David Lee Brown
Deborah, the Prophetess, and Judge
Often Deborah is seen as an example of leadership. She is used to "prove" that women should be in all leadership positions in the church. This view is pushed forward even though the leadership roles of the church are clearly defined in the New Testament. 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:5-16. Scripture defines the leadership role of the Deacon, Pastor, and Elder very specifically as an exclusively male role, with additional requirements. So, should Deborah be looked up to and lauded as a leader and role model for women in ministry? Does Deborah prove that all leadership roles are open to women? Let's examine the history that led to Deborah becoming a judge in Israel and then answer these questions.
History Leading to Deborah as Judge (Judges 3-5)
During this period in Israel, there was no king. Israel was self-governing but was required to pay an annual tribute to the nation Moab. This tribute was required to keep Moab from attacking Israel. It was kind of like paying an extortionist protection money. The people of Israel were tired of paying this tribute or extortion, so they tried to end paying this tribute. They sent a man named Ehud to the King of Moab. We can conclude that Ehud brought the tribute with him as part of a ruse. He could have never asked for a private audience with King Eglon of Moab if he hadn't. Ehud said he had a secret message for King Eglon and was granted a private meeting with the king. Ehud had no message for the king but instead used a hidden short sword to stab and gut the king. He locked the chamber door and escaped. When the king's men found King Eglon, Ehud was long gone. After arriving home in Israel, he gathered the tribes of Israel and attacked Moab killing about 10,000 Moabite soldiers.
This treachery or patriotism, depending on your perspective, led to 80 years of peace in Israel. Then, per Judges 4:1, "And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, when Ehud was dead." After the death of Ehud, there was a leadership vacuum in Israel, and Israel rebelled against God. So, God subjugated them under the forced leadership of King Jabin of Canaan. So, eventually, the people cried out to God in repentance. This is where Deborah comes in, not as a savior but as a spiritual leader and spiritual judge.
Deborah, the Prophetess, and Judge
First, let's define prophetess: According to Strong's concordance, the Hebrew word nebiah means "a prophetess or (generally) inspired woman; by implication, a poetess; by association a prophet's wife." So, she was a Godly woman well acquainted with Hebrew scripture. She was wise and non-threatening, so King Jabin allowed her to sit in judgment over Israel. God knew King Jabin would quickly and decisively deal with a man's leadership, so God used Deborah to fulfill His will. Deborah sat in judgment concerning God's will for Israel but not for civil disputes between individuals. That type of judgment was the comprehensive duty of a male Judge; for example, Samuel was both a civil and spiritual judge. So, Deborah was fulfilling God's will, but it would not be His usual choice as a Judge of Israel. She was an exception to the rule.
Deborah, a Leader and Role Model for Women in Ministry
Deborah is a fine example of a devout woman of God. Her wisdom and advice came from God's Word, not her own. As a woman, Deborah was not allowed to lead in civil disputes or lead the army of Israel, but appointed a general to lead the army, eventually freeing Israel from external rule. The appointed general was Barak of Naphtali. He could do nothing without Deborah's leadership, nor could she defend Israel without his military leadership. Together they became a complete deliverer and effected a complete deliverance.
Deborah was not a complete deliverer, prophetess, or judge. She needed a man to complete the will of God for Israel. This truth does not mean she was subservient to this man. On the contrary, he depended on her help as a spiritual and judicial leader. Neither of these defenders of Israel could deliver Israel from their enemies alone. This relationship is a picture of a Christian marriage: equal participants (one man and one woman) with different roles coming together to accomplish God's will. That's what Christian marriage is all about.
Does Deborah Prove that All Leadership Roles are Open to Women
The short answer is no: "Does Deborah prove that all leadership roles are open to women?" She was an outstanding spiritual leader but was an incomplete leader. So, Deborah is a wonderful example for women in ministry. But she is not an example of a woman's quest to unbiblically take pastoral leadership. Pastoral leadership is exclusively the role of men. Read my Deacon, Elder, and Pastor Qualifications article for more information. Women can fulfill many crucial roles in ministry, and I love my sisters in Christ that fill those ministerial roles. I have the highest admiration for Godly women doing God's will directed exclusively by Biblical scripture. I do not admire women who choose their will over God's will. The Bible understood in its entirety, specifies men's and women's roles. God ordains these roles to fulfill His perfect will. As Christians, we must always comply with God's will.