Huldah: Prophet, Truth-Teller, 1st Authorizer of Scripture
Don’t know about you, but I’m tired of women being passed over, especially those who stand up and tell the truth, whether it be at the workplace, in our communities, or at home. And there’s many women in the Bible who have been overlooked—among them, Huldah, the prophet.
That’s right. Huldah, the prophet (2 Kings 22:14-20 and 2 Chronicles 2 34:22-33). She didn’t have to tell the truth. She could have lied, waffled, or averted her eyes. She could have acted dumb. But she did none of those. She doubled down. She said what she believed to be true. She spoke with authority—God’s authority. And because she did, Israel could see the right, albeit difficult, path ahead.
By the time that Huldah speaks (around 630 BC), the northern part of the once-united Davidic kingdom had been destroyed for almost 100 years (the north fell in 722 BC). The southern part of the kingdom, Judah, is still standing. Josiah, its king, crowned at age eight, is seen as a noble, God-fearing king, unlike his father and grandfather.
Despite the dysfunctional leadership of previous family members, Josiah sets about to restore the temple in Jerusalem, and insists that his people follow God’s laws, as set forth by Moses. And on one fateful day, when the king’s advisors go to the temple to make sure the carpenters, builders and masons are being paid, they are handed a mysterious “scroll of instruction” that has been unearthed during construction.
Upon reading the scroll, King Josiah sinks into deep grief (2 Kings 22:11), saying: “God must be furious with us!” And then he orders his priests and royal officers to take it and “ask the Lord what it means.”
The next line in the Bible reads:“So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asiaah went to the prophetess Huldah.”
As Jann Aldredge-Clanton points out in the new Common English Women’s Bible, the prophet Jeremiah had been prophesying for five years by this time this event took place. Yet here Huldah is seen as the most reliable prophet in Israel, the one that will determine the scroll’s authenticity and therefore, its implications.
Within a short time, she pronounces it to be God’s word, confirming King Josiah’s fears: that Israel had not followed God’s law and will be destroyed. Moreover, it will be God doing the destroying.
Did her words, or rather the Lord’s words, come true? For the most part, yes. Judah was invaded and conquered by Babylonia about thirty-five years later, in 587/586 BC; its people fled, and Josiah died fighting the Egyptians in 640 BC. A small blessing for Josiah: he did not witness first-hand the destruction of Jerusalem.
A key dynamic here, according to biblical scholar Jann Aldredge-Clanton: Huldah’s validation of the scroll marks the beginning of the biblical canon. Guided by divine wisdom, Huldah affirmed that the scroll—most likely an early form of the Book of Deuteronomy—was God’s word, thus authorizing “the first document that would become the core of scripture for Judaism and Christianity.”
And that’s a big deal. A prophet who is a woman authorizes the beginning of the biblical canon. Go, Huldah!
Stark as Huldah’s message may be, she is a truth-teller, relaying God’s message clearly and without regret. By speaking God’s word, Huldah helped renew the spiritual life of Israel and helped lay the groundwork for sacred treasury that we know as the Bible.
St. Paul once said, “If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). We get the sense that Huldah would have understood these words well. Woe to us if we do not share what God has told us, for it is both an obligation and an honor.
What does Huldah say to us today? Perhaps this: Do not hold back what you know to be true in your heart. Stand up and speak out, even when those around you might be uncomfortable. Don’t stay in the shadows of religious, political or social structures. With God as both your anchor and sail, speak the truth.
*From the Common English Women’s Bible, page 480.