While we’re on the subject of women who are only seen as “kind of” what they were called to be, I would like to briefly tackle the subject of the prophetess Huldah.
The Word documents the following story, beginning in 2 Kings 22: Josiah becomes king at the age of eight. Following the mentorship of his elders and ancestors, he begins to reform the nation of Israel back toward Yahweh. After he has reigned ten years and has shown to be a righteous king in the eyes of the Lord, Josiah orders the rebuilding of the Temple. During the reconstruction, Hilkiah, the high priest, uncovers the Book of the Law that the Israelites have been without for some time. When the document is brought to the king and read aloud, King Josiah tears his clothes in grief that Israel has not followed the word of God. He sends the Book of the Law, along with his highest officials, to Prophetess Huldah, who verifies its authenticity. She proclaims that devastating judgment will fall upon Judah as a result of their provoking God’s anger, but she adds that because Josiah’s heart was repentant upon hearing God’s word, the judgment will not come within his lifetime, and he will be given the grace to die peacefully. Josiah oversees the completion of the Temple restoration and the sacrifices, and restores the covenant with God as well as the Jewish feasts; meanwhile, he removes all the troublemakers and crushes all the old idols.
Then, suddenly, we read that Josiah dies violently instead of peacefully…
This is the reason that Huldah is remembered as a “kind of” prophetess, because it’s easy to simply chalk this up to, “She got it wrong.”
Support for this conclusion is found in Deuteronomy 18:22: “When a prophet [or prophetess] speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously.”
If Huldah was a true prophetess, her words would have come true; since they did not come to pass, she must have been a false prophetess. Right?
Unfortunately, this thinking links back to that age-old idea that a prophet or prophetess is merely a “fortuneteller for God,” and everything he or she says must come true. As a result, many today write off Huldah as a woman who made a mistake—or worse, as a “false prophetess.” But these same folks would not question for a second whether Jonah was a false prophet, even though he, too, “got it wrong” if we hold him to the same standard of logic. Jonah prophesied that the city of Nineveh would be destroyed in forty days, but the book of Jonah documents that the people of the city turned from their wicked ways and God showed them mercy; He did not destroy the city as the prophet had said He would (Jonah 3:4, 10). Nor would anyone question that Isaiah was a true prophet, even though he also “got it wrong” when he told King Hezekiah that he was going to die and that he would “not recover” from his illness (Isaiah 38:1, NIV); King Hezekiah repented, the Lord heard his prayers, and he did not die as Isaiah had prophesied. In fact, God added fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life and even delivered him out of the hands of the Assyrian king (Isaiah 38:5–6).
The outcome of a prophecy is contingent upon the God-fearing response of its recipient. That has always been the case, and it can be proven repeatedly throughout Scripture. Just as we are reading about Josiah’s non-peaceful death in 2 Kings 23:28–30, we stumble upon this redirect: “Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?” The author of 2 Kings gave us a clue as to where to find the explanation behind Josiah’s death. Turning to 2 Chronicles 35:20–21, we read: “After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Charchemish by Euphrates: and Josiah went out against him. But he sent ambassadors to him, saying, ‘What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not.’”
THEOLOGIAN: JESUS HIMSELF STARTED THE FIRST WOMEN’S LIBERATION MOVEMENT
So far, we see that King Necho of Egypt has been sent by God to fight against Charchemish. Josiah takes it upon himself to clash with King Necho, so Necho sends out ambassadors to deliver the following message (in my own modern rewording): “King Josiah, my issue is not with you. What do you have to do with my war? I’m not even bothering you. God has sent me to fight against Charchemish, and quickly. Don’t get in the way and meddle with God’s affairs. God is on my side in this, and He doesn’t want to destroy you. However, if you get in the middle of this—if you meddle with the affairs of God—He will destroy you! I’m warning you now to back off…”
After being given a warning by God through King Necho, we read of Josiah’s response in the following verses, 2 Chronicles 35:22–27:
Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him [Josiah deliberately disobeyed God’s order not to meddle], but disguised himself, that he might fight with him [he snuck in and did it anyway], and hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo.
And the archers shot at king Josiah; and the king said to his servants, “Have me away; for I am sore wounded.” His servants therefore took him out of that chariot, and put him in the second chariot that he had; and they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died [he was destroyed just as King Necho warned], and was buried in one of the sepulchres of his fathers.
And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations.
Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and his goodness, according to that which was written in the law of the Lord, And his deeds, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah.
Josiah certainly would have been given the peaceful death he was promised, but he chose to go against God. The first word of God, as given through the mouth of Huldah, said he would live and die peacefully. The second word of God, as given through the Lord’s servant Necho, said he would be destroyed if he stood in Necho’s way. It could be, perhaps, that Josiah was so confident in the words of Huldah that he thought he was invincible when he disguised himself and went out on the field against Necho. It could be that he didn’t care and was driven by pride or rage, or who knows what else… But the fact remains: The Lord told Josiah he would be killed if he meddled in God’s affairs, and then Josiah meddled in God’s affairs, so he was killed.
Was Huldah wrong? If we consider a prophet to be a fortuneteller for God, then, yes, she was. If we consider a prophet to be one who delivers the wisdom, word, and will of God (which is what a prophet truly is), then no, she wasn’t wrong by any stretch. God had the will to see Josiah to a peaceful end, and He even cared enough to send Josiah a message that he could avoid his own painful death if he remained neutral to the Charchemish/Necho feud. It is nowhere close to Huldah’s fault that Josiah brought on his own death by disobeying God’s final warning.
To some today, Huldah was a “false prophetess” because she “got it wrong.” These readers don’t consider how Josiah threw himself into the target zone of God’s war, because they get to the sudden death of Josiah in 2 Kings and don’t flip over to the rest of the details in 2 Chronicles.
But to Jesus, Huldah was to be revered as the one who authenticated the Book of the Law and confirmed to all of Judah that God’s Word was once again with them. Through her validation of the Book found amidst the rubble of the Temple reconstruction, all of Judah could, for a season, be properly restored to glory.
Other prominent women throughout the Old Testament, such as Miriam (sister of Aaron and Moses), Isaiah’s wife, Ruth, Naomi, and others, had bold and womanly voices that made a paramount stamp on the biblical role of women throughout time. However, I have centered the focus up to now only upon women who have been misunderstood, and whose names have been dragged through the “women as church leaders” debate with erroneous understanding. Let us now turn to the women Jesus knew in the New Testament, starting with His mother. For centuries, Mary has been remembered as meek, mild, quiet, gentle, and saintly. However, the Mary Jesus knew was far different.
Jesus Knew Mary
Christ was raised by a very powerful and bold woman. Joseph is no longer mentioned by the time Christ reaches His ministry years, as the last time we hear of him is when Jesus, age twelve, is conversing with the holy men in the Temple of Jerusalem. When Christ was on the cross, He charged Apostle John to care for His mother, which He wouldn’t have done had Joseph still been alive. Jewish custom during the era of Roman crucifixion was for fathers to be responsible for the bodies of the victims, but in the case of Christ, the duty to care for His remains fell to another: Joseph of Arimathea. Additionally, whenever the Gospels refer to Jesus’ living family (Matthew 12:46; Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 7:3), Christ’s siblings and mother are mentioned, but Joseph is not. As discussed earlier in the reflection on Priscilla and Aquila, a man was always the first to be mentioned both in person as well as in classic literature of this era, so the fact that Joseph is missing from the text here relates that he is likewise gone from the narrative by this point. Thus, we know that Jesus had an influential earthly father figure during His earliest developmental years, but somewhere between the ages of twelve and approximately thirty, Joseph died, leaving Mary a widow to care for her children alone. We may never know how old Christ was when His adopted/legal father died, or what other influential male presence may have stepped in upon Joseph’s death to assist Mary with her children, but we can safely assume that, at some point after Joseph’s earthly departure, Christ was gently guided by the maternal instincts of a woman.
We know for certain that Christ obeyed and honored His mother. If He hadn’t, He would have been found guilty of sin by disobeying the fifth commandment, which, from His own mouth, was a commandment that must be followed (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10). Indeed, He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15), so we know He honored His mother and listened to her counsel.
As to why Mary should be considered powerful or bold as opposed to the “meek” or “mild” woman that pops into our mental imagery today, let’s imagine what she faced in her early years. Who was she as a girl? How did she feel about Gabriel’s task? What were her thoughts prior to such the drastic shift in her life’s responsibilities the angel’s message revealed?
Picture this possible scenario…
A young, innocent Jewish girl is carrying out her daily chores and helping her household in a way any girl would in those days (washing, cooking, etc.) when her father pulls her aside to tell her the news: “Mary, you are now engaged to be married to Joseph, the carpenter.” Obediently, she accepts the contract of her engagement and returns to her work, but as soon as she is once again alone, she raises her hand over her mouth in disbelief. She has always known this moment would come, but now that it’s upon her, it feels all too surreal.
In the following days, her mind is reeling with thoughts of her future. Soon, she will no longer be just a little girl; she will be a woman, in every sense of the word. Her husband will take her hand and lead her into a new role as a mother.
Everything she ever knew her life to be is about to change.
As she is walking through town on an errand, her eyes flicker over to the carpentry shop in hopes of catching a glimpse of her betrothed at work. She rounds the corner of the building and sees him hammering away on a table. He stands to wipe the sweat from his brow, and from his peripheral vision, her robe catches his eye. He straightens his posture and nods a warm greeting to her. Her eyes momentarily linger on his muscular hands and forearms as she feels nervous butterflies swarming about her stomach. Nodding back, she timidly turns her focus to the road in front of her, unable to hide the colorful evidence of the heat that has landed in her cheeks. It’s the blush of a chaste girl who has never known a man, and soon she will be his. They will stand together in the assembly of witnesses and vow to carry out their devotion to one another for the rest of their lives, and then he will take her unto him upon the marital bed, and she will carry his child.
Shortly thereafter, she is going about her business when suddenly she hears the voice of Gabriel, the archangel of Yahweh. His greeting is immediate and intense: “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28). As soon as she spots her otherworldly visitor, she becomes terrified and her head starts to swim in wonder at the implications of what this messenger is about to reveal (1:29). Gabriel, aware of the young girl’s panic, continues: “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (1:30–33). The frightened Mary finds her voice long enough to ask how this will be possible, since she has not lain with a man. Gabriel explains, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (1:35).
The Son of God!? The one and only Son of Yahweh!?
What a moment in history!
No human alive could imagine the explosion of responsibility…
If we let the weight of what just occurred in Mary’s life settle within our thoughts, the bravery and boldness of this young woman at this moment in time is extraordinary, if not unfathomable. In an instant, Mary transforms from a scared little girl to a spiritual warrior with a determination that would make Joan of Arc pale in comparison. She responds with tenacious heroism: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (1:38).
Christians have read and celebrated this narrative for so long in a culture that paints her as a quiet, gentle, and mild-mannered saint that the authority Mary shows in her words here has been traded for the image of a woman bowing her head in docile servitude. Yes, servitude was an enormous part of the big picture regarding Mary, absolutely. By accepting such an inconceivable task as carrying the Son of God into the world in a day and age when a premarital pregnancy would have likely resulted in the death penalty by stoning or, at the very least, banishment from her family and the rest of her people, Mary was no doubt an illustrious servant—first and foremost. Everything stable in her life was now at risk, and she accepted the mission of the Lord despite that. However, it is because of such factors, as well as the obedience and humility in her response, that we can catch a glimpse of the warrior within. Her submission to the messenger of God does not relate weakness, but tenacity! She had every reason to be afraid of the earthly, societal repercussions of being pregnant before marriage—thousands of unimaginably awful hardships undoubtedly lay ahead of her—but she didn’t waver for an instant. This is not to say that she didn’t feel fear, as Luke 1:29 states that she did. But it is to say that she did not allow the fear to rule her. She immediately cast away all concepts of leading a normal life and did the bravest, most warrior-like thing any human in her position could have done: She submitted herself to being the mother of the most important Man this world has ever known, and she did so without any experience whatsoever. She didn’t just agree with Gabriel’s decree, she owned her role bravely despite all human reasoning.
Had she been selfish, she might have said, “But wait! What about my betrothed? What about the people in town? What about my parents? Everyone will think I am tainted by indiscretion! I will be killed, or made to leave my people and wander the world alone. I am chaste. This is not a fair thing to ask of me!” Had she lacked confidence, she might have said, “Surely not I, messenger. I am a girl of humble means. Joseph is only a carpenter. I cannot give the King of kings a full life. I have never raised a child, and I cannot possibly know how to guide this Child, the Son of God.” Had she allowed any one normal, human emotion to lead her response, she would have revealed that she was still only a child—perhaps more befitting of the modern ideas we have of the “meek and mild” Mary. Instead, she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” It’s as if she downloaded ten lifetimes’ worth of maturity in a matter of seconds.
What bravery! What valor!…
We all know what happened next, but rarely do we pause and reflect upon the enormity of it.
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WAIT… A WOMAN PREACHING IN A CHRISTIAN CHURCH… WHAT DOES GOD THINK ABOUT THAT?!
When Joseph discovers she is pregnant, he plans to discreetly divorce her, believing that she has given herself to the temptation of promiscuity, but he is halted by an angel in a dream who tells him that Mary has, in fact, been impregnated by the power of God. The angel instructs Joseph to support her, and the carpenter obeys (Matthew 1:19–25).
Don’t miss this: God chose a woman for a very important role, and He commanded a man to support her in that role. One might argue, “Of course He chose a woman. Only females can bear children.” Whereas that argument is true within our finite comprehension of the human body’s capabilities, it limits God—the Creator of the universe—to say that there was no other way. Consider what God did not choose as the method to bring Christ into the world. He didn’t use the “blessed” or “undefiled” sperm of a man, no sudden “poof” appearance of a baby in a manger, no glowing fusion of flesh particles in the air hovering above a fully-clothed Mary as she symbolically experienced birth pains, no lightning-bolt delivery, no angel-holding-a-baby visitations, nor any stork with a cotton bundle-bag. The Almighty could have chosen from billions of delivery options, but when that precious Savior arrived, it was through the body of a simple, innocent girl who, in seconds, became a dynamic woman of brute-force tenacity in the face of all odds—and she followed through with her task alongside a man whom God sent to help her.
And Jesus, as I said previously, obeyed her. Reflect upon that for a moment. Jesus—God, Himself—respected the counsel, as well as the authority, of a woman… The very Deity our entire belief system is built upon acknowledged the leadership qualities of a female. Again, if God the Father could have chosen from limitless alternative ways to bring Jesus into the world, He could have likewise placed Jesus in a position where He wouldn’t be “under the authority of a female.” We could have been left with a narrative describing Jesus appearing outside the temple and being raised only by nurturing holy men, or this story could have taken any number of other directions, just to ensure that God in the flesh was never “obeying a woman.” Yet, Scripture tells us plainly that Mary was always a part of Jesus’ life, and He always obeyed her and respected her parental headship.
And the list grows even longer regarding Mary’s womanly strength. Once the Son of God was born to her, Mary left home with her new husband and traveled more than two hundred miles within the first few years—Nazareth to Bethlehem, seventy miles; Bethlehem to Jerusalem round-trip, twelve miles; Bethlehem to Egypt, more than forty miles; and Egypt to Nazareth, one hundred-plus miles—all without the modern conveniences of a vehicle or paved roads. Far from any concept of a home-body female plucking chickens near a stove and squeezing fresh fig juice, Mary was a voyager. A journeywoman! She fearlessly packed up the family’s mule and carried their belongings—as well as her infant (and later toddler)—from place to place as the Lord directed, regardless of potentially harsh weather conditions, dangers of the road, marauders by nightfall, or any other concerns that might have made another woman long for baking bread and sweeping the floor. It’s likely that Mary knew how to tie sailor’s knots, build fires, assemble a tent, and locate nearby food and water sources. What a resourceful woman she must have been.
But the greatest challenge was ahead of her, and it was one she met with equal grit and determination.
When the Christ child grew up and Joseph was gone, Mary willingly went to the foot of the cross and revealed a whole new level of bold heroism as she watched her boy bleed to death slowly and painfully. Her little boy… Her little Yeshua. The babe who had moved inside her belly. The babe whose knee boo-boos she had kissed and whose smile she would only ever see in memory until her journey through the Paradise Gate. The boy whose knowledge of Scripture was so impressive that He held His own amidst the intellects in the Temple. How proud she must have been of Him, the sweet and loving Messiah…and how unwaveringly fearless she was to remain by His side while He suffered.
Mary was as much a servant as any human could possibly be, but she was more than that. Far more. Mary was a dauntless, unflinching fortress of strength.
This was the woman who raised Jesus Christ, and her example teaches much for those women who have been called by the Holy Spirit to preach the Word of God.
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