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Into the Hand of a Woman

“And she said, ‘I surely will go with you, even so, the road which you walk will not bring you renown, for Yahweh will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose and walked with Baraq to Qedshah. And Baraq summoned Zebulun and Naphtaliy to Qedshah and they went up at his feet — 10,000 men. And Deborah went up with him.”

(Judges 4:9-10)

If you had never read this account before, the temptation would be to assume that the “woman’s hand” into whom Sisera was being given would be Deborah’s. We know from reading ahead that this will not be the case by any means, yet such has not yet been indicated by the text. There will indeed be a degree of ironic justice, but not in the way we would likely expect, were we reading this text with fresh eyes.

Adding credence to the notion that Judges often overlapped one another, we find Baraq calling out his forces from the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, calling them to gather in Kadesh. These two tribes are to the northern region of the tribal areas, but why he perhaps did not call from Asher or Manasseh, for example (two other northern tribes), seems to indicate (given the direct command of God to call men from these two tribes only) that Baraq and Deborah’s influence was more regional than national. This, we do not know for sure, but it seems plausible.

The key, of course, is that the men are now assembled…the 10,000 agains the multitudes that God will assemble from Sisera’s armies. The battle to come is clearly one-sided, for while the multitudes may seem to outnumber the 10,000 on the side of the people of Israel, God also fights on the side of his people, making the multitudes of the pagan nations seem puny at best. Isn’t it sad that we fear the foes we face today given that we worship the same God that defeated Sisera and Eglon and the Philistines?

Hasn’t God already Given You an Order?

“She sent for and she called Baraq, the son of Abinoam, from Qedesh-Naphtaliy, and said to him,  ‘Has not Yahweh, the God of Israel, given an order to you? ‘Gather to Mount Tabor and bring with you 10,000 men from the Sons of Naphtaliy and from the Sons of Zebulun and I will gather to you, to the river Qishon, Sisera, the commander of the army of Jabin and his chariots and his multitude. And I will give him into your hand.’’”

(Judges 4:6-7)

If the presence of a female judge was a shadow of the theme of men shirking their duties, Deborah’s calling out Baraq is a clear indication of what is taking place…or perhaps we ought to say, what is not taking place. Notice Deborah’s words, for she is not calling Baraq to build an army and attack the armies of Sisera. Deborah is saying to Baraq, “Look, God’s already called you to do this, why are you dragging your feet?” Her words are not only the words of a prophet and a judge, but they stand as a reminder to all of us today that when God commands us to do this or to do that, we have an obligation to obey. We are not given freedom to drag our feet.

In Hebrew, Baraq’s name means, “a flash of lightning.” Clearly, in the case of this general, the name speaks little of his military prowess and boldness but more aptly speaks of how quickly his nerve flees from him. Again, names often give us a little insight into what is taking place in the historical account. Deborah’s name, by the way, means “a swarm of bees” which is in many ways a very appropriate name given how the little group of Israelites will torment and chase off the “multitude” of Sisera. Interestingly, Deborah’s husband’s name means “To Redeem Them,” which is interesting as God does use the little swarm of bees to redeem his people.

As we read, then, Deborah reminds Baraq of the command that God had already given to him. There is a bit of a play on words in this command that is worth drawing our attention to. God says to Baraq, “Gather to Mount Tabor … and I will gather Sisera to you.” The same word,  Æ;KAvDm (mashak), is used in both places, drawing attention to the actions required. Basically, God is stating to Baraq, “You go muster an army and I will go and gather together Sisera so we can have a battle.” It is a reminder to us not only of God’s hand of deliverance, but also that God is sovereign over the armies even of his enemies. Such is the way with God. And though, on a human level, Sisera fielded a mighty army, if God has the power to draw them out and to gather them in a given place, he has the power to scatter and destroy them as well. Such is the way with God, may we always be in his hand and not positioning ourselves against it.

Deborah: The Exception, not the Rule

“Now Deborah was a woman, a prophetess, and the wife of Lappidoth. She judged Israel at that time!”

(Judges 4:4)

Now, to all of my friends and acquaintances who would like to suggest that there is a Biblical precedence for women to be in church leadership or serve as Pastors on the basis of Deborah, did you notice the emphasis on the language here in this verse? “Now Deborah was a woman, a prophetess, and the wife of Lappodoth. She judged Israel at that time.” The author of this text goes out of his way to stress the fact that Deborah was a female and she was serving in this capacity — a capacity in which one did not expect a female to serve. The point is that Deborah’s place here is meant to be shocking to the reader. “What!?! A female judge!?! No way, that’s not proper!?!” And it wasn’t proper, but as the account of Deborah unfolds we see the theme arising of men who will not rise to the position of responsibility.

So, the question that one should ask is not, “Does Deborah establish a precedence for female church leadership?” Clearly, she is presented as an exception and one does not establish the normative rule on the basis of exceptions. The question one should ask is, “Would there ever be a context where, as in Deborah’s time, an exception was being made, and if so, what would that look like?”

The answer to that second question is seen by some to be an open door, because I have heard people argue that virtually every female pastor is one such exceptions. And while I want by no means to malign the character of such women, it must be clear that when you have a large number of “exceptions,” they are no longer exceptions. Of the 12 judges in the book of Judges, a book covering a span of more then 300 years, there is one such exception. There is nothing normative about Deborah and her situation. In fact, in her case, there are no men to be found (we will see that in Deborah’s song), the commander of the Army seems to be a bit of a coward, and though Deborah is introduced under Lappidoth’s authority (he is still the covenant head of her household), he doesn’t play much of a role in this account (in fact, this verse is the only mention of his name).

Surely, we don’t live in such a world. Men are able and willing to take up leadership in Christ’s church and to do so in submission to the Biblical mandate of male covenant headship in the church. Further, those pushing for women in church office are often not under the spiritual headship of their husbands (as is Deborah) and thus are trying to achieve an agenda, not humbly serving as an exception. And finally, it is clear in this account that God is doing a remarkable work not only to liberate Israel, but to shame the men who will not stand up and her role is clearly not meant as normative as you never again see another female judge arise. So to answer the second question mentioned above, the answer is first, we are not in such a time where there are no men stepping up to the job and secondly, there would have to be a radical change in the circumstances to bring such a change.

Thus, the power of this account, then, is not one of establishing a precedence for females in church leadership, but instead in humbling the men who should have been the ones rising to the task of leading God’s people.

Outline of Judges

Book of Judges Outline


          I.     The Crisis and Conquest after Joshua’s Death (1:1-36)

a.     Who shall go up to fight for us?  (1:1-2)

b.     Judah and Simeon go up & defeat the Canaanites (1:3-7)

c.     Judah fights and takes the city of Jerusalem (1:8-10)

d.     Continued conquest (1:11-20)

e.     Benjamin fails to drive out the Jebusites (1:21)

f.      Joseph takes Bethel (1:22-26)

g.     Manasseh) fails to drive out Canaanites (1:27-28)

h.     Ephraim fails to drive out Canaanites (1:29)

i.      Zebulun fails to drive out Canaanites (1:30)

j.      Asher fails to drive out Canaanites (1:31-32)

k.     Naphtali fails to drive out Canaanites (1:33)

l.      Dan pushed back by the Amorites (1:34)

m.   Joseph halts Amorite advance (1:35-36)

        II.     First cycle of Sin

a.     The Angel of the Lord pronounces judgment for not breaking down pagan altars (2:1-5)

b.     The people return to their homes under Joshua’s leadership and lived in peace all of the days of Joshua’s life and of the lives of those who knew him (2:6-10)

c.     The people did “The Evil” (2:11-13)

d.     God gives them up to their enemies (2:14-15)

e.     The Summary of the Book (2:16-3:6)

      III.     Second Cycle of Sin

a.     The people did “The Evil” (3:7)

b.     The people served the Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia for 8 years (3:8)

c.     God raised up Othniel as a deliverer (3:9-10)

d.     The land  had “rest” 40 years (3:11)

      IV.     Third cycle of Sin

a.     The people did “The Evil” (3:12)

b.     The people served the Eglon, king of Moab for 18 years (3:12-14)

                                               i.     Possible setting for the book of Ruth?

c.     God raised up Ehud as a deliverer (3:15-29)

d.     The land had “rest” for 80 years (3:30)

e.     God raised up Shamgar as deliverer against the  Philistines (3:31)

        V.     Fourth cycle of Sin

a.     The people did “The Evil” (4:1)

b.     Jabin, King of Canaan & Sisera conquered for 20 years (4:2-3)

c.     God raised up Deborah as deliverer (4:4-24)

d.     The Song of Deborah (5:1-31)

e.     The land had rest for 40 years (5:31)

      VI.     Fifth cycle of Sin

a.     The people did “The Evil” (6:1)

b.     Midian conquered for 7 years (6:2-6)

c.     God sends a prophet to speak warning to the people (6:7-10)

d.     God raises up Gideon as deliverer (6:11-8:21)

e.     The people seek to make Gideon king (8:22-27)

f.      The land had rest for 40 years (8:28)

    VII.     Interlude:  Abimelech’s reign

a.     The people enter into idolatry (8:29-35)

b.     The rise of Abimelech to power (9:1-6)

c.     The Parable of the Trees (9:7-15)

d.     The Judgment of Jotham (9:16-21)

e.     Abimelech reigns for 3 years (9:22)

f.      The fall of Abimelech (9:23-57)

g.     God raised up Tola as judge for 23 years (10:1-2)

h.     God raised up Jair as judge for 22 years (10:3-5)

  VIII.     Sixth Cycle of Sin

a.     The people did “The Evil” (10:6)

b.     The Philistines conquered for 18 years (10:7-9)

c.     The people repent and the Lord rebukes them (10:10-16)

d.     Who will go up for us? (10:17-18)

e.     God raises up Jephthah as deliverer (11:1-33)

f.      The result of Jephthah’s hasty vow (11:34-40)

g.     Jephthah leads the people of Gilead against the people of Ephraim (12:1-6)

h.     Jepthah judged Israel for 6 years (12:7)

i.      God raised up Ibzan as judge for 7 years (12:8-10)

j.      God raised up Elon as judge for 10 years (12:11-12)

k.     God raised up Abdon as judge for 8 years (12:13-15)

      IX.     Seventh Cycle of Sin

a.     The people did “The Evil” (13:1)

b.     The Philistines conquered for 40 years (13:1)

c.     God raises up Samson as deliverer (13:2-15:19)

d.     Samson judges Israel for 20 years (15:20)

e.     Samson and Delilah (16:1-22)

f.      Samson’s Faithful Death (16:23-31)

        X.     Interlude:  Micah, two Levites, the Tribe of Dan, and the Concubine

a.     Micah and the Levite (17:1-13)

b.     Micah’s Idol and Levite taken by the Tribe of Dan (18:1-31)

c.     The Levite and his Concubine (19:1-30)

d.     The people of Israel avenge the Levite against Benjamin (20:1-48)

e.     Wives for the men of the tribe of Benjamin (21:1-24)

      XI.     Close of the Book

a.     “There was no king in Israel and everyone did what is right in their own eyes”