In a previous post, I wrote that I was finished writing on women prophets in the Old Testament. However, I have decided to write one more post on this subject since the response to these studies on the prophetesses has been very positive. At the end of this study I have included all the links to posts on this series.
In my studies on women prophets I have demonstrated that God calls men as well women to the prophetic ministry. The Old Testament mentions several women who were considered true prophets of God as well as a few women who were considered to be false prophetesses. Some of these false prophetesses are mentioned in the book of Ezekiel. I also studied the prophecy in the book of Joel where the prophet prophesied that in the last days both men and women, young and old, bond and free would be filled with the Spirit of God and would be endowed with the gift of prophecy.
The first woman prophet in the Old Testament was Miriam. Of Miriam, the Bible says:
“Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea’” (Exodus 15:20-21).
Miriam’s prophetic ministry was associated with music and dancing. In my study on Miriam, I wrote that the ministry of the Levitical musicians in the temple was associated with music. I also wrote that the daughters of Heman were musicians and were associated with their brothers in the music ministry of the temple (1 Chronicles 25:5-6).
The second woman to be called a prophet in the Old Testament was Deborah. Of Deborah, the Bible says:
“At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment” (Judges 4:4-5).
Deborah’s ministry came at a time when the people of Israel were being oppressed by Jabin, one of the kings of Canaan and by Sisera, commander of his army. Under the endowment of the Spirit of God, Deborah summoned Barak and led the army of Israel to fight against the oppressors. Because of Deborah’s leadership in battle, she was called “A Mother in Israel.”
The third woman to be called a prophetess was Isaiah’s wife. Little is written about her and her ministry. Isaiah mentioned his wife only once: “And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son” (Isaiah 8:3).
Since Isaiah calls his wife “the prophetess,” many scholars believe that she is called a prophetess because she was married to the prophet. However, in my study of Isaiah’s wife, I wrote that she was a prophet in her own right. This view is based on the fact that nowhere in the Old Testament is the wife of a prophet called “a prophetess.” My conclusion is that Isaiah’s wife was an integral part of the prophet’s ministry.
The fourth woman to be called a prophetess in the Old Testament was Huldah. Of Huldah, the Bible says:
“So the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to the prophetess 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” (2 Kings 22:14).
Huldah’s prophetic ministry occurred at a critical junction in the religious life of Judah. After many years of religious apostasy under Manasseh, his grandson Josiah embarked on a thorough religious reform of Judah. When the book of the Law was discovered in the temple, Josiah sent a delegation to consult Huldah. Although other male prophets were alive at that time, Huldah was chosen because of her influential ministry.
The fifth woman to be called a prophetess was Noadiah. Of Noadiah, the Bible says:
“Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid” (Nehemiah 6:14).
Noadiah opposed Nehemiah in his work in post-exilic Jerusalem. She was a fierce opponent of Nehemiah to the point that she intimidated him. It is for this reason that Noadiah is considered to be one of the false prophetesses in the Bible.
These five women are considered to be prophetesses in Israel. Several women prophets are mentioned in the book of Ezekiel. These women are discussed in more detail in my study of their ministry as narrated in the book of Ezekiel.
During the research for this series of studies, John Jarick’s article, “The Seven (?) Prophetesses of the Old Testament,” called my attention to the Rabbi’s views of the prophetesses in the Hebrew Bible. The Rabbis taught in Megillah (14a), one of the tractates of the Talmud, that there were seven prophetesses in Israel: “Our Rabbis taught: Forty-eight prophets and seven prophetesses prophesied to Israel. . . . ‘Seven prophetesses’. Who were these? – Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther.”
From this list, it can be seen that the Rabbis excluded Isaiah’s wife and Noadiah. And they included Sarah, Hannah, Abigail, and Esther.
Noadiah was excluded because she was probably considered to be a false prophetess. Isaiah’s wife was probably excluded because she was considered to be Isaiah’s wife or maybe because she is not mentioned by name.
Sarah, Hannah, Abigail, and Esther are never called prophetesses in the Hebrew Bible. Thus, the Rabbis had to explain the reasons they called these four women prophetesses.
Sarah is called a prophetess “because she discerned [sakethah] by means of the holy spirit, as it is said, In all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken to her voice. Another explanation is: because all gazed [sakin] at her beauty.”
Hannah is called a prophetess because “Hannah prayed and said, My heart exulteth in the Lord, my horn is exalted in the Lord. [She said], ‘my horn is exalted’, and not, ‘my cruse is exalted’, thus implying that the royalty of [the hour of] David and Solomon, who were anointed from a horn, would be prolonged, but the royalty of [the house of] Saul and Jehu, who were anointed with a cruse, would not be prolonged.”
The views about Abigail appear at the end of Megillah 14a and at the beginning of Megillah 14b. Abigail is declared to be a prophetess because she declared that David would be a great king in the near future. According to the Talmud, Abigail said to David: “your fame is not yet spread abroad in the world. . . . When she left him she said to him, and when the Lord shall have done good to my lord . . . then remember thy handmaid.”
Esther is called a prophetess because “it is written, Now it came to pass on the third day that Esther clothed herself in royalty. Surely it should say, ‘royal apparel’? What it shows is that the holy spirit clothed her. It is written here, ‘and she clothed.’”
The Rabbis were not limited in their view that the Holy Spirit could use a woman to prophesy. It is possible that many nameless women also prophesied in Israel. These female voices remain unheard and undiscovered for unknown reasons. And they may remain silenced forever because their society failed to recognize that they too were called and sent by a God who does not discriminate because of gender.
Women of the twenty-first century who aspire to serve the Lord must remember the words of the prophet Joel: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28). And when the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, Peter said: “this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel” (Act 2:16). This is the only affirmation that women today need: that the Holy Spirit has been poured on all flesh.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Jarick, John. “The Seven (?) Prophetesses of the Old Testament.” Lutheran Theological Journal 28 (1994): 116-121.
Studies on Women Prophets: