The stories in the Bible that portray strong female leadership are few and far between. There are a lot of arguments about how the Bible ended up this way. Some folks reason that it was written in patriarchal times by patriarchal people. Others look to the leadership that was present when the Bible was canonized. Whatever the reason, it is an unexpected joy when we find a story of a strong female leader.
Let me digress for a moment and insert a little personal history here. In the beginning of my ministry I experienced resistance based on the fact that I am female. There are many stories, but one in particular sticks out that always makes me chuckle when I remember it. It actually involves my mother.
Mom was at a business meeting with colleagues from all over the state. At dinner, people were chatting about their families. A man sitting next to her asked her what her daughters did for a living. When she told him that I was a pastor, he gasped in horror. “How do you feel knowing that she is disobeying everything the Bible stands for?” he asked. Mom looked at him, annoyed and confused. “What are you talking about?” she replied. “Well, clearly in the Bible women are forbidden to preach. Just look at Jesus and his disciples!!! He only picked men!! Only men are allowed to be preachers! I’m a Baptist, and my church only ordains men.” Mom leaned across the table and replied, “Yes. And Jesus only picked Jews. Are Jews the only ones allowed to become preachers in your denomination? How exactly does THAT work?”
He changed the subject.
So to continue, take a look at this marvelous nugget involving a brave judge named Deborah.
Judges 4 (The Message)
4 1-3 The People of Israel kept right on doing evil in God’s sight. With Ehud dead, God sold them off to Jabin king of Canaan who ruled from Hazor. Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim, was the commander of his army. The People of Israel cried out to God because he had cruelly oppressed them with his nine hundred iron chariots for twenty years.
4-5 Deborah was a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth. She was judge over Israel at that time. She held court under Deborah’s Palm between Ramah and Bethel in the hills of Ephraim. The People of Israel went to her in matters of justice.
There are two things to note here. First, the Israelites kept doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Is anyone surprised? Second, there was no king leading the people of Israel at that time. Pretty soon they would demand one, but at this point in time they were supposed to be following God’s rule, with earthly judges serving as the leaders of the people. And here we see a GIRL in charge.
6-7 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “It has become clear that God, the God of Israel, commands you: Go to Mount Tabor and prepare for battle. Take ten companies of soldiers from Naphtali and Zebulun. I’ll take care of getting Sisera, the leader of Jabin’s army, to the Kishon River with all his chariots and troops. And I’ll make sure you win the battle.
Deborah was a wise leader. She was a political and military strategist. She was a spokesperson for God, and the people trusted her. She knew how to bring her people together and inspire them. That’s what good leaders do.
Tell your daughters. Tell your wives and sisters and mothers and grandmothers. There are stories in the scriptures of strong female leadership…you just have to look a little harder. The lesson here is a good one for today: never underestimate the power of a woman.
Long live Judge Debbie!