Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Deborah and Barak

In our men's study group we are going through perhaps my favorite Old Testament book: Judges. An vile, obese king being stabbed to death through righteous subterfuge with the pronouncement of execution: "Here's a message from God." A tent peg pounded through the head of a scoundrel. I mean, what's not to like?

Today we we discussed Judges 4, the story of Deborah and Barak. Deborah being the only woman among the judges, and Barak being the general who was reluctant to make war against Israel's oppressors. He did his job, you'll recall, only when Deborah agreed to accompany him into battle.

A common conservative theme is that Deborah was only a judge because no men were willing to take on leadership. I disagree with that. When Deborah is introduced:
4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5)
there is no mention that she was a last minute replacement after every male Jew was determined to be inadequate. In the New Testament we see unequivocal teaching that one of the requirements for being an elder in the church is a Y-chromosome. But we see no such teaching regarding a similar demand being placed on judges or prophets. In fact, scripture is crystal clear in its affirmation of the office of prophetess.

Still, it is plainly seen that Barak was guilty of poor leadership. However, it seems to me that, in general, commentators are too tough on Barak. He in fact is something of a scapegoat: there is a tendency to say that Deborah was a necessary aberration because Barak was too pusillanimous. This unfortunate argument is a reaction against feminists who use Deborah for their cause.

Two passages from scripture argue against this view and shed a better light on Barak.

The first is the very next chapter in Judges, which is the song of Deborah and Barak. A two part harmony. The impression I get reading Judges 5 is one of great celebration in which Deborah and Barak are held in high esteem--there is no festering wound about Barak's reluctance to enter into battle.

The second passage comes from the Faithful Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11. When the writer gets to the section where judges are praised, we read:
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, (Heb 11:32-33)
We see that Barak is honored--and Deborah isn't even mentioned! What's up with that?

I have worked out a deal with another church member. At the conclusion of Sunday School next week he is going to ask, apropos nothing, "Hey David, why does Hebrews 11 mention Rahab the prostitute but not Deborah?" After rubbing my chin a bit, I'm going to reply: "I don't know" and then turn to our pastor and ask, "Pastor Mike, would you care to answer that one?"

Oh, it should make for great mischievous fun!

1 comment:

  1. I reckon Deborah's faith is acknolwedged in the general reference to 'prophets' Hebrews 12v32 ....for time would fail me to tell of.....and of the prophets