Listening to Women: How to Correct a Lopsided Theology.

A while back I did a comparison of the angelic encounters of Hagar, Manoah’s wife, and Mary, mother of Jesus. The angel Gabriel was sent by God to Mary (Luke 1:26). The angel of God appeared to only two other women in the Old Testament: Hagar and Manoah’s wife (Gen 16:7-16; Gen 21:8-21; Judges 13; Luke 1:26-38).

Hagar is considered by some to be husband-less. Other scholars suggest she is Abram’s second wife, which would place her under Sarai, his first wife’s dominion. So Hagar would be Abram’s wife. This is a viable possibility. If so, Hagar and Mary have two things in common: both are married (betrothal is a marital contract) when the angel of God speaks to them and both are approached to make decisions without consulting their husbands. Manoah’s wife’s account is also similar to Mary’s, in that the angel came to her before appearing to her husband.

In Hagar’s first angelic encounter it is “the angel of the Lord” who found her (Gen 16:7-16). She names him El-roi, surmising she has seen El, the highest God, and survived (v. 13, 14). She names the well where the encounter takes place Beer-lahai-roi, which means “the Well of the Living One who sees me.” [I read somewhere that Hagar was out of line and mistaken in giving God this name. The proof for this argument was that the name she gave God is found nowhere else in the OT. I think this is bunk!)

This first encounter gives us the reader a peek into Hagar’s heart. It also shows that God sees her heart as well. Hagar appears to be a woman of faith even though she came from Egypt. The most intriguing observation is how the text reveals Hagar doing a bit of “theology”— as she associates the angel of the Lord with El who is understood as the highest of all gods in an Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context. Are Hagar’s words a polemic against the polytheism of that era? Had she embraced a monotheistic view of God, similar to Abram’s?

The angel’s words follow a type of birth-formula, similar to that spoken to Mary (Gen 16:11, Lk 1:31). It is possible that Luke has this passage in mind when Gabriel meets Mary.

Hagar’s second encounter differs from her first. This time an angel speaks from above rather than having a face-to-face encounter below on earth as before. A voice from “the angel of God” in heaven tells Hagar that God (El) has heard her son’s cry (21:17). We get a glimpse of God’s heart of compassion to the fatherless (21:20).

We also get a glimpse of the ANE view of deities. I believe this ‘ups the ante’ for Hagar’s encounter: the highest God, of all gods, looked down and alleviated Hagar and her son’s suffering in stark contrast to the typical belief that the ANE gods imposed and aggravated human suffering.

Manoah’s wife is the only other woman in the OT who encountered an angelic visit (Jdg 13). She remains unnamed, but like Hagar and Mary, she too is alone when visited by the angel of the Lord. She is informed of her son’s birth and receives a preview into his future role to save Israel from the Philistines.

Manoah is not given this information from the angel. The text reveals that only his wife knows of their son’s role to be the savior of Israel. Did she ponder this news in her heart as Mary did?

She tells Manoah about her encounter with the angel, but he doubts her words and craves confirmation from the angel for himself. Manoah unsuccessfully tries to finagle the news about their son’s future role from the angel. It seems he distrusts his wife’s ability to correctly relay the ‘good news’ that a son will be born.

Interestingly though, the angel does not share the news about their son’s role with Manoah. Instead the angel indicates to Manoah that his wife is a credible witness. It is refreshing to tease out the implication: “Listen to her. She is trustworthy!”

This reminds me of the disciples who doubted the women who were the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection. In the longer version of Mark’s gospel, it is Jesus who rebukes the disciples for doubting their testimony. Did they learn from this mistake? Perhaps so, as Acts 1: 12-14 and Acts 2: 1 reveal women and men were together, praying in the upper room in Jerusalem, awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy!

Here as well, we find Manoah’s wife, like Hagar and Mary, doing theology. Manoah’s wife’s theological musings open and close the chapter (13:6, 23). At the beginning she recognizes the messenger as an angel of God (13:6). It took Manoah much longer! Near the end of the chapter it is she who fascinatingly soothes Manoah’s fear of dying by correcting his mistaken theology about God’s character (13:23).

The OT/NT accounts of these three women reveal a how the male characters missed and misunderstood God’s ways at work. I find this refreshing. God indeed gives a word to women and trusts them to give voice to astounding theological concepts. If the male authors of Genesis, Judges, and Luke were as androcentric and misogynistic as some claim, would they not have painted Abraham, Manoah, Zachariah, and the NT disciples in a completely different light?

Hopefully, you agree that God used female voices to express theological concerns in the ancient Biblical text, and that God expects this in the church today. We may not find a prolific amount of accounts in Scripture, but the fact that their voices are preserved should give us cause in doubting the reliability of women’s voices and pause to reconsider how to better to work in the local and universal church together.

Could it be that both male and female voices are necessary to develop a whole and complete theology of God? Certainly. Without both voices we contrive a lopsided theology that causes irreparable damage.

For the sake of the church, for the sake of the world…let’s begin the courageous work of theologizing together! The world is watching and waiting!

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