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Why Did King Josiah's Delegation Seek Counsel from Huldah Rather Than Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, or Habakkuk?

Why Did King Josiah's Delegation Seek Counsel from Huldah Rather Than Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, or Habakkuk?

By J. Jeffrey Williams
Special to Virtueonline
June 1, 2022

A heroine of those favoring women's ordination is Huldah the prophetess, who lived during the time of King Josiah. Josiah, one of a very small minority of the kings of Judah who were said to have been pleasing in the sight of the Lord, was shown a book of the Law of the Lord which had been found by Hilkiah the High Priest. When his secretary Shaphan read it to him, Josiah, not being previously aware of the Law, became very alarmed (to the point of rending his clothes), realizing that God had ample reason to be angry for their not having kept or promulgated his Law. Therefore, he ordered the High Priest, Shaphan, and other officials to "inquire of the LORD" (2 Kings 22:13) for guidance on what the nation ought to do. The High Priest's delegation sought advice from Huldah the prophetess, in order to "inquire of the Lord," in a time more or less contemporaneous with the prophets Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk.

There is no textual indication that King Josiah specifically ordered his delegation to inquire of Huldah; the text merely records him ordering them to inquire of "the LORD" (v. 13). Likewise, in the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 34:21, all that is recorded for us by the Scriptures regarding the king's command is "Go, inquire of the LORD for me." The decision to seek counsel of Huldah may have been that of the delegation led by the High Priest (in a time of great religious ignorance and declension), not a result of a specific command of the king. And while Huldah gave godly counsel, committed egalitarian scholar Andrew Bartlett may be reading too much into the text regarding this otherwise unknown prophetess when he says, "The fact that she is not summoned or brought to the king, but instead receives a delegation, shows the high esteem in which she is held."[ ] It may also simply indicate that she was aged and could not travel easily, and hence they went to her, since in those days travel for almost everybody was limited to on foot or on an animal. Or, getting a speedy reply, and not having to wait for a messenger to get to her first in a day of limited communications, may have been a consideration. In any event, even if "highly esteemed," there is no indication her role extended beyond giving godly counsel when asked, or that she arrogated a position of leadership to herself, or demanded or solicited a hearing.

Egalitarian scholar Linda Belleville says that the counsel given to the delegation by Huldah "inspired the well-known religious reforms of the seventh century BC and helped elevate all the true prophets to their rightful place..."[ ] As in the case of Bartlett's comment, this allegation, too, may be reading a good bit into the text. The Scriptures actually say that the words of Huldah basically confirmed what Josiah had already determined -- that, as written in the recently-discovered book of the Law, "great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us," [ ] adding that God, having seen his humility and repentance, would postpone judgment on the land until after his death.

Egalitarians point out that the High Priest and his entourage seeking out Huldah's counsel is particularly significant in that the prophets Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk were evidently functioning in the land and conceivably available for counsel.[ ] Whether the High Priest (or perhaps Josiah) ever considered that they might choose to seek counsel from one of the extant male prophets rather than Huldah is not stated, and thus, at best, this is an argument from silence. Huldah herself seemingly acknowledges this when she says, "the king of Judah...sent you to inquire of the LORD" (2 Chron. 34:26). But inasmuch as egalitarians frequently call attention to this possibility, a word must be said about Josiah's High Priest and other officials inquiring of Huldah for political guidance in spite of the fact that the prophets Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk may have been available (assuming the Lord had given any of them any word on this matter).

First, Jeremiah was called by the Lord to the office of a prophet while a youth 20 years of age (Jeremiah 1:6), in the 13th year of King Josiah (Jeremiah 1:2, 25:3). We know from biblical history that Josiah sent the delegation to seek counsel of the Lord in about 622 BC, in the 18th year of Josiah's reign 2 Chron. 34:8-22). Thus, Jeremiah would have been about 25 years of age, and very possibly not having yet become recognized as a major prophet by the people, although he specifically states that he began prophesying since his call at age 20 (Jer. 25:3). It is also quite possible that Hilkiah, the leader of the delegation, did not choose to seek counsel of Jeremiah since Jeremiah was his son: "Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests [emphasis mine], who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin" (Jer. 1:1). (Presumably, as of the time of Jeremiah's birth, Hilkiah had not yet become High Priest.)

Second, Zephaniah is placed by competent biblical historians as having flourished around 650 BC, so he may well have been quite aged by the time of Josiah's seeking counsel of the LORD in 622 BC. On the other hand, he prophesied God's judgment on Judah during Josiah's resulting reforms, but it does not specifically say whether he did this before, during, or after Josiah's initially seeking counsel of the LORD.

Third, most or all of Nahum's work as a prophet, judging from the book he wrote, dealt with prophesying about the coming fall of Nineveh, the capital of the brutal Assyrian Empire. It is conceivable that the delegation considered him a prophet concerned with other nations, not Judah; and since Nahum prophesied from about 650 to 612 bc, he was no doubt quite aged at the time of Josiah's revival. We have no warrant for assuming that he was present near the palace and available for counsel at that time, though on the other hand we have no warrant for assuming to the contrary.

Fourth, Habakkuk was active from 632 to 589, which places him chronologically in the window of availability, although the Scriptures tell us virtually nothing about the prophet, and there is absolutely no scriptural reference to anybody specifically seeking him for counsel; just the fact that he wrote the book of Habakkuk seems to be grounds for being considered as a prophet, not any known public period of leadership or prophesying.

While worth noting, information about the possible availability of these four male prophets is essentially irrelevant. First, the Scriptures give us no hint that the High Priest's delegation was approved or disapproved by God for not seeking them out. It may be that the delegation sought Huldah in error, and should have sought male prophets, assuming they were available; if this was indeed the case, God used godly Huldah anyway to deliver his message. Second, even if there was not any error in their seeking counsel from her in the first place, the fact that God could prophesy through a godly woman is far from a biblical confirmation of the validity of female pastors in the New Testament age. God prophesies through women in the New Testament age, but even in this clear setting of approval, they were never called upon to be priests or pastors.

Egalitarian luminary Craig Keener confuses being a useful channel of God's word with inherent independent authority when he claims that "Huldah exercises great authority to apply the Book of the Law to her generation..."[ ] One need not be possessed of a level of authoritative leadership which makes listening mandatory to deliver God's prophetic word when asked to do so. It is very questionable to infer, as do egalitarians, that the short (and indeed, only) passage about Huldah is indicative of her "great authority" such that she sets a precedent worthy of overturning two millennia of church doctrine and practice (not to mention exegetical considerations) about women in pastoral leadership.


1. Andrew Bartlett, Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts (London: Inter-varsity Press, 2019), 92.
2. Linda L. Belleville, "Women in Ministry: an Egalitarian Perspective," in Two Views on Women in Ministry (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology), Revised edition, eds. James R. Beck and Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2005), 52.
3. 2 Kings 22:11-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22.
4. Bartlett, Ibid.; Belleville, Ibid.
5. Craig S. Keener, "Women in Ministry: Anther Egalitarian Perspective," in Two Views on Women in Ministry (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology), Revised edition, eds. James R. Beck and Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2005), 210.

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