Tag Archives: prophecy

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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Walking a Mile in God’s Shoes

Jeremiah_14Last spring I spent four days in agony. My food suddenly seemed dry and tasteless. My knees trembled with weakness. And my heart felt like lead in my chest. Day and night, waking or sleeping, all I could think about was what 200 girls in Nigeria were currently experiencing. I could feel their terror as brutal men surrounded them. I could feel their pleas for help, their forced captivity, their dominated bodies, their broken spirits, and their forever altered reality.

As the weekend progressed, I became more and more trapped in their experience, unable to shake myself free from the overwhelming pain of what they were going through. I couldn’t explain why it was so personal for me. I didn’t know any of those girls, nor had Nigeria been on my radar before that. But of all the news events and world crises that daily flit across my computer screen, this was one with which I was involuntarily but inextricably bound.

I wept on their behalf. I pleaded with God as though what was happening to their bodies was being done to mine. I read the Scriptures searching for answers to their dilemma. I sat in church feeling torn between two worlds, my body in a peaceful sanctuary while my soul was tossed about in the backwoods of Nigeria, denied access to the altar of God and forced into subservience to a cruel tyrant.

Why was I feeling this way? As I tried to make sense of it with my husband, it became increasingly clear to both of us that, for whatever reason, this was a prophetic burden God was giving me to carry.

God’s children stand in the gap between
human experience and divine perspective.

When I look back on God’s people through the ages, I see that I am not alone in this odd experience. Earthy farmers and holy priests, young boys and elderly widows, seasoned apostles and inexperienced girls have walked this path ahead of me, bearing the yoke of standing in the gap between human experience and divine perspective.

“Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief.
Cry out and wail, son of man, for it is against my people; it is against all the princes of Israel. They are thrown to the sword along with my people. Therefore beat your breast.
Ezekiel 21:6, 12

But what I still struggle to understand is the prophetic role of feelings, whether privately endured or publicly enacted. Why did Ezekiel have to experience the discomfort and defilement of lying on his side for days on end, eating bread baked over poop? Worse yet, why did he have to go through the agony of losing his wife without even being allowed to mourn her death? This wasn’t a little demonstration that would be over in a day or two. It was real and permanently life altering. So was Hosea’s assignment to marry and raise kids with a woman who would repeatedly cheat on him.

But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the LORD’s flock will be taken captive.
Jeremiah 13:17

What is accomplished by simply feeling prophetic pain? I see the point in Ezekiel’s experiences portraying messages for others to receive or in Jeremiah’s tears moving him to intercede on behalf of other people. But how do I explain the times when God overwhelms a prophet with feelings that have no apparent product?

God gives us the chance to
walk a mile in His shoes.

I am beginning to suspect that God wants company. He wants some of His people to get Him, to understand how He feels about the events He constantly witnesses on earth. Even the relatively few crises that flit across my computer screen overwhelm me, and yet I can switch them off and go process my feelings with a friend. With whom does the Triune God who unceasingly watches over the earth share His heart?

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” … I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
Psalm 22:7-17

He invites us to share bits of it with Him. He grants us the privilege of getting to peek through His eyes, to walk a mile in His shoes, to share in His story. This is what I think was happening with David when he wrote the prophetic psalms depicting what Jesus would later experience on the cross. And yet David wrote them in the first person. Somehow he himself was sampling the bitter agony of the cup that Jesus would come and drink down to its dregs.

Somehow I think this is the privileged yoke that God has been giving me to bear on behalf of His persecuted people in Nigeria. For a short period of time last spring I got to feel His grief over them from afar. And now, for reasons beyond my current understanding, the Lord has opened the door for me to go and be His mouthpiece in their midst. Next week I will be in Abuja teaching Spiritual Formation to a class of mature Christian leaders from all over Nigeria. And the following week I have been asked by the Bishop of Kontagora (for whom I once had the privilege of opening a different sort of door) to travel through his diocese encouraging the Christians there, particularly those displaced by Boko Haram’s violent regime.

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. … “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:11-16

I have no certainty in what will be accomplished through my presence in Nigeria and no confidence in my ability to make God’s plans succeed. But I do see God’s hand at work. And so in the heritage of God’s servants past and present, I offer myself to Him, body, heart, and mind, to use as He pleases.

Only time will reveal what God has in mind.

Tiny Things

baby imageNations rage, victims quake,
Children die, terrorists shake
Our souls to the core.
Cancer wins, marriages fail,
Dreams die, depression prevails:
We cry for a cure.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Genesis 3:15

Innocence gone, evil won,
Curse pronounced, Eden done.
All hopes lost but one.
A tiny seed, a fragile child
Would still the powers raging wild.
Woman’s labor works: a son.

“I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore… and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Genesis 22:17-18

Abraham hopes, Sarah dreams
Of children like stars, promised seed
To fill the earth with blessing.
Impotent man and barren woman
Despair and laugh, doubt but believe,
All hope on God resting.

…And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Matthew 2:15

Dream diverted, children overtaken;
Slaves in Egypt, feeling forsaken.
Was God’s promise done?
Endangered child, saved from the river;
Infant nation, through waters delivered.
“Out of Egypt I called my Son.”

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham…
whose mother was Tamar…
whose mother was Rahab,
whose mother was Ruth…
whose mother had been Uriah’s wife
Matthew 1:1-6

Prostitute’s offspring, immigrant’s line,
Seed passing through wombs of all shape and kind,
Overlooked, so small.
From David the youngest, least of these
Raised to power, father of kings,
Stems the greatest of all.

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”
Matthew 2:6

War-torn land, occupied country,
Backwater town, least among many,
Host to eternity.
Young woman’s womb, watery and tight,
Rough wooden trough, borrowed for the night.
Home for divinity.

Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
Psalm 22:9-11

Infant arms, helplessly bound
Newborn mouth, unable to sound
The gospel of the kingdom.
Vulnerable life, carried around
Vagabond child, hunted down.
The hope of the nations.

From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. …You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet.
Psalm 8:2-6

Power discarded, frailty embraced,
Position lowered, heaven’s throne replaced
With earth’s dust, un-glorified.
Despised by the great, praised by the weak,
Disarming dark powers with the turn of a cheek.
The seed fell and died.

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
Isaiah 11:6

But from the dust rising it grew
Mighty tree filling earth with something new:
A cure for all nations.
Children that lead, leaders that serve,
Eden restored, Heaven on earth:
A new creation.

…unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.
Matthew 18:2-5

So why look down on little things,
Small starts, tiny tasks, and the trouble they bring?
God became one of these.
Why chafe at roles that seem downgrading,
Snub a thirsty child, too busy earth saving?
He’s good company.

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering…
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Hebrews 2:10-11, 14-15

Humble obedience, being made low
Trains me like Him, helps me to know
My place in His story.
I bear the seed, through weakness give birth
To small deeds of mercy, new heavens and earth.
In this is victory.

Threatened by Glory

I am ashamed of myself.

Last night a young atheist sat at my dinner table, prodding me with questions about my life. I had no difficulty explaining the humanitarian work I was involved in for the many years we lived in South Asia. Mentoring illiterate women and training untouchables to become teachers is quite the fashionable thing to have done. But how could I explain to this highly intelligent, completely secular neuroscientist my personal, interactive relationship with God or, even harder still, His zeal for His glory among the nations?

I balked. Seeing my life through her eyes, it made no sense. Voices from God? You mean thoughts from your own subconscious which somehow bypassed your self-awareness filter. Purposefully going to developing countries to call people of other faiths to the worship of your God? I thought the West had gotten beyond such imperialistic arrogance. A God who commands the worship of all people everywhere? Whoa. You’ve got to be kidding. Who would even want to believe in that?

The invitation to faith implies a humiliation of reason.

This was one of those defining moments in which personal faith collides with public reality. What I easily accept and even stake my personal life on suddenly seemed silly and obnoxious when described in a humanistic, scholarly context. I was confronted with an unavoidable test of faith: did I believe in the reality of God’s current, imminent reign enough to publicly assert it?

Daniel was faced with a similar conundrum. Among his fellow Jews, his faith in God made sense. But at court among the most powerful and prestigious Babylonians, it must have seemed ridiculous. He was well-enough versed in the literature and philosophy of the land to know how ludicrous his stodgy, monotheistic convictions must sound, and he was certainly politically aware enough to recognize how threatening his claims of his God’s supreme power and glory would be. What subservient captive would have the chutzpah to tell his illustrious conqueror, “Respectfully sir, you are nothing compared to my God.”

Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. …
“This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
Daniel 4:19, 24-25

And yet that is exactly what Daniel did. When Nebuchadnezzar summoned him to interpret a disturbing dream, he was faced with a tough choice. Asserting what he knew to be true would be dangerous. How could he tell the king that his God was going to prove Himself the superior King, judging him for his arrogance and humiliating him until he gave glory to the God of his captives? That would be a bit like the ant threatening the boot, just before it went “crunch.”

But Daniel believed in the power of God more than he feared the power of the king. He was more convinced of the actuality of God’s invisible reign than he was of the reality of Nebuchadnezzar’s very obvious reign, so tangible that Daniel had experienced the subjugation of its lash and cuffs.

Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
Daniel 4:33-34

Daniel believed, so he spoke up despite how ridiculous it sounded. And God showed up and proved him right. The mighty king of Babylon down on all fours, eating grass and hanging out in his birthday suit. The glorious King of Heaven exalted to the highest throne, proving once again that He is worthy of all honor and devotion. Daniel’s faith had collided with human reality, and his faith had not backed down. Instead it had changed reality.

Faith changes sight.

Likewise, God’s Spirit emboldened me last night, nudging me forward to assert what I know to be true about Him. Thankfully my message was not one of judgment but of invitation.

He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.
Daniel 4:35-36

But the invitation to faith implies a humiliation of reason. The call to glorify God necessitates a subjugation of the glory of man, putting it in its proper place under His feet. And as I talked to my guest about the great Love of my life, I watched her face rise and fall in disbelief and amazement, disdain and desire. Such loss of personal autonomy. Such gain of joy and significance. She left misty-eyed and smiling, touched by my testimony of the ways God has given me greater glory with Him than I ever had apart from Him.

In the end, Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes were opened to the truest reality. I can only pray hers will be, too.