The Mishneh, which some called the Second or New Quarter, had been incorporated into the walled defences of the Western Hill of Jerusalem almost a century earlier, and was home to a diverse population comprised primarily of refugee descendants not only from the annexed territories of Israel to the north, but also from the outlying towns and settlements of Judah itself. This influx of people had been precipitated by the Assyrian invasions. Despite their relative wealth and Huldah’s status as a woman of renown, Shallum and his wife remained here, somehow managing to find themselves living in the very core of a cosmopolitan milieu.
Three of the six-man party respected Shallum’s wishes that they remain outside the house, but Hilkiah and Shaphan were insistent. ‘You expect me to trust the man who washes the King’s clothes?’ Hilkiah hissed. ‘You will observe as we consult with your wife…nothing else!’
Yet the men had only just passed the threshold when they were intercepted by Huldah. She was an imposing woman, with braided hair gathered to her front and embellished with golden beads. Wearing dark green robes with crimson and gold trim, she stood her ground and fixed the men with her dark and knowing eyes. ‘What have you brought for me?’ she demanded. ‘I have little time for games.’
While Hilkiah and Shaphan debated amongst themselves as to who would present the scroll, Shallum stole a glance at his wife, who winked at him and gave him a re-assuring smile so fleeting that he blinked with uncertainty. It was Hilkiah who won out, handing the scroll to the Prophetess as the party moved farther into the house. Shallum moved away to make tea for he and his visitors, but what happened next shocked them all. Huldah had no sooner taken the scroll from the High Priest when she sank to her knees and threw her head back with a cry of anguish, as if wailing at the ascending moon that could not yet be seen. The men fell back from her, and Shallum rushed to his wife’s side, afraid to touch her in the midst of her rapture. Her eyelids opened, but her eyes were rolled back in her head and Shallum felt tears on his own cheeks, as he did every time this terror occurred. ‘Tell the man who sent you to me…’ Huldah intoned as Shallum held her hands before her, ‘that I, Yahweh Ha-Elohim Yisra’el, will bring disaster upon this place and its people. Because the people have forsaken me for so long, making offerings to other gods so that they have angered me with all their deeds, I will satisfy my wrath upon this place until it be quenched.’
Hilkiah and Shaphan were fixated in their horror, for despite their work to elevate Yahweh above the many gods worshipped by the people of Judah, they had never considered that Yahweh would be moved to punish the land. ‘We are too late!’ Shaphan whispered.
‘Tell the King that he shall not live to see the destruction of this place,’ Huldah continued, ‘for it shall be a desolation and a curse to all. He will be gathered to his fathers in peace, as a penitent man should.’ The prophecy ended as a ghostly air swept through the room.
‘No,’ Hilkiah argued, ‘we are not too late.’ He stepped forward to snap the scroll back from Huldah as she slumped forward into Shallum’s waiting arms. ‘We know now that we must do more. The King must eradicate all vestiges of Canaanite worship and bring us closer to the One God.’ He took a final look back at Huldah before leaving the house, saying, ‘Only then can we escape this judgement upon us.’
Shallum stayed on his knees with his wife, and they cried together as he held her head against his chest. He had seen this before, her pain and fear at having delivered the words of Yahweh. But this was different, for never before had she spoken something of such dread, such terrible clarity. The winds of change were coming to Judah, and the form of its survival would depend upon the King’s dealings with Egypt at this crucial time. But Huldah was never wrong, and so this one future was set in stone. Jerusalem would be destroyed.