Exodus 15:20-21, Judges 4:4-5:15, 2 Chronicles 34:22-28 HCSB
When I studied the women of the Old Testament, I wanted to ignore the prophetesses. The prophetesses have always been a mystery to me. I did not really understand them, their role, or what insights I could gain for my life today. As I studied these three prophetesses mentioned in the Old Testament, God began to help me see these amazing women in a new light.
First, let me share a definition of prophecy. Prophecy is simply hearing from God a message to be shared with others. For the men, they used this gift by speaking to kings and by shouting in the streets. Many times they were criticized or punished for their revelations. Some of their prophecies were foretelling the future, but also teaching about God’s mercy, justice, and love. For the women, there are some similarities to the men, but also some very distinct differences in their roles. This is why I believe two different terms are used, prophets for men and prophetesses for women. It is a gender distinction, but it is also a role distinction.
The first prophetess we encounter is Miriam, the sister of Moses. We know her as a watchful caregiver for her baby brother Moses. She also led the women in singing and dancing after the crossing of the Red Sea. I always assumed she and Moses led all the people together, but the passage clearly states she led the women. “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her with tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang to them: Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; He has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea.” Ex. 15:20-21 What a beautiful sound that must have been as Moses and the men sang one part and the women sang another. Miriam illustrates the first principle: women lead women to compliment the ministry as a whole.
The second prophetess is Deborah. She is much more controversial, mainly because of the difficulty of translation. Her story is definitely one that needs to be read in several translations and in light of the rest of scripture. All of the translations get the facts straight, but only a few get her attitude or her demeanor. Some translations portray her as bossy and controlling, commanding Barak. The Holman Christian Standard Bible comes much closer to the truth. “Hasn’t the Lord God of Israel commanded you?” Judg. 4:6a She simply asked a question, to help Barak face up to his responsibilities before God. He already knew what God wanted him to do. He was just afraid to step out on faith in God. Then he asked for her support, and she gave it. “Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, I will go.” Judg. 4:8a Deborah was not the bossy lady we imagine; she was a supportive woman helping her leader act responsibly before God.
Finally, we have Huldah. Most people have never heard of her. She was a prophetess in the time of King Josiah. He was deeply concerned for the sins of his people when the priests found the hidden book of the law and read it to him. He sent his priest to find out from God what to do. Huldah was close by; her husband was the keeper of the king’s wardrobe. She told Hilkiah the priest what God intended to do because of the people’s sin and how He would spare King Josiah because of his devotion to God. This was all Josiah needed to hear. He immediately began calling the people together to covenant themselves back to God and reinstate the Passover.
What do I learn from these women? From Miriam I learn that God is pleased when I lead women to praise and follow God in cooperation with the men. From Deborah I learn that my leaders need support; they need to know they are not alone in the battle. From Huldah I learn that I need to be faithful to give good Godly counsel when I am asked. I am certainly not claiming to be a prophetess, but even I can learn everyday principles from these great women.