Tag Archives: king

Holy Women Spoke From God

huldah-speaking“How can you teach and promote a book with texts in it that have been used for centuries to suppress and silence women?”

The question posed to me at the end of a recent informal talk captured a sentiment I rarely hear voiced in Christian circles, and yet which doesn’t fall too far from a feeling often repressed by devoted Christian women. We wouldn’t necessarily phrase it in such strong terms, largely because we cherish the Bible and the Lord who gave it to us. We want more than anything else to honor Him with our lives and to submit to His reign, no matter how counter-cultural or personally costly that may be.

And yet the way we are taught to interpret certain New Testament texts, namely 1Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, can leave faithful women feeling sidelined, if not confused. Is it true that the same Lord who protected, honored, and stood up for women would then turn around and tell us to be silent in church and to take only a submissive learner’s role in relationship to men? If that is what He is saying to us then we are willing to obey. But somehow these two isolated texts seem to go against the flow of the significance and freedom that belonging to Christ gives us.

So, as I have heard even the most educated and gifted of women admit, many of us quietly submit to a universally restrictive interpretation of these verses, preferring to be safe than sorry. After all, we reason, if we don’t have verses that specifically state otherwise, then the weight of evidence points to the conclusion that God doesn’t want women to be speaking or taking leadership over men in the church. (And even if we aren’t personally convinced this is the case, we don’t want to be seen as promoting ourselves or as undermining the authority and tradition of our churches.)

But playing it safe, as Jesus kept trying to convince the Pharisees, rarely leads us to accurate conclusions about what pleases God. In our well-intentioned attempt to stay within the parameters set out by Scripture, we have ignored the vast weight of evidence that Scripture itself gives us. Whether it comes from our tendency to ignore the Old Testament as less relevant to the Church or our preferential treatment of propositional over narrative texts, we fail to take into account the Bible’s many examples of godly women speaking to men on behalf of God.

Miriam gets a pass, because even though she is identified as a prophet, the people she led in assembled worship were women.

Deborah, also identified as a prophet and repeatedly used by God to speak to and lead His holy nation, gets explained away as an anomaly, the sad result of what happens when men fail to step and lead.

Abigail makes us squirm a bit, but we wiggle out of it by emphasizing what a fool her husband was and by picturing David as a renegade warrior, not the anointed king-to-be.

He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found…. Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.
2 Kings 22:12-14

But Huldah stops us in our tracks. Her story doesn’t make any sense in a paradigm that says God wants men, not women, to speak on His behalf to the church, particularly in the areas of interpreting and applying His Word. There was certainly no lack of qualified, committed male leadership in her time. King Josiah, surrounded by a band of strong, godly men, was leading the nation in a gutsy purge of its idolatrous practices and apathetic worship. Under the capable leadership of the high priest Hilkiah, the priesthood was well-established and organized. And even the prophet Jeremiah was on hand, faithfully speaking the words of God to the people.

So why would all these powerful men go to a woman to find out what God meant by what He had written in His Word? And why was a woman, married to a capable man from a well-known household, so seemingly comfortable with this role of prophet, interpreter of Scripture, and counsellor of the priests and the king?

She said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. …
Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the LORD. …’ ” So they took her answer back to the king.

Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the LORD with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest.
2 Kings 22:15-23:2

Huldah’s voice rings loud and clear through the pages of the Bible, her Spirit-filled words recorded for leaders both then and now to listen to and learn from. Nothing in the way she spoke or in the way her story is told connotes that something is amiss with Israel’s leadership, other than the way the teachings of Yahweh had been ignored. Her prophetic role in this rare “how things are actually supposed to happen” story stands as a striking example of holy women speaking on behalf of God to both encourage and exhort His people, including their leaders.

In fact, this story as a whole stands out as one of the most ideal leadership scenarios in the Old Testament. Here prophet, priest, and king each take up their appropriate leadership roles, submitting to and cooperating with each other to guide the whole nation back into right relationship with God. God used the humility, strength, and voice of each of these leaders, both male and female, to call His people back and to present them to Himself, pure and holy in His sight.

And while this still does not directly address what God meant by the words He would later give us in the books of 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians, the Biblical examples of Huldah and her fellow prophetesses must form the backdrop for how we read these texts.

Holy women spoke from God of old. Should they not still today?

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Separate but Equal?–Sacred Sexes

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“If we are a holy community, each of us touched by the presence of God, then why do you set yourselves above the rest of us?”

The question could easily have been asked by any of us who wrestle with the question of gender and roles. I read the equivalent sentiment in much of the literature I am sifting through in preparation for the Women in Leadership and Ministry course I will be teaching this summer. Its underlying assumption is that if we distinguish between groups of people, reserving certain roles for some (and withholding them from others), then we are necessarily introducing a hierarchy in which some people will be attributed greater value than others.

And it doesn’t take long to find painful examples that support this assumption. The appalling treatment of African-Americans under the banner of “Separate but Equal” unmasks the self-serving intentions of those who promoted it. But is the position itself untenable?

Does differentiation necessarily result in subordination?

They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?”
Numbers 16:3

Korah, Dathan, and Abiram certainly thought so. This was the essence of their complaint against Aaron and Moses. If the whole nation had been set aside as a kingdom of priests, then why were only Aaron and his sons wearing the special robes? If God was with all of them, then why could only Moses speak authoritatively to the assembly on His behalf?

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?”
Numbers 12:1-2

Funnily enough, the same complaint had been raised just a few chapters earlier, this time by Miriam and Aaron against Moses. Each of these three siblings had played a significant role in leading God’s people out of Egypt. And each of them had a significant ongoing role in the nurture and oversight of the assembly. But the fact that certain roles were being withheld from them made Miriam and Aaron feel threatened and inferior.

All three of them had partnered together and risked much to give birth to this fledgling nation, but now Moses was acting like he was in charge of everyone, including his older brother and sister. Sure, Moses was the one God met with face-to-face. He was the one to whom God had given the law. But hadn’t God spoken through them in powerful ways, too? Somehow the authority invested in Moses, no matter how humbly executed, made them feel like he was being treated as better than them.

“Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests. Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron to give him dignity and honor.
Exodus 28:1-2

Moses could have felt the same way when God picked Aaron and his sons to be the priests, not him. All this time he had been functioning as high priest for the nation, offering up sacrifices on their behalf, instructing them in the law of God, and carrying their needs into God’s presence. He could have felt threatened or demeaned when God bypassed him and gave this special honor to Aaron and his descendants.

Likewise, Aaron could have been jealous of the way that God revealed Himself to Miriam in visions and dreams. He could have been threatened by her powerful woman’s voice, speaking God’s word and leading the multitude in Spirit-filled songs of worship.

At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words: “When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
Numbers 12:4-8

The point was that each of these siblings had been chosen by God to function in a particular role, no one greater than the other but each one distinct from the other. God spoke directly to each of them, but that didn’t make all of them equally prophets, priests, and kings. The authority invested in Moses had come from God, not himself. His use of it was a faithful outworking of His service to God, as were Aaron’s privileged position in the tabernacle and Miriam’s intimate encounters with the Spirit. God answered definitively: To question or deny the distinctions He had set up was to go against Him.

Thankfully things ended better for Miriam than they did for the families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. And I trust God looks mercifully on us as we wrestle through similar questions. So much social oppression has been perpetrated in the name of God and authority that I think it fitting for us to step back and question the basis of the role restrictions we have traditionally assigned to women. To the extent that these are man-made distinctions, fabricated by our historic cultural values rather than assigned by God, we reflect God’s heart for the oppressed when we question and tear them down.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. …those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. …But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
1 Cor. 12:4-5, 18-25

At the same time, I reject the assumption that to maintain any distinction between male and female roles is necessarily to slot one under the other. Is not differentiation possible without stratification? Rather than picture one particular role over another, with greater assigned value or superior spiritual power, I think the kingdom of God functions with both the distinction and equality of the Trinity. As we each function according to the particular gifting and unique calling God has placed on us, we do so in direct service to Him and, Lord willing, in humble love for each other.

What God has joined together, let none of us tear apart.

Patriotism Revisited

I’m probably the worst person to ask about patriotism. With a Jamaican-American husband, a teenaged daughter who recently delivered a rhetorical speech on the evils of nationalism, a bagpipe-blowing son who is deeply disappointed over being too young to vote in Scotland’s upcoming independence referendum, and a youngest who still defines her national boundaries by the walls of whatever building we currently call home, I am pretty mixed up. For years I have felt a growing schizophrenia in myself over the question of loyalty to a particular country.

On one hand, I come from a military family and grew up in a military community, populated by men and women who have devoted their lives to serving their country with sacrifice and excellence. Love for them inspires me to love my country.

My neighbor is the person next to me. My obligation is to the nation with which I am connected, whether by birth or by residence or by media awareness.

On the other hand, I have spent most of my adult life abroad, living among and serving people of other nations. I have come to identify with their concerns and causes so fully that I often forget that I belong to somewhere else. Love for them compels me to love their countries.

But when there is a conflict of interest, whose side do I take? What does patriotism look like for a Christian?

Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
2 Kings 5:2-3

I am not alone in this dilemma. The Scriptures abound with examples of dual allegiances and competing loyalties. Often those who found themselves in these tricky positions were there apart from their own choice. For the Jewish slave girl who served Naaman the Syrian, the fact that her master had invaded her nation, killed many of her people, and carried her off as a captive did not stop her from legitimately caring about his needs. In fact, her compassionate attempt to help him find a cure for his leprosy almost resulted in another war between his nation and hers!

Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground.
“You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.”
Genesis 47:23, 25

Joseph, another slave expatriated against his will, served his Egyptian masters so well that he effectively consolidated their political and economic position as a superpower. It would have been one thing to faithfully but passively do what Pharaoh asked of him. But Joseph carried out his duty with such excellence that soon he had all of Egypt and its neighboring nations, including his own, literally eating out of Pharaoh’s hand.

Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.
Daniel 6:3-4

Perhaps the clearest example comes in Daniel, noble patriot to his own country but dedicated servant to another. Carried off as a prisoner of war to Babylon, he never left behind his loyalty to his God or his people, but nor did that hinder his faithfulness in serving his conquering kings. Administering justice. Managing the economy. Interpreting dreams. Giving wise political advice. Daniel’s faithfulness to God compelled him to work hard for the cause of the country in which he had been planted, despite its status as his own country’s mortal enemy. And in time he, like Joseph and like Esther, was able to use his insider status to help his own people at a critical moment in their history, in a pivotal “such a time as this.”

Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men…
Matthew 22:21, 39-40; Ephesians 6:5, 7

As I look at the life examples of these godly people, I see how they were each marked by the love that Jesus calls us all to exhibit towards our neighbors. I imagine Jesus’ instruction to pay taxes to Caesar rattled the patriotic pride of His fellow Jews. Assist the foreign oppressor in his rule of their nation? And yet that is precisely what He was telling them to do, twined with the perspective that everything done in love for others is ultimately done in service to God.

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. … But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. … “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
Luke 10:29-30, 33, 36

And this leads me right back to my question about patriotism. To whom do I belong? To whom am I obligated to love and serve, sacrifice and submit? I suppose the answer lies in Jesus response to the expert Jewish lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” Interestingly, Jesus laid His finger right on the man’s patriotic bias by telling a story with a Samaritan hero. An unwelcome immigrant held up as a model of civic duty? But Jesus‘ point remains the same.

My neighbor is the person next to me. My obligation is to the individual whose needs I am aware of, the community whose dynamics I play a part in, the nation with which I am connected, whether by birth or by residence or by media awareness.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 2:19; 4:16

This Fourth of July I will celebrate the land where I was born, the country that so many of my loved ones have sacrificially served. But my love for the people of America does not eclipse my love for the people of the nations in the rest of the world. I am American, with all the pride and shame that comes with the history of my nation. But first and foremost, I am a member of the body of Christ, part of the holy nation that spans every political border and ethnic divide. To that I wholeheartedly pledge my allegiance.