A Prophet Among You

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Prophetesses

The Bible tells of a few women who were called to the prophetic office. Both Old and New Testament incidents reveal that women were not excluded from a place among those who served as spokesmen for God. Let us discover the time when each of these women served, the nature of her work, the results of her activities, and the manner in which her work was received. APAY 117.2

Miriam.Three times we glimpse the life of the first woman mentioned as a prophetess. We see her as Moses’ loving elder sister suggesting to Pharaoh’s daughter that she call a nurse for the baby boy whom the princess had taken from the ark floating in the Nile River. Next she appears as leader of a choir of women singing the triumphal song after Israel had successfully crossed the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army had been destroyed. The third view is not so pleasant. Miriam and Aaron, critical of Moses’ marriage, and blinded by a selfish desire for position equal to that of their younger brother, made this challenge: “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath He not spoken also by us?” Numbers 12:2. Jehovah heard the complaint and punished Miriam by smiting her with leprosy. Her subsequent healing did not in the least detract from the severity of the rebuke. APAY 117.3

Immediately after the Red Sea crossing, “sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord.” Exodus 15:1. There follows an anthem of praise that resounded over desert and sea. Then the tone changed, as Miriam and the women took up the song. “And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.” Exodus 15:20, 21. APAY 118.1

Whether Miriam is called a prophetess because of the poetical inspiration of her song on this occasion, or for other reasons, is not indicated. Although this is the only recorded instance of her speaking under inspiration, it does not necessarily mean it was the only time. She is included by the Lord as among the three “sent before” the children of Israel as leaders. “For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” Micah 6:4. Miriam was highly regarded and honored in Israel, and this made her later rebellion against Moses all the more reprehensible. It must be that during the years of her ministry at the side of her two brothers there was sufficient evidence of her prophetic call by the Holy Spirit to prompt Moses to designate his sister as “the prophetess.” Beyond these meager references we have insufficient information as to the definite type of work done by Miriam or the kind of messages sent through her, but the testimony is unmistakable that she possessed the prophetic gift. APAY 118.2

Deborah. For twenty years northern Israel had been oppressed by the Canaanite king Jabin, who ruled at Hazor, about ten miles north of the lake later known as the Sea of Galilee. Twice before, since the days of “the elders that overlived Joshua,” Israel had been in bondage. Joshua 24:31. Twice the Lord had delivered the nation—by Othniel and Ehud. These men were called to be judges; they were raised up to lead revolts against foreign oppressors. Conditions in Israel that called for repeated punitive invasions by heathen nations are summarized in Judges 2. “And there arose another generation after them, who did not know the Lord or the work which He had done for Israel.... So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He gave them over to plunderers.... Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the power of those who plundered them. And yet they did not listen to their judges; for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed down to them; they soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord.” Verses 10-17, R.S.V. After twenty years of servitude, Israel was again calling for deliverance, and the Lord prepared the way by sending a message to the one acting as judge. APAY 119.1

This time the judge was a woman, and she is designated not only as judge, but as a prophetess. “And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.” Judges 4:4. The former judges are not mentioned as prophets. Deborah had not been called upon first to lead out in a revolt, but as she sat beneath a palm tree between Ramah and Bethel “the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.” Verse 5. When the word of the Lord came to her, she sent for Barak of Kedesh Naphtali, and told him he was to take an army of ten thousand men to the river Kishon and there engage Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s forces, in battle. Promise was made regarding the outcome of the battle, for Deborah remembered God’s promise to her, “I will deliver him into thine hand.” Verse 7. Barak refused to undertake the task unless Deborah would accompany him. He wanted all the people to recognize that the Lord had commissioned him to lead the army in revolt. If the prophetess would support him by her presence, it would be clear that God, not Barak, had launched the campaign. Deborah agreed, but she included with her words of agreement a warning that no honor would come to Barak as a result of the battle. She predicted, “Notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honor; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Verse 9. As the story reveals, she was not speaking of herself, but of Jael, at whose hand Sisera died. Verses 21, 22. APAY 119.2

Here is a picture very different from that of Miriam. Deborah served in a prominent position, for men and women came from many parts of Israel to consult her about their problems and to obtain judgment. Her reputation was built not merely on the fact that she rendered good judgment—she was recognized by all as a prophet of the Lord. When she called on Barak, evidently a man of considerable prestige in Israel, he did not question the source of the message which called him to organize and lead an army against the Canaanites. He would be in an unenviable position should the rebellion fail. He did not mistrust Deborah’s assurance that the battle would result in victory for his army. He did, however, insist on her going along with him on the expedition. Barak’s motives are difficult to determine; but, at any rate, we get some insight into his attitude toward the prophetess. If she would stay with him, he was willing to undertake what must have appeared a hopeless task—to face Jabin’s nine hundred chariots of iron. Verse 3. Then, too, one can imagine the attitude of the ten thousand if they had not been persuaded that Deborah was a true prophetess. APAY 120.1

In the account of Deborah and Barak we find details relating to the experience of a woman called to the prophetic office similar to those concerning men called to the same position. She held a place commanding the respect of the nation, and filled it in a worthy manner. She spoke the word of the Lord with authority to a leader in the nation. She gave predictions as to what might be expected in the future, and these predictions were fulfilled. She did not hesitate to follow the course of action she had pointed out for others. She pressed boldly forward in the assurance that God had spoken to her, and through her to Israel. Brief as is the account of Deborah’s part in the drama, it is a revelation of the kind of responsibility the Lord laid upon women as well as men in ancient times. Whether the messenger was male or female was immaterial, the messages bore the same weight and were to be accepted without prejudice and put into practice. The story of Deborah is the fullest account we have of a prophetess in Bible times. APAY 120.2

Huldah. Josiah’s days were days of change, for the young king was a true reformer. He plunged wholeheartedly into the work. First he tore down the idols and the places of idol worship, then he renovated the temple and prepared it to fill its rightful place for the nation. In the process of directing the restoration of the temple, Hilkiah, the high priest, came upon “the book of the law” from the description of its contents it must have been Deuteronomy, “repetition of the law.” He passed the scroll to Shaphan the scribe, who in turn read it to the king. Josiah had not before read the book, and as he listened he was stirred. He had endeavored to bring about a reformation, but now the need came home to him with a force he had not sensed before. He decided that he must learn more about the message of the book, and what it meant to him and his people. Hilkiah and a group of Josiah’s counselors heard this command: “Go ye, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found.” 2 Kings 22:13. APAY 121.1

The action of the high priest and his companions in response to the injunction, “Go ye, inquire of the Lord for me,” is significant. “So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess; ... and they communed with her.” 2 Kings 22:14. For them to inquire of the Lord signified to inquire of the prophet, and in this case they turned to a woman to make their inquiry. The interest in this incident is heightened when we realize that by this time Jeremiah had been a prophet in Judah for five years. Compare 2 Kings 22:3 and Jeremiah 1:2. Huldah was held in high esteem by the king and the important delegation he sent to her. APAY 121.2

Huldah could offer no hope that the threatened judgments would be withheld. Conditions at that time did not warrant God’s application of the principle of Jeremiah 18:7-10, in which He promised to change His course of action if the life of the nation changed. “My wrath shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched.” 2 Kings 22:17. However, she predicted that because of Josiah’s humility of heart, the destruction would not take place in his lifetime (verses 19, 20). This prophecy was subsequently fulfilled. APAY 122.1

Again, as in the case of Deborah, the Bible record makes plain that when the Lord bestowed on Huldah the prophetic gift, she was accepted by the people without question. King, high priest, and counselors were willing and eager to turn to the prophetess to gain a deeper understanding of Moses’ words, written under inspiration of God and now part of the sacred writings of Israel. She opened their eyes regarding the things already written, and with the help of the Holy Spirit made additional predictions. Her message was not challenged, for the fact that she was a prophetess had already been firmly established, and her word of instruction was accepted as counsel from the Lord. APAY 122.2

Noadiah. In Nehemiah 6:14 we read the words of Nehemiah, “My God, think Thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.” Noadiah is included in this list of prophetesses only because she is mentioned by that term. We know nothing of her except what is told in this one verse. She was associated with Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, and Tobiah, his servant, in their opposition to the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah. Since she is grouped with “the rest of the prophets” by Nehemiah, it may be that she claimed to be a prophetess of God among the Samaritans. APAY 122.3

Isaiah’s wife. In speaking of his wife, Isaiah calls her “the prophetess.” Isaiah 8:3. On what basis he does this we do not know, as this is the only reference to her, and the statement is not made in connection with any work of a prophetess, but simply in reference to the birth of a son. APAY 123.1

Anna. When Joseph and Mary took the Baby Jesus to the temple for the prescribed service of dedication, they met not only the priest who performed the service, but two other persons who were present. One of these was Simeon, who was led to the temple by the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:27), and who pronounced a blessing on the child. He also made a prediction regarding the future of the child and the sorrow that would come to Mary. In addition to Simeon, they met “one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser.” Verse 36. Anna was an aged widow, of the tribe of Asher, famous, according to tradition, for the intelligence and beauty of its women. Her life was dedicated to prayer and spiritual service. Along with Simeon, she recognized in the child the promised Redeemer. Following the most natural procedure for one with such a conviction, she “spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” Verse 38. No added light is shed on Anna’s service as a prophetess, but it is evident that, as one possessing the gift of prophecy, her recognition of the Messiah was not dependent upon this incident in the temple. APAY 123.2

Philip’s daughters. Luke’s note in Acts 21:9 is a brief one. In speaking of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the original seven deacons, he said, “And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.” This is the only occasion where they are mentioned. However, prophecy was not an uncommon gift in the early church. Paul indicates that among the spiritual gifts it was one to be greatly desired, 1 Corinthians 14:1. It must have been clear in the minds of those who knew these women that they possessed the gift of prophecy. APAY 124.1

These are the women whom the Bible writers call prophetesses. Despite our limited knowledge of them and their activities, several vital points are apparent. While they are fewer in number than the male prophets, yet there is every reason to believe that their sex caused no distinction to be made in their prophetic function. They are pictured as leading the nation, explaining the Scriptures, counseling leaders, and making predictions. They were recognized as God’s spokesmen, and their testimonies were accepted as the messages of Jehovah. APAY 124.2