Lessons From Unsung Founding Mothers

The Scriptures describe many mothers who should be well-known to Christians and Jews. Three biblical women who faced unique challenges were Rahab, Deborah and Abigail. Each of these “founding mothers” also still teaches unique lessons to anyone today willing to learn.

Double Agent

Rahab, a Canaanite woman of ill report, lived in the Promised Land before the Israelites received it. Two of Joshua’s spies stayed at her house. Rahab’s king, hearing that foreign spies were sighted, told her through the CIA of his day, “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land” (Joshua 2:3 NIV).

Rahab replied, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” She had actually hidden the spies on the roof. She not only lied to the king’s messengers, but sent them on a wild goose chase, a long enough trek to ensure the spies could escape.

But she spoke to the spies truthfully. She affirmed, “The LORD has given you this land,” and that Jericho knew of God’s mighty triumph over Egyptian “gods” and Amorite kings. She boldly asserted her own nation had lost courage, and she was ready to ally herself to Israel. Rahab even advised the spies how to avoid the king’s men on their way out.

Joshua ensured that Rahab’s whole family was saved when Jericho fell. The author of Hebrews testifies that, despite any deception, she operated thoroughly by faith.

Rahab loyally served Israel’s God, despite Jericho’s king and “security officers.” Even pagans can maintain their consciences through civil disobedience. As a reward, she became the wife of Salmon, the mother of Boaz the kinsman-redeemer, and an ancestress of Jesus the Messiah.

Chief Justice

Deborah, wife of Lappidoth, judged all Israel with her wisdom. They even called the tree “Deborah’s Palm” under which she would judge. Deborah once gave Barak, Israel’s general, a prophecy from God: “Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands” (Judges 4:6-7 NIV)

But Barak refused to go without her, perhaps trusting her more than even God’s word. She warned him, “Because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Since God had not called Deborah to the battle directly, the conditional honor of capturing Sisera was transferred from Barak to another.

Though Barak defeated Sisera’s army, Sisera escaped to the tent of Jael, whose Kenite tribe was allied with him. But Jael conscientiously objected to this alliance and killed Sisera with a hammer and peg. Barak lost full credit and instead Deborah praised Jael for her own victory.

Deborah led Israel seven years, the only woman in Scripture who judged Israel. Her song of victory memorialized not only Jael’s act of conscience but also her own ability to reconcile her motherhood with her public justice commission.

Diplomatic Envoy

Abigail, like Rahab, was subject to ungodly authority, but like Deborah, she also led the godly with wisdom. Her deeply insensitive husband was aptly named Nabal, literally “Fool.” In First Samuel 25, he proved his folly by besmirching the character of and threatening David, King Saul’s general, even while David’s men were protecting Nabal’s flocks.

Nabal’s servants realized the danger of retaliation from David’s army and appealed to Abigail’s native reasonableness and accessibility. She moved quickly to make peace, preparing provisions from her own stores and sending them to David with her servants. Without telling Nabal, she followed them to meet David and his army. Her message even coyly congratulated David indirectly for defeating Goliath.

Abigail stood in the gap for Nabal and his men. Though David had sworn an oath before his army to destroy all associated with Nabal, Abigail literally saved Nabal’s household. Hearing her winsome words, David responded by blessing God for her and accepting her peace offering.

When Abigail returned home, Nabal was characteristically drunk. In the morning, she told him the news. Nabal responded by having the symptoms of serious stroke and becoming vegetative, dying ten days later.
David proposed marriage to Abigail, she consented, and she bore him a son, Chileab. Though not destined for the throne, Chileab notably made no attempt to gain it unjustly either. While his brothers Amnon, Absalom and Adonijah vied for the throne after David, no plot involving Chileab occurred although he could have been next in line for the throne. Instead he waited on the Lord and remained submissive to David’s will, bearing silent testimony to his mother’s peaceful nature and submissive spirit.

The “mothers of Israel” used wisdom to guide those who looked up to them. Their example, like our mothers’ example today, is an education that bears constant fruit.

Penni Bulten is a homeschooling mom who is fascinated with the Founding Fathers and their faith, both the noted and the notable. She can be reached at [email protected]

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