Unavailable, Unwilling, Unsuitable Men?
One of the perennial arguments from people who have a problem with Deborah being the leader of Israel is that God probably only allowed her to be the leader because there were no men who were available, willing, or suitable to take the job.
God didn’t choose Jonah because he was available and willing. In fact, Jonah was reluctant to obey God by going to the heathen city of Nineveh. He even tried to run away from God (Jonah 1:3). So it seems that a lack of availability or willingness in a person is not an obstacle to God when choosing someone as a minister or leader.
We don’t know why God chose Jonah to be his mouthpiece and instrument in bringing about the repentance of Nineveh. We can only assume that God chose him because he was the best person for the task. Similarly, it seems that Deborah was the best person for the task of leading Israel in her time, and so God raised her up to save Israel from her enemies (cf. Judges 2:18).
Deborah’s Leadership Roles and Qualities
The fact that Deborah was a woman is not especially highlighted in the text, and there is not the slightest hint anywhere in the Bible that her gender was a problem. Rather, the Israelites recognised her authority. They came to her, whenever they wanted justice and guidance, to her seat just north of the crossroads of busy trading routes in the centre of Israel (Judges 4:5).
Unlike many of the other judges, Deborah did a great job as leader and prophet. Deborah was an effective spokesperson for God, and her prophetic leadership extended to commanding Barak, the general of the army (Judges 4:4-6). Barak respected Deborah, relied on her, and followed her orders (Judges 4:6, 8). Deborah, herself, did not shy away from entering the war zone (Judges 4:9-10). And, as a result of her leadership, Israel had peace for 40 years (Judges 5:31).
Furthermore, Deborah’s words have been recorded in the Bible, in Judges chapter 5, and so they have the authority of Scripture.
God’s Choice and Calling of Leaders
The argument that God chose Deborah to be the leader of Israel because there were no available or suitable men is not supported by Scripture. God chose to use the female prophet Huldah to advise King Josiah’s all-male delegation, even though there were male prophets, including Jeremiah and Zephaniah, available at the time (2 Kings 22:11-20//2 Chron. 34:14-33).
Moreover, being unwilling, unavailable, or feeling inadequate, are not impediments to God’s calling. Moses, Gideon, Saul, and other Bible characters were, like Jonah, initially reluctant to follow God’s calling.
However, there were male leaders in Israel at the time of Deborah’s rule. There were nobles (Judges 5:13), princes (Judges 5:2, 9, 15), warriors (Judges 4:6, 14-16), and others who willingly offered themselves under Deborah’s leadership.
“When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves—praise the Lord!” From Deborah and Barak’s Song, Judges 5:2 (NIV).
Even though there were male leaders, God chose Deborah. He chose her to be a “mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7), a matriarch in the community of his people, a female counterpart to the patriarchs.
God is still choosing to use certain women to lead his people. We need to be careful that we don’t second guess God’s choice, or the reasons for his choice, because of our own prejudices. Furthermore, we need to be careful that we don’t stand in the way of godly and gifted women who God is calling today into ministry as leaders.
 Deborah Menken Gill, The Female Prophets: Gender and Leadership in the Biblical Tradition (PhD Dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1991), 31.
Dr Deborah Gill has also coauthored an excellent book with Dr Barbara Cavaness entitled God’s Women—Then and Now where they make the following pertinent statements: “Whereas Samson’s rule was confined to one tribe, [Deborah’s] authority “transcended tribal divisions” (Kindle Locations 685-686). And this: “The highest Old Testament religious office was not the priest, but the prophet” (Kindle Location 703).
What’s in a name? Deborah: Woman of Lappidoth
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry
Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership
A Collection of Articles on NT Women Church Leaders