“The Daughters of Zelophehad
Illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us: Containing 400 Illustrations from the Old and New Testaments: With brief descriptions by Charles Foster
This is Part 2 of the series “The 4 Women of Revelation”. In Part 1, I went into an introduction of “The 4 Women of Revelation, Part 1: Who or What Are They, and Who or What Aren’t They?” and introduced the very first woman figure listed in Revelation.
Women figure prominently in several places in the Bible. If we are to properly understand prophecy, we must go back and briefly revisit the symbols used in OT prophecy.
As I wrote some time ago, even the laws of divorce were radical in the time of Moses, for unlike other cultures in the region, the wife was given consideration for her care after a divorce should the husband decide to divorce her without good cause. The daughters of Zelophehad presented their case before Moses for consideration in inheritance, Deborah was a prophetess and a judge, Abigail took matters into her own hands and appeased David when her husband dealt ungratefully towards him, and so on.
By Jesus’ day, though, things had deteriorated so that even the laws of divorce were pretty messed up. A woman was not even allowed to testify in court, yet the very first witnesses at the empty tomb were women. A woman was not allowed to touch a rabbi, but Jesus allowed “a sinner” to anoint his feet and kiss them. The disciples all fled and stayed away except John and some of the women disciples when Jesus was crucified.
The point is that there are positive as well as negative portrayals of women in the Bible, in spite of the accusations that the Bible is “misogynist”. There are also positive and negative portrayals of men in the Bible, but you never hear that the Bible is misandrist! So, it shouldn’t be surprising that prophecy also shows women as symbols both in positive and negative connotations.
Personifications run throughout the Bible. Proverbs in particular makes things like wisdom, foolishness and understanding be shown as women in different contexts. The poetry of these sections helps to bring out the lessons that the Proverbs hope to convey. However, they are limited to those contexts and do not cross over to prophecies and prophetic language automatically.
Therefore, I intend to stick to the symbolism in prophecy as much as is practical. I’m likely to miss some, but I will take a stab at a list of objects or places in prophecy personified as women.
Britannica online says of “Zion”:
In the Old Testament, Zion is overwhelmingly a poetic and prophetic designation and is infrequently used in ordinary prose. It usually has emotional and religious overtones, but it is not clear why the name Zion rather than the name Jerusalem should carry these overtones. The religious and emotional qualities of the name arise from the importance of Jerusalem as the royal city and the city of the Temple. Mount Zion is the place where Yahweh, the God of Israel, dwells (Isaiah 8:18; Psalm 74:2), the place where he is king (Isaiah 24:23) and where he has installed his king, David (Psalm 2:6). It is thus the seat of the action of Yahweh in history.
In the Old Testament the city of Jerusalem is personified as a woman and addressed or spoken of as “the daughter of Zion,” always in a context charged with feeling aroused by either of two ideas that stand in opposition to each other: the destruction of Jerusalem or its deliverance. After Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 bc, the Israelites could not forget Zion (Psalm 137), and, in the prophecy after the Babylonian Exile of the Jews, Zion is the scene of Yahweh’s messianic salvation. It is to Zion that the exiles will be restored (Jeremiah 3:14), and there they will find Yahweh (Jeremiah 31). Bearing all these connotations, Zion came to mean the Jewish homeland, symbolic of Judaism or Jewish national aspirations (whence the name Zionism for the 19th–20th-century movement to establish a Jewish national centre or state in Palestine).
6 O ye children of Benjamin, gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem, and blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and set up a sign of fire in Bethhaccerem: for evil appeareth out of the north, and great destruction.
2 I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman.
1 How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!
2 She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.
3 Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits.
4 The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness.
5 Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper; for the Lord hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are gone into captivity before the enemy.
6 And from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed: her princes are become like harts that find no pasture, and they are gone without strength before the pursuer.
7 Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old, when her people fell into the hand of the enemy, and none did help her: the adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths.
5 Thus saith the Lord God; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her.
6 And she hath changed my judgments into wickedness more than the nations, and my statutes more than the countries that are round about her: for they have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them.
13 Harness the horses to the chariot,
you residents of Lachish.
This was the beginning of sin for Daughter Zion,
because Israel’s acts of rebellion can be traced to you.
2 And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
6 In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted;
7 And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the Lord shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever.
8 And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.
10 Be in pain, and labour to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail: for now shalt thou go forth out of the city, and thou shalt dwell in the field, and thou shalt go even to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered; there the Lord shall redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies.
5 Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek.
3 Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.
3 Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city!
2 She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the Lord; she drew not near to her God.
14 Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
16 In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack.
- Isa 66:7-10
- Isa 1:1, 21-27
- Eze 16:1-5
- Eze 23:2-4
6 Therefore I will make Samaria as an heap of the field, and as plantings of a vineyard: and I will pour down the stones thereof into the valley, and I will discover the foundations thereof.
7 And all the graven images thereof shall be beaten to pieces, and all the hires thereof shall be burned with the fire, and all the idols thereof will I lay desolate: for she gathered it of the hire of an harlot, and they shall return to the hire of an harlot.
2 Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother:
3 And they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity.
4 And the names of them were Aholah the elder, and Aholibah her sister: and they were mine, and they bare sons and daughters. Thus were their names; Samaria is Aholah, and Jerusalem Aholibah.
15 Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.
16 Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.
The above might not be obvious, but Ramah is a city in Benjamin. Benjamin was the youngest of Rachel, who died while giving birth to him. Symbolically then, Rachel is weeping over her children, the city of Ramah’s inhabitants.
Nation of Israel
3 The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.
4 Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: thou shalt again be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry.
5 Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria: the planters shall plant, and shall eat them as common things.
6 For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God.
The above context shows “virgin of Israel” is neither Samaria or Zion, so it must be referring to the reunified nation of Israel. The imagery is repeated in vv 21 – 23, and in that last verse God calls Himself the “God of Israel”.
- Jer 3:6-9
- Hos 3:1
- Isa 54:5-6
Nation of Judah
6 The Lord said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot.
7 And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it.
13 The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see.
8 And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.
50 The word that the Lord spake against Babylon and against the land of the Chaldeans by Jeremiah the prophet.
2 Declare ye among the nations, and publish, and set up a standard; publish, and conceal not: say, Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces; her idols are confounded, her images are broken in pieces.
3 For out of the north there cometh up a nation against her, which shall make her land desolate, and none shall dwell therein: they shall remove, they shall depart, both man and beast.
10 And Chaldea shall be a spoil: all that spoil her shall be satisfied, saith the Lord.
11 Because ye were glad, because ye rejoiced, O ye destroyers of mine heritage, because ye are grown fat as the heifer at grass, and bellow as bulls;
12 Your mother shall be sore confounded; she that bare you shall be ashamed: behold, the hindermost of the nations shall be a wilderness, a dry land, and a desert.
47 Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate.
5 Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called, The lady of kingdoms.
8 Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children:
Wickedness Zec 5:6-8
Most of the time, we see a woman representing a city. Secondarily, we see a woman representing a nation. The context easily tells us which.
However, it should be noted too that when it points to a city, it normally is referring to the capital city of a nation or empire (Ramah being the obvious exception). When you consider that Babylon was the head of the Babylonian Empire and Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire, it isn’t too far fetched to see the correlation. If someone today talks about “Washington politics”, we know they are referring to federal politics in the US. Obviously, what affects the head affects the entire nation.
In spite of this, there is a slight distinction, and I believe this distinction should be maintained and not ignored lest we run the risk of misinterpreting the NT symbols as well as the OT ones. However, they both have in common culture. In each case, God is pointing something out about their attitudes and customs, aka culture.
The most important thing to remember is that the Bible tells us what its symbols mean in most cases, and it usually tells us specifically when they are hidden (the seven thunders of Revelation, for example).