Women in leadership: God’s punishment?

Some people claim that Deborah, rather than being a blessing, was actually a judgement on Israel.

This opinion is derived from Isaiah 3:12 which in most translations says something like this:

As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. (NKJV)

Undoubtedly the context of this passage in Isaiah as rendered in most versions is that of judgement on Israel for their sins.

The story of Deborah comes in the book of Judges. The theme of this book, spelled out in chapter 3:11-19 is this: the people of Israel  did evil in the sight of the Lord, so he delivered them into the hands of their enemies. When they cried out to the Lord to help them, he raised up a deliverer for them who defeated their oppressors. This cycle is repeated over and over again. We see it in the stories of Othniel and Ehud (Judges 3), Gideon (chapters 6-8), Jephthah (chapter 11) and Samson (chapters 13-16).

Sandwiched in the middle of this saga is the story of Deborah, and it follows the same pattern. The people of Israel did evil in God’s sight (4:1) and so he delivered them into the hands of Jabin, king of Canaan (4:2). After 20 years of harsh oppression, the people cried out to the Lord (4:3). God then used Deborah and Jael, two women, along with Barak, commander of the armies to defeat Israel.

There is not a hint anywhere in this story that Deborah is a punishment on Israel. On the contrary, she is described as a prophetess (4:4), and a mother in Israel (5:7). The Israelites came to her for judgement under a palm tree (4:5). There’s no indication that her leadership of Barak is in any way inappropriate–in fact, the partnership between Deborah and Barak is a beautiful picture of what can happen when men and women co-labor together in the body of Christ. Nor is there any suggestion that God used Deborah to deliver Israel because there wasn’t a man available. Following their victory, the people of Israel had peace for 40 years.

The Isaiah passage also says “children are their oppressors.” Again, the impression given is that a child as king is a punishment on the people. Yet perhaps the most godly king apart from David was Josiah. His story comes in 2 Kings 21-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35. Josiah was eight when he began his reign, and he set his heart to follow God. He, unlike any of the other kings, removed all the pagan worship from the land and reinstated the Passover celebration.  His story stands out in a long list of kings as perhaps the only one who pleased God in all that he did.

2 Kings 23:25 says this of him:

Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him.

So is the problem one of translation?

Brenton’s Septuagint renders Isaiah 3: 12 as

O my people, your exactors strip you, and extortioners rule over you:

So at the very least, there is some question on the exact meaning of this verse.

However, there is no question that God used both a woman and a child in the two stories I’ve described, just as he is using women in leadership today.

Your opinion?

 

 Photo Credit: Dave Hilditch Photography via Compfight cc

11 thoughts on “Women in leadership: God’s punishment?”

  1. My opinion? I try to base my opinions on what Jesus said, I don’t always succeed. But as far as children are concerned he said, ‘Unless you come like a little child you won’t even SEE the kingdom of heaven’.

    He also made it very clear that true strength will be found in our deepest weakness. Power is not a matter of force and control, it’s a matter of being close to the One who is the only true Power.

    So humble men, women and children get my vote 🙂

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  2. Hi Felicity,

    Thank you for this post!

    I hear so many ideas, opinions, theories and theologies that I pity those trying to find truth. Deborah being judgement was the last thing that I heard from someone obsessed with the idea that Women can never be over men. The person initially said that he did not believe in Women Pastors but now he believe that women should not be Senior Pastors, meaning that they should not be over men (her husband). It’s like an obsession to find limits, rules and structure where God did not intended them to be. I really do not understand the problem with accepting that a woman can be called to lead in any capacity. In my last conversation with this person I expressed that we have a responsibility of empowering people and not limiting what God can do. I told him that we should not get in the way of what God wants to do. What if a female member of his church moves to Africa and she is the only Christian in her community? She will probably will not dare lead because she was taught that women should not lead men.

    I was wondering what is a Senior Pastor anyway? Who invented this position? Who said it had to be a male? Why do they want to apply the marriage headship to the governance of the church? Your thoughts?

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    1. MIE, I agree with what you say here. The term “pastor” as we might use it only occurs once in the New Testament– in Ephesians 4 where it talks about God giving apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. (Every other use either applies to a literal shepherd with sheep or to Jesus himself). So an entire church hierarchy has been built around a single verse. What Ephesians 4 says of these functions is that they are to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. So they aren’t supposed to do all the work, but a pastor should be equipping others to pastor.

      The characteristics of a pastor (caring for people, nurturing, helping them grow, etc) are actually more likely to be female characteristics than male ones.

      The problem in part is the whole church system that has grown up around tradition rather than being Biblical. Biblical leadership is totally different to what we see here. An example: church is supposed to be built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Foundations are unseen; they are essential for the integrity of the structure, but they are trodden on. We are more likely to see church leadership on the rooftop–easily seen and heard. But true leadership is servanthood–it’s laying down your life for others.

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      1. Thank you! I pray that the Church continues to hear His Voice. Next time I will respond that he can believe that women can’t be Senior Pastors because men invented that position so they determine the Qualifications and Job Descriptions… 🙂

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  3. Deborah was a great woman.

    By introducing Isaiah 3:12, you are really limiting the options (a logical fallacy) for understanding Judges 4. Logically, the two verses should be understood separately.

    Your statement, “There’s no indication that her leadership of Barak is in any way inappropriate,” is not, in any way, drawn from the passage. Where does the chapter say that Deborah was in leadership of Barak? To the contrary, Deborah says, ““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’?” This is a prophetic word. God commanded Barak, not Deborah. Nowhere does it say that she was in leadership over him.

    My opinion is that the main point of your argument is not supported by the text. Rather, Deborah, like the women of 1 Cor. 11-14 were submitted to the power of God so that they could hear from him – prophecy.

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    1. Nate, I should probably have explained the context of the post. I was contacted by someone who had been told that Deborah was God’s punishment on Israel and cited the verse in Isaiah 3. Since I’ve had that argument used to me before, it seemed likely that women are also facing it. It would have been better if I had explained the context. My bad.

      I didn’t use the prophecy of Deborah to say that Deborah led Barak, but rather the fact that Deborah was judge of Israel. In fact, the NIV translates that verse (Judges 4:4) as “lead” rather than judge. Chapter 2 verses 16-19 explain that more clearly. Like the other judges, she was the most prominent in the land.

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  4. Don’t you think we get a little caught up with hierarchy when we start talking about being ‘over’? Jesus set the example of servant leadership as you mention; we need to work alongside fellow labourers, preferring one another & having the best equipped person take a lead appropriately without it being about profile.

    I think people sometimes see Deborah as a second best option because in Judges 4 v 8, Barak appears to try & dip out of responsibility by saying he won’t go unless she comes with him. This does sound rather like a petulant child. Deborah’s response is to agree to go but, she warns him, God decides to allow the honour for the victory to go to a woman. Not Deborah incidentally, but Jael (still one of my children’s favourite Bible stories!!)

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    1. JS, I totally agree with what you say here. The last thing we need is some kind of hierarchy–certainly in the context of the church. I think in the OT, there probably was more of a hierarchy, and although God didn’t choose it, he was willing to work within it.

      Deborah was judge over Israel before this story starts. Personally I think Barak recognized the hand of God over Deborah and chose to respond by asking her to go with him.

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