Dear Editor: The Bible and women; why Deborah’s story matters

“[…] I did not always know about Deborah—based on my experience, she is rarely spoken about from the pulpits.  So I had been a Christian for many years before coming across her story a few years ago during a bible study session.

“I feel I need to write about it.  Why?  Because as a woman, I am distressed by the realisation that many people in local society labour under a serious misconception about God’s attitude to the female of the species.

“There are many here in T&T who need to know that, in God’s eyes, we women are no less capable than our male counterparts.  And I suspect that knowing the Deborah story, becoming aware that at one point Israel had a female leader, can help to set them straight…”

The following guest column on the Bible’s story of Deborah was submitted to Wired868 by Akilah Holder:

Deborah (centre) holds court in ancient Israel.

The only female judge of Israel mentioned in the Bible is Deborah, whose story is told in Judges, chapter 4.

Decorated with the titles of prophetess and priestess as well, she was at one point effectively the leader of Israel. Judges 4 tells us that she “held court” under a palm tree—the Palm Tree of Deborah—between Ramah (modern day Er-Ram) and the ancient Palestinian city of Bethel (called Baytin in modern times).

It is there, the story goes, that the Israelites would come to her for guidance as well as to seek resolution of any disputes that arose among them.

Artist Adriene Cruz’s depiction of Deborah in “Under the Palm Tree”.

Like any other judge and prophet of Israel, she is said to have earned great respect as someone who heard from God and handled the affairs of Israel according to his guidance.

I did not always know about Deborah—based on my experience, she is rarely spoken about from the pulpits.  So I had been a Christian for many years before coming across her story a few years ago during a bible study session.

I feel I need to write about it.  Why?  Because as a woman, I am distressed by the realisation that many people in local society labour under a serious misconception about God’s attitude to the female of the species.

There are many here in T&T who need to know that, in God’s eyes, we women are no less capable than our male counterparts.  And I suspect that knowing the Deborah story, becoming aware that at one point Israel had a female leader, can help to set them straight.

Yes, not only did Israel have a female leader but one approved by God. Such a finding pulls the rug out from under those male Christian leaders who believe that women are less capable than men and thus ought not to hold leadership positions in the Church.

It also undermines the belief held by many that a woman’s place is in the home and she is unfit for holding secular leadership positions.

So what is the Deborah story that Judges tells us?  For full 20 years, the Canaanite general, Sisera, had oppressed the Israelite. As Israel’s then judge and prophetess, she was commanded by God to instruct Barak, a military commander, to lead a military campaign against Sisera.

Deborah holds court.

Following God’s order, we learn in verses 6-8, she instructed Barak, to round up 10,000 troops from the Israelite tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor.

Barak hesitates, wary about the assignment. He will do as he is told but he requests that Deborah go with him.

“I will lead Sisera,” Judges tells us is the assurance he gives his faithful female servant, “the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.”

Deborah and Barak.

Buoyed by the Lord’s promise, Deborah agrees to accompany the vacillating Barak, effectively making herself the military leader of Israel.

Deborah knows that God always keeps his promises. So in the face of Barak’s unwillingness to mount the campaign against Sisera without her, she announces to him that, because of his fear, God will give the honour of the victory to a woman.

When Sisera gets wind of Israel’s impending attack against him and rallies his own troops for battle, according to Judges 4:14, it is not Barak but Deborah who issues the first instruction to the troops.

“Charge!” she says to Barak. “This very day God has given you victory over Sisera. Isn’t God marching before you?”

And so it was that, with the Lord’s help, Israel decimated Sisera’s troops.

Sisera survived the battle and escaped. Not for long. In verses 17-21, we are informed that the defeated commander of Jabin’s army fled to the tent of a woman whose name is given as Jael.

This Jael, we learn, was the wife of Heber, a Kenite—Kenites being allies of the Israelites. Where Sisera thought to find sanctuary, he found treachery; Jael used the opportunity to kill him, ensuring total victory for the Israelites.

Jael slays Sisera.

Israel was saved that day and two women had been instrumental in the destruction of the forces arrayed against her.

Where Barak had hesitated to take on Sisera and his troops, Deborah had had the courage to lead the Israelites into battle. And where Sisera had contrived to live to fight another day, Jael had stopped him in his tracks.

So I want to speak directly to all those male church leaders, male congregants and other male chauvinists who still insist that women are less capable than their male counterparts.

You see those of us on the distaff side as inferior to all those on the spear side. We have no right to be on the pulpit, you say, no right to speak out in church. We should remain silent in God’s house.

For you all, I have only a handful of words: study Judges 4 and think again.

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One comment

  1. Deborah was an exception. Still without Barack she could not fulfil her purpose. All over scripture there r times when YAHWEH elevated women & used them. An exception doesn’t make a rule. There r more instances of women being forbidden from leadership in d church in d scriptures than there r 4 them holding office.

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