Women Prophets in the Bible
Six women in scripture are expressly stated as possessing the title of prophetess: five under the old covenant and one, Anna, is mentioned in the gospels. In addition, Philip is mentioned in Acts as having four daughters who prophesied which brings the number of prophetesses to ten. Conversely, a woman in the book of Revelations calls herself a prophetess but she is considered false.
On occasion, other women in scripture also prophesied, but were not expressly described as prophesying. These women include: Rachel (Gen. 30:24), Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1-10), Abigail (1 Samuel 25:29-31), Elisabeth (Luke 1:41-45), and Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46-55).
A prophetess is simply a female prophet. Just like a prophet, a prophetess is a person called by God. A prophet (male or female) is the mouthpiece for the one who sends him or her; the prophet speaks on behalf of the sender (Exodus 7:1-2). A prophet is considered a seer (1 Samuel 9:9), because God gives him or her the gift of foreknowledge. God reveals his secrets to prophets (Amos 3:7), and true prophesy is initiated by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 both rank prophets as second only to apostles.
Furthermore, predictions should be tested to see if they come to pass. Prophets who make all sorts of predictions, but they don't come to pass should be ignored (see Deut 18:20-22, Jer 28:9). Still, discernment is required because certain prophecies have stipulations of coming to pass that are contingent upon the recipient's response (see Jonah and the judgment upon Nineveh).
Marital status is not a prerequisite to be considered a prophetess. Of the ten female prophets mentioned in scripture:
- Three were married (Deborah, Huldah, and obviously Isaiah's wife)
- One was a widow (Anna)
- Four were virgins at the time (Philip's daughters)
- And two do not even have their marital status mentioned (Miriam and Noadiah)
Even during times when women held low standing in the eyes of men, the Bible tells stories of women in God-given positions of power and influence. After all, it is just like God to choose what mankind considers as the "weak things of the world to put to shame the things which [mankind considers] are mighty" (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
God gave certain women divine approval and divine authority to speak to his people. Just as their male counterparts, many used their position for good but some for evil. Following is a descriptive overview of women prophets mentioned in the Bible.
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage; And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
Miriam was the older sister of Aaron and Moses. She is the sister described in Moses' adoption story. In an effort to control the Jewish slave population, Pharaoh had decreed that all Jewish baby boys were to be killed. Jochebed, the mother of Miriam and Moses, defiantly refused to allow her baby son to be murdered. She hid him as long as possible. When Jochebed could no longer hide Moses she put him in a little ark of bulrushes and laid it in the reeds by the rivers bank.
Miriam watched over her little brother in the reeds. One day the Pharaoh's very own daughter was bathing in the river when she happened to find baby Moses in the reeds. She was enchanted with the little baby boy. Miriam, seizing the opportunity, bravely approached Pharaoh's daughter and suggested someone that could nurse the baby. The nursemaid she had in mind was her mother. Because Miriam took the initiative, Moses was able to spend his formative years with his biological mother. Miriam and her mother saved Moses' life before he could ever save a single Israelite.
As an adult, Miriam is given the title of prophetess. She leads the women in publicly celebrating and worshiping God after the Israelites cross the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20-21).
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.
Besides being a prophetess, Deborah was a judge. As told in the book of Judges, Deborah is the fourth judge to lead the nation of Israel (Judges 4:1-5:31). The Hebrew word for judge is "shaphat " which means "to deliver" or "to rule".
As a judge of Israel, Deborah would have a wide range of responsibilities including: deciding controversies, giving verdicts, and executing judgments. In addition, an Israelite judge was tasked with delivering the people out of self-imposed bondage by being lead by God's spirit in military action. Of all the leaders of the book of Judges, Deborah is shown in the best light: she is sought for her decisions, she is honorably called "a mother in Israel", she boldly speaks forth God's commands, she honors God in a song of victory, and no scandals (compare to King David) or moral controversies (compare to Sampson) are mentioned about her.
Reading the book of Judges seems like perpetual déjà vu; it's like driving around the same neighborhood block over and over again. The pattern goes like this: first the Israelites forget all God's done for them and drop him like a bad habit, then they start worshiping other gods and living wickedly which inevitably gets them into bondage. After suffering miserably the Israelites remember the God they dumped and beg him to rescue them. God moves with compassion and raises up a Judge to deliver them.
The story of Deborah begins with the Israelites once again in bondage and beseeching God for deliverance. The people of Israel have suffered cruelly for twenty years under the oppression of Jabin king of Canaan and his military commander Sisera. Deborah summons Barak, an Israelite General, to go to war with 10,000 men against Sisera. Deborah says that God has promised them victory.
Barak, however, is reluctant to go to war against Sisera unless Deborah goes up with him. His reluctance could have been because General Sisera had 900 chariots of iron, a formidable military advantage for the times. Because of his lack of confidence in God, Deborah prophesies that victory will be obtained, however the glory will not go to Barak but to a woman instead. The great Sisera will be defeated by a woman! Naturally, we assume Deborah is referring to herself.
So, Deborah, Barak, and the Israelite army go up to Mount Tabor. Sisera gets wind of their plot and takes his massive army, along with the 900 chariots of iron, to the river valley of Kishon. Choosing the flat lands gives a clear advantage to Sisera and his iron chariots. However, Deborah is unfazed because her trust is in almighty God. Deborah tells Barak that God has gone out before them and to go down to the valley and utterly defeat Sisera. Just as Deborah prophesied, God miraculously gives complete victory to Barak and the Israelite army.
As a point of interest, Sisera wasn't killed in the battle by a man. Sisera was apparently a wily fellow because he escapes the battle and goes to hid out at the home of a supposed ally, Heber the Kenite. Heber wasn't home but his wife, Jael, allowed Sisera into their tent and hid him under a rug. When the infamous Sisera passed out from exhaustion, Jael snuck over and killed him by driving a tent peg through his skull. Thus the glory for the victory over Sisera did indeed go to a woman just as Deborah prophesied.
The godly leadership of Deborah brought the nation of Israel forty years of peace.
So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. (She dwelt in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter.) And they spoke with her.
Huldah is a prophetess mentioned in 2 Kings 22:14-20 and 2 Chronicles 34:22-28. She was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, during the reign of King Josiah.
2 Kings 22 begins with Josiah, at the tender age of eight years, becoming King of Judah. Josiah was a righteous ruler following in the foot steps of a long lineup of wicked kings. Under the leadership of his godless ancestors, Judah had descended into idolatry and forgotten God. Josiah was attempting to rehabilitate the nation's standing with God. A major aspect of his reform was the repairing of the temple of the LORD. During these renovations of the temple, Hilkiah the high priest makes an amazing discovery by finding the Book of the Law. Astonishingly, Judah had abandoned God to the point of being completely ignorant of the Law!
The book of the Law reveals that covenant curses will fall down on the nation because of its many years of evil and rebellion against God. When the book is sent to the king and the contents read to him, he rips his robe in anguish and weeps. King Josiah commands five of his top leaders to go and inquire of the LORD, and see if judgment is indeed going to fall.
So the five officials, including the High Priest, go and seek out the counsel of the Prophetess Huldah. Huldah authenticates the book and presents a grim prognosis. She doesn't sugarcoat her response but plainly and truthfully presents God's verdict.
As is necessary for prophets (see 2 Kings 5:10-12 for the story of Elisha and the rich and powerful general Naaman), Huldah is not moved by big titles or intimidated by the power of men. This attitude is affirmed by the way she responds confidently and with authority to the high ranking government officials. She refers to the king as just any other man by saying in an unceremonious manner to "Tell the man who sent you to me".
Huldah continues by prophesying that divine judgment will indeed fall on the nation of Judah. God, however, responds with mercy to the king. Because Josiah had shown humility and responsiveness to God, he will not see this horror in his lifetime. Judgment will not fall until after Josiah is dead and buried.
The conclusion to this story is found in 2 Chronicles 35:20-27. Judgment did indeed fall upon the nation of Judah just as Huldah prophesied, but King Josiah didn't die in peace.
Some that oppose women holding any role of prominence within the church believe this is some sort of "Ah-Ha moment". These agenda driven naysayer's use Deuteronomy 18:22 to impugn Huldah's status as a true prophet of God. They say that if Huldah was any sort of prophet worth her salt then her prophecy would have come true.
The problem with this perspective is with the underlying interpretation of Deuteronomy 18:22. The passage speaks of ignoring false prophets who say all manner of outlandish things but they never come to pass. However, this scripture alone is incomplete and a common sense comparison of scripture to scripture reveals that many prophecies clearly have conditions.
It is doubtful that anyone would argue that Jonah wasn't a true prophet of God, yet Jonah prophesied something that didn't come to pass. Jonah prophesied that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days, but it wasn't (see Jonah 3:4, Jonah 3:10). Did Jonah or worse yet, God, make a mistake? No, of course not! The king and people of Nineveh repented from their evil ways upon hearing Jonah's prophesy, so God suspended his judgment. The same can be said of King Hezekiah and Isaiah's prophecy over him (see Isaiah 38:1-5).
These examples illustrate an excellent point. Most prophecies of judgment are contingent upon our response. Huldah may have prophesied a judgment of mercy over young King Josiah, but the prophecy was still contingent upon his response. The few people that like to impugn Huldah's status as a true prophet of God, conveniently ignore the fact that King Josiah died in battle because he blatantly ignored the command of God to not go to war against Neco, king of Egypt (2 Chron 35:22 NLT) . If Josiah would have obeyed God and not leaned to his own understanding then he would have surely died in peace.
Nehemiah 6:14 NLT
Remember, O my God, all the evil things that Tobiah and Sanballat have done. And remember Noadiah the prophet and all the prophets like her who have tried to intimidate me.
Noadiah was a prophetess that Nehemiah didn't particularly like. Noadiah was trying in some unclear way to thwart Nehemiah. Just like numerous men in the Bible, Noadiah attempted to stop God's will for Israel. Noadiah is similar to Balaam the prophet who used his gifting for evil (Numbers 22-24).
The major prophet Isaiah considered his wife to be a prophetess.
And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz.
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;
Anna is a prophetess that bears witness to the redeemer. She is mentioned in Luke 2:36-38. She was very old and spent all her time worshiping God by fasting and praying at the temple. Upon seeing the baby Jesus she praised God; she joyfully told of the child to everyone in the community seeking deliverance for Jerusalem.
On the next day we who were Paul's companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
Of notable mention are the four daughters of Phillip. They are briefly mentioned as prophesying in the book of Acts. The Greek word used in Acts 21:9 for prophesying is prophēteuō. Prophēteuō means "to prophesy, to be a prophet, speak forth by divine inspirations, to predict".
The scripture is unclear on what exactly or how often these women prophesied. Perhaps their prophesying was used to edify, exhort, and comfort the church (1 Corinthians 14:3-4). Perhaps their prophesying was given for learning and for comfort (1 Corinthians 14:31). Or, perhaps these women foretold of future events (1 Peter 1:10). Whatever may be the case, Phillips four daughters had a prophetic ministry and prophesied by inspiration of the Spirit of God.
Ironically, the gift of prophesy operating on Phillip's daughters is the fulfillment of another prophesy. The prophet Joel foretold in Joel 2:28 that when the Holy Spirit would be poured out "your sons and daughters shall prophesy". Acts 2:17 reaffirms Joel's Old Testament prophesy.
"Now you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who are prophesying from their own inspiration. Prophesy against them and say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Woe to the women who sew magic bands on all wrists and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature to hunt down lives! Will you hunt down the lives of My people, but preserve the lives of others for yourselves?
. . . therefore, you women will no longer see false visions or practice divination, and I will deliver My people out of your hand. Thus you will know that I am the LORD."
Ezekiel chapter 13 deals with the denunciation of false prophets and prophetesses. These false prophetesses told deliberate lies. Even more, they subsequently profaned the name of God by pretending to have received the lies they told from him. These women encouraged the wicked and profane and discouraged honest and good people. These women practiced divination and where not true prophets of God.
Revelation 2:20 NKJV
"Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols."
This woman referred to as Jezebel, calls herself a prophetess, but that alone doesn't make her a prophetess. While addressing the corrupt church in Thyatira, Jesus mentions this woman as having an unacceptable influence on the church. Furthermore, Jesus is obviously not impressed with her claim to being a prophet; She is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Jezebel could be this woman's actual name or a nickname because her wicked
actions parallel Queen Jezebel's in 1 Kin 16 and 2 Kin 9. She teaches
and seduces God's servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things
sacrificed to idols. Jesus is displeased with the church of Thyatira because
they tolerate this Jezebel.