Watercolour and ink portrait of Deborah by Sarah Beth Baca.
Used with permission of the artist. All rights reserved.
Prints of this portrait can be purchased here.
Unavailable, Unwilling, Unsuitable Men?
One of the perennial arguments from people who have a problem with Deborah being the judge, or leader, of Israel is that God probably only allowed her to lead because there were no men who were available, willing, or suitable to take the job. Is this a valid argument?
In the book of Jonah, we are told that Jonah the prophet was reluctant to obey God and go to the heathen city of Nineveh. He even tried to run away from God (Jonah 1:3). Clearly, Jonah wasn’t chosen because he was ready and willing.
Being unavailable, unwilling, or even feeling inadequate and ill-equipped, are not impediments to God’s calling. Moses, Gideon, Saul, and other Bible characters were, like Jonah, initially reluctant to do what God was asking of them. But God developed them to be leaders.
Rather than there being a lack of suitably gifted, willing men, it seems the reason God used Deborah was that she was the best person for the task of leading Israel at that time, and so she was raised up to save Israel from its enemies (cf. Judg. 2:18f).
Deborah’s Leadership Roles and Qualities
The fact that Deborah was a woman is clearly mentioned—the Hebrew word ishshah (“woman”) occurs twice in Judges 4:4—but there is no hint in the text that her gender was in any way a problem. The Israelites recognised her authority as judge and prophet. They went to her when they wanted justice and guidance. They went to her seat, the Palm of Deborah, just north of the crossroads of busy trading routes in the centre of Israel (Judg. 4:5).
Unlike many of the other judges, Deborah did a good job as leader and prophet. She was an effective spokesperson for God, and her prophetic leadership extended to commanding Barak, the general of the army (Judg. 4:4–6). Barak respected her, relied on her, and followed her orders (Judg. 4:6, 8). Deborah, herself, did not shy away from entering the war zone (Judg. 4:9–10). And, as a result of her leadership, which may have continued for a generation, Israel had “rest” for 40 years (Judg. 5:31; cf. Judg. 2:18–19).
Having a woman as a judge was not a punishment as some suggest, as Israel prospered under Deborah’s leadership (Judg. 5:6–7). She was a blessing! Furthermore, her 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 available at the time including Jeremiah and Zephaniah (2 Kings 22:11–20//2 Chron. 34:14–33).
Likewise, there were male leaders in Israel at the time of Deborah’s rule. There were noblemen (Judg. 5:13), princes and leaders (Judg. 5:2–3, 9, 15), 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).
And, of course, there was Barak who is listed as a faith hero in Hebrews 11:32–33.
Even though there were male leaders, God chose Deborah. He chose her to be a “mother in Israel” (Judg. 5:7), a matriarch in the community of his people, a female counterpart to the male judges.
God is still choosing to use certain women to lead and serve 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, today, God is calling into ministry as leaders.
 Hebrew scholar Robert Alter mentions the two roles of Deborah as judge.
The [Hebrew] word shofet, traditionally translated as “judge,” has two different meanings —”judge” in the judicial sense and “leader” or “chieftain.” The latter sense is obviously the relevant one for [the book of Judges], though the sole female judge, Deborah, in fact also acts as a judicial authority, sitting under the palm tree named after her.
Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, Vol. 3 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2019) (Google Books)
 Barak’s reliance on Deborah is not necessarily a sign of weakness. It may demonstrate his reliance on God. Julie Walsh notes that Barak’s statement in Judges 4:8 is similar to Moses’s statement to God in Exodus 33:12–15, including, “If you do not go with us, don’t make us leave this place” (Exod. 33:15 GNT). Julie states, “Barak wanted God’s prophet with him as Moses wanted God’s angel.” Walsh, The Cross and the Tent Peg (2018), 56.
Jerome, however, uses strong rhetoric against Barak in a letter where Jerome defends his right to teach women: “Deborah as judge and prophet overcame the enemies of Israel when Barak was afraid.” Jerome, Epistle to Eustochium (AD 391–392).
 John H. Walton explains that “rest” in the ancient world “is what results when a crisis has been resolved or when stability has been achieved, when things have ‘settled down.’ Consequently normal routines can be established and enjoyed.” Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 72.
 Deborah was not a judgement or punishment on Israel. Rather, she was God’s answer to the prayers of his people who were suffering because of his judgement. God’s judgement is stated at the beginning of Judges 4: “The Israelites again did evil in the sight of the LORD, now that Ehud was dead. So the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan … The sons of Israel cried out to the LORD for … [Jabin] oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years” (Judg. 4:1–3). This is when Deborah enters the narrative to set things right (Judg. 4:4ff).
 Even though Jael received the honour and fame for killing Sisera, Barak received honour and fame for his actions (cf. Judg. 4:9). As well as being named in Hebrews 11:32–33, Barak is also mentioned in 1 Samuel 12:11 with several other judges. Deborah is not mentioned by name in Hebrews 11, but her name is first in 1 Samuel 12:11 in the Peshitta. The Old Testament of the Pershitta was translated from Hebrew into Syriac in the second-century AD. (See NET note 3 about the names in 1 Samuel 12:11 here. An English translation of 1 Samuel 12 in the Peshitta is here.)
 Deborah Menken Gill, The Female Prophets: Gender and Leadership in the Biblical Tradition (PhD Dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1991), 31.
Deborah Gill has also co-authored an excellent book with 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).
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What’s in a name? Deborah: Woman of Lappidoth
Huldah’s Public Prophetic Ministry
Did Miriam the prophetess only minister to women?
Jael: “The Lord will hand over Sisera to a woman”
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Every Female Prophet in the Bible
Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood, and Ministry
Deborah in the Bible by Robin Gallaher Branch (Biblical Archaeology Society)
Plus, in this one-minute video on the Bible Odyssey website, Hebrew professor David Wright outlines the gender issues present in the book of Judges. He states that the downward spiral of Israelite society is mapped out in this book by how they treat women.
58 thoughts on “Deborah and the “no available men” argument”
The “no men available” argument takes a pretty low view of God’s power. I mean, if God commands that no women are allowed to have authority over or teach any men, isn’t He powerful enough to make sure a situation in which there are no men available for His plans doesn’t happen? And if He allows this situation to happen, why would He contradict himself and allow a woman in a leadership position if He universally and eternally doesn’t want them in such a place?
I find it kind of ironic when Calvinists use the “no men available” argument and then fail to consider these questions or get mad when these questions are presented to them.
Judge was the greatest rank of authority in Israel before they had a monarchy stating with Saul. The Bible never makes a distinction with Deborahs judging and formal judging. Where she decided to prophesy and judge regularly doesn’t make her doing them less significant than the men who did the same. Deborah was the leader, you’re simply making excuses to think God doesn’t want to appoint female leaders. It gives no indication that Barak superseded Deborah in the military, just that God commanded him to lead an army of 10,000 for a specific task. The glory going to a woman wasn’t a punishment because that didn’t harm Barak, and he’s still regarded as a hero in Judges 5. Wanting assistance from Deborah wasn’t the issue, it was him refusing to obey God without her coming.
I was thinking along similar lines. If God really preferred male leadership, or only approved of male leadership, was he incapable of raising a man to lead? This question is problematic for Christians who place a great deal of importance and emphasis on God’s sovereign power and will.
This is a topic that came up by a brother in our fellowship. Inwardly I cringed when he said he believed women are only used in leadership because there are no available/willing men. It made me feel as a woman like God’s last resort or second best. I seriously don’t think they think these things through let alone study the Word to see if what they say has any truth in it. Like Sarah said above in her comment, “The “no men available” argument takes a pretty low view of God’s power.”
When this does come up Elijah always seems to come to mind. He thought he was the only one left when in fact there were many other prophets he didn’t know about…
Lord, they have killed Your prophets; they have demolished Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.
But what is God’s reply to him? I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal! Romans 11:3-4
If what they say is true, then who are we to say there are NO men available. How do we know that? Is not that man who actually says that not himself willing? And if we were to add up how many men use this reason why God uses women then thats quite a lot of men already! It doesn’t work.
The book of Judges ends with, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes”. Judges 21-25 NIV
This verse sums up the book of Judges. It seems that God would rather have a man, a king not a queen, judging the people.
Youths oppress my people, women rule over them. My people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path. Isaiah 3:12 NIV
The book of Judges also says that God raised up judges (leaders), and he raised up a female judge.
Deborah was not only a judge of Israel, she was also a prophet, a spokesperson for God. God used Deborah to help deliver his people, and Israel was blessed because of her.
God would rather not have had kings. The monarchy was not God’s idea and he warned against it (1 Samuel 8:4-22). By choosing to have kings like the other nations, the Israelites were rejecting God as king (1 Sam. 8:7ff).
I’ve written about Isaiah 3:12 here:
Exactly. How do they know there were no men available?
This reminds me Affirmation 9 of the Danvers Statement which seems to belittle God’s power by assuming that “… half the world’s population [is] outside the reach of indigenous evangelism …” I have no doubt that God is raising up indigenous leaders just as he is raising up women leaders. God is not relying on foreigners or white men only to evangelise and lead his people.
Great article, thanks!
I think what totally smashes this argument (on top of everything you have said) is that there were available men at the time – at least one, actively judging in other parts of Israel – and God still chose Deborah!
The obvious one is Shamgar, who is recorded as overlap.
The others stem from the fact that Judges doesn’t seem to be written chronologically, and to fit into the timeframe between Joshua and David, a lot of them must overlap; so the most likely ordering puts Deborah at the same time as Gideon (since they share the 40 years of peace).
Thanks Lydia. I’ve wondered about the chronology of Judges. I’ll have to find out more about this.
Great article Marg. It’s also disheartening to actually hear women use the ‘God couldn’t find a man’ statement concerning themselves. I’ve heard women speakers denigrate themselves in this manner. Kathryn Kuhlman was also one who said she was only in ministry because God couldn’t find a man who was willing. It makes me wonder if such women had heard that idea somewhere and taken it on board.
I’ve heard women say the same thing. It is sad when women see themselves as God’s second best or last hope, when, in fact, they were probably God’s first choice for a particular ministry.
4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time.
Deborah was both Prophet and Judge over Israel. And I believe Judges 5 indicates she Judged Israel for 40 years. The highest or most responsible position of service to Israel was that of Prophet. It was the Prophet that was moved of God to point out God’s choice of Judge. Deborah was both Judge and Prophet. Israel had 40 years of rest due to her leadership, the leadership of God’s chosen woman. One does not get to be a Judge unless God appoints it.
Exactly! Judges 2:18.
As I said on Facebook, “It’s disturbing that some people disparage Deborah and her leadership just so that their understanding of 1 Tim 2:12 stays intact.”
When the whole counsel of Scripture on the issue of women in leadership is taken into consideration, it is their stance on 1 Tim 2:12 that is on shaky ground, and not Deborah’s leadership.
I’ve written about 1 Timothy 2:12 here.
So true, Marg. The OT is the foundation setting upon which the NT is built. One must not go backwards to reinterpret the foundations in order to justify our personal interpretations of what was built on them. That is what the modern patriarchy/complementarian doctrines do.
Deborah was a judge prophet and she shares this distinction with Moses and Samuel as far as I can tell. This indicates a wide-ranging scope of authority authorized by God.
All the judges in Judges were selected by God, as Judges says at the start.
Some claim there is some hint of tarnish on Deborah as she is not explicitly mentioned in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith while Barak is, but prophets are mentioned as a group and she would certainly be included as a prophet.
I have heard that some comps may acknowledge a woman as a modern day Deborah, but the implication is that such is exceptional and rare. If I was a woman and this kind of assessment came from a comp on myself, I would reject it unless they agreed to repent from their ideas on women in church leadership in general.
Great post!!! Great research! I love the art too! The last paragraph is awesome. God is still choosing to use women to lead his people! Yes!
Thanks Beth, I love the art too!
I LOVE your arguments here! Especially that God does not choose people based on whether or not they are willing, and that, like Deborah and Huldah, God chooses women in the midst of active male ministers.
Thank you for your thorough research and clearly presented information.
“. . . in the midst of active male leaders” is right. 🙂
Women ministers are not God’s last resort, which is a ridiculous idea from every angle.
I have heard Deborah described as the “Kool Aid mom on the street,” and that children went to her with her problems. I asked for Scriptural backup and was told it didn’t matter if there was none. Heaven help our churches with teachers like that.
That scenario doesn’t fit with the biblical record in the slightest. The Bible doesn’t even mention if Deborah had kids.
In some regards, Deborah’s ministry was not unlike that of Moses. There are similarities between Moses in Exodus 18:15-16 and Deborah in Judges 4:4-5.
Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” Exodus 18:15-16 NIV
Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife [or woman] of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. Judges 4:4-5 NIV
Deborah achieved the ultimate goal of any ruler, as far as the Bible is concerned— to give God’s people rest. Success in battle, and peace during her tenure, these are God’s response to Deborah’s leadership. The inspired writers can give no higher accolade than to say that during his or, as in this case, her tenure, God’s people experienced rest. Based on this, we would have to rank Deborah among the greatest of the judges.
Dickerson, Ed . For Such a Time (p. 48). PPPA. Kindle Edition.
Thanks for leaving that comment, Ed. It’s great!
Any chance you can email me a pdf of your book. It looks interesting.
This article is false on many levels :
1.) God did not actually appoint Deborah : God appointed Barak.
And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedesh–naphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?
Judges 4:6 KJV
Please take note of the question mark here (?) … This wasn’t an order by Deborah : this is Deborah reiterating the order given to Barak by God.
2.) “Unlike many of the other judges, Deborah did a great job as leader and prophet.” … How exactly? Deborah was Judge when the Israelites were under oppression by the gentiles.
And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles. And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord : for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.
Judges 4:2-3 KJV
Actually, compared to the previous Judges, Deborah was terrible at her job : because the previous Judges ruled over an independent Israel. For example there was no oppression of any kind in the 40 years (Jud 3 : 30) Ehud lead them.
3.) Barak would have won that war without Deborah. God ordered Barak : meaning God knew Barak would win. Deborah was more of a convenient addition by Barak : God didn’t order him to take Deborah along : it was solely his personal decision.
To sum up, if you look at the first two Judges preceding Deborah and Barak, they never ruled Israel in oppression : only Deborah : and both lead Israel out of oppression : which was exactly what Barak did. It’s safe to say the actual judge there was Barak not Deborah. If not for anything for the simple fact that God appointed Barak : just like He appointed Ehud and Othniel.
We can admire Barak’s actions without minimising Deborah’s prophetic role or disparaging her leadership.
Deborah wasn’t just a pretty face. She sent for Barak, she went to war with him when he wouldn’t go without her, and she told Barak when the time was right to strike: “Up; for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand …” (Judges 4:14a).
Barak relied on Deborah’s instructions and her presence. And her prophetic insights were accurate. God knew Barak would win, and so did Deborah. God used Deborah to call the shots.
If God also told Barak what to do, the Bible does not record it. (Also, there are no question marks in the Hebrew text.) The Bible only records Deborah’s prophetic words and commands.
Judges 3 doesn’t tell us how long it took for Othniel or Ehud to act and to subdue the oppressors of Israel. The chapter contains only short accounts of these judges and an even shorter account of Shamgar. Othniel’s actions are summarised in just one verse, and Ehud is not actually called a judge in Judges 3. However, the concluding lines in the accounts of Othniel and of Ehud are not unlike the concluding line in the account of Deborah.
~ After Othniel’s act of deliverance: “So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died” (Judges 3:11).
~ After Ehud’s act of deliverance: “So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years” (Judges 3:30-4:1).
~ After Deborah and Barak’s song, chapter 5 concludes with, “And the land had rest forty years” (Judges 5:31c).
Here are a few more pertinent verses:
“In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways. The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:6-7). This indicates that it was Deborah’s leadership that made the difference. Nothing in the text indicates that Deborah was a terrible judge. Rather, she acted when the time was right.
Furthermore, she had the support of the leaders of the tribe of Issachar and others: “And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even Issachar, and also Barak …” (Judges 5:15).
It was God who raised up the judges. It was God who raised up Deborah. “… the Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them” (Judges 2:16). So credit for delivering the Israelites ultimately goes to God.
Good points, Marg. The text nowhere supports that Deborah was not God’s first choice. If the other judges named in the book were his choice, so was she to the same extent as they. Rest for forty years sounds like a good lengthy period for the Israelites at that time.
Yes, and “the land had rest (quietness/peace) for 40 years” is phrase that implies a job well done and God’s blessing (Josh 11:23; 14:15; Judg. 3:11, 30; 5:31; 8:28; 2 Chron. 14:1, 5, 6; etc).
Could it also have another meaning of God’s work too in the fact that its 40 is a jubilee year? It can work as a sign of blessing but also imply significance in other ways? Such as 40 days and 40 nights on the ark, Jesus being tempted while in the wilderness for 40 days, and living in the desert for 40 years before entering the promise land?
The number 40 is used in the Bible as a way of saying that a period of time or course of action was significantly lengthy and not brief.
Often it refers to a considerable period of testing, sometimes with something great that happens when the testing is over.
There was 40 days and nights of rain in Noah’s time;
Moses spent 40 years in obscurity in Midian (the number 40 comes up a few times in Moses’ life);
The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness before they entered the promised land;
A maximum of 40 lashes was allowed by law in Deuteronomy 25:3;
Goliath taunted the Israelites for 40 days before David defeated him;
Jonah warned the Ninevites: “In 40 days Ninevah will be destroyed”;
Jesus fasted for 40 days in the Judean desert before his temptation.
40 can also refer to a particular period of time in history: an epoch or an era.
Several leaders and kings in the Bible are said to have ruled for 40 years. Judges 5:31 refers to a something similar, an era in Israel’s history: “Then the land had peace forty years.”
The 40 years of peace that resulted from Deborah’s and Barak’s actions was a distinct period of time in Israel’s history, and it wasn’t a short period of time.
Just a little comment: a mother doesn´t deliver a nation. A mother nurtures, cheer up and do many many other mosntrously (in the good sense) valuable things. But they don´t liberate nations. The mother figure is not used in a case where deliverance is being speak of, only in this case and since the coming of feminism. Hence the mother figure in Judges 5:6-7 should be given it´s proper meaning VERY outside of a deliverer. Even when God speaks of Himself as mother (He´d care under His wings to His people as a “hen gathereth her chickens under her wings”) he speaks in terms of nurturing & caring tenderly.
Barak was the deliverer. God didn´t wanted for him to share any part of the lead in Israel army & deliverance. That´s why he was taken off the prime honor of the battle (Sisara´s killing) by another woman.
So, no. Deborah wasn´t a God appointed leader. She was a woman with God given talents who in the end used them properly. She didn´t resembles any woman pastor, nor there´s any other resemblance of a woman pastor in the New Testament. Any New Testament image used to support the case for woman leadership in the church requires a great extent of semantic gymnastics. The early church fathers as well as the reformers didn´t even spoke of such roles for women in the church.
Hmm, there were a few women in the Bible who played crucial roles in delivering nations or cities. Other than Deborah, the wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah is another woman who springs to mind. Some Bible women also saved and rescued individuals. Your idea of what mothers can do is limited and not based on what the Bible says about what women (mothers included) are capable of.
Chrysostom was an early church father and, following on from what the apostle Paul says in his letters, he said some pretty amazing things about Priscilla, Junia, Euodia and Syntyche, etc. Jerome, Hatto of Vercelli and others also acknowledged the leadership and ministry of Bible women in positive and affirming ways in some of their writings.
On the other hand, these same writers, and others, have also said some terrible things about women. Their testimony about women is not what counts, though it is interesting. https://margmowczko.com/misogynist-quotes-from-church-fathers/
What counts is what the Bible says about women.
I have no argument that Barak delivered Israel. He did. And he did so under Deborah’s direction and in Deborah’s company.
I do wonder, however, at your insistence that Barak delivered Israel when you also make the statement that God didn’t want Barak to share any part of the lead in Israel’s army or in the deliverance. If God didn’t want Barak to be acknowledged as leader and deliverer, why are you wasting my time and taking up space on my website by claiming that Barak, not Deborah, was the legitimate leader? (It’s a rhetorical question. I won’t be approving any further comments from you. Two is enough.)
You and Ben fail to understand what Deborah’s purpose really is. Deborah’s primary role is as “a prophet like Moses” (Deu. 18″15-22) as she is the first one-male or female- to be called a prophet since Moses. Judging Israel was only one aspect of her role as a prophet. And in Exodus 18:13-27, even Moses put limits on what he was to judge on the advice of his father in law who suggested that Moses appoint leaders to judge the small matters, but Moses would judge the greater matters. In the time of judges, Deborah didn’t have to sit in the gates of any one city to judge the small matters because her job was to judge the greater matters like Moses. Deborah set up a under a palm tree between Ramah and Bethel to serve as a central location so that all the people in this area could come to her to judge the major matters. This is roughly the same location that Samuel did a judicial circuit 200 years later between Ramah and Bethel and the communities in between. Unlike Samuel, Deborah didn’t have to travel because the people came to her and considering the dangerous times where travelers ceased due to the threat of Sisera that showed the great respect Deborah had. And Deborah appointing Barak to deliver Israel is no different than Moses appointing Joshua, the first judge, as his general and does nothing to diminish Deborah’s role as a leader and “mother in Israel”. In fact, Barak may have doubted Deborah as a “prophet like Moses” because he was asking her to act outside the scope of Deu. 18:15-22 in what she needed to do. In Exodus 17: 8-14, Moses told Joshua he would follow Joshua into battle with the Amaleks of whom he would stand on the top of a hill and move his hands to show power in defeating the Amaleks. I don’t know if Barak may have doubted Deborah as a “prophet like Moses” due to her being a woman, or if he misunderstood that it was Moses, under inspiration of God, who suggested he accompany Joshua into battle rather than the other way around which suggests that Barak did not understand that a “prophet like Moses” does not mean a prophet identical to Moses. Either way, Barak may have wanted Deborah to prove herself to him on the battlefield which was not what God had ordained. Well, Deborah proved herself to Barak, and said the honor would go to a woman only not in the way Barak probably envisioned. So there are a lot of modern day Baraks out there who think Deborah and any woman called by God should jump through man made hoops to prove themselves to males who would doubt a woman’s god given calling. And calling a woman “a mother in Israel” is semitic usage for a female chieftain or leader. God clearly compares Himself to a mother Eagle (not just a hen) who hovers over her nest and leading and instructing while leading Israel from oppression in Egypt. In fact, God takes the form of a of a pillar of fire, or a torch, to lead the israelites in the desert. Deborah is called “a woman of Lappitdoth”, but many scholars have doubts this means she is the wife of a man named Lappitdoth because the name is not a proper name. Rather it is a description that means “torches”. Deborah is described as a woman of torches much like God became a torch to lead Israel in the Exodus.
As Judges 2:16 says “Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them”
There the Bible says that God raised judges which delivered the people or Israel. But then again in Judges 4:3,4 it says “And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily OPRESSED the children of Israel.
And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time”
This indicates that Israel was opressed by Canaan WHILE Deborah was judging.
So, Deborah wasn´t delivering Israel, but Barak did it in the end. This is confirmed in 1Samuel 12:11 “And the LORD sent Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and ye dwelled safe” (Bedan is Barak) and Hebrews 11:32 “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:”
So Deborah wasn´t one of those judges that God raised to deliver His people, Barak WAS!!
Deborah might have been one wise, organized, very smart & with prophetic gift woman that also happened to be taking an unproper role
(let´s say it: rebeling) that coming the time, she repented and gave away her leadership to the proper (annointed) man.
What is the “AWAKE, AWAKE” for Deborah of Judges 5:12 (Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam), if not a coming off sleep, repentance (rebelion, sinful leadership behavior) ?? An awakening to to the will of God. An awakening from under her palm tree (which wasn´t rendering any liberty) into giving up her lead to a chosen man (who also happened to be very reticent, understandably so, cause Deborah might had been giving up a wise & fearful lead).
I have no quibble with the fact that Barak delivered Israel. My article focuses more on what Deborah did and her role in Israel as judge/leader. She may not have been a judge like the men—in fact, all the judges were different—but she is referred to as a judge in the text.
She is also referred to as a prophet, and she was a prophet who got things right. Deborah spoke in God’s name, so we can assume that God spoke to her. Unless you think she was a liar too.
The Bible says nothing negative about Deborah. Your view that she was rebellious is sad and unwarranted. Let’s be clear, Judges 4-5 simply does not say or even hint that Deborah had taken on “an improper role (let’s say it: rebelling)” or that she “gave away her leadership to the proper (anointed) man.” These ideas are not in the text.
Ben made a semi-valid point in that the beginning of Judges 4 does makes it sound as though Deborah was a judge while bad stuff was happening. Except that the accounts of many of the other judges doesn’t make it clear how long bad stuff was happening before they acted or before their actions were successful.
The text indicates that Deborah listened to God and, judging from her recorded words, it is plausible that she waited for when it was God’s timing to act.
Anyway, the overall sense in Judges 4 and 5 is that Deborah was a good leader, not neither a terrible leader or a rebellious leader taking on an improper role. As I said to Ben, “We can admire Barak’s actions without minimising Deborah’s prophetic role or disparaging her leadership.”
Thank you, Marg, for your excellent remarks. Also see 2:18, that, “Whenever the Lord raised up a judge over Israel, he was with that judge and rescued the people from their enemies throughout the judge’s lifetime.”
An important overall theme to remember is that the heart of YHWH is always to empower and raise up the broken, weak, poor, oppressed, and marginalized to accomplish His purposes. The portrayals of each of the judges reflect this. For example, Ehud was left-handed (considered a major defect in Ancient Near Eastern culture), Gideon was gripped by fear, Samson was a moral disaster. Ruth, though not a judge, was from the same time period, and she was a poor, widowed, childless (barren?), Moabite, woman whom YHWH raised up to demonstrate true faith in YHWH. She was David’s great-grandmother, and ancestor to Jesus the Messiah. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
YHWH’s plan to use the broken and marginalized is the antithesis of the accuser’s lie, “you shall be as gods.” Jesus modeled this theme of using the broken and marginalized throughout His earthly ministry. He intentionally used “the least of these” to proclaim His Messiahship and the message of the gospel. He repeatedly empowered women to speak and proclaim the gospel, while in contrast He often told men to be quiet and not speak of His miracles or His Messiahship. To my knowledge, the only woman He instructed to be quiet was the wife of Jairus the synagogue leader, and He told her husband Jairus to keep silent as well. They both arguably held prominent power and authority in their community.
Deborah’s gender was her cultural “defect.” God raised her up and was with her throughout her lifetime to accomplish His mighty purposes as a warrior, judge, prophet, musician, and matriarch. YHWH gave the victory to His people at the hands of Deborah and Jael. Deborah’s victory song is canonized scripture (Judges 5). YHWH’s strength accomplished this victory through human weakness, the intentional antithesis of human status or power. “Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” Zechariah 4:6
We must be diligent to use the telescope as well as the microscope to comprehend the plans and purposes of YHWH.
Thanks for your excellent thoughts, Deborah.
Yes, Judges 2:16 is an important verse. And Deborah was indeed a “warrior, judge, prophet, musician, and matriarch.”
Have you seen this one minute video? https://www.bibleodyssey.org/video-gallery/what-gender-issues-are-present-in-the-book-of-judges/
In it, Hebrew professor David Wright outlines the gender issues present in the book of Judges. He states that the downward spiral of Israelite society is mapped out by how they treat women.
Also, I’ve written another article on Deborah that looks more closely at her personality. https://margmowczko.com/deborah-woman-of-lappidoth/
People claim that
1. Deborah being a judge is not evidence she was a leader because princes were the leaders
2. That her teaching under the palm tree was private, so is evidence women can’t publicly teach anyone besides other women
3. Barak was rebuked for refusing to fight without Deborah and that she submitted to his spiritual authority in letting him lead the army. His leadership was apparently also for rallying the leaders of the other tribes.
4. Someone besides Deborah being instructed to fight, but none of the male leaders being instructed to get someone else during a battle is evidence women can’t have as much authority as men to lead
5. Deborah’s husband being named but none of the male judge’s wives being named indicates her role wasn’t as important as theirs
6. She didn’t contribute to restore Israel.
I don’t know if these claims are accurate. I know of these arguments from this site https://scottlapierre.org/deborah-supports-male-leadership/?fbclid=IwAR3YB2gON4–Y4f1Vf3UsVlgY_OiD04PeLpbwkjvQhCFxlmHfVrpCfotd5U and from a person in the comment section on this source https://www.cbeinternational.org/blogs/captain-marvel-and-rise-women-warriors-response-desiring-god named dincny in his responses to mine.
Hi Eric, Quite frankly, I think each and every one of these six points reveals a very poor level of basic comprehension on the part of those who propose these ideas.
1. There were leaders in Deborah’s time, but they were not judges who were the chief rulers at the time. I like what Robert Alter, an eminent Hebrew scholar, has said about the roles of the “judge”:
‘The [Hebrew] word shofet, traditionally translated as “judge,” has two different meanings —”judge” in the judicial sense and “leader” or “chieftain.” The latter sense is obviously the relevant one for [the book of Judges], though the sole female judge, Deborah, in fact also acts as a judicial authority, sitting under the palm tree named after her.’
Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, Vol. 3 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2019) (I’ve italicised “also.”)
The other leaders in Israel (or some of them) followed Deborah’s lead. They also followed Barak’s lead who followed Deborah. Judges 5:15 says that “the chiefs of Issachar came with Deborah, and Issachar faithful to Barak” (Judges 5:15 NRSV). Deborah was grateful for the support of the other leaders (Judges 5:9f ESV).
2. Deborah’s palm tree is described as being in a prominent position and accessible to all Israel. It was just north of the crossroads of busy trading routes in the centre of Israel. The public-private distinction is a red herring and irrelevant, but there’s no reason to assume that Deborah was hidden away from public view. And there’s no reason to assume that Deborah and Barak’s song, where they mention many people, was sung in private. We still have the words to their song. Deborah’s story and her song are very much in the public domain and have been for millennia.
Also, the Hebrew verb yashab (יָשַׁב), used in participle form in Judges 4:5 where it means “she would sit,” while it is a common word used in a variety of contexts, sometimes has the sense of sitting as king or judge and of being enthroned. The NIV translates the participle as “she held court” (Judges 4:5 NIV).
Judges chapters 4-5 does not say that Deborah only judged (or, led) women. Rather it says that she judged Israel, a nation, and that the sons of Israel came to her for judgement: “At that time Deborah, a prophetess, a woman/wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment (Judges 4:4-5).
The words “Israel” and “the sons of Israel” are all masculine words in the Hebrew text. Furthermore, we are told that Deborah summoned Barak, a man, and told him what to do. Deborah led Barak. Deborah led the nation of Israel. It’s ridiculous to try and fit her story with faulty ideas of male-only church leadership based on misreadings of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15.
3. Barak was the general of the army. It was his job, and he had the authority, to gather and lead Israel’s army. Deborah was not part of the army and Barak did not lead her. Both Deborah and Barak had their own authority and they worked together.
Barak wanted Deborah to go with him to the battle. He valued her abilities and her company. It sounds as though he relied on her. But Deborah was not impressed with his statement, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go” (Judges 4:8f). So she rebukes him.
4. I don’t understand what is meant by point 4.
5. Most Bible women are identified by their relationship to their husband (if married) or their father (if unmarried). Men are often identified with their father: “Joshua son of Nun” Judges 2:8; “Othniel son of Kenaz” Judges 3:9; “Ehud … the son of Gera the Benjamite” Judges 3:15, “Shamgar son of Anath” Judges 3:31, “Barak son of Abinoam” Judges 5:1; etc. That’s how society worked then. These identifications functioned a bit like surnames. No one suggests that the men being identified with their father belittles them. Likewise, there is nothing belittling about a married woman being identified with her husband. However, Lappidoth may not be the name of Deborah’s husband. It may be the name of her hometown, or it may be a description of her character. I write about this here: https://margmowczko.com/deborah-woman-of-lappidoth/
6. Deborah contributed to the peace and prosperity of Israel. (Is that what you mean by “restore”?) Judges 5:6-7 CSB says this, “In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the main roads were deserted because travelers kept to the side roads. Villages were deserted, they were deserted in Israel, until I, Deborah, arose, a mother in Israel.” And at the end of the account involving Deborah, Barak and Jael it says, “And the land had rest forty years” (Judges 5:31).
Deborah’s leadership fits the pattern given in Judges 2:16-19. God was with Deborah. He guided her and spoke through her, and he blessed Israel through her leadership.
By number 4, I meant that people think Deborah being commanded by God to get Barak to lead an army is evidence God prefers men to be leaders, because the male judges were not commanded to get someone else to lead an army. They think Deborah was an exception to a rule established by God, so her role is irrelevant for what women in general are allowed to do. Some of them claim that because God commanded Barak to lead and Deborah simply rellayed the message to him, that it wasn’t an example of her having authority.
I understand now. But it doesn’t make sense. Not all judges led armies. And leading an army is just one kind of leadership. Just because Deborah didn’t lead an army doesn’t mean she wasn’t a leader.
There are 12 judges mentioned in the Book of Judges.
1. Othniel went to war and so presumably he led an army. Judges 3:10
2. Ehud acted alone and then called the Israelites to follow him in battle. Judges 3:15, 27-29.
3. Shamgar seems to have acted alone. There is no mention that he formed or led an army Judges 3:31.
4. Deborah directs Barak to go to war against the Canaanites. Judges 4:6ff
5. Gideon forms an army. Judges 6:34ff
6. Tola is not said to have formed or led an army. Judges 10:1-2
7. Jair is not said to have formed or to have led an army. Judges 10:3-5
8. Jephthah led an army that was already formed and in need of leader. Judges 10:18-11:1.
9. Ibzan is not said to have formed or to have led an army. Judges 12:8-10
10. Elon is not said to have formed or to have led an army. Judges 12:11.
11. Abdon is not said to have formed or to have led an army. Judges 12:13-15.
12. Samson seems to have acted alone. There is no mention that he formed or led an army, Judges 14:19; 15:14ff, 20; 16:30.
So of 12 judges, only 4 led armies and fewer formed armies. (I hope I’ve got those figures right.)
The Bible said that Deborah was judging Israel, and judging was a kind of leadership. And telling Barak what to do was a kind of leadership. Delegation is a kind of leadership. Leaders don’t have to do everything themselves. Furthermore, unlike some judges such as Gideon and Samson, there is nothing to indicate that Deborah’s character was dodgy or her actions compromised or immoral.
This is such a common argument I’ve heard, but I’ve never actually seen a verse cited that actually says she was leading because there were no men. I’ve also seen people diminish Deborah by saying Barak was the one praised in Hebrews 11 and 1 Samuel 12:11. While I don’t know why she was not mentioned, it does seem to undermine (if not completely defeat) the no available men argument. He was a man and available. Also, it is interesting that he was praised, and he took divine commands and instructions from a woman who led Israel. While I still wonder why Barak is the one mentioned, it does seem to show he didn’t do wrong by listening to her.
Yes, Barak is a man and he is available! 🙂
I think it’s a shame Deborah isn’t mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, but Barak is. (However, Deborah is mentioned in 1 Samuel 12:11 in ancient Syriac texts. See NET note 3 here.) I wonder if it’s because men tend to look to other men as examples rather than to women.
I was in a Bible study group about thirty years ago and we were discussing what Bible book to study next. I suggested the book of Ruth. The male leader dismissed my suggestion with the light-hearted statement, “That’s a girl’s book.” I was speechless and I have never forgotten his words. He wasn’t interested in studying a book where a woman was the major character. He probably felt that, because he was a man, her story would not have anything that might teach or inspire him.
The backdrop of the Bible is a patriarchal world and so the mentions of women, especially courageous women like Deborah, make them all the more remarkable.
I have just recently wondered if partly some of the reason Barack was mentioned in Hebrews 11 in regards to being a man of faith , because of the faith he had in Deborah’s leadership, that she WAS chosen and anointed by God.
I really don’t know why Barak and not Deborah is named in Hebrews 11.
Deborah was mainly a prophet with judging as part of the job description “like Moses” as shown in Deu. 18:15-22. In Hebrews 11, it says “and of Samson and of the prophets” so it would be more fitting for Deborah to be included under this part of Hebrews 11.
Perhaps. But it still doesn’t explain why Barak is named and Deborah isn’t.
According to most surviving ancient manuscripts, except for the Syriac, the authors of 1 Samuel also mention Barak without mentioning Deborah in 1 Samuel 12:11. (A translation from the Syriac Peshitta is here.) Perhaps they, and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, were more familiar with, or preferred, a different, non-biblical tradition the featured Barak but not Deborah.
I really don’t know why Deborah isn’t named, but Barak is, in Hebrews 11. However, many biblical heroes and heroines are not mentioned in Hebrews 11. So the absence of Deborah’s name is not especially significant.
That’s because she was not the leader of the nation. That’s why God told her to call Barak. I notice a lot of people are giving their emotional opinion and not understanding the context through the spirit of God what is going on in this story. She judged not lead . She was speaking for God as a prophetess concerning things about Israel. Just like Isaiah ,Ezekiel and Jeremiah. She judged the actions of the people. The bible never says she was a deliverer of the people. Notice in chapter 3 verse 15 of judges it says they cried unto the lord and he raised them up a deliverer. It does not say that in chapter 4 . That’s why she is not mentioned in hebrews. God is not the author of confusion.
In the book of Judges, the chief leaders or delivers are called “judges.” Barak is not called a judge.
Here’s how all the judges are introduced in Judges 2:16-19:
“The Lord raised up judges, who saved them from the power of their marauders, but they did not listen to their judges. Instead, they prostituted themselves with other gods, bowing down to them. They quickly turned from the way of their ancestors, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands. They did not do as their ancestors did. Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for the Israelites, the Lord was with him and saved the people from the power of their enemies while the judge was still alive. The Lord was moved to pity whenever they groaned because of those who were oppressing and afflicting them. Whenever the judge died, the Israelites would act even more corruptly than their ancestors, following other gods to serve them and bow in worship to them. They did not turn from their evil practices or their obstinate ways.”
It’s true that Judges 4 doesn’t include the line that God raised the judge, a line that we see in some of the stories of other judges (e.g. Judges 3:9, 15). However, Deborah was the leader of Israel. She was a judge, a prophet, and a military advisor. The only other judge to do all these three things is Samuel, the last judge of Israel before the monarchy.
Deborah and Barak worked together to deliver Israel. And that’s a great thing, a lesson to us all. Working together and utilising the gifts of others is much better than working alone. Also, unlike several other judges, there is not a bad word said about Deborah. Israel prospered under her leadership. Deborah was a blessing.
The Bible refers to Deborah a judging in a book where the judges were leaders and deliverers. It’s ridiculous to argue that Deborah only settled disputes, especially when we recognise she was a prophetess, that she summoned Barak, that she went with him into battle, and when we read Judges 5 as well as Judges 4.
“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael,
the main roads were deserted because travelers kept to the side roads.
Villages were deserted, they were deserted in Israel,
until I, Deborah, arose, a mother in Israel.” Judges 5:6-7 CSB
Hebrews 11:32ff does not mention all the judges or only judges. Barak was the military leader, but is not called a judge. Deborah was the judge, Barak was the military leader. It’s not a contest. They each had their equally important role and worked together to deliver Israel. Samuel also recognised Barak as a deliver (1 Sam. 12:11).
It’s not about others who didn’t have the title deliverer. She didn’t have the title judge or deliverer. It said she judged. That’s not saying she is a judge. People can judge people without having the title judge. No where in the bible is it stated that she was a leader. That is why she is not mentioned in hebrews. I here your opinion but it has no witness. If God wanted female leaders he would of easily ordained many in the bible. God doesn’t want any man lead by women in the kingdom of God. People have the world and God confused. God doesn’t contradict himself. A prophetess doesn’t lead. She tells what thus says the lord. The head of every man is God. The head of every woman is man. God and men have authority concerning leading weather in spirit or natural.
Cody, I don’t know what your problem is, but Deborah was clearly judging Israel as a judge:
“She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided” Judges 4:5 NIV.
Or if you prefer:
“And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment” Judges 4:5 NKJV.
These are the actions of a judge and it’s futile to argue otherwise. Deborah was a judge of Israel. And only a few of the twelve or so judges in the book of Judges are mentioned in Hebrews 11.
Deborah also demonstrated leadership beyond giving judgements. She summoned Barak, and he came. And he didn’t want to go into battle without her. Even though he was a military leader, he wanted Deborah by his side, and they both delivered Israel.
Before Deborah began her leadership, life was tough in Israel. Judges 5 shows us that Deborah led as a matriarch and that Israel was behind her, and that they were blessed because of it. Deborah was a leader.
“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned;
travelers took to winding paths.
Villagers in Israel would not fight;
they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
until I arose, a mother in Israel. Judges 5:6-7
Why can’t a prophetess lead? Miriam was a prophetess who led Israel. God says that he (literally) sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam before Israel (Micah 6:4). Old Testament prophets, including Deborah, were spiritual leaders of their communities. God has and continues to “ordain” women leaders.
God has no problem with godly, capable women leading his people. In fact, the Bible records more than a few men who were guided, advised and led by women in the Bible, and the men and their communities were blessed because of it. I list these men here.
Also, the “confusion” Paul was speaking about had to do with unruly Corinthians prophesying and speaking over the top of one another. Paul tells them,
“For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” 1 Corinthians 14:31-33a ESV.
The Greek word translated as “confusion” here (akatastasía) means disorder, disturbance, or commotion. See here.
Paul told three groups of Corinthians, both men and women, to be silent because their speech was unruly and unedifying (1 Cor. 14:26-40). Paul didn’t silence orderly, gifted, or edifying speech. More on this here.
The confusion, or commotion, in the Corinthian assemblies has nothing whatsoever to do with Deborah who was not unruly and who used her prophetic gift in an edifying manner. And Deborah’s leadership brought peace. Your repeated quotation from 1 Corinthians 14 is irrelevant to Deborah’s ministry.
Also, if you’re going to quote 1 Corinthians 11:3, quote it accurately. It doesn’t say “The head of every woman is man.” Importantly, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 must be read as a whole. Don’t stop at verse 3 or even at verse 10. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is written as a chiasm, and the second half of the chiasm, verses 11-16, explain the statements in the first half. More about this here. And note that this passage is about the appearance of heads, or hairstyles, of the men and women who were prophesying and praying aloud in Corinthians assemblies. Many Christians fail to note what the whole passage is about. They miss the context. I suspect you’ve missed the context of this passage and others too.
Cody, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Paul appreciated and commended women ministers.
I won’t be responding further to your objections. I’ve spent enough time on your concerns. But if I were you, I would be very wary about stifling or silencing the ministry of present-day or future Deborahs, Miriams, Huldahs, Annas, or Priscillas, or the ministries of any of your capable sisters in Christ. Peace.
I will let Scripture have the last word.
“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife [or woman] of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak …” Judges 4:4-6a ESV (italics added).
“Now Deborah, a prophetess, wife [or woman] of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She would sit under the Date Palm Tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the Ephraimite hill country. The Israelites would come up to her to have their disputes settled. She summoned Barak … Judges 4:4-6a NET Bible (italics added).
“And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife [or woman] of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. And she sent and called Barak …” Judges 4:4-6a KJV (italics added).
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