Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided."--Judges 4:4-5
Before I start posting on specific bible verses that seem to bar women from serving in all levels of ministry, I want to look at some unique women in the Bible, who break apart our nice, neat, gender-separated boxes.
The story of Deborah, a biblical heroine, has devolved into a passing mention in many evangelical circles, and in more fundamental circles, she’s been deemed “a reproach,” only used by God to shame men because all the men of Israel apparently refused God’s call to fulfill His work. That’s right, Deborah must be the bottom of the barrel, God’s last choice, simply because she lacked a penis. But this viewpoint does not hold up under honest evaluation of biblical texts. Hence, the reason why Deborah’s story is rarely taught in depth within these circles.
Some Facts about Deborah
- She most likely lived between 1209 and 1169 B.C.
- She was a judge, prophetess, and leader called by God, who gave Israel both civil and spiritual direction. Judges 4 and 5 says Deborah “sends,” “summons”, and “COMMANDS” the people (men and women), telling them God’s will and direction.
- She lead Israel, possibly for forty years.
- She settled disputes among her people.
- She was respected by all the people.
- The land had peace for forty years due to her ministry (Judges 4 and 5).
- She governed Israel by prophetic oracles.
- Deborah led 10,000 troops into battle against the oppressive Canaanites.
- She was the instrument God used to deliver Israel from her enemies and return the nation back to God.
- Deborah called upon kings and princes to give thanks to God for what He had done.
Another little overlooked fact about Deborah is that she was married. This is a significant detail, because married women, above all other women, have the most restrictions placed upon them. Whether we believe a married woman's purpose is to only aid her husband's ambitions or that they must solely be a housewife, Deborah defies all our expectations of what a married woman (possibly with children) should be.So, why does Deborah hold this position of authority and not her husband? God called her and not him, that’s why. Fancy that! The fact that Deborah has a vagina instead of a penis does not preclude her from being God’s chosen spokesperson: a brave, faithful, civil AND spiritual leader of Israel and servant of the Most High. We do not know how old Deborah is at this time or whether or not she had any children. My guess would be that she did in fact have children, because barren women were looked upon as "cursed." These men humbled their male pride long enough to listen to the wisdom of God via woman, but I’m pretty sure doing that for a barren woman might be too much to ask. :)
The fact that Deborah was married, with no "ruling" husband in sight, affirms the fact that Genesis 3:16, where God says a man will rule over his wife, is descriptive and NOT prescriptive (See previous post: Adam and Eve: The First Egalitarians?) If man ruling over his wife had been God's will (as oppose to the inevitable consequence of sin), even after the fall, then Deborah's position would not be in line with God's "command."
And yet here we have a married woman stepping out into public service, exercising national and spiritual authority, leading battles, commanding, summoning, sending, and instructing men and women on a myriad of earthly and spiritual matters. She does not even consult her husband before leading an entire nation into battle: a battle that was viewed as a suicide mission, since Israel’s army was vastly outnumbered.
Now Barak, the military general who refused to go to battle without Deborah by his side, gets a lot of flack for needing a woman to accompany him in battle. But his downfall was not that he depended on a woman to be at his side, but that he lacked faith in God’s message of victory to go it alone. Had Samuel or Joshua been in Deborah’s place and Barak demanded they go with him, his fate would have been the same: Sisera (their enemy) would have still been delivered over to Jael, a gentile woman. Barak’s dilemma was a faith issue, not a gender issue. However, we should give Barak some credit for recognizing Deborah’s anointing and wanting her near by.
Deborah, this remarkable prophetess and Judge of Israel, defies nearly every restriction placed upon the “ideal” woman of faith. She does not fit neatly into the quiet-submissive-barefoot-and-pregnant-housewife-that-would-never-dare-exercise-authority box. She’s assertive, strong, and forthright. She holds the position of judge, prophet, and military commander (talk about a career gal, eh?). Her path is determined by God, not by the status quo or social constructs. She was the God-appointed leader of Israel, to whom MEN, powerful men, came to receive spiritual direction, authoritative earthly decisions, and orders from God. All Deborah prophesied came to pass. Deborah’s faith and leadership not only delivered Israel from the oppression of the Canaanites, but restored Israel SPIRITUALLY to God.
Isn’t it ironic how Deborah spoke FOR God to men and women with authority and her story is considered to be a part of God’s Word, the Bible, yet a woman today (in most evangelical church settings) could not stand behind a pulpit and teach the body about it?
When will we tear down the barriers that keep all of God's children from going deeper with God and each other? When will we submit ourselves to God and one another, not on the basis of gender, but on the basis of human and spiritual equality, all being made uniquely in the image of God with gifts to use? When will we put our faith in the Holy Spirit’s taboo and surprising guidance (Deborah's story is nothing if not taboo), instead of trying to enforce blanket admonishments on people of faith?