I confess I had never heard of Huldah before and yet she is one of the seven female prophets in Jewish tradition.*
Huldah had the ear of kings and rulers and interpreted the Jewish Law with authority, and yet unlike most other biblical prophets we hear nothing about her family history, journey of faith, or personality. The frustrating thing is we get to learn more about her husband’s genealogy than hers, and he does nothing of any consequence.
Huldah, (her name means weasel which is unfortunate!) was a prophetess from Judah at the time when King Josiah was on the throne. She lived in Jerusalem with her husband Shallum, who had the enigmatic job title, ‘keeper of the wardrobe’.**
You will remember from yesterday’s post about Queen Athaliah that this period of history was one of a seemingly endless cycle of corrupt and cruel rulers of the divided nations of Israel and Judah. During this period (around sixty years) the temple in Jerusalem had been allowed to fall into ruin, the people turned to idolatry, and the laws and statutes given to Moses had been largely forgotten.
King Josiah was one of the few kings who ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’. (2 Kings 22.2). He became king when he was only eight year old and he ruled with justice and equity, ensuring those who worked on the restoration of the temple were being paid and that all the temple funds were accounted for properly.
Whilst the building work to restore the temple was taking place one of the workers found an old copy of ‘the Book of the Law’ in the rubble. This would have been a collection of rolls of parchment containing sections of the Torah. This was read aloud to the king who was convicted by what he heard realising with horror how far they had moved from the Lord’s will:
When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes2 Kings 22.11
He wanted to understand what he was hearing and so he sent his high priest (Hilkiah) and scribe (Shaphan) to ask Huldah the Prophetess for guidance. She interprets the text with authority, clarity and boldness, and speaks to them of God’s judgment towards the people:
Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all the idols they have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.2 Kings 22.17
She then tells them that God had seen and heard Josiah’s repentance on receiving the Law:
Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord…because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you.2 Kings 22.18
God used Huldah’s prophetic voice to promise King Josiah protection and peace. The king responded by restoring God’s word to temple worship, renewing their vows to obey God’s law, and bringing back long forgotten Jewish festivals such as Passover. Alongside this he destroyed all the idols and shrines, sacked all the pagan priests and mediums, and pulled down the altars to Baal.
Neither before or after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did – with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with the Law of Moses.2 Kings 23.25
And this remarkable transformation came about through the words of a female prophet who very few have ever heard of… Huldah.
* the others are Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail and Esther
** the job probably involved looking after the robes of the priests, rather like a verger would in our churches today.
Reflection and Prayer
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Ephesians 4.11-13
What is remarkable about this story is that King Josiah clearly had other learned temple priests and scribes he could call upon, and yet none of them were able to interpret scripture and explain the Book of the Law in the way that Huldah could. Is this the first example of biblical interpretation in scripture? I think it may be.
As we learn of Huldah’s gifts for prophetic teaching perhaps we can give thanks for all those women and men who have opened up scripture to us and have taught us something of God’s word.
Lord Jesus, merciful and patient, grant us grace
ever to teach in a teachable spirit;
learning along with those we teach,
and learning from them when it pleases you.
Word of God, speak to us, speak by us, what you will.
Wisdom of truth, instruct us, instruct by us, if and whom you will.
Eternal truth, reveal yourself to us, reveal yourself by us,
in whatsoever measure you will;
that we and they may all be taught of God. Amen
A prayer for teachers by Christina Rossetti (1830-94)