- What the Scriptures say about Godly authority
- Deborah as an example for women
- The beauty of the woman's role & purpose
- The root of resistance to God's ordained roles (coming)
- Answers to common questions
"In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." II Corinthians 13:1
When discussing women in leadership, many are often quick to point to Deborah. Yet even if we accept Deborah as an example of women having authority over men, she would be the exception and not the rule. There are no other Scriptural examples to support this premise that women are raised by God to be authorities over men.
However, does Deborah really represent a woman who had authority "over" men? To examine this, we must look more closely at the role of a judge.
The Book of Judges speaks of several individuals whom God raised up to provide wisdom and to help settle disputes for the people of Israel. These individuals are typically labeled as major or minor judges based on the amount of detail provided about them in the book. Deborah would be considered a major judge.
The word judge is the Hebrew word "shaphat" which means "to vindicate, to act as law-giver, to decide controversy, to execute judgment."
It is important to note that the use of judges was before Israel had a king over the nation. In fact, the people sought to have one of the judges become a king for them and he refused saying:
"Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son's son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian. I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you." Judges 8:22-23
The word for rule is the Hebrew word mashal which means "to rule, to exercise dominion, or to reign." If the judges were also rulers over the people, there would be no need for Israel to make this request.
Therefore, we can know by Scripture that it was not the position of the judge to rule over the people. The judges did not "exercise dominion or reign" over God's people for He alone was to be their ruler. In fact, when they later approached God about having a King, God took it as a direct rejection of His Lordship over them (I Samuel 8:7).
Deborah herself acknowledges that she was not a governor over God's people, but she recognizes and pays tribute to those men who did govern the people.
"My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD." Judges 5:9
So we know that Deborah, while a judge, was not a ruler nor a governor. Yet, even as a judge, Deborah's role was different than the other judges.
The Judge as a Savior
"And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them." Judges 2:18
In support of this purpose, the other major judges Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Gideon, and Samson (as well as Tolah, a minor judge) are referred to by God as "deliverers" (Judges 3:9, 15, 31; 6:14; 10:1; 13:5). The word for deliverer is the Hebrew word "yasha`" which means "to be liberated, saved, or victorious (as in battle)". It is a component of the word "Yĕhowshuwa`", which is Jesus' name in Hebrew.
Yet, Deborah is never referenced by God as a yasha` or deliverer. The value of her contribution to Israel is not that she was a deliverer for Israel (like the other judges), but that she was a "mother" to Israel (Judges 5:7). She is esteemed for being the standard of womanhood.
Deborah's strength is recognized not in being a military leader or deliverer giving commands to the men in battle, but for being a Godly woman who was able to show righteous judgments and wisdom. The attributes for which Scripture praises her are not the same as those of the male judges because her role was different.
The Judge as a Commander of the Troops
Some assert that Deborah was the actual commander, and that Barak was under her command. Yet this is false and the text itself disputes this.
God's commandment and His intent was that the enemy would be delivered into Barak's hands.
"And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?
And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand....And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him." Judges 4:6-7, 14
For every other judge, God commanded that the enemy would be delivered into that judge's hands. Yet, God never commanded the enemies to be delivered into Deborah's hands because she was never the commander of the men of Israel.
Also, something rather peculiar happens in this text. It was a common practice for prophets to go to the troops, bless them, and proclaim the start of the battle (Numbers 31:6; II Chronicles 13:12; I Samuel 4:4; I Samuel 7:10). In fact, this was ordained by God:
"And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you." Deuteronomy 20:2-3
Yet, it was not even assumed that Deborah would go into battle. She had to be specifically requested by Barak to do so. And we see from her response that this was not a good thing:
"And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh." Judges 4:9
common duty for both prophets and judges.
So, why was Deborah's service in these roles limited in ways not applicable to her male counterparts? Why was she not a commander of the men (as the other judges were) and why was she not going into battle until asked? Because she was a woman.
Both prophets and judges serve legitimate roles in a battle, yet the Scriptures indicate that Deborah was not going to go. It was not the woman's role to go to battle as this was reserved for the men (Numbers 1:1-3, 20; Deuteronomy 20:5-9). Deborah being a judge did not change this.
Some say that God punished Barak because he displayed a lack of faith by demanding that she go with him. Yet, that doesn't make sense. If asking a prophet to serve in this role represented a lack of faith, then why did God ordain such a practice to start with? It was expected that such persons would go to battle.
Being displeased with Barak, God could have selected another to lead Israel, but He does not. Barak is still leader and commander. However, the glory for the victory will go to another. Indeed, God goes further than that and explicitly states that the victory will be given to a woman. If female authority over men was considered equally valid before God, there would be not need for such a distinction. And by the way, the "woman's hands" into which Sisera would be delivered was still not Deborah. It was Jael (Judges 4:17-22; Judges 5:24-31). So even in this instance, God did not deliver Israel by the hand of a woman who had authority over the men.
The punishment rendered by God to Barak gives insight into what raised His ire in this situation. God's anger about Barak's request is meted by His judgment: if Barak wanted a woman to go to battle, then a woman would get his glory for the battle.
Even though God consented for Deborah to go, she did not lead the men. Again, each of the other major judges - Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, and Gideon (Tolah also) - actually engaged in the battle against Israel's enemies and commanded the men as part of their role as a judge (Judges 3:10, 20-21, 28, 31; 7:18-12; 10:1). Deborah did not.
"And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him." Judges 4:14
Barak goes down from the mountain into battle followed by the 10,000 men. Deborah does not leave the hillside. Barak led the men into battle. They followed after "him".
Unlike the other judges, Deborah was not commanded by God to lead the troops against the enemy nor to have the enemy given into her hand. Although God's primary purpose in raising the judges was to war with the enemy to secure the land, Deborah was not even expected to go into battle.
Deborah was 100% legitimate as a judge ordained by God, but her authority was curtailed by Him to accommodate her role as a woman. She did not exercise dominion over, reign over, or command the men of Israel.
Deborah's Biblical Example
Many are quick to point to Deborah as validation for female authority in the church, but few point out that she was in fact a shining example of what a true woman should be: one who supports and submits to the patriarchy of God.
Deborah was a judge and a prophetess, but still in a different way than the other male judges and prophets. She does not represent a woman who God raised to authority in a position just like a man. On the contrary, she represents a women ordained to serve in the authority and role that God gave her.
She proclaimed God's words.
She was wise and a woman of justice, mediating Israel's disputes lawfully "...and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment." (Judges 4:5b)
She was a prophetess who inspired God's people and blessed the start of the battle. She did not speak in her own authority nor with her own judgments, but she spoke the commands of God, "Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded..." (Judges 4:6). Her authority to give direction to Barak was not because she was his head, but because she was speaking what "the Lord God" had commanded as a prophetess and judge. It was God's authority - not Deborah's - that was to inspire Barak to move.
She supported the patriarchal authority of God.
When faced with Barak's failure to follow through on God's commands, Deborah did not rise up and usurp that role for herself. She does not assume responsibility as his head, but reminds Barak of God's command to him and encourages him to take his God-ordained role.
She serves honorably within her calling.
Another way that Deborah supports God's patriarchal order is by serving honorably right where she was. Although the male judges & prophets had been given broader responsibilities in that role, you never see her trying to be other than what God called her to be. She doesn't even question why her role was different than that of her male counterparts.
She was the example of a mother.
We do not know whether Deborah had physical children, but we know that she was a spiritual mother to Israel.
"The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel. " Judges 5:7
"My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD." Judges 5:9
As a true example of womanhood, her heart was toward or dedicated to supporting the men who had volunteered to fight against God's enemies. Her actions and her life ("her heart") were set first on how she could support these men engaged in battle for the Lord.
A Wonderful Example of Womanhood
Deborah is not an example of a woman "stepping up to do what a man was not willing to do" nor is she an example of a God making a woman the head of men. Deborah never did what Barak wasn't willing to do (command the troops), but rather she encouraged Barak to obey the Lord. Not only did she reinforce and support the patriarchal order God had established, you never see Deborah questioning the role she was given.
Her disposition, her demeanor, her calling, and her actions all supported her role as a woman of character and wisdom who reverenced God's commands and called upon others to do likewise. Because of her Godly example, she had great respect among the people of Israel.
God raised Deborah as a judge in Israel, but in doing so, He never over-turned his patriarchal order. There is nothing in her example which supports the notion that God is now raising women to serve in roles that He has designated for men.
Women are called to be spiritual mothers to God's people, and this offers great insight into why the woman is called to be submitted to the man. In the next post, we will examine the purpose for which woman was created and how this relates to the patriarchal order of God.