(continued from the last edition)
By Rosanna Emenusiobi
2. THE POWER OF FEMININE BEAUTY
However, the beauty of a woman's body is not the only reason she is beautiful. Rather, her body is a revelation of her as a person. Her personality has beauty in the way she exhibits inner qualities. By looking at the woman, we can see who God has made her in every aspect of who she is. All beauty – physical or spiritual - comes from God and is a reflection of Him. As the Old Testament testifies, “for from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wis. 13:5). Thus, nothing in heaven compares to the beauty of God, and nothing on earth approaches the beauty of the woman – a beauty that is captivating and powerful. For this reason, women have a unique role in revealing God to the world through their beauty. Let us look briefly at some beautiful women in the Bible and how God used them to accomplish his purpose.
2.1 SARAH - Radiantly Beautiful
Sarah, Abraham's wife is another epitome of beauty. The Bible records that she was very beautiful and attractive, and a fair woman to look upon (cf Gen 12:11-15; Gen, 20:1-18). One writer pictured her as wearing a flowing noble rob blending several rich colours, perhaps the warm reds and azure. The drapery of hair robe extended to a headdress with a veil that partly hid her face. It is also easy to imagine she might have had alluring auburn hair, plaited and coiled in halo effect, exquisite olive skin, red lips and cheeks deep-set eyes that brightened as she smiled, and a figure both commanding and graceful. Sarah was a princess in bearing and character, as her name signified. Abram was afraid his radiantly beautiful wife could be taken from him by the Egyptian royal admirers. He lied to them. When Pharaoh, who took Sarah as his wife because of her beauty found out the truth, he gave back Sarah to Abram with accompanying gifts. The same situation reoccurred when Sarah and Abraham arrived at the court of Abimelech in Gerat. He desired Sarah for her beauty. But, when God reprimanded him, he compensated Abraham with many gifts including hectares of land (Gen 18:1-18). If Sarah was not extraordinarily beautiful, these men would not have taken her from Abram and he would not have had these fortune.
2.2 ESTHER: The Girl Who Won the Beauty Pageant
Esther went from the humdrum of life of an orphan to the palatial life as queen to one of the most powerful men in the ancient world. From there she went on to become a heroine and secured a place of honour in Israel's history. All started with her beauty! It almost seems something to raise eyebrows over, but God worked through a beauty pageant to providentially cross Esther's path with Ahasuerus. Esther was a Jew and an orphan, raised by her Cousin, Mordecai. She was beautifully formed and lovely to behold (Esther 2:5-7). To add to this naturally beautiful shape, Esther was adorned with all kinds of precious ointments and jewelries (Esther 2:3). The girl who won that beauty competition could not have known that her name was to become famous throughout the world. She was destined to become the instrument of the unseen God, who planned and directed her every movement. As a foreigner and orphan, it was a million-to-one chance that she would even be invited to the pageant, let alone win it. But through the beauty given to her Beauty Himself, it happened. Her beauty made her a queen who would save the Jews from complete annihilation. Read the rest of this Book to find out how she saved her people. She was as dazzling in outer beauty as she was in inner beauty. In fact, her name is the Persian name for “star” and she lived up to it in that story.
2.3 JUDITH and SUSANNA: “Very Beautiful” and “God-fearing Women”
The story of these two women are familiar to us. Judith, “beautifully formed and lovely to behold” (Jud. 8:7), was a widow whose husband left a great fortune and “no one had a bad word to say about her for she was a very God-fearing woman” (Jud. 13:8). A biblical heroine, Judith refused to let her role be determined by others. As a woman and a widow, she had little social standing in ancient Israel. Yet, she did not let this keep her from speaking out and challenging the community leaders to action. Her beauty did not interfere with her relationship with her God. God used her to deliver His people, the Israelites, from the impending danger of genocide by Holofernes and his Assyrian army. In order to accomplish this work, she employed some tactics, including making herself more “beautiful to captivate the eyes of all the men who should see her”. Accordingly, the Assyrian soldiers “marveled at her beauty” (Jud. 10:19) and led her to Holofernes, who, together with his servants “marveled at the beauty of her face” (10:10). It is important to underline that her beauty was one of her natural endowments she employed to conquer the deadly enemies of Israel.
Susanna, another heroine in the Book of Daniel, was “a very beautiful and God-fearing woman” (Dan 13:2), who chose to risk death rather than submitting to sin. Her prayer, demanding God's justice, pushed Daniel into action. The evil judges took her beauty for lust and “suppressed their consciences; and would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments” (Dan. 13:9). The story did not accuse Susanna of seducing anybody in her husband's garden, but these old judges allowed themselves to become victims of lust: “when the old men saw her enter every day for her work, they began to lust for her”. Daniel told them to their face, “beauty has seduced you and lust subverted your conscience.” (Dan 13:57). Note that he did not say: “Susanna has seduced you”. Her refusal to succumb to their sinful demand “stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel” who denounced the lies and the unjust judgment against Susanna. Susanna was vindicated and justice was enthroned. Again, it is pertinent to emphasise that as stunning as Susanna was, she feared the Lord (Dan 13: 44-63); she never used this unique endowment to seduce or to commit sin.
Each of the women in this section possessed both physical and internal beauty and God used both to accomplish His purposes. God creates beauty. He makes women physically beautiful. This fact is indisputable. Hence, in his award-winning book, Addicted to Mediocrity, Frankly Schaeffer comments:
If from this world around us we can learn anything about God's character, surely it is that we have a creative God, a God of diversity, a God whose interest in beauty and detail must be unquestioned around us, and people themselves as the result of his craftsmanship.
It is, therefore, not women's fault that they are created beautiful. It is neither a crime nor a sin to be beautiful. Beauty is a positive endowment on women because God made it so. It is a terrible disservice to women to tell them that their beauty is in vain, or that they have to deny their beauty – the way God created them - unless it is matched with inner beauty. Of course, internal beauty is very essential, but let us first of all acknowledge and celebrate this natural and physical endowment and its Creator; we can then go beyond that to other beauties women possess. So, let us celebrate women.
3. CELEBRATING THE BEAUTY OF THE FEMININE BODY
The Bible is replete with the celebration of beauty either as feminine physical bodies or as imageries. The Song of Songs is book on passionate but committed relationship between spouses, which also signaled God's relationship with His people. Here, both the bride and bridegroom extol each other's beauty – both physical and internal. Our concern here is the bridegroom's joyful celebration of his bride's beauty:
“You are the fairest among women” (SS 1:7)“Arise, my beautiful one, and come!” (SS 2:10)
“You are all beautiful, my beloved, and there is no blemish in you” (SS 4:7)
“Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array?” (SS 6:10).
The Song of Songs Chapters 4:1-8 and 7:1-6 present a graphic description of women's beautiful body parts. What a masterpiece to behold! The author of Psalms, too, praises God for feminine beauty: “All glorious is the king's daughter as she enters. In embroidered apparel she is led to the king.” (Ps. 45:15). In the Book of Isaiah we see again this celebration: “You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God.” (Is. 62:3).
However, Ben Sirach, the author of Ecclesiasticus, could pass for a sexist by today's standards. He slighted womanhood in some of his instructions and one could probably think it is a curse to be a woman (cf. 9:1-9) or to have a daughter (42:9-14). Since, he was influenced by the culture his day, we can forgive him.
So, women, you are beautiful because you are wonderfully and fearfully made (cf. Ps. 139:14). You are God's masterpiece! (Eph. 6:2). Beauty is your essence. Therefore, carry yourself with cheerfulness, grace, self-confidence, dignity, and honour. Do not be ashamed nor denigrate your beauty. It is God's doing. Physical beauty is a unique gift to you. But do not stop there. Go beyond it to meet your God with other aspects of your beauty, even more beautiful: internal characteristics. When these are combined, you will “shine like stars in the vault of heaven!” We shall look at these dimensions, especially, the inner beauty at a later phase in this article.
On the other hand, some questions bother me. Why do men allow themselves to be trapped by women's beauty? Do women really understand what beauty is? Is some women's flaunting of their body a sign of beauty? The response to these and similar questions will form the crux of our next article in these series.
(to be continued)