Deborah Versus Feminism

By Phillip G. Kayser · 5/14/2018

In the past few years several people have told me that the Deborah of Judges 4-5 is a justification for female presidents, and several pastors told me that Deborah is a justification for female pastors. Some years ago a group of pastors used her to prove that women can do anything that men can do. Today numerous Reformed people are defending egalitarianism. My understanding is that Deborah stands as a rebuke to all forms of modern feminism and egalitarianism.

Deborah did not lead the army, recruit, fight, or even lead Israel as a civil magistrate after the war. She was a judge of disputes by divine prophesy, but if people were to disobey the inspired revelation that she brought they were said to be disobeying "God" not her. Consider the following points:

  1. Barak was commanded to lead, not Deborah (4:6). History by itself is not normative; God's commands are. And even apart from the law of God (which is clear), this historical account gives God's command for the male to lead: "“Has not the LORD God of Israel commanded, ‘Go and deploy troops...'
  2. The fact that Barak didn’t want his God-given leadership role (4:8) and the fact that Barak may have theoretically disobeyed that command does not empty the command of its obvious meaning. Thus, however you interpret the de facto leadership that happened, it cannot justify ignoring the de jure leadership of Scripture. Thus, Barak’s actions are no justification for men to abandon their God-given role today, and is certainly no divine proof that women can take men’s roles.
  3. Judges indicates that the fact that a woman was needed for moral support was a shame for Barak, not something to be imitated today (vv. 8-9). How could this possibly be seen as shameful conduct on an egalitarian interpretation? Shameful conduct should not be imitated; it should be avoided.
  4. Deborah kept insisting that Barak take his leadership role, as women should do today (4:10,14,15). She insisted on male headship of the army (4:6) and of government (5:2) and only saw herself as “a mother in Israel” (5:7). In the two capacities she acted in, she is listed as being under the authority of a man: as judge she was “a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth” (4:4). In composing the prophetic song, we find that Deborah sings with Barak (5). But she actually takes a back seat in everything else. We find that Barak takes leadership in drafting an army (4:10). It is Barak that Sisera sees as the head of the army (4:12). Barak takes leadership in the fighting (4:14,15,16,22). And Hebrews summarizes the events of these two chapters simply by mentioning the valor of Barak (Heb. 11:32).
  5. It must be kept in mind that Deborah’s leadership is unique among judges in that it was only prophetic (4:4,6,14 etc.; cf. 2 Pet 1:21). Any leadership Deborah displayed was as a passive vehicle of revelation since “prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). Thus, her prophetic judgments carry no more justification for a leadership position in any age than Samuel’s prophecy in 1 Samuel 3 is a justification for three year old children ruling churches or countries, or than the prophecy that Balaam’s donkey gave to him can provide a justification for donkey’s to lead their masters. God may do unusual things in history, but they are not to be models that lead to greater expressions of leadership on the part of women. But this does not even appear to be an unusual thing – God had prophets and prophetesses who were God’s direct mouthpiece. They did not teach God’s word; they spoke God’s inspired word as passive vehicles.
  6. The only function of a judge that Deborah engaged in before the war was judging difficult cases prophetically and giving God’s advice, both by direct revelation. Unless women have direct, inspired, and inerrant revelation today, there is not a one-to-one parallel.
  7. We have no record of Deborah continuing to judge once Israel was restored. She may have, but there is no mention of the fact. This may be why Hebrews 11:32 mentions Barak, but not Deborah. Again, history is not normative; the law of God is. God’s law only authorized males (אִישׁ) to be head (רֵאשׁ) over tribes and over nation (Deut. 1:13,15). Indeed, it was only males who voted for their leaders in both the Old Testament and New Testament – see
  8. Finally, our lives should be governed by the clear commandments of Scripture, such as 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man,” or 1 Corinthians 14:34: “they are to be in submission, as the Law says also.” To argue a mandate from an example like Deborah is the naturalistic fallacy of arguing “ought” from “is.” God’s law is clear, and even this illustration gives ample evidence to uphold the law as we have already seen. You cannot do away with clear statements of Scripture with illustrations from Scripture.
  9. Therefore Deborah is not a model for feminists. Instead she upholds the Biblical principle of male leadership in family, church, or state, and stands as a rebuke to modern feminism, egalitarianism, and even some forms of complementarianism. Deborah supported and strengthened the man of God’s choosing like many other godly women of history. One can think of women like Sarah Edwards, Mary Moffat and many others.

And on women in the military, it seems to me that only men were actually called to arms (e.g. Numbers 31:3-4; Joshua 1:14; 6:3; 8:3; Judges 7:1-8; 20:8-11; 1 Samuel 8:11-12 (contrast verse 13); 11:8; 13:2; 14:52; 24:2; 2 Samuel 24:2; 1 Chronicles 21:5; 27:1-15, 23-24; 2 Chronicles 17:12-19; 25:5-6; 26:11-14; 2 Kings 24:14-16; and Nehemiah 4:14). Many scholars believe that the prohibition of wearing things that pertain to a man is not only a prohibition of cross-dressing (Deut. 22:5), but is a prohibition of women wearing military gear. Obviously, it does not prohibit women from defending themselves with guns, etc. They should. But their primary calling was not to defend the nation or the family with arms.

Nevertheless, their support of battles through prayer should not be underestimated. Psalm 76:3 says that it was in the house of prayer that the determinative difference in battles happened. It was "there He broke the arrows of the bow, the shield and sword of battle." But generally speaking there were different roles that were governed by sex.

Hopefully this informal exposition helps those who have been scratching their heads over the use of Deborah by feminists. The more I dig, the more I scratch my head as to why they would want to use her. She in no way contradicts traditional Biblical values.