19 September 2014

Tamar: Think Again

Genesis 38

You call me a whore
but what are you?
Why must it be the woman
who takes all the blame?
You can say I seduced you -
who forced you to give in?
Who asked me to bed?
It wasn't me.

You call me a whore
but what are you?
Why does the man
always get away?
You suffer no consequences -
I have to bear them all:
scorn, hatred, death penalty
and the child you gave to me.

You call me a whore
but what are you?
Don't you know it takes two?
It's always all right
for you to do -
have you never thought
what your actions might mean?

You call me a whore.
Think again.
For it was you
who made me one.
It is not I,
it is you who must change.


[25. November 2012]

Tamar was the wife of Judah's son Er. After he died she was given to his brother Onan, so that he'd provide children for her. If I understood correctly that was a way to provide security for widows back then. They'd stay in the family and be cared for. But Onan only wanted to sleep with her and didn't want her to have children that wouldn't count as his own. Then Onan died - then Judah freaked out and decided to send Tamar away instead of give her to his third son. Tamar ended up tricking Judah by sitting by the roadside like a prostitute (he didn't recognise her) - ended up pregnant and just when Judah wanted to have her sentenced to death because of it, she proved to him that he was the one who had made her pregnant.

It's a complicated story! I think it shows something about the hypocrisy of men - and how God is on the side of those who are wronged. Tamar had a very strange way of fighting for her rights - one I don't think should be copied! But it showed Judah how wrong his choices were.

Thing is: I heard that today in America, most men want to marry a virgin. BUT they would also like to sleep around before getting married. What do you think ends up happening? There won't be any more virgins to go around at that rate.

Women often get the blame. It's just so much easier to trace back to a woman that she's been sleeping around, especially if she gets pregnant. Then it's just obvious. But the man never gets in trouble.

Don't be a man like Judah. Think about the consequences of your actions.

Picture by Horace Vernet.

16 September 2014

The List

Round about 2010, I had the idea to challenge myself to write a poem for every woman in the Bible.
The list started with 40 ladies I could think of, but it has been growing ever since, because women keep popping out from unexpected corners in the Bible! :-)

This list is still not complete - partly because I have (for now) left out the mothers of kings who are mostly "names without stories" and harder to write about (unless I get ideas!), partly because I have not yet included all the "personifications" (e.g. God as Mother) and ladies from parables, though I might include them later. I'm also sure there are more women hidden somewhere in the Bible (not to mention I hardly know the Apocrypha and have to read through them first to find all the women there!) - so if you know someone I've left out, do tell me! (My mother "updates" me all the time...)

The already-written ones have a link to their poem(s) - some have more than one! :-)

I'll try to keep this list regularly updated...

Old Testament

1. Eve [1 Helper] [2 Naked] [3 The Fall] [4 Bitter Fruit]
2. Cain's wife
3. Naamah (Gen 4:22)
4. Daughters of Men (Gen 6:1-4)
5. Adah, wife of Lamech (Gen 4:19-24)
6. Zillah, wife of Lamech (Gen 4:19-24)
7. Noah's wife
8. Noah's sons' wives
9. Sarai / Sarah [1 Is This Love?] [2 Jealousy] [3 He Who Laughs Last]
10. Hagar
11. Lot's wife
12. Lot's daughters
13. Rebekah
14. Keturah (Abraham's other wife)
15. Rachel
16. Leah
17. Bilhah
18. Zilpah
19. Dinah [1 Stop Me] [2 Daisy Petals]
20. Tamar (wife of Judah's sons, Gen 38)
21. Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39)
22. Asenath (Joseph's wife)
23. Midwives Shiphrah and Puah (Ex 1)
24. Jochebed
25. Miriam
26. Pharaoh's daughter
27. Zipporah
28. Mothers of slain firstborn (Ex 12)
29. Moses' Cushite wife (Num 12:1-16)
30. Cozbi (Numbers 25)
31. Zelophehad's daughters (Numbers 27)
32. Rahab
33. Achsa (Joshua 15, Judges 1)
34. Deborah
35. Jael (Judges 4)
36. Sisera's mother
37. Woman who dropped millstone on Abimelech (Judges 9:50-57)
38. Jephthah's daughter (Judges 11)
39. Samson's mother (Judges 13)
40. Samson's wife (Judges 14-15)
41. Samson's prostitute (Judges 16)
42. Delilah (Judges 16)
43. Micah's mother (Judges 17:1-6)
44. Levite's concubine (Judges 19)
45. 400 virgins (Judges 21)
46. Daughters of Shiloh (Judges 21)
47. Orpah (Ruth 1)
48. Ruth
49. Naomi
50. Hannah
51. Peninnah
52. Eli's daughter-in-law (1 Sam 4:19-22)
53. Ahinoam (wife of Saul)
54. Michal
55. Merab, Michal's sister (1 Sam 18)
56. Abigail (1 Sam 25)
57. Sorceress of Endor (1 Sam 28)
58. Ahinoam of Jesreel, mother of Amnon (2 Sam 2)
59. Maacah, mother of Absalom and Tamar (2 Sam 2)
60. Haggith, mother of Adonijah (2 Sam 2)
61. Mephibosheth's Nanny (2 Sam 4)
62. Ishbosheth's porter (2 Sam 4:6 LXX)
63. Bathsheba (2 Sam 11-12)
64. Thamar, daughter of David (2 Sam 13) [1 Dirty Laundry] [2 Shame]
65. Tamar, daughter of Absalom (2 Sam 14:27)
66. Wise woman of Tekoa (2 Sam 14)
67. David's concubines (2 Sam 16:20-22)
68. Woman who hid David's messengers (2 Sam 17)
69. Wise woman of Abel (2 Sam 20:16-22)
70. Rizpa (2 Sam 22)
71. Abishag (1 Kings 1-2)
72. Prostitute mothers who came to Solomon (1 Kings 3:16-28)
73. Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10)
74. Solomon's wives (1 Kings 11)
75. Solomon's Egyptian wife
76. Jerobeam's wife (1 Kings 14:1-18)
77. Naamah the Ammonite, mother of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:31)
78. Mahalath, wife of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11)
79. Maacah / Micaiah, wives of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11 + 13:1-2)
80. Maacah, mother of Asa (2 Chronicles 15:16)
81. Jezebel
82. Widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17)
83. Widow whose oil Elisha multiplied (2 Kings 4)
84. Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4)
85. Naaman's wife
86. Naaman's slave girl (2 Kings 5)
87. Athaliah (tyrant queen, 2 Kings 11)
88. Jehosheba (saved her nephew, 2 Kings 11)
89. Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20)
90. Nehushta, mother of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:8-17)
91. Foreign wives (Ezra 9-10)
92. Shallum's daughters (Neh 3:12)
93. Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14)
94. Vashti
95. Esther
96. Zeresh (Haman's wife, Esther 5-6)
97. Job's wife
98. Job's sisters (Job 42:11)
99. Job's daughters (Job 42:14-15)
100. Bride of the King (Ps 45)
101. Lady Wisdom (Proverbs)
102. Lemuel's mother (Prov 31)
103. Proverbs 31 woman
104. Sulamith (Song of Songs)
105. Isaiah's wife (Is 7:3)
106. Unfaithful Jerusalem (Ez 16)
107. Oholah and Oholibah (Ez 23)
108. Ezekiel's wife (Ez 24:16-27)
109. Lo-Ruhamah (Hosea 1-2)
110. Gomer, Hosea's wife

New Testament

4. Anna
19. Martha (Lk 10, Jn 11) [1 One Thing Is Needful] [2 But Even Now]
20. Woman who blessed Mary (Lk 11)
21. Syrophoenician / Canaanite woman (Mt 15)
22. Syrophoenician woman's daughter
23. Crippled woman (Lk 13:10-16)
24. Baking woman / parable of the yeast (Lk 13:20-21)
25. The woman who lost a coin (Lk 15)
26. The wise and foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-13) 
27. Woman who annointed Jesus
28. Servants who recognised Peter (when he denied Jesus)
29. Pilate's wife
30. Daughters of Jerusalem (Lk 23:27-28)
31. Mary mother of James and Joses (Mt 27:55-56)
32. Joanna wife of Chusa, follower of Jesus
33. Mary Magdalene
34. Sapphira (Acts 5)
35. Dorcas (Acts 9)
36. Mary, mother of John Mark (Acts 12)
37. Rhoda (Acts 12)
38. Lydia (Acts 16)
39. Possessed girl (Acts 16:16-22)
40. Damaris (Acts 17)
42. Drusilla (Felix' Jewish wife, Acts 24)
43. Bernice (wife of King Agrippa, Acts 25)
50. Lois
51. Eunice
52. Recipient of 2. John
54. Bride of Christ (Rev)
55. The whore Babylon (Rev)


1. Judith
2. Judith's maid
3. Deborah (raised Tobit)
4. Hannah (Tobit's wife)
5. Sarah (Tobit)
6. Edna, Raguel's wife (Tobit)
7. Praying women (2 Macc 3)
8. Women who had circumcised their children (2 Macc 6)
9. Woman with 7 sons (2 Macc 7)
Peter: In the Courtyard

Women in Literature
This is a new category, not really part of any challenge - so I'm only listing those I've already written about or am seriously planning to write about.

1. Elinor (from Sense and Sensibility)
2. Arwen (from The Lord of the Rings)
3. Éowyn (from The Lord of the Rings)
4. Christine Daaé (from The Phantom of the Opera)
5. Tess of the d'Urbervilles (from Tess of the d'Urbervilles)

Picture is by Gustav Klimt, Die Drei Lebensalter der Frau

15 September 2014

Sarai: Jealousy

WARNING: sexual content

Genesis 16:1-6

By now
she will be in his arms.
I dare not think it,
but I do.
I wonder,
will she be as scared
as I was the first time?
I wonder,
will he whisper
the same sweet words into her ear,
that he likes to say to me?
I dare not think it,
but I do.

Tempted, so tempted,
to sit outside his tent
and listen
to every rustle of the sheets,
to every moan from her lips -
I dare not think it,
but I do.

No, no, no.
It should be me,
and me alone.
What if he falls
for this younger girl,
for her beauty,
for the energy
I no longer have?
I dare not think it,
but I do.

This was my choice,
done for his sake,
done out of love,
the last desperate measure
to grasp at a promise
far out of reach.
This was my choice,
but was it right?
I dare not think it,
but I do.

Tempted, so tempted,
to storm right in
and drag her off his body,
far away from him.
But if this is
the only way
to make him happy -
so be it.


[10. October 2013]

While reading through Sarah's story again, and trying to imagine things through her eyes, I felt like writing this: her thoughts about giving Hagar to Abraham, so Hagar could have the son promised him by God.

Why did Sarai do this? Did she lack trust in God? Was she trying to "help things along" a bit? Maybe she felt she was getting in the way of God's promise and Abraham's happiness because she was unable to have children. So she decided to let Abraham sleep with her slave and have a child with her - a decision which probably wasn't so easy, and one which led to all sorts of conflict in the family, Hagar being banished twice because of Sarai's jealousy. If Sarai had trusted and waited, maybe things would have been different. Still, God remains faithful, and He did let Sarai have a son in the end. Our mistakes have consequences, like Sarah's did... but still they don't get in the way of God.

(Next challenge: write the same thing from Hagar's perspective... I don't suppose she was too keen to be given away like that to an old man)

Picture by Matthias Stom.
I find interesting how Sarai has an almost empty look in this picture, like she's trying not to think too much about what it is she's doing. 

04 September 2014

Damaris: Foreign God

Acts 17:16-24

What is this message that you bring,
what is this "good news" that you preach?
Who is this strange God from afar -
and what should it matter to me?

We are Greeks - we have our gods,
enough gods,
more gods than you.
What's a foreign god to me?
Your story's nice -
but what's it to me?

But you say
this God
was always there,
even when I did not see Him.
This God
has always cared
for all the world
even though we did not know Him -
for this God
is the creator
and all mankind is His -
this God
is the sustainer,
who provides for all that is.
This is no foreign God
but the one true God of all -
and that's why it matters to me.

This God
is the one who made me.
This God
is the one who knew me
before I even knew myself.
This God
cares not only for one people -
for all the peoples on earth are His.
In Him we live,
in Him we move,
in Him we have our being -
this God
is the true God
of all.


[July 2014]

Damaris was one of the people who came to faith in Athens after Paul preached there.
Reading Acts I've been noticing how the Apostles often emphasised the fact that their message was not a strange new message, but a continuation and fulfillment of the first covenant with Israel, and a message relevant also for non-Jews because God is the true God of the whole world. When speaking to non-Jews, Paul would speak especially of God as creator: because God created everything and everybody, and still keeps on sustaining and providing for the whole world, His message is relevant for everybody.

Today, there are still many cultures in which the principle "to be (x nationality) means to be (x religion)", and that often makes it hard to reach them with the Gospel, partly because they believe that makes Jesus irrelevant to them ("it's a foreign religion"), and partly because it leads to difficulty for anyone who decides to be a Christian (they get treated like a traitor not only of their religion, but of their culture, tradition and family). So I see the relevance of Paul's method for today.

In Athens, the philosophers thought Paul was bringing them a foreign God and was bringing them something new and strange. What Paul did in his sermon, though, was point out that God is not a foreign God, but, as the creator, is everybody's God. He is not tied to one nation, but the God of all people, because all people - being created by Him - belong to Him already.

Picture by Raphael. Note the lady in the far right corner.

01 September 2014

Rhoda: Until I am Equal

Acts 12

"Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit." (Joel 2:29)

 A servant girl
should be seen, not heard,
speak when spoken to,
do her chores,
obey the Madam,
stay out of the way,

A servant girl
means little in society,
has no say,
no future of her own;
her words weigh nothing,
her opinion goes ignored -
what does a servant girl know?

But then I met You
and You changed my world;
You showed me I had worth,
that I was loved by You.
You showed me that a servant girl
can be a child of God,
can have a voice,
can have an opinion,
be part of a family
where all are the same.

But even though
I am free in Your eyes,
in their eyes
I am still a slave.
Though they belong to you
just as much as I,
though my Mistress is my Sister,
though they say that all is new,
deep down
so much is still the same.

I bring a message -
they do not hear.
What does a servant girl know?
A servant girl
should be seen, not heard,
not prophesy.

I am free,
I am free in Your eyes,
though man would make me a slave.
give me patience
until they have learnt
we all are equal in your sight.
Open their eyes
and help them to grow
beyond the lies of this world.
Help me to love them
although they're hurting me,
until they understand
your revolutionary truth,
until I am equal
in their sight as in yours.


[30. August 2014, on the plane]

When Peter was miraculously freed from prison, Rhoda the servant girl was the one who met him at the door. But when she told her mistress and the others gathered in prayer for his release, they did not believe her. Usually I view this as a case of lack of faith: praying, but not expecting anything to actually happen (see this one's sister poem, Prayer of Faith). Writing Rhoda's poem, though, I came to think of another aspect: lack of faith in the message-bearer, old prejudices taking a while to die even among Christians who were learning that "there is no longer slave or free [...] for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

At Pentecost Peter quoted Joel 2:28-29 about God pouring out His Spirit on all people: men and women, young and old, slave and free. The church was to be something new, where all people could be family, equal before God, no longer split into hierarchies but one in Christ, of equal worth, equally endowed with the Holy Spirit to do God's work. But old habits die hard and it must have taken a while for Christian masters to fully accept their slaves as brothers and sisters, not inferiors.

There is still much prejudice today, even among Christians. And that prejudice has to go, because it is not Christian. We are all one in Christ, so we need to respect one another and treat one another as equals, no matter what categories the world would put us into.

Picture by Johann Christoph Weigel.