Judges were Israel’s primary rulers for almost three-and-a-half centuries. They also commanded armies, making them some of Scripture’s strongest leaders. So why did Deborah serve as judge? Her position is often the first mentioned to support female leadership. Does she conflict with God’s pattern of male leadership? Let’s take a look!
1. There’s no mention of Deborah being appointed by God
Throughout the book of Judges, as men rise to leadership, verses identify them as chosen or empowered by God:
- Judges 3:9—The Lord raised up a deliverer . . . Othniel.
- Judges 3:15—The Lord raised up a deliverer . . . Ehud.
- Judges 6:14—The Lord [said to Gideon], “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel . . . Have I not sent you?”
- Judges 11:29—The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah.
- Judges 13:24–25—Samson . . . grew and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon him.
But with Deborah there is no recognition of God’s appointing. Judges 4:4 simply says, “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time.” Her introduction emphasizes that she is female, but in a negative light. Wayne Grudem, co-founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, explains in Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth (p. 134):
Judges 4:4 suggests some amazement at the unusual nature of the situation in which a woman actually has to judge Israel, because it piles up a string of redundant words to emphasize that Deborah is a woman. Translating the Hebrew text literally, the verse says, ‘And Deborah, a woman, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she was judging Israel at the time.’ Something is abnormal, something is wrong—there are no men to function as judge! This impression is confirmed when we read of Barak’s timidity and the rebuke he receives as well as the loss of glory he could have received.