The Old Testament Woman
I would now like to begin to look at some of the women mentioned in Scripture who functioned in a variety of ways as led by God. First of all, we will look at some of the Old Testament women before moving on to some women in the New Testament.
The Old Testament Woman Miriam
The first woman we will look at is Miriam, whose song we read just a little while ago.
We first read of her in Exodus 2:1-10
Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him, and coated it with tar and pit. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Then Pharaoh ’s daughter went to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies”, she said. Then his sister asked Pharaoh ’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” “Yes, you go,” she answered. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh ’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
The background to this story is as follows: The Israelites were living in Egypt and increasing in number so at the time of Moses’ birth the Pharaoh had ordered that all baby boys of Jewish descent had to be thrown into the Nile while baby girls could live. Though Moses’ parents were able to keep him hidden at home for three months, the day came when it was no longer safe to do so. The mother then had him placed in a basket in the river Nile and had his sister watch over him. The name of this young sister, who showed so much courage and initiative, is Miriam. She had another brother named Aaron. Scripture describes her as a Prophetess in Exodus 15:20. Though we have already read this verse, let us return to it:
“Then Miriam, the Prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing.
Furthermore, she was considered a Leader of Israel together with her brothers Moses and Aaron, as we can read in Micah 6:4
I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you and also Aaron and Miriam.
We have here then a woman called by God as a prophetess and as a leader of the nation of Israel. We may not exactly know what her responsibilities were as Co-Leader beside her brothers. However, it is very clear that the Lord had equipped her for this important position.
The Old Testament Woman Deborah
We will now look at Deborah, whose song we have already looked at and whose story can be found in Judges 4-5. We will read Judges 4:1-16
After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help. Deborah, a Prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel commands you, “Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops, to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” “Very well,” Deborah said, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about it, the honour will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kadesh, where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him. Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses ’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh. When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera gathered together his nine hundred iron chariots, and all the men with him from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River. Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down to Mount Tabor, followed by ten thousand men. At Barak’s advance the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot. But Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim. All the troops of Sisera fell by the sword; not a man was left….
Here we have another example of a woman who was called by God to a leading position, this time as judge of the nation. As such she could indeed be seen as “a Mother in Israel” called to lead the people back to God. At the same time she functioned as a Prophetess.Under her guidance the land had peace for forty years. As we read her story, it is very obvious that we are dealing with a woman who was very confident in her God and in her calling. The fact that she was a woman made no difference to her and to others around her, including her husband. She was clearly greatly respected and honoured for her God-given wisdom. Some people hold the view that she must have been God’s second choice since no suitable man was available at that time to lead the nation of Israel. That kind of thinking has no foundation in Scripture whatsoever.
Instead, God would have chosen her for this role long before it happened, as we can read in Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Though Deborah was not a New Testament believer, God would have prepared her good works in advance just like He has done for us.
The Old Testament Woman Hulda
Our final example is Hulda.
We can read of her in II Kings 22:11-20
When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes.
He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, son of Shaphan, Acbor, son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah, the king’s attendant, “Go and enquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this Book that has been found. Great is the Lord ’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this Book, they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”
Hilkiah, the priest, Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the Prophetess Hulda, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem in the Second District.
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 every thing written in the Book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods and provoked Me to anger by all the idols their hands have made, My anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.” Tell the king of Judah who sent you to enquire 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 accursed, and laid waste, and because you tore your robes, and wept in My presence, I have heard you declares the Lord.Therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.” So they took her answer back to the king.
Though Hulda seems to appear out of nowhere it is very obvious that she had, in fact, an established prophetic ministry, which was recognised by the king, the priest and other leading figures in the nation. And even though we never hear of her again, the message she brought had a powerful effect on the nation as a whole for it re-established God’s Covenant with the nation.
These examples show us then that God, even under the Old Covenant, called women to leadership functions in a number of ways. Therefore, it is very obvious that God never intended for women to be silent but that the silencing of women was, and is, a Tradition of Men.
Questions & Answers
1. Do we have examples of women in the Old Testament who were used by God?
Answer: Yes, we have examples of a number of women in the Old Testament who were used by God.
2. Can you give an example of a woman leader in the Book of Exodus?
Answer: In the Book of Exodus we have the story of Miriam, as we can read in Exodus 2:1-10
3. Can you describe Miriam’s functions?
Answer: Miriam was a prophetess according to Exodus 15:20 Then Miriam, the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her with tambourines and with dancing.
Moreover, Miriam was considered a leader, together with her brothers Moses and Aaron, as we can read in Micah 6:4 where God said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you and also Aaron and Miriam.
4. Can you give an example of a woman leader in the Book of Judges?
Answer: In the Book of Judges we have the story of Deborah in Judges 4 and 5.
5. Can you describe Deborah’s functions?
Answer: Deborah functioned as a prophetess and a leader, as we can read in Judges 4:4 Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. Under her leadership the country had forty years of peace.
6. Can you give an example of a woman leader in the Book of II Kings?
Answer: In the Book of II Kings we have the story of Hulda in II Kings 22:11-20.
7. Can you describe Hulda’s function?
Answer: Hulda was a prophetess, whose ministry was recognised by the king, the priest and other leaders in the nation of Israel. Let’s read I Kings 22:14 Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophetess Hulda, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the Second District.
Through her message, God’s Covenant with the nation was re-established.
8. From these examples would you say that God intended for women to be silent?
Answer: God, even under the Old Covenant, called women to leadership functions. Therefore, it is very obvious that the silencing of women was, and is, a Tradition of Men.
Note: Please read the Bible passages that are quoted.