Deborah and Jael - Israel's "sexy deliverers"?

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by BWSmith, Apr 27, 2007.

  1. BWSmith

    BWSmith
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    The relationship between the Deborah story and the modern controversy on women in leadership is a tricky one. There is much profit to be made on both sides of the fence from citing Deborah as an example of a "female leader of Israel" by the left-wing, and a "prophetess who deferred real leadership to a man" by the right-wing.

    However, the best approach to studying any narrative passage in the Bible is to go through the literary and historical processes before drawing theological conclusions. What did it mean to the original audience?

    If the Deborah story is a product of the so-called "Deuteronomist school" in Josiah's day and context, then we can summarize the author's intent of the Deborah story as the following:

    "Because of Israel's declining morality and faith, there were no men who were willing to deliver Israel from their enemies. Despite this, the LORD was able to use two women to accomplish His goal of delivering Israel. Unfortunately, Jael's actions and Deborah's symbolism, while achieving a righteous end, foreshadow Israel's national future of paganism and prostitution."

    To arrive at this conclusion, consider that any interpretation of the Deborah story has to take into account the following:

    (a) the large theme of exile and restoration from Deut-Kings (+ Jeremiah),
    (b) the smaller theme of increasing defectiveness of the Judges themselves as the cycles progress from Othniel (Judah) northward to Samson (Dan), (especially once we cross into the northern kingdom with Deborah) and
    (c) the treatment of women in the OT as a whole, which is almost always framed with double-entendres and sexual connotations.

    So here are the points that define the interpretation of the Deborah story:

    1) The author and audience of Judges viewed Deborah's female gender as her "defect". (and Jael's also)

    Being a woman is apparently worse than being left-handed (Ehud) while not as bad as being doubly unfaithful (Gideon). [​IMG]

    (Based on her placement between the two, and based on the larger treatment of women, it is an unavoidable conclusion that is not easily accepted from the left-wingers who would reject it out of disgust or the right-wingers who would view such an assertion as inappropriate for "inspired scripture".)

    2) In the context of "womanhood as a defect", the author describes Deborah unwittingly leading Israel "like a woman" - on a high hill, under a green (palm) tree, offering the direct council of the diety. (All of which were characteristic symbols of the Asherah fertility cult.)

    Now while Deborah is clearly stated to be a prophetess of YHWH and not one of Asherah, the author has taken care to make her look dangerously close to the fertility goddess on the high hill under her Tree of Life, and presumably that is what makes her council so attractive to the "sons of Israel", and foreshadows their eventual attraction to the real cult leaders (Deut 12:2, Jer 3:6).

    The same kind of ambiguous sexual imagery is present in the Rahab story, where the two spies "spend the night" in her brothel, even though the reader knows that nothing sinful happened, the point being that whether Israel realizes it or not, the inclination of their subconscious actions leads them ever closer towards corruption and idolatry.

    3) In the same way that Deborah "leads like a woman", Jael "wages war like a woman".

    That is, not with swords and chariots, but by inviting the enemy into her "tent", satisfying him with her "bowls of milk", covering him with a "rug", and then killing him as he lays "between her feet".

    In summary, despite their "gender defect", these women were able to accomplish God's goal in the short-term, but their actions and symbols foreshadowed the seeds of a longer-term debauchery that would result in the eventual exile of Israel.

    So does any of this translate over to the modern debate over women leaders? Yes, and it has the effect of subverting both sides of the spectrum.

    1) The liberals are right in asserting that Deborah and Jael were examples of women leaders who were the deliverers of God's people. However, in their zeal for "egalitarian progress" in the area of church leadership, they often trivialize or overlook the negative effects that sexuality itself can have on a woman's ability to lead men over the long term.

    2) The conservatives are right in asserting that there are some tasks (like fighting battles) for which women are not cut out. However, they are wrong in concluding from this that God has never called and will never call a woman to leadership positions as a matter of "Biblical principle".

    So in summary, the message I glean from this story by itself is that women leaders will be ineffective in contexts where their sexuality itself proves to be a distraction.

    But when combining that point with the fact that there is "no male or female in Christ", then given the renewed heart that comes through faith in Jesus by his people, there does exist areas where the weaknesses of the flesh can be held in check (under the power of the Spirit), and where women certain can and should be called to leadership roles (including what we Baptists would call "senior pastors").

    Comments?
     
  2. Rufus_1611

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    1 Timothy 3
     
  3. BWSmith

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  4. Rufus_1611

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  5. BWSmith

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  6. canadyjd

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    Galatians 3:28 is speaking generally of the equality of believers as heirs of the promise of God to Abraham in relation to the sonship/salvation in Jesus Christ.

    I Timothy 3 is specifically speaking of church leadership, and specifically says women are not allowed to teach or have authority over men. Paul even gives a scriptural reason for this prohibition.

    You can't dismiss I Tim. 3 by saying "Galatians 3:28".

    peace to you:praying:
     
  7. BWSmith

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    Paul also says in 1 Cor 11 that women should have long hair and men should have short hair. This is certainly a culturally-conditioned statement.

    There is danger in "picking and choosing" what parts of Paul's letters are "timeless" and which are "culturally-conditioned", so we can only conclude that they are all, in some sense, culturally-conditioned.

    So given that our culture is different from theirs, if prohibiting women leaders is a hindrance to the Great Commission, then it becomes like the Jewish food laws or requiring Christians to become circumcised.

    Men are more gifted than women in leadership roles. However, there do exist some cases where God needs women to lead, and we should not presume to hinder the Spirit in those instances for the sake of preserving certain theories of Biblical interpretation as a set of timeless commands.
     
  8. Rufus_1611

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    What does that mean, "culturally-conditioned statement"? I believe it to be a God-inspired statement, spoken to the people of God's church. Women should have long hair and men should have short hair, because the Bible says so and Biblical application should not be interpreted through the lense of worldly culture.
     
  9. Pastor Larry

    Pastor Larry
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    Well, actually Paul said that women should have headcoverings and longer hair and men should have shorter hair. The "short hair" is not cultural conditioning. It appears you blew right past the "does not even nature itself teach you."

    However, the point of 1 Cor 11 is not about hair, but about authority. Hair or headcoverings are a cultural expression of being under authority. Therefore, "hair" or "headcoverings" in 1 Cor 11 has nothing to do with church leadership.

    There is a danger, and you have illustrated it by claiming they are all culturall conditioned. It the universal sinfulness of man culturally conditioned? That is what some want us to believe today. Yet that is nonsense. It really isn't that difficult in most cases to tell what is historically unique and what is not.

    But as you can tell from 1 Tim 2, culture had nothing to do with the prohibition of women having authority over men and teaching in the church. God's reasons are creation reasons, not first century culture. Therefore, to address it as cultural reasons is to deny what God said in Scripture. He doesn't use cultural reasons and neither should we.

    Prohibiting women from leadership and teaching in church is not "hindering the Spirit." It is obedience. God has never gifted a woman to teach men or have authority over men in the church. To do so would be manifestly double minded inasmuch as God would be equipping women to do something he has not called them to do. They may be gifted to teach or to lead. But it is not church where those gifts are righteously exercised.
     
  10. canadyjd

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    In context, Paul uses that cultural understanding to reinforce the biblical truth of male leadership within the home and the church.

    There is a much greater danger in assuming all Paul's instructions are culturally-conditioned, not Holy Spirit inspired, and can therefore be ignored at will by anyone with an agenda to push.

    First of all, you are biblically incorrect to say men are more gifted than women in leadership roles. As far as I know, Paul never makes that argument.

    Concerning what Paul says in I Tim. 3., the biblical prohibition is based, in part, on the deception of Eve during the fall.

    In I Cor. 11, the biblical justification for male leadership is based on God's created order of men and women. Men were created for the leadership roles by Almighty God.

    Neither biblical truth diminishes the equality of women in the eyes of God as equal hiers of salvation. It simply speaks of God's soveriegn hand in maintaining order in His church and among His followers.

    It seems to me that you are hindering Holy Spirit by insinuating He could not inspire Paul to write exactly what He wanted him to write, and therefore we should use our own cultural understanding to modify, or simply ignore, Paul's writings to suit ourselves.

    peace to you:praying:
     
  11. Debby in Philly

    Debby in Philly
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    All I can say is that Deborah and Jael are two of my favorite Bible people. Women who had the guts to take action when it was needed. Even Barak was a wimp at heart, doing nothing without Deborah. Thank God for them.

    And the fact that I'm named after one of them does not influence my opinion. It just makes me proud to have the name.
     

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