LCN Article
Lady Aristocrats

March / April 2014
Woman To Woman

Shirley Young (1938-2014)

The United Kingdom for many centuries has maintained a divided and rather inflexible class structure. Broadly speaking, the divisions are: The Aristocracy (Elite) or Upper Class, the Middle Class and the Working Class. Each person’s social position is mainly determined by heritage, education, power, influence, wealth, manners, accent and which schools they attended.

The Elite or Upper Class is said to number around 7,000 in the U.K. The Queen and Royalty are at the top. Then there are a number of fixed titles in the following descending order: Dukes, Marquises, Earls, Viscounts and Barons. Those in the five ranks of peerage or nobility are generally recognised by their heritage and aristocratic exclusiveness, their ownership of large estates and mansions, which particular clubs they attend, and often by a rather leisurely lifestyle, supported by servants. Their wives too hold such titles as Duchess, Marchioness, Countess, Viscountess and Baroness.

All these people who hold such important- sounding titles are considered to be aristocrats or “The Quality.” But what does “aristocrat” really mean?

The Greek word aristocracy means “rule of the best” and originally denoted leadership by a privileged minority who were thought to be superior, and morally and intellectually fit to govern in the best interests of the people. This came to be a rather small, stratified group of individuals who often did not display these qualities, but rather preferred the pursuit of pleasures and status, leading to pride and self-importance.

Men and women might well call themselves by grandiose titles and think that they are Nobility or “The Quality” or even “Our Betters” as they were sometimes referred to, but what qualities and characteristics does God require of a woman, to make her a true aristocrat? Thankfully, God in His foresight has given us some wonderful Biblical examples of women who were true aristocrats.

In the early days of the Judges, God raised up a truly remarkable woman. Her name was Deborah. She was a wife, prophetess of God and a Judge in Israel (Judges 4–5). Since Deborah was a Judge, she regularly sat beneath a large palm tree, as was the custom, and settled disputes, handing down wise judgments. Deborah discharged all the duties and responsibilities of a judge and civil leader except that of a military leader.

Since God chooses leaders by His standards and not ours (1 Samuel 16:7), Deborah must have had some excellent qualities of character, which God knew He could well use in His service.

Israel in Deborah’s time was under harsh and cruel oppression from Jabin, a Canaanite king with nine hundred iron chariots. This punishment of servitude to a Gentile king was due to Israel’s disobedience to God’s commands. They had not driven out the Canaanites as they had been instructed and consequently had begun to follow after false gods. This inevitably led to moral decadence and disorder, no longer regarding God’s moral absolutes. But Deborah was a faithful, and loyal servant of the true God. She staunchly “stood in the gap,” becoming known as “a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7).

During this time of national crisis and high-handed tyranny, the people felt abused, browbeaten and downtrodden. As a result they began to cry out to the true God for mercy and rescue. So God in His compassion decided to liberate them. Although God disciplines His people, He never abandons them. He therefore spoke to Deborah, and gave her His instructions on what to do.

Being an obedient and decisive woman, Deborah, by virtue of her official authority, immediately sent for Barak, a commander of armies. Barak’s name actually means “thunderbolt.” It is as though he were summoned to be the Lord’s flashing sword!

But when Deborah faithfully repeated God’s instructions on how to fight Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, Barak immediately demonstrated some timidity, because of his lack of faith.

From Barak’s point of view, the whole project probably seemed suicidal since he understood the tactical problems. Mount Tabor was exposed and could easily have been surrounded by Sisera’s chariots, cutting off any possible escape. But of course, Barak was leaving God out of the picture! So since his faith was not quite equal to the danger he said to Deborah: “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go” (Judges 4:8). Perhaps he also thought that Deborah’s presence would officially sanction the uprising of Israel against so formidable an enemy and thus give the people the courage to fight.

Deborah willingly agreed to go with him, risking her own life for the sake of the people. In asking Deborah to go, Barak was actually asking a woman to partially do what he had been assigned to do. So Deborah told Barak that the glory of the victory would go to a woman, as indeed it did when God allowed Sisera to be killed by Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite.

When some of the Israelites were finally assembled at Mount Tabor, it was Deborah who gave the signal for the attack (4:14). She believed God, and had every confidence that He would go before them like a Mighty Warrior. As it turned out Deborah’s faith in God was completely justified.

In her song of praise in chapter 5 Deborah gives all the credit and glory to God for the outstanding victory. In verses 20–21 she describes how God fought with storm and flood against Sisera, probably bogging down his iron chariots. Deborah then picturesquely describes the pounding of horses’ hooves as the enemy galloped away.

Yes, man might place foolish faith in his own pitiful weaponry, but forgets that God is able to fight like a great and Mighty Warrior with His own superior power over rain, hail, lighting, thunder and storm, and that no force can withstand Him! Consequently, after the battle for deliverance, the land had rest and peace for forty years (5:31).

So against the background of disobedient, degenerate Israel, Deborah’s character shines out. She was a humble woman whom God was able to use. She did not deny or resist her position in their society but neither did she flaunt it. She understood the position was one of service. Whenever praise came her way, she gave the credit and glory to God. She was a wise woman who was able to delegate responsibilities to other capable people when necessary. She was also a woman of great faith and was even willing to lay down her life in the service of her people. Deborah was indeed an excellent leader—a true aristocrat!

There is also another lady of similar character and distinction who was willing to lay down her life for her people. We know her name as Esther. Esther is one of the only two books in the Bible named after women. But actually her Hebrew name was Hadassah, meaning Myrtle (Esther 2:7). Myrtle was a tree or branch that was supposed to signify peace and thanksgiving. And Esther, with God’s backing, certainly did bring these attributes to her Jewish brethren throughout the Persian Empire.

The Book of Esther is somewhat unique in that God’s name is never directly mentioned, but His hand can frequently be seen in the many so-called “coincidental” happenings throughout the story, as we will see.

Esther, who was actually an orphan, was brought up in exile in Persia by her older cousin Mordecai, whom she regarded as a father figure.

When Queen Vashti disobeyed her husband King Xerxes (Ahasuerus) who ruled the Persian Empire, and refused to come and have her beauty flaunted before his banqueting guests, she was deposed and Esther, a beautiful young Jewess was chosen to be the new Queen consort. However, the King was unaware of her heritage (actually of the tribe of Benjamin).

Some time after Esther had become Queen, Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the King. He quickly informed Esther, and she reported the conspiracy to Xerxes, giving Mordecai the credit. The plot was thwarted and Mordecai’s deed was recorded in the chronicles of the King.

Later, the King promoted Haman the Agagite to be above all the other officials. The fact that Haman is identified as an Agagite suggests a connection with Agag, the king of the Amalekites, ancient enemies of Israel. So Haman hated the Jews and especially Mordecai, who had refused to bow down to him. Consequently Haman devised a plan to have every Jew in the Persian Empire exterminated on a certain date, and the king agreed.

When Mordecai learned of this he immediately fasted and cried out to God. He then informed Esther of the situation. Since he believed that God had deliberately placed Esther in her current position for such a time as this, he implored Esther to approach the King and entreat him for mercy for the Jews and so bring deliverance and prevent genocide.

However, Esther well knew that anyone who approached the King in the inner court unsummoned was put to death. The only exception was if the King extended the gold sceptre to spare them (4:11). So Esther, knowing that she must act wisely and proceed with great caution, didn’t rush into the King in haste, but first prepared by asking for the rest of the Jews to fast with her for three days, seeking God’s help. Only then did she dare to go to Xerxes, because she knew that she could do nothing on her own and needed God’s backing.

Then, even when the sceptre was extended towards her and her life spared, Esther did not blurt out the true reason for her coming, but wisely invited the King and Haman to attend a banquet which she had prepared for them, and also for the following night.

Meanwhile, Haman’s hatred of Mordecai had grown to such an extent that he had a 75ft gallows prepared on which to hang Mordecai. But in a seemingly coincidental twist to the story, the King, who could not sleep, had the chronicles brought to him and read of Mordecai’s faithfulness in saving his life from assassins. He therefore decided to elevate Mordecai, much to Haman’s chagrin!

When, after two nights of banqueting Esther finally revealed that she was a Jewess and that Haman was the one who had plotted to have her people destroyed, the King was angry, finally having Haman hanged on his own gallows! And so all the Jews in the Empire were saved and Haman’s children killed.

Like Deborah, Esther was a humble woman, and although Queen consort, she still respected Mordecai and listened to his advice. She was careful in planning and looked to God for a favourable outcome. She too, risked her life for her people.

There are, of course, other ladies of great character in the Bible such as Mary the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, and they all exhibited a similarity of characteristics. They were humble women, respectful of authority, obedient to God and full of faith as they each performed their designated role in God’s service.

These women were definitely “The Quality,” or true aristocrats, who did not flaunt some man-made title, but rather humbled themselves to become the true servants of God.

So we ladies too, who have been privileged to be called at this time, must take on the same high qualities of character and distinction in order to fulfill our roles as servants of the Most High God. Then, and only then, can we be born again into the most noble and regal of all Royal Families—the Family of God—becoming true daughters of God and lady aristocrats!