The emptiness of the house was soon replaced with giggles. As we made silly poems for our clues, memories flooded over us as we dug around in the secret places of that red brick house in Baytown, Texas. Several days later when mom arrived to pick me up, we celebrated her birthday. I know she had great joy tracking the clues to her present.
Looking back, I also believe that the trip around the house so full of memories was a balm for her soul. Even my normally stoic grandmother giggled and laughed at each clue until my mom found her present at the end. This trek of discovery was our great joy in a year of deep sorrow. In the process, each of us discovered treasures old and new. Even now, I’m smiling at the long-buried memory of this event that surfaced when I read the following verse from Matthew’s gospel:
[After completing his parables, Jesus said to his disciples:]Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.(Matthew 13:52).
If we go digging around in the Old Testament Scriptures, we can discover all sorts of old treasures. Have you heard of Huldah? She is truly a treasure even though she is often forgotten. Her story comes from one of the most important times in Jewish history (2 Chronicles 34:1-28). Josiah was king in Jerusalem in Judah. The northern tribes of Israel had been destroyed because of their unfaithfulness. The Babylonians defeated them, destroying their cities, killing their warriors, and scattering the rest all over the world to be assimilated by other peoples.
Josiah ruled in Judah and Jerusalem. He was destroying all the pagan altars, high places, and temples. He was also restoring God’s Temple in Jerusalem. During the process of restoration, the workers discovered a scroll — what many conservative scholars believe is what we call the book of Deuteronomy. Josiah had that scroll read in his presence.
When he heard the LORD’s call to Israel, he realized how deeply the people had sinned. He tore his clothes in anguish. He sent his cabinet of spiritual and political advisors to inquire of the LORD to find out what would happen because of their disobedience. He wanted to know what must be done to please the LORD. When his advisors needed a prophet whom they could trust, they went to the prophet Huldah — a lady. They didn’t go to Jeremiah or Zephaniah, though these were godly prophets at the time. They went to Huldah. She spoke the very words of God to them. She was the prophet that could be trusted to tell Josiah the LORD’s will and his plans for their future.
Interesting! My guess is that most Christian folks today have never heard of Huldah. Most followers of Jesus have little or no idea there were even women prophets in Israel’s history. A few people might remember Deborah, who was a wife, a judge, a leader, a prophet, songwriter, worship leader, and when pressed into service, a military leader in battle (Judges 4:4-24; 5:1-31). Maybe a few among us might remember that Moses’ sister, Miriam, was also a recognized prophet in Israel (Exodus 15:20). In times when most women were considered little more than property and given little place in leadership, we discover these women as God’s treasures among some of the greatest stories of Israel’s history. They are the LORD’s reminder of what he intended from the beginning; both male and female were created in his image and of value to their Creator (Genesis 1:26-27).
These treasures, these women, are important for us in our series of lessons on the Bible’s view of women. They were also important to the apostle Peter, who said at Pentecost:
Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd,…“In the last days,” God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants — men and women alike —
and they will prophesy."
Peter made clear that the requirement to be gifted in the new covenant age brought by Jesus: the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus pours out the Spirit on everyone who believes in him as both Lord and Christ, who turn from their sin, call on the name of Jesus to be saved, and are baptized to be reborn into God’s family (Acts 2:36-41; Titus 3:3-7). But, I fear, many of us who have looked to Acts 2 as the beginning of the church somehow missed this new treasure just as we possibly missed the older treasures of Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah.
However, if we listen to the words of our New Testament writers, they assumed the truth of Peter’s words just as surely as Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah foreshadowed them. Notice what Peter wrote:
God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen (1 Peter 4:10-11).
Peter broke spiritual gifts into two categories: speaking gifts and serving gifts[TWO] (the gift of helping others). Notice, however, that he does not base those gifts on race, age, gender, or social standing. These two types of gifts were given, and each believer had one type or the other.
For many of us, however, when we think of biblical prophets, we think about brave and a-little-bit-crazy old men. These are the men steadfastly committed to speaking for God. Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel come to mind. Some of us may think of John the Baptist or possibly Agabus. But, few of us think of women prophets in the early church. We ignore this despite Peter’s words at Pentecost, emphasized twice, that women prophesying were part of the new covenant brought to life with the coming of the Holy Spirit. This omission is despite Peter not limiting speaking gifts to men. And, this lapse is despite what we find elsewhere in the New Testament.
First, there were women who were false teachers who gathered quite a crowd of followers in churches toward the end of the first century:
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols (Revelation 2:20).
Yes, that was a woman who led the whole church at Thyatira astray; but how did she have that opportunity if she was not given the opportunity to use her gifts in the church there? Jesus could have condemned them for having a woman prophet if that was wrong. He didn’t. He condemned her because of heresy — because of what she taught, not that she taught. What she taught revealed she was not a prophet, not her gender.
Second, Paul mentioned women praying and prophesying in the church assemblies in Corinth:
But every woman who prays or prophesies… (1 Corinthians 11:5).
He didn’t criticize this practice, but like all speaking in the assembly, Paul gave some criteria how they were to handle their speaking in the contentious environment in Corinth. In addition, Philip, the early “leader-servant” of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-7) had daughters who prophesied before the apostle Paul and his large band of male leaders who came to Jerusalem with him:
Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9).Again, Paul did not stop, rebuke, or correct this practice.
Third, while not called prophets, we must remember that God gave the proclamatory role of declaring both the conception and the resurrection of Jesus to humans to women — Elizabeth (Luke 1:42-45), Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46-55), and Mary Magdalene (Luke 24:8-12; John 20:11-18). Notice how their words resemble the words of the prophets of old and the language of praise found in the Old Testament Scriptures. Their words also bring to mind the song-prayers of Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21), Deborah (Judges 5), and Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10).
In a time when the church seems to have lost its credibility and voice before a broken world ripped apart by sin, isn’t it time we restored women to be part of that voice? Yes, the role of a prophet in the Old Testament times was different than the role of a prophet in the church today. But, as we listen to Paul’s definition of the prophetic[THREE] role in the church for us, shouldn’t we allow our spiritually gifted women to contribute their voices to Jesus’ chorus of grace that the world needs to hear?
Let love be your highest goal! But you should also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives — especially the ability to prophesy. For … one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them (1 Corinthians 14:1, 3).
Yes, I believe it is time we discovered the voices of these great treasures, both old and new!
[ONE] Here are the current articles in our series:
- Of Sacred Value
- Made to Be Complements
- Restoring the Creator's Intent
- Our New Trajectory in Pentecost
- Important Women, Important Roles
- Co-Heirs with Christ
- Too Familiar to Feel the Bite
- Unconventional Grace and the Song of Jesus
- The Women
- The Macedonian Connection
- Treasures Old and New
[TWO] Notice that Peter is NOT saying that there are only two spiritual gifts, but he chooses to talk about the gifts being divided into two categories of gifts. Paul does something similar in Ephesians 4:7-14 when he talks about equipping gifts and serving gifts. Paul also talks about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Many different gifts are listed in the above mentioned passages. However, God (Father, Son, and Spirit) give spiritual gifts based on his choice as part of his Sovereignty and the needs of the congregation.
[THREE] Paul's definition of the gift of prophecy is different than the role Old Testament prophets often played. However, we must remember that these Old Testament prophets did more "forthtelling" than "foretelling." In addition, when we read the book of Acts, we also see some prophets predicting things like famines or Paul's persecutions. So, there was a place for these kinds of prophets. Paul's concern, however, was that the Corinthians quit placing such a high importance on the gift of tongues — which he considered a lesser gift (1 Corinthians 14:1-3) — and more emphasis on the kind of prophecy he defines for them in these verses: strengthening, encouraging, and comforting.