In the beginning, God created woman as a helper, a supporter and an aide (Gen 2:18,22). Though our culture would scoff at such a role in society, there is truly great honor in it. The only other person given the title of helper in the Old Testament is God. The Hebrew word for help/helper is ezer. Here are a few passages that describe God as an ezer.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2
Our soul waits for the LORD, he is our help and our shield. Psalm 33:20
But I am afflicted and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay. Psalm 70:5
When we say God is our help, our ezer, we place him in an exalted place: our shield, deliverer. Is God inferior to us because He is our help? No! Rather, God is elevated when we admit we need His help, that we can’t do it on our own. So why would we, as women, feel inferior by being created to help? By understanding that men cannot do it alone, that they need our help to fulfill their God-given roles? We are no more inferior to man because we were created to help any more than God is inferior to us when He is a help to us. As God is a help to His people, so woman was created to be a help to man.
To be a helper carries with it a unique characteristic: the innate ability to influence others. Influence is “the capacity or power to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions of others.” This is a powerful thing for God to entrust to our gender.
Unfortunately, our ability to influence has been tainted by sin. The influence that was meant to help has turned women into skilled manipulators, only influencing for their own selfish gain, harming others. A line from My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding sums this up nicely: “The man may be the head of the house, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.” And for most of us, we know that this is true. Women, through subtlety, nuance, emotions, and skillful timing, usually can get what they want, especially from men.
But manipulation is a perversion of our design. Yes, we were meant to come alongside others and be a compelling force on their actions, behaviors, and thoughts. Not for our own selfish gain, but for their good and for the glory of God. We are called to influence others unto the glory of God.
INFLUENTIAL WOMEN IN THE BIBLE
If you survey the Bible, you will find many influential women. Many wielded this influence in sinful, self-centered, and manipulative ways (consider Delilah, Jezebel, and Herodias). But when used unto the glory of God, the strong influence of a woman saved a whole nation (consider Esther).
So what does it look like to be a compelling force on the actions, behaviors, and thoughts of others for the glory of God? Let’s consider 2 women in the Bible who model this for us beautifully: Abigail and Esther. If you aren’t familiar with these stories, I encourage you to take the time to read 1 Samuel 25 and the book of Esther. Below I will attempt so summarize their stories.
ABIGAIL – 1 SAMUEL 25
Abigail is intelligent, discerning and beautiful and she is married to an evil, foolish, wealthy man named Nabal. (v. 2,3,25, 33)
Let’s set the scene. David has been anointed as Israel’s next king, but Saul is still alive and seeking to kill David out of jealousy. So David is living a fugitive life with some of faithful men as he avoids Saul’s wrath. During his time in the wilderness he meets Nabal’s shepherds and protects them. After learning that Nabal is shearing his sheep (a time of celebration and feasting), he sends his men to ask for a favor in return: namely food and provisions. Nabal, being the arrogant fool he is, responds with scorn and disrespect: “Who is David?” Hearing this, an offended David grabs his sword and takes 400 men with him to attack Nabal and his entire household (clearly an overreaction).
Enter Abigail, the hero of the story. Think for a moment how she might feel as she is informed by one of Nabal’s shepherds of the situation. Four hundred men are coming to wage war on your household. Those you love: children, servants, family members all about to be killed. Not only that, David, God’s anointed, has also made a foolish choice that could very likely jeopardize his future reign as King. What would you do? Take those you love and run for cover? If Nabal dies, you don’t have to be married to this fool anymore anyway.
But this is not how Abigail responds. Instead, she take the blame to spare her husband’s life, even though he is a fool, and doesn’t run for cover, but heads toward these 400 battle-ready men with courage. She prepares 200 loaves of bread, 2 jugs of wine, 5 prepared sheep, 5 measures of grain, 100 clusters of raisins, 200 cakes of figs. (That’s a feat in itself!) She loads all this on donkeys and sends them with some young men toward David. Abigail herself mounts a donkey and heads toward him through a hidden pathway.
Notice her tactic when she appeals to David. She humbles herself and honors him as God’s anointed by bowing down before him. She immediately takes the blame and begs for grace for her foolish husband asking David to forget his actions. Then she appeals to David’s position as Israel’s future king, reminding him that he will not want this stain on his record (v.30-31). She reminds David that it is not his place to avenge himself, but it is the Lord who defends him. To top it off, she offers the prepared food to him and his men as a gift, which is what David originally requested of Nabal.
Abigail used timing, subtle forms of encouragement and reasoning, humility, and her own resources to avert a war. She successfully turned David’s eyes back on the Lord (“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me.”) and she saved her household (“unless you had come quickly, surely there would not have been left to Nabal as much as one male.”).
You’d think after such a tiring and emotional day, she might return home to a grateful husband since he put her in danger in the first place. But instead, Nabal has been partying and was drunk. Abigail could have thrown Nabal under the bus and let David kill him, but she saved him with little reward for herself.
What a beautiful picture of selfless influence. Abigail was a compelling force on the actions and thoughts of a powerful man and benefited nearly everyone around her except herself. It’s worth noting that this type of selfless influence is only possible when God is your highest treasure and greatest good.
ESTHER – THE BOOK OF ESTHER
A man named Mordecai was taken from Israel when the Jews were exiled by king Nebuchadnezzar (found in 2 Kings 24) and he is raising his younger cousin, Esther, as she was an orphan. They are living in the citadel of Susa under the reign of King Ahazuerus. After the King’s current wife publicly disrespected him, he removes her as queen and begins to look for a new queen. Esther enters the running with all the other young virgins of the land to be considered for the position of queen. She wins the favor of the king and is made the new queen of Persia! Through it all, she does not make it known that she is a Jew, per Mordecai’s instruction.
As Esther is crowned, conflict is brewing. Haman, the king’s right hand man, hates Mordecai and is scheming of ways to do away with him. His plan: persuade the king to issue a decree to have all the Jews of the land exterminated. The king, not aware that his queen is a Jew, signs off on this plan and the decree goes out. As all the Jews learn of their impending death, Mordecai reaches out to Esther and petitions her to approach the king and plead for the Jewish people to be spared from death.
Here in lies Esther’s dilemma: If she approaches the king without being summoned, she risks her own life; for anyone who approached the king without being summoned was to be put to death, unless he spared them by holding out his golden scepter to them.
Esther, moved to action by her cousin’s petition, asks for her people to fast for her and decides she will approach the king knowing full well she might lose her life. She concludes, “if I perish, I perish.”
Thankfully the prayers of her people were answered and the king does spare her when she approaches him! When he asks what her request is, Esther requests for King Ahazuerus and Haman to join her for a banquet. They consent and while at the banquet the king asks her again, “what is your request, Esther?” She asks the king and Haman to join her for another banquet. It is at this second banquet that Esther finally tells the king what the purpose of her approach is. She makes it known that her own life and her people’s lives are in danger of annihilation. And when the king asks who is responsible for this, she responds with “A foe and an enemy is this wicked Haman!” (7:6)
The king believes his queen and has Haman put to death, he exalts Mordecai to Haman’s position, and spares all the Jews!
CHARACTERISTICS OF GODLY INFLUENCE
So now that we have been refreshed with the history of these two women, let’s discuss the commonalities we see in them. Below are 4 characteristics of godly influence that we see in the life of Abigail and Esther.
SUBMISSIVE TO AUTHORITY
Both Abigail and Esther are radically submissive to the authorities they were currently under. Abigail, though her husband was a fool, still showed him great honor at every turn. Though she could have thrown him under the bus, she begs for mercy for him and takes the blame for his foolish mistakes. Even after she goes to great lengths to spare her household and finds him at home drunk, she does not interrupt his party to tell him of what had happened. Radical honor to a foolish authority. (1 Samuel 25:24-28, 36)
In the same way, Esther continues to submit to Mordecai (her father figure), even after she is queen. She technically could have told him what to do as queen, but instead listens to him and does what he suggests. (Esther 2: 10, 20; 4:9-16)
Esther risks her own life for the sake of her people. It’s very likely that even if the decree had been passed, that the king might have spared her life. But instead of rest in her own hope of comfort, she faces death with courage. (Esther 4:13-17)
Abigail also risks her life by approaching those 400 armed men, rather than just taking her children and fleeing. Not only that, she takes the blame for the foolish decisions of her husband, again putting herself in harm’s way. Abigail’s actions are also financially sacrificial. The amount of food she prepares for David would have been very costly! ( 1 Samuel 25:18, 20-22)
Both of these women show great strategy in how they approach these powerful men. In Esther’s case, she chooses to honor and serve her king through 2 banquets before making her request. Not only that, she appeals to the king’s own interests first not her own. She can tell that the king favors her and it would likely be sad for him to lose her. So her first appeal is for her own life to be spared. It is only when the king asks her who has done this evil thing that she brings up Haman’s name. (Esther 5:3-4, 7:2-6)
Consider Esther’s decisions. She could have exposed Haman when she first approached the king. But that probably wouldn’t have been well received. Her initial approach was already presuming upon his grace that he would allow her to see him unannounced. Had she also pointed the finger at his most trustworthy advisor, it would easily be cause for suspicion. But after those 2 banquets, Esther made her loyalty to the king known. What shrewdness!
Abigail exhibits a similar strategy. She first greatly honors David and humbles herself (1 Samuel 25:24-25) then appeals to his personal interests in the matter. She reminds David that one day he will be king and won’t want this on his record, reminding him that avoiding this war is for his own good. (1 Samuel 25:30-31)
FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS AND THE GLORY OF GOD
Finally, we see that the primary benefactors of these women’s efforts are not themselves. Yes, both of them have their own lives spared in the process, but at great expense and risk. It is the people of God (the Jews in Susa for Esther and Abigail’s household and foolish husband) that these women are defending. (Esther 8:3-6, 1 Samuel 25:33-36) And for Abigail, she returns obediently to her ungrateful, drunken, foolish husband. Without one recorded complaint. Wow!
Not only that, both are acting in defense of God’s glory. For Abigail, she prevents God’s anointed king from destroying his reputation. For Esther, God’s people are protected and exalted in this foreign country. In both situations, God’s glory is preserved through His people! (Esther 9)
BECOMING GOD-GLORIFYING INFLUENCERS
Like these two women, we must resist self-centered manipulation! Instead, may we be godly women who use the influence God has given us for the advancement of God’s Kingdom, not our own. Let us seek to benefit those around us, not ourselves!
Consider the weight of what God has entrusted to you as an influencer, and ask Him for creativity to be a help to others. Here are a few questions to help you think through this:
- Where do you have influence with others? This might be a boss or coworker, a husband or children, roommates, or friends.
- Are you manipulative like Delilah and Herodias? Be honest. Have you ever repented for using your influence to get your way? Why not do that today?
- Is your influence under the submissive to the authorities God has put in your life? Your husband or father? Your government? Your church leaders?
- Are you humble? Are you able to humble yourself toward those you have influence with?
- Is your influence sacrificial? Do you give up your own preferences and comfort to influence others for the glory of God?
- Is your influence strategic? Abigail and Esther used timing, subtle suggestion, humility, and physical resources. What do you have that you can use? What resources? How has God gifted you, naturally or spiritually, and how can that push others to God?
- Is your influence for the good of others? Does your influence benefit those around you practically? What are some ways you can bless others through your influence?
- Is your influence for the glory of God? Does your influence point others to God, causing them to praise Him and be more satisfied in Him? If not, what does your influence point people to? Brainstorm some ways you could encourage those around you to seek Him more.
May those around us glorify God and find more of their joy in Him because we were in their life. Let us be women who influence for the glory of God.