Deborah can be a favorable example of having a women in office under certain conditions.
1. God Himself establishes Deborah as a judge. When the people “cried out to the Lord,” Judge Deborah was the answer to their prayers (Judg. 4:2–3).
2. In Judg. 4:4 God is making a point. The NAS translation reads: “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.” The KJV offers a similar translation. Here’s how it reads in the Hebrew: “Now Deborah, a woman, a prophetess, and the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.” The point of the chapter is to make it clear that a woman is judging Israel. When the Bible offers such detail, we need to pay close attention to the message.
3. There is no condemnation of Deborah. In fact, we learn that the place where she judged is eventually named after her: “the palm tree of Deborah” (Judg. 4:5). There is an entire chapter devoted to the Song of Deborah and Barak (Judg. 5:1ff.). Jael, another woman, is praised for doing her “civil duty” (Judg. 5:24–27).
4. Deborah is a true judge in Israel. She certainly did not force herself into office. Her authority was legitimate and recognized by the people, so much so that she could call on Barak to muster the troops to defend Israel against Jabin king of Canaan (Judg. 4:6–7). The claim that she was not “judging in the gate” does not diminish her legitimacy as a judge. No one in the book of Judges is said to judge “in the gate.” The fact that she judged while “under a palm tree” is indicative of civil authority, sustenance, and wisdom (Ps. 1:1ff.). Remember that Nebuchadnezzar’s civil authority is symbolized by a tree (Dan. 4:1ff.), as is civil authority generally (Judg. 9:1ff.).
5. If God had disapproved of Deborah as a judge, Israel would have lost the battle with Jabin. In addition to Deborah’s faithfulness, there is the account of Jael and Sisera in the same chapter (Judg. 4:15–24). God is trying to tell us something, and we need to listen to His voice.
There is no doubt that the judgeship of Deborah is out of the ordinary, but the period of the judges is not a normal period in Israel’s history. The men are weak, as Barak’s response indicates (Judg. 4:8), and the people were generally unrighteous with every man doing “what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). We see what this type of society produces if the men don’t assume their proper leadership roles. The people will choose a king like all the nations (1 Sam. 8:1ff.), but not before adversely affecting the family and church. At the same time, we are not called on to judge the Deborahs of our time or those who support their civil work.
- Gary DeMar, Should Sarah Palin be in Politics? (Sept. 9, 2008), at http://184.108.40.206/blog/?p=171.