Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Deborah: A Fundamentalist's Worst Nightmare!

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?


Terry said...

As a matter of fact, our pastor HAS spoken of Deborah numerous times in the years we have been at our church. Women speak in our church. As a matter of fact, there is a female speaker lined up for this Sunday.
But we are still taught that at home, we are to submit to our husbands. And as a matter of fact, I have never heard a woman preacher speak (at least in my church), that didn't expresssly state that when she was not operating in her God-given calling, she is a MRS. first and subject to her husband's authority.
A few things about Deborah: Yes, she was married. And you're probably right that she had children as well. I do not believe, however, that it was likely that she was a mother of young children. Keep in mind that there was no baby then and children weren't weaned until much older than we would be comfortable with now. Her children were probably adults (remember, too, that adulthood was much younger then than it is now :-) when she began to rule, though I have no Scripture to back it, just as we have no Scriptural proof that she was a mother at all. I am not one of those fundamentalist complementarians who believes that a woman should be house bound from the birth to death. I've heard that line of thought a LOT in the blog world and it baffles me, frankly. I do believe that there are seasons in a woman's life when she has more flexibility than others to serve. Furthermore, I refuse to put God in a box and say who He will or won't use. Deborah is a great example to illustrate that point. However, I doubt that women all over Israel began to take up swords and rush into battle as a result of her leadership. They understood, as I do today, that there are doctrinal principles that God has set forth to protect families, men and women, as well as children. And these "rules",if you will are in place to see that the needs of both partners are met, not just the husband. I fail to see how the life of Deborah, magnificent as it is, negates the overwhlming amount of Scripture (OT and NT) that places the husband as the head of his family.

Terry said...

I accidentally left out the word "formula". I menat to say that there was no baby FORMULA back then and chidren were weaned much later. Sorry.

kathyescobar said...

tia lynn, thank you so much for your extremely thoughtful and well done pieces for women's history month. i have loved each of the posts (just now catching up...) i especially love this story, of deborah, because it is a mind-blower, isn't it? we're talking leading all of israel. hmmmm. i am too busy to enter into all of the conversation about NT scriptures and how specificly it tells us "what christian women are supposed to be like." i just believe in a broader view beyond gender specific roles that are always used as ammunition for a limited perspective. i think passages like deborah and other NT women demonstrate the breadth of roles women play in God's story. i am a wife, a mother, a pastor, a friend. my husband is really good at feeding children and putting them to bed and taking them to school and so i am i. we both have busy jobs that make our life really interesting. we are different but we share the responsibilities of raising our family and living out our giftedness together. we did not always do this. we started out in a very traditional complementarian marriage. it worked in some respects but it really limited both of us in many ways. over time, we both made huge shifts and became teammates, equals, partners. one role is not elevated over another or more valuable than the other. we submit to each other. the result has been a dramatic release of giftedness not only for me but for him, too. i know there are many women who are very happy in the traditional christian woman role, that is fine, but i also believe there are so many amazing women out there who have a stirring to lead, step up, step out, who have so much creativity and passion to bring to the kingdom but are stifled by feeling stuck by a system that believes they must stay in a traditional role of "taking care of the home and their husband." i love the deborah story, it cracks open a great discussion. thanks.

Tia Lynn said...

Excellent thoughts Terry and Kathy.

Terry you bring up some good points. I, too, believe that throughout the seasons of a woman’s life, she will be called to different things. I also believe that if a couple has children, especially little ones, then those children should be their top priority, the main responsibility in a couple’s lives. Not to say they cannot serve and do other things or work out mutual ways of working and caring for their own children, but the children HAVE TO come first, for both mothers and fathers. Just because I think women can “get out there” and lead, contribute, create, teach, preach, evangelize, write, sing, work, invent, or whatever, doesn’t mean I think women should hand their babies over to be raised by strangers at a day care or something. I am not using Deborah as an excuse for that. I think along the same lines, that if she had children, they were probably older, definitely weaned at least! :)

Also, as you have already mentioned, you tend to be complementarian in marriage and egalitarian in church life. This post is more directed to the segment of complementarians who limit women in leadership roles within church life. Deborah poses a serious problem to that particular brand of complementarian theology. If your church is fine with women in leadership, then there is no reason to avoid Deborah.

But Deborah’s marriage IS important because her role (that was definitely outside the home and somewhat independent of her husband’s) is God-affirmed. I don’t believe God violates His own rules. Again, not trying to negate spousal submission. But I believe our idea of “traditional” roles are not so traditional when we look at the entire bible. I don’t believe Deborah negates ANYTHING in the N.T. at all, and when I finally get to that part of the series, those verses will be looked at on their own merit, within their own contexts, and NOT with a “this can’t possibly mean THIS because Deborah contradicts that!” approach. This particular post is just establishing that God has (and does) called female to leaders to exercise spiritual authority over both men: leading, teaching, and even commanding. (This is different from dominating, which no christian is permitted to do).

Kathy, great story! Thanks for weighing in. Please come back and contribute to the conversation! :)

Michelle said...

Tia - I just want to say that I am enjoying following this series, I don't' tend to have time for long responses but I am learning by reading from you. I particularly like the way you are handling all of this, maintaining intellectual honesty but at the same time a commitment to scripture, for what it actually says/means. Well done - thanks.

marcus said...

Deborah’s story does kind of “flip the bird” at all our complicated (often illogical) rules about just how women are permitted to serve in God’s kingdom.....There’s a nice visual for you. :)

arden said...

Tia lynn said; "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?"

You can't see me, but I'm giving you a standing ovation! This is one of my favorite posts by you!

musicmommy3 said...


Mike L. said...

Thanks for this series Tia Lynn. I've really enjoyed it.

Tia Lynn said...

Your welcome! And there's much more to come!

Megan said...

I am a complemetarian. My marriage works in a complementarian fashion, and we attend a church where men hold all positions of leadership. Women can sing in the praise team, work in Sunday school, but cannot lead Sunday school or be the head of any ministry, even a women’s ministry. We are proud of the fact that we take the bible literally and feel this is the best way to honor God in our home and church. So, I must admit, that when I started reading your series, I judged you and was even angry. I’m not sure where you will take this study or that we will ever see eye to eye, but I felt convicted for making a snap judgment. Just based on your posts so far, I realize you have studied this topic more than I ever have or have ever cared to. So, I will keep reading.

Jeff Gill said...

Tia, I just wanted to add my thanks for this series. I've recommended it on my li'l ol' blog too.

catrina said...

I am not scared of Deb in the least. Something that is not clearly stated in scripture but you seem to have gathered is that God called her and ordained her for the postition that she had. It just states that she was doing it. Yes, God doesn't fit into a box and uses whatever means he wants to accomplish his will, even an ass to send a message. Certainly we can't contrive that God wants us to tent peg our evil husbands like Jael just becasue she did it and was sung about in a positive light. Israel was in dire straits at the time. Where are the female priests? why were the twelves tribes male led? Why did Jesus make his 12 disciples men?, even though there was nothing stopping him since he was changing status quo and over turning time honored traditins. And since you referenced Eve again I thought that I would bring up some other interesting tidbits. First, God told Adam only not to eat the fruit, Adam was suppossed to instruct his wife on the rules, implying his headship. Secondly, when they sinned God called Adam out of the bushes to confront him first, signifying his responsibility for her. And lastly, when God cursed them he said to her, "your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." Desire, obviuosly does not mean sexual desire, because that was already a factor before the fall. Gen 4:7 tells of God telling Cain that sin is seeking to destroy him, so he says "its desire is for you, but you must master it." Eve's desire will be to illegitimately rule over Adam, in response Adam will have to assert his rulership over her. Cor. 11:1-16 - As already noted, Paul uses Gen. 2 to support his contention that women need to display, in the church, their submission to male leadership. The woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head (11:10), because she is the glory of man (11:7), because she originated from man (11:8), and because she was created for the man's sake (11:9). Because Paul links the woman's submissive role in the Church to God's created design, it is evident that these instructions to the church at Corinth are not applicable only there, but instead are applicable universally in the Church. I know I went NT on you but it is part of the basis for the genesis argument. One last note that may be irrelevant, but did you notice that Adam named Eve twice, not God, first he called her woman and then after the fall he named her Eve, mother of all living. I do believe that the cross is important in this debate, but to me it doesn't signify a negatio of male headship, it affrims the appropriate headship and authority of God's originally created hierachial design.

Tia Lynn said...

Oh Catrina! :) I love your spunk. :)

Ok, first off, are you really questioning Deborah’s call as a judge and prophetess? Last I checked, people don’t get to choose for themselves the gift of prophecy. If the Bible calls her a prophetess, (not a pagan prophetess) and honors her life, then we have no reason to believe that she was not called by God. Why would God choose to speak through Deborah, bless her and the nation, if she was going against “God’s design,” by leading men and deeming herself a prophet and judge when she wasnt?

So Deborah wasn’t called by God, her leadership is invalid and yet God decided to directly speak to her, fulfill the words she spoke, and grant her victory in battle?? Wow. Talk about about mixed messages. Others in the bible, who were false prophets or usurped authority that was not theirs, such as Jezebel, experience no such blessing or direct affirming communication with God, and meet a horrible fate. If Deborah was a man, would you be questioning her calling? She is not some prophet for Baal or other god, but for Yahweh, which by definition means SHE SPEAKS FOR GOD. How else do you suppose she acquired this special status other than being called by God to have it?

I’m confused about your point with Jael. Jael didn’t slaughter her husband, but the leading general of the Caananites. Yes, this event does not mean we should go around driving tent pegs into people’s heads, but I do not see how it negates the fact that God has called women to exercise spiritual authority (even over men), and to lead and to speak for God. Again, God does not go against His own rules. So Deborah poses a problem for people who argue that women can never lead, hence the argument that she must not have been really called by God.

The fact that Jesus had 12 “special” men disciples, does not necessarily mean women are precluded from such positions. He also had women followers that earned the “title” of disciple as well. The 12 were also ALL Jewish, does that mean all church leaders have to be Jewish? It’s just silly.

You also seem to be making a lot of assumptions in your analysis of Adam and Eve. God only tells Adam about not being allowed to eat from the tree alone because God had not created EVE YET. When the serpent tempts Eve she knows full well that she is not suppose to eat that fruit. We are not told whether Adam or God relays this message to her. Although, she implies that she knows from God because she says to the serpent, “but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' " (Genesis 3:3). Certainly

Adam is not held solely responsible. Had this been the case, then Adam would have been punished and Eve spared. But no, they were both punished for their sin, which means they both failed and were both responsible.

No where in scripture is Eve’s “desire” explicitly defined as wanting to rule over Adam. Her desire could just as easily be to return to how things were between her and Adam before the fall. One of the ugly realities of our sinful human nature is the desire to dominate, control, manipulate, and rule others, but for the majority of history, women have suffered under this reality, not men and it should not be prescribed for either of the sexes. This is already too long, so I’ll save the N.T. stuff for the latter part of the series and keep you in further suspense. :)

I will say that men and women are NOT to be spiritual lone rangers. All christians are called to be subject to one another, accountable to leadership, even those in leadership need to be subject and accountable to others Ephesians 5:21). So I agree that women who exercise gifts or run ministries need to be accountable, but I don’t believe they have to be accountable to leadership made up solely of males. Men and women can lead, and all should be accountable.

catrina said...

I don't have tons of time but I totally believe that she had the gift of prophecy and am not arguing that she wasn't ruling the people, but the word doesn't say that God "placed" her in that position. He often uses things or people that are not necessarily the best. Remember in the new testament when the disciple's said to "hey there are some people casting out demons and using the name of Jesus." and the reply was "no big deal, the name of Jesus is being preached." So I don't think that it was wrong for Deborah, just not his ideal, and I get that from all the other scriptures that will be talked about later.

Jael, sorry I goofed that part. I only meant that just because she did it and was praised for it does not give me license to the same freedoms. David and Solomon hadmany wives and were deeply close to God, yet seem not to know that his original plan was not polygamy.

Adam and Eve were each accountable before God as individuals. I am only pointing out some interesting perspectives on what happened. God named Adam, Adam named Eve twice. God calls out Adam first. Paul points out that man was not made for woman but woman for man. He also several times refers to Adam being responsible for mans death and seperation from God (holding him responsible for not keeping his woman in line)(just kidding)

Desire comes from the scriptual structure of God telling Cain in Gen 4:7 that "sins desire is for you, but you must master it." This means sins desire is to rule over you. The same way that God tells Eve about her desire for her husband. And yes, Adam temptation would be to have to assert his rule over her, placing him in a position to abuse his place.

The 12 disciples is only a point of interest to this conversation. I am not making a doctrine out of the fact Jesus's main men were male. It is just odd that he was so into "using the humble things of this world to shame the wise," that given the opportunity to do so, he didn't. He got tax collectors, former murderer, scraggly poor fisherman, but he did not make even one lowly woman a leader.

The Bible doesn't address things like Sunday school administrators, worship leaders, youth workers. It only addresses pastors, deacons, and elders, but I will save all that for the rest of the series.

donnav said...

Good Morning!
Jumped over here from Kathy E's page...looking forward to reading the rest of the posts as this was excellent!
I'm even more impressed with the patience you are showing in the dialog with those who disagree with you...an area I'm found lacking in for sure!
Will be back later to read more just wanted to let you know I appreciate you and your words!!

Tia Lynn said...

Thanks Donnav! Feel free to jump right on in! I could use the help! :)

catrina said...

Donnav, the reason Tia is able to show such patience with us infidels is the fact that she loves some of us in real life, and we "get into it" all the time.

Tia, is the fire getting too hot? Come on we are just gettin started. lol

Tia Lynn said...

Are you kidding Cat! Bring it ON!! We haven’t even gotten to the real fun stuff yet! :)

For the most part, I can disagree with a person and still show them courtesy, respect, and glean from what they have to say. The only time I lose my cool is when a person is cruel and picking on the “underdogs” with stereotypes, name-calling, and an insistance that if person A doesn’t agree with person B, than person A must not be saved! That makes my head explode.

musicmommy3 said...

I hear you there, LOUD and CLEAR, Tia.

Julie said...

Great comments on Deborah. I find it fascinating how often people come to Deborah with the assumption "God must always operate one way so therefore I have to fit Deborah into my preconceived assumptions about God." She is unsettling and cannot be ignored or dismissed. I mean we could all pick and choose which parts or people in the bible we want to follow depending on our assumptions, but it may be better to just embrace them for who they are.

I really appreciate you taking the time to highlight the many women in scripture who did things many today forbid women to do. Those stories are often ignored and surpressed. I think truth telling and faithfulness to the biblical account is needed to show that the biblical way is not oppression.

Mike Clawson said...

Great post Tia!

catrina, you said:

"I don't have tons of time but I totally believe that she had the gift of prophecy and am not arguing that she wasn't ruling the people, but the word doesn't say that God "placed" her in that position."

Question: do you believe what Romans 13 says about how all authority is established by God? If so, how can you claim that Deborah's was not?

"The 12 disciples is only a point of interest to this conversation. I am not making a doctrine out of the fact Jesus's main men were male. It is just odd that he was so into "using the humble things of this world to shame the wise," that given the opportunity to do so, he didn't. He got tax collectors, former murderer, scraggly poor fisherman, but he did not make even one lowly woman a leader."

Well, except for all the women we are told were following Jesus, just like the male disciples were. And Mary of Bethany, who was rebuked by Martha not primarily for slacking off, but because she was sitting at Jesus' feet in the position of a disciple who wanted to learn to be a Rabbi like Jesus, a role of authority heretofore only reserved for men. And Priscilla, who was placed in a position of teaching authority over Apollos. And the multiple women who "oversaw" (same Greek word that is often translated "bishop") churches in their homes. And of course Junia, the apostle Paul mentions in Romans 16.

Except for all those counter-examples, sure we don't have any proof that women ever had any positions of authority in the New Testament church...

catrina said...

Mike, yes you called me to the carpet and now I have rug burn. lol. I am going to have to learn to write better than I do. My only point and I think I made it somewhere else but maybe not, Hitler, Stalin were then established by God, which is very true but it doesn't mean that it is Gods best. So many times the children of Israel had wandered so far off the path that God had for them that he allowed things to transpire that were not his best for them, multiple wives for one.

Single parents can raise wonderful children that grow into fabulous adults, however his best plan is for a mother and father to be doing the job. I don't think Deb was in sin or anything like that, because all things work together for good for all who are called according to his purpose. She did what had to be done. God "put into place" some strange characters over the years but that doesn't mean that they exemplify his standards.

Again, all those women you mentioned did not hold the highest positions in the church, no women priests, no heads of the tribes of Israel or women elders in the early church. Junia the apostle is highly disputable in cirlces from both sides. None of them held the highest human religious authority, and I only find it interesting that Christ did not make a women one of the 12 if he came to break status quo. I do not make it a matter of doctrine. I 100% believe that God gives the gifts to all his children but he established accountability and a heirarchy.

Thanks for making me be more precise in my thoughts.

Cathy W. said...

I just HAVE to tell you this.

I was recently kicked out of my church for believing in "mutual submission" in my marriage and one of the funniest comments my pastor's wife said was about Deborah.

She said, "You know, I just went back and re-read the story of Deborah this morning and I found that she was VERY submissive."

It was all I could do not to roll on the floor laughing. Maybe these people have their own Sexist Bibles lying around?

It's delusion. Pure delusion. Stockholm Syndrome anyone???