The twentieth century saw women push into fields that were traditionally male. They now comprise nearly half the American workforce. They are allowed to serve in combat; in fact, America has more women in its military than any other nation! They can even assume significant political roles, such as president or prime minister.
The church has not been immune to this. Many Protestant denominations have begun ordaining women into ministry. It is becoming common for women to serve in preaching or pastoral roles.
Women still have a long way to go in reaching equality. For as much progress as they’ve made, they are still represented (and paid) less than men in many aspects of society. And society still has a long way to go in accepting and acknowledging them as equals. It has always been so.
One Bible character rose above the limitations and conventions of her day. She served God’s people as a political, military, and spiritual leader. She inspires women to lead in whatever capacity and to whatever extent they can. Her name is Deborah.
Honor Goes to a Woman
Deborah was a judge in northern Israel. The judges were local, tribal leaders who ruled from 1400 – 1050 B.C. Because of Israel’s sinfulness, God had subjected them to the king of Canaan for 20 years.
The Bible says Deborah was “a prophet…[who] was leading Israel at that time. She held court…in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided” (Judges 4:4-5).
Deborah commanded Barak to gather a force of 10,000 men and confront the Canaanites in battle. Barak refused to go unless she went with him. She agreed but warned, “Because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman” (4:9).
God routed the Canaanites before Barak. The Israelites pursued them until “not a man was left. Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite,” because there was an alliance between the Canaanites and Kenites (4:16-17).
Jael welcomed Sisera into her tent. She killed him while he slept by driving a tent peg through his temple. So God defeated the Canaanite commander – by the hands of a woman.
Deborah strengthens our faith by giving us hope. She is a woman, but she still serves as a prefigurement of our ultimate Judge – the Lord Jesus Christ.
Israel was oppressed by the Canaanites. In the same way, the church suffers oppression today. Christians are persecuted in more than 60 countries. As Deborah led the armies of Israel against their enemies, so Jesus will lead the armies of heaven against our enemies to deliver us from the forces Satan assembles against us (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8; Revelation 19:11-21).
Giving Women a Chance
Deborah also challenges us to consider which roles women should fulfill in the church. Christian churches cling tightly to a male model of leadership. After all, the church’s leadership in the past has always been male. And biblically, the male model seems best.
But we must consider the church’s present situation. Church attendance in our country is at an all-time low. America is now the world’s fourth-largest unchurched nation! On top of that, legislative trends make it painfully clear we have lost our influence entirely.
And all this is happening under male leadership.
What should women do? Deborah gives us the answer. She encouraged Barak to lead the Israelites and urged him into battle. But at the end of the day, the honor went to a woman because of his reluctance.
Christian women should follow her example. They ought to submit to their husbands and encourage them to lead God’s people. But when men refuse to lead or prove ineffective, women shouldn’t be afraid to step out in faith and do the job themselves.
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