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,



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.)