; to regard it as a work which of itself is incomprehensible [not capable of being understood], is, indeed, a practice as hurtful as injudicious [foolish].

Sent as a message of love to our own souls, as written and addressed, not to nations alone, but as the voice of God to individuals – whispering to each of us that which we most need; thus it is we should first regard and venerate [respect] it [the Old Testament].

This accomplished, [other] works tending to elucidate [make plain] its glorious and consoling truths,

to make manifest its simple lessons of character as well as precept [wise teaching];

to bring yet closer to the youthful and aspiring heart, the poetry, the beauty, the eloquence [expressiveness], the appealing tenderness of its sacred pages,

may prove of essential service.

In this hope, to bring clearly before the women of Israel all that they owe to the word of God, all that it may still be to them, the present task is undertaken.

We are far from asserting that this has not been attempted, and, for the larger portion of the sex, accomplished before. Religion is the foundation and mainspring of every work which has been written for the use and improvement of woman. Female biographers of Scripture have, we believe, often appeared; though the characters of the Old Testament are so briefly and imperfectly sketched, compared to those of the New, that but little pleasure or improvement could be derived from their perusal. Yet still, with the writings of Sandford, Ellis, and Hamilton before us, each exhibiting its authoress so earnest, so eloquent in her cause, with ‘woman’s mission’ marked so simply, yet so forcibly, in the little volume of that name, has not woman of every race, and every creed, all sufficient to teach her her duty and herself?

We would say she had:

yet for the women of Israel something still more is needed.

 A Jewish book is needed

The authors above mentioned are Christians themselves, and write for the Christian world. Education and nationality compel them to believe that ‘Christianity is the sole source of female excellence’ – that to Christianity alone they owe their present station in the world, their influence, their equality with man, their spiritual provision in this life, and hopes of immortality in the next – nay, more, that the value and dignity of woman’s character would never have been recognised but for the religion of Jesus; that pure, loving, self-denying doctrines were unknown to woman: she knew not even her relation to the Eternal; dared not look upon Him as her Father, Consoler, and Saviour till the advent of Christianity.

We grant that the Gentiles [non-Jews] knew it not, till the Bible became more generally read, till the Eternal, in His infinite mercy, permitted a partial knowledge of Himself to spread over the world – alike to prepare the Gentile for that day when we shall all know Him as He is, and to render the trial of His people’s faith and constancy yet more terribly severe. We feel neither anger nor uncharitableness towards those who would thus deny to Israel those very privileges which were ours ages before they became theirs, and which, in fact, have descended from us to them.

Yet we cannot pass such assertion unanswered, lest from the very worth and popularity of those works in which it is promulgated [published] the young and thoughtless daughters of Israel may believe it really has foundation, and look no further than the page she reads.

Some believe that Jewish women were
second class citizens by God’s command

How or whence [from where] originated the charge that the law of Moses sunk the Hebrew female to the lowest state of degradation, placed her on a level with slaves or heathens, and denied her all mental and spiritual enjoyment, we know not: yet certain it is that this most extraordinary and unfounded idea obtains credence [is believed] even in this enlightened age.

The word of God at once proves its falsity; for it is impossible to read the Mosaic law [the first five books of the Old Testament] without the true and touching conviction that the female Hebrew was even more an object of the tender and soothing care of the Eternal than the male. The thanksgiving in the Israelitish morning prayer, on which so much stress is laid, as a proof how little woman is regarded, is but a false and foolish reasoning on the subject; almost, in truth, too trivial for regard.

The very first consequence of woman’s sin was to render her, in physical and mental strength, inferior to man; to expose her to suffering more continued and more acute; to prevent her obtaining those honours and emoluments [rewards] of which man thinks so much; to restrain her path to a more lowly and domestic, though not a less hallowed sphere, and, all this considered, neither scorn towards the sex, nor too much haughtiness for themselves, actuate [motivate] the thanksgiving which by our opponents is brought forward against us. It was but one of those blessings in which the pious Israelite thanks God for all things, demanding neither notice nor reproof.

To the Gentile [non-Jew] assertion, that the Talmud [a religious commentary] has originated the above-mentioned blessing, and commanded or inculcated [indoctrinated] the moral and mental degradation of women, we reply, that even if it did so, which we do not believe it does, its commands are wholly disregarded, and its abolishment is not needed to raise the Hebrew female to that station assigned her in the word of God, and which through many centuries she has been permitted, without reproof or question, to enjoy.

The Eternal’s provision for her temporal and spiritual happiness is proved in His unalterable word; and therefore no Hebrew can believe that He would issue another law for her degradation and abasement.

The idea began in the dark ages

If, indeed, there are such laws, they must have been compiled at a time when persecution had so brutalized and lowered the intellect of man, that he partook the savage barbarity of the nations around him, and of the age in which he lived; when the law of his God had, as a natural consequence, become obscured, and the Hebrew female shared the same rude and savage treatment which was the lot of all the lower classes of women in the feudal ages [basically 500 - 1500 AD].

The protection, the glory, the civilizing influence of chivalry extended, in its first establishment, only to the baronial classes [the so-called elite].

We see no proofs of the humanizing and elevating influence of Christianity, either on man or woman, till the reformation opened the Bible, the whole Bible, to the nations at large, when civilization gradually followed [1517 onwards under the Protestants].

If, then, the situation of even Christian women was so uncertain, and but too often so degraded, for nearly fourteen centuries after the advent of Jesus, who His followers declare was the first to teach them their real position, was it very remarkable that the vilified [maligned] and persecuted Hebrew should in a degree have forgotten his nationality, his immortal and glorious heritage, and shared in the barbarity around him? Granting, for the moment, that such was the case (but we by no means believe it was), if the degradation, mentally and morally, of the Hebrew female ever did become part of the Jewish law, it was when man was equally degraded, and the blessed word of God hid from him.

Jews are still hated by many

The situation of many of the Hebrews at the present day proves this. In but too many parts of the world the Israelites are still the subject of scorn, hatred, and persecution; and their condition is, in consequence, the lowest and most awfully degraded in the scale of man. [This was written long before the present state of Israel came into existence in 1948.] But it is not to women that degradation and slavery are confined, as, were it a portion of the law of Moses, would inevitably be the case. It is the consequence of cruelty, of abasement in social treatment; yet even here, where mind, principle, honour, all seem overthrown from such brutalizing influence, the affections retain their power. Whatever of spiritual hope, of human privileges, the word of God bestows on man, and to which the mind, darkened and despairing from the horrors of persecution, may yet be open, are shared by the Hebrew wife, and imparted by the Hebrew mother.

Not a Biblical teaching

Were it a portion of the law of Moses to enslave and degrade us, how is it that we do not see this law adhered to and obeyed as well as others claiming the same divine origin?

Neither Christianity nor civilization would alter or improve our condition, were it indeed such as it has been represented. The Hebrew ever loves, protects, and reverences his female relative; and if, indeed, he do not – if he deny her all share in immortality, and, in consequence, thinks she has no need of religion now, nor hope hereafter – it is because the remnants of barbarism, ignorance, and superstition remain, to have blinded both his spiritual and mental eye; yet whatever he may be accused of believing, his acts deny the belief.

Why is he so anxious that his wife and daughters should adhere to every law, attend to every precept, which he believes to be the law of God? If they have no soul, no portion in the world to come, it surely cannot signify [cannot matter] how they act, or what they believe in this! Why are they blotted from the minds and hearts of their relatives, if, as it may sometimes happen, they intermarry with the stranger [the non-Jew]? If they have no spiritual responsibility, no claim, no part in the law of God, why should they be blamed, and shunned, if they desert it for another?

But it is idle to follow the argument further. The charge is altogether false, or based on such contradictory and groundless report, as to render it of little consequence, save as it affects us in the eyes of those who uphold that, till Christianity was promulgated [taught], woman knew not her own station, either towards God or man.

We must prove it

Simply to deny this assertion, to affirm that instead of degrading and enslaving, the Jewish law exalted, protected and provided for woman, teaching her to look up to God, not as a severe Master and awful Judge, but as her Father, her Defender, her Deliverer when oppressed, her Witness in times of false accusation, her Consoler and Protector when fatherless, widowed – ay, as the tender and loving Sovereign, who spared the young bride the anguish of separation from her beloved – merely to affirm that, with such laws, woman was equally a subject of divine love as she is now, would not avail us much.

The women of Israel must themselves arise and prove the truth of what we urge - by their own conduct, their own belief, their own ever-acting and ever-influencing religion, prove without doubt or question that we need not Christianity to teach us our mission – prove that our duties, our privileges, were assigned us from the very beginning of the world, confirmed by that law to which we still adhere, and will adhere for ever, and manifested by the whole history of the Bible.

Times are changing

A new era is dawning for us. Persecution and intolerance have in so many lands ceased to predominate, that Israel may once more breathe in freedom; the law [of Moses] need no longer be preached in darkness, and obeyed in secret; the voice of man need no longer be the vehicle of instruction from father to son, unconsciously mingling with it human opinions, till those opinions could scarcely be severed from the word of God, and by degrees so dimmed its lustre as to render its comprehension an obscure and painful task.

This need no longer be. The Bible may be perused in freedom;

the law may be publicly explained and preached to all who will attend.

A spirit of inquiry, of patriotism, of earnestness in seeking to know the Lord, and obey Him according to His word, is springing up in lieu of [in place of] the stagnating darkness, the appalling indifference, which had reigned so long. Persecution never decreased our numbers. As the bush, which burned without consuming, so was Israel in those blood-red ages of intolerance and butchery. In the very heart of the most catholic kingdom – amongst her senate, her warriors, her artisans [workmen] – ay, even her monks and clergy – Judaism lurked unconsumed by the fires ever burning around. The spirit was ever awake and active, ready to endure martyrdom, but not to forswear that God whose witnesses they were.

Persecution was a crisis in our history; prosperity the reaction;

and from that reaction the natural consequences was the gradual rise, growth, and influence of indifference.

God loves women

Indifference, however, has but its appointed time; and Israel is springing up once more the stronger, nobler, more spiritually enlightened, from its long and waveless sleep. Free to assert their right as immortal children of the living God, let not the women of Israel be backward in proving they, too, have a Rock of Strength, a Refuge of Love; that they, too, have a station to uphold, and a ‘mission’ to perform, not alone as daughters, wives, and mothers, but as witnesses of that faith which first raised, cherished, and defended them – witnesses of that God who has called them His, and who has so repeatedly sanctified the emotions peculiar to their sex by graciously comparing the love He bears us as yet deeper than a mother’s for her child, a wife’s for her husband, having compassion on His people as on ‘a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit.’ [Isaiah 54:6]

‘Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her travail?  Yea, she may forget, yet will I not forget thee.’ [Isaiah 49:15]

‘As a mother comforteth her children, so will I comfort thee.’ [Isaiah 66:13]

Were not these relations holy and sanctified in the sight of the Lord, would He use them as figurative of His long-suffering love? Many terms, similar to those above quoted, prove without a shadow of doubt the tender compassion with which He regarded woman long before He used such terms to figure His compassionating love towards Israel, when sinfulness called forth His long-averted wrath.

Let us, then, endeavour to convince the nations of the high privileges we enjoy, in common with our fathers, brothers, and husbands, as the firstborn of the Lord, by the peculiar sanctity, spirituality, and inexpressible consolation of our belief. Let us not, as women of Israel, be content with the mere performance of domestic, social, and individual duties, but vivify [enliven] and lighten them by the rays of eternal love and immortal hope, which beam upon us from the pages of the Bible.

A religion of love

A religion of love is indeed necessary to woman, yet more so than to man. Even in her happiest lot there must be a void in her heart, which ever-acting piety alone can fill; and to her whose portion is to suffer, whose lot is lonely, O what misery must be hers!  Unless she can lean upon her God, and draw from His word the blessed conviction that His love, His tenderness, are hers, far beyond the feeble conception of earth and that whatever she may endure, however unknown to or scorned by man, it is known to Him who smites but in love, and has mercy even while He smites.

To realize this blessed conviction, the Bible must become indeed the book of life to the female descendants of that nation whose earliest history it so vividly records; and be regarded, not as a merely political or religious history, but as the voice of God speaking to each individual, giving strength to the weak, encouragement to the desponding, endurance to the patient, justice to the wronged, and consolation unspeakable as unmeasurable to the afflicted and the mourner.

Do we need love?

We shall find innumerable verses telling us that the Lord Himself proclaimed His attribute as ‘merciful and gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and sin’ [Exodus 34:6-7]; that ‘as far as the heaven is above the earth so great is His mercy, extending from everlasting to everlasting.’ [Psalm 103:11].

We have but to read those appeals of the Eternal to Israel, alike in Jeremiah and Isaiah, and many of the minor prophets – and if our hearts be not stone, they must melt before such compassionating love, such appealing tenderness, and feel we cannot be lonely, cannot be unloved, while such deep changeless love is ours.

Do we need sympathy?

Shall we not find it in words similar to these, ‘In all their afflictions He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them. In His love and in His pity He redeemed them, and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old.’ [Isaiah 63:9].

Do we need patience and strength?

Shall we not exercise it, when we have the precious promise, ‘Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart?’ [Psalm 27:14]. Shall we droop and grieve beneath the wrongs and false judgments of short-sighted man, when we are told the ways of God are not those of man – that He knoweth our frame, and readeth our thoughts – that not a bodily or mental pang is ours which He does not know and compassionate [lovingly understand] – ay, and in His own good time will heal!

To sum up

To throw together all those verses which confirm and prove the loving-tenderness borne towards us by the Eternal, would be an endless and a useless task. We can but point to that ever-flowing fount of healing waters, and assure those who have once really tasted, and will persevere in the heavenly draught, that it will never fail them, never change its properties, but each year sink deeper and deeper into their souls, till at length it becomes indeed all they need; and they themselves will cling to it, despite of occasional doubt and darkness, inseparable from our souls while denizens of earth.

A help for young ones in the faith

Nor is it only the verses containing such gracious promises, which will yield us comfort and assistance. We may glean the glad tidings of Eternal Love from the biographies and narratives with which the sacred book abounds – there may be some meek and lowly spirits amongst the female youth of Israel, who would gladly clasp the strength and guidance which we proffer them from the Bible, could they believe that God, the great, the almighty, the tremendous and awful Being (as which they have perhaps been accustomed to regard Him) can have love and pity for themselves, or give comfort and aid to trials, which appear even too trivial to ask or to excite the sympathy of man.

We would lead them to look earnestly and believingly into the history of every woman in the Bible, and trace there the influence of God’s holy and compassionating love. We are not indeed placed as the women of Israel before their dispersion [after Calvary], or as the wives of the patriarchs before the law was given; yet their God is our God. It was not to a race so perfect, so gifted, so hallowed, as to be free from all the present faults and failings of the sex that the Lord vouchsafed His love. No, it was to woman, even as she is now.

The women of the Bible are but mirrors of ourselves. And if the Eternal, in His infinite mercy, extended love, compassion, forbearance, and forgiveness unto them, we may believe He extends them equally unto us, and draw comfort and encouragement and faith from the biographies we read.

This book covers all the women of the Old testament

In a work entitled ‘The Women of Israel,’ some apology, perhaps, is necessary for commencing with the wives of the Patriarchs, who may not lay claim to such holy appellation [title]. Yet, as the chosen and beloved partners of those favoured of God, from whom Israel traces his descent, and for the sake of whose faith and righteousness we were selected and chosen as a peculiar people, and the law given to be our guide through earth to heaven, we cannot consider our history complete without them; more particularly as their lives are so intimately blended with their husbands’; and that in them, even yet more vividly than at a later period, we may trace the Lord’s dealings with His female children, and derive from them alike warning and support.

Eve, indeed, may not have such national claim; but if we believe that her history, as every other part of Genesis, was penned by the same inspired law-giver – that Moses recorded only that which had been – we shall find much indeed to repay us for lingering awhile on her character and life.

The word is true

To the scepticism, the cavils [criticisms], the doubts, and (but too often unhappily) the direct unbelief in the Mosaic account of the first disobedience of man, we give no heed whatever. We must either believe in the Pentateuch [the first five books of the Old Testament] or deny it. There can be no intermediate path. The whole must be true or none. It is not because much may appear obscure, or even contradictory in the sacred narrative, that we are to pronounce it false, or mystify and poetize it as an allegory.

We are simply to believe, and endeavour to act on that belief. So much is there ever passing around us that we cannot solve; our thoughts, in their farthest flight, are so soon checked, can penetrate so little into the wonders of man and nature, that it appears extraordinary how man can doubt and deny, because he cannot understand.

In this case, however – the history of Eve – truth is so simple and clear, that we know not how it can supply such an endless fund of argument and doubt. To remove this groundless disbelief, to endeavour to render the narrative clear and simple to the female youth of Israel, and, even through Eve’s sad yet consoling history, to prove to them the deep love borne towards us from the very first of our creation by our gracious God, must be our apology, if apology be needed, for commencing a work entitled ‘The Women of Israel,’ with our general mother.

Let’s begin at the beginning

Beginning, then, from the very beginning, some degree of order is requisite [needed] in the arrangement of our subject. Our aim being to evince [show] to the nations and to our own hearts, the privileges, alike temporal and eternal, which were ours from the very commencement [of the world] – to prove that we have no need of Christianity, or the examples of the females in the Gospel, to raise us to an equality with man – to demonstrate our duties, and secure us consolation here, or salvation hereafter – the Word of God must be alike our ground-work and our guide.

From the past history which that unerring guide presents, our present duties and responsibilities, and our future destiny will alike be revealed.

In a simple biography each life is a sufficient division; but, with the exception of the wives of the Patriarchs and one or two more, we have scarcely sufficient notice of individuals to illustrate our design by regarding them separately. There appear, therefore, seven periods in the history of the women of Israel, which demand our attention.

First Period – the Wives of the Patriarchs, including Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel.

Second Period – the Exodus, and the law considered as affecting the condition, and establishing the privileges of women.

Third Period –Women of Israel between the establishment of the Law and the authority of the Kings, comprising sketches of Miriam, Deborah, the wife of Manoah, Naomi, and Hannah.

Fourth Period – Women of Israel during the continuation of the Kingdom, comprising, amongst other sketches, Michal, Abigail, the Shunammite, and Huldah.

Fifth Period – Babylonish Captivity, including the life of Esther.

Sixth Period – the [Maccabean] War and Dispersion [roughly 425BC to 70AD], and their effects on the Condition and Privileges of Women in Israel.

Seventh Period – Women of Israel in the Present time, as influenced by the history of the Past.

For five of these periods, then, we perceive the Word of God can be our only guide, and this at once marks our history as sacred, not profane. If, therefore, there should be parts which resemble more a religious essay than female biography, we reply, that to inculcate [indoctrinate] religion, the vital spirit of religion, is the sole intention of these pages.

We wish to infuse the spirit of truth and patriotism, of nationality, and yet of universal love, into the hearts of the young daughters of Israel; and we know of no means more likely, under the Divine blessing, to accomplish this, than to bring before them, as vividly and engagingly as we can, the never-ending love, the compassionating tenderness, the unchanging sympathy, alike in our joys and in our sorrows, manifested by the Eternal so touchingly and simply in the history of our female ancestors – to lead them to know Him and love Him, not only through the repeated promises, but through the narratives of His Word, and to glory in those high privileges which, as children, retainers and promulgators [teachers] of His holy law, are ours, over and above every other nation, past or present, in the history of the world!

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