Some have questioned whether Deborah should be a role model for women today. Was Deborah usurping the role of a man? Was she failing to trust God to provide male leadership in a time of great need? Let’s take a look.
Deborah’s role in leading Israel as a judge is an uncommon one. From the time of the patriarchs, men had been leading God’s people. Then, God called Moses to lead the people from Egypt back to the Promised Land. Moses was succeeded by Joshua. Then came the time of the judges. Up to this point, those who led Israel were all men. As we noted in the last post, after Joshua the men of Israel turned away from trusting God. There was no one of Joshua’s stature to lead. While it would have been wrong for a woman to step forward on her own to assume the role of leadership, it was not wrong for God to choose a woman to lead. This is what made Deborah uncommon–God chose her to lead.
No one became a judge or prophet by personal choice. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:15-22 make it clear that prophets were chosen by God to speak his word. Assuming this role presumptuously for oneself meant death. It is also clear that each of the judges was chosen by God to lead Israel. God did not conduct job interviews for the role of being a judge. We can safely say that Deborah did not become a judge or a prophetess by her own choice. It was something that God called her to do. By placing Deborah in this prominent position of leadership, God was perhaps challenging the men of Israel to step forward and be willing to follow God as she did. It appears that the men of Israel at that time, even the good ones like Barak, had grown timid before their enemies. For Barak, the word of God spoken through Deborah was not enough. He said he would follow God’s direction only if Deborah went with him.
Christians today can learn from Deborah. Men must not shrink back from the challenge of the world, no matter how strong these challenges may appear to be. Modern society is enamored by female leadership. God calls men to lead, not to cower. Likewise, women must not assume what they have not been given. This is where Deborah’s example is important for women today. Deborah did only what she was called by God to do. She was faithful to that calling. The basis for commending Deborah as a role model is established by understanding what it is that women are called to today; women should then pursue that calling in faith. It is not valid to compare the particular task of being a judge with a general pursuit of leadership in the church today. God’s Word has given specific criteria for leadership in the church and family. Those roles of leadership are to be occupied by men. Thus, God is not calling women to take up roles of leadership in the church. But there are specific things that God is calling women to do. Discovering the biblical directives for women is essential to understanding how Deborah can be an example today. This is especially important for young women who need biblical role models. In this post and the next one we will examine a few ways that Deborah can be an example.
Honoring God First
The men of Deborah’s time did not show leadership and courage. They followed the legacy of the ten spies who lived in the fear of man rather than the fear of God. Deborah’s vision was the same as that of Joshua and Caleb–nothing could stand in the way of God. Deborah was not caught up in the fear of her day. She took God at his word. So when she was given the message to give to Barak to attack Sisera, she didn’t flinch. Even though Sisera had a formidable army that featured 900 chariots made of iron, she delivered God’s message to Barak with confidence: “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you?” (Judges 4:6) It is this kind of confidence that is needed today. Women must look to the God of the Bible as their first love. Women are tempted by the world to dress for the approval of men rather than God. Women are tempted to seek fulfillment as individuals, without regard to loving God first. While men must learn to follow God in order to be godly leaders, women must not settle for less-than-godly men when considering marriage.
Leadership that can be trusted is leadership that is first committed wholly to God. The best marriages are between a man and a woman who each love God more than they love their spouse. This is the standard and vision that parents need to be holding out to their daughters. Yes, women are to be submissive to their husbands. But they are still to love God more than they love their husbands.
More on this in the next post.