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.
The pattern of male leadership in the community of faith began at creation. Then it’s maintained throughout Scripture:
There were patriarchs instead of matriarchs.
The tribes of Israel were named after men.
The only legitimate mediators between God and people were men (i.e., priests instead of priestesses).
God appointed kings instead of queens.
God called men to be the focal points of His covenants with mankind (i.e., Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus).
So why do we see examples of female leadership in Scripture? What about queens, prophetesses, at least one female judge—Deborah? Were these women an anomaly? Are they examples of rebellion against God’s design, or is there another explanation? To answer these questions, with the exception of Deborah who I discussed in a separate post, let’s look at them individually.
Queens support God’s pattern of male leadership
Scripture mentions three prominent queens, and they fall into two categories:
Jezebel (1 Kings 16–22; 2 Kings 9) and Athaliah (2 Kings 8, 11) were evil women who seized control and became tyrannical leaders. Jezebel instituted the worship of the false god Baal across Israel and persecuted followers of Yahweh. Athaliah murdered her grandchildren upon the death of her son and then seized the throne of Judah. Clearly, neither woman serves as a good example.
Esther stands in contrast as a godly queen. She supported male leadership through her submission first to her adopted father, Mordecai, and then to her husband, King Xerxes of Persia. In doing so, God used her to save her entire people from annihilation (Esther 5:1–8, 8:1–8).
Priestesses support God’s pattern of male leadership
Under the Mosaic Covenant, only men could be priests because they were the teachers: “[The priests] may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken” (Leviticus 10:11).
When female priestesses are mentioned, they are associated with pagan religions such as the worship of Astarte or Baal. Wayne Grudem, co-founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, explains in Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth (p. 82):
Think of the Bible as a whole, from Genesis to Revelation. Where is there one example in the entire Bible of a woman publicly teaching an assembled group of God’s people? There is none.
Prophetesses support God’s pattern of male leadership
In September Katie and I went to our hometown in northern California with the kids. We stayed with her parents for three weeks and during that time I put together a book, Marriage God’s Way: A Recipe for Healthy, Joyful, Christ-Centered Relationships, from a number of sermons I preached. To provide an update, since that time the book is being edited by professional editor, Jeanette Windle. Every few weeks she sends me a new section of material to look at that she’s finished. Sometimes she requests clarification or feedback, lets me know portions that are confusing, need more elaboration, etc. Other times she lets me know when there’s been too much teaching without any illustrations; too much technical information without a personal touch…interestingly it reminds me of my wife when we go over my sermons together. Here’s part of what she sent me recently…
“Forgive me for sending you another homework assignment (I did warn you); NO hurry as I can thread it in at any time. But I’m organizing the two sections that deal with strength, then leadership, which basically combines to one solid sub-section. You have a couple good anecdotes in the leadership section, but none at all in the strength section. If you could come up with one solid anecdote to kick that section off, dealing with what is true strength in a husband that should be sufficient. Again, no hurry.”
This past Saturday was the 4th Annual WCC Ladies’ Conference, the one time per year there’s an interesting twist in my relationship with Katie: I’m the one listening to her go over a message she’s prepared. I feel like the conference went wonderfully, and it reminded me how thankful I am for all the women in the church, and how blessed I am to consider them friends and sisters in Christ. With that said, I’d like to elaborate a little on something from the end of last week’s sermon: I discussed wives going to their husbands with spiritual questions. It’s important to notice I said “spiritual questions.” If a woman wanted to ask me about something relating to the church that I would know as the pastor – like for example a question about an upcoming activity – of course that’s fine.
I hope the reasons for this are obvious. First, husbands are supposed to be the spiritual leaders or heads (according to 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23) of their wives, and that’s not a role I would want to usurp. I want to be the pastor of WCC and the head of my wife and children, but I want the men of WCC to be able to lead their families. Second, I wouldn’t want to deprive couples of the opportunity to discuss spiritual matters together. Some of the best conversations Katie and I have revolve around time spent in the Word and I don’t want any spouses missing out on that with each other. If husbands didn’t know the answer to their wives’ questions, I’d feel privileged to have the husband come to me, provide any help or support I could, and see the husband go back to his wife “equipped” in the language of Ephesians 4:12. In this scenario the husband is still able to be the spiritual leader of his wife, and the wife can appreciate the seriousness with which he took his headship.
Now I’m anticipating two questions. First, what about widows or women whose husbands are not in the picture? Those are unique situations where the elders can help in the husband’s absence. Second, some wives might say: “Well, what happens if I go to my husband, and he doesn’t get back to me?” Great question. First, we’re going to address this at our Men’s Breakfast on Saturday, February 1st, encouraging husbands to lead their families well. Second, at least in some of the situations the husbands might take their roles more seriously if they felt like the responsibility rested solely on their shoulders and their wives wouldn’t be looking anywhere else. Third, it’s a little of a “two-wrongs-don’t-make-a-right” situation in that just because husbands don’t respond to their wives, pastors shouldn’t assume that role. Fourth, possibly speaking to these situations is Titus 2:3-5 regarding older women…admonishing (or teaching) the young women. Older women who have “been there and done that” make wonderful resources for not just younger women, but women whose husbands are absent.
Sunday’s sermon was about the vision of WCC, but I’d also like to discuss what I (and the rest of the leadership team) don’t mean by “church vision.” I understand for many churches vision is talking about where the church will be in some number of years. Since I’ve been at WCC we’ve never had a leadership meeting discussing where we expect to be in the future, and I think there are three reasons for this…
First, you can make an argument from Scripture that we’re discouraged from saying what we’re going to do, or saying what we believe is going to happen:
Proverbs 27:1 Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.
James 4:13, 14 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow.
In Luke 12:13-21 Jesus told a parable about a man called a fool by God because he made great plans for the future, not knowing what the near future would hold (and for him it was death).
Second, it seems presumptuous to say where we’re going to be or what we’re going to do. Of course I can say five years down the road we’ll still be teaching God’s Word and we’ll still be a family church, but those are more descriptions of our values, who we are, what we want to focus on…as opposed to where we see ourselves.
Third, we don’t know who is going to join the church, what situations we’re going to face, what needs will arise, etc, so how can we say where we’re going to be or what we’re going to do? I understand this brings up the question of how we approach the future, and I’d say we pray for God to direct us, we trust He’s guiding us, and we deal with circumstances as they arrive. This is what we’ve done with the sound system, bylaws, carpet, installation of deacons, associate pastor position, etc. Currently we’re tossing around the idea of home fellowships and accountability groups. As opposed to saying, “By June we’re going to have four home fellowships and men’s accountability groups” we’re waiting to see how these develop while praying, “Lord, if this is Your will, please make it clear, and if it’s not, please make that clear too.”
While this post discussed what we don’t mean by vision, if you would like to understand the vision of WCC please listen to this sermon.
I’m very excited about the seven men being installed as deacons at WCC, but there’s something that makes their installation even more special for me. I would go so far as to say this is the best example in my life of Ephesians 3:20 that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or even imagine. It was about seven years ago that I remember being on the phone with my mom, finally learning the terrible news that her and Dad were going to move to Texas to get away from me…something I never thought would happen. Mom said, “All we do anymore is fight about religion.” It was true. I had ruined our relationship trying to play the Holy Spirit in their lives and make them become Christians. I asked them to forgive me and give me one more chance: I begged them to come for just one visit. I could hear the reluctance and concern in Mom’s voice when I asked, but after talking to Dad they said they would come under one condition: “Tell us you won’t talk about religion at all.” Since it seemed to be the only way to maintain a relationship with them, I agreed.
I shut my mouth and started praying. Since becoming a Christian the strongest desire of my life had been seeing my parents become Christians; now that desire had to come to fruition without me doing anything but praying. I prayed for their salvation more than I’ve ever prayed for anything in my life including even finding a wife…and that’s something I prayed for A LOT! Skipping five years of the story, and leaving out lots of details about the progress that at times seemed almost nonexistent, my parents finally became Christians. In one of the happiest moments of my life I was able to listen to them share their testimonies and then I was able to baptize them. The church was full of people who knew our story and had been praying for their salvation (as well as praying for me to keep my mouth shut and not mess things up). I might have been able to imagine my parents becoming Christians. I might have been able to imagine baptizing them someday. I might have even been able to imagine being a pastor and having them visit the church and see me preach. Here’s what was exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or even imagine: I never would’ve imagined my parents giving up everything to come and be with me, my wife and our children, and that I’d be their pastor and one day lay hands on my dad and pray for him to join me in leadership. But that’s what God did.
There are two primary institutions God created to provide the world with stability—the church and the family/marriage. We shouldn’t be surprised when the world rejects God’s standards for these institution. But we should be surprised when churches, or worse denominations, do. This is exactly what the Presbyterian Church (USA) has done. They changed their ordination standards removing the constitutional requirement that all church leaders (pastors, elders, deacons, etc) live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” (G-6.0106b in the church’s Book of Order). This plainly means:
Sexual activity outside of marriage is acceptable
Homosexuals may occupy positions of church leadership within the denomination
Presbyterian Church (USA) has abandoned God’s Word
An article from the denomination’s website, entitled, Presbyterian Church (USA) Relaxes Constitutional Prohibition of Gay and Lesbian Ordination reads:
General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons said:
Clearly what has changed is that persons in a same-gender relationship can be considered for ordination. The gist of our ordination standards is that officers submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and ordaining bodies have the responsibility to examine each candidate individually to ensure that all candidates do so with no blanket judgments.
In 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, Paul expressed his amazement that a man could attend church with sexual sin in his life. This man wasn’t even a leader in the church. Interestingly, Paul’s rebuke wasn’t even for the man in sin. His rebuke was for those in the church where the sin was taking place. Their allowance brought them under the same condemnation (Romans 1:32). I can’t imagine what the letter would say that Paul would write to the people in the Presbyterian Church (USA).