[Guest Author: This article was written by Mr. David Yamamoto, a Japanese complementarian Christian blogger. He is also one of the few Bible-believing Japanese brothers who advocates Christian head covering courageously.]
This post is an objection to a part of Mr. Wayne Grudem’s argument on the woman in ministry. He says, in his book Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism: Biblical Responses to the Key, ”The text does not say that Deborah ruled over God’s people or taught them publicly or led them militarily” at Answer #3 in Chapter 7.
As a complementarian believer, I highly respect Mr. Wayne Grudem, and I usually agree with him on almost everything as he argues on the gender issue. But as a Bible believer, I also admit the Bible says that God ordained Deborah as one of the few exceptional prophetesses in the history.
Therefore I will argue and clarify here whether Deborah did or did not rule over Israel as other male judges did. If my argument is correct, it means that God sometimes allows exceptions to happen and that we had a few female servants to play the rolls which men usually play.
In Answer#3 of his book, Mr. Grudem says as below concerning Deborah :
She gave “judgment” (Hebrew mishpat) to the people privately when they came to her. When the text says that “Deborah ...was judging Israel at that time”(Judges 4:4), the Hebrew verb shaphat, “to judge,” in this context does not mean “to rule or govern,” but rather has the sense “decide controversy, discriminate between persons in civil, political, domestic and religious questions.”......
My short conclusion:
Consider our presidents and prime ministers. They do not go to war themselves but they only sit in their chairs and “decide” military matters. But still they lead their countries and armies that way.
They do not make all the documents and phone calls to various institutes when political administrations are processed, but still those political leaders lead and rule over their nations as they “decide” political matters. The same is true with Deborah.
She did not take a sword and fight when she led wars. But she judged and led the army of Israel that way. And it was others who carried out political administration in Israel, but still Deborah led it politically by “deciding” things sitting under the tree.
So it is completely wrong to say, “ to judge” in this context does not mean “to rule or govern.” Actually it does mean “ to rule and govern.” Deborah did act as a judge just the way other male judges did. There is nothing different in its quality or essence with what she did as a judge.
My further arguments :
Judges4:4 (ESV) Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.This is the verse with which we need to find out if it means that she ruled over Israel by fully exercising her authority or not. And the phrase "was judging" in blue is where the word "shaphat" is used.
1) The phrase in blue, “was judging” is the English translation of the Hebrew word “shaphat.” Mr. Grudem says that this word does not mean to rule or govern but only “decide” some matters. As I looked into the online Hebrew lexicon, Brown-Driver-Briggs' Expanded Definition , I found that the Hebrew word “shaphat” was also used for other male judges as you can see in the verses below in pink letters.
1 act as law-giver, Judges , governor (giving law, deciding controversies and executing law, civil, religious, political, social; both early and late):
b. of man, Genesis 19:9 (twice in verse) (J), Moses deciding cases Exodus 18:13 (E), making known statutes Exodus 18:16 (E); so his assistants Exodus 18:22; Exodus 18:22; Exodus 18:26; Exodus 18:26 (E), "" Deuteronomy 1:16; of שׁפטיישׂראל Numbers 25:5 (executioners); set שֹׁפְטִים over Israel Judges 2:16,18; 2 Samuel 7:11 = 1 Chronicles 17:10, to deliver Israel, שׁפט ישׂדאל Judges 3:10; Judges 4:4; Judges 10:2,3. Judges; 1 Samuel 4:18; 1 Samuel 7:15,16,17; 2 Kings 23:22, compare 1 Samuel 7:6;
Judges 3:10 (ESV)
The Spirit of the Lord was upon him (Othniel), and he judged (shaphat) Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.
Judges 10:2 (ESV)
And he (Tola the son of Puah) judged (shaphat) Israel twenty-three years. Then he died and was buried at Shamir.
Judges 10:3 (ESV)
After him arose Jair the Gileadite, who judged (shaphat) Israel twenty-two years.
The verses above are where the verb shaphat is used in the same meaning as in Judges 4:4. If Mr. Grudem’s argument was correct, Judges 4:4 shouldn’t be found together with these verses in which other male judges “shaphat” or ruled over Israel by fully exercising their authority.
Put another way, if Mr. Grudem was right, Judges 4:4 must be unique and special in the usage of the word shaphat. Judges 3:10, 10:2 and 10:3 must not be found together with Judges 4:4, because the presence of those verses would prove that the male judges and Deborah ruled over Israel in the very same way.
But actually they are here together with Judges 4:4. This simply means that Deborah WAS judging over Israel just as other male judges were, meaning that she was fully and publicly exercising her authority over political and military issues as well. It is inappropriate to think that she was only deciding private matters.
2) Moreover the same word “shaphat” is used in the same meaning for Moses in Exodus 18: 13, too.
Exodus 18:13 (ESV)
The next day Moses sat to judge (shaphat) the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening.
This means that Deborah judged in the same way Moses did.
3) The word “shaphat” is also used in several places in 1 Samuel and other books as you can see in the above quote of the lexicon.
These factors prove that it is safe for us to believe that Deborah WAS called by God to be one of the judges just as other male judges were, and that she DID act as a judge in the same way that other male judges did as well as Moses and Samuel.
I think Mr. Grudem went too far in an attempt to refute egalitarians and made a careless mistake by overlooking the other passages where the word “shaphat” are used, and said that Deborah did not “rule or govern.” Actually we saw that she did “rule and govern” Israel just as Othniel and Tola did. But I must say that she did so as one of the exceptions in the long history of Israel.