What Old Testament Heroines Teach Us About Creating Strong Female Characters


Some writers create female characters who head out into combat and basically act just like men. Others create female characters who seem unable to do anything for themselves and must wait helplessly for a man to come and rescue them. Writers, there’s another option. And why not look at the greatest Book ever written to give us some ideas?  

The Old Testament is full of the stories of strong women (the New Testament has its heroines, too, but that would be another article). The Hebrew midwives stood up to Pharaoh and refused to kill the baby boys they delivered. Rahab jeopardized her own safety to hide the Hebrew spies who came to her. Jael drove a tent peg into the skull of Israel’s greatest enemy. Jehosheba rescued her baby brother from the wrath of the wicked Athaliah, thus preserving the kingly line of David, from which the Messiah would eventually come. Ruth left behind all that was familiar to go and care for her mother-in-law in a strange new land. Esther risked her life by appearing before the king without being summoned to plead for the lives of her people. No doubt about it–these were some strong women. 

Arguments abound for creating flawed, relatable characters. But there are many reasons why traditional heroes (or heroines) still matter. And these Old Testament women have much to teach us about what makes a real heroine. 

Their strength was not their own. It came from their faith and fear of God. 

In the book of Exodus, it says that the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, “feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive,” (Exodus 1:17). They were willing to risk Pharaoh’s wrath because they respected and revered God far more than they did the king of Egypt. Before Esther approached the king, she asked the people to fast. We can safely assume they were praying, too. Her courage sprang from her trust in God. And when Rahab hid the Hebrew spies, she testified to her belief in the true God of Israel. Author Leslie Ludy points out that one of the main differences between the modern feminist movement and biblical femininity, is that feminism celebrates the strength and glory of a woman, whereas biblical femininity celebrates the strength and glory of God. 

If you want to create a real heroine, I believe the most important attribute to give her is faith in God. Of course, this will look different depending on your genre and whether you choose to portray God directly or indirectly in your story. But if you want to write about a truly strong woman, her strength needs to come from outside herself. 

One of my favorite fictional characters who embodies this attribute is Lucy Pevensie in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. She’s known as “Lucy the Valiant,” yet it’s clear that her courage does not come from herself, but from her faith in the Great Lion, Aslan. 

They loved others sacrificially. 

Besides their faith in God, the other motivating factor in these women’s lives was a great love for others. Jeshosheba was willing to take a great risk to save Joash, only a baby at the time, who later became a noble king of Judah. The wicked Athaliah was having all the royal heirs killed, but Jehosheba took Joash and his nurse and hid them until the time was right to declare him king. The risks she and other Old Testament heroines took were not to satisfy some yearning for adventure or to seek glory and fame for themselves, but rather because they possessed a sacrificial love for others. 

Place people in the life of your fictional heroine for her to love. And make her willing to make great sacrifices to protect those people. 

One fictional woman who exemplifies this trait is Aimee in Douglas Bond’s The Resistance. Her deep love for her blind younger brother motivates her to take extreme risks and face great dangers. 

They possessed wisdom. 

Another quality that stands out to me in reading about these Old Testament heroines is their wisdom. These were women who could think for themselves. They knew what to do and they did it. The wise woman of Abel in 2 Samuel chapter 20 was certainly a quick thinker. She orders the beheading of the traitor Shemei who took refuge in her city, negotiating with the military commander Joab to not attack in exchange for Shimei’s head. At the same time, though, we see examples of women heeding wise counsel, rather than depending only upon their own wisdom. Ruth listened to her mother-in-law’s wisdom. Esther heeded her uncle Mordechai’s advice. And most importantly, true heroines seek wisdom from God. As James 1:5 says, “If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” 

So create characters who seek wisdom–from God and from older, more experienced men and women–and who aren’t afraid to act on the wisdom they have gained. 

An example of this in literature whom I admire is Elinor Dashwood in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. She’s a stellar model of, well, sense. She possesses a steady character, recognizing when certain actions would be unwise, and encouraging her sister to exercise discernment and wisdom. 

They were seeking to glorify God where He had placed them. 

We’re not told that any of these women went out looking for an adventure. Rather, it seems they were simply living their lives, when adventure found them. Jael was likely preparing food for her husband or some other such domestic task, when Sisera came into her tent. But when the opportunity came, these women were prepared to act.  Jesus said, “He [or she] who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much,” (Luke 16:10). 

Show in your story how the seemingly small things your heroine does prepare her for larger tasks in the future. The stories I find the most inspiring are those of a woman who is faithfully performing the duties in front of her and finds herself thrust into a life-or-death situation where her faith in God gives her the strength to act with incredible courage. 

Corrie ten Boom is one of my favorite examples of a real-life heroine in more recent times. She’s known for her courage in saving Jews during the Holocaust, but before that there were years of preparation in which she served her family by helping with household tasks, assisted her father in his watchmaking business, and taught Bible classes to young people and those with special needs. 

They respected the men in their life and encouraged them in righteousness. 

The respectful way Ruth speaks to Boaz in the Bible may sound foreign to us. But that’s a characteristic we see of godly women. They know their own worth in God’s eyes. They don’t have to bash men to try to make themselves feel stronger. Rather, they know how much God loves and values them, and thus they are able to show honor to others. While being unafraid to take the initiative when the circumstances call for it, true heroines are also happy to let a man lead, when a godly man is there to do so, as in the case of Jehosheba. Unlike Athaliah who was willing to murder to be queen, we can assume Jehosheba was happy to see her brother made king. True heroines also spur men on toward what is right, rather than what is wrong. One biblical example of this is Abigail. When David was on the verge of killing Nabal and every male in his household, Abigail boldly approached him and urged him to not commit murder.  

So create heroines who treat men with respect and spur them on toward good works. 

One of my favorite fictional heroines is Lydia Tavish from Jessica Marinos’s Trimont Trilogy, and she is a great example of this. Throughout the story, we see her again and again respectfully urging the men around her to do what is right and pointing them to the truth. 

Putting it all together. 

Your characters don’t have to start out exemplifying all these qualities. After all, Rahab started out in a line of work that was, ahem, not a God-honoring sort of profession. But her fear of God motivated her to take a great risk to save the Hebrew spies who came to her and leave her old life behind. A redemption arc can be a great element in a story. Perhaps you could even have your heroine start out depending upon her own strength and then have her realize that she is not enough, but God is. And even if your heroine does start out with the correct worldview and character qualities, she should still learn and grow throughout the course of her journey. 

So go, create strong female characters in your stories. But remember that a woman’s true strength doesn’t come from herself, and real heroism involves sacrificial love, wisdom, faithfulness in everyday tasks, and respect for others. 

And always remember, "He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it," (1 Thess. 5:24). 
All for Him,
Savannah Jane

P. S. If you would like to see how I put all these elements together in a story, you can check out my books (especially A Torch in the Empire Series) here


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