God Used Them
Based on a talk given at the
Crick Homegathering, October 2008
The writer to the Hebrews in chapter 11 refers to many people who were used by God. There were, for example, Moses' parents who hid him for three months after he was born - or Moses himself - or the prostitute Rahab, who welcomed the spies. Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets all get honorable mention. There were also those who "through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released…. the world was not worthy of them…. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect" Hebrews 11.23-40
In this article we explore some others who God used. For example, there is someone who led the singing of God's praises at a critical time in Israel's history; there are stories about prophets... a distinguished Judge... a member of the Royal Family, and a foreign immigrant. There's also a story about a very ordinary sort of person, just like you or me. There is a remarkably effective evangelist in the list, too. These were all women, and God used them all !
Do you remember who were Shiphrah and Puah? (Exodus 1) The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, "When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live." The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, "Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?" The midwives answered Pharaoh, "Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive." So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. God used those faithful and ingenious Jewish midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, and God can use you, too !
The account of the birth of Moses mentions the role of his older sister Miriam, and there is also another story about Miriam, whom the Bible describes as 'the prophetess' : (Exodus 15) When Pharaoh's horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang to them: "Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea."
Now, I have this clear mental picture of Miriam, with her tambourine. In my mind's eye, I see her as a beautiful young maiden, leading a group of other beautiful young maidens, all wearing long flowing gowns and all equipped with tambourines, in a song of triumph and a stately dance ‑ I'm afraid the pictures in those old Children's Bibles have a lot to answer for ! But let's just think this through for a moment. What do we actually know about Miriam?
When the baby Moses was concealed among the reeds on the bank of the Nile, (Exodus 2) his sister, (Miriam) stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Then Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. "This is one of the Hebrew babies," she said. Then Miriam asked Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?" There is a Jewish tradition that Miriam was twelve when Moses was born, and according to Exodus 7.7 (NIV) "Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh". This implies that when she led the singing and dancing, Miriam would have been about 92 !! Well, whatever age you are, it's not too late to be dancing around, singing and praising God and encouraging the rest of us ! God can still use 90-year-olds, and he often does
Miriam was evidently the leader and teacher of a whole group of women ‑ women probably quite a lot younger than herself . Paul has much to say about older men (and I don't just mean 'elders') ‑ older men and older women, and their important role in the Church. Here's an example : (Titus 2 "You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no-one will malign the word of God." So, the older women should teach, encourage and give a good example to the younger women. That's really good advice, since we men don't really understand women at all !
The prophet Micah describes Miriam as 'a leader' ‑ a leader appointed by God. A co-leader, in fact, along with her younger siblings Aaron and Moses: (Micah 6) "I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. A word of caution, though: in God's economy, older siblings don't necessarily take precedence over their younger siblings. Indeed, in scripture, more often than not, it was the youngest son whom God would choose for some special rôle ‑ it all depends how He distributes his gifts.
In Numbers ch.12, we read that Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, and that, as a result, Miriam was struck down temporarily with leprosy. Miriam and Aaron certainly got it wrong on that occasion; but, hopefully, old age does bring with it a certain measure of wisdom and maturity! We must be extra careful, though, that, as we get older, we don't get critical or crotchety.
God used Miriam the prophetess to sing His praises and to speak out for him, and he can use you and me in those ways, too !
Let's turn to the New Testament now, and take a look at another elderly prophetess ‑ Anna. She arrived on the scene in the Jerusalem Temple just as old Simeon was giving his wonderful blessing to the infant Jesus ('Nunc dimittis') :
(Luke 2) There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
I said that Anna 'arrived on the scene in the Temple', but the truth is, as Luke makes abundantly clear, 'she never left the temple, but worshipped there night and day, fasting and praying.' I imagine that ‑ like that later widow, with her 'mite' ‑ no-one was really giving a passing thought to this elderly widow; she was always around in the Temple area, and perhaps it's almost as if she'd become 'invisible'. But when God's moment came, Anna emerged from the shadows, and God gave her an important prophetic word to speak for him.
If Miriam was a worship-leader and a teacher of the younger women, then Anna's special ministry was private prayer and total devotion to God ‑ total availability, in fact. God used Anna to speak for Him, and He can use you and me to speak for Him, too ‑ whatever age we are !
Back in the Old Testament, consider another prophetess ‑ Huldah ‑ who lived and prophesied in the time of King Josiah. Young Josiah was painfully aware just how far Judah had departed from God's word; he gave orders that the Temple should be cleansed, and that the worship of God should be reformed ('re-formed') and renewed: (2 Chron. 34). "While they were bringing out the money that had been taken into the temple of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord that had been given through Moses. Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, "I have found the Book of the Law." Shaphan took the book to the king and reported to him: "Hilkiah the priest has given me a book." And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders: "Go and enquire of the Lord for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord's anger that is poured out on us because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book."
Hilkiah went to speak to the prophetess Huldah. She lived in Jerusalem, in the Second District. She said, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 'This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people ‑ all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence of the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all that their hands have made, my anger will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.'
Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the Lord, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. Now I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here.' " So they took her answer back to the king.
Now, in fact, two important prophets ‑ Jeremiah and Zephaniah ‑ were both living in Jerusalem at that time, but, interestingly, the king's advisers prayerfully felt led to consult the respected prophetess Huldah in this matter, sensing that she would have the ear of God.
Huldah's resulting message probably wasn't what the Jews wanted to hear, but it was exactly what God told her to say, including a word of merciful approval for the young and repentant King Josiah. Sometimes, we too may have to speak out, in certain circumstances, but we must always be sure that what we say reflects God's view, as expressed through the Bible, and not our own views. God used Huldah the prophetess to speak out for Him, and He can use you and me in that way, too.
To be continued