And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. (Genesis 2:22)
The woman, we read, was created after “Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.” (Genesis 2:20) So God created woman.
One of the unique features of the Bible is the way it exalts women. Far from ever demeaning or belittling women, Scripture often seems to go out of the way to pay homage to them, to ennoble their roles in society and family, to acknowledge the importance of their influence, and to exalt the virtues of women who were particularly godly examples.
From the very first chapter of the Bible, we are taught that women, like men, bear the stamp of God’s own image (Genesis 1:27; 5:1-2). Women play prominent roles in many key biblical narratives. Wives are seen as venerated partners and cherished companions to their husbands, not merely slaves or pieces of household furniture (Genesis 2:20-24; Proverbs 19:14; Ecclesiastes 9:9). At Sinai, God commanded children to honor both father and mother (Exodus 20:12). That was a revolutionary concept in an era when most pagan cultures were dominated by men who ruled their households with an iron fist while women were usually regarded as lesser creatures – mere servants to men.
Of course, the Bible recognizes divinely ordained role distinctions between men and women – many of which are perfectly evident from the circumstances of creation alone. For example, women have a unique and vital role in childbearing and nurturing little ones. Women themselves also have a particular need for support and protection, because physically, they are “weaker vessels” (1 Peter 3:7). Scripture establishes the proper order in the family and in the church accordingly, assigning the duties of headship and protection in the home to husbands (Ephesians 5:23) and appointing men in the church to the teaching and leadership roles (1 Timothy 2:11-15).
Yet women are by no means marginalized or relegated to any second-class status (Galatians 3:28). On the contrary, Scripture seems to set women apart for special honor (1 Peter 3:7). Husbands are commanded to love their wives sacrificially, as Christ loves the church – even, if necessary, at the cost of their own lives (Ephesians 5:25-31). The Bible acknowledges and celebrates the priceless value of a virtuous woman (Proverbs 12:4; 31:10; 1 Corinthians 11:7). In other words, from cover to cover, the Bible portrays women as extraordinary.
Let’s take a look at some extraordinary women in the Bible. Excerpts and above introduction from John MacArthur’s book, Twelve Extraordinary Women.
Extraordinary Woman #1: Eve: Mother of All Living
And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20).
Eve must have been a creature of unsurpassed beauty. She was the crown and pinnacle of God’s amazing creative work. The first female of Adam’s race was the last living thing to be called into existence – actually fashioned directly by the Creator’s own hand in a way that showed particular care and attention to detail. Remember, Eve wasn’t made out of dust like Adam, but carefully designed from living flesh and bone. Adam was refined dirt; Eve was a glorious refinement of humanity itself. She was a special gift to Adam. She was the necessary partner who finally made his existence complete – and whose own existence finally signaled the completion of all creation.
Eve, the only being ever directly created by God from the living tissue of another creature, was indeed a singular marvel. God had composed a vast universe of wonders out of nothing. Then He made Adam from a handful of dust. But nothing in the whole expanse of the universe was more wonderful than this woman made from a handful of Adam. If the man represented the supreme species (a race of creatures made in the image of God), Eve was the living embodiment of humanity’s glory (1 Corinthians 11:7). God had truly saved the best for last. Nothing else would have sufficed quite so perfectly to be the finishing touch and the very zenith of all creation.
Extraordinary Woman #2: Sarah: Hoping Against Hope
Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised (Hebrews 11:11).
Let’s be honest: there are times in the biblical account when Sarah comes off as a bit of a shrew. She was the wife of the greatest patriarch Abraham, so we tend to think of her with a degree of dignity and honor. But reading the biblical account of her life, it is impossible not to notice that she sometimes behaved badly. She could throw fits and tantrums. She knew how to be manipulative. And she was even known to get mean. At one time or another, she exemplified almost every trait associated with the typical caricature of a churlish woman. She could be impatient, temperamental, conniving, cantankerous, cruel, flighty, pouty, jealous, erratic, unreasonable, a whiner, a complainer, or a nag. By no means was she always the perfect model of godly grace and meekness.
In fact, there are hints that she may have been something of a pampered beauty; a classic prima donna. The name given to her at birth, Sarai, means “my princess.” (Her name was not changed to Sarah until she was ninety years old, according to Genesis 17:15.) Scripture remarks repeatedly about how stunningly attractive she was. Wherever she went, she instantly received favor and privilege because of her good looks. That kind of thing can spoil the best of women.
From the time she became Abraham’s wife, Sarah desired one thing above all others, and that was to have children. But she was barren throughout her normal child-bearing years. In fact, that is practically the first thing Scripture mentions about her. After recording that Abraham took her as a wife in Genesis 11:29, verse 30 says, “But Sarai was barren; she had no child.”
Extraordinary Woman #3: Rahab: A Horrible Life Redeemed
And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab (Rahab); and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king; (Matthew 1:5-6).
When Rahab first appears in the biblical account, she is one of the most unsavory characters imaginable. In fact, she is introduced as “a harlot named Rahab” (Joshua 2:1). If you had met her before the great turning point of her life, you might have instantly written her off as completely hopeless. She was an immoral woman living in a pagan culture that was fanatically devoted to everything God hates. The culture itself was on the brink of judgement. Their long descent into the abyss of moral and spiritual corruption had been intentional, and now it was irreversible.
As far as we know, Rahab had always been a willing participant in her civilization’s trademark debauchery. She had personally profited from the evil that permeated that whole society. Now that God had called for the complete destruction of the entire culture because of their extreme wickedness, why shouldn’t Rahab also receive the just desserts of her own deliberate sin? As far as the record of her life is concerned, there were no redeeming qualities whatsoever about Rahab’s life up to this point. On the contrary, she would have been in the very basement of the moral hierarchy in a Gentile culture that was itself as thoroughly degenerate and as grossly pagan as any society in world history. She was a moral bottom-feeder. She made her living off that culture’s insatiable appetite for unbridled debauchery, catering to the most debased appetites of the very dregs of society. It is hard to imagine a more unlikely candidate for divine honor than Rahab.
Yet in Hebrews 11:31 (though identified even there as “the harlot Rahab”), she is specifically singled out by name for the greatness of her faith, and she even appears in the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1. Extraordinary? That word is an understatement in Rahab’s case.
Extraordinary Woman #4: Ruth: Loyalty And Love
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: (Ruth 1:16)
The Old Testament book of Ruth is a flawless love story in a compact format. It’s not an epic tale, but a short story. (The entire account is given in only eighty-five verses.) Still, it runs the full range of human emotions, from the most gut-wrenching kind of grief to the very height of glad-hearted triumph.
Ruth’s life was the true, historical experience of one genuinely extraordinary woman. It was also a perfect depiction of the story of redemption, told with living, breathing symbols. Ruth herself furnished a fitting picture of every sinner. She was a widow and a foreigner who went to live in a strange land. Tragic circumstances reduced her to abject poverty. She was not only an outcast and an exile, but also bereft of any resources – reduced to a state of utter destitution from which she could never hope to redeem herself by any means. In her extremity, she sought the grace of her mother-in-law’s closest kinsman. The story of how her whole life was changed is one of the most deeply touching narratives in the whole of Scripture.
Ruth’s story began near the end of the era of the Judges in the Old Testament. It was about a century before the time of David, in an age that was often characterized by anarchy, confusion, and unfaithfulness to the law of God. There was also a severe famine in Israel in those days.
We are introduced to the family of Elimelech in Ruth 1:1-2, Elimelech had a wife, Naomi, and two sons, named Mahlon and Chilion. Their hometown was Bethlehem, famous as the burial place of Rachel, Jacob’s wife (Genesis 35:19). Bethlehem in future generations would gain more lasting fame as the hometown of David, and then, of course, as the birthplace of Christ. The story of Elimelech’s family became a key link in the chain of tying the messianic line to Bethlehem.
Extraordinary Woman #5: Hannah: A Portrait Of Feminine Grace
And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation (1 Samuel 2:1).
Hannah’s name means “grace.” It’s a fitting designation for a woman whose life was crowned with grace and who became a living emblem of the grace of motherhood. A study of her life reveals the classic profile of a godly mother.
Yet Hannah almost despaired of ever becoming a mother. Her experience strongly echoes Sarah’s. Like Sarah, she was childless and distraught over it. Both women’s marriages were plagued with stress because of their husbands’ bigamy. Both of them ultimately received the blessing they sought from God, and in both cases, the answers to their prayers turned out to be exceedingly and abundantly more significant than they had ever dared to ask or think. Hannah’s son, Samuel was the last of the judges. He was also a priest – the one who formally inaugurated the true royal line of Israel by anointing David as king. Samuel became a towering figure in Israel’s history. Thus Hannah’s life often mirrored that of the original matriarch, Sarah. Most of all, she mirrored Sarah’s amazing faith and perseverance.
In a similar way Hannah also foreshadowed Mary, the mother of Jesus. Hannah’s prayer of dedication in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 was the model for Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55. Both Hannah and Mary formally dedicated their firstborn sons to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:24-28; Luke 2:22-24). Surrender to God’s will cost each of them dearly in terms of emotional suffering. (In Hannah’s case, this meant the painful sorrow of separation from her own child. Samuel left home to begin his full-time training in the tabernacle when he was still a young toddler, at a time when most children enjoy the comfort of their mothers’ arms.)
Extraordinary Woman #6: Mary: Blessed Among Women
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women (Luke 1:27-28).
Of all the extraordinary women in Scripture, one stands out above all others as the most blessed, most highly favored by God, and most universally admired by women. Indeed, no woman is more truly remarkable than Mary. She was the one sovereignly chosen by God – from among all the women who have ever been born – to be the singular instrument through which He would at last bring the Messiah into the world.
Mary herself testified that all generations would regard her as profoundly blessed by God (Luke 1:48). This was not because she believed herself to be any kind of saintly superhuman, but because she was given such remarkable grace and privilege.
While acknowledging that Mary was the most extraordinary of women, it is appropriate to inject a word of caution against the common tendency to elevate her too much. She was, after all, a woman – not a demigoddess or a quasi-deiform creature who somehow transcended the rest of her race. The point of her “blessedness” is certainly not that we should think of her as someone to whom we can appeal for blessing; but rather that she herself was supremely blessed by God. She is never portrayed in Scripture as a source or dispenser of grace, but is herself the recipient of God’s blessing. Her Son, not Mary herself, is the fountain of grace (Psalm 72:17). He is the long-awaited Seed of Abraham of whom the covenant promise spoke: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;” (Genesis 22:18).
To the read the full accounts of these extraordinary women, and about six other women not covered here, checkout John MacArthur’s book, Twelve Extraordinary Women at gty.org books section.