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Women Who Win

Beautiful as Tirzah


Women are always taught to obey, submit, lose and be silent. They are never taught when to disobey, speak out, stand up for their convictions or dig in their heels. In the Song of Solomon, the husband describes his wife as beautiful as Tirzah (6:4). A woman is beautiful in many respects. This phrase describes one aspect, ASSERTIVENESS.

Tirzah was the last and little daughter of Zelophedad, an Israelite who died in the wilderness. He had five daughters. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah and no sons (Num 26:33).

Probably their mother died too. The girls had to brave life’s storms without the parents. Worse still, they were losing their property. According to the Israelite law, their father’s property should go to his brothers. The girls wondered why they were less than sons, and decided to go to the leaders. Others would have sniggered and expected their idea to flop.

Many men would have died without sons earlier, but no daugther thought of claiming the property. Those were the unthinking masses. But there was a thinking  minority. Tirzah was probably the worst affected, being young with four elder sisters to be married. So she decided to swim against the daunting odds. She was a reformist with the courage to break the fetters of tradition instead of passively accepting them. She was a girl, the last, an orphan. Looked like everything was against her. But she could not accept the justice that was injustice! So she became the driving force for the team. I say so, because a beautiful city was named to honour her, even before she was given the property (Jos 12:24). Later it was the capital for Israel before Samaria was built (1 Ki 15:33; 16:8,15,23,34).

So all the five girls went to the Tent of Meeting and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly and spoke for their cause. That was an unusual act of courge for Israelite women wearing purdah. And that, years and years ago! They spoke up for what they felt was right.

Moses took up the matter to God and God said, “The daughters of Zelopheded speak right.” Tirzah’s reform burst like fireworks over the Israelite community. It was made a rule in Israel that if a man had no sons, the property should go to the daughters. Not only that, it initiated a new line of thinking that gave birth to a new set of laws (Num 27:1-11).

People would have called them arrogant. But it was simple assertion which was honoured by God. To assert is to vindicate, defend,declare postively or to lay claim to one’s right. Women without assertiveness are amoebae. As some twist the Scriptures to their own destruction, this message may also be twisted to interpret that it teaches disobedience to parents/husbands and borders on feminism. But wisdom is known by her children.

When a woman wants to be assertive she has to be extremely careful and sensible, because in the name of assertion she should not become aggressive or arrogant. She must be absolutely sure that she is in the will of God. Secondly, she should avoid outbursts of anger, foul language, etc., while being assertive. Committing sins while being assertive is taking the wrong route to the right destination.

Let’s assume that the property had their uncles salivating. The girls could have quarrelled, shouted abuses and broken relationship. Instead they went to Moses before all and got God’s stamp of approval.

Assertiveness is not only for material benefits as in the Old Testament. In the New Testament each person is responsible before God and each individual needs to learn to be assertive. A woman must be assertive in all stages of her life. The following are a few examples.

1. The Daughter

Daughters should not allow themselves to be pushed into a course or career for which they have no taste. A girl who has finished school should be able to decide what she wants to study further. Her parents can guide her effectively but never force.

Similarly a graduate should be mature enough to know herself and know what kind of person she would like as her life-partner. A surprising number of even professional graduates weep that their parents are arranging a person for whom they have no love or liking. You should then have the guts to tell your parents so. Never be compelled into an undesirable marriage.

If you do not know the proposed candidate, request some time to get to know him. During that period, share your testimony with him and ask about his spiritual experience, likes, dislikes, hobbies, ambitions and plans for the future. Let it not be like an interview but an informal and cheerful conversation. If you feel he is not suitable for you, then by all means you can politely explain to him and your parents. There is nothing wrong in it. This must be done with much prayer and waiting on the Lord. Don’t shout at your parents, scream or fight. Do it with a quiet dignified boldness as Tirzah. Show divine love to your parents and never break fellowship with them. Of course that means you have to ignore the words they hurl at you.

Married daughters are wives. So the question of obedience to parents does not arise. However you should respect your parents. Listen to their advice and then take your own decision.

2. The Daughter-in-law

After marriage you and your husband are an independent family unit. You shuold not allow your parents or in-laws to push you around according to their whims and fancies. You two must decide where to settle down, what job to hold, how to spend the money, how many children to have, etc. In a joint family, if the mother-in-law is bent on serving coffee and food for her son, you must be quicker. If she starts reviling or crying, politely speak to her. Learn to accept her advice and commands with a smile and proceed to do what you feel is right. For sometime she will be agitated, then slowly accept the inevitable.

I am shocked at the number of daughters-in-law who cry that it is their mothers-in-law who decide when and how often they should sleep with their husbands. This is ridiculous. One was not allowed to put a curtain to their room door. Another says her mother-in-law sleeps at their room door. In India the joint family system is still prevalent and has many advantages. But the girl and her husband should atleast be given a separate room. Their room and their affairs should not be a thoroughfare to the in-laws. Of course all this is possible only with the cooperation of the husbands. But many husbands are yet to learn to be assertive. So be wise lest your assertiveness backfires on you!

We should not forget the mothers-in-law who are doormats in some homes. Before marriage all daughters-in-law fall at the feet of the would be mothers-in-law and do namaskar. But after marriage they treat them like an old shoe. If the daughter-in-law works outside the home she may dump all the household work on her as an unpaid servant. Tell your daughter-in-law that it is her duty to care for the children and run the home and you can only assist her. Don’t allow yourself to be overburdened at an age when you ought to be relaxing with friends and grandchildren.

3. The Wife

How can wives be assertive yet submissive? Wives are always told to obey. So they think they must obey in everything. One woman was too obedient and the Lord killed her (Acts 5). It is safer for a woman to remind herself that husbands are not angels. If Sapphira had been assertive, Ananias would have praised her as a beauty as Tirzah. In real life situations wives face many such problems. A wife should not allow her husband to manipulate her.

Let’s take the example of marital infidelity. Many women are simply weeping and praying instead of doing what they ought to do when the husband goes astray. In fact, it is in this context that the husband praises his wife as beautiful as Tirzah (SS 6:4).

The  wife has every right to stop the other woman entering her home. She must have the backbone to command her husband to stop visiting her. Jesus admonished us to be harmless as doves and wise as serpents. Women have become expert doves and thus become dunces. They need to guard their homes with the wisdom of a serpent and hiss at the sign of danger. If women were that much assertive, fewer women would be weeping today.

There is a rude intrusion in the Shulamite’s beautiful story. Her husband absconded one night. Not finding him in bed she did not decide to wait till morning. She rose up and set about to find him. She sought him in the broadways (SS 3:2; Mt 7:13) and found him, probably with one of the daughters of Jerusalem, who lingered with her all the time. When she found him, she held him (by the collar?) and would not let him go (there is a note of suggestion that he struggled); (and dragged him) until she brought him home (albeit kicking and screaming) (SS 3:1-4). She womanhandled him, to be precise!

Your husband legally belongs to you and you should not give up all that easily. Long, long afterwards, the Shulamite’s husband praises: My wife is cool as the morning, sensible and clear as the sun and terrible as an army with banners (6:4,10). Yes, when she was good, she was very very good. When she was bad, she was terrible! Sure enough, the victory banner was in her hand. If you read between the lines, he adds, “and I love her for that.” A woman must know when to be cool as the morning and when to burn like the sun; when to blow like a breeze and when to storm like a tornado.

But be harmless as a dove. Pray for divine wisdom and guidance for your situation. Never put your husband or the other woman to shame. Be ready to forgive your husband and rebuild your relationship with greater love, care and sensitivity.

Women should also be assertive when other men stop being friendly and start becoming a nuisance.

4. The Mother

The natural tendency of a child is to take advantage of the mother. But an assertive mother doesn’t have to lose her temper. She simply has to stand by the rule. This averts a lot of unpleasantness and hurt. Finally the daughter learns that when mother says it, that settles it. If mother gives in, then she learns that she can get things done by her stubbornness.

Don’t become your children’s slaves. When they want an essay written, let them write it and then bring it to you for improvement. If they want a special dish, let them cut the vegetables and you do the rest. If they want pocket money, let them earn it by doing household chores. It is a small price to pay for lifetime training, especially in homes where making teenagers work is next to impossible.

The trouble arises when around the age of twelve the daughter wakes up to her assertiveness. This is the time the mother must learn to mellow down. Tactfully she must relax her grip and help the daughter to become more and more assertive, so that when she is ready to spread her wings, she can face life with self-confidence. It is painful to give up one’s own right as a mother to a much inexperienced daughter. But the mother will be ultimately rewarded by a mature, bold, thinking daughter (or son). It is only by releasing them gradually, trusting them, showing them respect and appreciation for their view point of life, that we help them; not by keeping them under our shadow till we get them married (which is shoving then under another shadow).


 It is not easy for a woman to be a maverick like Tirzah. Even Tirzah’s claim was shelved by the leaders for a considerable period of time. The girls were married and could have given up the struggle. But again they represented before  Eleazar, Joshua and the princes. Their unconquerable spirit eventually won them their property (Num 36:10-12; Josh 17:3,4).

Women have been greatly misunderstood for voicing their convictions. But they have made dents in human history. May the Lord bless you with the beauty of Tirzah!


   Address for Correspondence & Contributions:

Lilian Stanley
13 Church Colony
Vellore 632006, India
Tel: +91 9843511943
Email: lilianstanley@gmail.com