I think that the number of people in the Bible whose beauty was so great that it was specifically noted in the Bible is intriguing. Whether you have read the Bible or not, here is a quick run down.
Note: These are all major characters in the Bible. I realize that there is much, much more to them and their stories than their appearance. However, since this blog is about image in society, I am concentrating on the verses concerning their appearance.
1. Sarah (c. 2067 BC) – originally Sarai – was Abraham’s (one of the three patriarchs) wife and the mother of Isaac. She was so beautiful that Abraham twice pretended that she was his sister because he feared that the Egyptians would kill him in order to take her for themselves (Genesis 12:10-20 and Genesis 20).
“I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”
When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.”
Even in biblical times the more attractive people – and their relatives – were treated better. This bias had been an issue since the beginning of time. So when I say that it isn’t going away I’m not being pessimistic, I’m just being realistic. This doesn’t mean we pout over it. No, as we will see, God even uses this human weakness for his own purposes.
2. Rachel (c. 1920 BC) is the second wife of Jacob (one of the three patriarchs) and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Rachel was supposed to be the first wife of Jacob. However, she had a comely older sister named Leah who was still unmarried and her dad, Laban, tricked Jacob into marrying Leah first so that he could get her off his hands.
Genesis 29:17 says, “Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.”
The Bible says that Jacob’s “love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah” (Genesis 29:30), but we cannot say for certain that his love was greater for Rachel simply because she was prettier. In my opinion, I’m sure that her looks drew his initial interest, but her personality kept him. On the other hand, I think that Leah probably had poor self-esteem from having to live in her younger sister’s shadow. This probably led her to obsess over bearing more children for Jacob than Rachel in an attempt to make up for her lack of beauty (Genesis ch. 29-30).
3. Joseph (c. 1916 BC), as you will remember, was the 11th son of Abraham and Sarah (see above) so we know where his looks came from (hint: not Abraham). He is described as “well-built and handsome” (Genesis 39:6).
Unfortunately, the wife of Potipher (an important Egyptian official) “took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” (v. 7). Thankfully Joseph ran away, leaving her with his cloak. However, she used this cloak to create the illusion that Joseph had tried to rape her, and he was subsequently thrown into jail.
4. David (c. 1024 BC) was the second King of Israel and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.
The first reference to his appearance comes when God sends the Prophet Samuel to anoint him as the next King of Israel (after Saul). 1 Samuel 16:12 says, “He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.”
The next reference comes in the famous David v. Goliath episode. Samuel says that Goliath “looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him” (1 Samuel 17:42).
5. Bathsheba (c. 993 BC) was the beautiful wife of Uriah the Hittite. Unfortunately, her beauty attracted the eyes of King David too.
He saw her bathing on the roof, invited her to his palace and slept with her (2 Samuel 11:2 – “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful”).
When Bathsheba became pregnant with his child, David panicked and attempted to cover up his sin. However, when David could not convince Uriah to sleep with his wife to try to mask his adultery, he ordered him to the front of the fighting line to ensure that he was killed. Once Uriah was killed, Bathsheba became David’s wife.
6. Daniel (c. 605 BC) was living in Judah when it was captured by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Now this King needed some advisors and he decided to choose them based on appearance and intellect. Daniel, of course, was snatched right up.
“Then the king commanded Ash′penaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, handsome and skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to serve in the king’s palace, and to teach them the letters and language of the Chalde′ans.” (Daniel 1:3-4)
Once, again even in the Bible we see attractive people being given preferential treatment. Can you imagine the benefits of being a personal advisor to the king as opposed to a carpenter or a field worker?
7. Esther (c. 478 BC) was so beautiful that she competed in a rudimentary type of beauty pageant. King Xerxes had ordered all of the beautiful women in the land to undergo beauty treatments for an entire year before spending one night with him. This was his chosen selection process for his new wife.
Esther won hands down (Esther 2:17 – “Xerxes liked Esther more than he did any of the other young women. None of them pleased him as much as she did, and right away he fell in love with her and crowned her queen in place of Vashti”).
Again, this verse does not say that he liked her more than the other girls because she was prettier. In fact, the Bible says that everyone liked Esther the most (v. 15-16), so I think we can actually assume that her inner beauty was even greater than her outer beauty. What a combination!
Part 2 coming tomorrow.