Many of us tend to go to people we know will sympathise with our dilemma. Those who will probably tell us what we want to hear. Those who we know are on our side and will be nice to us.
Personally I am learning that they are not always the best people to ask advice from. That a sympathetic, ‘there, there’, is not what usually prompts people to change, or make good choices.
Having said that, to be the person giving hard advice is difficult. Why? because most of us want to liked. And people like ‘there, there’. They like ‘Jesus loves you, let your daddy in heaven give you a cuddle.’ But sometimes that’s not what needs saying. Sometimes people need to hear,
Personally I hate offending people. Is that just me? I didn’t think so.
READ 2 Chronicles 34 from 14-28
“The priest Hilkiah found the book of the Law. .. Shaphan then read it aloud to the king. When the king heard the word of the Law he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah…
“Go, inquire of the Lord for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that has been found; for the wrath of the Lord is poured out on us is great, because our ancestors did not keep the word of the Lord.”
So Hilkiah and those whom the king had sent went to the prophet Huldah, the wife of Shallum , son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; She resided in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter, where they consulted her. She declared to them,
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says the Lord: I will indeed bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants …because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, so they have provoked me to anger with all the works of their hands, my wrath will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched. But as to the king of Judah who sent you to enquire of the Lord , thus shall you say to him: Thus says the Lord…because your heart was penitent and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words…I have heard you, says the Lord. I will gather you to your ancestors and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place and its inhabitants.”
They took the message back to the king.”
Israel, the Northern Kingdom had fallen to the Assyrian Empire. The Southern Kingdom of Judah had a succession of kings who, ‘Shed very much innocent blood,’ abandoned God, served idols, and provoked His anger.
Josiah the eight-year-old monarch did better. He refurbished the temple, followed God and ten years into his reign the ‘Book of the Law’ was mysteriously found. Josiah’s response was extreme. Having heard the law (presumably for the first time direct from the text) he freaked out – realising how much trouble they are all in - and in his desperation he sends all the religious officials off to find someone to ask for God’s thoughts about it all - for some advice.
The priests go to an unusual choice - the wife of ‘the keeper of the wardrobe.’ A woman called Huldah who is known (by them at least) as a prophetess. The text doesn’t quibble about that – she is – and the prophecy she delivers, which comes true, confirms her status and her ability to hear God clearly. In fact she ended up with two of Jerusalem’s city gates named after her, but this is her only mention in the Bible.
Miriam and Deborah are the two most noticeable. But Huldah is different from them. Why? Well, they are both powerful leaders, involved in battle and war, dynamic, mighty women who lead the nation to celebrate great victories. They were some-bodies; everybody has heard of them! Huldah on the other hand, though not insignificant, isn’t a celebrated, powerful figure. She is married to a servant rather than a leader. She is defined as his wife (as opposed to Miriam whose husband isn’t named, and Deborah whose man only gets a brief nod in passing.) Huldah is much more ‘normal’ in that sense. She is a wife, a regular woman, but none the less a woman who hears God.
And the message God gives her – well, I wouldn’t fancy sharing that on the average Sunday in church! She pulls no punches. This is not a sweetly couched ‘girlie’ prophecy. It is every bit as hard hitting as Jeremiah, Isaiah or any of the male prophets!
“Thus says the Lord” – there’s no “I think the Lord might be saying but I could be wrong”. And, “Tell the man who sent you” – not “Tell the king” but “the man”.
Sure – it is God speaking through her, but she doesn’t try to make the prophecy of judgement more palatable in order not to offend. As they say in Yorkshire, ‘She calls a spade a spade’. She is absolutely confident as to what God is saying. She might only be the wife of the keeper of the wardrobe but she knows her God and his voice. The priests and king don’t doubt her either, in fact, come to think of it:
She must have a reputation, right? How do you get a reputation? You are faithful, honourable, trustworthy and reliable over a long period of time.
Hilkiah the priest knew to come to her in a crisis. Why? Because she had lived through the reign of three kings, she must have had a reputation for speaking for God and being loyal to him when the rest of society was abandoning him and putting their faith in other things.
Now that’s definitely something to aspire to. A reputation like that would be a great thing to have.
So, what do you think your reputation is for? Really, if you are honest? What do people know you for? At home; church; work; among your friends; among non-believers? Is it something you can be proud of? Do people know to come to you when faced with a crisis? If they do, is it godly advice that they get - or just platitudes?
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for tea and sympathy, of course there is. And obviously we are not all prophets, but God has given some of us a gift of prophecy, for ‘Up-building , encouragement and comfort of others.’ (1 Cor. 14.3)
Prophecy - speaking that is directed by the Holy Spirit - can be useful at lots of times. Think about Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4) – if that wasn’t Spirit inspired prophecy I don’t know what is! Or Peter sitting on the roof, waiting for dinner, getting his ‘sheet vision’.(Acts 10) Or Anna in the temple faced with the baby Jesus.(Acts 2.36)
God is waiting to speak to and through his people much more than we give him credit for.
A few years ago I was in a relationship that was complicated. We went to get some advice from our minister and his wife and spent a couple of hours discussing whether we had a future together or not. A couple of days later, still in a quandary I rang her and asked for her honest opinion on what she would do if she were me. Her response? ‘If I were you, I’d run for the hills!’
I didn’t. I should have. She was right. She told me the truth even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
We have become good friends. If I want someone to tell me the truth, whether it’s nice or not, she will. She’s not brutal or harsh, she’s kind with it, but it’s still truth because she cares about me. She is not a Deborah; She’s not a centre of attention type person; but she is a wise, godly woman. Not infallible, but definitely on God’s side of the fence and growing in wisdom. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I’d like to be known as; someone on God’s side of the fence, growing in wisdom and brave enough to speak the truth, kindly and appropriately.
So, Huldah, a woman who gained a reputation, a prophetess - available in an emergency and trusted by people doing their best to follow God in challenging times.A good example for us?
I think so.
© Ruth Perrin 2009. Last revised on 20 February 2009
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Cloud of Witnesses is a series of Bible studies on the men and women of scripture. You'll find everyone from Gideon and Andrew through to Tamar and Tabitha.
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Ruth Perrin, the author, is on staff at King's Church Durham and holds an MA in Theology and Ministry.
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