Despite the chaos and uncertainties 2020 has brought with her, we’re still in a hopeful and notable era when women are increasingly valued, heard, and esteemed. There’s movement both in our country and in the Church, and even if more tortoise-like than hare, progress is reason to celebrate. But, as opposed to a “Girl Power” mentality, which focuses on the individual’s strength, talents, resourcefulness, and self-reliance, better is the idea of empowered girls, girls who:
- know their identity in Christ, as a child of God, and as a beloved daughter of the King
- recognize their God-given talents, gifts, personality, and potential
- surrender to the authority of God, follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, and trust and lean into His strength and might.
As a mother of a daughter, I’m thankful the Bible gives us potent examples of women who’ve made such a dynamic impact that we still feel the ripples of their choices and actions centuries later. Among some, there is a faith and reliance on God so robust, courageous, and tenacious, we’d do well to follow in their steps.
Some of these women of the Word are well-known; we’ve been acquainted with them by name since we were eye level to a yardstick. Others are more obscure and may have eluded our notice, perhaps not even identified beyond to whom they were attached or by what they did (i.e. Shallum’s daughters, the widow with two mites.). It is the latter I find myself drawn to these days, their intrigue and mystery appealing. They have been hiding in plain sight.
Which brings me to a confession of sorts: as a lifelong resident of the Bible Belt who has taken part in more Bible studies than I’m able to remember, I’m sometimes tempted to be ashamed by how little I know after so much time. Why have so many women—whether named or unnamed, individuals or groups—escaped my notice? When a pastor, speaker, or teacher references a character or story from Scripture, I feel like I’m always “supposed” to know who or what they’re talking about, and when I don’t, I wonder what sort of heathen I must be not to be better informed (lies, lies, lies!). If you’ve ever felt that way, I hope, you, like I, have learned that shame isn’t from God but from a hateful enemy who is always and only against us. No one actually knows everything. Even the most diligent biblical scholar will always have something to learn.
It has been helpful to reframe my ignorance in a positive light—as a catalyst to learn rather than an indictment of stupidity.
Such was the case at my mother-in-law, Sarah’s, funeral when the officiating pastor, a dear family friend, made a lengthy comparison between her and the Shunammite woman. What, if anything, I had ever heard about “the Shunammite woman” had long been forgotten, but the association with my husband’s mother meant it was favorable. The introduction piqued my curiosity. I wanted to know more.
Soon after Sarah’s funeral, I mined the Old Testament and found the Shunammite woman in the book of 2 Kings. From the moment we meet her, it’s clear there is nothing ordinary about this woman: when she meets the prophet Elisha, the reader meets her in her own right—not as someone’s daughter or wife (though she’s married), as was the more common custom. Depending on the translation, she’s described as wealthy, prominent, well-to-do, great, influential, or plain rich. In 35 verses a lot can be gleaned from her, an empowered woman who led by an impressive example:
- She was genuinely hospitable. Upon meeting Elisha, the Shunammite woman invited him over for dinner. Hers was no polite but empty invitation with no real intention or substance. There’s a sense she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer (she persuaded him [NASB], urged him [ESV, NLT, NIV], talked him into stopping [MSG]).
- Her invitation was open-ended. Whenever Elisha was in town, he’d take her up on the offer for a meal, a hint to me she must also have been a great cook (like my mother-in-law). I’m from the South, and it’s more of a habit, nicety, or another way of saying goodbye when we say, “Come by to see us!” Her example makes me want to fling open my door.
- Her standard for service went above-and-beyond. The woman from Shunem didn’t stop at feeding Elisha; eventually she’d add on to her home to offer him his own private room. What might this look like if we followed suit?
- She respected her husband. Determined and savvy, she made sure she and her husband were on the same page before starting their home addition. I suspect she had the means and wherewithal to proceed without his agreement, but as a wise, loving, and honoring wife she discussed it with him in advance.
- She gave freely without strings attached or expecting anything in return. Elisha was so grateful for her kindness and generosity, he wanted to repay her, but, when questioned, she only expressed contentment with what she had. Still determined to offer her something, Elisha brainstormed with his servant, Gehazi, who reminded him she had no children and that her husband was old.
When Elisha told her she would be holding a son in her arms the following year, she begged him not to get her hopes up. Can’t you imagine her joy when she discovered she was pregnant just a few months later?
- Her faith remained strong despite tragic circumstances. Sometime later, her son died. We could camp out for days with her response to this, but long story short, she carried her son to Elisha’s room and laid his body on the bed. Twice, following his death, she declared “All is well.” First to her husband, and then later to Elisha’s servant Gehazi, when she had arrived at their camp.
Can you imagine being able to say All is well following your child’s death? Remarkable faith like this is evidence of intimacy with God, knowing and trusting him wholeheartedly…no…matter…what. This is the sort of faith I long for, what compels me to seek God continually.
7. She offers thanksgiving before attending her needs. Because of the Shunammite woman’s unwavering faith, God would bring her son back to life through Elisha. The woman’s subsequent response is yet another example to me; rather than scooping up her boy when Elisha calls her to his side, she first bows in gratitude. My maternal instinct tells me I would’ve knocked Elisha down to get to my son, but this incredible woman stops to thank the miracle giver (and the Miracle Giver) first.
The Shunammite woman’s faith in and focus on God sets an inspiring example for us today. One simple way we can help our daughters to see the ways they can make a difference in our world is by pointing them to her and the ways she served and blessed others simply by being who she was and offering what she had. What a lovely portrait of empowerment!