Written by Charlotte Hendy
There’s a great ongoing debate in the Church about the role of women as leaders, and indeed whether women should be leaders at all. As a young Christian woman growing up, it’s hard not to be affected by this debate. Figuring out who you are, and what your role in church and society might be is part and parcel of growing up. For me, the rhetoric around women in leadership was a big part of my development as I grappled with whether I could be both a woman and a leader.
Astonishingly (given the time periods and cultures in which it was written), there are a whole multitude of women leaders in the Bible, and so many of them have been my heroines as I grew up and tried to figure out who I am. Someone who stands out from among these amazing women is Deborah, who appears in Judges 4 and 5. She is the only woman described as both a judge and a prophet; she is a strong ruler; she is described as a ‘mother in Israel’ (Judges 5:7) and she is an example to everybody that God uses women too.
There are so many things that you can learn from the story of Deborah- prophecy, God’s deliverance, wisdom and more! When I was growing up and I first came across Deborah, there was one clear message that I took away… Deborah is the only woman judge in the Book of Judges, but nowhere do we get a sense that there was any controversy around her leadership, nor any suggestion that a woman leading in this role is inappropriate. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case: the Israelites came to her to get their disputes decided (Judges 4:5) and it’s likely that cases that were unable to be solved by local judges were brought in front of Deborah. She was trusted and wise, but she was also decisive, which we see in her communication with Barak and her actions over Sisera. Without doubt we see God validating women as leaders through the story of Deborah.
Reflecting on Deborah today, I can see exactly why Deborah was such a good leader - her faith in God is unwavering, and evident to all around her. Barak even seems to trust Deborah’s relationship with God more than his own (Judges 4:8). Deborah’s song in Judges 5 is a beautiful depiction of God being alongside us in our experiences, giving us strength, and blessing us. In verses 16-18 Deborah sings about the battle between staying safe, or risking our lives for God. Both Deborah and Jael obeyed and had faith in God- they were willing instruments in His plans, and as a result they were able to sing of His blessing and ‘the land had peace for forty years’. (Judges 5:31) Deborah is an example to all leaders today, and her story highlights the role of women leaders, and faith as the foundation of leadership.
Charlotte is The Esther Collective Project Leader for Girls’ Brigade Ministries, developing 18-30s Millennial women as they learn what it means to live and lead for Jesus today.