Heart of the Story: Nehemiah prayed that God would remember Noadiah and other prophets who gave him a bad name and discredited him.
Backstory: Noadiah lived in Jerusalem at the time Nehemiah was restoring the Jerusalem wall. Several aspects of Noadiah’s life are controversial:
First, was Noadiah a woman or a man? The KJV, NIV and ESV identified Noadiah as a prophetess (Hebrew = nebı̂y’âh). In contrast the Septuagint (translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek) identified Noadiah as a man and called him a masculine form of the word for prophet. Possibly, the Septuagint was a mis-translation related to there being a Levite male with the same name mentioned in Ezra (Ezra 8: 33).
The second question about Noadiah was on her marital status. When women are named in the Bible, often they are defined in relation to their husband. Deborah was identified as the wife of Lippidoth and Huldah’s husband was Shallum. Noadiah is given no such designation. Possibly she was never married, a widow, or married; yet Nehemiah considered her marital status distinct from her activity and his prayer.
The most significant controversy associated with Noadiah is whether or not she was a false prophetess. Nehemiah’s prayer didn’t suggest that Noadiah proclaimed false prophecies. In contrast, he named Noadiah a prophetess rather than a charlatan or false prophet. Further, Noadiah seemed to be the most prominent of a cadre of Jerusalem prophets that opposed Nehemiah.
Analysis of the Relationship: The Bible doesn’t provide information about Noadiah from her point of view. We know only the relationship that Nehemiah had with her. That relationship included that Noadiah both opposed and intimated Nehemiah.
The question becomes why and how did she intimate this credible leader? Why was he afraid of her and her cabal of prophets? The setting for Nehemiah’s prayer is opposition to rebuilding the Jerusalem wall. As a Jerusalemite and woman, Noadiah knew the importance of a solid wall between herself and enemies. Likely Noadiah didn’t oppose rebuilding the wall. More than likely, her opposition to Nehemiah was based on Nehemiah’s focus on breaking apart families and leaving women and their children as persons without status or identity, with neither shelter nor sustenance” (Gafney, 2008:111–12).
The first group of Jews who returned from Babylon under Zerubabbel was mostly men.Over time these men married pagan women who lived in the land and had children with them. Marrying women who weren’t Jews was an act of infidelity for the Israelites (Joshua 22:16; Ezra 10:6; Daniel 9:7). When Ezra emotionally condemned the practice, most men who married foreign women repudiated their wives. Children from these marriages were given into the custody of their mothers (Ezra 10 NIV). Despite their repentance, Jewish men continued to marry non-Jewish women through Nehemiah’s tenure as leader of the restored Jews (Nehemiah 13:23-30).
Not unsurprisingly, Noadiah, an independent women who had the character strength to lead the prophets in Jerusalem, felt sympathy, even empathy, for divorced women—Jews or non-Jews. She was offended that Jewish fathers abandoned their children and allowed them to grow up without the security of a father figure in the home. Her opposition could have been so strident and constant that it intimidated Nehemiah.
Reflection: Abandoning a wife who married in good faith and the fruit of those unions seems harsh. The question is whether or not Noadiah’s opposition – even intimidation – of Nehemiah on this point or another one was from God or from her own perspective and feelings.
Copyright: July, 2014, Carolyn Adams Roth