A friend recently brought up some very good points regarding part of my post Verses on Feminine Quietness. I would like to share them here, with my response following.
I might question two of your Scripture references: (1) The quote about Deborah. I had heard it said that the choice of Deborah as Judge of Israel was a judgment because there was no suitable man to be found – especially when combined with the verses saying that leadership by women is a judgment in itself. Thus, the things she did (leading, advising, etc.) might not be a pattern to follow. (2) The quote about Miriam – it seems descriptive rather than necessarily prescriptive. Does that make sense?
Again, not saying that those quotes are necessarily wrong, just that I was unsure about them.
First of all, I want to thank my friend for her boldness, and for her kindness, in presenting the above questions! I greatly appreciate hearing others’ take on the things I write about; it’s good to be challenged to look deeper into these important issues.
Second of all, I want to tell you that my answer is not definitive, in that I may change my mind on it later! However, it is my current, best attempt at understanding the issue.
The story of Deborah is from Judges chapters four and five. I re-read the text this morning, and here are a few things that stood out to me.
- Deborah was a prophetess (chapter 4; verses 4, 6-7, 14). Apparently, she was not a fake, self-proclaimed prophetess, but she really did speak for the Lord. True prophets are not prophets of their own making, but of the Lord’s making. If Deborah was a prophetess, it must have been because God chose her to be such. In what way did she prophesy, then? According to vv. 6-7 and 14, she gave a message from God to Barak. In v. 4, we are told that she was judging Israel at that time. Perhaps the people came to her for judgment, not because she had set herself up as a judge, but because they knew the Lord revealed things to her (prophetess), and they wanted to know what God’s message was.
- The people came to her, not she to them (chapter 4, verse 5). She sat under a palm tree, and they came to her for judgment. This, to me, is not a picture of a woman going around telling other people what to do. This is a picture of a woman being available to give advice when others ask it. Compare this to how the judge Samuel functioned: “He went from year to year on a circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, and judged Israel in all those places” (1 Sam. 7:16). He went out, she stayed put. That, to me, fits with how God wants women to be keepers at home, and not leave their duties for a career.
- She didn’t lead the army, she went with it (chapter 4, verses 6-10). She accompanied Barak as a concession, since he was too insecure to go on his own, like God had wanted him to. So, she was not at the battle front yelling at soldiers to hold it together. She was not brandishing a sword on horseback. She was with the army, but not in the army; her role was supportive. She helped the best she could under the circumstances, but still within limits.
- Deborah was a mother (chapter 5, verse 7). Was she literally a mother, or did she merely function like a mother to the people? I take this verse to mean that she was both a mother of children, and she was a “mother” to her people by giving them counsel, sort of like how a mother gives advice to her grown-up children. She didn’t sacrifice motherhood for a career. She embraced the gift of children, obviously, and was not ashamed to call herself “I, Deborah…a mother in Israel.”
To conclude: I don’t see that anything negative is said of Deborah being a “judge.” However, we should also recognize that the way in which she functioned as a judge was different than the way that male judges like Samuel did. Also important: as far as I remember, she was Israel’s only female judge. She was the exception, and not the rule. Every other judge that God chose was male.
Prescriptive or descriptive? Since Deborah’s judgeship was not typical, I would say that her case is more of the latter and less of the former. But, I do believe that we can learn a lot from this story, just as we can from the entire Bible. And again, nothing negative is said of her, so I assume that God was not displeased with her, especially since He chose to reveal His will to her. I don’t see that He forbids functioning as a “prophetess” and a counsel-giver, if one’s advice is sought for. However, keeping in context with the rest of the Bible’s teaching on women’s roles, this must be confined within proper limits.
The case that I referred to in my post having to do with Miriam is found in Exodus chapter 15, verses 20-21. I’ll quote verse 20 for you, since it is so short.
“Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.”
Here’s what I got out of this text:
- Miriam was a prophetess. In what way was she a prophetess? It isn’t explained. However, I would assume that what directly follows might be a clue: she sang. Prophecy usually involves giving a message from the Lord, such as telling what will happen in the future. But, prophecy can sometimes include praising the Lord with music. In 1 Samuel chapter 10, verses 5-6 we read about how Saul joined “…a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying. Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.” Miriam sang praises to the Lord. Might that not be considered “prophesying”? In 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 we are told that women should cover their heads while praying or prophesying. So, it is clear that some women will prophesy. Maybe they will directly receive a message from the Lord that they are supposed to share with someone else (though I have my doubts about current-day revelation), or they will declare a truth from the Scriptures (probably privately instead of publicly). On the other hand, they may be involved in praising the Lord with music, which might also be referred to as “prophesying.” I don’t see that this is condemned. But, we must be careful to keep things within their proper limits.
- Miriam led the women, not a mixed group, in song. This, to me, is a very important point. I don’t agree with there being female worship leaders for the church service. Women aren’t supposed to teach or have authority over men. Because worship leaders stand in front of a mixed group and guide them in song and prayer, I wonder if there might be too much “authority” involved for it to be proper. However, would it not be alright for a woman to direct other women in preparing a musical presentation? As long as their presentation is okayed by a male in leadership, of course.
Prescriptive or descriptive? Like in the case of Deborah, I would say this is probably more of a description than a command or guide of what to do. However, as in Deborah’s case, I see no negativity in regards to what Miriam did, and neither do I see that it is directly forbidden.
The main point, to me, is that these women served/worshiped the Lord passionately, according to their abilities and what their situations called for, but within limits. They did not transgress any direct command of the Lord. They did not perform any forbidden acts. I don’t see why we can’t follow their examples.
That being said, I am open to changing my mind about this if the Lord convicts me that I need to correct my interpretation. And, I am very open to hearing what other people think about it! So please, tell me your thoughts! 🙂
[In my next post, I plan on answering another question that some other friends posed to me about how we can learn more about God and follow Him even if our spouse is not a believer.]