Category: Women of the Bible


Vashti in the Bible was the wife of King Xerxes (or Ahasuerus in many translations). King Xerxes and Queen Vashti of Persia figure in the story of Esther, a beautiful Jewish girl living in Ahasuerus’ kingdom, and her cousin, Mordecai, who had raised her after the death of her parents. Both Esther and Mordecai were descendants of Jews who had been exiled to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar along with the defeated King Jehoiachin of Judah. The Bible’s story of Queen Vashti is set in about 480 BC.

In Esther 1 a great feast is being held for the men of Susa, the citadel from which Xerxes reigned over a large region of the ancient world from India to Ethiopia to Asia Minor. The feast lasted for 180 days, during which time Vashti hosted a banquet of her own for the women. On the seventh day of the feast, a drunken King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to put on her royal crown and come stand before the people, so that everyone could see her beauty (Esther 1:10–11). Queen Vashti, for reasons of her own, refused to come, and King Xerxes was angry (verse 12)—his own wife was defying him in front of all the men of Susa. The royal wise men advised the king that Vashti’s humiliating behavior could not go unpunished because, if the king let the incident slide, all the women in the kingdom would have contempt for their husbands, thinking, “If Queen Vashti can get away with disrespecting her husband, so can I” (verses 16–18).

King Xerxes responded to the situation by sending out a royal edict saying that a) Queen Vashti was never going to be allowed to come before him again, and b) the king would give her crown to another women worthier than she (Esther 1:19–21). So Queen Vashti was banished, and a search began for a new queen to replace her. Many beautiful virgins were chosen from the kingdom and among them Esther, the Jewish girl. In God’s providence, Esther was eventually made queen in Vashti’s place. She was the right person in the right place at the right time, for it was through Esther’s exalted position in the palace that God later preserved His people from annihilation.

According to the Aggadah (or Haggadah), a book of Jewish tradition and folklore, Vashti was the daughter of the Babylonian king Belshazzar. The night that Belshazzar was killed (Daniel 5), Vashti was captured by the conquering Persians and given to Xerxes as a wife. According to various legends, Vashti’s refusal to appear before the king was due to modesty (she was told to appear nude), fear for her husband’s life (she figured she would be mobbed by the drunken crowd and the king would be killed), loathing for her husband (whom she considered to have non-royal blood), or the fact that she herself had leprosy. Another tradition says that Vashti was not simply banished from the king’s presence but was executed. It’s important to note that none of these details are in the biblical account, and there is no way to confirm their veracity.

The book of Esther is the only book in the Bible that does not mention God at all. But He is there nonetheless, evident in His divine providence. Every aspect of the story of Esther, from Queen Vashti’s disobedience to Haman’s wicked motives to Esther’s beauty to Mordecai’s wisdom, work together to save the Jewish people. The hand of God is evident throughout the book, which teaches a powerful lesson: even the actions of the wicked are governed by God in a master plan to do good for His chosen people and for all who trust in Him (see Romans 8:28).

 

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Hadassah is the Jewish name of Queen Esther, and she is mentioned by this name in Esther 2:7, “Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.”

Hadassah is a feminine form of the Hebrew word hadas, meaning “myrtle,” a common perennial shrub with evergreen leaves and white, star-shaped flowers. The flowers of the myrtle are used for perfume, and the berries for allspice. Myrtle is referenced symbolically in the Bible as a sign of peace and God’s blessing in passages such as Zechariah 1:11, in which the angel of the Lord stands among the myrtle trees and says, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.”

Esther’s early name of “Hadassah” was perhaps symbolic as well, not only because of her beauty but because her destiny was to procure peace and blessing for God’s people in Persia. The Jews in Esther’s time were under threat of genocide by Haman, a close confidant of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes). Hadassah entered Ahasuerus’s palace as a prospective concubine, but God had greater plans for the young Jewish woman.

King Ahasuerus was known for his drinking, lavish banquets, harsh temper, and sexual appetite. In 483 BC, after a 180-day display of his riches, splendor, and pomp, he held a massive banquet. In drunken merriment, Ahasuerus requested that his wife, Queen Vashti, appear before the king “in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at” (Esther 1:11). When Vashti refused, she was banished from the kingdom.

Ahasuerus appointed officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to his harem (Esther 2:3–4). Hadassah, that is, Esther, was taken into custody by the eunuch in charge of the women, yet her cousin Mordecai kept close watch on her (Esther 2:11). After ten months, Esther was brought before the king, and he loved her more than anyone else. Hadassah won the king’s favor and took Vashti’s place as queen (Esther 2:17).

Though Hadassah’s initial circumstances appeared to serve the evil purposes of a lustful king, God used her situation, position, and character to protect the people of Israel. Esther, in meekness and humility, trusted in God’s sovereignty with her every action, confident that His will would be done concerning her people—no matter what the consequences to herself. With no concern for her personal safety, Esther acted as an intercessor with the king on behalf of her people, the Israelites (Esther 4:16), ultimately exposing Haman’s evil plot and saving the Jews from destruction.

What is the meaning of the story of the woman with the issue of blood?

The story of the woman with the issue of blood can be found in Mark 5:24–34 and Luke 8:42–48. Though neither account is very long, Mark’s account provides a few more details than Luke’s.

The story of this woman takes place within a larger story. Jesus is on his way to a synagogue leader’s house to heal his dying daughter (see Mark 5:21–24) when an unnamed woman causes an interruption to His progress.

What we know about the woman is, first, she had a bleeding condition, and the issue had continued for twelve years. That’s a very long time. Second, she had spent all her money on treatments from many doctors, and nothing had helped; in fact, the blood issue had only grown worse (see Mark 5:25–26). We also know that Jewish Law declared her to be ceremonially unclean due to her bleeding issue (Leviticus 15:25-27). This meant that she would not have been permitted to enter the temple for Jewish religious ceremonies. According to the Law, anything or anyone she touched became unclean as well. The fact that she was in the crowd pressing around Jesus means that each person who bumped into her would have become unclean, too—including Jesus. But, after twelve years of suffering, she was obviously desperate for a miracle. “When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed’” (Mark 5:27–28).

As soon as the woman touches Jesus, her bleeding stops and she knows she’s been healed. In an instant, Jesus does what no doctor in twelve years had been able to. This proves the power of Christ, of course, but it also illustrates an important point about Jesus and the Law. In Leviticus 15:31 God says, “You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.” In the Old Testament, the temple was where God dwelt among the Israelites, but in the New Testament, God dwelt among men in the person of Jesus Christ (see John 1:14). Through Jesus the penalties of the Law are reversed, and the contamination of this world had no effect on Christ. The woman did not make Jesus (God’s dwelling) unclean—He made her clean!

Jesus immediately responds to the woman who touched His clothing and was healed. People were pushing and pressing into Him from all over, yet He stops, turns, and asks, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30). The disciples were incredulous, but Jesus knew that healing power had gone out of Him. We can’t “steal” a miracle from God. After the woman comes forward and explains herself, Jesus clears up any misconceptions about her healing, saying, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5:34). God is moved to action by our faith, even when He’s in the middle of doing something else!

Jesus could have healed the woman and kept on walking to His original destination. Only He and the woman would have known what had taken place. But He didn’t do that. Jesus stopped what He was doing and acknowledged the result of this woman’s faith: her complete and instantaneous healing.

In the book of Joshua, we are introduced to one of the most thought-provoking and astonishing heroines of the Old Testament. Rahab, the prostitute of the Canaanite city of Jericho, ultimately is noteworthy for her great faith and for her place in the lineage of Jesus Christ. But a closer examination of the life of this remarkable Gentile woman can lead to deeper insights into God’s plan for His church and His dealing with individual believers in grace and mercy.

Rahab’s story is found in Joshua 2–6. This passage describes the conquest of the fortified city of Jericho by the Israelites. In its day, Jericho was the most important Canaanite fortress city in the Jordan Valley. It was a stronghold directly in the path of the advancing Israelites, who had just crossed the Jordan River (Joshua 3:1-17). Before entering the land west of the Jordan, Joshua sent two spies to look over the land. The king of Jericho heard that two Israelite spies were within his city and ordered them to be brought out to him. Rahab, the woman with whom the spies were staying, protected them by hiding them on her roof. She told them how the citizens of Jericho had been fearful of the Israelites ever since they defeated the Egyptians via the Red Sea miracle (some 40 years prior). She agreed to help them escape, provided that she and her family were spared in the upcoming battle. The spies agreed to her request, giving her three conditions to be met: 1) she must distinguish her house from the others by hanging a scarlet rope out of the window so the Israelites would know which home to spare; 2) her family must be inside the house during the battle; and 3) she must not later turn on the spies.

Safely escaping the city, the two spies returned to Joshua and reported that the “whole land was melting with fear.” The Israelites crossed the Jordan into Canaan where they laid siege to the city of Jericho. The city was completely destroyed, and every man, woman, and child in it was killed. Only Rahab and her family were spared. Ultimately, Rahab married Salmon, an Israelite from the tribe of Judah. Her son was Boaz, the husband of Ruth. Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, is her direct descendant.

Rahab was a young Canaanite prostitute and as such not a very likely candidate for a heroine of the faith. Jericho was one of the principal seats of idol worship, being especially devoted to Ashtaroth, the goddess of the moon. Here was centered all that was the vilest and most degrading in the religion of the Canaanites. Many Bible commentators, eager to remove the stigma of the designation “harlot” from one included in the genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1:5), have described Rahab as a hostess or tavern keeper. But scriptural usage of the Hebrew word zanah (Leviticus 21:7-14; Deuteronomy 23:18; Judges 11:1; 1 Kings 3:16) and the authority of the apostles (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25), establish the credibility for use of the word “harlot.”

It is clear that Rahab was perceptive, intelligent and well informed. Rahab identified the spies for what they were, hid them, and had a plausible story ready with which to deceive the king’s agents. Rahab didn’t deny that she had entertained the men. She says that they left at dusk when it would be difficult for anyone to be sure of clearly seeing anything. The agents did not dare to risk stopping to search Rahab’s house because, if they did, the spies might get away. Finally, the Canaanite prostitute gives the two Israelites excellent advice. She tells them to hide in the hills for three days before attempting to cross the Jordan.

Spiritually, Rahab was not in an ideal circumstance to come to faith in the one true God, the God of Israel. She was a citizen of a wicked city that was under God’s condemnation. Rahab was part of a corrupt, depraved, pagan culture. She had not benefited from the godly leadership of Moses or Joshua. However, Rahab had one asset—she had heard from the many men she came into contact with that the Israelites were to be feared. She heard the stories of their escape from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the wanderings in the wilderness, and their recent victory over the Amorites. She learned enough to reach the correct, saving conclusion: “For the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:11). It is this change of heart, this faith—coupled with the actions prompted by faith—that saved her and her family.

It is often said that Rahab, while being a true historical person, also serves as a symbolic foreshadowing or “type” of the church and Gentile believers. She was, in fact, the first recorded Gentile convert. There are many ways in which Rahab depicts the church. First, she was part of a pagan world system, a prostitute, who by her conversion was enabled to become a legitimate bride. In like fashion, Israel was the first chosen people of God, but they were set aside temporarily so the Gentiles could be brought into the kingdom of God, and the church is now considered the bride of Christ (Romans 11; Ephesians 5:25-27). Second, Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was saved because of her faith in “God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Hebrews 11:31). Likewise, Christians are saved through faith in Jesus Christ. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Third, although Rahab and Christians are saved by an act of grace through faith, true faith requires and is exemplified by action (James 2). Rahab had to put the scarlet cord out of the window. Christians must accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord and then go on to live in a manner that verifies that our faith is real. Fourth, Rahab could have indicated the location of her home in any number of ways. But the only way that she could be spared was to follow the directions given to her by the Israelite spies. The world tells us that there are many ways to God and salvation, all equally valid. But the Bible tells us, concerning Jesus Christ, that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Fifth, Rahab’s faith enabled her to turn away from her culture, her people, and her religion and to the Lord. Commitment to a true faith in God may necessitate setting priorities that are contrary to those of the world, as we are exhorted to do in Romans 12:2.

Finally, once we come to Christ, our pasts no longer matter. The slate is wiped clean for all who believe and accept the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross on our behalf. Rahab was no longer viewed as an unclean prostitute, but as one worthy by grace to be part of the lineage of our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as she was grafted into the line of Christ, so we become children of God and partakers in His inheritance (Romans 11). We find in the life of Rahab the inspiring story of all sinners who have been saved by grace. In her story, we learn of the amazing grace of God that can save even the worst of sinners and bring them into an abundant life in Christ Jesus.

  Michal was the younger daughter of King Saul and is first mentioned in 1 Samuel 14:49. Michal is important in biblical history because she fell in love with David, even though her older sister, Merab, had been promised to David as a wife as a prize for killing Saul’s enemies (1 Samuel 18:17). However, when the time came for Merab to be given to David in marriage, Saul double-crossed him and gave her to another man (1 Samuel 18:19). Seeing that his younger daughter, Michal, loved David, Saul considered her a way to ensnare the future king, of whom he was insanely jealous. So Saul agreed to give her to David as a prize for another attack against the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:24–25, 27). Saul hoped that David would be killed in the attack.

David, however, succeeded in defeating the Philistines, and Michal was given to him as a wife. Michal’s father’s jealousy of his rival escalated, and Saul tried to kill David. Michal helped her new husband escape when King Saul’s men came to kill him (1 Samuel 19:7–11). For reasons we are not told, Saul later gave Michal to another man, Palti son of Laish, while David was running for his life. Years later, when Saul was dead and David was preparing to step into his rightful position as king, he ordered that Michal be taken from Palti and brought back to him. David had other wives and children by this time, and there is no indication that he asked Michal’s input on this decision. She was forcibly returned to him, while her husband Palti followed after them, crying (2 Samuel 3:14–16).

This act seems to have destroyed whatever love Michal had once felt for David, because the next time we see her, she is caustically critical of David when he dances before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:16, 20). Rather than address the source of her bitterness, which was most likely his heartless act of taking her away from her husband, David defends himself and puts down her father. Because of her sarcastic and dishonoring attitude, Michal never had any children (verse 23). It can be gathered from this that either she and David did not share intimacy or the Lord closed her womb due to her verbal attack against His anointed servant.

We can learn from Michal’s sad story what happens in a marriage when offenses go on for years, unaddressed. Michal’s youthful infatuation with Israel’s hero turned to bitterness when he treated her like property, tore her away from a loving husband, and apparently never made it right. Even someone like David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), could also be selfish and cause pain in someone he should have loved. Although David was used greatly by God, he was also a sinful human being who made tragic mistakes. God placed stories like Michal’s in the Bible to remind us that heroes are also human and bitterness can destroy even a queen.

John begins his second epistle with these words: “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth” (2 John 1:1, ESV). The apostle identifies himself as “the elder,” a title that reflects bThe-Chosen-Lady-Squat1oth his age at the time of the writing and his authority in the early church. The letter is written in sincere love—the words truth and love are found five times each in the first six verses. And the recipient of the epistle is a lady and her children—the “elect” lady, to be precise.

The word elect means “chosen.” In fact, the NIV translates 2 John 1:1 with the phrase “chosen by God.”

There are two categories of those who are elect, or chosen, in Scripture: those who are part of the nation of Israel and those who are in the universal Church. Paul says about the nation of Israel, “Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen” (Romans 9:4–5). The Jews are the chosen people of God to bring about His purposes in the world (see Deuteronomy 7:6; John 4:22; and Romans 11:28).

But the lady of 2 John is called “the elect” not because she was Jewish (we don’t know her ethnic background) but because she was part of the church. The universal Church is comprised of all people who believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior who died on the cross to bear the guilt and pay the penalty of their sin and who conquered death at His resurrection. The universal Church came into existence on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and will be taken from the earth at the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). The Bible clearly teaches that the church is elect—i.e., they are chosen by God “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4; cf. Revelation 13:8).

John calls the lady in 2 John “the elect” because she believed in Jesus Christ and was therefore saved; she was a member of the universal Church. Some interpreters see the lady not as an individual but as a symbol of the church as a whole or of a local body of believers. But that interpretation makes it difficult to explain who her “children” are. It is better to view this lady as an unnamed friend of John who had actual children who were serving the Lord.

There are actually two elect ladies mentioned in 2 John. The apostle concludes his letter by relaying a message: “The children of your elect sister greet you” (2 John 1:13, ESV). So, we have an “elect lady” who receives the letter, and she has an “elect sister” whose children (her nieces and nephews) also know John. The mention of this other elect lady and her children further supports the view that John is writing to actual individuals. The lady and her family were chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and made part of the family of God (John 1:12).

Zipporah in the Bible was the wife of Moses and the daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian. When Moses fled from Egypt to the land of Midian, he met Jethro’s seven daughters, who were having some trouble getting enough water for their flocks (Exodus 2). In that area, the troughs for watering flocks were being monopolized by some shepherds who denied Jethro’s daughters access to the troughs. Moses assisted the women by driving the shepherds away so their flocks could be watered. Zipporah was among the sisters helped by Moses.

Zipporah and her sisters brought Moses back to their tent to meet their father, the priest of Midian, who liked Moses. Moses was content to stay there in Midian (Exodus 2:21). Moses later married Zipporah and began a new life. Zipporah gave birth to a son. Moses named him Gershom, a name that sounds like the Hebrew word meaning “a foreigner there.” Gershom’s name was a reminder that Moses was a foreigner and living among foreigners. Later, Zipporah had another son named Eliezer (Exodus 18:4).

Later in the book of Exodus, there is a strange passage involving Zipporah. Moses and his wife are traveling to Egypt because God had told Moses to bring the Israelites out of bondage (Exodus 3). On the way, Moses and Zipporah stop at an inn, and the Lord meets Moses there, seeking to kill him. Perceiving that Moses was in mortal danger, Zipporah takes a sharp stone and circumcises her son. She takes her son’s foreskin and, touching Moses’ feet with it, she utters the enigmatic statement, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” (Exodus 4:25). Her action worked. After Zipporah’s intervention, the Lord left Moses alone. The Bible does not explicitly explain why the Lord desired to kill Moses, but it was probably because Moses had not performed the rite of circumcision. Circumcision was an important symbol of the Abrahamic Covenant, and the lack of circumcision would mark a person as cut off from God’s people (Genesis 17:9–14). For Moses to neglect to circumcise his son was an affront to God, as if he were saying that he and his family did not truly belong to God. How could Moses be an effective leader of God’s people if he were in violation of God’s clear command?

Zipporah’s words to Moses are puzzling, but the text explains that “she said ‘bridegroom of blood,’ referring to circumcision” (Exodus 4:26). It seems that Zipporah was angry at having to perform the rite, which should have been completed by Moses. Sometime after this incident, Moses sent Zipporah and his two sons back to Midian to stay with Zipporah’s father (see Exodus 18:2–3).

Dinah was a daughter born to Jacob from his first wife, Leah (Genesis 30:21). When Jacob returned to his homeland after working for his father-in-law, Laban, for over 20 years, he settled in in a place called Shechem. Dinah was a young woman at this time.

Genesis 34 gives the account of Dinah’s venture into the city to visit the women there. When Shechem, the son of the city ruler, saw her, he raped her. Verse 3 says that he was drawn to her and wanted her for a wife. Shechem appealed to his father, Hamor, to get her for him.

When Dinah’s brothers heard that their sister had been defiled, they were furious. Hamor, ruler of the city of Shechem, went to speak with Jacob about getting Dinah for his son. Shechem himself offered a great sum: “I will give you whatever you ask. Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me” (Genesis 34:11–12). The Bible does not record Jacob’s reaction but follows the story of his sons. They intentionally deceived Hamor and Shechem, pretending to work out a deal with them. Jacob’s sons told the ruler of Shechem that they could not give their sister to a man who was not circumcised—but if Shechem and all the men of the city would be circumcised as the Israelites were, they could intermarry from then on (verses 13–17).

Shechem was so taken with Dinah that he and his father agreed to this. Because Jacob’s household was so wealthy and large, the men of Shechem thought it would be to their benefit to incorporate this family. So everyone agreed to be circumcised. Genesis 34:25–26 say, “Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left.” Then the other brothers looted the city, carrying away everything, including their women and children (verses 27–29).

When Jacob learned what his sons had done, he was horrified. He knew when word got out to the nations around them, they would be in trouble (Genesis 34:30). His sons replied that they had vindicated the men who treated their sister like a prostitute (verse 31). The next few chapters of Genesis record Jacob moving his family, at God’s instruction (Genesis 35:1), to new lands. Nothing more is heard of Dinah in the Bible.

  Martha is a significant New Testament figure, a personal friend of Jesus, and someone with whom many women today identify. She lived in Bethany with her sister, Mary, and her brother, Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:1–15, 43–44). We meet Martha three times in the Bible, and each event helps to build a profile of this interesting woman.

The Bible first mentions Martha in Luke 10. She is in her home in Bethany, a small town near Jerusalem, where she is hosting Jesus and the disciples. Jesus was well-known to Martha and her siblings; in fact, Jesus loved this little family (John 11:5). On the day that Jesus visited, Martha’s desire was to be a good hostess—to serve the best meal with the best possible presentation, for Jesus’ sake. Her sister, Mary, however, was taking some time out to listen to Jesus (Luke 10:39). As Martha “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” (Luke 10:40), she became a little cross with Mary and spoke rather abruptly to the Lord: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (verse 40). In this foolish utterance, Martha implied that Jesus did not care about her, and she gave the Lord a command, demanding that He force Mary to assist in the serving. In her busyness, Martha had taken her eyes off the Savior. Jesus, who was able to see into her soul, diagnosed her problem: she was worried and troubled about the serving and had no peace in her heart. He gently told Martha that a simple dinner was more than adequate, and He reminded her that Mary’s decision to sit at His feet and hear His word was the better choice (verses 41–42).

We see Martha again just after her brother, Lazarus, had died (John 11). The sisters had sent for Jesus when Lazarus fell ill (verse 3), but He did not arrive in time to heal him. When Jesus finally approached Bethany, four days after Lazarus’ death, Martha ran out to meet Him and declared, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11:21–22). Notice Martha’s faith: she firmly believed that Jesus could have healed Lazarus of his illness. And her faith is not diminished by the fact that Jesus had arrived “too late.” Jesus encourages Martha with one of His “I AM” statements: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (verses 25–26). Martha’s response is one of great faith and understanding of Jesus’ divine nature: “Yes, Lord . . . I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (verse 27). Martha’s faith was rewarded that very day as she witnessed her brother’s miraculous resurrection from the dead (verses 43–44).

The third time we encounter Martha in the Bible, she is doing what Martha was known to do—serving (John 12:2). Jesus is again attending a dinner in His honor in Bethany, and Martha is again serving. It is on this occasion that Martha’s sister, Mary, anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume (verse 3). It becomes apparent that Martha was likely a woman of some means, evidenced by the size of her home, the frequency of her hosting dinners, and the expensive perfumed oil her sister owned.

In Martha’s life-changing encounters with Jesus, we see the importance of balancing service with worship, of trusting the Lord even when all seems lost, and of using our material resources for the glory of God.

Phoebe is mentioned only once in the Bible, in Romans 16:1–2, where Paul writes, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.”

Letters of introduction to strangers were common in Bible times. The mention of Phoebe in this way means that she was probably either the bearer of the letter or accompanied those who took it to Rome. The name Phoebe means “bright and radiant,” and from Paul’s comments about her it seems that those words characterized her personality and her Christian life.

Paul’s reference to Phoebe as “our sister” indicates that she was a member of the Christian church and his sister in Christ. Her designation as “deacon” (or “servant” in the ESV) could mean that she held an official position within the church as a deaconess or simply that she was someone who was known to serve the church faithfully (the Greek diakonos means “servant”). Whether or not Phoebe had the title “deaconess,” it is clear that she was a trusted member of the body of believers in Cenchreae, a seaport about eight or nine miles from Corinth.

Paul commends Phoebe to the Roman believers and asks that they receive her in a gracious and friendly manner into their homes and hearts with love and affection. She was to be welcome in their church fellowship. Asking for her to be received “in a way worthy of [God’s] people” means that the church should treat Phoebe with the special respect and Christian love that should characterize all believers’ interactions with one another. Even those believers we have never met before should be welcomed with love, for we share a bond in the Lord (John 13:35). Phoebe was to be aided in whatever business she would be conducting in Rome.

Paul adds that Phoebe was a helper of many. Phoebe may have shown great kindness in various ways to other Christians, perhaps receiving them into her house in the manner of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38–40). Perhaps she ministered to the sick, helped the poor, and aided widows and orphans in the manner of Tabitha (Acts 9:36). Maybe she ministered to strangers and travelers in the manner of John’s “elect lady” (2 John 1). Paul himself was a beneficiary of Phoebe’s kind servant’s heart. Whatever Phoebe’s precise role in the church, the inclusion of her name in Romans 16 is a testimony to her character and ensures that she will never be forgotten.