First we need to understand the importance of Huldah during her own time. We may not hear a lot about Huldah today, but during the reign of King Josiah, she was the “go-to guy”. Jeremiah was preaching during this exact point in time. So were Zephaniah, Nahum and possibly Habakkuk as well. These are names we are more familiar with, yet the King does not inquire of any of these male prophets. He also does not turn to his own male seer, Jeduthun (2 Chronicles 35.15). When Josiah sends “his men” to “inquire of the Yahweh”, they go straight to Huldah. Who are these men King Josiah sends?
- Hilkiah, the High Priest
- Ahikam, the son of Shaphan (his son becomes governor of Judea, 2 Kings 25.22)
- Abdon son of Micah
- Shaphan, the secretary (i.e. Secretary of State)
- Asaiah the king’s attendant
These men are the top leaders in the kingdom. They have the king’s ear. Hilkiah is the High Priest! Please notice that neither Josiah nor Hilkiah think the High Priest is the one who should speak Yahweh’s message concerning “this book”. Some claim that the priesthood is analogous to the preaching ministry today. I think not. We should also consider the textual importance of Huldah. Chronicles and Kings do not mention most prophets. Those that are mentioned, like Jeremiah, are usually mentioned in passing (2 Chronicles 35.25) in one or the other but not in both Chronicles and Kings. Very few (such as Isaiah) are mentioned in both. Huldah is not only mentioned, but she receives almost a page of text in each. Her introduction alone is more text than many kings get!
Most importantly, this Hebrew text is structured into a chiasm. A chiastic structure points to the main idea of a story by building up to it, then unwinding back out using parallel points. Here is the chiastic structure of the Huldah narrative:
A. Introduction (2 Chronicles 34.1-2)
B. Cultic Purification of Jerusalem and Judah (34.3-5)
C. Purification of the North (Northern Kingdom) (34.6-7)
D. Discovery of the book (34.8-18)
E. The Prophecy of Huldah (34.19-32)
D. Implementation of the book (34.29-32)
C. Purification of the North (34.33)
B. Celebration of the Passover (cultic observance) (35.1-19)
A. Formulaic Conclusion (35.20-36.1)
Huldah is the focus of the story. She is the theological and structural center. The structure stresses the authority of the prophetic word and what comes to be “scripture.” The spoken word of God (Huldah), along with the written word of God (the book of the law), dominate this passage.
What exactly did Huldah do? Huldah does three major things in this story. First, she authenticates/authorizes scripture. Please understand that this is the first time this has ever happened. We discussed earlier that Deborah was the first author of scripture and now Huldah is the first person to declare, with authority, that a writing is scripture (i.e. from Yahweh). This is what King Josiah is asking his advisor to find out. Is this book the real thing? He just got some really bad news (since the people had not been obeying the laws) and he wants to know if it is true. Huldah tells him it is and he believes her.
Second, Huldah interprets Scripture. She says that the people of Judah will be struck with disaster because they have forsaken Yahweh and instead worshiped idols. The book of the law does say this directly. Huldah is “preaching” the message of Yahweh as his mouthpiece (prophet).
Third, Huldah delivers a custom message from Yahweh. She tells the King that since he responded with humility and angst when he found out about the book, Yahweh will suspend his judgment until after Josiah’s rein.
Huldah’s authority is accepted by the King and High Priest of Judah, and then by all “the remnant.” Those that claim her authority was limited to a closed-door session are mistaken. The words of Yahweh as they came from Huldah had authority over all of Judah. Furthermore, there is never a hint that a woman acting in this authoritative role is unexpected or unwelcomed by the men in the story. Her womanhood is irrelevant to the authoritative role Yahweh gave her. Huldah, like Deborah, was married. This also did not affect her role as prophet of Yahweh.
Conclusion Yahweh used Huldah to lead His people back to Him. She was viewed as Yahweh’s spokesperson and the King’s men went directly to her to find out Yahweh’s will. She authenticated the book of the law, interpreted it in the present context and delivered a personal message from Yahweh to Josiah. The King and his advisers, including the High Priest, accepted her authority. Josiah went on to restore Judah based on Yahweh’s words though Huldah and through the book of the law she validated.