Ladies, lists, and leaders

It’s no secret that anyone wishing to persuade others of the fact that God does ordain women to leadership roles uses the prophetess, Deborah, as a prime example to support their case. It is true that Deborah has not one, but two, chapters in Judges (4 & 5) that tell of her placement as a leader and judge over Israel and her active role in God’s plans. It is true that Deborah heard from the Lord, sent for Barak, and relayed the command for action against Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army (4:4-7), who Israel had been cruelly oppressed by for twenty years (4:3). It is true that opponents of women in leadership roles use the idea that Barak’s cowardly refusal to attack alone, instead insisting that Deborah accompany him, is the overall lesson needed to be learned; the shame laid on Barak, by Deborah, when she replies to his unmanly pleading, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman” (4:9) and it ends up being Jael, yet another woman on the scene, who drives a tent peg through Sisera’s temple (4:21). These truths are not news.

Whenever I read this portion in Judges, I try to keep my eyes wide open as to why God did appoint a woman to lead Israel when the general consensus of Scripture isn’t in support of leadership roles being held by my gender. A fresh view, for me, was found this morning in 1 Samuel 12, where the prophet, Samuel, is delivering his farewell speech to the Israelites. He’s recounting their history, the numerous pleas and deliverances, listed in order of occurrence. “But they forgot the Lord their God; so he sold them into the hands of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them. They cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned; we have forsaken the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths. But now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve you.’ Then the Lord sent Jerub-Baal (Gideon), Barak, Jephthah and Samuel, and he delivered you from the hands of your enemies on every side, so that you lived securely” (1 Samuel 12:9-11 – emphasis mine). Where is she? Why has Deborah’s name been left out and only Barak’s referred to? Didn’t Deborah say that the honor will not be given to Barak, but to a woman? 

It seems to me that Samuel gives attribution to Barak for this particular deliverance, due to the simple fact that he doesn’t include Deborah’s name. How can this be? For what purpose did God have in leaving her name untold when Samuel spoke these words? Perhaps this is because Deborah was arrogantly stating who would get the honor when, in reality, all honor and glory is to be given to God. Perhaps she’s left out because there was disobedience on her part for giving in to Barak’s weakness and accompanying him into battle, even though it wasn’t her that God called to go. Perhaps, though unlikely, Samuel forgot, intentionally or unintentionally, that Deborah was a key player alongside Barak, especially since women weren’t held in high regards during those times. I’d like to suggest another option; a tangent, of sorts, but applicable, nonetheless.

Today’s women are awfully concerned with their placement in this world, whether they’re given credit for their works, given glory in their accomplishments, and given a title that commands respect. We don’t want to be forgotten when we’ve surmounted unbeatable odds, left off the list when it was really us doing all the hard work, ignored and oppressed to the point where we aren’t seen as a soul that even matters. We want to be Deborah, acknowledged in our platforms, strong and decisive in the lives we lead, unafraid and unhindered in our pursuits and passions. We don’t want to be the Deborah that is left out where credit is due, bypassed because of our gender, especially when a man is given credence for the good we’ve done. Well, women, who are you fighting for? Don’t we believe and trust that God fights for us, has His eyes on us always, knows the intricacies of our every thought and action? If we’re fighting for His glory, we’re on point; however, many women’s movements appear to be fighting for their own glory.

Within the church, women are seeking positions of leadership, titles of pastor, and appreciation for their impressive gifts as the idol of “fairness and equality” bears its ugly head. We want to utilize the brains God gave us, the zeal we have for speaking His Truth, the talents He has bestowed upon us and, if we’re not allowed to preach the gospel, we’ll burst! (As an aside, I’m in the middle of doing all of the above, without the pretense of being a preacher) And, most importantly, if we’re not recognized for our hard work, perseverance, and godly pursuits, we’ll…do what? Burst again? What ought to be our foremost concern is fighting for the individual wisdom to stay true to God’s Word, regardless of what falsities arise among cultural Christianity. Surely, that’s what Deborah was pursuing as she had a direct line to hearing from Him as a prophetess; today, we aren’t precluded from this. The office of shepherd, or pastor, has its own duties and one of them isn’t the sole ability to hear from Him. We all can hear from God, speak of God, and share what He puts on our genderless hearts. But can the woman who’s followed this through handle being excluded from the list? Perhaps Deborah would be disappointed that Samuel left her off of his list, but if her primary aim was to glorify God, and not get caught up in seeking glory for herself and her gender, there’s no doubt she’d be at peace with her exclusion. After all, her inclusion in God’s plan and glory would be plenty to satisfy the servant that rests in Him.

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