Fathom Mag
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Modern Day Tamar?

It’s time to see interpretation of women in the Bible as a justice issue.

Published on:
December 21, 2017
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6 min.
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Too often we read about women in the scriptures and tag them as bad girls because their stories involve words like “harlot” or “concubine” or because we can’t seem to help reading our Western culture and social privileges into their stories. At best, our misunderstandings have created flimsy paper dolls of statue-worthy heroines. At worst, we’ve self-righteously cast accusations that amount to an ancient version of “they wanted it” while their stories cry out #MeToo. Either way, we often can’t see that their stories are staggering expressions of faith in spite of exploitation, rape, extreme poverty, violence, and powerlessness. We miss something else too—the heart of God burns white hot for justice, protection, care, and love for the marginalized, powerless, and abused. And so should ours.

Rightly understanding the women in the Bible is a justice issue.
Kelsey Hency

The newly released book Vindicating the Vixens offers a fresh look at women in the Bible who have a bad reputation and ask if they’ve been villainized without just cause. Spoiler alert: they have. All profits from sales of the book go to International Justice Mission (IJM), an organization that protects the poor from violence in the developing world. In this article you’ll find the overlap of Vindicating the Vixens and IJM. Short snippets from the book Vindicating the Vixens are matched with a headline from a real IJM case that reflects the story of these women. There is nothing new under the sun, after all.

We want to show a glimpse into the modern day Tamars, Rahabs, and Samaritan Women at the Well in hopes that we will understand both better, because rightly understanding the women in the Bible is a justice issue. 

—Kelsey Hency, Editor-in-Chief

Jael and Deborah: Justice for a Serial Rapist

Vindicating the Vixens

“The reference to Sisera’s mother [in Judges 5] may have been chosen in intentional contrast to Deborah’s presentation of herself as ‘a mother in Israel’ (5:7). Whereas [Deborah] the prophet and judge secured the deliverance of her people, Sisera’s mother . . . this Canaanite woman of privilege, calms her anxiety and fears caused by her warrior-son’s late return by imagining the violent abuse he is imposing on the captive women—a common practice in ancient warfare carried out against young virgins. . . . The victimized virgins are dehumanized as being merely ‘spoils’ to be remembered only by their colorful, embroidered clothing taken along with the rest of the ‘plunder.’ At best, they may be kept as conjugal conveniences to produce progeny for their captors. In this context Jael represents a courageous and victorious woman who avenges exploited Israelite virgins of the past, as well as rescues those potentially to be assaulted by these Canaanite soldiers. Representatively, a dead Sisera lying still ‘between [Jael’s] feet’ can no longer abuse Israel’s daughters by forcing himself ‘between their feet.’”

—Dr. Ronald Pierce

International Justice Mission

Jael represents a courageous and victorious woman who avenges exploited Israelite virgins of the past, as well as rescues those potentially to be assaulted by these Canaanite soldiers.
Dr. Ronald Pierce

IJM’s team in Guatemala worked with local authorities last February to secure one of its largest convictions in history against a serial rapist. The criminal was sentenced to one hundred twenty-four years in prison for using Facebook to lure, rob, and rape four women, two of whom were minors. IJM’s fearless legal team was led by attorney Mabel Gutiérrez, who worked with IJM investigator and other staff for two years to close the case. Today, Guatemala is safer for women and children as this man serves his sentence.

Tamar and Vashti: The Absence of Agency

Vindicating the Vixens 

“Tamar didn’t pose as a prostitute because she was looking for a new career. She wasn’t doing this because in her heart of hearts she was a temptress. Nor are her actions payback for a father-in-law who lied to her. Family honor compelled Tamar to act, coupled with a determination to right a wrong.”

—Carolyn Custis James

“Although Hollywood usually presents the Ahasuerus–Esther marriage as a love story, we miss the whole point of the Book of Esther if we see Ahasuerus as the handsome hero. Vashti helps us see the real king, so we can see more clearly who Esther is, and thus, who Yahweh is.”

—Sharifa Stevens 

International Justice Mission

We miss the whole point of the Book of Esther if we see Ahasuerus as the handsome hero.
Sharifa Stevens

“One of the survivors in this case had nightmares that [AJ] got away with his crimes. I can finally tell her that justice is on her side and she no longer needs to be afraid,” said the IJM attorney who supported the public prosecutor on this case. 

Hagar: Freedom for the Enslaved

Vindicating the Vixens

“I wish sometimes that we would approach the Bible in a fresh way. In particular, it might be very helpful to read the story of Hagar . . . without any presuppositions framing our understanding of the biblical text. Wouldn’t we marvel then at the privilege of the Lord appearing to her (and ironically not to Sarah, as recorded in Gen. 16) as Hagar fled to the wilderness away from a situation of misery? Wouldn’t we stand in awe when the Lord reveals himself to her as ‘the God Who Listens,’ naming her unborn son Ishmael (meaning, ‘God listens’; v. 11)? Wouldn’t we shout, ‘Good for you, Hagar!’ as the Lord covenants to multiply her descendants beyond numbering, despite the fact that she is just a lowly slave woman (v. 10)?”

—Dr. Tony Maalouf  

International Justice Mission

Wouldn’t we shout, ‘Good for you, Hagar!’ as the Lord covenants to multiply her descendants beyond numbering, despite the fact that she is just a lowly slave woman?
Dr. Tony Maalouf

In 2014, Liana (not her real name), of the Dominican Republic, was taken captive and sold by her mom and stepfather to men who paid to sexually exploit her. Her mother was convicted in a trial last year; her stepfather was recently convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Liana is safe in her community, enjoying the support of her grandparents and working to earn her high school degree.

Rahab: Faith of the Outcast

Vindicating the Vixens

“Rahab forms a sentence that must have disoriented the spies even further. ‘The LORD your God,’ she says, ‘is God in heaven above and on the earth below.’ The prostitute—the one introduced to the reader with jocular tone and lewd language—has just confessed belief in Yahweh. Imagine the expressions on the spies’ faces as Rahab articulates orthodox Israelite theology. Whether or not they came to her home for sex, her declaration must have shocked them. Then Rahab strikes a deal to save herself and her family.”

—Eva Bleeker

International Justice Mission

A rescue operation in Ghana was successful. In time, five rescue boats returned with children on board. This was the largest operation IJM and Ghanaian police had conducted together—rescuing thirty children and one young adult while arresting eleven suspects who had been profiting from forcing children to work long hours in dangerous conditions. . . . On their way to the aftercare shelter where they were to be cared for until able to safely return to their families, one ten-year-old voice burst out with song: “I’ve got joy, joy down in my heart.” He was soon joined by the rest of the children, singing their new truth.

Imagine the expressions on the spies’ faces as Rahab articulates orthodox Israelite theology.
Eva Bleeker

Look what the Lord has done for me
Jesus has come to set me free
I’ve got joy, joy down in my heart

The Woman at the Well: The Strength of the Suffering

Vindicating the Vixens

“It is more likely that her five marriages and current arrangement were the result of unfortunate events that took the lives of several of her husbands. Perhaps one or two of them divorced her, or maybe she initiated divorce in one case. As for her current situation, maybe she had no dowry and thus no formal marriage, meaning her status was similar to a concubine’s. Perhaps the man she was currently with was old and needed care, but his children didn’t want to share their inheritance with her, so he gave her no dowry document. Perhaps he was already married, making her his second wife. . . Scripture doesn’t tell us why she had five husbands, but exploring first-century realities helps us imagine how her life might have unfolded. . . . I now see her as one who probably endured more than the typical number of tragedies, yet never stopped seeking God. She was not an outcast or sexually immoral—according to the social codes of her village. And she embraced Jesus’ message with such joy that her town believed.”

—Dr. Lynn Cohick

International Justice Mission

I now see her as one who probably endured more than the typical number of tragedies, yet never stopped seeking God.
Dr. Lynn Cohick

Eighteen months ago, Solome’s husband died in Uganda of diabetes. The house they had shared for about twenty-five years surrounded by its modest crop-growing lands were all they and their six children possessed. A “property grabbing” happened while she was grieving beside her husband’s fresh grave. Her husband’s brothers stormed the house, claimed it as their own, threw all Salome’s clothing onto the ceremonial fire outside, and demanded that as the widow she relinquish the property to them. Where was she to go? They didn’t care. Back to her own parents, they said; no woman should be entitled to such an inheritance; it was they who would profit from its bananas, jackfruit, coffee, and the land itself. 

Uganda’s constitution prohibits such actions. And IJM joined Solome at the house she insists she will reclaim with the help of lawyers and police. “I’m brave, strong, and firm,” she said. “I will win this.”

The source of all the stories is IJM.

Cover image by Mike Wilson.

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