Women of Faith Wednesday: Ruth Bell Graham

ruth bell graham

This week I have a book recommendation for our ‘Woman of Faith.’  Ruth Bell Graham was the wife of evangelist Billy Graham.  She was an amazing woman who dedicated her life to glorifying God and serving others.  I read her biography a few years ago, it was a great read, and I want to recommend it to you.  It is titled ‘Ruth, A Portrait: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham.’  and was written by Patricia Cornwall.

 

Other links about Ruth Graham:

http://billygraham.org/about/biographies/ruth-bell-graham/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Graham

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Women of Faith Wednesday: Shiprah and Puah, the Exodus Midwives

“Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiprah and the other was named Puah; and he said, ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.’  But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.  So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?’  The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian woman; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.’  So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty.  Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them.  Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, ‘Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.’ “   -Exodus 1:15-22

This is how the story of Moses and the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt begins, with the faith of these two midwives.  At this point in history the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians, but they were multiplying at a fast pace and there were millions of them.  The Egyptians were afraid the Israelites would start an uprising against them, so the king devised a plan to kill all of the male babies.

But these two midwives stood in his way.  They didn’t let fear of the king overcome their faith in God.  When he requested that they kill all of the boy babies Shiprah and Puah directly disobeyed him, then lied about it! I can imagine that if these crimes had been found out they could have been put to death.  But the passage tells us that because they feared the Lord He blessed them, He protected them and provided them with households and families of their own.  However, it is important to note that they are not rewarded for lying, but for their unwillingness to kill.

I want to point out that the Bible uses two types of fear when it talks about fear of God.  One is actual fear or dread of God’s power and punishment, which is mostly felt by unbelievers.  The other is faith in Him or respect for His awesome power and love for us.  The book ‘What Are You Afraid Of?’ by Dr. David Jeremiah has a great chapter on this subject.  Dr. Jeremiah points out that a larger fear will make a smaller fear seem silly and insignificant.  To the midwives God is much bigger and more powerful than some earthly pharaoh!  This way of thinking is what drives their brave actions.  They have faith that, in doing His will, God will protect them from whatever pharaoh might do to them.  Their faith was bigger than their fear!

“Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear Him have no lack!”  -Psalm 34:9

God Thinks You’re Beautiful!

I recently happened to catch an interesting episode of Nightline on NBC called ‘Confessions of a Perfect Face’ which was all about plastic surgery.  They talked about people’s motivations for getting cosmetic surgery as well as horrific things that can happen as a result of the surgery.  It was just so weird and sad because these women who seemed so beautiful to me felt that they are ugly, that they needed to majorly change how they look.  The segment of the show that worried me the most was about how more and more teenaged girls are having work done because they think they are ugly, or feel the need to be perfect.

At first I thought, how selfish!  Plastic surgery costs a lot of money, isn’t there anything better they can spend it on? Also, why would their parents allow them to do this to themselves?  But this point of view has changed to pity.  I feel bad for these girls who they think they are imperfect and ugly, and to such a degree that they have surgery to fix whatever they think is wrong.  

And so I just feel compelled to share with any girls who are reading this that you are perfect is God’s eyes.  He made you in His image, and He thinks you are the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen!  He has a plan and purpose for you that only you can fulfill.  In my opinion, dramatically changing what He gave me as far as my looks would be like telling God that I think what he gave me is crap.  Well here’s some news for you, God doesn’t make crap! 

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:10

 

“For You formed my inward parts;

You wove me in my mother’s womb.

 I will give thanks to You, for I am

fearfully and wonderfully made;

Wonderful are Your works,

And my soul knows it very well.

Psalm 139:13-14

 

I know, everyone has times where they think they are ugly and has parts of themselves they don’t like.  I frequently have days where I’m unhappy with myself thinking, ‘If only I had this, or that.” Or, “I wish I was more ___.”  At those times I try to remember to be grateful for what I have.  I have eyes that can see and ears that can hear!  I can walk! And so I want to challenge you to concentrate on God and His word as well as being thankful instead of concentrating on how you look on the outside.  Many times when a person is joyful about something on the inside it shows through and their outward beauty is highlighted and accentuated by their inward beauty.

 “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”  2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7

Women of Faith Wednesday: Rahab

Rahab’s story and the story of Israel’s defeat of Jericho are some of the most compelling in the Bible.  Rahab was a prostitute living in an evil pagan city, yet she is listed in the lineage of Christ! Through her we are shown that God will use any means to fulfill His plan and redeem one who was lost.

Rahab’s story begins at the end of Israel’s forty years of wandering in the desert.  All the nation of Israel was camped on the opposite side of the Jordan River from Jericho.  They knew they would have to defeat Jericho in order to make their way into the Promised Land.  Jericho was a great yet evil city.  It was very well defended with thick, high walls.  It was also very pagan; they did not worship the Lord in Jericho.

So, Joshua, the leader of the Israelites assigns two men to cross the Jordan and scout out Jericho.  These two men are in great danger going into Jericho.  The people of Jericho knew by then what the Israelites were about, they knew what happened in Egypt before they left.  They knew about the parting of the Red Sea and these things struck fear into their hearts, though most of them probably wouldn’t have admitted it.  So the city was ready to defend itself from these seemingly aimless wandering invaders.

The two scouts somehow end up in an interesting place, hiding in the home of a harlot, a prostitute, our girl Rahab.  It makes me wonder, how did they end up there? What process of events led them to the home of a prostitute?  It’s obvious the Lord had His hand in everything.  While the spies are in her house somehow the king found out they were there so he sent some soldiers down to investigate.  Rahab told the men that the Israelite men were there but had gone; meanwhile they are hiding in the thatch of the roof.

The bravery it must have taken for Rahab to stand up to the soldiers and hide the spies is amazing.  She probably would have been put to death if the king found out she was harboring enemy spies.  In Joshua chapter two it tells us that Rahab believed in the power of the Lord, that He was behind all the miracles surrounding the Israelites.

“…and she said to the men, ‘I know that the Lord has given you the land and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you.   For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.  When we heard it our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”  Joshua 2:9-11

She then makes a request which shows either how much faith she had in the Lord or how much she wanted out of her terrible existence, or both.  She asked the men to spare her and her family when they defeat the city.  They agree and tell her to gather her whole family into her house, and then hang a scarlet thread from her window so it can be differentiated from other windows.  After this Rahab lets them down from her window (her house was in the outer wall of the city) and tells them to run into the hills and hide for a few days so they won’t be pursued.

Rahab brought her family into her house and they wait and watch while the Israelite army marches around Jericho once a day for six days.  Can you imagine watching that?  How crazy it must have seemed by the sixth day! But on the seventh day they march around seven times, then shout and blow horns.  At this, the walls come tumbling down, totally destroyed except one house.  The Israelites take the city, burn it and kill everyone and everything living in it, except Rahab and her family.

“However, Rahab the harlot and her father’s household and all she had, Joshua spared; and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, for she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.” Joshua 6:25

After this conquest Rahab marries an Israelite man, Salmon.  They have children one of which happens to be none other than Boaz, whom we have seen before in the story of Ruth.

“Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, Jesse was the father of David the king.”  Matthew 1:5-6

The lineage of Christ never ceases to amaze me!  He could have had the greatest kings and warriors fill his ancestry, but instead it is full, for the most part, of common people, and many times people of bad reputations according to the world’s standards.  This shows us that anyone can be saved, as long as they have faith.  Christ accepts everyone, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done or not done, who your parents are, or what circumstances you were born into.  All you need is faith alone in Christ alone.

“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.”  Hebrews 11:31

Women of Faith Wednesday: Hannah

In honor of Mother’s Day which is coming up this weekend I want to focus on a Biblical woman who is remembered for the circumstances of her motherhood.  There are many examples of Biblical motherhood, but Hannah might be one of the least known as well as one of the most compelling. Hannah’s story can be found in 1 Samuel chapters 1 and 2. Hannah had been childless for many years, but God fulfilled her greatest hopes when he blessed her with Samuel. Samuel later became one of the great prophets of the Old Testament.  He anointed David as king and guided him during his reign.  But, despite this beautiful ending, Hannah’s story begins with sadness.

Hannah was the first wife of a man named Elkanah.  Elkanah loved her deeply, but because she was unable to have children he married another woman named Peninnah.  Peninnah gave Elkanah a bunch of children, this made her feel that she was better than Hannah and therefore was horrible to her.  In this time period it was a shameful thing when a woman couldn’t have children, so Hannah probably had to endure scorn not only from Peninnah, but also the community in which she lived.

“Her rival, however, would provoke her bitterly to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb.” -1 Samuel 1:6

So it came time for Elkanah to take his family to worship and sacrifice in the temple.  While there Hannah went to the temple and prayed and wept.  She made a promise to the Lord that if He would grant her request for a son she would give him to the service of God for his whole life.

“O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.” -1 Samuel 1:11

While Hannah was praying she was so visibly distressed that the high priest, Eli, came up to her and told her to leave and stop drinking wine.  She was so distraught he assumed she was drunk!  But she explains to him what her real problem is, that she had been praying to God for a son.  Her actual words are awesome, “I have poured out my soul before the Lord…”  Her prayer was fervent and sincere.  Eli’s answer to this is a blessing, that God would grant her petition.

After this Hannah goes home and within a short time she becomes pregnant with Samuel.  She fulfills her promise to God by giving Samuel to His service only after he was weaned.  This means she probably gave Samuel to the care to those in the temple when he was only two or three years old!

“For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him.  So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.”   -1 Samuel 1:27-28

Hannah’s faith amazes me for two reasons; first she has faith that God will grant her request for a son, second she fulfills her promise by giving her son Samuel to God’s service for the rest of his life.  It must have been no easy task for Hannah to give Samuel up at such a young age, and after she had waited so long for a son in the first place!  She must have known that what the Lord had in store for Samuel would be much bigger and more eternally significant than her own desires and what she could give him.

This is also the reason why I find Hannah’s story to be really convicting.  Hannah gives to God her most prized possession, the thing she has been waiting and hoping for, her son.  It makes me think about how we tend to horde our possessions all for ourselves.  Really, it doesn’t have to be possessions that we keep to ourselves; it could be time or talents.  Now, don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying we should all go out and give all our money and possessions to the church or the poor; or that we should quit our jobs or school and spend all our time praying and fasting or something.  But it seems to me, that God gives us things partly so that we can share them with Him and with others; so we can use them to glorify Him and bring others to knowledge of His Son and His wonderful work on the cross. Hannah’s story makes me want to share the best of what I have and not keep it for myself.

“Honor the Lord from your wealth

And from the first of all your produce;

So your barns will be filled with plenty

And your vats will overflow with new wine.” –Proverbs 3:9

Women of Faith Wednesday: Deborah and Jael

God used Deborah and Jael to deliver Israel from its enemies. Though they worked separately and may have never interacted with each other, what these two women did brought about victory for Israel.

Their story takes place during the time of the judges when Israel did not have a human king, God was their king. Yet, the nation of Israel still found itself in a lot of trouble during this time period. They went through seven cycles of sin. First they would follow and serve the Lord, then fall into sin, then become enslaved by another nation, and then they would cry out to the Lord for deliverance, the Lord would raise up a judge to lead them, and then they would be delivered from whoever was enslaving them at the time. This cycle repeated itself seven times in a few hundred years!

One of the judges appointed by God was Deborah. Deborah was also a prophetess, so God spoke directly to her. She is one of the few prophetesses mentioned in the Bible; she was also the only female judge. During the time of Deborah Israel was being oppressed by the Canaanites, whose king was Jabin. Israel had cried out to the Lord to deliver them from Jabin. God tells Deborah what should be done in order to defeat the Canaanites. Deborah sends for Barak and tells him that he is to lead an army against the Canaanite army (which is led by Sisera). He is to take 10,000 men from the tribes of Zebulun and Napthali. Even though God promises to be with Barak he is afraid and won’t go unless Deborah goes with him.

“I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river, Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.” Judges 4:7

Sisera learns that Deborah and Barak are going up to battle with 10,000 men and he goes out to meet them. Sisera leads a huge army out to meet them near Mount Tabor. At this point Barak must have still been very nervous about the battle because Deborah tells him:

“Arise! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hands, behold, the Lord has gone out before you.” Judges 4:14

They win the battle, with the help of the Lord. The interesting part of the Bible’s description of the battle is that it gives all the credit to God. It seems like a strange depiction of a battle, but it is written in such a way that we cannot deny that without His help Barak would not have stood a chance against Sisera’s army.

“The Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak…” Judges 4:15

At this point in the battle Sisera pretty much knows that he is the loser, so he gets out of his chariot and runs away on foot. In his flight he passes by the tent of Heber the Kenite who was a friend of the Canaanites and King Jabin. Heber’s wife Jael calls out to Sisera from the tent telling him to come in to hide and rest.   At this point he was very tired so he took her up on her offer. Sisera lies down in Jael’s tent and asks for water, she gives him milk to drink. After he drinks, he rests and probably falls asleep.

What Jael does next is sort of surprising and very bold. As Sisera rests she takes up a tent peg and a hammer and drives the peg right through Sisera’s head and into the ground, so he dies. This is surprising because prior to this act we are given no information about Jael, except that her husband was a friend of Jabin. However, earlier on in the story Deborah predicts that a woman will kill Sisera (Judges 4:9) so the fact that Jael kills him is a fulfillment of this prophecy. Since Jael was Hebrew it is very probable that she did not share her husband’s friendship with Jabin and Sisera. Maybe she saw the horrible things these men were doing to her people so when she saw an opportunity to kill Sisera she took it. Whatever her reason, this act must have taken a lot of guts and faith.

“Most blessed of women is Jael,

The wife of Heber the Kenite;

Most blessed is she of women in the tent.

He asked for water and she gave him milk;

In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds.

She reached out her hand for the tent peg,

And her right hand for the workmen’s hammer.

Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head;

And she shattered and pierced his temple.” Judges 5:24-26

God used these faithful women to win the battle and deliver Israel when faithful men were scarce. This shows us that God will use us despite our shortcomings (not that being a women is a shortcoming! Back in this time period women were usually considered weak and most of the time did not hold positions of authority).

At the end of the battle Deborah and Barak sing a beautiful song glorifying God and repeating the events of the battle in poetic form.

“Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers!

I—to the Lord, I will sing

I will sing praise to the Lord, the God of Israel.”   Judges 5:3