Celebrating 400 Years of Shakespeare: Did the Bard’s Greatest Play Come from the Bible?


Today we celebrate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Normally we celebrate the anniversary of a great person’s birth, of course, but Shakespeare was born in such obscurity that there is no record of his birthdate. However, it seems ironically fitting that we would celebrate the death of the bard, who so often ended his plays with a dozen dead bodies on the stage!

Macbeth is one of those carnage-laden tragedies, and many scholars consider it has greatest work. Its story is particularly poignant: Macbeth is a good man in the beginning, loyal to King Duncan and content to serve Scotland as a respected general, until he is overcome by ambition when three witches tell him that he is destined to become the king. Spurred on by his ambitious wife, Macbeth hastens the day of his coronation by conspiring with Lady Macbeth to murder the king in his sleep while Duncan is a guest in his home at Cawdor Castle. Macbeth also contrives to have his best friend and colleague, Banquo, murdered because those same witches have prophesied that Banquo will beget a line of Scottish kings, and that makes Banquo a potential rival as well. By the end of the play, Macbeth has killed (or tried to kill) everyone who might thwart him. He is finally killed in battle and beheaded by Macduff, a Scottish nobleman who has opposed Macbeth’s ascension to the throne. Such a tragic ending to someone who had shown such promise.

Shakespeare often reworked other source material for his plays; Romeo & Juliet, for example, is based on the Greek myth “Pyramus and Thisbe.” What was the source of Macbeth? I believe he was influenced by a similar story he found in the Bible: The conflict between David and Saul in the book of 1 Samuel. Both Saul and David are chosen by God and ordained by Samuel the prophet to become future kings of Israel. Like Macbeth, David is selected as Saul’s successor while King Saul is still alive. But unlike Macbeth, David does not hasten the day when he will become king—even though Saul, jealous of David’s popularity with the Israelites, makes several attempts to kill David by throwing a javelin at him, chasing him with his armies, and even sending him to the frontlines of battle with the order to bring back “one hundred foreskins of the Philistines” (which should have guaranteed David’s death). David returns victoriously, however, and the Israelites continue to cheer, “Saul has his thousands, but David has his ten thousands!”

At one point David and his compatriots come across Saul fast asleep in a cave, just as Duncan is asleep at Cawdor Castle on the fateful night of his death. David’s soldiers urge David to kill Saul, saying, “God has delivered him into your hands,” just as Lady Macbeth urges her husband to fulfill the prophecy of the witches. David refuses, however, proclaiming honorably, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.” Despite Saul’s treachery toward him, David remains determined to serve the king and waits patiently for God to decide when he should take Saul’s place on the throne.

David cuts off the bottom of Saul’s robe, and after leaving the cave he calls out to Saul, “I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not; know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee. Yet thou huntest my soul to take it. The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.”

Humbled by David’s loyalty, Saul weeps as he admits, “Thou art more righteous than I, for thou hast rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded thee with evil.” Saul promises to make amends and trust David in the future, but his contrition is short-lived; soon he is back to throwing javelins at David and chasing him with his armies.

David with Saul's skirt

Other similarities with Macbeth appear in the story. The loyalty and friendship of Saul’s son Jonathan is mirrored in Macbeth’s good friend and fellow general, Banquo. Like Jonathan, who is the heir apparent to the throne, Banquo has been told by the witches that his descendants will become the kings of Scotland. But unlike Macbeth, who turns on Banquo, David and Jonathan remain true friends throughout the story. And a precursor to Shakespeare’s three “toiling witches” appears in the Bible story, when Saul consults the witch of En-dor for a prophecy.

Eventually Saul’s army is surrounded in a heated battle with the Philistines, and his sons are killed, along with most of his men. Certain that he will be tortured and mutilated if the Philistines capture him, Saul falls on his own sword and dies. Frightened by the death of the king, his armor bearer does the same. In a ghastly scene worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy, “Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.” When the Philistines find Saul’s body among the fallen, they cut off his head and parade it around the countryside to mock the great king of Israel, just as Macduff cuts off the head of Macbeth.

Death of Saul

Shakespeare seems to have been so moved by this story and impressed by David’s humility and patience that he patterned Macbeth on both characters, David as the heroic foil and Saul as the tainted king. He reimagined the story however, exploring how a less noble person might react to knowing what his future holds. His Macbeth would be overcome by ambition and lust for power, taking the fulfillment of the prophecy into his own hands instead of waiting patiently for it to play out.

David, too, would soon forget the lesson that was so dearly won, for as king he would succumb to lust and then send his own loyal general, Uriah, to the front lines to be killed in battle in order to hide the paternity of the baby Bathsheba carried—David’s own baby. As a result of that decision, the prophet Nathan told David, “the sword shall never depart from thine house,” and that is how Macbeth ends too.

david and bathsheba

Unlike Macbeth, who sank deeper and deeper into evil after the murder of Duncan, David would spend the rest of his life drawing closer to God and seeking forgiveness for his sins. His psalms bear testimony of the sincerity of his repentance and the depth of his sorrow. He and Bathsheba repented together, married, and produced several children, including one whom they named Nathan in honor of the prophet who helped them with their repentance. Another they named Solomon, and this son would be a direct ancestor of Jesus Christ.

Rest in Peace Will!


You can read more about David, Bathsheba, and the maternal ancestors of Jesus Christ in Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, by Jo Ann Skousen, available at Costco, and selected bookstores.



Symbols of the Passover

Symbols are an important aspect of religious worship, because they help us to express the inexpressible. We can draw nearer to our understanding of our relationship with God by saying what it’s like, especially when we don’t have the words to say what it is. Symbols play a significant role in the Passover seder, which will be celebrated by Jews (and remembered by many Christians) during Passover week.

Symbols of the Traditional Seder Plate:

passover-seder-plate-usableKarpas—a vegetable, usually celery, parsley, or boiled potato, dipped in salt water before eating to symbolize the salty tears of the Israelites.

Zeroah— the shank bone of a lamb, to symbolize the unblemished firstborn lamb that was sacrificed and roasted over a fire on the night of the first Passover.

Charoset—a sweet brown mixture of apples, nuts and spices to represent the mortar the Israelites used as they were forced to work and build for the Egyptians.

Beitzah—a roasted or hardboiled egg to represent mourning and the hard things we must often bear; hard boiled eggs are traditionally served at a funeral.

Maror—Bitter herbs, to represent the bitterness of slavery.

Matzah—a flat, yeastless bread that represents the unleavened bread eaten at the first Passover and the homelessness of their exodus through the desert.

The Haggadah is a parable or tale created as a guide throughout the seder celebration. Each part of the meal is accompanied by prayers and scripture readings.

elijah-place-settingElijah—Jews leave the front door ajar and set a place at the table as an invitation to the prophet Elijah, whose honor it is to restore the sealing power with which he was entrusted and herald the coming of the Messiah.


passover-nightThe story of the Passover is both wonderful and dreadful. After 430 years of bondage in Egypt, God was finally ready to lead them back to the land of Abraham’s covenant. But Pharaoh was not yet ready to let them go. Nine plagues had yet not convinced Pharaoh of God’s power. But the tenth plague would: The firstborn son of every household would die that night—including Pharaoh’s own household. Even the Israelites would suffer the plague, unless they obeyed the commandment to substitute a lamb “without blemish, a male of the first year….and take of the blood and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it” (Exodus 12:4-11). This simple demonstration of faith would allow the destroying angel to “pass over” the homes where the blood of the lambs had been smeared.

Additional instructions for that evening were just as precise. They were told to “eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread, and with bitter herbs…and let nothing of it remain until morning….And thus shall ye eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s Passover.”

All of these instructions reflect a sense of urgency and haste. There was no time to mix bread, knead it, and set it to rise; no time to let meat simmer in a crock pot; no time even to change clothing. These preparations remind us symbolically to be urgently engaged in the work of the Lord, to be prepared at all times for His coming, and to obey His commandments precisely. Such an easy, simple task, to smear blood on a door lintel. Yet how many would reject that commandment, or one like it, precisely because of its simplicity and possible embarrassment?

red-sea-passoverThe symbol of “passing over” returns again and again in the story of the Bible. Moses led the Israelites as they passed over the Red Sea from Egypt into the desert, and Joshua led their descendants as they passed over the River Jordan into Jericho forty years later. There the harlot Rahab recognized the Spirit and power of God when she met the Israelite spies and protected them from the soldiers of Jericho. She too was given a simple task to perform as a symbol of her faith; when the Israelites returned to utterly destroy Jericho and everything in it, they promised to rescue Rahab and her family if she simply dangled a scarlet thread from the window of her home in the wall of the city.

This she did, trusting that they would keep their promise. It must have been with great relief—and with some fear—that she heard them call her name as the battle began and Jericho’s walls crumbled. Her neighbors would know of her treachery, and if the Israelites did not come for her, she would be killed. But they did remember their promise, and after the rescue Rahab joined with the Israelites and married Salmon. Their son Boaz would marry the lovely Moabite widow, Ruth, whose grandson David would become the greatest king of Israel—and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

jesus-as-shepherdThe most significant symbol in the Passover story is, of course, the Messiah Himself, Jesus Christ, whom Elijah has the privilege to announce. He is the paschal Lamb. He is the firstborn male without blemish, the only begotten Son of the Father, who gave His own life so that the destroying angel might pass over us. His crucifixion took place on Passover.

Our part—our privilege—is to accept His will and follow His commandments. It is as easy—and as difficult—as rubbing blood into the lentil of a doorway, or hanging a scarlet thread outside a window, or stepping into the raging river with confidence that the waters will be stopped. May we all have our loins girded, our shoes on our feet, and our staff in our hands, when that moment comes.

You can learn more about Rahab and the other women who are direct ancestors of Jesus Christ in Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ by Jo Ann Skousen. Available at Costco, and selected bookstores.

“God Is Love”

good samaritan.php

The Bible is filled with allegories that point toward the mission of the Messiah. For example, we see the Crucifixion foreshadowed within the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. In that heart-wrenching allegory, Abraham represents God, Isaac represents Christ, and the angel who arrives to stop the raised hand of Abraham is the Holy Ghost (see Genesis 22).

John W. Welch discovered a similar allegory of the Savior’s mission in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story a man “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves” (Luke 10:30). A priest and a Levite passed by the wounded man “on the other side,” indicating allegorically that neither the church nor the law could save the man. Only the Samaritan “had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and . . . brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Luke 10:32–34). Before leaving, the Samaritan gave the innkeeper “two pence” and said, “Whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee” (Luke 10:35).

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a powerful story that inspires readers to develop compassion and offer service to strangers. But it is also a powerful allegory. As Welch explains, Jerusalem represents heaven, Jericho represents the world, the thieves represent worldly corruption, and the man represents each of us. The oil used by the Samaritan to soothe the man’s wounds is a symbol of Christ’s priesthood, and the purifying wine is a symbol of His atoning blood. A penny was the price of a day’s labor at that time, so the “two pence” and the day the Samaritan spent with the man represent Christ’s time in the tomb, while the Samaritan’s promise to repay “whatsoever thou spendest more” represents His infinite Atonement (see Luke 10:32–35). Nestled within these eight verses about the selfless Samaritan we find the entire plan of salvation.

I have found a similar allegory of Christ’s mission in the short epistle to Philemon that Paul wrote to Philemon from his prison cell in Rome. Modern Christians often feel uncomfortable about this short letter because it seems to support slavery, but a closer reading reveals a more profound meaning. In it Paul beseeches Philemon to “receive . . . for ever” the runaway servant Onesimus, but he uses the unexpected phrase, “for love’s sake,” indicating there is more to the story than a labor or property dispute.

Onesimus had gone from Philemon’s service to Rome (like Jericho, a symbol of the world), where he met Paul and was transformed from a man “in times past . . . unprofitable, but now profitable” to Philemon. Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus not as a slave but as “a brother beloved” and promises, “If he hath wronged thee, put that on mine account; . . . I will repay it.”

In this surprising allegory, Onesimus represents each of us “departed for a season” from the love of God but redeemed by the infinite Atonement of the Savior. Philemon, whose very name means Love, represents God in this story. All of us are His servants, “in times past unprofitable,” but “made profitable” through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. And, like the Samaritan, Paul is the Christ figure in this story, pleading the case of a sinner and offering to pay his debts in full. Once again we find the entire plan of salvation hidden within a small epistle that is often overlooked or misunderstood.

Similarly, the story of Rebekah is an allegory of the day when the Messiah will return in all His glory to redeem the world. Eliezer, whose name suggests that he is not an ordinary servant but an ezer, or “Godly helper,” is more than a messenger sent to Haran by Abraham to find a righteous bride for Isaac; he represents the Holy Ghost sent to earth by God the Father to seek out the righteous “bride of Christ”—the members of His church. Allegorically Isaac represents the resurrected Messiah, and Rebekah represents each of us—clothed, as we can be, in “the glorious mantle He has given her, the robe of His own perfect righteousness” (James Neil, Everyday Life in the Holy Land (London: Cassel and Co., 1913, 259-60).

Scattered throughout the scriptures, these allegories resonate deeply within us, subtly reminding us of the mission of the Messiah to redeem His people and bring the safely home to God, whose name, like Philemon’s, is Love (1 John 4:8).

To learn more about the fascinating allegories found in the Bible, read Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, by Jo Ann Skousen. Available at and selected bookstores.



“He is Not Here–He is Risen!”

On Easter morning Christians everywhere will celebrate the resurrection of the Savior by meeting in their church congregations for a sunrise service. For many years our family celebrated Easter with a sunrise service all our own. In the early morning darkness my husband and I would wake our children gently with a kiss and a glass of juice, wrap them in quilts, and guide them out the back door to our little boat on Lake Virginia in Winter Park, Florida. Quietly we would motor to the middle of the lake, waiting for the sun to rise, just as the women had waited anxiously on that first Easter morn for the sun to signal the end of the Sabbath. Only then could they go to Christ’s tomb to perform their final act of service for Him. On the afternoon of His crucifixion the mourners had taken His body from the cross and laid it hastily in the tomb of a disciple, Joseph of Arimathea. No work could be performed on the Sabbath. There had been no time to anoint His body with sweet spices and prepare it properly for burial. So they waited reverently but impatiently for daylight to come.

Finally the morning after the Sabbath broke through. The first day of the week had begun. Carrying the precious ointments of myrrh and other spices that had been foreshadowed by the gifts of the Magi at His birth, the women moved hastily toward the tomb that stood just outside Jerusalem’s city walls, determined to express their love and respect through this final act of sacred service.

The women wondered how they would move the massive stone that had been placed at the opening of the tomb. Jesus’s enemies had demanded it be placed there, for fear that Jesus’s followers would remove His body and then declare that He had risen from the dead. Two Roman sentries stood guard at the tomb throughout the Passover and the Sabbath.

But when the women arrived, the sentries were gone. The stone had been moved. And the tomb was empty.


Inside sat a young man dressed in a long white robe who seemed to be waiting for them. “Don’t be afraid,” he told them gently. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here. He is risen!” Then he added, “See for yourselves,” directing their attention to the roughly hewn burial shelf. “Behold the place where they laid Him” (see Mark 16:5–6). Two thousand years have passed since Mary Magdalene walked out of the beautiful Garden Tomb that sits below the Hill of Golgotha, just outside Jerusalem’s city wall. Many travelers have visited the Garden Tomb and “beheld the place where they laid him,” and they have felt the same thrill of realization: “He is not here. He is risen. Behold for yourselves.”

As the sky lightened our lake, birds would call to each other and fish would plash as they snapped at the insects. We listened to sweet hymns on the boat’s stereo system, and I read my favorite part of the Easter story, John 20. I have read that chapter aloud at least a hundred times, but I can never get through it without a catch in my throat when Mary recognizes the Savior’s voice as He speaks her name and she responds with the humble, joyous, “Master.” It is perhaps my favorite story in all of the scriptures. At its center is a theme of Christ’s deep, tender, and abiding love for His friends. May we all be counted among them when He comes again.

Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ is available at and selected bookstores.

From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday–A Special Remembrance for Easter Week

Palm Sunday

What would you do if you knew you had just one week left on earth? The parables Jesus taught between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday reveal much about what was on His mind in those final days.

During Easter week I like to read through the Four Gospels and reflect on what the Savior did on each of His final days. He cleansed the temple, taught several important parables, prophesied of the Last Days, and spent treasured evenings in the home of his dearest friends. He prepared for the agony of Gethsemane, the scourging of the guards, and the crucifixion by celebrating the Passover with his Apostles and establishing the symbol of the sacrament that would represent His flesh and blood.

I have gone through the Four Gospels and sorted out the scriptures for each day of Jesus’s final week, beginning with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. (Well, I actually like to begin with the story of Lazarus raised from the dead in John 11, because I think that’s part of the Easter story too.) The reading schedule is listed below. I hope you will join me for a very special Easter Week remembrance as you read about what happened each day and contemplate the great love and sacrifice our Savior has for you.

I pray that we may each feel the Spirit of the Lord as we contemplate the gift of His infinite love and Atonement.

John 11:1—12:11

Palm Sunday:
Mark 11:1-11
Matthew 21: 1-17
Luke 19:29-40

Mark 11:12-19
Matthew 21:18 – 22:46
Luke 19:41-48; 20
John 12:20-26 (John doesn’t give a clearly chronological account, so these are approximations)

Mark 11:20 – 13:37
Matthew 23:1-26:16
Luke 21
John 12:27-50

Nothing is reported for Wednesday. Many people suggest that He spent Wednesday by Himself in prayer or with His family

Mark 14:12—15:47
Matthew 26:17—27:66
Luke 22-23
John 13-18

Easter morning:
Mark 16
Matthew 28
Luke 24
John 20 (my favorite chapter in the New Testament!)

“Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ” by Jo Ann Skousen is available at and selected bookstores. You can purchase a personalized autographed copy at


“Ye Are My Friends”


A common misconception suggests that women in the Bible were treated as inferior beings. But that simply isn’t true. In fact, noted historian Paul Johnson has observed, “One of the most remarkable facts about the Bible—in some ways the most remarkable fact—is that it is history with the women left in. . . . From the very beginning, women are part of the Bible story, acting, reacting, talking, scheming, suffering and comforting.”

This is especially true of the New Testament. Jesus shattered the customs of the time in which He was born when he encouraged women to come out of the kitchen and join directly in gospel discussions (See Luke 10:38–42). He treated every woman—even those who were outcasts and sinners—with dignity and compassion. His example established the proper standard of respect for women. They were counted among His disciples, His friends, and His special witnesses.

Discipleship. The word “disciple” comes from the Latin “discipulus,” which means “learner or pupil.” Jesus recognized that women have a great capacity for spiritual and intellectual enlightenment and welcomed them as his disciples. Luke tells us that “Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, … ministered unto him of their substance,” indicating that they followed Him and helped Him in His ministry. We see an example of His appreciation for women as active disciples in the story of the woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria.

The Samaritans were a mixed race of people who traced their lineage to the Jews who had been left behind at the time of the Babylonian captivity. They intermarried with the non-Jewish invaders who had remained in Canaan with them, and their religion had become corrupted. As a result, the Jews looked down on the Samaritans and would go out of their way to avoid them, even walking extra miles to skirt the land of Samaria. In fact, Jesus’s disciples “marvelled that he talked with the [Samaritan] woman [saying] . . . why talkest thou with her?” (John 4:27).

woman-at-well-usable2Nevertheless, Jesus walked directly through Samaria, directly to Jacob’s well, and directly to the woman whose heart was ready for conversion. This woman had an unchaste past, and Jesus knew it. When she told him “I have no husband,” He responded, “Thou hast well said, ‘I have no husband’ for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly” (John 4:17–18).

Many women would have been offended or hurt by such directness, but not this woman. Jesus knew something even more important about her than her promiscuous past. He knew her heart. She had felt her spirit quicken when Jesus had said, “Whosoever drinketh of this water [at the well] shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13–14).

This Samaritan woman would suffer any embarrassment or discomfort to drink of that living water. “Sir,” she said simply, “I perceive that thou art a prophet” (John 4:19). She then “left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”

She knew Him, because He truly knew her. After she heard Jesus’s wonderful message, she shared her newfound faith with everyone she knew. She became a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

Friendship. The living Christ also formed strong, lasting friendships with women. In fact, every evening during the final week of His life He would walk the dusty road from Jerusalem to Bethany and the home of his two dear friends, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. There He found comfort and solace as He prepared to face the agony of Gethsemane and the Cross.

mary-martha-usableWe first meet these two sisters when Jesus is visiting and preaching in their home. Mary ignored the local customs that dictated a woman’s domestic role, abandoning her kitchen duties to “sit at His feet” and listen to the spiritual discussions with the Savior and his apostles. Martha complained about her sister’s insubordination to cultural rules that left Martha alone with all the work of preparing the meal.

With His infinite kindness, Jesus loved them both. “Martha, Martha, thou art careful . . . about many things,” he said gently, validating her generous contributions of food and service, but “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38–42). Food was necessary, and someone needed to prepare it. Jesus appreciated that. But Martha was “cumbered about” with the details of the serving, when a simple meal would have been fine. Just as He had offered the living water to the woman at the well, He wanted Martha to partake of the living bread He had to give. I like to think that Jesus reached out His hand to draw Martha into the room where she, too, receive that “better part.” He extends that same invitation to all.

Witness. Prophets and apostles are called as special witnesses that Jesus is the Christ, but this kind of witness is not limited to apostles. Women too have been blessed with this special testimony. Mary and Martha were two of those witnesses. Martha’s straightforward declaration, “I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world,” (John 11:27) is just as powerful as Peter’s own testimony, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” to which Jesus responded, “Upon this rock [of revelation] I will build my church” (Matthew 16:16-18). Her testimony indicates that she did indeed accept the “better part” of Jesus’s message.

the_prophet_anna_ab28-usableAnother woman who acted as a special witness was the prophetess Anna, an elderly woman who “departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:36-37). On the “day of purification” when Mary and Joseph presented the baby Jesus at the temple, a man named Simeon “came by the Spirit… and took [the baby] in his arms … and prophesied that He would be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of [His] people” (Luke 2:27-32). The elderly Anna came to Mary with the same passionate desire to behold the Child. She too recognized the Messiah in His cherubic face, and “spoke of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38) for the rest of her life. Kings and queens had not bowed down to Him, but those who nurtured the Spirit of God in their hearts had recognized and borne witness of Him. These special witnesses included women as well as men.

One of the most powerful witnesses of Christ’s divinity was Mary Magdalene, who was first to see His resurrected body as she stood near the Garden Tomb where His body had been hastily laid. Mary and other women had waited anxiously for the first rays of light that would signal the end of the Sabbath and the moment when they would be allowed to perform a final act of service for their dear Friend—anointing His body with spices for burial. But His body was not there. Mary hurried to tell the apostles.

His chief apostles, Peter and John, raced to the tomb and, finding it empty, went back to the house where the apostles were gathered (John 20:3–10). Other women, including perhaps Jesus’s own mother, had also been on the scene that morning. Nevertheless, the Lord withheld Himself in a shadow of the Garden until the others had gone. Then he asked, “Woman, why weepest thou?”

mary-magdalene-usableGrieving, Mary turned to a man who seemed to be the gardener and pleaded, “Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” The man uttered a single word in response: “Mary.” And she knew. She knew His voice as He called her name. With a heart full of joy she turned and responded, “Rabboni, Master!”

There is something extremely special about Jesus’s relationship with Mary Magdalene, who appears only once in the scriptures before the Crucifixion scene and then plays such a significant role. I believe she represents each of us as we contemplate the magnitude of the Crucifixion, the Atonement, and the Resurrection. The story of the Bible begins in a Garden with a woman, Eve, who falls, and it ends in a Garden with a woman, Mary Magdalene, who is redeemed. In both cases, the Lord called them by name. May we each become true disciples, friends, and witnesses of the Christ, and may we recognize His voice when He calls our name.

Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ is available at, Costco, and selected bookstores.

God’s Definition of Eve—and of All Women


As God was organizing the earth, he paused at the end of each creative period to admire his work and say, “It is good.” The earth was beautiful and glorious, fit for a king. But it was not good for the king to remain without a queen. God had created light, water, mountains, valleys, plants, fish, birds and animals. He had given Adam dominion over all the earth. But as God admired His final creation–Adam–He remarked, “It is not good.” Something was missing. That “something” was Eve.

“I will make an help meet for him,” God says, according to the King James Version of the Bible, and so He created Eve to be Adam’s eternal companion. What does “help meet” mean? What is God’s definition of Woman? A closer look at the phrase as it is written in the original Hebrew Bible casts new light on the very nature and calling of Woman. In the Hebrew text it is written as ezer kenegdo, which means much more than our modern understanding of a helper. “The verb azar, from which the noun ezer derives, means to succor, … to save from extremity, … to deliver from death” (Terrien 1985. 2004, 10). The word is most often used in the Bible in reference to a king, an army, or even to God Himself. It is a word that connotes superior benevolence or godly help from above, not inferiority or servitude.

What a powerful definition of Woman at the very moment of her creation! She is a benefactor, a rescuer and a savior. In fact, the authors of Eve and Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender contend that the word “ezer should be translated as ‘power’ and [coupled with the adjective kenegdo] the verse should read: ‘a power equal to him” (Kristen E. Kvam 1999, 28). Other characteristics associated with ezer kenegdo include royalty, achievement, pioneering and risk taking (Terrien 1985. 2004, 11).

These heroic characteristics fit the women whose stories are written in Matriarchs of the Messiah. Biblical scholar Carolyn Custis James proclaims, “Eve and all her daughters are ezers—strong women who stand alongside their brothers in the battle for God’s kingdom” (James 2005, 36). Nor is it only in motherhood or wifehood that women exercise this great endowment from God. James adds, “We do not have to wait until we’re grown to become ezers. The doctor who announces the birth of a girl might just as well exclaim, ‘It’s an ezer!’ for we are ezers from birth” (James 2005, 36). I would suggest that it happens even before mortality. The very essence of womanhood is to be a powerful savior and rescuer. It is inherent in her character and in her essential spirit.

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Meet the Surprising Women who Are Direct Ancestors of Jesus Christ

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Many years ago I was taking a Bible Literature course in college while also teaching a daily Bible study class for high school students. This nearly total immersion in the scriptures was enlightening and inspiring. In the literature class we studied the stories the way we might study a Shakespeare play or a Victorian novel, by looking for character foils, juxtapositions, plot twists, metaphors and overarching themes. In the church setting we discussed our relationship with God and applied principles of righteous living to our own lives. These diverse experiences, one focusing on literary archetypes and the other focusing on devotion, opened my eyes to the richness of the stories and characters found in the scriptures, and fueled my desire to write Matriarchs of the Messiah:Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ.

Biblical commentaries traditionally focus on God’s dealings with the prophets, kings and heroes who led His people, yet women played profoundly important roles as well. In many ways, the Bible is a story of families torn apart by jealousy, bitterness, and sorrow, then brought together again through the healing power of forgiveness and understanding. It is a story of sibling rivalry, but also a story of siblings who made amends. Women stand firmly at the center of these stories, using their feminine strengths to encourage, support, plot and guide.

Noted historian Paul Johnson writes, “One of the most remarkable facts about the Bible—in some ways the most remarkable fact—is that it is history with the women left in.….From the very beginning, women are part of the Bible story, acting, reacting, talking, scheming, suffering and comforting.”

This is especially true of the valiant women identified specifically as Jesus’s mortal ancestors through his mother Mary. As mothers they received guidance for their families just as surely as the prophets received guidance for the church. These women also managed businesses, oversaw domestic manufacturing, negotiated major migrations, and gave counsel in political affairs. Jesus Himself shattered the customs of the culture in which He was born when he encouraged women to come out of the kitchen and join in the gospel discussions (See Luke 10:38-42). He treated every woman—even those who were outcasts—with the utmost dignity and compassion, thus establishing the proper standard of respect and acceptance.

One of the most surprising insights I discovered while researching this book is that these women came from vastly different backgrounds. Sarah, Rebekah and Leah were cousins in the family of Abraham, but Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba were cultural outsiders who were grafted into the lineage of Jesus Christ through marriage. They were quick-witted, courageous and noble as they exercised free will and choice to make decisions that would impact future generations. Many used surprising, roundabout methods to achieve their goals. Their stories are fascinating and inspiring. Watch this space to learn more about their lives and lessons.

–Jo Ann Skousen