The Table Podcast

Women in the Old Testament

In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock, Brian Webster, Dorian G. Coover-Cox and Sandra Glahn discuss the Old Testament, focusing on the role of women.

Timecodes
00:15
Introduction of guests
02:10
God’s goodness and its relation to women in the Old Testament
08:50
What is the role of women in the Old Testament and its culture?
13:15
What are the misconceptions of women in the Old Testament?
15:55
Has Proverbs 31 been misinterpreted?
23:12
What are the characteristics of the woman through Proverbs?
25:15
Reestablishing Bathsheba’s credibility
28:48
Ruth as an example of strength
33:30
The foreigner and loyalty in Ruth
37:10
Infidelity, the law, and women in Numbers 5
43:20
Who is Huldah?
Transcript
Dr. Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And I have an array of experts around me to discuss the topic for the day, which is women in the Old Testament. And we plan to take a look at some of the issues tied to the role of women in scripture, and focus on the Old Testament to do that. So I have Brian Webster, who teaches here in Old Testament, Sandy Sandy Glahn, who just teaches everywhere.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
Media Arts.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Media Arts. That’s her official assignment, but she is a Jill of all trades. Can I say that?
Dr. Sandra Glahn
I get borrowed by some departments.
Dr. Darrell Bock
All right. And then Dorian Coover-Cox, who also teaches in Old Testament. So we’ve got two Old Testament experts who can talk to us in English or in Hebrew, with a touch of Aramaic, and who knows what else. And then Sandy and I are just regular folks. And Sandy has just written a book with the absolutely neutral title of Vindicating Vixens.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
I’m the general editor, so I’m gonna blame it on 16 authors.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So it’s a collection of essays?
Dr. Sandra Glahn
Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. All right. And did you go through and highlight different characters in scripture, and that kind of thing, or was it themes, or was it a mix?
Dr. Sandra Glahn
We were looking at women who were wrongly vilified, marginalized, or sexualized. We went through the women in Jesus’ genealogy, and then we went back and did a whole survey of all the New Testament.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Oh, okay. Well that’s cool. And I think there’s a chapel up that you all did at one point to summarize. So if people go to voice.dts.edu, you can find that, and it probably has the same non-provocative title.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
Right. It does.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. That’s what I thought. So, very good. So let’s talk about this. Dorian, I’m gonna start with you. You said yesterday you were in class teaching on this, and you were introducing a theme that you think is tied to the role of women in the old testament. And just share with us what you were sharing with the class.
Dr. Coover-Cox
Well, I offered to them, as a prime hermeneutical principle that God is good. In fact, we began by looking at Psalm 118, verse 1, howdu la adonai ki tov ki leowlam hasdow.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Oh, that’s so clear to me I can hardly stand it.
Dr. Coover-Cox
Exactly. [Laughter] And it’s a phrase that’s repeated a number of times.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And it translates as …
Dr. Coover-Cox
It translates as, give thanks to the Lord, because he’s good. His loyal love endures forever. And the psalmist calls on various groups of people to reply to, antiphonally, about this. And, as you begin to realize, oh, look. Throughout … from start to finish, the writers of scripture, the people in the books of the Bible, the characters that they’re talking about, they are convinced of the goodness of God, and talk about it in many ways. And I’ve begun to think that, as bad as it is, when we fail to … let me say it a better way. If we trust people who are untrustworthy, that’s really bad. There’s all kinds of bad things that happen when you trust a person who doesn’t deserve to be trusted. But I’ve begun to think that we may be in as much trouble when we fail to trust people who are trustworthy. If we fail to trust a God who is trustworthy, we’re the losers. And we see this in everyday life when, let’s say a 12 or 13 year old who actually has well meaning, good parents and doesn’t trust those parents, but begins to trust his or her peers at school more than the good parents … this is dangerous. It’s really bad.

And, you can see it in all sorts of relationships. As soon as you put on, “I’m suspicious of you,” and start interpreting people’s actions, words, in this, “You must be wrong, I’m suspicious of you,” it’s very possible to take almost anything an turn it as a grounds for accusation, because you become so convinced that the other person is not dealing with you honestly or faithfully, and it erodes the relationship very quickly.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So let’s connect t his to the theme that we have, which is the role of women in the Old Testament. How do you see the idea that God is good connecting to that theme?
Dr. Coover-Cox
Well, for starters, what comes immediately to mind is that we read that … a verse that says, “He who spared not His own son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall we not with him freely give us all things?” And we read, “Every good and perfect gift comes from the Lord.” There’s not a better option somewhere else. If God loved women enough to send His only son to die for them, He cares about them. Does that mean that everyone else does, all the time? No, it doesn’t. But, He cares about women. And, I have found over the years, when I’m reading a section of scripture that, on the surface of it, might seem to present God in a negative light, it seems like I’m not sure this reflects well on God. I’ve found what pays is to sit and look at it some more. I see this at home sometimes. I walk in the house, “Well, why did Chuck leave his stuff there?”
Dr. Darrell Bock
Chuck’s your husband.
Dr. Coover-Cox
Chuck is my husband, yeah. And so, “How come he left the truck in the driveway? I have groceries to unload. How inconsiderate.” If I ever think that about him, I quickly learn … if I watch … I quickly learn he wasn’t being inconsiderate. I misinterpreted what he did, because it’s not his nature to be inconsiderate toward me. He doesn’t have a track record of that. And so, it says something about me. And if I let that, it could grow and grow and grow, until he’s never gonna do anything right, because I’ve become the person who’s suspicious of him. So, in that Christ died for women, and all of the people in the Old Testament were looking forward to what God was going to do for them, and the people in the New Testament are looking back and seeing all that God is doing for them, and moving forward and getting to know him better, I’ve just decided, “Well, if it looks like there’s a spot where it might seem like God is not concerned about women, I need to examine it a bit longer, find out more about the culture. Find out the trajectory of this material. Let me look at this longer.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Interesting. Now Brian, you teach Hebrew and Old Testament here, as well. As you think about the role of women in the Old Testament, what do you see, and what do you think people should be conscious of as we think in general about this theme?
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Well, when we think generally about women in the Old Testament, we have to acknowledge that the Old Testament is mostly about the Nation of Israel, as represented by the king, and their covenant fidelity or lack thereof, so there’s all sorts of things about daily life, including what is the role of women in a society that just doesn’t get a lot of page time. So, we don’t want to ask the text to do something that it’s not trying to do.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Can I go to Proverbs 31 now?
Dr. Darrell Bock
You can go to Proverbs 31 whenever you want.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Okay. So, Proverbs 31 is a famous chapter for looking at the role of women. And I feel pretty confident that it’s been mistranslated in any English translation that you’ve ever read, and I think it matters.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Before you dive in … I’ve got people. I’m gonna leave them hanging, all right? Before you go … I think that one of the things that’s at the core of Sandy’s treatment of the book that she edited is a similar kind of concern, that women have been misunderstood, and the way in which women are portrayed in scripture is misunderstood. So I think before we go directly to Proverbs 31, let’s sit back and ask that question a second, which is … and one of the things that you talk about is the cultural, the fact is that scripture steps into a culture that is obviously pretty well established, and yet at the same time does things to challenge some of the way things operate in that culture. So let’s talk about that a little bit. What is it that scripture assumes because that’s the way the world is, and how does scripture help us address that? And then we can eventually turn our attention to how Proverbs steps into that space. It’s a complex question.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Yeah, I’m trying to be sure I understand the question. So let … again speak broadly. We would look in the laws of the books of Moses and say there’s a fair amount of overlap with surrounding cultures. At the same time, we would see there’s differences, and we can see different value placed on people. So one of those things is the Code of Hammurabi is going to distinguish people …
Dr. Darrell Bock
The Babylonian code.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Yeah, the Babylonian code. It’s gonna distinguish a people according to class. And when we see the laws of Moses talk about people, there’s no distinction according to class. And often you will even have laws that use as their example the person that would be considered the farthest down the rung, just to push the point that we’re all level here. So that doesn’t mean that we see extra laws about women in particular, but that idea that we’re treating everyone equally is a sharp contrast to Babylonian law.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So when we see a phrase in scripture that says something like God is not a respecter of persons, and you can misread that to term … well, God doesn’t care about anybody.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
God is a dis-respecter …
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah. That’s exactly the opposite of what it’s getting at, isn’t it, in terms of the idea that God is not … it means that He sees everyone at the same. They all are the same and the justice is supposed in the way in which we treat people is supposed to be the same. The scales aren’t imbalanced on the basis of class, or anything like that.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Right. Which is why Moses is not gonna be able to enter the promised land. It’s why David is challenged by the prophets. You have the big national leaders, and they also … they’re not exempt. The classic way of saying that is is the law king, or is the king law? And the king is not law in Israel. The king is law in all the surrounding cultures. But the king is not law in Israel.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Which is an important idea because it … not only does it level out everyone, but you also see this ability within Israel to be, I like to say, it is self critical about the way in which life is taking place in the nation. It can look at itself and go, “We are not measuring up to what God has set before us in terms of how we ought to be living.”

Okay. So, I’m coming back to Proverbs 31. I’m keeping it out there. But Sandy, let me ask you, so as you think about these themes, and what we’ve already covered, and particularly as you think about the book that you edited, how does it step into this space? What are some of the misconceptions that people have about the way women are handled in the Old Testament, or in scripture in general?

Dr. Sandra Glahn
I think a key misconception with Old and New Testament is wrongly assuming that the culture’s inspired, rather that the instructions given to a people in a culture are inspired. And so sometimes we also think that there should be a one-to-one parallel to our culture for these instructions, and then it seems pretty strange. Like laws about menstruation that we don’t follow in the church today. The law has passed away. But, we can look at this patriarchal culture and think that God favors men, for example, instead of that patriarchy has its own problems, and its own injustices. It’s not that God favors patriarchy, it’s that he called the patriarchs out in a patriarchal culture.

So that’s a big part of it. But also, there is a tendency to sexualize Bathsheba.  Bathsheba’s a great example of sexualizing, of assuming that Eve is a seductress, which is a wrong assumption, and then to extrapolate on Eve, therefore women are seductresses, therefore misreading some of those stories in terms of Tamar, in terms of Bathsheba.

Dr. Darrell Bock
So, and this is actually an important theme. Even though there are certain texts that talk about certain kind of women being seductresses, that doesn’t allow us to make the generalization that every woman should be viewed through that lens. And so you run up against really reading scripture with a kind of sensitivity that is aware of those kinds of distinctions, of those kinds of nuances. I’m gonna come back to the Bathsheba reference, because I think that I have heard, and you have heard … I know we’ve talked about this … messages in which she is given a level of blame and responsibility for what’s going on that you think doesn’t entirely reflect the text. So we’ll come back. So we’re just laying the table here for the passages that we want to talk about. So you’ve got Proverbs 31. We’ve got Bathsheba from you. Dorian, do you have any example you want to put forward as something that we want to talk about down the road? I’m gonna let you think about that for awhile.
Dr. Coover-Cox
I’ll think about that for awhile.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. All right. So now, let’s deliver on Proverbs 31. So what’s going on with Proverbs 31?
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Okay. So real broad statement, most Proverbs in English are present tense. A stitch in time saves nine. We have very few curiosity killed the cat, past tense stuff. So, all the mistranslations of Proverbs 31 describe this woman in the present tense. She is staying up late every night. She is getting up every morning. She’s conducting a tannery business. She has a real estate business going on.
Dr. Darrell Bock
She’s an exhausting woman. [Laughs]
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Right. Yes. So much so, Tremper Longman wrote in response to the question, a woman of valor who can find? No one. She doesn’t exist. And the thing is, when you look through the Hebrew, you realize that almost all of these forms have to be past tense. And there are four that could go either way. And when you go back through and you translate and you read it all past tense, and then you arrive at the end of the chapter, where her grown children have risen up and blessed her, you realize this not her day planner. This is a retrospective on a woman’s life. It’s a lifetime achievement award. It’s Dad talking to the sons, “This is what your mom’s been like. And this is what you should …”
Dr. Darrell Bock
Over the years.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Over the years, yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And she isn’t doing all of these things all at once.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Right. So there was the time when there was a drought, and we didn’t have enough water for all the cows. We had to kill some. And that’s when your mom thought to make the belts, their tannery. She didn’t do that all her life. She didn’t stay up late every … She did what was needed when it came along. And so it can be read as this pressure on women to do everything all the time, and it’s impossible on the one hand, and it’s not addressed to women. This is addressed to men, to make sure that you don’t pursue the vanity of mere outward beauty, and make sure that you look at character.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. In fact, it’s interesting. That passage, when it’s introduced, isn’t addressed to the son, and it really is about, in some ways, appreciating a certain kind of woman … we’re back to the observation made earlier that there are types of women in scripture. And this is someone who’s, if I can say this way, who’s career, lifetime achievement, is worthy of recollection, and has produced in that lifetime of achievement something worth emulating and appreciating.

But it is interesting to go through this list of this chapter and see everything this woman is doing, or has done.

Dr. Brian L. Webster
Has done. ‘Cause if she had 40 years to do it, it’s a little different than is doing.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. But it is … the scope of what she has done is very, very significant.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
It is, but I don’t think we should view it as a template for what everyone should do. This is … these are examples. So, when we look … “Son, when we look at your mom and her good qualities, we can look back and she’s done all sorts of things.” Doesn’t matter whether any particular woman did each of the things on those list.
Dr. Darrell Bock
In other words, rather than thinking about, I need to check all 17 of these boxes …
Dr. Sandra Glahn
I gotta make dough.  I gotta get spices, I gotta buy real estate.
Dr. Darrell Bock
No, as you said earlier, the point is, as there was need, she was wise enough and sensitive enough to step in and do and supply what was necessary in order to meet that need.
Dr. Coover-Cox
And nobody stopped her from doing all of those things.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Oo, oo.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Yeah. She’s out there engaged in the marketplace. She’s making decisions about the home. She’s considered trustworthy. And so her children praise her. And I also think it’s important, in terms of the translation, a woman who fears the Lord makes herself praiseworthy. Now, if her dud of a husband isn’t smart enough to praise her, she’s still praiseworthy, whether or not she receives the praise.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Right. And, of course, this goes back to the idea … there are several ideas here. God is good. God knows. Her honor and her worth come from being faithful before God. That isn’t to let man off the hook by any means. In fact, the whole point of the proverb is to say, you should really appreciate what this represents.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
And, are there any qualities in here that we wouldn’t hope men would have?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. Exactly. Oh, come on. Don’t go there. Now we gotta apply it all over again. [Laughter]

Yeah. So it’s a significant text. And so, if you read it that way, summarize this for us, what that represents, what the message should look like coming out this text.

Dr. Brian L. Webster
Let me come at that sideways a little bit, if you don’t mind. I had a conversation with a rabbi, reformed rabbi, so this is a female rabbi, ’cause I had presented a paper on this at a Jewish conference. And she said, “You understand, in Judaism, every Sabbath we have the blessing, and we read Proverbs 31.” I said, “Well, yeah.” And so she goes, “When I do funerals now, I always ask the daughter, ‘Do you want this read at your mom’s funeral?’ Or has she had it up to here [Laughter] with hearing the pressure about this thing?” So she’s engaging that in a sensitive way. But the point of that is to say, Proverbs 31 can feel like such pressure. And instead, it needs to be viewed as, this is a pointer. It’s aiming me in the right direction. It is an ideal, but it’s aiming me in the right direction, whether it’s a woman trying to be that way, or whether it’s a man having a good sense of what to value in a woman, or the fact that, even as men, we should be following the good example of this woman.
Dr. Coover-Cox
How do you think the chapter functions as an ending for the Book of Proverbs as a whole?
Dr. Brian L. Webster
We start, or near the beginning of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman. So, one way I’ve heard that addressed is, I told you about lady woman … or, sorry,
Dr. Coover-Cox
Lady wisdom.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Lady wisdom. And now, at the end of the book it’s I want you marry her. So on the one … the lady wisdom is a non-real ideal. But he’s saying actual women can embody these qualities, and that’s what you should look for.
Dr. Coover-Cox
Do you know if anybody’s ever taken individual proverbs advice, positive or negative? I’m thinking of … what comes to mind is the sluggard says, “There’s a lion in the street,” so he doesn’t go out.
Dr. Darrell Bock
We gotta head to a break. So, we’re doing a great job of just putting out these teasers and letting people wait for the answer. But what I’m enjoying is the conversation of thinking through how women are portrayed in the Old Testament, and perhaps in a little different ways than we think, and in ways that challenge all of us about the way in which we live. But I guess the next question is, aren’t there certain characteristics that this woman is displaying that we see throughout the proverbs, or at least at different points in the book?
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Yes. I don’t know if anybody’s written an article on this, but certainly many of the characteristics that are showing up in Proverbs 31 have been visited earlier. Certainly the proverbs say more than just what’s in here. And some of those proverbs have examples that are negative. This would not be a woman of quality. So she would be the opposite of the negative?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. In fact, before we get to lady wisdom, we’ve got a whole section, almost, that deals with the woman who is the temptress who should not be followed, et cetera.
Dr. Coover-Cox
Lady folly, she sometimes is called.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Lady folly. So yeah. So, …
Dr. Brian L. Webster
And then there’s the woman, it’s in the proverb, that it’s better to be outside in a dripping corner of a house than to be inside with the woman who is always just henpecking, et cetera, and so forth. So there are examples of negative.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I hate to bring this up, ’cause an extra biblical example, but there’s a passage in Syriac, that I have often read in class to talk about back grounds and that kind of thing. I’ve used it to fill in the background of John 4, for example, and the disciples’ shock about Jesus talking to a woman. And I’m thinking, here’s a portion of the way women are sometimes generalized in the extra biblical materials that tell you … and one of the lines that is one of my favorite, it’s worse having a woman who is a nagging woman, that kind of thing, is worse than being an old man trying to climb up a sandy hill. [Laughter]
Dr. Sandra Glahn
That’s an image.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right. Exactly. So, we do have this thing going on culturally around the role of men and women that we’re constantly playing with up against the scripture. We’ve got some other examples that we want to talk about and take the time to talk about, so I’m gonna start with Bathsheba. So Sandy, let’s talk about the way in which we sometimes hear this passage preached, and talk about how, perhaps, it ought to be handled.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
Bathsheba is a Me-too story. But it’s often treated as an affair, where you have two consensual adults. And even it’s sometimes treated like she is going to the palace and setting out to seduce David. And if you just use some principles of biblical interpretation, the basic ones, like some word studies, like David sent for her, he sent men for her. She is washing. That doesn’t even mean she’s bathing. She could have just been washing her hands. We are reading into that. And so what happens, instead of us seeing the argument of the book, which is David has gone from this shepherd boy, whom God has raised up, and now he’s abusing power. We should all take that as a lesson and a warning. But instead, we’re blaming the person who brought down the power.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So we’ve deflected the message from the person on whom it’s focused, and created a situation that … I’m gonna say it this way … that almost puts David in a position where you go, “Well, maybe he isn’t as guilty as we thought.”
Dr. Sandra Glahn
It totally puts him there. Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And the subversion of what the represents in terms of the message of the scripture is a problem, because David is very, very responsible for what it is that he’s done, not only what he did with Bathsheba, but what he did with her husband, et cetera.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
So she grieved. We kind of jump over that. But also, what that does to men and women in relationship, because then it becomes a warning. Men just … there are plenty of warnings, like you were mentioning. There are women like that in the world. This just isn’t one of them. So, as you said, yeah, we deflect over what we should be. We should be identifying with David, and realizing I could fall, I could abuse power. Now we know more about power differentials in these sort of sexual relationships, and we know that if you have a lot of power, and you’re with a powerless person, even if it’s consensual, it’s not the same thing.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And the hard thing is is that when you generalize that and make it into a generalized principle, that is the way we might traditionally handle Bathsheba in a text like this, the problem becomes, you problematize all your relationships with other women, and in the process, you cut yourself off from a part of the body of Christ that is … that you’re supposed to be … you’re supposed to be brothers and sisters. So, …
Dr. Sandra Glahn
It’s bad for men, and it’s bad for women. It’s bad for both. We should be partnering in healthy brother and sister relationships.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And part of that means respecting the fact that women can be … I go back to the proverbs … can be like the Proverbs 31 woman, with whom I can have a good, meaningful, deep relationship, even if she’s not my wife. But it doesn’t have to be sexualized or romanticized, or anything like that. It’s just a good, human relationship that you’re pursuing.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
Exactly.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So that was quick dip and look at Bathsheba. That was quick enough. Let’s take on Ruth. You said you’re getting ready to give a message on Ruth. So, what are you gonna tell us about Ruth?
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Well, I’m gonna be focused on Ruth, chapter 1, in the chapel that’s coming up. But we’re gonna look at Naomi and Ruth throughout the book, and to try and focus for the moment, maybe it would be interesting to deal with the phrase, a strong woman. ‘Cause that phrase, a strong woman, can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
Dr. Darrell Bock
We’re not thinking Amazons, are we?
Dr. Brian L. Webster
No. We’re not talking about Wonder Woman. Sometimes the meaning is a good, wholesome thing, where if you said strong man or strong woman, just strong person, that’s all we mean, somebody who has integrity, and isn’t going to back down from issues that needs to be backed down from. I said that wrong, but you know what I mean. And then sometimes a strong woman is used for someone who isn’t actually going to listen or be responsive, and just is demanding. So, when we look at Ruth in chapter 1, she puts her foot down with Naomi, and she is a strong woman. However, when we look at the rest of the book, she is also strong enough to be submissive. So, in chapter 2, she’s taking the initiative, ’cause Naomi is depressed. But she still is, “Please, shouldn’t I? I ought to go out there?” “Sure, go.” Naomi doesn’t have any words or strength or ever …

She goes out there and Boaz’s supervisor won’t let her initially glean. Yes, sir. I’ll wait until the boss comes. And then Boaz gives her permission, and she’s overwhelmed. She’s not entitled saying, “Look. I have the right to be here, and to glean the harvest corn.”

Dr. Darrell Bock
No sense of entitlement.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
No sense of entitlement. In chapter 3, when we’ve had enough time that Naomi’s coming out of her depression, she’s got lots of energy, and she gives all these instructions to Ruth, “All the things that you are saying I will do. Yes, ma’am.” And then the narrator tells us she went and everything … she did. And then Boaz gives her instructions at the threshing floor, and “Yes, sir.” And she does them. And it’s not because she’s weak, and it’s not because she’s subservient, but because her … the strength that shows up in chapter 1 is when she says, “Look. Your people are my people, your God is my God, I can’t back down on that.” That is the thing that drives. So, she is strong, but she has strength enough to serve Naomi, and she has strength enough to respect the elders.
Dr. Darrell Bock
She has enough strength of character and enough strength of identity to know what her sense and what her calling is, and to be responsive in a way that actually benefits the people around her. Is that where we’re at in the book?
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Yeah. And even for her, we can track this with the words that she uses to describe herself. She’s really not confident of her place in society at all. It’s not that she knows her identity so much, but she knows God’s identity. And she can rest there and find her strength there, and then it shows up in the text.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Great.
Dr. Coover-Cox
And Boaz acts as the character reference for her on two occasions. And then the neighbor ladies do, as well. They tell Naomi, “Look, your daughter-in-law, who loves you, is better than ten sons.” And … or seven sons, sorry, seven. Yeah. Seven sons. The perfect number. Anyway, but … And she, when she shows up at the threshing floor, she’s there with a proposal of marriage that goes beyond anything that Boaz expected of her. He tells her, “Oh, you could have married another man, younger or older. You could have had your choice. But you’re do …” He could see that she was doing what she was doing as a means of benefiting Naomi, which is going beyond what’s required. So they both do. Both Ruth and Boaz go beyond what is expected in the society for, in terms of kindness and loyalty to family and so on. It seems to me.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And then, of course, in the flow of the book as a whole, in the flow of the Bible as a whole, this becomes an important story because Ruth is a gentile. So, let’s flesh that out a little bit. What’s going on at that level, and how does the scripture play with that theme?
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Okay. So try and do the Reader’s Digest version. Take Boaz’s supervisor, ’cause he doesn’t let her initially go out and glean. And there’s a political correctness response to that that would say, “Oh, he’s just against foreigners.” But I don’t think so. Torah’s a lot more … has a lot more information on how you handle foreigners in Israel. So there’s lots of different kinds of foreigners. And one of those is a gare. And we need … we don’t have time … but to work through all of Torah …
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s a whole ‘nother podcast. [Laughter]
Dr. Brian L. Webster
But the synopsis of that is that particular kind of foreigner in Israel is fully protected by, and fully obligated to all of the law of Moses. They are an adherent to the covenant. And that’s … ’cause see, when Boaz explains why she can do this, it’s the thrust of the pericope, it’s because she has taken refuge under the wings of Yahweh. It’s all about covenant loyalty.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And that goes back to her statement about your God, my God.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Yeah. Your God is my God. The point is always covenant loyalty. But for Boaz’s supervisor, how’s he going to be looking at her? Do I view her mostly as a widow for these laws? Do I view her mostly as a gare? ‘Cause she hasn’t been here very long. When do gare get full access to the assembly? Third or fourth generation. It takes time to verify loyalty to the covenant. It’s just not you walk across the border and you get our stuff. And for Moabites, it tenth generation, because under Baalim’s he pulled the loyalty of the Israelites going through Moab away from the covenant. And so there’s a bigger delay for when Moabites get in. So when this Moabite girl comes along, it’s just put in our face over an over again, “This is the Moabite who came back with …” But the narrator says it, too. Ruth, the Moabite. We already know that. Why is the narrator saying that? That’s usually divine perspective.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So you’re supposed to hear MOABITE.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
You’re supposed to hear a question mark. But since the narrator says it, too, we’re not supposed to condemn Boaz’s supervisor It’s just, we have a complex Torah legal question here. And Boaz just blows by it and says, “Family. Yahweh worshiper, family, I’m helping.” So.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
Wow. That’s nice.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And, of course, scripture, she shows up in the genealogy of Jesus, down the road. So this becomes a model for the way in which someone who was originally on the outside has become incorporated within the people of God, in part because of who their character is, and what the response, and in part to show that God is no respecter of persons. He is open to anyone who is willing to be responsive to him, and offers great access through that means.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
Yeah. Sometimes we forget that it was a mixed company that came out of Egypt, and that there are non-Israelites at the making of the covenant.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Interesting.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
Interesting.
Dr. Brian L. Webster
So the gare, the gare are covenant keepers. They are naturalized citizens.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Interesting. Well, like I said, there’s a whole ‘nother topic wrapped up in that, and we’ve talked about that, so that’ll be fun. Okay. So let’s turn our attention to … I’m gonna turn our attention to Numbers 5. Huldah is waiting. What do you want to tell us about Numbers 5?
Dr. Coover-Cox
Well, occasionally people look at Number 5 and they think, “Isn’t God being unfair to women here?”
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So overview for us what Numbers 5 is about, in case someone has no clue.
Dr. Coover-Cox
Okay. Well, one of the things in Numbers 5 has to do with the test of loyalty, fidelity, for a woman who has been accused of infidelity. Her husband, it says, her husband has a spirit of jealousy. And so he’s accusing her of having an affair of some sort. And the law provided for a means of determining what had happened. And that involved going to the central sanctuary, talking to the priest, and having a test that involved, of all things, drinking water that had scrapings from the floor, and waiting to see if it had an ill effect on her. And so people look at that, “Well, where’s the test of jealousy for men, and what not?”

Okay. So, that passage always bothered me in a way, but I didn’t pay much attention to it until a student talked to me about it, who was in a class where the professor was apologizing for this passage, and this test of fidelity and so on. And she was looking at it and saying, “This is great. This is such a good law.” She was so worked up about it she wrote him a long email that night. And then she’s telling me about it, say, “Oh, well tell me more. Why do you think this is such a great passage?” And she says, “Well, for one thing, it gives women access to the authorities. He can’t just willy-nilly kill her, because he thinks she was unfaithful to him.” “Oh. Tell me more.” Well, this young woman had grown up in a society in which there were times when she, as a teenager, went to school and looked around and could ask, “Where is so-and-so?” And so-and-so was dead. Her friend was gone, simply because she had been accused of something. Whether or not she did it was not the issue. She had been accused.

Dr. Darrell Bock
And that was enough.
Dr. Coover-Cox
And that was enough. And the student I was talking to said, “We all knew that there would be no repercussions, or very small, if anybody even investigated this girl’s death.” So, she looked at this as a law that protected women. And then I began to look at it, thinking along those lines, and I thought, “Oh, yeah. Look at all the false accusations that this would put a stop to,” because if any woman was righteous and hadn’t had an affair, and her husband accuses her of something, she could say, “Okay. Put up or shut up. We’re going to the priest.” And he’s not gonna … men would not make … there would be no incentive for them to make false accusations, simply to get rid of a wife they didn’t want, because there was recourse for her.
Dr. Darrell Bock
There were protections.
Dr. Coover-Cox
There was protection. Furthermore, I’m looking at this and thinking, “Okay. Water with a little bit of dust from the floor is not gonna kill anyone.” I watch, again my husband occasionally pick up something from the floor and eat it, just to spite me. [Laughter] “You can’t do that.” “What do you mean I can’t do this. Of course I can do that.” [Laughter] Or they say, “Oh, you can’t drink out of the milk bottle.” Well, he doesn’t anymore, but … Women have all these rules.
Dr. Darrell Bock
We’re finding out far too much about … [Laughter]
Dr. Coover-Cox
Yeah, yeah. So, okay. I’m thinking, she’s not gonna … nobody’s gonna die from a little bit of dust off the floor. If she dies, if she has ill effect from this, it’s because God intervened directly to judge in this situation. There would be a righteous outcome to this test. Huh. It implies that God is concerned, and He’s going to be involved in any test of this sort. So, okay. This is a better chapter, a better law than we thought, in view of the culture, and in view of the options that were available to people at the time, and the assumptions that they were making. They’re not living in the 21st century. They don’t have the same setup that we do, for many, many things. I think about this, too, in terms of cultures around the world, and Dan Richardson, years and years ago, wrote about a culture in Irian Jaya that he went to as a missionary.
Dr. Darrell Bock
The peace child.
Dr. Coover-Cox
The peace child. And that was eye opening, partly because he describes the situation there, a religion that had no place for women at all. So there wasn’t even any hope for women offered in the pagan religion that was there. Nothing. And the suicide rate among women was enormous. But here’s God bringing Israel out of Egypt and including everybody in worship, and in access to teaching and to instruction and justice.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Fascinating. Well we’ve got one more example left, Huldah. We got a little more than two minutes, so go for it.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
So Huldah is a prophet, and it’s been an awfully long time since anybody’s heard the word. And Josiah becomes king when he’s six, and they’re cleaning out the temple and they find this scroll. And they read it and go, “Holy cow, we’re in trouble.” And the king basically says, “Send for Huldah.” And there are plenty of other people he could have sent for, but she’s the prophet that gets called in. And she basically, this sayeth the Lord. And she’s not the only woman prophet. You’ve got … in fact, in every dispensation where there’s a male prophet, there’s at least one woman prophet. There are more male prophets, but they’re always a sampling. Deborah’s another example where she’s a prophet, but she’s also … she’s a judge, but she’s also a prophet, and only Samuel has that same status. And so anyway, Huldah is often just completely left out of our discussions of women in the Bible. So, I felt like we needed to at least acknowledge her presence.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So there’s a hall of fame here, and we’re making sure she’s in it, in the ring of honor.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
There’s a hall of fame. We want to make sure Huldah’s included.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Great. Well, this has been fun. And I think that what we see is the way in which God has interacted with, elevated, and in some cases utilized women, gifted them, in many cases protected them, presented them as examples who we can all reflect on and emulate. And we’ve even had laws that show there is protection in the way things are said. We’ve taken a look at at Proverbs 31 that says here’s an example woman. We had the model of wisdom here, and lo and behold, in chapter 31, here’s someone who’s life reflects this direction. We’ve got Huldah. We’ve tried to reestablish Bathsheba’s credibility. So it’s a variety of pictures. And what we see is God is good, and God is someone who’s very aware of all of our roles. Ruth becomes an example of someone who, on the one hand, can be strong and stand for what she represents on the one hand. And yet on the hand, when it’s called upon for her to be responsive to others, she’s also capable and secure enough to be able to do that.

So, I think you all for helping us with this journey through the Old Testament. I hope this has been as fun for you as it has been for me. And it’s fun to bring in some people who dig in the Old Testament on a regular basis, and people who write about it. We hope we’ve vindicated the vixens, and anyone else who’s been offended, and we thank you for joining The Table, and hope you’ll be back again soon.

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Brian Webster
In the course of his professional career Dr. Webster has worked as a research fellow at The Scriptorium, cataloguing cuneiform texts and working with Hebrew scrolls; taught Greek and Hebrew at Cornerstone University and at Puritan Reform Theological Seminary; and served as associate professor of Bible and chair of the Bible, Religion, and Ministry division at Cornerstone University. He has won several teaching awards and recognition in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. He and his wife serve as youth leaders at Lake Cities Community Church in Rowlett, Texas. He is currently a professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Dorian G. Coover-Cox
Dr. Coover-Cox has been a part of DTS as a student, a teacher, and associate editor for Bibliotheca Sacra. Originally she came to the Seminary to become a better editor; she found, however, that what she enjoys most about editing is helping people learn. While still an editor, she has found her niche in the classroom as well, encouraging students as they learn Hebrew. She has special interest in the Book of Exodus and in literary analysis of narratives and poetry.
Sandra Glahn
Dr. Glahn serves as associate professor in Media Arts and Worship and is a multi-published author of both fiction and non-fiction. She is a journalist, and a speaker who advocates for thinking that transforms. Dr. Glahn’s more than twenty books relate to bioethics, sexuality, and reproductive technologies as well as ten Bible studies in the Coffee Cup Bible Study series. She is a regular blogger at Engage, Bible.org’s site for women in Christian leadership, the owner of Aspire Productions, and served as editor-in-chief for Kindred Spirit from 1999 to 2015.
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