Deborah, in the Book of Judges, has been an controversial figure. For many egalitarian/feminist friends and scholars, Deborah is definitely one of their heroines. Gilbert Bilezikian, a noted egalitarian scholar writes,
As prophet, [Deborah] assumed spiritual leadership; as "judge" she exercised judicial and political power; and eventually she became involved in directing on the field the strategy for a decisively victorious battle. Probably because she was a spokesperson for God as a prophet, Deborah served also as a political guide and as a one-person supreme court (4:4-5).
Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles (1985), 70-71.
Another egalitarian writer Stanley Grenz says,
Deborah served as the highest leader of her people. Although she was married, her leadership role included the exercise of authority over men....The example of Deborah confirms that neither God nor the ancient Hebrews found female leadership intrinsically abhorrent. On the contrary, a woman could---and did---exercise authority over the entire community, including men.
Grenz, Women in the Church (1998), 68, 70.
See, in their desperate effort to make the Bible say it is OK for women to teach or rule over men in the church as pastors and elders, they want to exalt Deborah to the point where they claim she "served..as a political guide and as a one-person supreme court" and "served as the highest leader of her people."
Wayne Grudem, a complementarian scholar refutes their arguments by saying that the Bible views Deborah's judgeship as a rebuke against the absence of male leadership. It's a bit lengthy quote but I believe it contains important points for us to consider.
Judges 4:4 suggests some amazement at the unusual nature of the situation in which a woman actually has to judge Israel, because it piles up a string of redundant words to emphasize that Deborah is a woman: translating the Hebrew text literally, the verse says, "And Deborah, a woman, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, she was judging Israel at that time."
Something is abnormal, something is wrong--there are no men to function as judge! This impression is confirmed when we read of Barak's timidity and the rebuke implied ii his subsequent loss of glory: "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" (Judges 4:9).
Then in "The Song of Deborah and Barak" in the next chapter, Deborah expresses surprise that no man had stepped forward to initiate Israel's rescue from the oppressor, but that a mother in Israel had to do this:
"The villagers ceased in Israel; they ceased to be until I arose; I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel." (Judges 5:7)
And the book of Judges treats Deborah somewhat differently from the other judges used by God to deliver Israel. In each case God or the Holy Spirit is specifically said to call or empower the judge, Othniel: "the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz" (Judges 3:9); Ehud: "the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man" (3:15);
Gideon: (And the LORD turned to him and said, 'Go ini this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?'" (6:14); Jephthah: "Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh" (11:29); Samson: "And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan" (13:24-25).
By contrast, we read of Deborah: "Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time" (4:4). It is not that God does not use her and speak through her, for He does. But something is not quite right: There is an absence of male leadership in Israel.
Does the story of Deborah then show that women can lead the people of God in churches where the men are passive and not leading? No, for Deborah did not do this.
The story of Deborah should motivate women in such situations to do what Deborah did: encourage and exhort a man to take the leadership role to which God has called him, as Deborah encouraged and exhorted Barak (Judges 4:6-9, 14).
Richard Schultz says that Deborah delivers the "divine declaration or decision" regarding the people's "call for help" in 4:3, and that "The divine response is indicated by her issuing the call to Barak to lead Israel into battle (4:6), thus designating him as the next individual to lead Israel." 11
Barak finally did lead, and defeated the Canaanites. Then in subsequent biblical passages that speak of this period of the judges, Barak's leadership alone is mentioned: Samuel tells the people, "And the LORD sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side" (1 Samuel 12:11).
And the author of Hebrews says, "And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets" (Hebrews 11:32).
11. Richard Schultz, NIDOTTE, 4:216. Shultz also sees "and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment" in 4:5 as referring to a "one-time act," seeking God's response to their cry for help in 4:3, and not to ongoing settling of disputes. This is contrary to the free paraphrase of the NIV, which specifies plural disputes in its translation, "the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided." The Hebrew text literally reads, "And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment," and the word for "judgment" (mishpat) is singular, which gives some support to Schultz's view. The NIV's "she held court" (4:5; similarly, NLT) is also an interpretative paraphrase for the participle yoshebet, which simply means "she used to sit" (so ESV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, and similarly, NKJV; this very common verb yashab simply means "sit, remain, dwell" [BDB, 442]).
Yes, I agree that "the story of Deborah should motivate women in such situations to do what Deborah did: encourage and exhort a man to take the leadership role to which God has called him, as Deborah encouraged and exhorted Barak (Judges 4:6-9, 14)."
With that in mind, I want to invite my complementarian friends for an open discussion:
"Is Deborah an exceptional prophetess/judge who ruled over Israel as other male judges did ?"
In subsequent posts, I am going to display two different views regarding this question. Both authors are committed complementarians and I want to hear your opinion, too!