In my previous post on Huldah, I discussed the reasons Josiah sent a delegation to consult the prophetess Huldah about the authenticity of the book of the law found during the reparation of the temple.
What Josiah discovered when the book was read to him (2 Kings 22:10) was that the fierce anger of the Lord was coming against Judah because the people had rebelled against Yahweh and had not obeyed his commands. Josiah sent an embassy to enquire of the prophetess Huldah whether the message found in the book was authentic.
When the servants of Josiah came to Huldah, 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 on this place and on its inhabitants—all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. Because they have abandoned me and have made offerings to other gods, so that they have provoked me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. But as to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says the LORD. Therefore, 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 (2 Kings 22:15-20).
Huldah’s oracle is significant because she is the only woman prophet who proclaimed a message about future events. She begins her speech, like the other male prophets, claiming that her words were the words of God: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel.” This expression is the messenger formula that was used by the Old Testament prophets to introduce their oracles. As a prophet, Huldah saw herself as a messenger of God set apart to speak in God’s name.
The reason the prophets claimed to speak on behalf of God was that they had a deep conviction that they were called by God to speak God’s word to the people. The prophets received God’s word in many different ways. Some prophets received God’s word through visions and dreams. Others had an intense emotional experience in which they heard God speaking to them.
Although the text does not say how Huldah received her message, her oracle shows that she had an intimate relationship with God and knew that God had a purpose for his people and that he cared enough that he wanted to communicate his will through her. The way by which a prophet became aware of God’s presence or the way a prophet became aware of God’s word is not as important as the word the prophet received which was to be communicated to the people.
Huldah’s oracle mentions events that would happen in the future. Although many false prophets claimed to speak for God, Huldah spoke concerning what God was about to do to Judah because she knew the character of God, the nature of sin, and the rebellion of the people of Judah. She, as a prophet, proclaimed the judgment of God because of the wickedness of the people and because of their worship of false gods.
As a true prophet of God, Huldah told the king’s servants that the message of the book was indeed authentic and that God’s wrath was set against the people because they had abandoned God and not followed his laws.
Huldah proclaimed that Yahweh was going to bring his judgment upon the people of Judah because of their disobedience to his teachings and because they worshiped other gods. She also proclaimed that because Josiah had humbled himself before Yahweh that he would not see the terrible events that would come upon the nation.
According to Huldah, the judgment that God had in store for Judah could not be averted because of the wickedness of the people. Because of Josiah’s faithfulness, Huldah predicted that the judgment of Judah would not happen until after his death. She also predicted that Josiah would die in peace and be buried in the grave of his ancestors.
In her oracle, Huldah mentioned that Josiah would die in peace: “Therefore, 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.” However, Josiah died fighting against the army of Neco, king of Egypt.
In his attempt at stopping Egypt from helping Assyria in its struggle against Babylon, Josiah goes to Megiddo to fight Neco in order to stop him. During the battle Josiah was mortally wounded. His servants brought his body from Megiddo to Jerusalem in the king’s chariot. Josiah was buried in his own tomb as the people lamented his death (2 Kings 23:30).
The Chronicler, in trying to explain how Josiah, a good king who followed the Lord with all his heart, died at a young age, said that Josiah failed to obey the word of God in the mouth of Neco:
Neco sent envoys to him, saying, ‘What have I to do with you, king of Judah? I am not coming against you today, but against the house with which I am at war; and God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, so that he will not destroy you.’ But Josiah would not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but joined battle in the plain of Megiddo (2 Chronicles 35:21-22).
Josiah did not die according to Huldah’s prophecy, but this does not mean that Huldah was a false prophet. Huldah’s oracle that Josiah would die a peaceful death means that he would not see the manifestation of God’s anger against Judah in his lifetime.
However, what Josiah’s death shows is the beginning of the fulfillment of Huldah’s prophecy. Josiah’s death brought about the events that would culminate with the destruction of the temple and the exile of Judah.
As Baruch Halpern (1998:499) wrote, the death of Josiah was “not as a postponement of Yhwh’s punishment, but rather as its onset. Despite a loyalty to Yhwh comparable only to that demanded by Moses (with all his heart, soul and strained fabric of his being: 2 Kgs xxiii 25), the text takes Josiah’s killing as Yhwh’s affirmation of his intention to reject Jerusalem and the temple by means of exile (xxiii 26-7, 29-30). The consequences were the captivity of Jehoahaz (xxiii 33-4), invasions under Jehoiakim paving the way for an exile promised by Yhwh’s ‘servants, the prophets’ (2 Kgs xxiv 1-4), the deportation of Jehoiachin (xxiv 10-16), and the destruction of the temple and exile of the population under Zedekiah (xxiv 20, xxv 21, 26). Josiah’s death is the milestone marking the start of the road to exile.”
The impressive insight Huldah demonstrated in evaluating the message of the book found in the temple provided a powerful incentive for the religious reforms of Josiah.
Little else is known about Huldah. After giving her oracle to Josiah’s men, Huldah disappears from the pages of Scriptures. She proclaimed her oracle and nothing else is written about her. Her role in the story ends with these words, “They took the message back to the king” (2 Kings 22:20).
Although nothing else is said about Huldah, it is evident that her words had a profound impact on Josiah and provided a prophetical approval to the religious reforms that attempted to bring Judah back to the worship of Yahweh and the elimination of syncretistic elements in the religion of Israel.
My final post on the women prophets in the Old Testament will deal with the prophetess Noadiah.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Studies on Women Prophets:
Halpern, Baruch. “Why Manesseh is to Blame for the Babylonian Exile: The Evolution of a Biblical Tradition,” Vetus Testamentum 48 (1998): 473-514.