Archive for the ‘Prophetess’ Category

Limits on Patriarchy – Deborah and other Prophetesses

April 11, 2013

Apparently all but one of the judges that judged Israel were male. The one exception was Deborah. She provides us with an example of a limit on the patriarchy:

Judges 4:4-9
And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.
And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, “Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, ‘Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.'”
And Barak said unto her, “If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.”
And she said, “I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.

Notice that Deborah is described as having “judged” Israel. Moreover, she is also described as a “prophetess.”

We aren’t told much about how she judged Israel. From the context, it appears that she was a prophetess and thus people came to her to hear judgment from God.

Nevertheless, notice that her title is male-defined. She’s not simply “Deborah,” but “Deborah … the wife of Lapidoth.”

Moreover, while she gives orders to Barak (from God), when Barak insists on having her come with him to the battle, God punishes Barak by giving the glory of killing Sisera to a woman.

Deborah is not the only prophetess in Scripture. The prophet Joel prophesied:

Joel 2:32
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.

The Apostle Peter applies these to the extraordinary gifts first given at Pentecost:

Acts 2:14-21
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: for these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; “and it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and 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: and I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The only recorded instances of this fulfillment were the daughters of Philip:

Acts 21:8-9
And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.

There were also a few other pre-Pentecost prophetesses:

1. Anna

Luke 2:36
And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;

2. Isaiah’s Wife

Isaiah 8:3
And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the Lord to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz.

3. Huldah

2 Kings 22:14
So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college;) and they communed with her.
2 Chronicles 34:22
And Hilkiah, and they that the king had appointed, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college:) and they spake to her to that effect.

4. Miriam

Exodus 15:20
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.

You will notice that Huldah is “the wife of Shallum,” Isaiah’s wife is his wife, and Miriam is the sister of Aaron and Moses.  The only woman among them who is not defined in large measure by her male relations is Anna, who was a widow.  Widowhood was one way for a woman in a patriarchy to have a measure of autonomy. It is a sad an unnatural thing, of course, but it did happen.

As well as two false prophetesses:

1. Jezebel

Revelation 2:20
Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.

2. Noadiah

Nehemiah 6:14
My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.

It may simply be coincidence, but it is interesting that neither Revelation’s Jezebel, nor Noahdiah is described in terms of her male relationships.  

To the list of prophetesses, we might also consider adding Elizabeth and Mary.  After all, recall:

Luke 1:41-55
And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

We also may consider adding the author of the Song of Solomon, if that work is written to him, rather than by him.   Recall that the book begins:

Song of Solomon 1:1-2
The song of songs, which is Solomon’s. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.

That sounds like a woman speaking to Solomon, rather than Solomon himself speaking.

Finally, to the list above, we may add the “wise woman,” mentioned here:

2 Samuel 20:16
Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee.

We may also add the young lady who had the spirit of divination, though she would seem to be a false prophetess who happened to speak the truth:

Acts 16:16-18
And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.

In any event, these cases of prophetesses are an exception rather than a rule, and generally even they are under the headship of their husband, betrothed, or father in the patriarchy (the exception being a widow).  Deborah seems to be the one with the most power, since she is identified as a judge, but even in that case it is clear that she was not supposed to be a military leader, like the male judges.

In short, Deborah and the other prophetesses help to emphasize the fact that prophecy is a gift from God given to humans (not simply to males).  It provides a limitation on the patriarchy, in that it shows that God can dispense his gifts to whomever he pleases, not only to males but also to females.


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