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.)
Years ago, at a bible study in our home in New York, we were looking at the text of James 4. I asked the question, “What does ‘adulterous’ mean?” (James 4:4 “You adulterous people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”)
A student from Japan heard the question and said, “Adulterous” means mature.”
An immigrant from Egypt heard that and said, “No, it means when you worship images made of stone or wood.”
So we had a good laugh (because English is an awful language to have to learn) and a spontaneous vocabulary lesson on the difference between adultery, idolatry and being an adult.
Why would we need a priest (we will call that person a spiritual expert) to make a connection with God?
We need experts in our daily lives.
- If your car does not work, do you try to fix it yourself? Maybe if you are out of gas, or you need to put air in your tires. But will you replace your brakes or fix your transmission? No, you go to a mechanic who knows what to do.
- If you need surgery, will you do that for yourself? Let’s say that you know that you have to replace your knee joint. Can you replace it yourself? No.
- Can you teach yourself another language? Maybe you will learn by listening and learning all by yourself. Most of us need a teacher. I am learning Spanish. My teacher’s name is Anna Maria. He moved to the United states from Peru. She knows Spanish because that is her 1st language. She knows English because she learned it here, and is not a citizen. Because she lives in both worlds, she can teach me Spanish.
If you then need a mechanic for your car, a doctor for your body and a teacher for your education – you also need a priest if you want to know God. What is more difficult to know and understand, an engine, a knee, a language or the Almighty?
In the Birth Narratives (Luke 1, 2 and Matthew 1, 2) there are kings and rulers: Caesar, Herod, Quirinius, Archelaus, the ruler of Micah 5:2 (Mt 2:6), David (Lk 1:26-32), the Proud (Lk 1:51). The child is called “a Savior, who is Christ (Messiah) the Lord…” (Lk 2:11).
So why shepherds?
So why Shepherds?
First, because they are commonplace. It was once said of Harry Truman, that if someone had thrown a rock into a crowd, they would have hit someone like Truman. That is he was very ordinary and very American. So the shepherds were very ordinary and very ancient middle eastern. If you tossed a rock into the hills, maybe even today, you might hit one.
Second, because the child-king is different from other kings. He was born to no wealth, no privilege and no great family name. He had nothing to make him stand out (except for all those angelic and prophetic announcements).
Third, there have been a lot of Shepherd-leaders in Israel.
- Abraham was a keeper of flocks – we see that when his hired hands got into conflict with Lot’s so they parted ways – Lot to the plains and Abraham to the hills. (Genesis 13) He gains additional wealth, measured by flocks after his adventures with Abimelech (Genesis 20).
- Moses was watching sheep and goats in Midian, the middle of nowhere, when God called him to be the shepherd of the hebrew people and lead them out of Egypt. One professor I had in Seminary suggested that the language of Psalm 23 suggests the story of the Exodus.
- David was out watching sheep when Samuel came along to anoint him to be King.
Jesus himself talks about the importance of spiritual shepherds in John 10. And to this day “pastor” means shepherd. The church is supposed to have servant-leaders who know their people by name, who feed them (the word of God) and bring them to quiet waters, and guard them against all enemies.
So, it turns out Shepherds are a good choice.
We are in a book group discussing O. T. Theology. The author of the book, Bruce Waltke, says that the bible is a revealed, inspired text. The text is open to all for reading and scholarly analysis, regardless of ones spiritual commitment. However, the idea of revelation means that somehow God has “spoken” by the biblical text. The idea of inspiration is that somehow the authors were brought to the place where they wrote the message God wished to make. He says that these latter two categories indicate that a spiritual commitment is necessary for a full reading of the Scriptures as they were intended to be read.
So we are getting into the difference between scholarship and faith.
Also, Waltke speaks of the need for “illumination”. That is the text is in some way dark or incomprehensible to me apart from a spiritual clarifying of the text.
Said one in the group of a highly regarded biblical scholar. “he fully understands the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), but he just does not believe it.”
So is the text open to all? Does the author need to help the reader get it? Can one read it fully in only a scientific manner?
Good questions all.
Check out: Ephesians 3:14-18; I Corinthians 1,2; and the frequent expression “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” e.g.. Mark 4:9 and it’s context.