Achsah, More than a Trinket

Achsah is one of the women in the Bible whose name is given, which is significant. However, her name, like the circumstances surrounding her introduction, pictures her as a powerless bargaining chip in the conquest of the Promised land.

“Then from there he went against the inhabitants of Debir (now the name of Debir formerly was Kiriath-sepher). And Caleb said, ‘The one who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will even give him my daughter Achsah for a wife.’ Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, captured it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah for a wife. Then it came about when she came to him, that she persuaded him to ask her father for a field. Then she alighted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Give me a blessing, since you have given me the land of the Negev, give me also springs of water.’ So Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs” (Judg. 1:11-15 NASB).

Achsah’s name derives from a Hebrew word meaning either anklet or bangle. Her name seems fitting as her father, Caleb, offers her as a prize to the warrior who conquers Debir. Lillian Klein states, “At this point in the text Achsah is perceived as a lure, a decoration, a sexy embellishment, a toy given to the bravest man around.”[1] Achsah has no say in her future, she is being used to entice men to go into battle and subdue Debir.

Her story does not end there, though. Just as bangle bracelets are beautiful and eye-catching, they also make noise, as does Achsah. We are told that Othniel captures Debir and is given Achsah as a wife. It is at this point that we begin to see a more complete picture of the woman Achsah. She is more than a trinket to be dangled in front of men. After she is married the narrative changes. Achsah goes from being spoken of in a  passive manner, to being the main character who is initiating the action. She is no longer at the whim of others, but she is the one making the decisions. She persuades her husband, Othniel, to ask her father for a field. The text does not give us details of that encounter but it is apparent from the verses following that the request was granted and they were given the land of Negev. We see from Achsah’s encounter with her husband that she is assertive, intelligent, and determined. She knows that they need land, and they only receive it because she persuades Othniel to ask for it.

The text next takes us to a new scene: Achsah comes to speak to her father, Caleb. Achsah knows that the land they have been given is insufficient, so she takes it upon herself to go speak to her father. Several things are interesting in this encounter. The Hebrew signifies that she drops down from the donkey in front of her father, so she is still assertive in approaching her father,  but it is in a manner of much respect. The land that they were given was arid, so she asks her father for springs of water so that the land that they have been given can produce and sustain them. She is not asking for her own benefit, but for the benefit of Othniel and the future family they will have. She asks for one spring of water, and Caleb gives her two!

Achsah was seen as a passive prize, just a pretty bangle and trinket, but she was a determined and assertive woman. In addition, this is not shown as a negative trait in a woman. This persuasive woman is also a respectful woman, as demonstrated when she asks her father for springs of water. Being an assertive woman does not equate to being disrespectful or possessing an unfavorable feminine trait, which is still the negative connotation that is placed on assertive women today.

Additionally, Achsah was intelligent and showed great wisdom, even more wisdom than Caleb and Othniel. It was Achsah who knew that she and Othniel needed land, and it was Achsah who knew that springs of water were a necessity to cultivate the arid land that they had been given. Achsah’s intelligence and assertiveness made possible a successful future for her and Othniel. She was so much more than a trinket.

[1] Lillian R. Klein, “Achsah: What Price this Prize?” in Judges: A Feminist Companion to the Bible, ed. Athalya Brenner (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press Ltd, 1999), 21.

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