Rev. Smit is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.
In the last couple of years, the Doon Martha Bible Society studied for its after-recess time the book Women of the Old Testament, which was written by Dr. Abraham Kuyper and translated into English. In this book, the author wrote about many women in the Old Testament, most of whom were godly women, such as Sarah, Naomi, and Ruth. By way of contrast, the author also included a few chapters on some wicked women of the Old Testament.
With each individual, the author gave an explanation of their place in Old Testament history and gave his understanding of the significance of their place in Old Testament history and of their example to the godly women of the church today. Although we were not always in complete agreement with the things that Kuyper wrote, we found that the book was profitable.
During the study of that book, the seeds for this speech were sown. Hence, the speech is really the harvest of some of our discussions in Martha Bible Society. The structure of the speech is similar to the structure that Dr. Kuyper used in his book. The content of the speech arises out of our discussion of one godly woman in particular, Hannah. A motivation for the speech is to consider one godly woman in the Old Testament whom Dr. Kuyper did not consider, namely, Jesse’s wife.
In a certain sense, the speech presents to us nothing new. We consider things that we have heard before under the preaching of the Word, in our homes since our youth, and in our Bible study meetings.
Nevertheless, we believe that this speech is timely because we live in a world of increasing wickedness. The world continues to be more and more bold in its sin. This includes the women of the world, who continue to push for the “equality of women,” which is actually a push for the supremacy of women over men and the usurpation of authority over men. The women of the world continue to tempt the godly women to lust after physical beauty and to fulfill the carnal lusts of the flesh. The world continues to tempt the young women to dress immodestly and to covet the life of worldly women.
The world is not content to let the church be faithful unto the Lord. As long as the church continues to proclaim the Scriptures faithfully concerning the holy, godly life of the daughters of Jehovah, the world is bent on silencing that preaching of the gospel and is determined to lure the daughters of Jehovah into the world and its life. As a result, the temptations for the Christian woman abound on every hand. She is constantly tempted to become the master of her own destiny, potential, and abilities.
Over against all the devilish temptations constantly declared through television programs, movies, books, magazines, and advertising, the Lord calls you to follow Christ and the godly example of the faithful women of Scripture. You are called to confess, and to demonstrate in your life, that you do not belong to yourselves, but unto Christ, your faithful Lord and Savior, who bought you with His precious blood. Therefore, you are not masters of yourselves, but you are handmaidens of Jehovah. You are called to live as Jehovah’s handmaidens obediently, faithfully, and joyfully in these last days.
There are three women in the Scriptures who either refer to themselves as handmaidens of Jehovah or are called a handmaiden of Jehovah by another.
The first of these is Hannah, according to Hannah’s prayer in I Samuel 1:11,
And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.
God had placed Hannah in a very grievous trial. It was very difficult for Hannah to be childless. The pain of Hannah’s childlessness was intensified by Peninnah, the other wife of Elkanah, who had sons and daughters. As a result, Hannah had to fight the temptation to despair and feel worthless because God in His providence had not given to her the fruit of the womb.
The trial was also very difficult because Peninnah used her fruitfulness as an occasion to despise and mock Hannah. Peninnah provoked Hannah to anger and to fret over her barren womb. Peninnah was self-centered, wicked, and covetous. That was evident by the fact that she took her children for granted and was not humble before God to have the privilege to bring forth children in Elkanah’s home. To Hannah, that wickedness of Peninnah was biting.
In contrast to Peninnah, Hannah had been given a spiritual perspective and a godly heart. She learned through her trial not to seek herself. God taught her to deny herself. She learned to seek a child, not for herself or for any selfish reasons, even though the temptations for such were mighty and ever-present. She held before her heart and mind a much loftier goal than to be just a mother. She wanted to be not only a mother but, more importantly, a mother in Israel and for Israel. She was one of those godly women who knew the times and what was needed for Israel. She knew that in a time when the Israelites were doing whatever was right in their own individual eyes, Israel needed a spiritual leader for their reformation. In that dark time, she knew Israel needed a spiritual son from the hand of Jehovah for Israel’s good.
In that perspective of faith, she came to Shiloh to offer up her plea unto Jehovah in order that she might become a mother in Israel and for Israel. The high priest Eli assumed from his initial observation that she was drunk and another one of the ungodly and lawless of Israel. However, Hannah assured Eli that she was not in company with the wicked, like Eli’s own sons, and that she was of the faithful remnant in Israel. This handmaid of Jehovah had been praying earnestly to Jehovah for a son, who would be returned unto Jehovah for the cause of His covenant and people.
After being sent away from Shiloh with Eli’s blessing and with the assurance that she had been heard, she conceived and brought forth at the appointed time that Nazarite son, Samuel, whom she had asked of Jehovah.
Did she take Samuel for granted? Did she boast in her child and use that to fight back against Peninnah? She did none of that. Her boast was solely in Jehovah. In faithfulness and humility she returned her son, Samuel, to Jehovah when he was prepared to be left with Eli at the tabernacle.
By the grace of God, she demonstrated that she was true to what she confessed in her prayer: a handmaiden of Jehovah.
The second example of a handmaiden of Jehovah is the wife of Jesse. Admittedly, there is not much known about Jesse, let alone his wife. Jesse was David’s father, who lived in Bethlehem. He was a descendant of Boaz and Ruth. However, Jesse appears in Scripture as a man of lowly stature and wealth. This was emphasized when David’s enemies called him the “son of Jesse.” For David’s enemies, that was not a name to honor David’s lineage. That was a name of reproach. They regarded David’s lineage as insignificant and dishonorable. That name indicated the attitude that many would never have expected a king to come from Bethlehem. They might expect a king to come from Shiloh, Bethel, or Hebron, but not from lowly and insignificant Bethlehem.
To this lowly Jesse, God joined in marriage his wife. She is mentioned by the inspired David, for example, in Psalm 116:16: “O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.”
Of all the compliments that a mother could receive from her sons, this confession by David has to be the greatest compliment that a mother could receive. To be called a handmaiden of Jehovah by your children, whom you brought forth physically, but above all brought forth and nurtured by your spiritual and godly instruction, is the greatest compliment you could ever receive.
Scripture provides us with enough information to show that, in her own way, David’s mother was also a handmaiden of Jehovah. She brought forth eight sons and two daughters, and David was the youngest of the eight sons, if not of all the children. She labored faithfully with Jesse to raise their children. In all her labor and work in the home, the most outstanding characteristic of David’s mother was that she was a handmaiden of Jehovah. She was not like the women of the world who served other gods or themselves. She spiritually sacrificed herself for the service of Jehovah in her covenant home. She tended to her flock of children as faithfully as David later tended to his flock of sheep. The memory of that spiritual characteristic of his mother was engraven upon David’s heart for the rest of his life.
Indeed, she was a handmaiden of Jehovah in a way that she probably never imagined. It is true that she served the bringing forth and the rearing of David. But, through David, she also served the coming of the Messiah, who also could confess that He was the son of this handmaiden of Jehovah, too, Jesse’s wife.
Christ could confess the same concerning Mary, who confessed that she was a handmaiden of Jehovah.
Mary was one of the faithful remnant of that day. She along with her fiancé, Joseph, some of her cousins, and others, had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah. They did not follow the popular religion of the day, a religion of works’ righteousness. They followed obediently the law of God and by faith looked for the coming of their Lord, in whom is all our righteousness.
The spiritual condition of the Jews at that time was very similar to the days of Hannah. The spiritual condition of the people of God had reached another low point. The Jews were oppressed by their enemies. The temple worship was thoroughly corrupt. The high priest’s office was corrupted. The people of God had heard no new revelation since the close of the Old Testament and Malachi’s prophecy of the coming of the forerunner and the Sun of Righteousness. Besides that, the line of David through Solomon had come down to the virgin Mary.
However, the long wait for the fulfillment of the promise was over. The angel Gabriel announced to the virgin Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, and that she would do so as a virgin. The son whom she would bring forth would be Jesus, the Son of the Highest and the Son of David. He would be given the throne of David and would reign over the house of Jacob forever. Of His kingdom there would be no end.
Mary was assured by the angel that though she would not know a man in order to conceive this child, yet the Holy Spirit would conceive in her the Son of God in the flesh. The reason that this would occur was that with God nothing shall be impossible.
Mary’s response to all of this is beautiful. She said, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). In that confession there is no complaining, no opposition, no rebellion. There was only submission in true faith to the will of Jehovah. In that submission of a handmaid of Jehovah, she later, in the fullness of time, brought forth her firstborn son, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. She continued in faithfulness to rear Him in the fear of Jehovah, as well as her other six children whom the Lord gave unto Joseph and Mary.
Mary was by her confession and life another beautiful example, by God’s grace alone, of a faithful handmaiden of Jehovah.
Next time, we will consider the significance of these three examples of handmaidens of Jehovah.