Thursday, April 25, 2013

Deborah and Women in Ministry

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Thursday, April 25, 2013: Judges 4:1-5:53

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. Judges 4:4-5 (NKJV)

One of the hottest topics in the Church today is the place of women in ministry.  Many local churches and even entire denominations have grappled with what the Bible says on this important topic.  There are three major schools in this debate: 1) the Male Leadership Model (Traditionalist), 2) the Plural Ministry Model (Complementarian), and 3) the Equality Model (Egalitarian). 

It is not by any means my purpose in this short blog to lay out the spectrum of discussion represented by these three models.  Numerous books are available to carry the reader as far as they want to go in that endeavor.  It is a topic of importance and bears our serious and thoughtful study.

For my part, I personally hold to the complementarian view.  I grew up under the "male leadership model" and so my thinking has been affected by that tradition.  However, as the Holy Spirit has birthed new levels of ministry potential in all parts of the Body of Christ, I agree with the outlook that God uses both men and women  to accomplish His purposes.  They are "heirs together of the grace of life" (I Peter 3:7).  God has used and continues to use women mightily in my life.  One has only to look at the ministries of people like Joyce Meyer, Anne Graham Lotz (Billy Graham's daughter), or Beth Moore to realize that God uses these women in extraordinary fashion.

Having said that, I do not go to the position of the egalitarian model.  I do believe in male leadership both in the home and in the church.  But, of course, the nature of that leadership then becomes the issue.  I believe that godly proper male leadership actually LIBERATES women into their destiny rather than LIMITING them or binding them.  But, I have now gone much further in this discussion than intended in this short blog.  Suffice to say that God originally created male and female (it was His idea) and He had a purpose, a role relationship, a design that He wants us to lay hold of. 

The story of Deborah figures heavily in many discussions on the role of women in leadership and ministry.  We find that story in Judges 4-5.  The popular view describes her as one of the judges of Israel, a leader in wartime, a deliverer who vanquished the oppression over Israel.  As such, she has been described as an example for the Egalitarian View.  In fact, I believe that this popular view is not an accurate description of this great women.  I believe she is an example of the Complementarian View in which men and women can COOPERATE instead of COMPETE in bringing victory to the people of God.

Let's look for a moment at this woman Deborah.  What do we know about her?  I can see five things:
1. She was a WIFE. (Jud. 4:4)
2. She was a PROPHETESS (Jud. 4:4)
3. She was a MOTHER (Jud. 5:7) -- I realize this may be either literal or figurative.  She may have actually had children or she may have been a "mother-figure" to Israel.
4. She was INCREDIBLY WISE (Jud. 4:4-5)
5. She had a specific LOCATION of ministry/service (Jud. 4:5) -- "under the palm tree".

Unlike other judges such as Ehud, Gideon, and Samson, nowhere do we find specific instruction from God to Deborah to elevate her to leadership.  She is such an anointed and gifted woman that people gravitated to her.  One writer said of her, she is "the most honorable character in the book of Judges."  She was a womanly woman who preferred to defer to Barak, the military leader.  But, she was a strong woman in an era of weak men.  There was no clearly defined leadership in Israel in those days.  Twice we read, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Jud. 17:6, 21:25).  She steps up into the void left when Joshua did not raise up a successor as Moses had.  She was a beacon light of sanity in a period of confusion.

All Deborah ever does is listen to God and share what she hears.  That's why she is called a prophetess.  She did not try to assume leadership of the nation or of the military.  In fact, she only gave to others the wisdom she had received from God and encouraged them to carry it out.

As an example, she told Barak, the military leader of Israel at the time, "Has not the Lord God of Israel commanded, 'Go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men...'" (Jud. 4:6).  Barak's reponse is incredible.  "If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!" (Jud. 4:8).  Barak stands in the long line of weak men who could not move on their own.  Another example is Ahab who whined to his wife Jezebel (I Kings 21:1-7).

Deborah's response is very telling.  She is reluctant to leave her home (that is another picture of godly womanhood).  She tells Barak, "I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman" (Jud. 4:9).  She is telling him that the glory of this battle should be his, not hers.  And she is saying that a MAN should be the victor over Sisera rather than a woman.  There are certain roles that women fill and there are certain roles that men are suited for.  That is a complementarian view.

What can we learn from Deborah and Barak?  Here are a few brief perspectives:
1.  God uses both men and women to accomplish His purposes. 
2.  When men and women work together in complementary fashion the result is great victory for God's people.
3.  The failure or cowardice of men has often forced women to go to places they do not need to go and to fulfill roles they do not need to perform.
4.  Strong men will liberate women into their destiny.

May God help us to win victories in our day!


  1. Brave man to open up such a can of worms. :)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I, too, grew up and have spent most of my life under the "male leadership model." Actually, if I got to have a vote in the matter (which I don't, for I have vountarily surrendered all my "rights" to the Lord of my life) I would choose to remain in that model. It just feels safer to me.

    As I go along in this journey however, He continually places me in situations where men come to me for wisdom and direction, or where I'm asked to step into a position of leadershp for a time in which I feel certain a man would be better equipped to lead. I do not choose these, but am led there by the Spirit. I have really related to Deborah many times. She, too, seemed to be thrust into a role she would have perferred to avoid.

    Then I fast forward from the old testament to the new and read verses like Gal 3:26-28 "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, THERE IS NEITHER MALE NOR FEMALE; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." and have to really ponder the meaning of this.

    Obviously God had a certain model in mind when He created male and female. The correct relationship of these two are to present a "picture" of something that we probably don't quite grasp. Perhaps as we learn to live in the place of Gal 2:20--the place where only the life of Christ comes forth through our own lives--and perhaps as we promote His kingdom alone and not try to build our own "mini-kingdoms"--then we will see the correct balance of these roles begin to unfold in our midst. Lord, let it be.

    Thanks for letting me process.