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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Kelly

Voices That Testify: Achsah

I stumbled upon Achsah’s confusing snippet in Scripture years ago. At first glance, I was highly perplexed as to why her story even mattered. I mean, she gets off a donkey and asks her dad for a blessing. Who cares about the upper and lower springs?

God has a funny way of nudging us, so I found myself going back to Achsah’s interaction with her dad. Turns out, her request is recorded not once, but twice in the Old Testament.[1]

*Whenever anything is in the Bible more than once, our ears should perk up and we should pay close attention.

So, I went back and did a little research. I went through books and articles on the cultural and historical context of this particular story and found out that Achsah’s interaction with her father was more than a polite request ... it was a radical act of courage.

Her bravado to ask her father for something that, frankly, culturally was way off-limits to her, changed the way I prayed to my own Heavenly Father.

Achsah’s dad is the famous Caleb, son of Jephunneh. Throughout Scripture, Caleb is highly regarded as being a reputable and faithful man. Only he and Joshua outlived the “desert age” of the Israelite nation and were allowed to enter the promised land by God.[2] Because of Caleb’s wholehearted devotion to the Lord, he was promised territory by Moses. So, when Joshua started taking over and distributing pieces of the promised land, Caleb eloquently but passionately reminded his old friend about his undeterred faithfulness to Yahweh.[3] Joshua remembers and grants his request.

In our modern context, Achsah’s dad was no one you wanted to mess around with. He loved the Lord. He was a mighty warrior. He was a hero to his people. He was faithful when everyone around him wasn’t. Caleb was a living legend … and my guess is, not someone you would flippantly ask just anything from.

Achsah’s story is bazaar for most of us women living in the 21st century. She turns out to be a reward for a man named Othniel (Caleb’s cousin) for capturing a city called Kiriath-Sepher. Unfortunately, in patriarchal societies, using daughters as commodities was a common practice. But the female “counter-voice” that emerges from Achsah is even more surprising![4]

In the very next verse, we find out that she “urges” her newfound husband to ask her father Caleb for a certain field. Othniel and Achsah seem to have a marital “disagreement” to which we can assume Othniel gives a stern “No, I will not ask your dad for that”. So, Achsah gets off the donkey and asks herself.

But what does this mean?

And why wouldn’t Othniel just ask Caleb himself?

When Othniel conquered Kiriath-Sepher, he not only got to marry Achsah but would’ve received a dowry as well (the land of Negeb). What we can read between the lines in Scripture is that the land given to these two from Caleb had no water source. In fact, the word “Negeb” means “dry” and would be much like desert land. This was a huge problem.

We know for the people in the Old Testament, water was an essential commodity for an agricultural society. The Israelite people totally relied on provisions off the land for sustenance. You needed water for everything: plants, animals, and people.

No water source = no life.

The dowry given to Othniel by Caleb would have been unproductive and useless without a water source.

Scholars are divisive on the subject of Achsah being an only daughter or having brothers.[5] Regardless, as a woman in her culture and context, she had no legal rights to property. Her request for an “additional blessing” from her father could have easily come across as a violation of the laws of inheritance.[6] You simply did not ask for property that was not yours to ask for … especially if you were a woman.

But Achsah asks anyway.

In total respect to her living legend of a father, this brave and smart daughter comes up to her dad and says, “Give me a blessing. Since you have given me the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water”.

Stop here for a moment and let that resonate.

You have no rights.

You are a prize to a man for conquering a city.

You are newly married.

You realize you have a huge issue.

You need a water source, which would require the acquisition of more land.

You know the very thing you need to ask for is not yours to ask for.

You have no right to ask for the very thing in which you need to live and prosper.

But Achsah asks anyway.

Her posture remains respectful. Achsah acknowledges the gift already given by Caleb, but she is wise in her understanding of her and Othniel’s situation. Even when her own husband (who has conquered a city by the way) doesn’t want to go up to Caleb and ask—she does.

I started to wonder what it would like for me to be brave and ask for things from my Heavenly Father in an appropriate manner. Achsah is referenced twice in Scripture and gives a unique and noteworthy voice to women living in a patriarchal society. Also, it is Achsah (not Othniel) who successfully accomplishes the goal of acquiring more land from her father.

Of course, Caleb is just as loving and daring as Achsah is.

If anyone is familiar with the customary laws and protocols, it’s Caleb. He turns and looks at his daughter and realizes her conundrum. Caleb knows exactly what she is asking for and why she is asking for it. I’m assuming that he is filled with immense pride because he doesn’t just give her one section of a water source … Caleb gives her all of it. Caleb gifts his daughter with the sustenance she needs for life … the “upper and lower springs”.[7]

When I hit my knees in prayer, I can’t tell you how many times I feel overwhelmed by a need, an impossible situation, a life-or-death circumstance. Achsah’s humble and brave request nourishes the depths of my soul and reminds me that I can be brave.

I can ask God for what I need in this world.

I can ask God for something I have no right to ask.

And my friends, our Heavenly Father loves us more than we can ever imagine. He looks upon us with love and pride and longing. We are His craftmanship and adoration. He loves us immensely more than we will ever comprehend.

Jesus even reminds us that, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”.[8]

Are you feeling tired or weary about something? Go to God. Give it to your Heavenly Father. Acknowledge what He has already given you and ask for what you need. He is ready, willing, and able to give us what we need at the right time. May we be brave enough to ask, even if we have no right to ... just like Achsah did.

[1] Joshua 15:16-19; Judges 1:12-15. [2] Numbers 12:30; 13.7-10, 24; 27:11-13. [3] Joshua 14:6-15. [4] Newsom, Carol A, Sharon H Ringe, and Jacqueline E Lapsley. 2012. Women's Bible Commentary (version 3rd ed., twentieth-anniversary ed.) Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press. p 107. [5] 1 Chronicles 2:4-9. [6] Szpek, H. M. (2002). Achsah’s Story: A Metaphor for Societal Transition. Andrews University Seminary Studies, 40(2), 245–256. [7] Joshua 15:19 [8] Matthew 7:11

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