Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
July 8, 2018
2 Chronicles 34: 8, 14-32 (CEB)
8In the eighteenth year of his rule, after he had purified the land and the temple, Josiah sent Azaliah’s son Shaphan, Maaseiah the mayor of the city, and Joahaz’s son Joah the secretary to repair the LORD his God’s temple.
14While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the LORD’s temple, Hilkiah the priest found the Instruction scroll that the LORD had given through Moses. 15Hilkiah told the secretary Shaphan, “I have found the Instruction scroll in the LORD’s temple.”
Then Hilkiah turned the scroll over to Shaphan, 16who brought it to the king with this report: “Your servants are doing everything you’ve asked them to do. 17They have released the money that was found in the LORD’s temple and have handed it over to the supervisors and the workers.” 18Then the secretary Shaphan told the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a scroll,” and he read it out loud before the king.
19As soon as the king heard what the Instruction scroll said, he ripped his clothes. 20The king ordered Hilkiah, Shaphan’s son Ahikam, Micah’s son Abdon, the secretary Shaphan, and the royal officer Asaiah as follows: 21“Go and ask the LORD on my behalf, and on behalf of those who still remain in Israel and Judah, concerning the contents of this scroll that has been found. The LORD must be furious with us because our ancestors failed to obey the LORD’s word and do everything written in this scroll.”
22So Hilkiah and the royal officials went to the prophetess Huldah. She was married to Shallum, Tokhath’s son and Hasrah’s grandson, who was in charge of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem in the second district. When they spoke to her, 23she replied, “This is what the LORD, Israel’s God, says: Tell this to the man who sent you to me: 24This is what the LORD says: I am about to bring disaster on this place and its citizens—all the curses written in the scroll that they have read to Judah’s king. 25My anger burns against this place, never to be quenched, because they’ve deserted me and have burned incense to other gods, angering me by everything they have done. 26But also say this to the king of Judah, who sent you to question the LORD: This is what the LORD, Israel’s God, says about the message you’ve just heard: 27Because your heart was broken and you submitted before the LORD when you heard what he said against this place and its citizens, and because you ripped your clothes and cried before me, I have listened to you, declares the LORD. 28I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will go to your grave in peace. You won’t experience the disaster I am about to bring on this place and its citizens.”
When they reported Huldah’s words to the king, 29the king sent a message and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. 30Then the king went up to the LORD’s temple, together with all the people of Judah and all the citizens of Jerusalem, the priests and the Levites, and all the people, young and old alike. There the king read out loud all the words of the covenant scroll that had been found in the LORD’s temple. 31The king stood in his place and made a covenant with the LORD that he would follow the LORD by keeping his commandments, his instructions, and his regulations with all his heart and all his being, in order to fulfill the words of the covenant that were written in this scroll. 32Then he made everyone found in Jerusalem and Benjamin join in a similar promise. The citizens of Jerusalem lived according to the covenant made with God, the God of their ancestors.
Today, we begin a sermon series that, over the course of six weeks will explore in-depth the stories of many important female figures in Israelite history. I love this series because of the fact that God’s kingdom is always growing and changing in part because of the faithful actions of both men and women. But through history, the stories of the women and their roles in God’s kingdom were stifled because of patriarchal society. Yet God is a God of the unexpected, and the work of women who faithfully followed God proves that as much as anything else. We all know Eve as the first woman mentioned in the Bible, but we will get to Eve next week. I wanted to start this morning with perhaps one of the least known women of the Bible (when I told Ken this week that I would be preaching on Huldah his response was, “I don’t even know who that is.”) Huldah is not widely known, but she is SO important to Israel’s history. Huldah single-handedly inaugurated a great reform that pulled Israel from extensive idol worship and put God’s people back on track (at least for a time). But her work was also the beginning of a time when there was an emphasis on recording in writing the Scriptures and stories of the Israelites and the one true God. So in one sense, you could say that we have the Bible (or at least the Old Testament) today because of the work of Huldah. Her role was foundational for all the faithful who would follow. Because she pushed for the recording of the stories of faithful people and the God who loved them, we know God’s story and the story of God’s kingdom in the earliest known days.
In order to understand the story of Huldah, we have to understand the story of Israel at this point in their history. Huldah comes on the scene long after the “golden days” of King David’s reign and King Solomon after him. The twelve tribes have been divided into two different kingdoms; ten of the tribes are joined into what’s called the Kingdom of Israel in the north, and the other two tribes are called the Kingdom of Judah in the south. The Northern Kingdom had been conquered years before by the Assyrians, and the Southern Kingdom was suffering under poor leadership. King Manasseh had ruled for 55 years, the longest of any king in Judah’s history. And the Bible tells us, “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” King Manasseh’s son, Amon, followed right in his father’s footsteps. Amon was so evil, in fact, that his servants conspired to assassinate him only two years after Amon became King.
The immediate heir to the throne was an eight-year-old boy named Josiah. An eight-year-old on the throne seems a stretch, but in the ancient world this sort of thing didn’t cause any major issues. While a king’s power was certainly absolute, most of the day-by-day administration was in the hands of a variety of royal servants. The real question was how the young king would use his extensive power once he was old enough to figure out that he had it.
The good news is that, in Josiah’s case, it was a happy story. Here’s how the Bible puts it: “In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still a boy,” (at this point, a boy of sixteen) “[Josiah] began to seek the God of his ancestor David, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem” through a series of vigorous reforms. Josiah cleared away many of the pagan altars and practices that had come to dominate Judah’s worship. And eventually, he began “to repair the house of the Lord his God.” Overtime, the Temple had been filled with idols and pagan altars, and so Josiah decided to get things cleaned up. So the King sends in teams of workers. They begin the extensive clean up work, when suddenly, word comes from the priest Hilkiah that he has found the book of the law of the Lord given through Moses. Most likely, this is what we know as the book of Deuteronomy, or it might have been the entire Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). How they had managed to lose the book of the Law is another question entirely, but I think it just goes to show the extreme waywardness in the Kingdom of Judah at this time.
In any case, when the book was brought to King Josiah, he did what I think any of us would do with a great ancient book found buried like a treasure beneath years of discarded goods; he read it. And it wouldn’t have taken a genius to understand that the Israelites were living way off base. So as soon as Josiah finished reading the scroll, he tore his clothes in extreme distress. Josiah was so serious about following God that he realized how far short he and his nation were from living according to the will of God, and he was terribly upset.
Now Josiah had already been at work trying to reform his kingdom and get them back on track, but now he realized just how much more needed to be done. And it seems that King Josiah was not fully comfortable proceeding on his own without the advice of a spiritual “insider.” So he decides to call on a prophet who can give him the word of God and tell him what will happen to his kingdom because of their waywardness. At this time in Judah’s history, there were two prophets working in the land. One of those prophets was a man named Jeremiah. The other prophet was a woman named Huldah.
Josiah gives his servants instructions, they are to “Go and ask the LORD on my behalf, and on behalf of those who still remain in Israel and Judah, concerning the contents of this scroll that has been found.” So, the Bible tells us, Hilkiah and the royal officials went to the prophetess, Huldah. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Huldah at all; she was married to Shallum and lived in Jerusalem’s second district. But this was clearly a critical point in Israel’s history, and it’s worth noting that as the Kingdom of Judah was seeking a way forward in following God, they chose to go to Huldah (not Jeremiah) for advice. And that’s where I want to go to glean our message this morning.
We all know that, for the most part, women weren’t really called upon very often in the ancient world. They birthed and raised the children, fetched the water, cooked the meals, and kept the house clean. They weren’t found in the royal court or teaching in the synagogues; that was the man’s place, though tradition holds that Huldah ran a school. But there was, in fact, a male prophet available to King Josiah; he could have called upon Jeremiah. But Josiah and his royal servants didn’t choose Jeremiah, they chose Huldah. At this major turning point in Judah’s history, Huldah was the woman for the job.
That kind of thing only happens when we have a good reputation in our community, doesn’t it? So, I think we can fairly conclude that Huldah had a great reputation in Jerusalem, as both a person and a prophet. Now, it’s possible that Huldah was known to the King because her husband was the keeper of the King’s wardrobe. Nevertheless, she was the chosen prophet for this job. The Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us why Huldah was summoned by Josiah, but I think we can speculate. Because, here’s the thing, as Christians, we need to have that same sort of tremendous reputation in our communities. We are not bringing glory to God if we do not.
So what was it that made Huldah great? Perhaps most obviously, Huldah had a clear connection with God and people knew it. We don’t know how the people knew it; maybe it was because she had been warning the people in Jerusalem for years, or maybe it was something more subtle, like a certain glow in her appearance. We don’t know, but the people did. And if you have a strong connection with God, then it follows that you are a faithful person. So we can conclude that even as all the folks around her were following pagan ways and worshipping pagan gods, Huldah remained faithful to the one true God. She was not swayed by popular practice, nor by any promptings or urgings from neighbors or friends. And finally, I think it’s fair to say that Huldah was trustworthy. Kings and royal councils don’t approach just anyone for advice. So, for the leaders of the kingdom of Judah to call upon Huldah, and even further to seek her advice, they had to trust her. So Huldah was highly respected; she was connected to God, faithful, and trustworthy. She was just the prophet God’s people needed at that moment in their history. And they didn’t hesitate to call upon her.
We Christians have reputations as lots of different things, and most of them aren’t all that great. We are called judgmental and hypocritical. Some say we are insensitive and not accepting of others and their opinions. The direct result of such reputations is that we are not sought out when people are lost and in need. The indirect, and far worse, result of such a reputation is that people think poorly of God, too. But people who are lost and broken need to know God above all else, don’t they? And what Christ has told us is that the only way that will happen is through us; the people of Christ being Christ’s body at work in the world.
And that means we have to be more like Huldah. Certainly, we may never have the president of the United States calling us up for advice, but we have friends who need guidance, don’t we? Perhaps they need someone trustworthy to listen to them. Or maybe they need some solid guidance in the midst of extreme waywardness. We have to be those people; people with an unquestionable character, people who are not swayed by the ways of the world, but who remain true to God in all things. People who are faithful to God in all things and aren’t afraid to show it. People who are trustworthy to a fault. And people who show compassion to our neighbors above all else. If we aren’t the “go-to” folks, then who is? If we don’t share God with people, then who will?
For the most part, the world has forgotten Huldah. But Huldah was a great as any apostle, or any prophet, or any king, because Huldah showed us God. Let’s be like Huldah. Let’s live our lives so that others see God’s life in us and seek God because of us. That’s the greatest work any disciple of Christ could ever do, and it’s what we all should do!