Miriam, Deborah, Anna, Huldah, Isaiah’s wife and Philip’s four daughters. Few women have caused more controversy and confusion regarding women’s roles in the church than these nine. What was the big deal about them?…..Well, they were prophetesses. Some call them preachers, some might call them leaders of Israel, and some call them feminine visionaries from the Lord but what were they really? Does their example in the Bible allow for women to hold positions of leadership in the Church? Do their voices allow for women to preach and teach the body of Christ?
These wonderful, powerful women were absolutely used by the Lord to carry out His will and they’re a great example by giving us a picture of how the Lord can use us for the Kingdom!
To better understand their example, we must first understand what they were doing. What does it mean to be a prophet, in the first place? It simply means you’re a mouthpiece for God’s Words, a messenger of words. Prophesying, it isn’t “predicting the future” or “proclaiming a word from the Lord,” nor “powerful preaching,” but rather as “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.” (Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, pg. 1050) True prophets speak only the words the Lord puts in their mouths, nothing more, nothing less.
So what do the prophetesses in Scripture teach us about women’s roles? What example did they give that can help us know the ways we, as women, can serve the Lord?
Miriam (Ex. 15)
Miriam was Moses’s and Aaron’s sister and the one who bravely helped save her little brother, Moses, from death. She was also identified as the leader of the women of Israel while Moses was the leader of the men and Israel as a whole. Her words as a prophetess are not ever recorded but her song of praise to the Lord, with which she led the women of Israel to worship, is included.
Deborah (Jdgs. 4-5)
Deborah was a civil judge for Israel and also a prophetess. Gabrielle wrote a great article explaining Deborah’s roles here. Her job was as a messenger from the Lord to Barak to tell him to raise up and be the spiritual and military leader of Israel. Deborah was an obedient woman and the Lord used her to speak His words to Barak. She even foretold that God would hand over their enemy into the hands of a woman, Jael, which was fulfilled in Judges 5. Like Miriam, the Holy Spirit prompted Deborah to speak His words in praise and adoration to the Lord which is now a beautiful, prophetic song in Scripture.
Huldah is briefly listed as a prophetess to whom men came, on behalf of King Josiah, to hear a word from the Lord. They wanted to know what God had to say about the Scriptures, not what she had to say. As a prophetess her sole job was to be a mouthpiece for the words of the Lord. She didn’t teach them, lead them, or give them any words of her own. She only repeated the exact words of the Lord to men who sought to hear from the Lord. She even repeats “Thus says the Lord” so that it’s clear it was the Lord who’s speaking to them, not Huldah herself. God can use women to speak His direct words to men and give them advice but that does not mean that Huldah’s example displays that she taught the men or led them in any way.
Anna (Lk. 2:25-37)
Anna devoted her life to serving as a prophetess at the temple, but unfortunately we don’t know what words the Lord gave to her to speak because they weren’t recorded. However, the Lord evidently used her to speak His words to the people and her whole life was committed to fasting and praying to her God. Anna is a great example of woman of prayer and perseverance to the Lord.
Not much is said about these five women. All we know is they were identified as prophetesses but the words God gave them to speak weren’t recorded. The verses don’t indicate any type of leadership but do confirm what the Bible says about women being able to be messengers of God’s words. They show that women can be His servants used to praise, encourage, and build up the body of Christ.
But what do these women say about a woman’s role in the Church? Do they prove that women can be pastors, teachers, and leaders within the Church?
While these women are great examples of faith and service to the Lord and people of God, they don’t prove that women can lead and teach the Church. Prophesying and teaching/preaching are often confused with one another but they are actually quite different.
Teaching is the use of your own words to explain or apply Scripture (2 Thess. 2:15). This spiritual gift is also included in the list of requirements for male elders and overseers which is one of the indicators of leadership over the Church (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9). These men had to be able to teach their churches in order to lead them.
But while men were told to have the gift of teaching in order to lead the Church, women were told they couldn’t teach or have authority over the Church body (1 Tim. 2:12). However, women could, should, and can teach and lead women as we saw with Miriam’s example (Titus 2).
While teaching indicates leading, prophesy is seen as a service to the Lord and the Church, not a quality of leadership. One of the purposes of prophesying was for upbuilding, encouragement, and exhortation of the Church (1 Cor. 14:3) but most importantly, praising the Lord. Prophesying wasn’t just a man’s job either: Paul encouraged all the Corinthians to prophesy and even included it in the spiritual gifts list for ALL believers (1 Cor. 14:5). It was encouraged because all believers, both men and women, should seek to serve and edify the Church body and exalt God’s holy name ( Acts. 2:17-18; 1 Cor. 14:1; 1 Cor. 14:39)!
Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, and the other prophetesses are great reminders to both men and women that women can be used as mouthpieces for the Lord’s words. They are examples of strength, faith, wisdom, humility, and servitude to the Lord. These women didn’t attain to any positions of leadership, nor did God give them positions of leadership, but they were used mightily by the Lord while still staying within the bounds of Scripture. They offered themselves as humble tools for the Lord’s glory and praise and left lasting spiritual legacy for women ever since!
How can the Lord use you this week to uplift and encourage the Church? How can you be a mouthpiece of praise to the Lord?