Women in the Bible—What Can We Learn From Them?
The Bible’s answer
The Bible introduces us to many women whose lives can teach us valuable lessons. (Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17) This article briefly describes just some of the women mentioned in the Bible. Many are fine examples to imitate. Others provide warning examples.—1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 6:12.
Who was Abigail? She was the wife of a wealthy but harsh man named Nabal. Abigail, however, was discerning and humble, as well as beautiful both physically and spiritually.—1 Samuel 25:3.
What did she do? Abigail acted with wisdom and discernment in order to avoid calamity. She and Nabal lived in the region where David, Israel’s future king, was hiding as a fugitive. While David and his men were there, they protected Nabal’s flocks of sheep from robbers. But when messengers from David asked Nabal for some food, Nabal insolently refused to provide it. David was incensed! So he and his men went out to kill Nabal and all the men of his household.—1 Samuel 25:10-12, 22.
Abigail acted quickly when she heard what her husband had done. She gave her servants a supply of food to take to David and his men, and she followed to beg David for mercy. (1 Samuel 25:14-19, 24-31) When David saw her gift, observed her humility, and heard her wise advice, he recognized that God had used her to prevent a tragedy. (1 Samuel 25:32, 33) Soon thereafter, Nabal died and Abigail became David’s wife.—1 Samuel 25:37-41.
What can we learn from Abigail? Although beautiful and wealthy, Abigail had a balanced view of herself. To keep peace, she was willing to apologize for something that was not her fault. She handled a tense situation calmly and did so with tact, courage, and resourcefulness.
▸ For a further discussion about Abigail, see the article “She Acted With Discretion.”
Who was Deborah? She was a prophetess whom Israel’s God, Jehovah, used to reveal his will on matters affecting his people. God also used her to help settle problems among the Israelites.—Judges 4:4, 5.
What did she do? The prophetess Deborah courageously supported God’s worshippers. At his direction, she summoned Barak to lead an Israelite army against their Canaanite oppressors. (Judges 4:6, 7) When Barak asked Deborah to go with him, she did not give in to fear but willingly complied with his request.—Judges 4:8, 9.
After God gave the Israelites a decisive victory, Deborah composed at least part of the song that she and Barak sang recounting the event. In that song she mentioned the role that Jael, another fearless woman, had played in defeating the Canaanites.—Judges, chapter 5.
What can we learn from Deborah? Deborah was self-sacrificing and courageous. She encouraged others to do the right thing in God’s eyes. When they did so, she generously gave them credit for what they did.
▸ For a further discussion about Deborah, see the article “I Arose as a Mother in Israel.”
Who was Delilah? She was a woman with whom the Israelite judge Samson fell in love.—Judges 16:4, 5.
What did she do? She accepted money from Philistine officials to betray Samson, whom God had been using to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines. The Philistines were unable to overpower him because of his miraculous physical strength. (Judges 13:5) So their officials sought help from Delilah.
The Philistines bribed Delilah to find out how Samson got his great strength. Delilah accepted the money, and after several attempts, she finally succeeded in uncovering Samson’s secret. (Judges 16:15-17) She then told his secret to the Philistines, who captured and imprisoned Samson.—Judges 16:18-21.
What can we learn from Delilah? Delilah is a warning example. Overcome by greed, she acted in a deceitful, disloyal, and selfish way toward a servant of Jehovah God.
Who was Esther? She was a Jewess who was chosen by Persian King Ahasuerus to become his queen.
What did she do? Queen Esther used her influence to prevent the genocide of her own people. She discovered that an official decree had been issued that designated a specific day on which all Jews living in the Persian Empire were to be killed. This evil scheme was the work of a man named Haman, who was the prime minister. (Esther 3:13-15; 4:1, 5) With the help of her older cousin, Mordecai, and at the risk of her life, Esther revealed the scheme to her husband, King Ahasuerus. (Esther 4:10-16; 7:1-10) Ahasuerus then allowed Esther and Mordecai to issue another decree, authorizing the Jews to defend themselves. The Jews thoroughly defeated their enemies.—Esther 8:5-11; 9:16, 17.
What can we learn from Esther? Queen Esther set an outstanding example of courage, humility, and modesty. (Psalm 31:24; Philippians 2:3) Despite her beauty and position, she sought counsel and help. When speaking with her husband, she was tactful and respectful, but bold. And at a time of great danger for the Jews, she courageously identified herself as one of them.
▸ For a further discussion about Esther, see the articles “She Stood Up for God’s People” and “She Acted Wisely, Bravely, and Selflessly.”
Who was Eve? She was the very first woman and is the first woman mentioned in the Bible.
What did she do? Eve disobeyed a clear command from God. Like her husband, Adam, Eve was created as a perfect human with free will and the ability to cultivate godly qualities, such as love and wisdom. (Genesis 1:27) Eve knew that God had told Adam that if they ate from a certain tree, they would die. However, she was deceived into believing that she would not die. In fact, she was led to believe that she would be better off if she disobeyed God. So she ate the fruit and later induced her husband to eat it as well.—Genesis 3:1-6; 1 Timothy 2:14.
What can we learn from Eve? Eve is a warning example of the danger of dwelling on wrong desires. Against God’s clear command, she developed an overpowering longing to take what did not belong to her.—Genesis 3:6; 1 John 2:16.
Who was Hannah? She was the wife of Elkanah and the mother of Samuel, who became a prominent prophet in ancient Israel.—1 Samuel 1:1, 2, 4-7.
What did she do? When Hannah was childless, she turned to God for comfort. Hannah’s husband had two wives. His other wife, Peninnah, had children; however, Hannah remained childless for a long time after her marriage. Peninnah cruelly taunted her, but Hannah prayed to God for comfort. She made a vow to God, saying that if God granted her a son, she would give the child to him by arranging for the child to serve at the tabernacle, a transportable tent used by Israel for worship.—1 Samuel 1:11.
God answered Hannah’s prayer, and she gave birth to Samuel. Hannah kept her promise and took Samuel to serve at the tabernacle when he was still a little boy. (1 Samuel 1:27, 28) Year after year, she made a sleeveless coat for him and took it to him. In time, God blessed Hannah with five more children—three sons and two daughters.—1 Samuel 2:18-21.
What can we learn from Hannah? Hannah’s heartfelt prayers helped her to endure trials. Her prayer of gratitude recorded at 1 Samuel 2:1-10 reflects her deep faith in God.
▸ For a further discussion about Hannah, see the article “She Opened Her Heart to God in Prayer.”
▸ For a discussion of why God tolerated polygamy among his ancient people, see the article “Does God Approve of Polygamy?”
Who was Jael? She was the wife of Heber, a non-Israelite. Jael took a fearless stand for God’s people.
What did she do? Jael acted decisively when Sisera, the chief of the Canaanite army, showed up in her camp. Sisera had lost his battle against Israel and was now looking for refuge and shelter. Jael invited him into her tent to hide and rest. While he was sleeping, she executed him.—Judges 4:17-21.
Jael’s action fulfilled a prophecy spoken by Deborah: “It will be into the hand of a woman that Jehovah will give Sisera.” (Judges 4:9) For her role, Jael was praised as the “most blessed of women.”—Judges 5:24.
What can we learn from Jael? Jael acted with initiative and courage. Her experience shows how God can maneuver events to fulfill prophecy.
Who was Jezebel? She was the wife of Israelite King Ahab. She was a non-Israelite and did not worship Jehovah. Instead, she worshipped the Canaanite god Baal.
What did she do? Queen Jezebel was domineering, ruthless, and violent. She promoted Baal worship and the sexual immorality associated with it. At the same time, she tried to eliminate the worship of the true God, Jehovah.—1 Kings 18:4, 13; 19:1-3.
Jezebel resorted to lies and murder to satisfy her selfish whims. (1 Kings 21:8-16) As God had foretold, she died violently and did not receive a burial.—1 Kings 21:23; 2 Kings 9:10, 32-37.
What can we learn from Jezebel? Jezebel is a warning example. She was so morally corrupt and unscrupulous that her name has become a symbol for a shameless, immoral, and unrestrained woman.
Who was Leah? She was the first wife of the patriarch Jacob. Her younger sister, Rachel, was his other wife.—Genesis 29:20-29.
What did she do? Leah became the mother of six of Jacob’s sons. (Ruth 4:11) Jacob had intended to marry Rachel, not Leah. However, the girls’ father, Laban, arranged for Leah to take Rachel’s place. When Jacob realized that he had been tricked into marrying Leah, he confronted Laban. Laban asserted that it was not the custom for the younger daughter to marry before the older one. A week later, Jacob married Rachel.—Genesis 29:26-28.
Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. (Genesis 29:30) As a result, Leah jealously competed with her sister for Jacob’s affections. God took note of Leah’s feelings and blessed her with seven children—six sons and one daughter.—Genesis 29:31.
What can we learn from Leah? Leah relied on God in prayer and did not let her distressing family situation blind her to God’s support. (Genesis 29:32-35; 30:20) The account of her life realistically portrays the failings of polygamy, an arrangement that God tolerated for a time. His approved standard of marriage is for a husband or wife to have just one spouse.—Matthew 19:4-6.
▸ For a further discussion about Leah, see the article “Distressed Sisters Who ‘Built the House of Israel.’”
▸ For a discussion of why God tolerated polygamy among his people for a time, see the article “Does God Approve of Polygamy?”
Who was Martha? She was the sister of Lazarus and Mary, and all three lived near Jerusalem in the village of Bethany.
What did she do? Martha enjoyed a close friendship with Jesus, who “loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5) Martha was a hospitable woman. During one of Jesus’ visits, Mary chose to listen to Jesus while Martha attended to household duties. Martha complained to him that Mary was not helping her. Jesus gently corrected Martha’s viewpoint.—Luke 10:38-42.
When Lazarus became sick, Martha and her sister sent for Jesus, confident that he could heal their brother. (John 11:3, 21) But Lazarus died. Martha’s conversation with Jesus reflected her confidence in the Bible’s promise of a resurrection and in Jesus’ ability to bring her brother back to life.—John 11:20-27.
What can we learn from Martha? Martha worked hard in extending hospitality. She willingly accepted counsel. She spoke openly about her feelings and her faith.
▸ For a further discussion about Martha, see the article “I Have Believed.”
Mary (mother of Jesus)
Who was Mary? She was a young Jewish woman, and she was a virgin at the time she gave birth to Jesus, having conceived God’s son miraculously.
What did she do? Mary humbly did God’s will. She was engaged to Joseph when an angel appeared to her and announced that she would become pregnant and give birth to the long-awaited Messiah. (Luke 1:26-33) She willingly accepted her role. After Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had four sons together and at least two daughters. So Mary did not remain a virgin. (Matthew 13:55, 56) Although she enjoyed a unique privilege, she never sought or received adulation, either during Jesus’ ministry or as a member of the early Christian congregation.
What can we learn from Mary? Mary was a faithful woman who willingly accepted a serious responsibility. She had an excellent knowledge of the Scriptures. By one estimate, she made some 20 references to the Scriptures when she uttered the words recorded at Luke 1:46-55.
▸ For a further discussion about Mary, see the article “What Mary’s Example Can Teach Us.”
Mary (sister of Martha and Lazarus)
Who was Mary? Along with her brother, Lazarus, and her sister, Martha, she enjoyed a close friendship with Jesus.
What did she do? Mary repeatedly showed keen appreciation for Jesus as the Son of God. She expressed faith that Jesus could have prevented the death of her brother, Lazarus, and she was present when Jesus resurrected him. Her sister, Martha, criticized Mary when Mary chose to listen to Jesus rather than help with household duties. But Jesus commended Mary for having spiritual priorities.—Luke 10:38-42.
On another occasion, Mary extended exceptional hospitality to Jesus by putting “costly perfumed oil” on Jesus’ head and feet. (Matthew 26:6, 7) Others present accused Mary of being wasteful. But Jesus defended her, saying: “Wherever this good news [of God’s Kingdom] is preached in all the world, what this woman did will also be told in memory of her.”—Matthew 24:14; 26:8-13.
What can we learn from Mary? Mary cultivated deep faith. She put the worship of God ahead of mundane matters. And she humbly honored Jesus, even at considerable financial cost.
Who was Mary Magdalene? She was a loyal disciple of Jesus.
What did she do? Mary Magdalene was one of several women who traveled with Jesus and his disciples. She generously used her own funds to help care for their needs. (Luke 8:1-3) She followed Jesus till the end of his ministry, and she remained close by when he was executed. She had the privilege of being among the first to see Jesus after he was resurrected.—John 20:11-18.
What can we learn from Mary? Mary Magdalene generously supported Jesus’ ministry and remained a devoted disciple.
Who was Miriam? She was the sister of Moses and Aaron. She is the first woman in the Bible called a prophetess.
What did she do? As a prophetess, she had a role in relating God’s messages. She enjoyed a prominent position in Israel and shared with the men in a victory song after God destroyed the Egyptian army in the Red Sea.—Exodus 15:1, 20, 21.
Sometime later, Miriam and Aaron spoke critically of Moses. They were evidently motivated by pride and jealousy. God “was listening,” and he strongly counseled both Miriam and Aaron. (Numbers 12:1-9) God then struck Miriam with leprosy, apparently because she had instigated the critical talk. When Moses pleaded with God on her behalf, God healed her. After a seven-day quarantine, she was allowed to rejoin the camp of Israel.—Numbers 12:10-15.
The Bible indicates that Miriam accepted the correction. Centuries later, God referred to her unique privilege when he reminded the Israelites: “I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”—Micah 6:4.
What can we learn from Miriam? Miriam’s story reveals that God pays attention to what his worshippers say to or about one another. We also learn that to please God, we must avoid undue pride and jealousy—traits that may cause us to smear the good reputation of others.
Who was Rachel? She was a daughter of Laban and the favored wife of the patriarch Jacob.
What did she do? Rachel married Jacob and bore him two sons, who came to be among the founding heads of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel. Rachel met her future husband while she was tending her father’s sheep. (Genesis 29:9, 10) She was “very attractive” compared with her older sister, Leah.—Genesis 29:17.
Jacob fell in love with Rachel, and he agreed to work for seven years so that he could marry her. (Genesis 29:18) However, Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah first, after which Laban permitted Jacob to marry Rachel.—Genesis 29:25-27.
Jacob loved Rachel and her two sons more than he loved Leah and his children by her. (Genesis 37:3; 44:20, 27-29) As a result, there was rivalry between the two women.—Genesis 29:30; 30:1, 15.
What can we learn from Rachel? Rachel endured a difficult family situation without losing hope that God would hear her prayers. (Genesis 30:22-24) Her story reveals the strain that polygamy puts on families. Rachel’s experience demonstrates the wisdom of God’s original standard for marriage—that a man have only one wife.—Matthew 19:4-6.
▸ For a further discussion about Rachel, see the article “Distressed Sisters Who ‘Built the House of Israel.’”
▸ For a discussion of why God tolerated polygamy among his people for a time, see the article “Does God Approve of Polygamy?”
Who was Rahab? She was a prostitute who lived in the Canaanite city of Jericho, and she became a worshipper of Jehovah God.
What did she do? Rahab hid two Israelites who were spying out the land. She did this because she had heard reports of how Israel’s God, Jehovah, delivered his people from Egypt and later from an attack by a tribe called the Amorites.
Rahab helped the spies and pleaded with them to spare her and her family when the Israelites came to destroy Jericho. They agreed, but on certain conditions: She would keep their mission secret, she and her family would remain inside her house when the Israelites attacked, and she would hang a scarlet cord from her window to identify her home. Rahab obeyed every instruction, and she and her family survived when the Israelites captured Jericho.
Rahab later married an Israelite and became an ancestress of both King David and Jesus Christ.—Joshua 2:1-24; 6:25; Matthew 1:5, 6, 16.
What can we learn from Rahab? The Bible refers to Rahab as an outstanding example of faith. (Hebrews 11:30, 31; James 2:25) Her story illustrates that God is both forgiving and impartial, blessing those who trust in him, regardless of their background.
▸ For a further discussion about Rahab, see the article “She Was ‘Declared Righteous by Works.’”
Who was Rebekah? She was the wife of Isaac and the mother of their twin sons, Jacob and Esau.
What did she do? Rebekah did God’s will, even when doing so was difficult. While she was getting water from a well, a man asked her for a sip of water. Rebekah quickly gave him a drink and offered to draw water for the man’s camels. (Genesis 24:15-20) That man was Abraham’s servant, and he had traveled a great distance to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham’s son. (Genesis 24:2-4) He also prayed for God’s blessing. When he saw Rebekah’s industriousness and hospitality, he discerned that God had answered his prayer, indicating that she was His choice for Isaac.—Genesis 24:10-14, 21, 27.
When Rebekah learned of the servant’s quest, she agreed to return with him and become Isaac’s wife. (Genesis 24:57-59) Rebekah eventually had twin boys. God had revealed to her that the older boy, Esau, would serve the younger, Jacob. (Genesis 25:23) When Isaac arranged to give Esau the firstborn’s blessing, Rebekah took steps to make certain that the blessing came to Jacob, in harmony with what she knew to be God’s will.—Genesis 27:1-17.
What can we learn from Rebekah? Rebekah was modest, industrious, and hospitable—qualities that led to her success as a wife, mother, and worshipper of the true God.
▸ For a further discussion about Rebekah, see the article “I Am Willing to Go.”
Who was Ruth? She was a Moabitess who left her gods and her homeland to become a worshipper of Jehovah in the land of Israel.
What did she do? Ruth showed extraordinary love to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi, along with her husband and their two sons, had gone to Moab to escape a famine in Israel. The sons eventually married Moabite women—Ruth and Orpah. In time, though, Naomi’s husband and two sons died, leaving three widows.
Naomi decided to return to Israel, where the drought was now over. Ruth and Orpah chose to go with her. But Naomi asked them to return to their relatives. Orpah did so. (Ruth 1:1-6, 15) Ruth, however, loyally stuck with her mother-in-law. She loved Naomi and wanted to worship Naomi’s God, Jehovah.—Ruth 1:16, 17; 2:11.
Ruth’s reputation as a devoted daughter-in-law and a hard worker soon earned her a good name in Naomi’s hometown, Bethlehem. A wealthy landowner named Boaz was deeply impressed by Ruth and generously provided food for her and Naomi. (Ruth 2:5-7, 20) Ruth later married Boaz and became an ancestress of both King David and Jesus Christ.—Matthew 1:5, 6, 16.
What can we learn from Ruth? Out of love for Naomi and Jehovah, Ruth willingly uprooted her life. She was hardworking, devoted, and loyal, even in the face of adversity.
▸ For a further discussion about Ruth, see the articles “Where You Go I Shall Go” and “An Excellent Woman.”
Who was Sarah? She was Abraham’s wife and the mother of Isaac.
What did she do? Sarah left a comfortable life in the prosperous city of Ur because she had faith in God’s promises to her husband, Abraham. God told Abraham to leave Ur and go to the land of Canaan. God promised to bless him and make him into a great nation. (Genesis 12:1-5) Sarah may have been in her 60’s at the time. From then on, Sarah and her husband lived a nomadic life in tents.
Although nomadic life exposed Sarah to danger, she supported Abraham as he followed God’s direction. (Genesis 12:10, 15) For many years, Sarah was childless, which grieved her considerably. Yet, God had promised to bless Abraham’s offspring. (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 16:1, 2, 15) In time, God affirmed that Sarah would have Abraham’s child. She did give birth when she was well past the age of childbearing. She was 90 years old, and her husband was 100 years old. (Genesis 17:17; 21:2-5) They named the child Isaac.
What can we learn from Sarah? Sarah’s example teaches us that we can always trust God to fulfill his promises, even seemingly impossible ones! (Hebrews 11:11) And her example as a wife highlights the importance of respect in a marriage.—1 Peter 3:5, 6.
▸ For a further discussion about Sarah, see the articles “What a Beautiful Woman You Are” and “God Called Her ‘Princess.’”
Who was the Shulammite girl? She was a beautiful country girl and the principal character in the Bible book called the Song of Solomon. The Bible does not reveal her name.
What did she do? The Shulammite maiden remained loyal to the shepherd boy she loved. (Song of Solomon 2:16) Her exceptional beauty, however, caught the attention of wealthy King Solomon, who tried to win her affections. (Song of Solomon 7:6) Although others urged her to choose Solomon, the Shulammite girl refused. She loved the lowly shepherd boy and was loyal to him.—Song of Solomon 3:5; 7:10; 8:6.
What can we learn from the Shulammite girl? She maintained a modest view of herself despite her beauty and the attention she received. She did not allow her affections to be swayed by peer pressure or the promise of material wealth and prestige. She kept her emotions under control and remained morally chaste.
Wife of Lot
Who was Lot’s wife? The Bible does not mention her name. But it does tell us that she had two daughters and that she and her family made a home in the city of Sodom.—Genesis 19:1, 15.
What did she do? She disobeyed a command of God. God had determined to destroy Sodom and the neighboring cities because of their gross sexual immorality. Out of love for righteous Lot and his family, who lived in Sodom, God sent two angels to escort them to safety.—Genesis 18:20; 19:1, 12, 13.
The angels told Lot’s family to flee the area and not to look back; otherwise, they would die. (Genesis 19:17) Lot’s wife “began to look back, and she became a pillar of salt.”—Genesis 19:26.
What can we learn from the wife of Lot? Her story highlights the danger of loving material things to the point of disobeying God. Jesus cited her as a warning example. “Remember the wife of Lot,” he said.—Luke 17:32.
Timeline of Women in the Bible
Flood (2370 B.C.E.)
Exodus (1513 B.C.E.)
Israel’s first king (1117 B.C.E.)
Jesus’ baptism (29 C.E.)
Jesus’ death (33 C.E.)