Then Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying:
“When locks are long in Israel, when the people offer themselves willingly— bless the Lord!
“Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the Lord I will sing, I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel.
“Lord, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the region of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens poured, the clouds indeed poured water. The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai, before the Lord, the God of Israel.
“In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, in the days of Jael, caravans ceased and travelers kept to the byways. The peasantry prospered in Israel, they grew fat on plunder, because you arose, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel. When new gods were chosen, then war was in the gates. Was shield or spear to be seen among forty thousand in Israel? My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the Lord.
“Tell of it, you who ride on white donkeys, you who sit on rich carpets and you who walk by the way. To the sound of musicians at the watering places, there they repeat the triumphs of the Lord, the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel.
“Then down to the gates marched the people of the Lord.
“Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, utter a song! Arise, Barak, lead away your captives, O son of Abinoam. Then down marched the remnant of the noble; the people of the Lord marched down for him against the mighty. From Ephraim they set out into the valley, following you, Benjamin, with your kin; from Machir marched down the commanders, and from Zebulun those who bear the marshal’s staff; the chiefs of Issachar came with Deborah, and Issachar faithful to Barak; into the valley they rushed out at his heels. Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds, to hear the piping for the flocks? Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he abide with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea, settling down by his landings. Zebulun is a people that scorned death; Naphtali too, on the heights of the field.
“The kings came, they fought; then fought the kings of Canaan, at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo; they got no spoils of silver. The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The torrent Kishon swept them away, the onrushing torrent, the torrent Kishon. March on, my soul, with might!
“Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.
“Curse Meroz, says the angel of the Lord, curse bitterly its inhabitants, because they did not come to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.
“Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed. He asked water and she gave him milk, she brought him curds in a lordly bowl. She put her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet; she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. He sank, he fell, he lay still at her feet; at her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell dead.
“Out of the window she peered, the mother of Sisera gazed through the lattice: ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’ Her wisest ladies make answer, indeed, she answers the question herself: ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoil?— A girl or two for every man; spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera, spoil of dyed stuffs embroidered, two pieces of dyed work embroidered for my neck as spoil?’ “
So perish all your enemies, O Lord! But may your friends be like the sun as it rises in its might.”
“God is not ashamed to be called their God.” This profound statement is found in Hebrews 11, the faith chapter of the Bible. Can you imagine your name being listed along with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph and Moses in God’s list of the faithful?
But, wait, before we go any further, let’s look at that list a little more closely. Faith is not only a masculine virtue, we see. Sarah and Rahab and the women who received their dead raised to life again are also listed. And those courageous nameless people who “were tortured, not accepting deliverance.”
Let us take a new look at faith—from the point of view of women. Let us see how women of the Bible also used faith in their walk with God.
Deborah, the only recorded female judge of ancient Israel, is described in Judges 4 and 5 as the deliverer of Israel for 40 years from Canaanite oppression. Before we analyze how this extraordinary woman did this, think about what it might take for a female to become the spiritual, judicial and military leader of Israel. It was a time of anarchy. The Hebrew tribes had settled among the Canaanites and began to worship their gods. Israel failed to stand apart from its pagan neighbors, as God commanded them. Instead of being righteous examples to the surrounding cultures, they took part in customs loathsome to their God.
Though God made it plain that both mothers and fathers—women and men—are to be treated with equal respect (Exodus 20:12), in this degenerate disunited society, the rights of women were often overlooked. Women today complain about rights, but what do you think it took for a woman of that age to achieve what Deborah did? It took one major ingredient—a strong belief and faith in God.
God chose a faithful woman as Israel’s judge and prophetess. It was a woman who encouraged Barak, the son of Abinoam, to heed God’s call to duty and lead Israel’s army against Sisera’s 900 iron chariots. It was a woman who accompanied the troops to the battleground at Mount Tabor to fortify Barak’s wavering courage (Judges 4:8-9).
To be fair to Barak, when he looked at the odds against him, he clearly saw that unless God was on Israel’s side, he and his troops would be massacred. Being a practical man, he made sure God’s prophetess would be at the battle scene to provide divine insight. Barak is also on God’s list of the faithful (Hebrews 11:32).
Deborah knew, in spite of the circumstances of her time and culture, that in God’s sight, women were not second-class citizens, that God was not a respecter of persons. Her strong abiding faith gave this woman the conviction and courage to allow God to use her in a most unusual way.
How satisfying it must have been for Deborah to look down on the Plain of Megiddo, 20 miles of battleground, and see God miraculously deliver Israel’s army. “So let all your enemies perish, O Lord,” was Deborah’s battle cry. You can read in Judges 5 a stirring description of ancient Israel’s deliverance from Sisera’s oppression.
May You Be Like Ruth…
An Old Testament book with her name tells the remarkable story of Ruth, a woman of Moab. After the death of the husbands of both Ruth and her sister-in-law Orpah, their mother-in-law, Naomi, entreated them to go back to their families in Moab. Orpah tearfully did, but Ruth’s deep love for Naomi is reflected in her often-quoted words: “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16, New King James). It was a statement of loyalty and faith. In the years of living with her husband and being near her mother-in-law, Ruth grew in understanding of God’s way of life. She forsook her former Moabite rituals as she saw the benefits of worshiping the true God. Ruth’s relocation from Moab to Bethlehem took great faith. It shows us that sometimes we must also leave old ways behind to follow God. It did not take long for Boaz, a well-to-do landowner and kinsman, to become aware of Ruth’s sterling characteristics. Her faithfulness to God caused her to benefit from an ancient custom—one that was to shape her future. In Israel, when a man died childless, his brother or nearest kinsman was expected to marry the widow. Their firstborn child was considered to be of the dead husband and inherited his property. Boaz, being a just man, considered it an honor to fulfill his responsibilities. And, he was also greatly blessed by this union. Ruth brought much additional praise to him and his family, for all time to come. It wasn’t long before Naomi was also given new life and security in her latter years, as her daughter-in-law presented her with a grandson they named Obed. Obed became the father of Jesse, who was the father of David—Israel’s greatest king. Ruth, a woman of faithful dedication to God, to her mother-in-law, Naomi, to her husband and to a long family line, is worthy of praise. May we, as we follow God’s ways in our lives, also be.
Joan C. Bogdanchik
Hannah, the God-fearing mother of Samuel the prophet, displayed an extraordinary faith and courage during a time of spiritual laxity in Israel. Hannah, one of two wives of Elkanah, was unable to have children. Barrenness in a Hebrew woman disgraced both her family and nation. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, had several children, and often scornfully reminded Hannah of her failure to fulfill her duty as a wife and an Israelite. As the years passed, Hannah’s apparently hopeless situation and Peninnah’s constant taunting caused Hannah increasing unhappiness and distress. During one of the family’s yearly visits to Shiloh (as was the custom), Hannah went to the temple and begged God to give her a child. In humble, fervent prayer, she faithfully pledged her child to God in lifelong service. Nine months later, Samuel was born. Despite having waited so long for this child, Hannah willingly gave her son, when he was three years old, to the service of God at the tabernacle. She provided him with clothing and visited him throughout his childhood. So what importance does the story of Hannah have for us today? We often find it difficult to see beyond our particular problems. Our difficulties can seem insurmountable, and our situation grossly unfair. Doesn’t that describe Hannah’s situation? Yet Hannah did not give up hope. In faith, she depended on God to change her circumstances. In faith, according to her word, she gave up her only child to him, and God rewarded her with five more children. Because of Hannah’s trust in and commitment to God, she was given a son, who eventually became the last and perhaps the greatest of the judges. When times are difficult and remaining faithful seems too hard, take a moment to think of the story of Hannah, a woman of great faith.
A Queen Risks Her Life
God’s unseen hand guides, directs and preserves his people by working out circumstances, often in the most unexpected ways. God gave Esther, a beautiful Jewish girl, special favor in the eyes of Ahasuerus, king of Persia, and the king chose Esther to become his queen in place of his previous wife, Vashti. You can read the story in the Bible in the book of Esther. Esther’s cousin and guardian, Mordecai, had a powerful enemy in the court—King Ahasuerus’ favorite prince, Haman. Mordecai wouldn’t bow to Haman each day at the city gate, and it made the prince furious. When Haman discovered that Mordecai was Jewish, he determined not only to destroy Mordecai but also his entire race along with him. As soon as Mordecai heard about Haman’s plans, he told Esther it was time to plead for the life of her people. She had not yet revealed to the king that she was Jewish. Esther said to her uncle, “Don’t you know that I’ve not been to the king for 30 days and those who approach the king without being called are executed unless he extends the golden scepter to them?” (See Esther 4:11.) Esther had reason to fear. The king was far from a model of virtue. Herodotus, a fifth-century B.C. Greek historian, says Ahasuerus was vain and sensual. Mordecai said to Esther: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews…. Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (verses 13-14). Mordecai was beginning to realize that God had been working this out all along. Esther made a quick and brave decision: “Tell the people to fast three days and three nights and I shall go in to the king. If I live, I live and if I perish, I perish.” (See verse 16.) Then Esther put on her royal apparel and bravely went to the king’s throne room. As she entered the room, a hush fell over the royal court. They knew the king favored this woman above all others, but they also knew the king had not called for her. What mood would the king be in? As Esther began slowly to walk toward him, the king stretched out his scepter. It was a signal that her life was granted her. At that moment Esther doubtlessly said a silent thank-you prayer to God. To summarize the rest of the story, the king commanded that Haman be hanged for his presumptuousness. King Ahasuerus promoted Mordecai, and the Jews (including Queen Esther) were spared. God is always working behind the scenes. There are times when most of us have questioned events in our lives and wondered where God was. The story of Esther tells us he’s here for us. God’s hand is not only guiding his church, but also working out circumstances in our individual lives. So, when you get a little discouraged or you can’t understand why certain things happen to you, remember Esther.
Rahab saves her family
Back even before the time of Deborah and Barak, let’s look at another remarkable Old Testament example of feminine faith— that of the innkeeper Rabab. Some scholars believe she (like most female innkeepers) was a harlot, others deny the possibility. But one thing we do know: she is the only woman other than Sarah who is listed by name in God’s account of his faithful in Hebrews.
Rahab lived in the age-old city of Jericho during the time that Joshua was leading the Israelites out of the desert into the promised land. According to archaeologists, a double wall of brick protected the city. Rahab’s house was probably built over the 12-to-15-foot space that separated Jericho’s 12-foot-thick inner wall from its 6-foot-thick outer wall.
The city of Jericho was the most important city in the Jordan Valley. The Canaanites of Rahab’s time excelled in the arts and sciences. Morally, however, they were perverse. Their pagan religions were lewd and base, their civilization was decadent. Even though Jericho was heavily fortified, the Canaanite inhabitants of Jericho were understandably nervous about the Israelite hordes camped close by on the plains of Moab.
As they walked toward Jericho, two Hebrew spies sent by Joshua, Israel’s military leader, may have noticed Rahab’s house, with its window on the side of the massive outer wall of the city. When they entered the city, they were no doubt pleased to learn that this particular house on the wall was a place where two strangers would be accepted.
Rahab had heard about the miracles God had performed to rescue Israel from the Egyptians. She knew that the Amorites across the Jordan had been conquered. When the Israelite spies came to her house, she seized on the chance to save her family from what she saw as certain destruction.
Her neighbors had heard the stories, too. But, unlike her, they trusted in the thick walls of Jericho. Somehow, out of all these people, Rahab could see beyond the brick and stone of her familiar world and trust in the Hebrews’ God. It must have been difficult to decide to forsake all that she knew and was comfortable with.
Following the spies’ instruction, she acted on her faith and marked her home with a sign—a red rope. God respected her trust in him, and she and her family were spared when Jericho’s walls fell. One woman of faith out of a whole city. You can read the account of Rahab’s deliverance in Joshua 2-6.
Jesus and women
Jesus Christ constantly surprised his followers by the way he treated women. Women were real people to Jesus. Ignoring local custom, Jesus expected women as well as men to listen to and follow his teachings. Remember the account of Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha for criticizing her sister Mary because she chose to listen to Jesus rather than help serve the male guests?
“And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
Jesus revealed the marvelous truth of his messiahship to, of all people, a Samaritan woman (John 4:21-26). The Jews despised the Samaritans and their religion. For a Jewish man to speak to a woman in public, especially a Samaritan woman, was unheard of at the time. Jesus’ disciples were astonished when they saw him so at ease with women, talking to them, teaching them and admonishing them, as he did men. Women were amazed as well—and appreciated his concern for them, expressed so openly.
The multiple hundreds of thousands of women of faith over the centuries go unrecorded for the most part. Whatever our backgrounds, wherever we live, we all, no doubt, have our personal Joan of Arcs to add to the list.
About 100 years ago, women weren’t satisfied with the world they saw around them and began to complain. Women campaigned against war, alcoholism, long work hours, low wages, child labor, high infant death rate, and filthy living conditions.
In the United States in 1909, Nannie Helen Burroughs gave her National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C., the motto: “We Specialize in the Wholly Impossible.” The National Training School, a model for many others, “offered young African American women a liberal-arts education and more….
“Mary Breckenridge of the Frontier Nursing Service sent nurse midwives riding on horseback through the woods of Kentucky in the 1920s. Jane Addams founded Chicago’s Hull House, one of the first and most important of the establishments of the settlement house movement, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931” (“Smithsonian News Service,” Mary Combs).
Edie Mayo, curator in the Division of Political History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington,D.C., adds, “What is truly astonishing is the fact that they accomplished most of it without the power to vote.”
These few and far between examples from the past are fine, you may think, but what about now? Can today’s women expect God to answer their prayers? Can they have faith? Does God discriminate against women today?
God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35). He expects women, as well as men, to faithfully believe in him. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, New King James). God expects both men and women to actively express that faith by following him.
Why is active faith in God so important? To answer that question, we must first understand what faith is— and what it isn’t.
Here’s one definition of faith: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is absolute confidence in God’s will, God’s purpose, and absolute belief that God through his Son Jesus Christ will answer your prayers –all this before you see any physical proof.
Deborah knew before she called for Barak that God would grant Israel the victory. But how? Everything she could see and hear seemed to point toward Israel’s defeat. Sisera had 900 chariots; he had thousands of well-trained and well-armed troops. Barak had neither. From what could be physically detected, it was not logical (in human terms) for Deborah to expect to win. But Deborah had faith in God, and knew that he would help Israel overpower the mighty Canaanites.
Deborah’s faith was not an emotion. It wasn’t some kind of feeling she had worked up over several hours or days. Her faith was not just hope, either. Wishful thinking does not win battles against iron-tipped chariots and battle-hardened troops.
Deborah’s faith was the unwavering belief in the face of overwhelming odds that God exists and that he will do what he promises he will. This faith is based on experience of what God has done, knowing he will not change his great purpose for humans. It is the kind of faith that wins wars and, in Rahab’s case, saves lives.
The kind of faith that leads us to believe in and obey God is the only kind that pleases him. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, New King James).
Those who believe don’t let circumstances cause them to doubt God. And God answers their prayers. “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord” (James 1:6-7).
Is faith out-of-date?
How strong is your faith? Can God look down at you as one he could add to his list of faithful servants? Or does faith seem to be an old-fashioned virtue, not as necessary in our modem technological world? Jesus wondered whether in the latter days of our civilization faith would be a scarce commodity. “Nevertheless when the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Does having faith still matter? Yes, it certainly does. The gift of faith—true godly faith—is needed for our salvation. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, New King James). To learn more about this kind of faith, click here.
God does not discriminate. Whether Abraham or Sarah, Barak or Deborah, Hebrews says that the world was not worthy of those faithful people. Male or female, let’s be sure we have the faith to make his list as well.
Faith, Hope and BBQ Sauce
In 1991, if you took Route 98 west through Columbus, Mississippi, crossed the Pearl River, continued to the second bridge over the railroad tracks, drove up the dirt road until you passed the Highway Department’s garage, and asked someone where Leatha’s is, then you could have found one of the best restaurants in the United States. There were no signs; it was nothing fancy. A ramshackle house, rickety tables and chairs, and an assortment of old plates, cups and flatware. But the steaks were thick, the chicken tender and cooked just right. And the barbecue sauce was prepared from a formula that only Leatha knew. You’d never forget it, nor Leatha herself. (The restaurant has moved to Hattiesburg, and as of 2003, 80-year-old Leatha still works there). Leatha Jackson is a grandmother with a simple formula for success—her secret recipe for BBQ sauce and an ironclad faith that God helps those who help themselves. She was raised in poverty. From age 5 to 25 she picked cotton. But her dream was to own and operate a restaurant. “In those days, a poor black girl in rural Mississippi with a third-grade education didn’t have too much chance,” she said. “But my father taught me to trust in God. When I got my first job in a restaurant, I didn’t even know how to split a hot dog bun and put a wienie on it,” she remembered. She learned cooking and food management by watching others. Then she took the plunge and opened a small restaurant in her home far off the beaten track. There was no money for advertising. “We couldn’t even afford a sign,” she said. “So I asked God for customers, and they began coming.” When her husband became ill, Leatha, who had always refused welfare and never owed anything, was forced to mortgage the property to meet the unexpected medical expenses. “We were $100,000 in debt. But I knew God would not put on us more than we could bear.” And she paid the debt off. Leatha has personal interest in each of her customers. In fact, she provided a service that few other restaurants could match. “When I have done all I can to serve them, I sometimes go to my room and pray for them. I thank God for each one. I ask him to help me give them good food, and to treat them right. Then I pray for their spiritual and financial welfare. I want them to be happy.” Leatha’s is a family business. There are jobs for her children and their families—”if they are willing to work,” she adds. She sees the business as a way to keep the family together. “It’s like a bundle of sticks,” she explains. “Separate us and we are easily broken. Together, we’re strong.” In a world of ruthless greed and cutthroat competition, Leatha’s decent, hard-working little enterprise is a reminder that “old-fashioned” values still work. Be fair, treat people right, give good value for a fair price, work hard, share with others and don’t be greedy. And above all, trust God to look after you.
The story opens with the words, “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs” (verse 7). It may be hard for us to believe that Israel would substitute the worship of the great God for worship of pagan idols of wood and stone. But before we condemn them, we should remind ourselves that we are guilty of the same sin when we put other activities and priorities before our relationship with God. What are your idols? They may not be made of stone, but to God they are just as sinful.
For their idolatry, God delivered Israel into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim, king of Aram Naharaim (verse 8). Rishathaim is not found anywhere else in ancient literature, but it means “wicked.” The Israelites served Cushan for eight years. They probably paid tribute to this foreign king in exchange for their security.
When the Israelites repented and cried out to God for help, he raised up Othniel to deliver them. Othniel had a rich spiritual heritage. His uncle was Caleb, a man of unwavering faith in God (Numbers 13:30; 14:24). Othniel was also a brave soldier. In Judges 1:12-13, we read that he volunteered to lead an attack against a fortified city. Othniel’s leadership brought the people back to God and freed them from the oppression of Cushan. Unfortunately, it was not long after Othniel’s death that the Israelites fell back into their sinful ways.
EPISODE TWO: EHUD
“Once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (verse 12). This time, God sent Eglon, king of Moab, against Israel. Allied with the Ammonites and the Amalekites, Eglon defeated Israel.
The nomadic tribes of Moab, Ammon and Amalek lived near one another, southeast of Canaan. These tribes were notorious raiders who possessed great military skill. The Moabites were descendants of Moab, the son of Lot’s elder daughter (Genesis 19:37). They posed a constant threat to Israel. Jephthah, one of the later judges, reminded the Ammonites that they and the Moabites had refused to give Israel permission to travel through their land (Judges 11:14-17). When the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land, they were seduced by the Moabite and Midianite women to participate in idolatrous practices (Numbers 25:1-18).
“Ehud then approached [Eglon] while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his summer palace and said, ‘I have a message from God for you.’ As the king rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly” (Judges 3:20-21).
After 18 years of Moabite oppression, God raised up Ehud to deliver the Israelites (Judges 3:14-17). The text here contains three seemingly irrelevant details: Ehud is left-handed, his sword is doubled-edged and 18 inches long, and Eglon is very fat. Since biblical narrative is usually sparse in descriptive language, one can assume that these details have relevance in the forthcoming plot. And indeed they do.
Because Ehud was left-handed, he strapped the sword on his right thigh. A movement with his left hand to his right thigh was less likely to be interpreted by Eglon as reaching for a weapon. The sword was short enough to be concealed, yet long enough to do its job. Eglon’s large, cumbersome body made him an easy target for Ehud. After killing Eglon, Ehud led the Israelites to a great victory at Seirah (verses 26-30). Ehud’s courageous faith brought peace to the nation of Israel for 80 years.
EPISODE THREE: DEBORAH
After Ehud died, the Israelites again sinned against God, who then gave them “into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor” (Judges 4:2). Joshua had defeated an earlier King Jabin, and had burned the city of Hazor to the ground. But the Israelites had failed to expel all the Canaanites from the land, to their later cost. The city of Hazor had been rebuilt by the time of this later Jabin, who oppressed the Israelites for 20 years.
God responded to Israel’s cry for help and used Deborah, a faithful prophetess who was judging Israel at that time, and Barak, her military commander, to deliver the nation. This detailed story is told twice: once in skillfully narrated prose (verses 4-24) and once in a magnificent poem known as The Song of Deborah (Judges 5:1-31). This song resembles another victory hymn, The Song of Moses and Miriam, or The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18).
Deborah told Barak to raise an army and go to Mt. Tabor, for God would give Israel a great victory over the Canaanites. Barak agreed to do so only if Deborah would accompany him. Deborah complied but told Barak that because of his lack of faith in God’s promise of victory, the honor of killing Sisera, who commanded Jabin’s army, would fall not to Barak but to a woman (Judges 4:6-9).
Deborah and Barak summoned the Israelites from Kedesh. Not all the tribes responded (Judges 5:13-18). However, Barak was able to assemble some 10,000 men, chiefly from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. Sisera countered by gathering his troops in the Kishon basin, relying on his 900 iron chariots to overwhelm Barak’s force.
But God decided the battle in Israel’s favor. He demonstrated his superiority over the Canaanite storm god, Baal, by causing an unexpected thunderstorm to transform the Kishon basin into mud, thus immobilizing the Canaanite chariots. Deborah roused Barak to attack, and he routed Sisera’s army. The Israelites would later sing, “The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon” (verse 21).
Sisera had managed to escape the initial onslaught of Barak’s army and fled to the tent of Heber the Kenite, a friend of Jabin. Heber’s wife, Jael, welcomed Sisera and gave him some milk to drink. Sisera, believing he was safe, fell sound asleep. Jael then picked up a tent peg in her left hand and a hammer in her right hand, and drove the peg through Sisera’s temple. This act fulfilled Deborah’s prophecy and immortalized Jael in Hebrew poetry (verses 24-27).
Shamgar, referred to in Judges 3:31 and 5:6, fought around this time against another enemy of Israel — the “Sea Peoples,” a group that included the Philistines. The Israelites eventually gained the upper hand over their enemies, and the land had peace for 40 years (Judges 4:23; 5:31).
Some have tried to understand God’s selection of Deborah by reasoning that he could not find any man suitable for the job, so he was forced to use Deborah.While this reasoning may serve to keep male egos intact, it ignores the testimony of Scripture. God is able to use whoever he wants. He does not appoint leaders by using human criteria.When Samuel considered Eliab a suitable successor to King Saul, God corrected Samuel’s limited perception: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Some find it surprising that God used a woman as a judge of Israel. But we should not allow preconceived ideas or prejudices to get in the way of respecting those whom God appoints to lead us. Barak, a man of faith, loyally followed the individual God chose.The account in Judges reveals that Deborah’s personality drew people together. She was also a prophetess and led the people to obey God. God used Deborah to influence Israel to remain faithful long after the battle was over. Leaders inspired by God are concerned with the spiritual well-being of those they are called to serve. Deborah certainly was.
Women have an increasing role in the work of the church. Women not only lead women in “women’s ministries,” but also lead men and women in music, prayer, teaching and speaking. Some people wonder why women should be allowed to do anything in church; others wonder why women can’t do everything in church.
To give biblical perspective on this issue, let’s look at evidence that God has used women to speak to his people. Women have spoken the word of God, and they have done so with divine approval and divine authority.
The Lord gave Hagar a promise similar to the promise given to Abraham (Genesis 16:7-10). Hagar then “gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: `You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, `I have now seen the One who sees me’ ” (verse 11).
What Hagar said is now in the word of God. She told us one of the names that tell us who God is. He is the God who sees us, and Hagar is the person who spoke that truth.
After God brought the Israelites through the Red Sea, Miriam sang praises that are now part of the word of God: “Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing.
“Miriam sang to them: `Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea’ ” (Exodus 15:20-21). In public worship, Miriam sang what is now the word of God.
Miriam was a prophetess, which means that she spoke the word of the Lord. A prophet is someone who speaks on behalf of God to the people; a prophetess had the same role. Miriam had a role of spiritual leadership. [Click here for article on Miriam]
The next prophetess in the Bible is Deborah. “Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided” (Judges 4:4-5).
Deborah was a prophetess and a judge, and in both roles she spoke the word of God. Her role was not just a one-time event, but an ongoing responsibility. The people came to her for leadership on a regular basis—and there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that anyone thought it was unusual for a woman to perform this role. She was simply the most qualified person, and people accepted that.
God can raise up stones to do his work, and if he needed a man to do his work, he could raise up a man. But in this case he chose to work through a woman, showing that there is no theological reason that God can’t use a woman to speak on his behalf, or to have a woman lead his people.
There were many men in Israel at that time, but God wasn’t searching for one to be the judge, and apparently the Israelites weren’t, either. They were quite willing to go to Deborah to have their disputes decided. She had wisdom, and her wisdom was more important than her gender.
Deborah was a prophetess, someone speaking the words of God. “She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, `The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: “Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands” ‘ ” (verses 6-7).
Here the Bible describes a woman speaking the words of God, giving commands to a man who was apparently enough of a leader that he could raise an army of ten thousand men. God is quite willing for a woman to give his commands to men. There is nothing in the nature of God or the nature of men and women that makes such a thing inappropriate. God can use women, and we need to be alert for the possibility that he is, and we need to be willing to respond.
Deborah went with Barak, and in verse 14 she again gives the word of the Lord to Barak: “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So they went, and they won. It was a great victory, and Deborah and Barak commemorated their victory with a song of praise that is now part of the word of God.
“On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song: `When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves—praise the Lord! Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I will sing to the Lord, I will sing; I will make music to the Lord, the God of Israel’ ” (Judges 5:1-2)
Who is this “I” who is singing? In verse 7 we see that it is Deborah: “Village life in Israel ceased,” the song says, “ceased until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel.” Deborah is the primary author of this part of Scripture. Like Miriam, she was singing praise to God in public worship. She is expressing spiritual leadership, speaking the word of God. This is a legitimate thing for women to do.
When the best person for the job is a woman, then God is quite willing to use a woman to do the work that needs to be done. Even in a patriarchal society, God can use women to speak his words.
A similar thing happened with Hannah, the mother of Samuel. “Hannah prayed and said: `My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God’ ” (1 Samuel 2:1-2).
Again, a woman’s words are now inspired Scripture. She spoke the word of God with words of worship that have inspired synagogues and churches for thousands of years, and that is a notable achievement for anyone. God inspired her to sing a song of praise.
Most of God’s spokesmen were men. In this patriarchal society, all the priests were men, the kings were men, the military leaders were men. But even in that male-dominated society, God could use women to do his work.
In 2 Kings 22, we catch another glimpse of what God was doing with women. In the 18th year of Josiah’s reign, workers found a scroll of the law in the temple. Josiah told the high priest what he should do: “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found” (verse 13).
The high priest wanted to ask the Lord about the scroll, so he “went to speak to the prophetess Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah” (verse 14). They could have looked for Jeremiah, but there was no reason to. Huldah spoke the word of the Lord just as much as Jeremiah did. A prophet speaks the words of God, and a prophetess speaks the words of God, and God inspires one just as much as the other.
So they asked Huldah, and in verses 15-16 we read her reply: “She said to them, `This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, “This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read.” ‘ ”
Huldah was commenting on the meaning of the Scriptures and predicting the future, giving an authoritative message from God. Again, there is no indication that anything unusual was happening. No one said it was strange to go to a woman instead of a man. Huldah was known as a prophetess, which means that she was known to speak the word of the Lord. She was doing the same thing she had on many other occasions: She spoke on behalf of God to the people. That is what prophetesses did.
In the New Testament we learn of other women who spoke the word of God. Mary sang praises that are now in Scripture (Luke 1:46-55). Anna was a prophetess (Luke 2:36-38). After Jesus was resurrected, he appeared to some women and gave them a message: “The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
“Suddenly Jesus met them. `Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, `Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me’ ” (Matthew 28:8-10).
Jesus has no problem with women delivering commands to men. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. He gave them that authority by giving them the message, and in doing so, these women were speaking the words of the Lord. Jesus expected the men to listen to the women and obey the command they delivered.
There were prophetesses in the early church, too. When the disciples were speaking in tongues, Peter told the crowd what was going on. It was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).
God inspires both men and women to speak. That was not unheard of in Old Testament times, and this is the way it should be in the new covenant age, too. God will cause both men and women to speak. Luke does not tell us what the women were inspired to say. All the preaching done in the book of Acts is done by men. That was probably a practical necessity in that culture. But there is nothing theoretically or theologically wrong with women being inspired to speak.
Luke mentions in Acts 21:9 that Philip had four daughters who prophesied. As prophetesses, they would speak the word of God, as they were inspired by God. They may have composed songs of praise, like Miriam and Deborah did, or they could have commented on the meaning of the Scriptures, as Huldah did. All of those are within the range of what is biblically possible. [Click here for longer article about women in the New Testament.]
1 Corinthians 11
1 Corinthians 11 gives us another example of women speaking the word of God—and this in a letter from Paul, who is sometimes quoted as saying that women should not speak. But that kind of quote is possible only when it is taken out of context, because 1 Corinthians 11 shows that Paul did approve of women speaking, even in church.
There are many details in the chapter that we cannot explore now, but we can take note of a few things about women. Paul writes: “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved” (verses 4-5).
Christians have debated the meaning of these words for centuries. Paul was writing about a cultural custom we do not have today. His point seems to be that that men and women should act in culturally appropriate ways when they pray or prophesy.
Paul is addressing something that is done in public. He is not worried about whether people cover their heads in private—and prophesying almost by definition has to be done in public. Paul is discussing something that other people can see. The concepts of shame and honor concern what other people can see.
In chapter 14 he talks in more detail about prophesying, and it is something done in church, in the worship services. It seems clear that in chapter 11 Paul is talking about women praying and prophesying in church.
What does Paul mean when he talks about prophesying? In chapter 12, he lists prophecy as a spiritual gift. In chapter 14, he says: “Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church” (verses 3-4).
Prophecy is an ability that God gives to people to strengthen, encourage, comfort and edify others. Paul wished that everyone in the church could do this. It is a valuable gift, for the strengthening of the church as a whole. It is done in church, for good of the church. Verse 24 says that prophecy is something that could convince people of sin and could lead someone to faith in Christ.
When Paul writes about women who prophesy, he means women who encourage, comfort, edify and strengthen the church. He means women who are speaking in church to help the church grow, to help believers become better servants of God. [Click here for a longer article about this passage.]
Some speakers must be silent
In verse 26, Paul gives some instructions for the worship services. “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” The priority in our worship services is building and strengthening the church.
In verses 27-28, he says: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.” “Keep quiet” is a Greek word that is later translated as “silent.” It does not mean total silence, but peace and order. Instead of everybody talking at once, people ought to take turns.
Verse 29: “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” We don’t have to assume it is a message from God just because somebody said it is. Rather, we should judge it carefully, thinking about what it means and how it fits in with other things we know about the gospel.
Verses 30-31: “And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop [the same Greek word is used here for being quiet]. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” Everyone could prophesy, as God gave the spiritual gift to encourage, comfort, edify and instruct.
Paul said they could all prophesy, as long as they took turns doing it. So in verse 34, “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says,” what did Paul mean? Is he contradicting what he wrote in chapter 11? Is he saying, contrary to the Scriptures that we have seen, that women are not allowed to speak the word of God? Or that they can do it anywhere except church?
No, Paul is not contradicting himself. There are several reasons to believe that this verse applies to a limited situation. First, common sense tells us that women do not have to be completely silent in church. They can say amen; they can sing hymns; they can whisper a question to their husband to find out what verse is being discussed.
Paul does not forbid all talking or all questions—he is concerned mainly about peace and order in the worship service, and what he forbids is talking that disrupts the worship service. When he tells women to be quiet, he uses the same Greek word that he had used for men who were speaking in tongues or prophesying. He is referring to out-of-turn talking. The second clue that Paul is discussing a limited situation is that the Law does not tell women to be silent in the worship meetings. The Bible says that wives should be in submission to their husbands, but not to all men in general.
When Paul says that women must be silent, he means that wives are not to be asking disruptive or nonsubmissive questions of their husbands in the worship service—and he assumes that similar rules would apply to women who aren’t married to believers. Whispered questions are not disgraceful, but disruptive questions are. If wives want to find out something, they can ask their husbands at home. If it’s somebody else’s husband, of course, they couldn’t ask at home; they would have to ask in church just like everybody else. [For a more detailed study of this passage, click here.]
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If we take verse 34 out of context, we could turn it into a requirement for total silence of all women in church. But that is not what Paul meant. Paul is simply requiring women to be silent for a time, just as he required everybody else to be quiet for a time. The context itself tells us that Paul’s words are limited to a specific situation—a situation that rarely occurs in churches today, because our worship services use a different format.
A basic rule of biblical interpretation is that we should try to understand a writer in such a way that we don’t make him contradict himself. The Bible clearly says that women can speak the word of God, and Paul allowed women to speak in church. So when he says that women have to be silent, we need to understand that his comments are limited in some way by the situation.
That is what we have done here, and that is what we need to do in 1 Timothy 2. When it says that women are not allowed to speak in church, we should not try to make it say more than it means. We should try to understand the words in such a way that they do not contradict the clear examples in Scripture that women can speak the word of God. [For a more detailed study of that passage, click here.]
Peter gives us a fitting conclusion when he says, “Each one should use whatever gift he [or she] has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks [whether man or woman] he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:10-11). Anyone who speaks in church should strive to speak the words of God, and women are certainly included in those who may speak the words of God in church.