The Song of Deborah

Last week we looked at Deborah: judge of Israel, prophet, wife,  and as we’ll discover today she was also a worship leader. Due to the Lord’s work through the leadership of Deborah, and the bravery of Jael, Israel enjoyed peace for forty years. Today we will look at Deborah’s celebratory song in Judges 5, and what it tells us about God and his people.

The beginning of verse 2 is problematic for translators, literally beginning with “In the breaking forth of the breakers in Israel.” NIV translates this as “When the princes in Israel take the lead.” I believe the ESV’s rendering to be clearer:

“That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!”

Judges 5:2 ESV

This is the story of Deborah! When the leader God had ordained, regardless of gender, took the lead and offered herself willingly, it brings praise to the Lord. All people should offer themselves willingly and lead in the mission of God as their divinely given gifts allow (1 Cor. 12:7).

The song is clear that it is God’s power that won the victory for the nation (v.4-5, 31) but the song clearly exalts the acts of Deborah in motivating and leading the people (v.7-9) and Jael for defeating Sisera (v. 24-27). And once again, we have a clear statement that this is not a story of renegade women usurping authority because of weak males in the kingdom. That belief is making assertions that the text does not. In fact, it states quite the opposite: God is behind this. God chose the leaders of Israel (2:16, 5:8) to accomplish his will and bring the people back into line with God’s covenant.

7 Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel.
8 God chose new leaders when war came to the city gates, but not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.
9 My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord!

Judges 5:7-9 NIV

The further you go into Judges, the further Israel drifts from the knowledge of God. Eventually, even the Judges know so little about God that they do detestable things thinking it pleases God. Most of the judges failed to follow God, and by the end of the book the people no longer knew God. Judges sadly ends by saying this:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

Judges 21:25 NIV

Deborah’s story at the beginning of the book shows us what good Godly leadership should do: bring people back into line with God’s will. God raised up Deborah and she followed God. She didn’t issue excuses as to why her situation wasn’t ideal. She simply offered herself and her God given abilities willingly. Our world is in desperate need of more women and men like Deborah!

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Deborah: Prophet & Leader

Last week we looked at Miriam: leader of Israel (Mic. 6:4), a worship leader (Ex. 15:21), and a prophet of God (Ex. 15:20).  She was also the namesake of the mother of Jesus, Mary (Miriam in Greek). Today we look at the story of Deborah as told in the book of Judges. We will take this week, and next to look at Deborah.

Deborah lived somewhere between 1200-1100BC. Just as Moses and Joshua had done before hand, God appointed people (judges) over the people to help rule the nation and settle disputes. Don’t think courtroom judge. Think about judges like a governor, or tribal military leader. Judges 2 makes this process pretty clear.

18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

Jdg 2:18–19 NIV

During this time Israel struggles to maintain its identity as God’s people. In many ways they became just like the Canaanites they were to drive out, but God would raise up leaders to bring them back in line with who they were supposed to be. It is the Lord who appoints judges, not the people. And when the judges passed away, the Israelites rebelled against God. It is in this context that we are told about Deborah. Ehud, the previous judge, died and Israel returned to doing evil again. As punishment, God allowed Israel to be ruled by the Canaanite king Jaban, and his army commander Sisera. For twenty years the Israelites were mistreated by the Cannanites, and then Deborah is chosen as judge of Israel to correct, instruct them as prophet, and rescue them from the Canaanites.

The very first statement about Deorah tells us that she is a prophet and a wife (Jdg. 4:4), as well as a mother (Jdg. 5:7).  Deborah was so well respected that the people, including Barak the military commander, didn’t want to go into battle unless Deborah was with them, a role that is usually reserved for a king! (Jdg. 4:8).

Usually at this point someone chimes in claiming that Deborah had to do these things because there was a lack of men to lead. That is an assertion that Scripture doesn’t support. Nothing in this story indicates Deborah should not be doing any of these things because she is a woman. Remember, the Lord appoints judges. In fact, the story elevates women greatly! Sisera is eventually killed by a woman, Jael, who drives a tent peg through his head into the ground. The name Sisera means snake, and Jael means Yahweh is God. Through two women, Deborah and Jael, the head of the serpent is crushed by God! (Gen. 3:15).

Due to the Lord’s work through the leadership of Deborah, and the bravery of Jael, Israel enjoyed peace for forty years. Next week we will look at Deborah’s celebratory song (Judges 5), and what it tells us about God and his people.

Miriam: Prophet of God?

This week we’ll look at Miriam, who is much more than the sister of Moses. She is a child of God with an important role to play as one of the three deliverers of Israel from Egypt, as well as the namesake of the mother of Jesus! (Our English translations notoriously anglicize names in Scripture. “Mary’s” literal name is “Miriam,” which should draw us to compare the two.)

We first encounter Miriam in Exodus 2 as she looks after the ark in which her baby brother Moses is hidden. When Pharaoh’s daughter discovers Moses, it is Miriam who suggests finding a Hebrew woman (Jochebed, the mother of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam) to nurse the baby. The Exodus narrative shifts to focus on the power of God over Egypt through many signs and wonders, and we once again find Miriam after the crossing of the Red Sea.

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.”

Exodus 15:19–21 NIV

If you are reading, thinking, “I didn’t know women could be prophets,” this is exactly why I’m writing this article. Let’s remove any cultural biases we may have and see Scripture the way the writers (and the Holy Spirit) intended. So Miriam is a prophet! That means she is a spokesperson for God responsible for teaching, preaching, and instructing the people of Israel in the word of God. One of the ways Miriam proclaims the word of God is by leading the women in singing and dancing in praise of God! Scripture also informs us that Miriam was considered a leader of Israel right alongside Moses and Aaron.

“I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.”

Micah 6:4 NIV

I feel it important to comment on efforts to dismiss Miriam’s role, or status as a prophet and leader of Israel because she is a female. Yet if we simply let Scripture speak for itself and accept it for what it says, we will have a more accurate view of who God is, and be blessed in doing so. The truth is God uses who he wants, regardless of what we think he should do. He chooses people who bring him glory and accomplish his purposes in this world. God created both male and female in his image (Gen. 1:27) to proclaim his message, and Miriam did just that! She was not perfect, and was punished by God for treating Moses with contempt, but Moses and Aaron pleaded for God to restore her (see Numbers 12). Nevertheless, she is one of many female prophets listed in the pages of Scripture and deserves to be appreciated as such.

Consider the parallels between Miriam in the Hebrew Scriptures and Mary/Miriam in the Gospels. Besides sharing the same name, both protect the savior of Israel in Egypt (Ex. 2:1-10/Mt. 2:13-18), both write and sing songs to tell of God’s salvation (Ex. 15:20-21/Lk. 1:46-56), and their placement is important – Miriam at the beginning of the story of Israel as well as Mary/Miriam at the beginning of the story of the renewed Israel through our savior, Jesus.

Next week we will take a look at another female prophet who is often minimized, contrary to what Scripture tells us about her.

He will rule over you: Prescription or Description?

I realize that this is a series on the women of the Bible and their stories, and last week I spent the entire article talking about the first sin, but it’s important to our understanding of the stories of women in the Bible. So much of what we believe about Genesis 1-3 influences the way we read the rest of Scripture. A bit more heavy lifting this week, and then on to other stories next week.

Last week we discussed how Genesis 3 is not an elevation of man over woman. It shows us that sin is a problem that impacts all creation – humans, animals, and even the garden which is now devoid of its human caretakers. The point we are to take away is that sin affects everything. That is consistent with the consequences of the sin that God enumerates in the last half of chapter 3. I find it fascinating that the word “cursed” is applied to the serpent, and to the ground because of Adam’s failure, but not to Eve.

The real reason we are looking at this passage again is our understanding of verse 16, specifically the last half of the verse:

“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Genesis 3:16b NIV

Many have interpreted this verse as a sexual desire on the part of the woman, and God now wants man to be in charge. Let’s take a look at this verse within the immediate context of Genesis 3, and the larger context of Genesis and the whole of Scripture.  Genesis 4:7 is a parallel verse to Genesis 3:16 using the same Hebrew words:

“…[sin] desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Genesis 4:7 NIV

With regards to Cain we understand from the same Hebrew language that sin wants to possess Cain, but Cain’s response should be to rule over sin. We get that. Yet the same language when used with the consequences of sin in the Garden gets interpreted differently because we think God wants men to rule over women. This is not how God established relationships in the Garden. He did not create Eve as subservient to Adam (as we looked at for the last two weeks.) Remember, the Garden was God’s ideal environment for humans, but now as a result of sin there will be broken relationships between humans and God, and between men and women, each seeking to dominate the other. I really appreciated Derek Kinder’s statement about this phrase in his commentary on Genesis.

“‘To love and to cherish’ becomes ‘To desire and to dominate’. While even pagan marriage can rise far above this, the pull of sin is always towards it.”  

Derek Kinder, Genesis: an introduction and commentary

So are we to take Genesis 3:16b as God describing the effects of sin, or are we to take the statement as a prescription/authority for man to rule over women going forward? We will answer that question through the rest of this series. From here we will continue to look at how God’s Word describes the relationship between men and women throughout the story of the Bible. We’ll look at how each story portrays this relationship and how those stories should influence our churches today.

Next week we’ll look at Miriam, who is much more than the sister of Moses. She is a child of God with an important role to play.

Question: What was Miriam’s role in God’s rescue of Israel?

Eve: Equality with Adam – Part 2

We continue our look at the women of the Bible by looking again at Eve’s story. Last week we noted that nothing in Genesis 1 or 2 indicates that Eve is somehow inferior to Adam. In fact, it proves quite the opposite. Both Adam and Eve are fully created in the image of God. We ended with a question last week: Who sinned first? Adam or Eve? Let’s look at a few verses to find the answer.

And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

1 Timothy 2:14 NIV

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…

Romans 5:12 NIV

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 NIV

Confused yet? Upon first glance it would appear Paul is too, but not quite. Let’s look at one more verse.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 2:15 NIV

The word for “take care of it” would be the Hebrew word shamar which means “to keep, guard, keep watch and ward, protect, save life.” Adam was charged as the keeper and protector of the Garden. Yet in Genesis chapter 3 as he is with Eve (3:6), he fails to do this. (by the way, all of the serpent’s statements are made using the plural “you,” not singular).

Eve was the first to be deceived (per Paul), but Adam failed to shamar his wife and the Garden from the deception of the serpent. Notice also that both the humans and the serpent are punished; first the serpent, then Eve, then Adam. All three sinned.

So who sinned first? Could it have been Adam for not kicking the serpent out of the Garden? Perhaps. The serpent for deceiving Eve (3:14)? It would seem likely this was the first, although the serpent isn’t human (that’s a theological discussion for another time). Was it Eve who ate the fruit?

I think the way the story is told is intentional to show how intertwined we humans are. Adam was supposed to obey God through his shamar of the Garden and Eve. He failed at this at the same time Eve failed at obeying God’s command through the deception of the serpent. Genesis 3 is not an elevation of man over woman. It shows us that sin is a problem that affects all creation – humans, animals, and even the garden which is now devoid of its human caretakers. Sin affects everything. This is not a problem that we can blame on Eve or Adam. I think Paul understood this as well.

There is no difference…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:22-24 NIV

Question: So does God want Adam to now rule over Eve because they have sinned?

Eve: Equality with Adam

Today we will begin a series of articles that will focus on the women of the Bible. I must confess that for many years I read the Bible without noticing many of these names and their significance to God’s story, but they are significant to God’s story! Knowing the stories of these women is vitally important to understanding the nature of God. Based on a show-of-hands poll at a recent Bible conference I attended, many (including some in ministry) don’t know these stories even though the Spirit placed them in the pages of the Bible. I hope in some small way these articles will begin to change that. The first woman we will look at is not a stranger to most. In fact she’s the first woman of all: Eve.

Eve has received a lot of blame, scorn, and shame throughout the centuries even though she did what you and I do virtually every day – Eve disobeyed God. For some reason scholars and believers have tried to make Eve somehow fundamentally less than Adam, though that was certainly not how God viewed things. Eve was created equal to Adam. She is just as important to God’s story as he. Consider the following verses:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 NIV

Notice that both Adam and Eve are created fully in the image of God. Notice also that they are one: mankind. Nowhere in the story is it even hinted that Eve is somehow less than Adam. Our roles of gender inequality have been heavily influenced by Plato and Aristotle who believed that women were sub-human, less human than men (see Politics 1.1260a). For years we’ve read this worldview onto the story of Eve, as well as other women in Scripture.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Genesis 2:18 NIV

Time for a Hebrew lesson. The Hebrew phrase translated here as “helper suitable” and in other translations “help meet” is ezer kenegdo. Many look at this phrase from an English standpoint and say this means Eve was less than Adam because she was his helper. The problem with that is that God himself is referred to as our ezer (helper) in a number of places in Scripture (see Ps. 33:20 for example). Does that mean that God is somehow less than us because he helps us? Quite the contrary! He is more powerful than us which means he can help us! The word kenegdo regulates ezer by indicating that this is a helper in likeness, someone who is like the other that can help. According to Dr. Kindy DeLong, without kenegdo a Hebrew reader would have to assume that Eve was more powerful than Adam, but kenegdo shows equality.

Nothing in Genesis 1 or 2 indicates that Eve is somehow inferior to Adam. In fact, it proves quite the opposite. Both Adam and Eve are fully created in the image of God. Eve is a “helper” (ezer) for Adam just as God is a “helper” (ezer) for the psalmist. Instead of God being superior to the psalmist, Eve here is portrayed as equal (kenegdo) to Adam. Next week we’ll look at Genesis 3, and how the New Testament uses that story.

Question to consider: Who sinned first? Adam or Eve? (hint: re-read Gen. 1-3)

Much of the content of this article was inspired by a lecture i attended given by Dr. Kindy DeLong during Harbor 2019 at Pepperdine University. You can listen to the lecture by clicking here.

The Church and Politics: What We Haven’t Learned

As we explore how the history of the Church affects the practice of the Church today, we need to take a look at culture. No congregation is immune from cultural influence, and indeed it needs to be influenced to some degree in order to reach the lost. But at various times in the history of the Church, culture has ruled the day. I frequently tell people when politics and Church combine, the Church always suffers. This is the case with the examples contained in this article.

In 1054 AD an event historians refer to as “The Great Schism” occurred in Constantinople, forever changing the Church, and creating a wound that took until the 20th century to begin to heal. The “West” division of the church, based in Rome, began to be viewed as the seat of power in the Church. This political position, in many ways, led to the Roman Church passing edicts that affected the church as a whole. For the purposes of this writing we don’t need to dive too deeply into specifics, but many of these were received negatively by the East from a cultural standpoint.

In the book Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll summarizes the cultural divide between the East and West.

“As early as the end of the first century, it was possible to perceive pointed differences between major representatives of what would one day be called West and East. Thus, historian Henry Bettenson thinks that the Epistle of Clement sent from Rome to Corinth about the year 96 displays ‘the emergence of the characteristic Roman Christianity. Here we find no ecstasies, no miraculous ‘gifts of the Spirit,’ no demonology, no preoccupation with an imminent ‘Second Coming.’ The Church has settled down in the world, and is going about its task ‘soberly, discreetly, and advisedly.” By the end of the second century, such ‘Roman’ characteristics were thoroughly matched by ‘Greek’ tendencies arising from the other end of the Mediterranean.”

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll

As you can clearly see, cultural differences influenced the beliefs and practice within the two branches of the Christian Church. At this meeting in 1054 representatives from both groups excommunicated the other which lead to the body of Christ, the Church, being divided. This was exacerbated by the Crusades which indiscriminately killed Muslims, Jews, and even other Christians because they looked different than the invading Europeans. European Christians were killing Middle Eastern Christians because they looked and sounded different.

Sadly this was not the only time in Church history that we see cultural differences affecting the unity of the Church. We’ll return to history next week, but I want to end with a modern look. What cultural issues are causing division in the church today? We are on the heels of one of the largest denominations wrestling with homosexuality in part because culture has become combined with the Church.

But let’s get personal. What cultural issue is in play in your congregation that is, or could cause division? Is it who someone votes for? Is it cultural stereotypes placed on people groups? And here’s the real question: How do you go about addressing the problem?