The context of this article is 2 Kings 22:11-20 and 2 Chronicles 34:22-32. The background is a time in the history of the people of God that was characterised by Baal worship, idolatry, religious prostitution and even human sacrifice. Hardly any wonder then that the godly King Josiah had embarked on a reformation and was clearing the House of the Lord and repairing the building. During the renovations ‘The Book of the Law’ was found and upon hearing it read aloud Josiah came face to face with the depth of the sin of his people. He also realised the urgency of their plight – judgment would come.
As an aside we can wonder about the place of the public reading of the Scriptures today and how much attention is taken to prepare for this by those who might be asked to read aloud in church? Often this can be given to newcomers in order to include them and make them feel at home in church, rather than choosing those who can study and understand the passage and thus read audibly with the correct nuance of voice and tone.
Now Josiah needed to take godly counsel, and enquire of the Lord. He sent a priest and his companions to seek the counsel of Huldah, a prophetess. What inference are we to make about the fact that the Word of the Lord comes through a woman? Is this a feminist point, as many would say, or is it a reflection of the godliness, or lack of it in those times, that no men were serving in that way? We can make an argument from silence and entertain all manner of conjecture, but the Bible doesn’t reveal the answer. Huldah was not the only prophetess in Old Testament days, but they were few and far between, so we shouldn’t draw a normative conclusion. None of them were writing prophets and none of them were priests.
Huldah has the courage to speak God’s message into the situation – judgement and disaster was indeed ahead, but out of his mercy God would spare Josiah from witnessing the cataclysm to come.
Huldah herself hadn’t succumbed to syncretistic worship. She loved and feared God. She was unafraid to speak God’s truth to her King and to her nation. How we can learn from her courage and confidence in the Word of God! In this age of ‘tolerance’ it is all too easy to soft-soap the Bible’s message, to speak of love and mercy, but remain silent about sin, justice and judgement. Without reference to the latter, the former makes no sense! But the message Huldah conveyed was a warning as well as a judgement and we should read it today in that way.
Despite the acts of religious reparation that Josiah initiated (2 Kings 23), God did not withhold his judgement. Josiah died and during the reigns of two of his successors judgement arrived in the form of the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Eventually Jerusalem fell and Judah went into captivity – the exile had begun.
An unpopular message
We don’t hear of Huldah any more. The only mercy in her message was towards Josiah. How unpopular she must have been, though of course it was God’s Word and not her own that she was speaking. Christianity is seen as largely irrelevant today – how prepared are we to be unpopular too in speaking God’s Word to our generation?
Josiah responded in humility and repentance, which is why God spared him judgement and we must never forget that that is the wider scope of the message. But we can’t depend on the godliness of a former generation. It was just 35 years after Josiah’s reforms that the Babylonians appeared on the scene. We can’t depend upon the legacy of the 1904 revival. Many of the churches that opened to cope with church growth now lie mouldering or have been turned into furniture shops. We need to seek God for our generation. Yes we should still call upon him to act in mercy again but in the meantime we have to be his ‘plodders’ and have the courage of Huldah to share God’s Word, even when it is unpalatable. There is a time to go against the grain.
All was not lost. Isaiah had already prophesied that a shoot would come from the stump of Jesse (Isaiah 11) and glory would come once again. After judgement comes mercy and hope in the person of Christ.