Someone in our Bible study class had suggested that we do a series on women in the Bible, and I volunteered to lead the topic. Members take turns teaching the Sunday morning class, with a different topic and teacher every month or two. I love the way that a lively conversation or question will spark an idea for a future class, and the way ideas are developed and explored over time.
So, now I’m having fun researching women in the Bible and planning the series. Anyone who leads a Bible study like this will bring her own life experience to the task. Because I am single (divorced), middle aged, and an empty-nester, I can identify with the vulnerability of many women’s stories in the Bible. Many of the most famous women in the Bible struggled with childlessness, widowhood or singleness, and with their role in the household or community. But I don’t want to stop there. As a single woman it is especially important for me to be engaged in the world, living by the command to be salt and light, creative, strongly connected to my city, neighborhood and world.
I found Sheerah while looking for information about Joseph’s wife, Asenath. Asenath, who was Egyptian, would have been one of the earliest links in biblical genealogies to an African heritage, a topic that has generated interest in our Sunday morning discussions. Asenath might be one of the “women we’d like to know more about.”
Sheerah was a granddaughter or great-granddaughter of Joseph and Asenath, mentioned in a list of descendants of Ephraim:
“His daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah.” (I Chronicles 7:24 NIV).
That’s all it says. These cities are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, but there is nothing more about Sheerah. I searched online for information, and there doesn’t seem to be any more solid information. But I see that Sheerah has captured many people’s imaginations, causing many to write and think and wonder about her story.
I plan to use Sheerah as a centerpiece of the Bible study, as an example of a woman in a position of strength, in a creative nontraditional role. But I don’t want to just do a scavenger hunt for strong women in the Bible, and I don’t want to value strength over vulnerability or non-traditional roles over traditional. Like women of the Bible, all of us, men and women, have life stories that include times of vulnerability; but also strength and evidence of the wonderful things God can do through our lives.
The Creative Roles of Women
Because Sheerah was a builder, I want to focus on women’s creative roles in building the kingdom of God. Creativity is neither traditionally male nor traditionally female, but a characteristic of what it means to be human, made in the image of our Creator. So I am gathering examples of women who were builders and creators.
Women sewing, weaving, cooking, farming, making things. Women creatively knitting together ideas. Women as mothers and grandmothers, creating family lines that contribute to building the kingdom of God. Women connecting groups of people across nationalities, geography, class and situation. Any type of creative action that builds up the kingdom of God.
There was Hannah, who, with her timeless prayer-song about God’s love for people who are childless, poor, lonely, or left out, helped to build our understanding of God. When she connected a personal event – the birth of a long-awaited child — to a larger story of God’s love and justice, she extended the understanding of faith from personal to a wider community.
There were women who acted as glue to bind diverse people together. Women from neighboring countries became foundations of Israel’s history: Asenath, Rahab, Ruth and others. There was the Queen of Sheba, who traveled to Jerusalem to converse with Solomon, bringing insights about wisdom, religion and faith back to her country.
There were women who were artisans while the Israelites were in the desert: making blue, purple and scarlet yarns and linens. There was the ideal woman in Proverbs 31: creative, industrious, independent-minded.
There were the sisters Martha and Mary, who, with their brother Lazarus, offered hospitality, good conversation and reflection for Jesus and the disciples.
There was a group of women, Mary and others, who were in Jerusalem with Jesus at his crucifixion and were witnesses to the resurrection. These women were part of the group of disciples that met and prayed after Jesus’s death and resurrection, and were part of the group present on Pentecost, when the Spirit fell upon the group, unleashing the power to start building the early New Testament era church.
As the church grew, there were many other women, such as Phoebe, Nymphas and others, who were church leaders and deacons, who hosted churches in their homes, and who were part of the growing movement to build the early church. There was Lydia, a businesswoman who sold textiles, who helped to organize women’s prayer meetings by a river, and who offered hospitality and a safe haven to Paul, Silas and others.
What stories would you include in a Bible study series about women in the Bible? Are there women in the Bible whose stories resonate with your experience of work, career, home, marriage, singleness, parenting, childlessness, adoption, and extended families? Do you have favorite stories that honor the roles of women – traditional, non-traditional – in the history of God’s people?
Jennifer Leonard blogs at Biscuits With Jam. Favorite themes include the Bible and storytelling, creativity, creation, nature, environment, singleness and community connectedness. She is a single mother and now empty-nester, business owner, and active with her neighborhood, community gardening, faith-based youth programs and other community projects. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Her personal website is Random Basket and her professional website is Skills Library.