posted on Sep, 18 2015 @ 05:03 PM
Moses, of course, was the first and the greatest of the prophets of Israel.
But his immediate successors were women.
Even in his lifetime, as he worked with Aaron, their sister Miriam counted as a prophetess.
She may have been the original singer of the “Song of Moses”, praising the destruction of the Egyptians.
In Numbers ch12, though, God put her to shame for claiming equality with Moses.
Then the first to appear in the time of Judges was Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth (ch4)
She was also one of the sequence of judges of Israel.
In effect, the judges were substitute kings, appointed by God to meet the needs of the time, instead of inheriting power from others.
The two most important functions of kingship, in those days, were resolving questions of justice and leading the people into battle against their
The leaders found in Judges covered the same ground.
They were normally military men in the first instance. The task of “judging” would probably follow on from that, because people would naturally
ask the “big man” of the area to settle their disputes.
In Deborah’s case, the people of Israel came to her for judgement, in the place where she sat, and this was her main work.
Deborah did not lead armies in person. Nor, for that matter, did Samuel, or any of the later prophets. That is not what prophets do.
In time of war, Samuel’s function was to call and give God’s blessing to Saul.
In the same way, Deborah called Barak to the task of defeating Sisera.
Clearly the writer of Judges finds nothing unusual about Deborah’s prominent role.
He does not get defensive about the fact that Deborah was exercising authority on God’s behalf.
I’ve heard the argument that God was “forced to use Deborah because the men were unwilling”. But if the God of Israel wants to work through a
particular man he does not normally allow unwillingness to stop him. Just ask Jeremiah.
No, it has to be accepted that Deborah was acting this part because she was God’s choice.
There may be space also to consider the “wise women” who were active in David’s time.
These must be distinguished from the “witch” or “sorcerer” [KASHAPH] , condemned in the law of Deuteronomy ch18 vv9-14.
The sorcerer, like the other people on the list, may be male or female.
These are people who try to divine the future in various ways, including contacting the dead.
That’s what makes them all guilty of “abominable”, or idolatrous, practices.
The “wise women”, on the other hand, are approved and respected figures
in Yahwistic society, so they must be doing something different.
The woman of Tekoa is employed by Joab in a little moral drama (2 Samuel ch14).
Another wise woman speaks for the city of Abel when it’s threatened by Joab’s army (2 Samuel ch20).
I think it’s reasonable to see a connection between their wisdom and the later Wisdom tradition exemplified by Proverbs.
Wisdom is really about understanding the morally right thing to do, a knowledge which is taught by God and summed up in aphorisms.
I suggest that the field of work of the “wise woman” was “knowing the right thing to do, with particular reference to social interaction”.
(For some reason, I think of my grandmother and the sometimes uncomfortable “little talks” she might have with her grandchildren.)
That would cover the roles they find in 2 Samuel.
It points forward to the less instinctive Wisdom tradition.
It also connects back to the “judging” work of Deborah, which would be guided by similar knowledge.
And the people who looked up to them would understand this knowledge as coming from God, which would at least associate them with the work of the
Other women are found in the later histories.
Isaiah records that he “went to the prophetess and she conceived and bore a son”, Maher-shalal-hash-baz.
Presumably she was his wife, but that was less important, since this was a prophetic act, than her status as a prophetess in her own right (Isaiah ch8
Later, in the time of King Josiah, we meet the prophetess Huldah, wife of Shallum (she dwelt in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter).
“The book of the law” had just been found in the Temple. Modern scholars think this may have been Deuteronomy, or at least the core of
When the words of this book were read to the king, he rent his clothes, because of the contrast between the demands of the law and the current
practice of his day.
“Great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book”.
So he sent his officials to “inquire of the Lord”, and at this time that meant consulting the prophetess Huldah.
She had mixed news to give them.
On the one hand, it was already too late to save the kingdom. God’s wrath had been kindled against them because of their previous idolatry.
But there would be a reward for the king’s own penitence.
He would be “gathered to his grave in peace”; that is, he would meet an honourable death (in the battle of Megiddo) and would not see the great
catastrophe, the outcome of the revolt against Babylon. (2 Kings ch22)
Apart from Noadiah, who was speaking on the wrong side of the argument (Nehemiah ch6 v14), these are the only prophetesses that we find in the Old
But consider- it would be easy enough to make a list of male prophets known to history from a single episode alone, just as Huldah is known from a
single episode alone.
So I’m inclined to think that our knowledge of the prophets of Israel is just the tip of the iceberg.
There must have been many other prophets, both male and female, who are unknown to us because their activities never come to public notice at all.
One of the factors in the long-term reputation of prophets may have been the “support group” which Elijah and Elisha and probably other major
prophets were able to gather together and carry round with them.
These would have been responsible for recording and preserving their deeds and their prophecies.
Prophetesses would have been at a disadvantage here, because social conditions would not have allowed them to wander the countryside with groups of
Therefore circumstances, rather than deliberate policy, would have conspired to ensure that the existence of the prophetesses almost disappeared from
Then we come to the New Testament.
The story of the circumcision of Jesus includes the prophetess Anna, who had been living in the Temple as a widow for most of her life.
“Coming up at that very hour, she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke ch2
This makes her the more optimistic counterpart of Huldah, who had foretold only “evil upon this place and upon its inhabitants”.
Later Paul, when he came to Caesarea, met the four unmarried daughters of Philip the evangelist, who “prophesied”. Not just on this occasion, the
verb implies, but frequently (Acts ch21 v9).
And the story of the prophetess does not end at this point, but continues into the later history of the church.
The occasional Joanna Southcott, we must admit, but also the occasional Julian of Norwich.
All this demonstrates that the Biblical God is not reluctant to speak through women just as freely as he speaks through men.