Monday, January 11, 2016
Yes, a woman can do that!
I can imagine that this week's study will probably eclipse many of our other studies, as far as the number of folks who read it . . . I'm hoping that we don't get into a firestorm or have any conflicts! This is all going to be Biblically based study this week -- and it is in preparation for some of our "women of the Bible" that we'll study this winter and spring.
Let's dive in!
For lo, these many years, there have been many discussions (perhaps some of them were in your community of believers) about the roles of women in the church. What they should do. What they should not do. How they should do. On and on, and round and round it goes. Some people say that women can do anything that men can do in the church (some get a little strident about it, too). Some say that women have roles in the church, but there are some things they should "leave to the men." And others seem to think that the women should not have much of a role at all.
Most of the folks in these discussions are sincerely wishing to follow God's plan for men and women. Some have categories in their minds that men and women should fit into -- you know, square pegs in square holes, round pegs in round, etc.
Who's right? Who's wrong? Is the truth somewhere in the middle?
Well, I think we can find answers in the Bible. So I'd like to ask everyone to sit back, take a deep breath, exhale and blow away all of our pre-conceived notions, and then study the Word with open minds.
Are you with me?
The first thing that a lot of folks will do, is to look at women in the pages of the Bible. One of those women (whom we will study next week) is Huldah. She's a great example for us to study in more depth. Why? Huldah is called "the prophetess" in the scripture. We will read the passage next week, but for now, let's just go with that. Now, we have loads of instances in the Word of God speaking through prophets, no? Yep. Nathan, Jeremiah, Elijah, and many more.
So what was the role of a prophetess? Huldah is only one of several who held this title . . . Way back in Exodus, we find that Miriam had that job title on her resume, too. Look at this:
And Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in
her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and
with dances. (Exodus 15:20)
Here's another example:
And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged
Israel at that time. (Judges 4:4)
Here's one that you might not be as familiar with -- Isaiah's wife was a prophetess:
And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a
son. (Isaiah 8:3)
Now let's hop over into the New Testament; it appears that prophetesses were common then, too. Remember our study of Anna? She was a prophetess who thanked God when the baby Jesus was brought into the temple, and she recognized that He was the Messiah. (Luke 2)
In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, Peter cites Joel's prophecy of when the Holy Spirit would be poured out, poured into human beings:
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men
shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; and on my
servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of
my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17)
Here is a fulfillment of that quoted prophecy of Joel in the Pentecost sermon:
He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. (Acts 21:9)
Phillip's four daughters -- we don't know a whole lot about them, but they were said to be prophetesses. Also in the New Testament, Paul encourages women to prophesy with proper adornment, that recognizes headship or authority:
But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered
dishonors her head; it is the same as having her head shaved.
(I Corinthians 11:5)
I didn't post that one in order to start down the rabbit trail of "was he talking about short hair, long hair, or head coverings" but to show that he was aware of (and seemed comfortable with) the fact that prophecy was common in the New Testament church, even among women.
That leads us to this point: we can't deny that women in the Old and the New Testament prophesied.
Now, before you get excited and think that I, Snoodles, am advocating that women should have all the leadership roles and rights of men, let's pause a moment. I am not. I know that there are some who feel that women should be pastors, teachers, elders, etc. They even use the examples that we are studying, to support their views. Perhaps you are wondering . . . should there be no role distinctions in the church, between male and female? Do they have a point?
I will try to tell you how I feel, and what I believe. I will also try to explain the verses that I believe support my convictions. I will not, however, try to bash anyone over the head, or get into a flaming email battle about this -- quite frankly, all I know is what the Spirit has showed me. I may not have it right yet, but I kinda think I'm on the right track. (Grin)
First, Huldah did not proclaim the word of God in public -- instead, the text that we will study next week says that she explained it privately, when King Josiah sent his messengers to her. So, she had a legitimate prophetic ministry, but she didn't obstruct or distract from the public prophets of the time -- you know who they were? Jeremiah and Zephaniah. No slouches here, just bona fide prophets used of God. They would have been considered the leaders of the prophetic community; leaders perhaps of the entire religious community, and she did not go out of her way to assert herself in their arena.
We don't know why Josiah sent his messengers to Huldah, instead of to either Jeremiah or to Zephaniah, but he did. Perhaps they were traveling; perhaps they were not available for some reason. At any rate, in God's plan, Josiah sent the officials to Huldah, and she prophesied in private.
Wondering about Miriam? Well, her ministry was to women; again, she followed that same principle that the men were the "head" or authority of the congregation, and her ministry (see that verse above, if you want to refresh your memory) was to the women that she led.
Hmmmm, how about Deborah? She was a judge -- that sounds pretty public and official, doesn't it? We can see that she prophesied in private as well. The men who prophesied had public ministries: they led an itinerant life, traveling around and proclaiming the Word of the Lord. Deborah, though, did not do that:
And Deborah dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between
Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim, and the children of Israel
came up to her for judgement. (Judges 4:5)
So they came to her. Even when she speaks to Barak, she calls him and speaks with him individually:
And 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
them up to Mount Tabor. (Judges 4:6)
Barak was freaking out about going into battle, so she rose and went with him to Kedesh; though the glory went to a woman that day instead of to Barak. (You remember Jael, right? We'll study her, too!)
It seems to me that with Huldah and with all the other prophetesses in the Old Testament, the ministry was a private one. They didn't walk about like the men and proclaim "Thus says the Lord."
It also seems to me that there is a difference here that may help us with this issue. Prophecy is different from teaching. Paul accepted that:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists,
the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service,
so that the body of Christ may be built up.... (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Prophecy is a spontaneous revelation. It's immediate. It's in the "right now."
Teaching is when we dig deep and learn from an already given and received revelation. If we look at the Old Testament, it was the priests who gave instruction in the temples and synagogues, regarding what was lawful, and what was according to the scriptures they knew. All of the priests were male, and they had that teaching role. So, in the Old Testament, prophecy and teaching were different gifts.
And though we see prophetesses in the Old Testament, we see them only rarely speaking for God to the nation -- instead their ministries were in support of male leadership, not in conflict with it.
We'll examine this issue more next time. I hope you will join me!