“Occasionally, a strong-minded and unique woman breaks in upon human history and by her exploits leaves the impact of her personality upon events and secures for herself an imperishable honor.”
This is how Bible Gateway describes Deborah. The Bible says she was, among other things, a wife, a prophetess, and a judge: “Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife 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). People came to her for wisdom. She was a ruler of Israel before the time of their kings. She was a war-time leader and military strategist; in fact, in Judges 4, she tells a man named Barak to go to war, and he says, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go” (Judges 4:8). And when they go and win that war, Deborah shows that she’s also a writer—Judges 5 is “The Song of Deborah,” written after the victory and preceding 40 years of peace.
Does she sound different than most of the women we’ve discussed so far? She sure didn’t lay at any man’s feet like Ruth, or pray for nothing more than a baby like Hannah and Sarah, or tempt her husband into the fall of humanity and become world’s worst wife like Eve. Deborah ruled, judged and strategized for war, but if we spoke with her in 2015, I’d almost bet that she’d ask why we’re even setting her apart from the other women who fulfilled their calls of being mothers and housewives.
I’m well aware that the issue of women’s rights is a hot-button issue in our world and that the issue of women’s roles is a hot-button issue within our church. I’m also well aware that the church cannot function as it should if people of either gender are afraid of using their gifts, whatever those gifts are, whatever those gifts’ connotation is. The gift of being a mother is one of the greatest in the world, I’m told. It’s something desperately needed in the church and a desire engrained into the hearts of most women I know. Also desperately needed is the gift of writing. Also desperately needed is the gift of administration, and the gift of song, and the gift of teaching others. Also desperately needed is the gift of graphic design or marketing.
The bottom line is that during Hannah’s life, Israel needed a judge and a prophet, and God brought one through Hannah’s motherhood. The bottom line is that during Deborah’s life, Israel needed a spokes(wo)man of God, a wise judge, a leader, and God brought one through Deborah herself. The bottom line is that during our lives, America needs spokeswomen of God. It needs people who will speak the truth in love. It needs leaders who will lead towards godliness. And we can fulfill those needs through our gifts, through our families, through our lifestyles.
I think Deborah’s ancient world—the biblical world—is one that many in today’s progressivism look back on with disdain. I think many look at the majority of biblical women as weak because they “didn’t do anything with their lives” except have babies. And I do think Deborah was and remains an example of a person standing as a beacon for God in a sea of excuses, as someone who went outside the culture’s typical and did something extraordinary. And you know what? I think Hannah and Ruth and the others who were wives and mothers did too. (I mean, giving birth without an epidural??)
I’ve heard the arguments today. I’ve heard in joking and in seriousness that a woman’s place is in the kitchen or that her only place in ministry is a pastor’s wife. I’ve also heard the other extreme, that a woman’s value is derived from seizing a man’s. But I think Deborah and the other Old Testament women show us that a woman’s place is not just one place. The women of the Bible show us that a woman’s place—and a man’s place—is working alongside sisters and brothers, complementing strengths and acting as a crutch in weakness, to be His witnesses to all the ends of the earth. That’s when any human breaks upon history in a way that will make a true, lasting mark for Jesus Christ.