Classic poetry from those icons of nineties girl-power, the ‘Spice girls’. They wanted to ‘Zigga ziggaaaa” (Words have actually failed me at this point!) But what about us, what do we really, really want? A boyfriend/ husband, thinner thighs, a promotion, a baby, those great shoes (well, they ARE in the sale!). World-peace?
Many of us do nothing BUT ask God for things. But with other people many of us find ourselves fluctuating between
‘I wish I’d kept my mouth shut – I can’t believe I said that! ’ and, ‘Why didn’t I speak up? I’m so gutless!’
So, when should we ask / speak / shut up?
Joshua 15; 16-19
“According to the commandment of the Lord to Joshua, he gave to Caleb son of Jephuneh a portion among the people of Judah, Kiriath-arba, that is, Hebron (Arba was the father of Arnak). And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak. From there he went up against the inhabitants of Debir; now the name of Debir formerly was Kiriath-sepher. And Caleb said,
“Whoever attacks Kiriath-sepher and takes it, to him I will give my daughter Achsah as wife.”
Othniel son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb took it; and he gave him his daughter Achsah as wife. When she came to him, she urged him to ask her father for a field. As she dismounted from her donkey, Caleb said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to him, “Give me a present; since you have set me in the land of the Negeb, give me springs of water as well.” So Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.”
We start with a girl given away by her father as a prize to the toughest fighter. I’m really not so crazy about that. Are you? Still, we need to read with the culture of the time. Arranged marriages – yep, normal. There are Lots of them throughout the Bible. She must have been quite an incentive don’t you think?
“Hmm, shall I risk my life fighting a group of people for the sake of a woman?”
It all sounds a bit fairy tale really – knight slaying the dragon and all that. Still, it happens. Caleb offers his daughter as a prize and his nephew Othniel wins her. I wonder how she felt about it? To be fair, at least he’s a good warrior – he can protect her and their children, there’s no doubt about that. (Maybe that’s what Caleb had in mind all along?) He also turns out to be a mighty man of God and puts in an appearance in the book of the Judges. He was the very first Judge, a mixture of leader, warrior and prophet – so maybe not such a bad catch after all. (Jud. 3.9)
So, other than given away as a prize by her father what do we know about her? Well, her heritage is quite something. Caleb is THE Caleb, of ‘12 spies’ fame. He and Joshua were the only two of the twelve who had faith to take the Promised Land when God told them to. (Num.13). It nearly got them killed by the rest of the nation, but by the time of our episode they are the only two men of their entire generation left alive. The only two to actually enter the Promised Land from all those who came out of Egypt! And on their arrival Caleb asks for the mountains – not some nice easy pasture to farm, but some battles to fight with the giant descendants of the Anakim. So let’s be honest, Daddy is hard–core, he knows what he wants and he goes for it. Looking at the text makes me think ‘Like father, like daughter.’ Ascah is no shrinking violet. Firstly she urges her new husband to ask Dad for a field and then when he asks her what she’d like, she asks for water rights!
Well, this is a time and place where only men get to own land. It has to get passed down the family line and women aren’t given property. Before you get too outraged women weren’t actually allowed mortgages in their own name until the 1970’s in the UK (yes, really!) And here is a woman not just asking for a piece of land, but a GOOD piece of land. Somewhere productive that would produce crops and therefore wealth. Not a mountainside where nothing would grow, but a field. She persuades Othniel to ask Daddy for that and she takes it one step further – she asks for water.
Again - so what?
Well, I don’t know if you’ve visited the Middle East – Israel even? It’s nothing like I imagined. Deserts are not all sand dunes and palm trees, they are like moonscapes – rocks and scrub land. They are bleak, unattractive, harsh places. Precious little is going to survive in the Negeb let me tell you! But periodically you come across ‘Wadis’ which are little streams or rivers which flow in rock gorges. The greenery, the plants, the drop in temperature and the sound of running water! After a couple of hours in the desert it really feels like you’ve stumbled into a little spot of heaven. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating – they are beautiful!
If you own water, you have life, health, security, power even.
THAT is what Ascah asks for – water; ‘blue gold’. If you own water, you have life, health, security, power even. Now, you might expect any sane father at this point to tell his cheeky daughter to get a grip; men own land, men own water rights – she needs to simmer down and go back to her husband. Let men do men’s work like negotiating property.
But what does he do? Does he give her a stream?
Nope. He gives her two!
The fact that this little story makes it into the book of Joshua tells us how unusual it is. The author clearly felt this little ‘father-daughter’ narrative deserved inclusion. It is unusual, it is special, it may be an exception to what normally happened, but it is significant. It’s also not totally unique. There is another similar little story from Israel’s history. This time it’s a group of sisters who ask for land.
“Then the daughters of Zelophehad came forward…the names of his daughters were; Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and the entire congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and they said, “Our father died in the wilderness…and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”
Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their fathers brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them.”
Even Moses thinks this is a shocking idea, but something must have struck him about it because he goes to double check with God.
And God says? “Give the girls the land.” Admittedly this is to keep their father’s name established and later on restrictions are put on them as to whom they can marry (someone from their own clan to keep the land in the family). So this is hardly ‘property rights for women, a feminist manifesto.’ However what is significant for our purposes is that like Ascah, these five women come to those with power and ask. They don’t wait for someone else to fight their corner, they know that they are in the right, even if the right is a bit unorthodox and so they go in front of ALL the people; priests, leaders, prophets and all – and ask. And the answer, direct from God is ‘YES’ Just like Caleb’s answer was ‘YES’ – with bells on!
“I’ll have a beachside villa in Barbados please Lord!” …Perhaps not!
But there is something here about those who have the courage to ask; not out of greed, but for what they need. Ascah was going to need water to make a half way decent life for her family and descendants in the Negeb, Caleb acknowledged that. Milcah and her sisters didn’t want the family name to die out; they wanted their father to be remembered by having land with his name on it. God agreed that their father’s name was important to save.
These women had priorities that were important and they also had courage.
These women had priorities that were important and they also had courage. The courage to be heard as well as seen. That their voices are still being heard several thousand years later is a real testimony to how God has honoured that courage. They have been remembered when so many others have been forgotten.
So – us?
The courage to be heard when we have something of God to say? Something with honourable intentions; not something self-seeking and attention grabbing, but something important? How often do we keep quiet, put our heads down and do nothing when we actually do have something significant to contribute? ‘I couldn’t possibly’.
Do we think Milcah & co. were anxious standing before the ENTIRE nation of Israel? I’m guessing – err... Yes!
I was in a church meeting some time ago and someone was making a comment, with which the two young women next to me violently disagreed. It was a sweeping and inaccurate generalisation about their peer group. I spent about 2 or 3 minutes hissing at them, ‘Say something, go on, say something,’ while they wriggled in their seats and sat quietly even thought they had a really valuable contribution to make. I have also spent time with male minister friends talking about the things women in their congregations struggle with; body image, loneliness, childlessness, eating disorders, domestic violence. Often they simply don’t know what is going on. Why? Not because they don’t care, but because women don’t tell them. How will they, or others, be able to help if we don’t speak up?
In so many cases we keep quiet when we should speak, and speak about ridiculous things instead; TV, shopping, what shade of yellow to paint the bathroom, who fancies who, diets, whether some celebrity has lost weight or not …trivia! I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have a laugh; that everything has to be deep and worthy, of course not. But do we talk about important things? Do we offer opinions when they might be useful? Do we ask for help when we need it rather than hoping that someone’s amazing gift of ESP will kick in and they will magically know what we are battling with? Why do we expect people to ‘just know’ stuff? So often we respond with;
“Well if you don’t know why I’m upset/ angry/ hurt then I’m not going to tell you!”
Do we really think men are all psychic? That they know when we need a hug / want flowers/ would like to go out for the evening? Likewise, our friends, boss, minister, parents, children? Of course not!
They didn’t whine, grumble, snipe behind people’s backs. They clearly put their case, offered their opinion, asked in a gracious, appropriate way. That is also a challenge for us. How do we express our discontent? Our hurts? The things we would like to see happen? Perhaps we should consider how we voice things, ask the advice of someone older and wiser, pray and ponder the best way of expressing something so that other people can really hear our concerns rather than just the emotions that go with them. Do we offer constructive solutions or just complain? Who would you listen to – a habitual moaner or someone who has thought through what might be a helpful outcome?
Ascah, Milcah and her sisters are great examples of women who asked for what they needed. Who spoke up – even when it was risky. Who weren’t being selfish, or self absorbed or attention seeking, but genuinely needed the support and help of those with influence. They spoke up. They asked – not just for themselves but their families too. They gave their opinion and it was respected and honoured because it was valid and godly. What about us?
© Ruth Perrin 2008. Last revised on 22 November 2008
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Cloud of Witnesses is a series of Bible studies on the men and women of scripture. You'll find everyone from Gideon and Andrew through to Tamar and Tabitha.
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Ruth Perrin, the author, is on staff at King's Church Durham and holds an MA in Theology and Ministry.
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