Limits of Narrative Worksheet: the Case of Deborah


We need to gain our theology from teaching portions of the Bible, and then compare those to the Stories.  It is rarely a good idea to change what we think the bible teaches by comparing it to a story.

Deborah and Women in Leadership:

1.  Read Joshua 4 (bottom of page) together and look at what the Narrator highlights about Deborah as a woman.  Cite verse numbers and give a sentence or two of explanation.






2.  Are there other women in the story?

  • V. 17-22; 5:24-27
  • 5:28-31

 3.  Compare to Teaching passages in the New Testament:

  • I Timothy 2:8-15
  • I Corinthians 11:2-16
  • I Corinthians 14:33-27
  • Acts 18:1-3; 24-28

 Texts on Deborah in Judges 4,5

Judges 4:4-16 ESV

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. She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.

12 When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor,13 Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.

Judges 5:1, 7, 12, 15,



mustard seedsThe story of Gideon in Judges 6 and 7 makes the point in a variety of ways that the Lord works what is small sometimes.  Gideon’s army was winnowed down from thousands to 300.  so I got thinking, perhaps because I am the pastor of a small church (which is probably close to average for most churches), and made this list of small people or items in the Bible.

  • Word – Gen 1 – unlike myths which had the gods make things out of monsters, etc.
  • Abraham – no land, no nation, one son
  • Jacob, young son and a scoundrel
  • Joseph – called from prison….
  • Moses – act of desperation by his family, sister, failure, goat-herd
  • Joshua and Caleb – 2 of 12 willing to go
  • Jericho – shouting and marching
  • Deborah/Barak – small force
  • Gideon – hidden, reluctant, indecisive, small army       (Vs Samson)
  • Ruth – Moabite widow with no resources
  • Hannah, desperate prayer in a dark time
  • David, youngest son, v Goliath (compare to when he counted his troops)
  • Servant Girl and Naaman
  • Rejoicing and Weeping in Ezra over the size of temple
  • Josiah, boy king
  • Woman who dropped mill stone
  • Jonah – fishermen, fish, gourd
  • Elijah alone?
  • Widow and Elisha
  • Israel v Egypt, Assyria, Babylon
  • Daniel & Friends – captives
  • Jesus – obscure, barn, Nazareth
  • 12 unlikely leaders
  • Boy’s lunch
  • The Lord’s Prayer – few words
  • Faith as a mustard seed
  • Parables of growth: seed, yeast
  • I Corinthians – you were not much
  • Lydia – women met outside for prayer
  • Dorcas – helping the poor
  • Zacchaeus – a wee little man
  • Woman who washed Jesus feet
  • Parable of Pharisee and Sinner
  • Widow’s mite
  • Present at the Cross – crowd was gone
  • Isolation of Jesus at the cross
  • John  – prisoner on a rocky island
  • Paul – prisoner…
  • Church as a Body – foot v head argument

Runminations on Deborah and Leadership – Judges 4, 5

deborah-prophetess-12-16-12-Deborah the prophet and leader found in Judges 4 and 5 often gets pulled into the question about women in leadership in the church.  This is not, it seems to me, the main point of Judges 4 and 5, but it is at least a subtext.  Deborah and Jael get the credit for the victory, and Barak is definitely largely forgotten.

Here are some things to consider first

  • It is hard to build a theology of church and leadership based on narratives – for example should every church have the same structure as found in Acts 6? Or is that describing how they handled their situation and maintained their missional priorities?
  • The office of Elder or Pastor is a standing leadership position that seems best to be seen as a matter of God giving gifts and the church recognizing those gifts.  In this way they correspond more to the office of the priesthood that was established in Israel.
  • The prophets did not have any real institution, or established procedure of selection, or term of office, or place to work.  The OT has kings and priests who were institutional leaders.  The Prophets were simply called by God – and usually to bring a challenge to the failures or lukewarmness of the people of God.  Thus it is hard to apply the precedent of a prophet to that of pastor or elder.
  • There is little commentary in the text, although her husband is named (i don’t recall the wives of prophets being named except in the case of Hosea and Gomer – but that was part of the story.).  She also notes that women will get credit when Barak wants her to be part of the battle.
  • The initiator of action and the one who drives home the point of the victory are women – Deborah and Jael
  • It seems the best we can say that that God chose Deborah to be a prophet (the word has a feminine ending in the Hebrew. The other references to “prophetess”  are Miriam (Ex 15:20) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14).

If you ask the question: Does God ever call women into leadership? The answer is yes.  Does God give gifts to women, the answer is also yes.  The best we can get from Deborah on the question of women in ministry, is to take note of her and other women in leadership, and keep this in mind as we read the NT documents on church leadership.

Any teaching that says that women are only called to domestic duties ignores a lot of scripture – even that Proverbs 31 Woman that is extolled on mothers day (she runs a business or maybe a couple of them.)  I Corinthians allows women to “pray and prophesy” if by their head covering or hair style they demonstrate respect for the established order of the church and family.  Priscilla seems to be the equal of Aquilla in the book of Acts – and usually mentioned first.

But any teaching in women in ministry has to deal with passages that seem to restrict the role of women   from certain offices.  (The restriction it seems to be is itself limited to “leading” the church – so it pertains to the office of elder or overseer.)

When Verses Fly

birdsbookFulfillment and application are two examples when verses can fly.  What I mean is that a saying can sometimes be tied down to a specific application.  It can only “walk” over to a very similar context.

One example is “You shall have no other gods before me.” it is pretty clear that the command prohibits the adding of gods to God.  To walk that to application you need to see an example when someone is trying to claim allegiance to the Lord but also adds another deity just to be safe.  A clear application is in the reforms of King Josiah where idols of all kinds were removed from the Temple in Israel – after the Bible was discovered and the King read to his dismay how far they had fallen from clear commands from God.  (Exodus 20:3 and 2 Kings 23).  However, the command seems to take some flight when in a list of sins the Apostle says that greed is idolatry.  Yet we can see where trusting in money as your first love and your sense of security is much like worshiping and idol.  Money has become a god.  (Colossians 3:5, perhaps take a side trip to Acts 19:21ff).

Other times fulfillment and application seem to fly over context and land appropriately in another situation.  The command or prophecy seems to have wings.

One example is fulfillment in the Gospel of Matthew – how can the prophecy about the nation Israel in Hosea 11:1 be applied to the return of Jesus’ family from Egypt in Matthew 2:15?  Many have accused Matthew of taking the prophecy out of context.  However in Matthew’s theology we see that Jesus came in fulfillment and completion of all that God was doing in the Old Covenant and that in ways Jesus recapitulates the life of Israel in his own ministry (40 years in the wilderness facing temptation for Israel, Jesus fasts and is tested in the wilderness for 40 days and cites scripture from Israel’s desert wanderings in his conflict with Satan – see Matthew 4 and its references to Deuteronomy).

Another example is the word from Moses to the nation in Deuteronomy 31:6:  Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.  These words are repeated in the Lord’s command to Joshua in Joshua 1 (v. 6,7,9).  Later the people turn and say to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:18).  So far those are all applications of the command to the same context.

However in Hebrews 13:5 we find this:  Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  This quote from Deuteronomy 31 is taken “out of context” from anything having to do with conquest, to a list of commands at the end of the book of Hebrews. It is applied to the love of money, not conquest. It is applied to all believers, not just to the leader. It is applied even without reference to the original setting.  In this case the affirmation “I will never leave you or forsake you.” is taken to be so solidly true that it can be taken anywhere and applied.  Love of money can be a substitute for trust in God – when we have funds in the bank, we don’t have to pray for our daily bread, or so we think.

Jesus took the prohibition of adultery and murder in the 10 commandments and applied them to our words and our thoughts.  (Matthew 5:21-30).

There is a thing in Greek grammar called a “gnomic aorist”.  A verb is nominally in a past tense (there are two past tenses in Greek), but the word is meant to denote a general truth. (A Greek Grammar, Goodwin, p.276)  It takes on the quality of a proverb – a general truth that can have many applications – in other words a verse that flies.

What we Bring to the Text – Joshua

scribe.2In comparing an older dictionary, “The New Bible Dictionary” 1962, IVP (NBD) and the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, 2005, IVP (DOT) I found a world of difference.

The older work (NBD) noted some of the same evidence – for example that Joshua was not always noted with Caleb in the story of the Spies in the Land, or the difference between the goal of conquest and it’s completion in Joshua.  The Older work operated from an assumption of accuracy of the Biblical Text and found ways to explain the evidence of “conflict” in the light of the purpose of the author – to show that the people fell short of the ideal.  God acted through great events and through imperfect people.  We should heed this word.

The newer work (DOT) took these as evidence of multiple and contradictory sources that were not harmonized within the text, nor really capable of being harmonized.  It did not grant the Biblical text the assumption of historical accuracy, but on the basis of historical studies and attempts at recreating of the events of the Exodus came up with a very different view.  It holds that there was no conquest as an event, but at best a gradual immigration of outsiders over time who were part of a transition in the culture and economy of the land.  The Story of Israel evolved historically as well as textually over time.  We should read this word carefully.

Both works are from Inter Varsity Press and try to integrate Scripture with historical background.  Yet they show two very different views of the text.

I recall debates in the 70s over inerrancy and limited inerrancy which in my reading boiled down to this: inerrancy is deduced from the truth of God and the evidence is arranged in that light.  Limited inerrancy found out it was very hard to prove that there are no errors and did not feel right in reconciling things like rabbits chewing cud or historical details that differed between two biblical sources.  Inerrancy is confessional and deductive.  Limited Inerrancy is inductive and inconclusive by nature.

What we bring to the text makes a great deal of difference in how we see the text.