You make me want to be a better man.
I'm presently preaching through the book of Judges on Sunday mornings at Providence Church. Consequently, I've spent more time in Judges the past few months than ever before and I've had to rethink some things.
One thing that has become clear to me is a misunderstanding of the role and significance of Deborah in the book of Judges and in the Bible in general.
In Judges 4 & 5 many see Deborah as God's leader appointed over the nation, primarily because there were no men willing to step up.
But, (1) rather than validating the leadership of women, she reveals how bad things are in Israel that the menfolk are such spiritual slackers. In other words, the text is not trying to normalize women in spiritual, military, or national leadership, but is criticizing the state of affairs in Israel.
Couple Deborah's role with that of Jael in Judges 4-5 and you see a woman rallying the men to fight (Deborah) and one getting the glory for killing the enemy leader (Jael), instead of Barak (Judges 4:9).
(2) Deborah is not actually the hero of the stories; Jael is. Jael kills the enemy commander, but she does so using her skills acquired as a housewife. Why doesn't anyone want to emulate she who is "most blessed" among women? (Judges 5:24)
(3) Deborah does not see a lack of leaders and take charge. Deborah is not actually the leader, but God's spokes(wo)man to the leader (i.e., Barak). God uses her, not to lead, but to get the leader to do his job.
"Deborah does not take over when men don't lead. She inspires men to lead. There is a world of difference in those two statements."
- Bob Deffinbaugh
That being said, although Deborah doesn't seem to aspire to leadership in Israel, she is the most spiritual person around. That's why they go to her for a word from God, as His prophetess. She's pretty much the lone spiritual light shining in that darkened land.
In fact, I would submit that God raised up Deborah and Jael to shame Israel and to humiliate Israel's enemies (e.g., Sisera, the enemy commander).
"it was also an act of humiliation for the Jews, for they lived in a male-dominated society that wanted only male leadership. ... For a captain to flee from a battle was embarrassing; for him to be killed while fleeing was humiliating; but to be killed by a woman was the most disgraceful thing of all (9:54)."
- Warren Wiersbe (cf. Is 3:12)
The role of women in Scripture should not be denigrated, but rather applauded, especially the deeds of Deborah and Jael in Judges 4-5. At the same time, we shouldn't make the text say what we want, what it doesn't, in order to make a point of our own.
Click to listen to my sermon on Judges 4, "Girl Power."