And when she was good
She was very, very good,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Ruthie never saw it coming. His fist flashed toward her so fast she couldn’t duck or turn away in time.
“Nooo!” Her cry echoed off the windshield of the Pontiac but went no further. Who would hear her in this parking lot anyway? With trash cans and alley cats for neighbors, she could hardly expect some hero in a white Ford Mustang to drive by and rescue her, not at this late hour. Hayden was leaning inside the open car window now, rubbing his knuckles as if to say, “There’s more where that came from.” As if she hadn’t figured that out. As if she wasn’t watching his every move. Ruthie was nineteen, but she was nobody’s fool.
She stared at the dashboard, feeling her cheek swell as the pain inched around her eye, along her nose, toward her temple. In her whole life no one had ever deliberately hit her. Even as a child, she hadn’t been spanked at home or paddled in school.
She was a good girl. National Honor Society. State chorus. Editor in chief of her small-town high-school newspaper.
Nobody ever needed to hit Ruthie, for any reason.
So much for that claim to fame. She’d been hit now, and hard. Slowly, hoping Hayden wouldn’t notice, she moved her jaw back and forth, grateful it could move.
He snorted, obviously disgusted with her. “I didn’t break anything. But I could have. Now slide over or get out.”
Not much choice there.
The time for making choices was behind her—that was clear. Weeks ago she’d chosen to spend that Thursday night at the Village Nightclub, knowing the kind of men who went there. And the kind of women. Women like me. She’d chosen to drag Hayden home with her because he was the right size and the right age and in the right state of mind: drunk. Too drunk to care whether or not she had a pretty face.
Her face wasn’t pretty now, of that Ruthie was certain.
And her choices were nil. If she got out of the car, he might hit her again. If she stayed in the car, he might drive like a maniac and wrap her new Pontiac around a telephone pole, with them in it.
Her new car. The one he routinely borrowed without asking. The one they’d been arguing about, right up until he parked his fist in her face. She moved across the seat toward the passenger side, sliding her keys out of the ignition as she did so, feeling her head begin to throb. Don’t let me pass out! Please…Somebody. Anybody. Resting her hand on the door handle, then carefully wrapping her fingers around it, she waited for her chance. As Hayden moved into the driver’s seat and dug in his pockets for his keys, she took a deep breath, then shoved the door open, nearly falling out on the gravel-strewn pavement.
“Get in the car, Ruthie!” Hayden’s bark was deadly.
She felt him grab for her and miss. “He-e-elp…” It was such a pitiful cry, like a kitten needing milk. Straightening awkwardly to her feet, Ruthie slammed the car door just as Hayden reached for her again. Judging by his curses, she’d unintentionally jammed his fingers in the process. Maybe not so unintentionally.
She had one goal now: to locate her apartment key among the dozen on the ring she held in her trembling hands. Stumbling toward her security door as she heard the car door open, she found the key at last and forced it in the lock. C’mon, c’mon!
When the deadbolt turned, she fell through the entrance with a sob of relief, then turned to bolt the door behind her. But she was too late. He’d already wedged his leg in the doorway and was muscling his way inside. Her heart sank through the linoleum floor, and the taste of dread filled her mouth.
Hayden was taller, wider, older, stronger. And meaner, so much meaner. Why hadn’t she seen that? Tasted it in his kisses that first night, discovered it in his eyes that first morning?
His hatred for her was a living thing, rolling off him in waves. “Don’t you understand?” His chest was heaving, but not from the effort—from the anger. “That Pontiac is mine. You’re mine. This apartment is mine. Nothing you do or say is gonna change that, Ruthie.”With one hand he slammed the door with a noisy bang.
With the other hand he reached in his jacket and pulled out a gun.
Her heart thudded to a stop at the sight of it.
His cold smile told her all she needed to know.
“Upstairs.” He waved the ugly black revolver at the staircase that led to her second-floor apartment. Her apartment. Hers! She’d scrimped and saved to have her own place. For what? So this…this…
It was no use. She started up the steps, doing her best not to trip, not to cry, not to let him see that he was tearing apart everything that made her Ruthie, step by awful step…
Define Bad . . .
Few of us made it our ambition in life to be a Bad Girl. Ruthie wasn’t bad; she was abused. But after several years of making bad choices—dating Hayden among them—she’d given up on ever being good.
Some of us stumbled through a rebellious youth or wandered into an addictive habit or walked down the aisle with the wrong guy for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps our sense of self was so skewed we decided we weren’t worthy of goodness or figured we’d gone too far to ever find the road home or concluded we enjoyed our favorite vice so much we weren’t about to give it up—no way, no how.
There are some women who even wear badness like a badge of courage.
As Tallulah Bankhead put it, “If I had to live my life over again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.”
What labels a woman as “bad” hasn’t changed since Eve. All the usual suspects are there: disobedience, lust, denial, greed, anger, lying, adultery, laziness, cruelty, selfishness, idolatry.
Badness—in other words, sin—doesn’t have to be that dramatic. It can be something on the sidelines: an unkind word, a whisper of gossip, a neglected request, an unrepentant attitude, an intentionally forgotten event.
It all boils down to a heart that’s hardened against God—however temporary the condition, however isolated the tough spot.
To that extent, we’ve all been Bad Girls.
And to a woman, we long to be Good Girls.
I have trouble learning, though, from women who get it all right. I spend my energy comparing, falling short, and asking myself, How do they do that? It’s discouraging, even maddening. It also doesn’t get me one step closer to God.
So, for a season, I thought we’d look at women who got a lot wrong. I must admit I went into these stories with a bit of pride between my teeth and soon found my jaw hanging slack at the similarities in these women and me. How is it possible, Lord? I love you, love your Word, love your people…How can I see so much of myself in these sleazy women?
Ah, sisters. Our sins may be a surprise to us, but they are no surprise to the Lord.
For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord,
and he examines all his paths. Proverbs 5:21
Come, then, and meet our counterparts—for good and for bad. My introduction to these ten Bad Girls of the Bible began many years ago when I prepared a series of messages about famous women in Scripture for a national Christian convention. For a girl who loves to have fun, I found it the “meatiest” stuff I’d ever tackled. I savored every juicy minute of time spent studying the Bible and reading various commentaries. Not to mention examining my own life in juxtaposition with theirs.
Oops. Big mistake there. Ruth was so faithful. Esther was so courageous. Mary was so innocent. I was so none-of-the-above.
Then I happened upon Jezebel, and something inside me clicked. I identified with her pushy personality, I understood her need for control, I empathized with her angry outbursts…and I was aghast when I got to her gruesome ending.
She was a Bad Girl, all right, but boy did she teach me what not to do in my marriage! It was then the seeds for this book were planted in my heart. These stories are in God’sWord for his good purpose—and for ours. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16
Where to begin? With the First Bad Girl: Eve. Of course. Badness had to start somewhere.
Next, I found three women who were Bad to the Bone: Potiphar’s wife, Delilah, and Jezebel. These were women of whom not a single kind word was recorded. Women who had a pattern of sinning, with no evidence of remorse or a desire to change, who sinned with gusto from bad beginning to bitter end. Because they were made in the image of God, as we were, these Bad Girls weren’t truly rotten to the core. They just behaved that way—and very convincingly!
Another three women were Bad for a Moment. Lot’s wife, Sapphira, and Michal were three good…uh…bad examples of women who made one colossal blooper—one big, life-changing mistake that was such a bell ringer it was recorded for posterity, chiming across the centuries. These three women were, by all appearances, believers in the one true God at the start, but when forced to make a choice, they each chose disastrously. Finally, my favorite women—those who were Bad for a Season, but Not Forever: Rahab, the Woman at the Well, and the Sinful Woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears. Yes, they all had plenty of sin in their past, but they also were willing to change and be changed. What a joy to watch their encounters with God redeem them for eternity!
Because I love writing fiction, and because I wanted to make these women come alive for all of us, I’ve opened each chapter with a contemporary, fictional retelling of the biblical story that follows. The names have been changed to protect the guilty, but you’ll spot their stories right away. You might identify yourself in these narratives too…I certainly did.
The same weaknesses, the same temptations, the same choices, and some of the same sorry results. Thanks to the tale of Lila from Dallas, Delilah will never again be a mere flannelboard cutout figure to me. And Lottie from Spirit Lake made me look at my beloved farmhouse in a whole new light, bless her misguided heart—and mine.
May these fictional stories speak to you as well.
Without missing a beat, we’ll jump right into a verse-by-verse look at the real woman’s story as it appears in the New InternationalVersion of the Bible, with plenty of “Lizzie style” commentary to keep you smiling as you learn what made that particular Bad Girl tick. Don’t faint when you see footnotes—a research paper this isn’t! But I believe in handling theWord of God with great care, so I studied more than fifty commentaries from the last two hundred years, along with ten different translations of the Scriptures. Funny: The older scholars blamed the women for everything and painted the men as heroes. The newer writers blamed the men for everything and described the women as victims and the men as jerks. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, so that’s what I aimed for: balance. And truth.
As writer Elisabeth Elliot phrased it, “The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of woman.”1
Here’s something you may not know about me, even if you’ve read many of my books: My incredible husband, Bill, has a Ph.D. in Old Testament languages. The man not only reads the Biblia Hebraica, he understands it. He combed through my manuscript for errors—in translation, in interpretation, in application. You can breathe easier, girlfriend, knowing I’m not alone on this project!
You aren’t alone either. That’s the point of Bad Girls of the Bible. I want you to know, categorically and absolutely, that whatever your story is, you are not alone. There are lessons here for all of us; each chapter ends with four of them. In the back of the book you'll find a short list of Discussion Questions for book clubs and a longer StudyGuide formore in-depth, chapter-by-chapter Bible study.
I had four kinds of readers in mind while I wrote: (1) Former Bad Girls who have given up their old lives for new ones in Christ and are struggling to figure out how and where they “fit” in God’s family; (2) Temporary Bad Girls who grew up in the church, put aside their devotion to God at some point, and now fear they can’t ever be truly forgiven; (3) Veteran Good Girls who want to grow in understanding and compassion for the women around them who weren’t “cradle Christians”; and (4) Aspiring Good Girls who keep thinking there must be something more to life but aren’t sure where to look.
This is the place, dear ones. Join in.
Find out what a twenty-first-century woman who loves God can learn from an ancient Egyptian temptress who did not: plenty!
All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean…As it is with the good man, so with the sinner. Ecclesiastes 9:2
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that
each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in
the body, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10
In closing, a reminder that each chapter opens with fiction. Except this one. Ruthie is me. That’s a small slice of my own early life as a Bad Girl, and, yes, it was very hard to write.
It got so much worse before it got better. Only a few trusted souls on this earth know how bad. Jesus knows. He knows every inch of my heart. He knows how bad I was, am now, and will be, before I leave behind this transient shell and go on to undeserved glory.
Here’s the good news: He loves us anyway.
He loves us so much he will put people in our paths to lead us to him, just as he did for me—for Ruthie—decades ago. After years in the wilderness, I found myself at the end of my proverbial rope, so despondent I was willing to swing from that noose by my own stiff neck—anything to end the pain of disappointment and shame.
In my pursuit of earthly, fleshly pleasures—the whole sex, drugs, and rock-’n’-roll experience that many of us sampled—I discovered a sad truth: Fun and joy are not the same thing at all. Fun is temporary at best; it’s risky, even dangerous, at worst. Joy, on the other hand, was a mystery I couldn’t seem to decipher.
Oh, girlfriend!When I think of the shallow relationships, the misspent dollars, the wasted years, I can taste that bitter despair all over again. I was a woman without hope—a Bad Girl by choice and by circumstance—convinced that if I could just find the “right man,” he would save me from my sorrows.
One wintry day in 1982 I met that “right man”—a man of sorrows—who willingly had given his life to set me free. Me! Sinful, disobedient, rebellious Ruth Elizabeth. My friends Tim and Evelyn, who’d shared their hearts, their hugs, and their lives with me, now shared the truth with me: I was a sinner in need of a Savior.
Finally I understood the depth of my badness and the breadth of God’s goodness and so embraced his gift of grace with both hands. Yes, I was Bad for a Season, but Not Forever.
And my, oh my, have I found real joy!
With the courage of Rahab, the humility of the Sinful Woman, and the curiosity of the Woman at the Well, let’s press on, my sisters, and see what good news our Lord might have waiting for us within these pages. I promise I’ll be with you every step of the way.