Why the Church Needs to Talk About Huldah

I was at a Bible conference recently and the speaker asked for a show of hands by asking the question, “Who here has heard of Huldah?” Almost nobody raised their hands. Sadly this important prophet has been forgotten about, even though the king sought her out! Her story is part of the narrative around king Josiah restoring worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, and can be found in both 2 Kings 22, and 2 Chronicles 34. King Josiah is not like his father or grandfather. They were wicked, but Josiah decided to follow God like his ancestor, King David (2 Kings 22:2). Josiah removed all the idols and altars to pagan gods. He drove out the spiritists and mediums, all the household gods and brought the nation back to worshipping Yahweh.

Part of this was due to the discovery of the book of the Law when the Temple was being repaired, likely the complete Torah scroll or at least Deuteronomy. At this point in history Israel had no know knowledge of the Torah. After hearing the book read to him, Josiah responds:

 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

2 Kings 22:12-13

This is where the high priest and the advisors consult a prophet. Now during this time there were several well known prophets in Jerusalem who had been prophesying against the wickedness of idolatry. You’ve probably heard of them too, Jeremiah and Zephaniah. You can read their prophecies in your Old Testament. Yet when it was time to “inquire of the Lord” as to the validity of the words in the Book of the Law, the leaders of Israel go to Huldah. 

Huldah is a prophet, a married woman, and the keeper of the garments (NIV translates “wardrobe”). This must tell us something about Huldah. The great prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah are prophesying in Jerusalem and yet they go to Huldah. Why? We can speculate all day about her social status, her past prophecies, why she is more highly sought than prophets we know more about today. But in the end what we do know is that when Israel’s leaders wanted to “inquire of the Lord” and validate the Book of the Law, God sends Huldah into the story.

In this narrative we find for the first time someone validating the words of the Law as being God’s word. We find that the Book of the Law is actually Scripture by the Lord’s prophecy through Huldah. Nowhere in this passage is Huldah criticized or reprimanded for teaching these men. Nowhere are these men condemned or criticized for allowing a woman to teach them. This leads to a question: If we say it’s wrong for a woman to teach a man, why does God teach these men through a woman? The story of Huldah is preserved twice in Scripture because it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. 

So what can we learn from Huldah? We learn that even though Jeremiah and Zephaniah had God-given prophetic roles in Jerusalem during this time, God gave Hulda a job too. And that job was to teach the men leading Israel about God’s Word. Perhaps we would be wise to remember that God gifts “each one” as he determines (1 Cor. 14:4-11). We don’t make the rules. God does.

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Ruth: A Story of Hesed

The story of Ruth, although only four chapters long in your Bible, is far to massive of a story to hope to distill in one article. There are too many intertwining themes to be able to simply state “this is what the story means and this is what you should get out of it.” I am going to focus on one aspect only in this article, and will explore other themes in the sermon and Bible class next week. (I have recordings of sermons and Bible classes over all of the articles in this series. I intend to post them here soon.) The story of Ruth teaches us, through several characters interactions, about the hesed of God. What is hesed? 

It’s a difficult Hebrew word to translate, is most often translated as “love,” but almost as often translated as “loyalty, joint obligation, mercy, faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, kindness, favor, etc..” Hesed is one of the most fundamental characteristics of Yahweh, so much in fact that I’ve often heard hesed described by the fruits of the Spirit. Hesed is a “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” kind of love. That’s hesed.

Within the story of Ruth, we find hesed at play in a number of places. Ruth’s refusal to leave Naomi? Hesed. Ruth’s willingness to glean for food? Hesed. Boaz going above and beyond to let Ruth harvest with his workers instead of gleaning, and sending her away at the end of the day with months worth of grain instead of what she picked up that day? Hesed. Naomi devising a plan for Ruth to marry Boaz? Hesed. 

But I think the most brave, selfless, and daring act of hesed comes when Ruth goes to Boaz at night with a marriage proposal. Chapter 3 is clear that Naomi wants to get Ruth a husband so she can go on with her life. Ruth takes Naomi’s plan, however, and changes it completely! Without getting too technical, Ruth invokes two cultural laws here: the levirate and kinsman-redeemer laws. The levirate law saw to it that if a woman’s husband died leaving her childless, the dead husband’s brother must marry the woman and give her a child (Deut. 25:5-10). The kinsman-redeemer law dealt with the responsibility of redeeming land so it didn’t leave, or at least returned to the possession of the original family to whom it was given (Lev. 25:23-28). Neither of these rules apply to Ruth. Boaz was a relative to Elimelek, Naomi’s husband. Levirate law would fall to a brother of Elimelek for Naomi, not Ruth, and Boaz was not a brother. Kinsman-redeemer law dealt with Boaz buying back land for Naomi, not Ruth, and Boaz was not the closest relative.

What does all this mean? Naomi wanted to take care of Ruth by finding her a good man to marry. Naomi was only concerned with Ruth. This is Hesed. Ruth’s only concern was Naomi in getting Elimelek’s land back, and this point is vitally important, invoking levirate law using herself as the surrogate for bearing Naomi a child (see Ruth 4:13-17). This is why Boaz says her “kindness” (hesed) is greater than she showed earlier in gleaning for Naomi. Ruth shows hesed toward Naomi, and does not look out for herself. And then Boaz, not bound by either of these laws, decides to carry out Ruth’s plan and as a result, Obed, the grandfather of King David, is born to Ruth, and becomes Naomi’s son. 

Hesed floods this story. A hesed so great to self sacrifice for the sake of others. That’s Ruth. That’s also God. No wonder Ruth appears in Jesus’ genealogy! (Mt. 1:5).

The Song of Deborah

Last week we looked at Deborah: judge of Israel, prophet, wife,  and as we’ll discover today she was also a worship leader. Due to the Lord’s work through the leadership of Deborah, and the bravery of Jael, Israel enjoyed peace for forty years. Today we will look at Deborah’s celebratory song in Judges 5, and what it tells us about God and his people.

The beginning of verse 2 is problematic for translators, literally beginning with “In the breaking forth of the breakers in Israel.” NIV translates this as “When the princes in Israel take the lead.” I believe the ESV’s rendering to be clearer:

“That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!”

Judges 5:2 ESV

This is the story of Deborah! When the leader God had ordained, regardless of gender, took the lead and offered herself willingly, it brings praise to the Lord. All people should offer themselves willingly and lead in the mission of God as their divinely given gifts allow (1 Cor. 12:7).

The song is clear that it is God’s power that won the victory for the nation (v.4-5, 31) but the song clearly exalts the acts of Deborah in motivating and leading the people (v.7-9) and Jael for defeating Sisera (v. 24-27). And once again, we have a clear statement that this is not a story of renegade women usurping authority because of weak males in the kingdom. That belief is making assertions that the text does not. In fact, it states quite the opposite: God is behind this. God chose the leaders of Israel (2:16, 5:8) to accomplish his will and bring the people back into line with God’s covenant.

7 Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel.
8 God chose new leaders when war came to the city gates, but not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.
9 My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord!

Judges 5:7-9 NIV

The further you go into Judges, the further Israel drifts from the knowledge of God. Eventually, even the Judges know so little about God that they do detestable things thinking it pleases God. Most of the judges failed to follow God, and by the end of the book the people no longer knew God. Judges sadly ends by saying this:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

Judges 21:25 NIV

Deborah’s story at the beginning of the book shows us what good Godly leadership should do: bring people back into line with God’s will. God raised up Deborah and she followed God. She didn’t issue excuses as to why her situation wasn’t ideal. She simply offered herself and her God given abilities willingly. Our world is in desperate need of more women and men like Deborah!

Deborah: Prophet & Leader

Last week we looked at Miriam: leader of Israel (Mic. 6:4), a worship leader (Ex. 15:21), and a prophet of God (Ex. 15:20).  She was also the namesake of the mother of Jesus, Mary (Miriam in Greek). Today we look at the story of Deborah as told in the book of Judges. We will take this week, and next to look at Deborah.

Deborah lived somewhere between 1200-1100BC. Just as Moses and Joshua had done before hand, God appointed people (judges) over the people to help rule the nation and settle disputes. Don’t think courtroom judge. Think about judges like a governor, or tribal military leader. Judges 2 makes this process pretty clear.

18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

Jdg 2:18–19 NIV

During this time Israel struggles to maintain its identity as God’s people. In many ways they became just like the Canaanites they were to drive out, but God would raise up leaders to bring them back in line with who they were supposed to be. It is the Lord who appoints judges, not the people. And when the judges passed away, the Israelites rebelled against God. It is in this context that we are told about Deborah. Ehud, the previous judge, died and Israel returned to doing evil again. As punishment, God allowed Israel to be ruled by the Canaanite king Jaban, and his army commander Sisera. For twenty years the Israelites were mistreated by the Cannanites, and then Deborah is chosen as judge of Israel to correct, instruct them as prophet, and rescue them from the Canaanites.

The very first statement about Deorah tells us that she is a prophet and a wife (Jdg. 4:4), as well as a mother (Jdg. 5:7).  Deborah was so well respected that the people, including Barak the military commander, didn’t want to go into battle unless Deborah was with them, a role that is usually reserved for a king! (Jdg. 4:8).

Usually at this point someone chimes in claiming that Deborah had to do these things because there was a lack of men to lead. That is an assertion that Scripture doesn’t support. Nothing in this story indicates Deborah should not be doing any of these things because she is a woman. Remember, the Lord appoints judges. In fact, the story elevates women greatly! Sisera is eventually killed by a woman, Jael, who drives a tent peg through his head into the ground. The name Sisera means snake, and Jael means Yahweh is God. Through two women, Deborah and Jael, the head of the serpent is crushed by God! (Gen. 3:15).

Due to the Lord’s work through the leadership of Deborah, and the bravery of Jael, Israel enjoyed peace for forty years. Next week we will look at Deborah’s celebratory song (Judges 5), and what it tells us about God and his people.

Miriam: Prophet of God?

This week we’ll look at Miriam, who is much more than the sister of Moses. She is a child of God with an important role to play as one of the three deliverers of Israel from Egypt, as well as the namesake of the mother of Jesus! (Our English translations notoriously anglicize names in Scripture. “Mary’s” literal name is “Miriam,” which should draw us to compare the two.)

We first encounter Miriam in Exodus 2 as she looks after the ark in which her baby brother Moses is hidden. When Pharaoh’s daughter discovers Moses, it is Miriam who suggests finding a Hebrew woman (Jochebed, the mother of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam) to nurse the baby. The Exodus narrative shifts to focus on the power of God over Egypt through many signs and wonders, and we once again find Miriam after the crossing of the Red Sea.

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.”

Exodus 15:19–21 NIV

If you are reading, thinking, “I didn’t know women could be prophets,” this is exactly why I’m writing this article. Let’s remove any cultural biases we may have and see Scripture the way the writers (and the Holy Spirit) intended. So Miriam is a prophet! That means she is a spokesperson for God responsible for teaching, preaching, and instructing the people of Israel in the word of God. One of the ways Miriam proclaims the word of God is by leading the women in singing and dancing in praise of God! Scripture also informs us that Miriam was considered a leader of Israel right alongside Moses and Aaron.

“I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.”

Micah 6:4 NIV

I feel it important to comment on efforts to dismiss Miriam’s role, or status as a prophet and leader of Israel because she is a female. Yet if we simply let Scripture speak for itself and accept it for what it says, we will have a more accurate view of who God is, and be blessed in doing so. The truth is God uses who he wants, regardless of what we think he should do. He chooses people who bring him glory and accomplish his purposes in this world. God created both male and female in his image (Gen. 1:27) to proclaim his message, and Miriam did just that! She was not perfect, and was punished by God for treating Moses with contempt, but Moses and Aaron pleaded for God to restore her (see Numbers 12). Nevertheless, she is one of many female prophets listed in the pages of Scripture and deserves to be appreciated as such.

Consider the parallels between Miriam in the Hebrew Scriptures and Mary/Miriam in the Gospels. Besides sharing the same name, both protect the savior of Israel in Egypt (Ex. 2:1-10/Mt. 2:13-18), both write and sing songs to tell of God’s salvation (Ex. 15:20-21/Lk. 1:46-56), and their placement is important – Miriam at the beginning of the story of Israel as well as Mary/Miriam at the beginning of the story of the renewed Israel through our savior, Jesus.

Next week we will take a look at another female prophet who is often minimized, contrary to what Scripture tells us about her.

He will rule over you: Prescription or Description?

I realize that this is a series on the women of the Bible and their stories, and last week I spent the entire article talking about the first sin, but it’s important to our understanding of the stories of women in the Bible. So much of what we believe about Genesis 1-3 influences the way we read the rest of Scripture. A bit more heavy lifting this week, and then on to other stories next week.

Last week we discussed how Genesis 3 is not an elevation of man over woman. It shows us that sin is a problem that impacts all creation – humans, animals, and even the garden which is now devoid of its human caretakers. The point we are to take away is that sin affects everything. That is consistent with the consequences of the sin that God enumerates in the last half of chapter 3. I find it fascinating that the word “cursed” is applied to the serpent, and to the ground because of Adam’s failure, but not to Eve.

The real reason we are looking at this passage again is our understanding of verse 16, specifically the last half of the verse:

“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Genesis 3:16b NIV

Many have interpreted this verse as a sexual desire on the part of the woman, and God now wants man to be in charge. Let’s take a look at this verse within the immediate context of Genesis 3, and the larger context of Genesis and the whole of Scripture.  Genesis 4:7 is a parallel verse to Genesis 3:16 using the same Hebrew words:

“…[sin] desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Genesis 4:7 NIV

With regards to Cain we understand from the same Hebrew language that sin wants to possess Cain, but Cain’s response should be to rule over sin. We get that. Yet the same language when used with the consequences of sin in the Garden gets interpreted differently because we think God wants men to rule over women. This is not how God established relationships in the Garden. He did not create Eve as subservient to Adam (as we looked at for the last two weeks.) Remember, the Garden was God’s ideal environment for humans, but now as a result of sin there will be broken relationships between humans and God, and between men and women, each seeking to dominate the other. I really appreciated Derek Kinder’s statement about this phrase in his commentary on Genesis.

“‘To love and to cherish’ becomes ‘To desire and to dominate’. While even pagan marriage can rise far above this, the pull of sin is always towards it.”  

Derek Kinder, Genesis: an introduction and commentary

So are we to take Genesis 3:16b as God describing the effects of sin, or are we to take the statement as a prescription/authority for man to rule over women going forward? We will answer that question through the rest of this series. From here we will continue to look at how God’s Word describes the relationship between men and women throughout the story of the Bible. We’ll look at how each story portrays this relationship and how those stories should influence our churches today.

Next week we’ll look at Miriam, who is much more than the sister of Moses. She is a child of God with an important role to play.

Question: What was Miriam’s role in God’s rescue of Israel?

Eve: Equality with Adam – Part 2

We continue our look at the women of the Bible by looking again at Eve’s story. Last week we noted that nothing in Genesis 1 or 2 indicates that Eve is somehow inferior to Adam. In fact, it proves quite the opposite. Both Adam and Eve are fully created in the image of God. We ended with a question last week: Who sinned first? Adam or Eve? Let’s look at a few verses to find the answer.

And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

1 Timothy 2:14 NIV

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…

Romans 5:12 NIV

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 NIV

Confused yet? Upon first glance it would appear Paul is too, but not quite. Let’s look at one more verse.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 2:15 NIV

The word for “take care of it” would be the Hebrew word shamar which means “to keep, guard, keep watch and ward, protect, save life.” Adam was charged as the keeper and protector of the Garden. Yet in Genesis chapter 3 as he is with Eve (3:6), he fails to do this. (by the way, all of the serpent’s statements are made using the plural “you,” not singular).

Eve was the first to be deceived (per Paul), but Adam failed to shamar his wife and the Garden from the deception of the serpent. Notice also that both the humans and the serpent are punished; first the serpent, then Eve, then Adam. All three sinned.

So who sinned first? Could it have been Adam for not kicking the serpent out of the Garden? Perhaps. The serpent for deceiving Eve (3:14)? It would seem likely this was the first, although the serpent isn’t human (that’s a theological discussion for another time). Was it Eve who ate the fruit?

I think the way the story is told is intentional to show how intertwined we humans are. Adam was supposed to obey God through his shamar of the Garden and Eve. He failed at this at the same time Eve failed at obeying God’s command through the deception of the serpent. Genesis 3 is not an elevation of man over woman. It shows us that sin is a problem that affects all creation – humans, animals, and even the garden which is now devoid of its human caretakers. Sin affects everything. This is not a problem that we can blame on Eve or Adam. I think Paul understood this as well.

There is no difference…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:22-24 NIV

Question: So does God want Adam to now rule over Eve because they have sinned?