After we moved, again, this summer, one of my priorities was to find a bible study. From experience, I can tell you, finding a church home is not an easy journey. It generally takes us six months or more before we feel like we’ve found a place where we can START to make our home. (This latest search has been no different.) However, women’s Bible studies tend to be open to most anyone from any church. Women, we’re all touchy-feely and inclusive that way.
This move, I was able to join Bible Study Fellowship. Several friends were members at various locations in the metroplex but I’d never been able to attend. BSF takes one book of the Bible and focuses on studying it for the year. This year is John.
This is the part where I confess something no one will understand.
I don’t read the New Testament that often. In fact, only during a specific Bible study or as part of a message and weekly discussion guide.
Honestly, I’m wholeheartedly in love with the Old Testament. The stories are downright epic. And I say that intending to use the actual meaning of the word and not some Urban Dictionary version where pizza is “epic.”
(Although, a good pizza is worth its weight in gold.)
(Especially a good gluten-free one.)
The stories of the Israelites? Swoon. (THAT might be an Urban Dictionary exaggeration) And more importantly, the God who continues to love and rescue and provide for those Israelites? Glory be. I just fall head over heels in love with Him with each story.
But where I really get lost in the Old Testament? The women.
Jael. Abigail. Rahab. Their stories are far superior to any Marvel superhero movie.
And momma’s, if we are not teaching our kiddos about these women, we are doing them a disservice.
Last week, though, my study of John and one of these women sort of collided for me. (Although let me be honest and say, I could connect all three of them to this story but, well, that’s a book and not a blog post.)
We were studying John 8, the story of the adulterous woman. Which is just odd that we’ve given this story that name because really, it’s the story of the Pharisees Setting a Trap. That would be a better name but “adulterous women” is much more salacious.
As I’m reading the story, it stuns me every time, those stinkers PLANNED this thing.
I’m envisioning a meeting of these religious leaders and Pharisees, likely in someone’s damp basement, and they’re standing around talking about “how can we stop this Jesus.” And they throw around ideas. Mostly bad ones, and at least one that is horrible but he’s the priest’s son so they have to delicately and awkwardly shoot it down for the sake of appearances, until one of them says, “Wait. My wife was just telling me about this lady she knows from the market and she said she thinks she’s having an affair.”
And the trap starts to come together.
I gotta think it took them a couple of weeks of recon work to learn if A) she really was having an affair, B) what her schedule was so they could catch her in the act and C) figure out the timing of grabbing her and presenting her to Jesus.
That’s a serious trap.
These men cared zero about the women. Scripture doesn’t tell us anything about her story, which is a sermon in and of itself (our excuses and justifications DO NOT MATTER), but we do get a whole lot of mental pictures about the entire thing. I’ve heard plenty of people speak about this story and mention the horror of standing naked in front of an angry group of men ready to stone her to death. But I don’t necessarily think she was naked but likely in some form of disrobed. Regardless, these men were not paying any attention to her.
She was the trap. Not a person. Just a means to an end.
And they were hoping, the ending was the removal of this Jesus.
How often in scripture do self-righteous men set on bringing down the kingdom of God completely overlook the women?
All. The. Time.
Jael, the men around her hardly gave her a thought, was married to an Israelite who chose to leave his people, make an alliance with his enemies and build himself a comfy little life under a big shade tree. In the land of his enemies.
Right there. In their backyard.
For the love.
I have to wonder if Jael married him before he made the foolish decision to pick comfort with his enemies over righteousness with his God. I imagine she did. She thought she was getting one man in a husband and instead, got an enemy.
But that day? When Sisera, the army general who’d killed and raped hundreds of Israelite women, came walking towards Jael’s shaded home underneath the big tree, she knew her time had come.
She gave him warm milk, covered him up with a snuggly blanket and, even though scripture doesn’t say this, I like to think she started humming him a little lullaby, and let him fall asleep. Just like he was a baby.
I can see her, standing by the door, just as he’d told her to do, humming and waiting. Women know when babies are in a deep sleep. They’ve spent hours with their babies listening for that slow, patterned, deep breathing. Jael knew when Sisera was OUT.
Once that deep sleep hit, she turned towards him, humming still, she pulled a tent spoke out of her pocket and the hammer from the table. She knelt down over him and with the skill only a tent builder’s wife would have, she drove that tent spoke straight down inside his temple.
In my mind, she never stopped humming that lullaby.
So then I go back to the Adulterous Woman. Let’s call her Sue, because why not. Here’s how I see Sue. Kinda like Jael. She’s in a marriage she probably didn’t expect. Maybe she’s the third wife and her twice-widowed husband is significantly older than her. Maybe her husband was abusive. Maybe he worked all the time and never came home. Maybe she was in love with someone else well before she was married off to this man.
We don’t know.
But like Heber the Kintite, Jael’s husband, the religious leaders and Pharisees who catch Sue “in the very act” have no real interest in her. Only in how circumstances can be manipulated for their benefit.
Make an alliance with my enemy? If it means my life is easier? Yep.
Catch a woman in the act of adultery? If it means we might get rid of our enemy? Yep.
Neither ever saw the women. And neither could have seen how God would use them.
Heber never imagined his wife would one-day MURDER his protector’s (the Canaanites) greatest warrior. Nope. He likely never imagined his wife would do much of anything other than play the role of wife, without argument.
The Pharisees, meeting in that damp basement planning a trap for Jesus, never imagined an adulterous woman, Sue, would be set free without consequence. They likely never thought anything about her other than they would get a peep show and use her to overtake Jesus.
But God did.
He takes our shame, our sin, our mistakes, our regrets, our hopelessness, our despair and redeems every bit of it.
Jael? Was given the victory of the battle. She was the conqueror. She had poetry written about her, for goodness sakes. But before that, she likely lived years of shame and isolation and regret over her husband’s choices. She waited and trusted and when the time came, her time, she knew God had given her the Israelite’s greatest enemy to destroy. And, heavens, the women never blinked. All glory to God.
Sue? Was given freedom. She, who was sentenced to death for her actions, found Jesus. He used her sin, her bad choice, regardless of what led her to that choice, to redeem her and bring glory to the Father. Jesus stood in the gap for her. He fulfilled thousands of years of law by being her spotless lamb in that moment.
Now, we read Sue’s story and we meet Jesus. We see His mercy and love in how He freely gave forgiveness to her.
Jael found freedom from her enemies. The Adulterous Woman found freedom from her sin. Both women, ignored by the men who sought and planned only to elevate themselves, God used for His purposes and His glory.
Friend. All things, even our shame and our sins and our despair, all things work together for our good. Don’t be afraid to invite God to use even our bad. The people around us who want to see God’s kingdom fail, they aren’t planning to see YOU brought to justice. They are planning to trap God.
And that is a place where He shines brightest. Redeemed, messy, sinful people living in victory because of Jesus.