by Pam Condie, OAM
I’m reasonably certain that all of us can share stories of other women who’ve influenced our life stories. They may have been teachers, youth/Girls’ Brigade leaders, our mothers or other family members. They could be people whom you’ve never met, but whose stories have inspired and encouraged you. Probably, for me, the most influential woman in my childhood – apart from my mother (“she who must be obeyed”) – was my Girls’ Brigade captain. She led me to faith in Jesus when I was 12 years old. I sincerely doubt she will ever realise how much influence she had in my life and the direction it has taken over the years.
Other women, whose stories have encouraged and inspired me, include Corrie ten Boom, Dr Catherine Hamlin, and Nancy Wake – just to name a few. These twentieth century women’s stories are truly amazing, encouraging and inspirational. All of them were incredibly brave and faced mountains that I doubt I could even contemplate climbing. Each one conquered her circumstances and history records their stories. But what about women who lived many thousands of years ago, women who lived in predominantly patriarchal cultures? I’d like to reflect on three such women, all from ancient Israel. They were women of significance; women of influence: Deborah, Huldah, and Sheerah.
Deborah (Judges 4-5)
I’m sure everyone knows Deborah’s story: a remarkable woman whom God raised up to lead his ancient people. Deborah is introduced as a prophet of the Lord, a judge (or civil leader) and then as a military leader. She was highly regarded and respected. The people came to her to have their disputes settled. God entrusted Deborah to speak forth his word to his people. This, of course, was the biblical prophet’s primary role – to speak out God’s word to his people. God spoke through Deborah, giving direction to Israel’s commanding general, Barak. But the general would not go into battle unless Deborah came with him! As promised, God gave Israel the military victory but, as Deborah had foretold, the honour of defeating the enemy general, Sisera, went to yet another woman–Jael.
This narrative tells the story of two strong women whose names have been recorded for eternity. Deborah is an outstanding example of leadership that has nothing to do with gender. God gave her the gifts for the role had called her to fulfil. She trusted the Lord and he honoured her leadership throughout her life.
Our second woman’s story is less dramatic than Deborah’s, but it highlights the significance of her standing and level of influence in the ancient kingdom of Judah.
Huldah 2 Kings 22:14-20
The background to this narrative is that the long neglected books of God’s Law had recently been found in the Temple and taken to the godly young King–Josiah. He called the High Priest, Hilkiah, to interpret their message. I believe we’d all agree that Hilkiah was the logical choice for the king to seek out when he needed help in understanding God’s law. Hilkiah would have been expected to answer the king’s questions about God’s written word. But he could not answer. He was stumped!
So, what did he do? Did he summon a meeting of his fellow priests and theologians to pour over the newly unearthed books of God’s law in an effort to discern and interpret the word of the Lord? No!!, Along with his four fellow Temple leaders, Hilkiah immediately went to consult the prophet Huldah–a woman!
Again, Huldah speaks on the Lord’s behalf, interpreting his word for the priests (and ultimately for the nation’s king). Her interpretation of God’s word is accepted and they faithfully take her teaching back to the king.
Here we have another clear example of a woman, anointed by God and gifted for spiritual leadership, teaching and interpreting God’s word for men. And the men concerned actively sought her out, accepted her teaching and obeyed. This brief narrative (7 verses) is worth more than a cursory glance. We should ask questions of the story as it unfolds. If women’s ministry leadership was not recognised, why did Hilkiah and company go straight to a female prophet? Surely there was at least one male prophet to whom they could have turned!! Further, these were Yahweh’s leading priests. Yet, they could not interpret the written word of the Lord for Judah’s national leader–their king. It is apparent, in this narrative, that gender played no role in those to whom God had given responsibility for the spiritual oversight of his people.
We can see that the ministry of both Deborah and Huldah had significant, life-changing impact upon the nation’s male leaders: spiritual military and civil. These men, all national leaders of God’s ancient people, sought out and accepted the spiritual advice and teaching from women whom God had called into leadership. As we saw, the nation’s leading general would not lead his army into battle unless Deborah went alongside him. My third woman, Sheerah, may seem even more obscure than Huldah. In fact she only merits one verse. But, if we take the time to unpack it, this woman also packed considerable punch!
Sheerah – 1 Chron 7:24
24 His [Ephraim’s] daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah.
Sheerah must have been one formidable lady! This daughter of Ephraim built three towns/cities: “Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah.” That’s all we know about her, but how many women do you know who have built one town, let alone three?
This is the only recorded example of a female city-builder in the Old Testament. Consequently, some commentators have tended to dismiss it. However many do not dispute it despite Sheerah, the town-builder, being identified as a female. What an inspiring example she is for all of us, regardless of our age.
Have you ever given any thought to the logistics involved in building a town? Did she employ town-planners, architects, skilled crafts people – builders from varying disciplines? Was she a qualified civil engineer? What experience did she have in town-planning and building? Did she hold discussions with local tribal leaders to determine the most strategic locations? So much must have had to be considered!!
Yes, Sheerah is credited with building these towns, but she didn’t do it alone. She was a leader of a team of people with a diversity of the necessary skills to achieve her vision and her goals. A woman whose achievements should inspire all of us.
These three ancient, historical women are inspirational examples of what can be achieved when we use the gifts God has given us to fulfill his purposes for our lives. I’m sure there are many other women whose stories have inspired you. Remember, if God has given you a gift, he expects you to use it for his glory. Ladies, if God is calling you to be a leader in your community, to teach his word–or even to build a city–don’t be afraid. If this is God’s calling on your life, he will give you the necessary gifts. Follow his calling wherever it leads you. You may be very surprised at the journey God has planned for you.
Pam’s been involved in Girls’ Brigade as company captain, State Training Co-ordinator, Girls’ Leadership Course Director, and State Commissioner. She was awarded a Medal in the Order of Australia in 1999 for service to youth leadership development in Queensland. She spent 14 years on the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) Australia Board including over 4 years as Board Chair and recently completed an 8 year term on the Board of Queensland Baptists. She currently serves as the President of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force Association (Qld). Pam holds both a Bachelor Degree and a Graduate Diploma of Theology and has recently completed a Doctor of Ministries. She will commence working as denominational archivist on 1 July 2020.
Pam is married to David. They have three adult children, two of whom are married and have blessed Pam and David with grandchildren (now all young adults).
Pam also served on the State Award Committee of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in Queensland for 10 years and worked for the Award as a Project Officer. In 2015 Pam and David went to PNG with MAF where David served as Interim Engineering Maintenance Manager for the PNG programme for nearly 18 months
If you’d like to receive the monthly QBW Prayer Network email, click here.
Click here to join the Qld Baptist Women in Leadership Facebook Page. Don’t forget to answer the questions to get in the door.
Click here to follow our QBW/Anew Conference Facebook Page.
Click here to follow us on Instagram.
Don’t forget to follow our Blog!
Subscribe to our YouTube Channel
 For an insightful commentary on Sheerah, check out Wil Gafney, She Built a City: Sheerah the Biblical City-Builder. (wilgafney.com, 2012). On-line. https://www.wilgafney.com/2012/05/20/she-built-a-city-sheerah-the-biblical-city-builder/.