Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife 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. Judges 4:4–5
Have you spent much time reading the book of Judges? Most people haven’t. It is tucked away in a kind of in between time in the life of Israel. It contains odd stories, a similarly repetitive book, the story of the time after Moses and Joshua where though they had promised to do otherwise, the people of God turned away from him to worship other, lesser, fake gods. God in his faithfulness sent men and a woman named Deborah to lead and guide them. Some were up to the task, others were not, Deborah seems to have been the most faithful, a woman who was married, who was a prophet, speaking for God, a leader of a nation, the mother of Israel.
I was reminded as I studied and prepared my sermon last week about the many, many women in the Bible whom God called to lead his people. It seems like God is a champion of women in leadership. “But,” you might ask, “those women were an anomaly, right?” “Aren’t the leaders in the Bible almost all men, the writers of scripture men?” “Didn’t the apostle Paul says that the men should be the leaders?” Yes, all of that is true. But in the whole context of the whole Bible, I think you will be amazed at the amount of woman leaders God chose.
Think about the context of the society of the Bible. It was a very patriarchal society. Women were bought and sold as property. Women had to do what the men told them to do. A woman’s testimony in court was not allowed. Women were not fully human. It is in that context that the story of God we read in the Bible resides. In that context how many woman of influence should we expect to find? None. In that society were women were oppressed and silent there should be no women of influence, because there were none. But, in scripture, that is not what we see. Instead we see Miriam, a prophet — speaking the words of God, Deborah, a ruler, placed by God to have leadership and authority over men, Ruth, a strong foreign woman who rescues her family, Esther who is basically bought to be a sex slave and who saves a nation through her influence, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary and Martha, the women at the tomb, Lydia, the women who were disciples of Jesus, Prescilla and Junia who were church leaders (and I am leaving a lot of the women of the Bible out).
My point is this: God calls and gifts women as he does men, to lead his people. So what does it mean that Paul says women should be silent, or that women should have no authority over men. Well, unless we want to say that the God who appointed all of these women did not know what he was doing, or that he somehow changed his view of women with Paul, than the language of Paul must have been situational. There is no other explanation that allows us to view God with the consistent ethic that he deserves. We don’t know the specific situation in the Pauline letters, but we know the pattern of our God who calls us — all of us — to partner with him in his Kingdom throughout the Bible and now.
Several years ago I had to go my daughters and ask for forgiveness for anything that I might have done that told them that they had a somehow lesser role. They looked at me like I was crazy (not the first time) and said they were good. But I was not intentional with them the way that I should have been.
How are you being intentional in helping women and girls realize their calling?
Peace, hope and love