Judge Deborah Supports Male Leadership

Judge Deborah Supports Male Leadership

In almost every post I write about God ordaining men to be those in authority, women will use the example of Deborah in the Old Testament. Here is a great response to this argument written by Scott LaPierre.

Judges were Israel’s primary rulers for almost three-and-a-half centuries. They also commanded armies, making them some of Scripture’s strongest leaders. So why did Deborah serve as judge? Her position is often the first mentioned to support female leadership. Does she conflict with God’s pattern of male leadership? Let’s take a look!

1. There’s no mention of Deborah being appointed by God

Throughout the book of Judges, as men rise to leadership, verses identify them as chosen or empowered by God:

Judges 3:9—The Lord raised up a deliverer . . . Othniel.
Judges 3:15—The Lord raised up a deliverer . . . Ehud.
Judges 6:14—The Lord [said to Gideon], “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel . . . Have I not sent you?”
Judges 11:29—The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah.
Judges 13:24–25—Samson . . . grew and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon him.

But with Deborah there is no recognition of God’s appointing. Judges 4:4 simply says, “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time.” Her introduction emphasizes that she is female, but in a negative light. Wayne Grudem, co-founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, explains in Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth (p. 134):

“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 Lapidoth, she was judging Israel at the 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 he receives as well as the loss of glory he could have received.”

2. Deborah’s ministry was private versus public

Judges 4:5 says Deborah “would sit under the palm tree . . . And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.” The nation approached her privately. She didn’t publicly teach God’s Word. Like Huldah and other prophetesses, she is another example of a woman limited to private and individual instruction. Even when Deborah calls for Barak, Judges 4:6–7 shows her speaking to him privately:

“Then she sent and called for Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, ‘Has not the Lord God of Israel commanded, ‘Go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun; and against you I will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude at the River Kishon; and I will deliver him into your hand?'”

3. Deborah encouraged Barak to lead

Notice several phrases in the above verses:

The statement “Has not the Lord God of Israel commanded?” shouldn’t be understood as Deborah giving orders to Barak. As a prophetess, she received a word from God and passed it along to Barak. She confirmed what he already should have known, that God commanded him to lead the army.

The directive, “Go and deploy troops,” is particularly significant because Deborah was judge at the time. She was in the position typically occupied by Israel’s commander. But rather than summon the troops herself, she let Barak know that God called him to command them.

The phrase, “against you I will deploy Sisera,” reveals God’s plan for Sisera to attack Barak, not Deborah.

“I will deliver him into your hand” indicates God wanted Barak, and not Deborah, to claim victory over Sisera.

All this shows that even while serving as judge, Deborah affirmed the rightness of male leadership, not only looking to Barak to lead but letting him know this was what God wanted. Sadly, Barak didn’t step up but instead told Deborah, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go” (Judges 4:8). We recognize something isn’t right when a man tells a woman, “I won’t go to battle unless you go with me.”

4. Deborah rebuked Barak for failing to lead

Not surprisingly, Deborah confronted Barak about his reluctance: “I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judges 4:9). Deborah’s prophecy came true. God routed Sisera’s army before Barak, but it was a woman, Jael, who ended up defeating the enemy commander (Judges 4:17–22). Barak should not have insisted Deborah accompany him but instead taken leadership himself.

This entire account is not advocating for female leadership but is instead presented as a criticism of Barak. The book of Judges records some of Israel’s worst days, and the absence of male leadership is a strong reflection of the time. Deborah’s judgeship actually served as a rebuke to the nation regarding the absence of male leadership. Later, during another dark period in Israel’s history, the prophet Isaiah asserted that women ruling was a sign of God’s judgment: “As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err, and destroy the way of your paths” (Isaiah 3:12).

5. Deborah and Barak are descriptive, not prescriptive

The book of Judges describes the breakdown of leadership among God’s people: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25). In general the book of Judges is presented as an example not to follow; it is not prescriptive.

Is there application for today? Definitely:

When men need their wives to tell them to take the family to church, pray, or read the Word, they are acting like Barak.

When a wife is urging her husband to lead and a husband resists or prefers that his wife take charge instead, he is following Barak’s example.

If there is an example to be followed here, it is Deborah. She encouraged Barak to lead, told him what God desired of him, and rebuked him when he would not take charge. It is also worth noticing what she did not do. When Barak refused to lead, she did not take control of the situation herself but rather let God direct Barak’s steps and victory. Her story should motivate women to do what she did, and Barak’s failure should motivate men to avoid the mistakes he made.

16 thoughts on “Judge Deborah Supports Male Leadership

  1. What a powerful testimony of the God given ability women have to urge men to be all the manliness God creates them to be. Deborah didn’t “run for office” or march for equal pay or demand social justice or preach to thousands in large auditoriums. She sat meekly under a tree and Israel came to her because they recognized that she was listening to the voice of God. She never went to battle like the other judges or created a government like some but through her non-assertiveness she helped turn Israel’s face towards God. Apparently she did her job well as not only was Israel delivered but Barak is listed in the New Testament hall of fame.

    So many loud clamoring women in today’s world. They desire to be powerful and important but they don’t know that God grants that through a humble heart. Moses, who was chosen by God to lead Israel from the most powerful country in the world, was said of God to be the humblest man on earth. When Saul was chosen, he was humble. David too was humble and only boasted of the strength of the Lord.

    These obnoxious women who seek political power, confused women who fight for social justice and dim ones who try to wear the pants in their households don’t understand the inherent power women are given to turn the course of nations by meekness within their own families.

    “Humble yourself in the side of the Lord and HE will lift you up.”

    1. M,
      Here’s a part from my book that reminded me of your discussion of clamoring and desiring power…

      “Just as Jesus is the premier example of submission, so Satan offers the premier example of rebellion. Scripture provides vivid images of Satan’s original rejection of God as his head, which resulted in his being cast down and out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12–20; Ezekiel 28:12–19). Then, in the Garden of Eden, we see him as a serpent stirring up similar rebellion in Eve. Consider the parallelism between the words he spoke to himself and the words he spoke to Eve:

      • Isaiah 14:14—“I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.”
      • Genesis 3:5b—“Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”

      Satan is saying here in essence: “You do not need to submit to God. You can have His position instead.” To be rebellious and reject the authority God has placed over us—whether parents, church leadership, government, employers, or husbands as head of the family—is to follow Satan’s example.”

    1. You’re welcome, Scott! I am sure I will be linking to it very often when women bring up Deborah being in authority to try to convince me that God does want women in authority positions when He’s made it very clear that He doesn’t.

  2. Judges is not a Book that I’m very familiar with, so this was wonderful to read about. I’m reading Jeremiah now, but I plan to make Judges my next read while all this is fresh in my mind. Thanks!

    1. Seeing that all of the women on the Supreme Court support leftist ideology (the murdering of unborn babies, same sex marriage, and everything against that which is biblical), I think it’s a terrible idea!

  3. Thank you for posting this. I grew up in the church and have always heard (even from leadership) that the story of Deborah supports the idea of women in church leadership. I am embarrassed to say that I never carefully examined the text to see that there is no mention of God’s appointing Deborah. In fact, it is Barak who is mentioned in Hebrews 11 (God is so gracious and merciful).

    I am thankful for this post, and I am also reminded how much our times are similar to the times of the Judges. We can pray for God’s followers to examine the Truth and to live by it.

  4. Hello Scott~ You have interesting points but I disagree with your reasoning.

    First, you stated that she wasn’t appointed by God. Your reasoning is because it doesn’t say God called Deborah as a judge. Then who appointed her? Did the men of Israel thought it would be cool to have a woman judge? Did she self appoint her self as a judge and everyone simply agreed? HOW DID SHE BECOME A JUDGE OF ISRAEL? Are you going to ignore all the other evidences of her appointment because it didn’t say she was appointed by God? This is very ignorant. Bible says she was a prophetess and judged Israel. No one in Israel disputed her authority. She called for Barak to deliver God’s message. Her prophesies came true in grand fashion like other unlikely victories in the bible when it says God promises victory. ALL the evidences point to her being appointed by God! We can judge a tree by its fruits. She was one of the judges like other judges raised BY GOD.

    Second, you stated that Deborah had private ministry and not a public ministry. Judges 4:4 says Deborah was leading, governing, or judging (depending on how you translate it) Israel at that time. No matter how you see it, it was a position of authority over men and women since it is stated generally and doesn’t specify only women of Israel. Judges 4:5 says she would sit under the Palm of Deborah and the people of Israel would come to her for judgement. Under a tree is very open rather than private. In court where judgments are carried out, there are audiences or at least other people who are waiting for their cases to be settled. People will learn from observing how the judgments are carried out. She taught how the laws of God were to be applied and carried out for Israel people. That means her judgments had public implications and not just private as Supreme Court justices’ decisions have public implications. So, I don’t know why you would go out of your way to claim that her ministry was a private versus public. It is definitely easier to believe that she was a public leader with public ministry rather than a private ministry. If the author wanted to let us know that her judging was uniquely private opposed to public as the other judges or prophets were, don’t you think he would have let us know such an important distinction more clearly without all this ambiguity?

    Third and fourth points I agree with. The last point I agree with but with some reservation because of applications you mentioned.

    I do believe in male leadership as norm but not rule. Men have to step up and be courageous. If Deborah was an exception to the norm, who says there can’t be more exceptions? If God calls and gifts a woman to lead in any role, who are we to say she can’t lead? If God anointing is evident as with Deborah, who are we to go against God? God can call and anoint a woman to lead as shown by Deborah’s case. Therefore, I believe we shouldn’t make it a rule to disallow women to lead. I have seen women who can teach and lead as good as any man. Why can’t they teach and lead in a church? As for Paul’s teaching on females’ role in church, it was more about keeping the order. (Paul did tell slaves obey their masters also.) Our times have changed to a point that it would not cause disorder or chaos in a church if there are women teachers or even pastors. (Our men and women learn from female professors in universities already. I doubt that was the case during Paul’s time.) I know God made man and woman differently. This is why I say female leaders are not the norm but exceptions. Still, I don’t want to stand in the way of God if He wants a woman to lead. We can judge a tree by its fruits.

  5. Hello Sam,
    You wrote quite a bit, so I quoted your comment, and responded point-by-point…

    “Hello Scott~ You have interesting points but I disagree with your reasoning.
    First, you stated that she wasn’t appointed by God. Your reasoning is because it doesn’t say God called Deborah as a judge. Then who appointed her? Did the men of Israel thought it would be cool to have a woman judge? Did she self appoint her self as a judge and everyone simply agreed? HOW DID SHE BECOME A JUDGE OF ISRAEL?”

    Since Scripture doesn’t tell us, I don’t know. I thought it was significant that it said the male judges had been appointed by God, but the same wasn’t said of Deborah. Then Damian Wilson asked about Shamgar who also doesn’t have a statement about God appointing him, and I acknowledged that I could be wrong about this point.

    I don’t think it says God appointed Shamgar, because there’s only one verse about him. If the account of his judgeship was longer, there would probably be an accompanying statement. Maybe I’m wrong though, and perhaps it’s insignificant that it doesn’t say God appointed Deborah.

    “Are you going to ignore all the other evidences of her appointment because it didn’t say she was appointed by God? This is very ignorant. Bible says she was a prophetess and judged Israel.”

    Yes, you’re right that Deborah was a prophetess. I discuss female prophetesses in this post and how they don’t conflict with male leadership: https://scottlapierre.org/male-leadership-gods-pattern/. I don’t want to copy the material from that post to this comment, so could you read it and let me know if you have any thoughts and/or questions?

    “No one in Israel disputed her authority. She called for Barak to deliver God’s message. Her prophesies came true in grand fashion like other unlikely victories in the bible when it says God promises victory. ALL the evidences point to her being appointed by God! We can judge a tree by its fruits. She was one of the judges like other judges raised BY GOD.
    Second, you stated that Deborah had private ministry and not a public ministry. Judges 4:4 says Deborah was leading, governing, or judging (depending on how you translate it) Israel at that time. No matter how you see it, it was a position of authority over men and women since it is stated generally and doesn’t specify only women of Israel.”

    It’s very important to distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive. Just because something is recorded (described), doesn’t mean it’s commendable (prescriptive). What makes you think Deborah being a judge is prescriptive versus descriptive? The time of the Judges was the spiritually darkest time in Israel’s history. It’s largely a record of what NOT to do. Isaiah 3:12 says, “As for My people, children are their oppressors, And women rule over them.” Women ruling is a judgment against the nation. How can you then conclude a woman ruling (Deborah) is a good thing?

    “Judges 4:5 says she would sit under the Palm of Deborah and the people of Israel would come to her for judgement. Under a tree is very open rather than private. In court where judgments are carried out, there are audiences or at least other people who are waiting for their cases to be settled. People will learn from observing how the judgments are carried out.”

    I disagree. Saying she was under a tree and people visited her there emphasizes the private (versus public) nature of her position.

    “She taught how the laws of God were to be applied and carried out for Israel people.”

    Where does it say that?

    “That means her judgments had public implications and not just private as Supreme Court justices’ decisions have public implications. So, I don’t know why you would go out of your way to claim that her ministry was a private versus public. It is definitely easier to believe that she was a public leader with public ministry rather than a private ministry.”

    Even if her judgeship was public, and the pattern in the rest of Scripture is for men to lead and Scripture forbids women from having authority over men, we can conclude this was descriptive versus prescriptive.

    “If the author wanted to let us know that her judging was uniquely private opposed to public as the other judges or prophets were, don’t you think he would have let us know such an important distinction more clearly without all this ambiguity?”

    Deborah was a godly woman. She is the example in the account. The irony of your argument is that Deborah did her best to escape leading the men—she rebuked Barak and told him to take charge. It’s not ambiguous whatsoever. If, as you say, God wanted Deborah to lead, then why didn’t she?

    “Third and fourth points I agree with. The last point I agree with but with some reservation because of applications you mentioned. I do believe in male leadership as norm but not rule. Men have to step up and be courageous. If Deborah was an exception to the norm, who says there can’t be more exceptions?”

    Why would God make something normative (men leading), forbid something (men leading in 1 Timothy 2:12), pronounce it as a judgment (women leading in Isaiah 3:12), yet expect us to think there should be exceptions? Additionally, if there are supposed to be exceptions, why don’t we see any in Scripture? Deborah is the example cited, and an elevated view reveals a godly woman who tried to get a man to lead. You could cite Jezebel and Athaliah I suppose. They were queens who exercised authority. Do you think women should follow their examples?

    I have heard people say, “What about all the women in the New Testament who led?” Whenever I ask for examples, they throw out the names of women in the New Testament, but not who led. Yes I know there are wonderful women in the New Testament. Yes, I know God used them powerfully. But I don’t see any leading men.

    “If God calls and gifts a woman to lead in any role, who are we to say she can’t lead?”

    Right. If God did that. But He didn’t. He put restrictions on women’s roles, and gave them a greater focus on their husbands, children, and homes (Titus 2). Has God given women leadership ability? Yes. I think my wife has great teaching and leadership ability, as do other women in our church. Katie exercises these gifts within the boundaries given her: over other women and children.

    “If God anointing is evident as with Deborah, who are we to go against God? God can call and anoint a woman to lead as shown by Deborah’s case.”

    Lead who? You keep saying that, but the account is about a woman making every effort to see a man lead.

    “Therefore, I believe we shouldn’t make it a rule to disallow women to lead. I have seen women who can teach and lead as good as any man.”

    I agree with this, and I would add that I have seen men who can’t lead as well as some women. But this is not a question of ability. It’s a question of what God’s Word says.

    “Why can’t they teach and lead in a church?”

    They can, over other women and children.

    “As for Paul’s teaching on females’ role in church, it was more about keeping the order.”

    First Timothy 2:12 says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” This could not be clearer. You must rip this verse kicking-and-screaming out-of-context to support what you’re saying.

    “(Paul did tell slaves obey their masters also.) Our times have changed to a point that it would not cause disorder or chaos in a church if there are women teachers or even pastors.”

    Okay, now you’ve given insight into your exegesis. Scripture’s teaching changes with time as the culture changes. I disagree with this completely.

    “(Our men and women learn from female professors in universities already. I doubt that was the case during Paul’s time.) I know God made man and woman differently. This is why I say female leaders are not the norm but exceptions. Still, I don’t want to stand in the way of God if He wants a woman to lead. We can judge a tree by its fruits.”

    If God wants a woman to lead men, as I said earlier, we must wonder why He wants something He forbids (1 Timothy 2:12), condemns (Isaiah 3:12), and doesn’t support scripturally.

  6. I love what Michelle Lesley wrote on her blog recently:

    “Finally, look at the overall general pattern of male headship and leadership in Scripture. First human created? A man. The Patriarchs? As the word implies – all men. Priests, Levites, Scribes? Men. Heads of the twelve tribes of Israel? Men. Major and Minor Prophets? Men. All kings of Israel and Judah? Men. Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants? All established between God and men. Authors of Scripture? Men. The forefunner of Christ? John the Baptist – a man. Messiah? A man. All of the apostles? Men. All of the pastors, elders, and deacons of churches in the New Testament? Men. Founder and Head of the Church? Christ – a man. Leader and head of the family? Men.”

    It’s VERY clear to those who want to see that God has ordained men to be the ones in authority.

    1. What a great observation Lori! My opinion from a very humble, lifelong “at home barefoot and pregnant” – God serving, husband obeying 100% Titus 2 girl; I don’t believe women should be in any position of authority, certainly including not being preachers from the pulpit or church leaders, and I’m not fond of women in the military either. Men need to be in authority and take care of the women who dutifully take care of them and their families at home! Not trying to offend anyone, just my humble opinion.

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