This article was originally written by Kristi McLelland and published in the May issue of HomeLife magazine.
In 2007, the Lord opened the door for me to go study the Bible in Egypt
and Israel. I wanted to study the Word of God in the very lands and culture
where the Story happened and was written. At the time, I was serving on
staff at a church and teaching Bible in the Biblical Studies department at a Bible college. I thought it would be a really good step in the spirit of professional development since my primary role at both places was teaching the
Bible. Teachers are primarily learners; from time to time we teach a few
things we’re learning along the way.
The Word of God isn’t only the best story ever told — it’s also the truest. It lifts us, anchors us, establishes us, informs and guides us in knowing the Living God and what He’s like. It shows us what it means to walk with Him.
Little did I know that my time in Egypt and Israel would change my life forever — literally. I came home changed. Altered. Since that time I’ve been serving as a biblical culturalist — I teach the Word in its original historical, cultural, linguistic, and geographic context. I function like a “time machine,” taking you back 2,000 years to the first century Jewish world of Jesus; back 3,000 years to the time of the Monarchy (Saul, David, and Solomon)and back even further to the time of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). For 12 years I’ve been taking groups to
Israel on biblical study trips. And, Lord willing, I will never stop.
The Uniqueness of Jesus
I tell people all that I went to Israel and learned that God is better than I ever knew. One of the things that was the most transformative for me was getting to know Jesus in His first century Jewish world. Learning to see Him in the actual culture and geography that He was born into 2,000 years ago has caused me to love Him infinitely more. It allowed me to understand all those stories recorded in the Gospels on a much deeper level.
When I take teams to Israel, we spend our first four nights in Bethlehem. I love telling team members that they’re spending their first night in Israel in the very same city where Jesus spent His first night on earth as God in the flesh. Part of the value in going to the Holy Land is that you can never unsee what you’ve seen. I becomes more than a Bible verse you read — it becomes the Story you’ve seen with your own eyes and you’re drawn into.
In Jesus’ day, He was known as a Rabbi, a Teacher. He was more specifically known as a Galilean Rabbi from the northern district of Galilee bordering the Sea of Galilee. Much has been written about Jesus’ uniqueness, but He was altogether unique in some striking and incredible ways in His first century Jewish world.
His Ministry to Women
One of the things that is most unique in the person and ministry of Jesus was His treatment of, His affiliation with, and His ministry to women. Rabbis often taught in parables, and so did Jesus. Approximately one-third of His teachings that we have recorded in the Gospels are given to us in parabolic form. Jesus was definitely a “man of His times” when it came to His usage of the parable to convey spiritual, kingdom truths. This was a typical method of teaching and communicating in the first century.
On the other hand, His ministry to women was very unique to His world. The Middle East, both in the biblical world and today, is very much an honor and shame culture. We as westerners speak in terms of right and wrong, but the ancient world and the Near East speak in terms of what is honorable and what is shameful. Jesus was born into a world where women’s honor had been dimmed and their shame magnified. In other words, a woman was at the bottom of her culture, the bottom of her world.
In Jesus’ day, a woman wasn’t allowed to provide testimony in court. Women were considered unreliable. There was this nagging idea and environment that found something somewhat faulty in woman, in the feminine. Women had lost their sense of honor. Then Jesus showed up. In every interaction Jesus had with a woman in His first century world, He brought two things into her life. His ministry was two-fold.
Righteousness and Justice for Women
The Bible says God has a throne. It also tells us that the foundation of His throne is made up of two things. Psalm 89:14 tells us, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.” Righteousness and justice. Not truth and grace. Not love and mercy. Not faithfulness and kindness. The very foundation of God’s throne is righteousness and justice.
We see this coupling, this pairing all throughout the Bible. It’s like righteousness and justice go together. The first time we see righteousness and justice is in relation to Abraham and his descendants in the Book of Genesis. This important thread is woven throughout the biblical narrative.
Interestingly enough, this is the two-fold ministry of Jesus with women in His first century Jewish world. In His interactions with women, He brought righteousness and justice.
The Hebrew word for righteousness is tzedakah. It means so much more than cleanness and rightness. In the Middle East, tzedakah also carries the meaning of generosity. Giving is one of the highest forms of honor in the biblical world. In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus talks about not doing your acts of righteousness for people to see, He’s referring to praying, fasting, and giving. (See Matt. 5–7.)
Tzedakah is generosity, or being generous toward others.
The next word or term in the coupling is justice. The Hebrew word for justice is mishpat. The honor and shame world is a vertical world, where the honorable are raised and the shameful are lowered. Biblical justice happens when the honorable reaches down to the shameful, lifts them out of their shame, and restores their honor. Biblical justice is a lifting up out of shame and a restoration of honor. Justice functions like a lever — Jesus, who was honorable, leveraged His life to lift up others anchored in shame. In other words, He brought justice to women in His world by lifting them up and restoring their honor.
Jesus not only brought justice (mishpat) to women in His first century world, He brought a generous justice to them. He reached all the way down and met women exactly where they were. He lifted them all the way up out of shame and restored them to honor. Jesus is the One who boldly reaches to the very bottom to find us and lift us up… generously.
His Shalom for You
Jesus brought righteousness and justice to women in His world. He generously pulled women out of their shame and restored their honor. More than this, He sent them out in shalom: harmony, peace, flourishing, wholeness of delight.
Jesus didn’t come to turn things upside down. He came to turn things right side up. He entered the world and showed the world what the Living God thinks of women. He sees us. He cares for us. He reaches for us. He reaches all the way down for us. He lifts us up. He lifts us all the way up. He restores our honor. He sends us forward in shalom.
If Jesus did it for them, He’s doing it for us. If Jesus did it for her, He’s doing it for you. Jesus is better than we ever knew. In what ways do you need Jesus’ righteousness and justice in your life right now? What areas of your life need His presence to come and lift you up generously?
Jesus’ generous justice, His generous lifting up is available for you today. Thank Him that His ministry of generous lifting up is yours too.
To read more about how Jesus brought righteousness and justice to women pick up a copy of Jesus and Women by Kristi McLelland In the 7-session Bible study, Jesus and Women in the First Century World and Now, Kristi sets a biblical table where:
• we will learn some of the stories in the four Gospels where Jesus interacted with a woman;
• we will learn these stories anchored in the history and culture of the first century Jewish world;
• we will see Jesus bringing justice and righteousness, a generous lifting up of women over and over again;
• we will be encouraged to live lifted and restored and to live forward in shalom.
Available at lifeway.com.
Kristi McLelland, author of Jesus and Women, has dedicated her life to discipleship, to teaching people how to study the Bible for themselves, and to writing about how God is better than we ever knew by explaining the Bible through a Middle Eastern lens. For more information about Kristi, visit