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Learn from the Bible's Extraordinary Women

Learn from the Bible's Extraordinary Women

They were just ordinary women, going about their daily lives alongside many others during biblical times. Nothing about their intellectual accomplishments, social positions, or physical beauty set them apart from the crowd then, or makes them particularly memorable today.


But the way they responded to God helped them develop extraordinary faith – faith that continues to speak powerfully to women today from the pages of Scripture. By emulating their virtues, your life can also go from the ordinary to the extraordinary.


Here’s what the lives of some of the Bible’s most faithful women can teach you:


* Eve: She kept her hope alive and persevered in faith, even after her sin shattered the world around her. As the mother of all living, she showed how God created men and women equally, yet to fill different roles and accomplish different purposes. Eve enjoyed living in the harmony of that creation until her act of disobedience brought paradise to an end. When she and Adam tried to cover their shame, they showed how all attempts at merely human goodness fail to provide adequate camouflage for disgrace. Even today, no manmade religion, philanthropy, education, or self-improvement plans have the power to change your fallen state. It’s only God’s grace that can transform you, and it was God’s grace that allowed Eve to avoid complete destruction and bear children to continue the line of humans on our planet. Eve rejoiced because of God’s compassion and forgiveness toward her, and her hope was personified in her own children. Eventually, her descendants would include the Savior of the world.


* Sarah: She faced huge obstacles, yet overcame them because of her steadfast faith that God would keep His promises. Although her life was marked by distinct moments of weakness (such as when she grew tired of waiting and encouraged her husband Abraham to conceive a child with her servant Hagar), she never gave up hope that God would turn her disappointment and frustration into fulfillment and joy. She regretted trying to force God’s hand before He was ready to act. Eventually, after God gave her Isaac at an advanced age, she rejoiced in that wonderful gift. Her life shows the value of trusting that God will always do what’s best, when it’s best.


* Rahab: She lived a destructive life marked by deep sin that enslaved her, but found freedom through the power of God’s grace. A prostitute in the wicked city of Jericho, Rahab didn’t do any good deeds that merited God’s favor, and didn’t have the advantages that come with a background of faith. Yet she found her heart drawn to God, and decided to take the risk of walking away from her old lifestyle completely. Eventually, her named appeared in Christ’s genealogy. Her life reminds you that even the worst of sinners can be redeemed. 


* Ruth: She exemplifies devotion, love, trust, and humility. Her touching loyalty to her destitute mother-in-law, Naomi, shows how the power of love can overcome even the most difficult journey (such as the one they took as exiles living in extreme poverty). Eventually, Ruth’s extraordinary faith caught the attention of Boaz, who married her and blessed both her and Naomi with better lives. Ruth, who became the great king David’s great-grandmother, shows how God looks beyond your circumstances and into your heart, loving you with the passion of a bridegroom.


* Hannah: She shows the importance of creating a home where God is honored above all, making her the quintessential godly wife and mother. The feminine grace she embodied fostered a deep love between her and her husband Elkanah despite his faults, and shaped her son Samuel into an admirable man who served as both a judge and a priest and became a towering figure in Israel’s history. Her life shows that children will learn the most fundamental lessons of life – such as the value of love, sacrifice, integrity, and forgiveness – at home, and that those lessons will significantly determine the people they become. Her habit of persistent prayer shows you how to keep your focus on things that have eternal value. And her unreserved devotion shows you how to invite God’s best into your life.


* Mary: She was the mother of Christ, fulfilling the most exalted role a human could possibly have, yet still she models humble submission. Mary was indeed blessed among women, but she herself would likely be amazed at how people venerate her today beyond what’s reasonable, assigning her titles and attributes that belong to God alone. The Bible debunks some of the main legends about her, such as her supposed immaculate conception, sinlessness, and perpetual virginity. Contrary to the myths, her real life stands as a powerful testimony of how God will take a lowly life and raise it to extraordinary levels through His grace. Mary’s heart overflowed with praise to God for using her to fulfill His wonderful plans, and her life teaches you to keep your focus where it belongs – on her Son, who she ultimately trusted for everything.


* Anna: She shows how to be a faithful witness to the grace and glory of God. One of only a handful of people who knew and understood the significance of Jesus’ birth, Anna had trusted for many years that the promised Messiah would come. God rewarded her faith by giving her a personal encounter with the young Jesus, showing her the answer to her prayers in flesh and blood. Then, unwilling to contain her joy, she told many others about the Messiah. Her life shows the importance of enthusiastically believing in God’s promises and celebrating them when they come true. She also models what successful evangelism looks like.


* The Samaritan woman: She personifies an enthusiastic response the Gospel message. Although she was merely looking for water for her body when she went to Jacob’s well, she found living water for her soul through her encounter with Christ. He shocked her by revealing His knowledge of her sins, yet offered her hope instead of condemnation. Amazed that He knew everything about her yet received her anyway, the Samaritan woman was overcome with joy and decided to boldly announce the Messiah’s presence to many others. Her life reminds you that it’s useless to try to hide from God, and always worthwhile to accept His transforming love. Her evangelism highlights the joy that comes from a direct encounter with Christ.


* Martha and Mary: These sisters embody the twin virtues of worship and service, prompted by their deep devotion to Christ. Both of them sincerely tried to please Him when He was a guest in their home – Martha, by working to prepare a delicious meal, and Mary, by devoting her full attention to Him as He talked with her. Yet when Martha chastised Mary for not helping her out with the chores, Christ gently rebuked her and said that Mary had made a better choice. The story shows how what’s most important is not what you can do for Christ, but what He can do for you. Although serving Christ has value, you should never let service crowd out your worship. The sisters show that sometimes it’s best to put work aside to simply to listen to Christ and honor Him with your heart as He seeks to bless you. They also show that God uses all kinds of people with different personalities and gifts.


* Mary Magdalene: She illustrates how Christ’s deliverance and forgiveness inspires great love. After Christ cast seven demons out of her and set her free from a life of darkness, she realized that she owed Him everything. Gratefully, she decided to follow Him without reservation, and joined the close circle of disciples who traveled with Him. She stayed with Him no matter what – even when others deserted Him – all the way to the cross. Later, she became the first person to whom Christ revealed Himself after the resurrection. Her deep love for Christ can inspire you to follow Him with a passion that’s fueled by gratitude for His work in your own life.


* Lydia: She shows the importance of having a heart that is wide open to Christ. An Asian woman who encountered the Gospel while on a business trip to Europe, Lydia responded with surprisingly strong faith. Her story reminds you that faith is a gift that comes from God, not from your own power to will yourself to believe. Just as it was God who opened Lydia’s heart to believe, it is God’s work in your life that’s responsible for your faith. Lydia shows that God is always at work, sometimes in secret and surprising ways, to draw people close to Him. Lydia’s grateful response was to open her heart to other people through hospitality. You can respond the same way by taking advantage of opportunities to share God’s love with others.


Adapted from Twelve Extraordinary Women: How God Shaped Women of the Bible, and What He Wants to Do with You, copyright 2005 by John MacArthur. Published by Nelson Books, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.       


John MacArthur, the author of numerous best-selling books that have touched millions of lives, is pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Ca., and president of The Master’s College and Seminary. He is also president of Grace to You, the ministry that produces the internationally syndicated radio program Grace to You and a host of print, audio, and Internet resources. He also authored the notes in the Gold Medallion Award-winning The MacArthur Study Bible.