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What Results When Women Exhort Men in the Bible?

I joined a Facebook accountability group of Christian online course creators a few years ago. Two of my fellow content creators and I live within driving distance, so we arranged to meet for dinner. As we discussed our upcoming online course launches, Julie had a question about her Bible literacy course. She asked, “What do I do if men sign up for my course?” The foundational question behind Julie’s concern is, “May women exhort men?” How one answers this question reflects their view on how men and women in the church may relate to one another. In Julie’s understanding, a Christian woman may exhort women and children, but not men.

Exhortation and Teaching

The Greek word parakaleo is translated into English as “exhort.” Parakaleo means “to call to one’s side, to summon, admonish, entreat, encourage, and to instruct, teach.” According to Romans 12:6–8, exhortation is a spiritual gift.

What is the difference between exhortation and teaching? Exhortation includes elements of teaching. Paul links exhortation with teaching in his instructions to Timothy: “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim 4:13­­­). R.C. Sproul explains, “Teaching people the things of God cannot be done in a neutral manner but must exhort them to heed and obey the Word of Christ.” Larry Gilbert, author of Your Gifts: Discover God’s Unique Design for You, writes, “If you are an Exhorter, you have the Spirit-given capacity and desire to serve God by motivating others to action by urging them to pursue a course of conduct. You are the “how to” teacher, explaining how to apply God’s Word to everyday life.”

Exhortation sometimes contains an urgent appeal. For example, John the Baptist urged his listeners to “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). He encouraged all to share their possessions with others, advised tax collectors to collect what was required, but no more, and admonished soldiers not to accuse people falsely. John “with many other exhortations, proclaimed good news to the people” (Luke 3:18).

While some have the gift of exhortation, Paul admonishes all “brothers and sisters” in the faith to “encourage [parakaleto] one another and build up each other” (1 Thess 5:11).

WDWD: What Did Women Do?

In The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bibleauthor Scot McKnight asks his students to chart women’s activities in the Bible. He uses the acronym “WDWD” for women’s stories by asking, “What Did Women Do?” 

Similarly, let’s see what the Bible reveals about women exhorting men beginning in the Old Testament book of Judges.

Deborah (Judges 4:1–5:31)

Deborah was a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, and the national leader of the Israelites. She “held court under the Palm of Deborah… and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided” (Judges 4:4–5). Deborah was one of twelve significant judges during the period of judges.

One particular day, Deborah sent for her general, Barak. God had given her his instructions for defeating their Canaanite enemy. She said to Barak, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them to Mount Tabor…’” She exhorted Barak that their obedience to the Lord’s battle plan would assure their victory (Judges 4:8–9).

Indeed, the Israelite army defeated Sisera, the military commander of King Jabin, and his Canaanite army. Sisera died at the hands of a woman named Jael (vv.17­–24). Barak’s name is recorded in Hebrews in the “Hall of Faith” (Heb 11:32). Deborah’s leadership and exhortation to Barak were fruitful for the entire Israelite nation.

Huldah (2 Kgs 22:14–23:25; 2 Chr 34:22–28)

Huldah, the wife of Shallum, was a prophet. She spoke the Word of the Lord to King Josiah through his male entourage: Hilkiah, his priest, Ahikam and Akbor (two representatives), Shaphan, his scribe, and Asaiah, his servant. In her exhortation, she explained, “This is what the LORD says…”

Through her prophetic words, Huldah validated the book of Deuteronomy as part of the Torah (perhaps the first symbolic act of canon formation.) After hearing Huldah’s prophetic message, King Josiah summoned Judah and Jerusalem’s elders and instructed them to comply with his reforms.

Subsequently, the King removed and burned all the Baal idols and Asherah poles, eliminated idolatrous temple priests, stopped child sacrifices, destroyed all the objects and altars that were used to worship false gods, removed shrines from high places in Samarian towns, banned mediums and spiritists, and removed all the idols and household gods in Judah and Jerusalem. When the land had been sanitized, King Josiah ordered his people to celebrate the Passover—the first Passover since the time of the judges and the kings. Huldah’s exhortation to King Josiah resulted in an extraordinary nationwide change to spiritual practices.

King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov 31:1–9)

A queen’s exhortation to her son, King Lemuel is recorded in Proverbs, the book of wisdom. Her wise counsel is applicable today and excellent instruction for all leaders (described in the NET Bible as “an oracle”).

She encouraged her son to avoid immorality and not to crave alcohol. And, she admonished her son on the need for real justice, “Speak up for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute…defend the rights of the poor and needy.” What did King Lemuel’s mother do? She exhorted her son through “an inspired utterance,” and her recorded words continue to exhort believers.

Now let’s turn to the New Testament and examine four women’s stories:

Anna (Luke 2:36–38)

Anna, the daughter of Penuel, was a widow and a prophet. Scripture records that she was always at the temple, “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (NET). As a prophet, she spoke for God. When Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus to the temple for the first time, Anna recognized him as the awaited one. Giving thanks, she “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” Anna recognized the baby Jesus and exhorted those at the temple, men and women, to acknowledge the Messiah.

Priscilla (Rom 16:3–5; 1 Cor 16:19; Acts 18:18, 24–28; 2 Tim 4:19)

The apostle Paul described Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, as his “co-workers” (Rom 16:3). They hosted churches in their home. In Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila invited Apollos, a Jew from Alexandria, to their home. Then they “explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:24–26). Shortly afterward, Apollos “vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah” (Acts 18:28). Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos more fully about Jesus, and their exhortation equipped and encouraged his future exhortation ministry.

Lois & Eunice (2 Tim 1:5; 3:14)

Paul commended Timothy’s “sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” (2 Tim 1:5). Among the early women to embrace Christianity, Lois and Eunice introduced Timothy to faith in God. As Timothy grew up, they instructed him in the Scriptures, teaching him to know, love, and serve the Lord.

Women’s Words in Scripture

2 Timothy 3:16–17 asserts, “Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.” Within the Scriptures are the words of seventy-one women. God preserved the words of many women in his holy text. And, women’s words are instructive for believers today.

Conclusion

The initial question asked, “What results when women exhort men in the Bible?” Which led us to search the Bible stories of women to consider, “What Did Women Do?” A clear and connecting thread runs through many women’s stories in the Bible. Do you see it? At God’s direction, women exhorted men—women spoke God’s word to men. A natural follow-up question is, “Do we exhort women in our churches today to do what women did in the Bible?”

Dr. Cynthia Hester teaches, writes, and speaks on topics of faith and women, both women in the Bible and church history. A graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary with a Doctor of Ministry (DMin, 2022), Cynthia writes at cynthiahester.com and is a contributing author to the book 40 Questions About Women in Ministry (Kregel, 2023). She has also written articles published at Fathommag.org, Parker County Today, heartstrongfaith.com, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In 2021, Cynthia founded Theology of Women Academy.® In this online academy, she teaches Christ-followers, including ministry leaders, the spectrum of orthodox views on women and the church to equip them to develop their beliefs—their theology of women. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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