Deborah: “The Woman Who Led Men”


The twentieth century saw women push into fields that were traditionally male. They now comprise nearly half the American workforce. They are allowed to serve in combat; in fact, America has more women in its military than any other nation! They can even assume significant political roles, such as president or prime minister.

The church has not been immune to this. Many Protestant denominations have begun ordaining women into ministry. It is becoming common for women to serve in preaching or pastoral roles.

Women still have a long way to go in reaching equality. For as much progress as they’ve made, they are still represented (and paid) less than men in many aspects of society. And society still has a long way to go in accepting and acknowledging them as equals. It has always been so.

One Bible character rose above the limitations and conventions of her day. She served God’s people as a political, military, and spiritual leader. She inspires women to lead in whatever capacity and to whatever extent they can. Her name is Deborah.

Honor Goes to a Woman
Deborah was a judge in northern Israel. The judges were local, tribal leaders who ruled from 1400 – 1050 B.C. Because of Israel’s sinfulness, God had subjected them to the king of Canaan for 20 years.

The Bible says Deborah was “a prophet…[who] was leading Israel at that time. She held court…in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided” (Judges 4:4-5).

Deborah commanded Barak to gather a force of 10,000 men and confront the Canaanites in battle. Barak refused to go unless she went with him. She agreed but warned, “Because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman” (4:9).

God routed the Canaanites before Barak. The Israelites pursued them until “not a man was left. Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite,” because there was an alliance between the Canaanites and Kenites (4:16-17).

Jael welcomed Sisera into her tent. She killed him while he slept by driving a tent peg through his temple. So God defeated the Canaanite commander – by the hands of a woman.

Judge Jesus
Deborah strengthens our faith by giving us hope. She is a woman, but she still serves as a prefigurement of our ultimate Judge – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Israel was oppressed by the Canaanites. In the same way, the church suffers oppression today. Christians are persecuted in more than 60 countries. As Deborah led the armies of Israel against their enemies, so Jesus will lead the armies of heaven against our enemies to deliver us from the forces Satan assembles against us (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8; Revelation 19:11-21).

Giving Women a Chance
Deborah also challenges us to consider which roles women should fulfill in the church. Christian churches cling tightly to a male model of leadership. After all, the church’s leadership in the past has always been male. And biblically, the male model seems best.

But we must consider the church’s present situation. Church attendance in our country is at an all-time low. America is now the world’s fourth-largest unchurched nation! On top of that, legislative trends make it painfully clear we have lost our influence entirely.

And all this is happening under male leadership.

What should women do? Deborah gives us the answer. She encouraged Barak to lead the Israelites and urged him into battle. But at the end of the day, the honor went to a woman because of his reluctance.

Christian women should follow her example. They ought to submit to their husbands and encourage them to lead God’s people. But when men refuse to lead or prove ineffective, women shouldn’t be afraid to step out in faith and do the job themselves.

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5 thoughts on “Deborah: “The Woman Who Led Men”

  1. This is an interesting post that has a lot of potential to spark some debate.

    I think some of these statements are hard to take in light of New Testament theology and Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 2:12. Obviously, we would have to debate Complementarianism versus Egalitarianism. There have been books written on this topic and you can find fair defenses for each side of the debate. As for me, I lean towards the complementarian view of things in light of Paul’s pastoral epistles.

    There are plenty of denominations that ordain women as leaders and even pastors and usually their theology is extremely liberal and poorly illustrated from scripture. We do not need more of that.

    Men and women have both failed in the church. Most of the time it starts at home. We cannot just trust the church to teach our children the truths of scripture. We are called to immerse ourselves in the word of God and teach our children at home. I do not have children so this is not a current issue I personally face. However, I meet countless young people that went to church with their parents but never saw scripture illustrated at home.

    I don’t think the church needs more needs to be more open-minded. I believe the mainstream church has watered down the gospel in order to be open minded. Church these days feels like a self-help seminar with some music. Many churches don’t teach through books of the Bible anymore and resort to a catchy sermon series with some Bible references peppered in here and there when it fits the situation. There are Mega Churches across the nation right now that have thousands of attendees that know next to nothing about Jesus or the implications of the atonement.

    I can’t help but think about Andy Stanley’s recent comments about “unhitching the Old Testament” from our thinking. Stanley made false statements about the 1st-century church to go along with his ideas. He claimed the 1st-century believers never looked at the Old Testament as a model of living.

    We know that is blatantly false. The book of Acts clearly demonstrates how Paul showed people through the Old Testament about Jesus. Another thing that is interesting is all of Paul’s Old Testament quotations in his letters to the churches. Obviously, he expected them to understand what he was referencing. Romans 9 comes to mind first. Paul cites the Old Testament throughout his discourse to show the sovereign choices of God through the history of Israel.

    What is sad is now many who listen to Andy Stanley will think it is okay to just disregard the richness of the Old Testament. That my friend is a serious error.

    Many people don’t enjoy confessions and creeds but the Reformers wrote those things because they thought long and hard about Biblical doctrine. The confessions and creeds are not inspired scripture by any means but they do a fantastic job of outlining the word of God.

    I think everyone should have to read the Westminster Confession of Faith or the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. Christians need to be challenged with doctrines they have never thought about and encouraged to research and study them. That is how we grow.

    I always enjoy your posts Zack!

    • I wasn’t approaching this from a doctrinal standpoint. But you raise some interesting questions. Do churches with female leadership have poor theology because of female leadership? Or do they have female leadership because of poor theology? Or are the two issues unrelated? I haven’t done the research to answer these questions. But we must acknowledge that the harmful trends you mentioned are mostly happening under male leadership.

      Even so, I’m not suggesting we totally overhaul the leadership structure of our churches. I agree that male leadership is the most biblical. And I also lean toward the complementarian view of passages like 1 Timothy 2. I was envisioning female leadership more as an emergency measure. This was the case with Deborah. It’s significant that she is the only female judge in the book of Judges. It seems God raised her up to lead Israel because there weren’t any men up to the task.

      I also agree that we need a stronger emphasis on doctrine. Our approach to church leadership must above all be biblical. But we shouldn’t be biblical just for the sake of being biblical. God didn’t give us the Bible to enslave us; He gave us the Bible so it would bear fruit in our lives and churches. The most biblical thing the church can do is grow through the preaching of the gospel. That is what it does in the book of Acts.

      The problem is we miss the forest for the trees. We get so caught up in lesser biblical matters – male vs female leadership, stances on baptism, etc – that we forget to do the most biblical thing of all. I think Jesus would be more pleased with a church that preaches the gospel under female leadership than a church that doesn’t preach the gospel under male leadership. Obviously, it would be best for a church to preach the gospel under male leadership. If God has to temporarily raise up female leaders to call us back to that ideal, so be it.

      • I think Jesus would be more happy with a church that sticks to Sola Scriptura more than one good thing over another. Yes, Jesus would be incredibly upset with a church under male leadership that isn’t preaching the truth. But what is the truth? Where can we find that truth? It’s in the inspired word of God that also features 1 Timothy 2:12.

        My entire point was that churches that allow women as pastors will always have liberal theology. I am not saying that women are the direct cause of bad theology by the way. There are some amazing reformed female authors that write wonderful books that help teach and shepard women like the Bible says to do. So, being a women doesn’t equal bad theology. I don’t want anyone to think I’m a sexist here. (I’m fully aware you never accused me of that. I just want to be clear for the sake of this conversation.)

        Being a woman doesn’t equal bad theology. Bad theology does seem to equal women taking pastoral roles and the undermining of Biblical sexuallity though.

        Many denominations that allow for women pastors are now allowing openly gay pastors as well. You’ll find these churches making an incredible effort to discredit what the Bible so strongly affirms about sexuallity.

        I would like to note some sects of the Presbyterian (and probably others I can’t think of) allow for female deacons. I’m not sure how I really feel about that. But I’d once again appeal to the pastoral epistles and would like to see a good exegetical defense of allowing for female deacons. I would imagine it’s an easier case to make than having female pastors. However, this is pure speculation on my part.

        I agree with you 100 percent. Men fail all the time. Having a male lead church doesn’t for one moment prove a church is Biblically sound. So, you are right when you say certain women could do a better job. I just don’t know if we could stand by that and still affirm Sola Scriptura. It’s really about conviction. The pastoral epistles are really detailed and while I think there might be a good case to be made that there culture was a lot different and we may not be under those strict standards, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

        There’s also an interesting scripture in 1 Corinthians 11 about women wearing hear coverings. There’s a really interesting case to be made that Paul had something really unique in mind there and it’s not for church today. Long story short, the biology of the 1st century thought some pretty odd things and fertility was actually thought to be linked to hair. Paul mentions head coverings because of “the angels”. There’s a great case to be made he’s thinking of the Genesis 6 story where the “Sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful.” I realize I am getting off topic but I wanted to mention that passage incase someone brings it up as a question to me about Sola Scriptura and if I believe that should still be a rule.

        So, no I don’t think women are required to wear head coverings today because that was a cultural issue of the 1st century and Paul was likely thinking of supernatural issues from the Old Testament.

        In conclusion, I think we see eye to eye more than what it may seem. You won’t find good theology and true gospel preaching in many churches. At this point it’s best to search out a reformed church that adheres to either the WCF or the LBCF 1689. Or at the very least has a very detailed faith statement that addresses an overview of theology.

      • I know you aren’t sexist. You’re right – the Bible is clear which roles God intends men and women to fulfill. I’m not saying we should ordain female pastors. Male leadership in the church is best because it is biblical. I was only noticing that women have moved forward in the church as they have in society. But I do think God can lead and convict His people through women in ways that don’t require them to usurp male leadership roles.

        Our only difference seems to be how rigidly we apply sola scriptura. Like you, I affirm Scripture as the sole source of truth about salvation. And I affirm it as the final authority on all matters relating to faith, the Christian life, and church governance. But I also acknowledge the reality of our situation.

        Because time is short, we do have to choose one good thing over another. Jesus is coming soon. And no church will ever be perfectly biblical in every way. So we have to decide what’s most important. Jesus prioritized preaching the gospel in His own ministry. And His parting commands were to “make disciples,” “preach the gospel,” and “be His witnesses” (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). Should we strive to be biblical in everything else? Yes. But should we prioritize everything else as much as the gospel? No.

        This might be an issue over which we must agree to disagree. But I do think it’s possible to uphold Scripture while acknowledging your present situation. As long as this line of reasoning isn’t used as an excuse to be unbiblical.

      • I can always agree to disagree. I think God can do as pleases and raise a woman up to lead if needed. However, in light of our present culture I must stand by the old saying “If you give an inch they will take a mile” the “they” being liberal society.

        I suppose we might differ slightly on Sola Scriptura in some matters. But nothing to really quarrel over. I’m still learning and reading and it’s amazing how our paradigm can change just by studying more and more.

        I would say I don’t see eschatology as a reason to choose one good thing over another. Jesus has been coming soon forever. I also think some of the coming soon language can refer to AD 70 but that is another subject. I would agree that Jesus is coming and we need to always be ready. My point is every generation since the time of Paul was supposed to have that mindset. I don’t see making culture influenced decisions based on that alone. But again, I do understand your points.

        This has been a fun discussion my friend.

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