For Christmas, my brother was kind enough to gift me with Twelve Extraordinary Women, and just this morning I finished the last chapter. This was my first time reading one of John MacArthur's books, and I gave it one of the few five-star ratings that I jealously guard.
From Amazon: Celebrated for their courage, vision, hospitality, and spiritual giftedness, it's no wonder women were so important to God's plan revealed in the Old and New Testaments. It wasn't their natural qualities that made these women extraordinary but the power of the one true God whom they worshipped and served.
In Twelve Extraordinary Women, you'll learn more than fascinating information about these women, you'll discover-perhaps for the first time-the unmistakable chronology of God's redemptive work in history through their lives. These women were not ancillary to His plan, they were at the very heart of it.
The women included in this book are as follows: Eve, Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, Mary the mother of Jesus, Anna, the Samaritan Woman, Martha & Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Lydia.
Some people might question the legitimacy of a women's Bible study written by a man. Can he make it relatable to women? I don't know about every case, but this book certainly was. As I read MacArthur's thoughts, I found it to be a very healing and refreshing experience. It's one thing for a female author to say that women are important to God. But it's an incredibly more powerful thing for a male author to say that women are precious and beloved. Women are built with the need of affirmation from men, not just other women. And one of the key problems of the feminist movement is that we've held at arm's-length the male support and cherishing that God designed us to need. So yes, a man can write a women's Bible study and do a fantastic job at it.
There were twelve women in this study, but two in particular stood out to me: Rahab and Hannah.
Rahab was a prostitute (porne in Hebrew) who became part of the Hall of Faith and was commended in James for her faith in the Lord. MacArthur did an excellent job unpacking historical and biblical fact, and debunking extra details that we simply don't know. He explained why the spies went to Rahab in the first place, as well as the fact that her lie does not justify deceit in a Christian's life. (MacArthur does not condemn Rahab harshly for using the lie; he just points out that God does not need sin to save people.)
Hannah was extraordinary for the way she loved her husband, her family, and her Lord. The wife of a Levite, Hannah had a lot of sorrows to deal with, including infertility and her husband's bigamy. MacArthur's explanation of Hannah's prayer showcases her grateful, humble trust in the Lord. She prayed before God and went her way, trusting him to answer in accordance with what was best. Last week I had several causes to pray often, and the chapter on Hannah encouraged me to lay down my wants in thanksgiving and humility like Hannah did.
All the women were excellent choices: Martha and Mary, Ruth, and The Samaritan Women were favorite chapters which for lack of space I cannot go into detail about. You'll simply have to discover them for yourself. I will only say that MacArthur's dealing with them is not stereotypical. He looks at them in a fresh way which I thought was absolutely biblical and spot-on.
The only woman I wished he would have taken a different angle with was Mary, the mother of Jesus. Highlighting her need to humbly submit to Jesus as God, MacArthur took the angle of defending her from Roman Catholic doctrine and undue veneration. Since I am not Catholic, and have never considered Mary as extraordinary other than the fact that she bore God's Son, I would have enjoyed a different angle. But that's a personal complaint, and the chapter was certainly true and accurate according to Scripture.
MacArthur puts an incredible amount of Scripture references in parentheses that would greatly add to a week-by-week study of this book, but were too many for me to read in the time I could allow. I was familiar with the gist of the verses based on the context around them, but I wish I could have spent more time going through the references. I'll have to revisit it in future, along with the study guide questions in the back.
I know this shouldn't be the judge of whether or not a book is correct, but time and again attitudes towards the various women that I've always thought were myth were things that MacArthur pointed out as well. Some of the 'flaws' foisted on these women aren't actually there in Scripture, and have always rubbed me raw when they're mentioned. I've read through the Bible many times, and found renewed confidence in the way MacArthur cleared away a lot of extra-biblical commentary from these stories.
This book is gentle. It is true. It showcases the loving-kindness that God felt towards these women, and the great worship they showed towards him. All these women are sinful, all are beloved by God; all point to the beautiful centerpiece of Christ's work and redemption. After a multiplicity of studies and sermons into the flaws of these women, MacArthur's honorable dealing towards these weaker vessels, without disguising their flaws, is a healing experience to read. I hope that the women who read this review will find a similar experience in these pages.