a fairly far cry from Joshua to the Judges, and there is
a terrible lapse from those days of triumph and conquest,
as there was at the close of the apostolic days. The book
of Judges is perhaps the most tragic book in the Bible.
going to look at two of the breaks in the darkness of
those times which give us some light on this matter of
leadership; that is, in the cases of Deborah and Gideon.
those were times of spiritual declension needs no
arguing. That a primary reason for the declension was the
absence of authority is definitely stated four times
(17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). It is as though the narrator
focused all the trouble upon this absence of an
seems to be more than the statement of a fact. The
suggestion or implication is that it was more than an
absence of leadership; it was a disposition. When it says
that “every man did that which was right in his own
eyes”, it seems to imply that that was how they were
disposed to have it. They did not like the restraints of
authority. They felt that leadership implied limitation;
they made their own judgment the final authority. As they
saw was the “right” way — “right in
his own eyes”. It was independence run amok.
the loss of true spirituality and the enthronement of the
natural mind had resulted, as it usually does, in an
inability to see the difference between spiritual and
anointed leadership on the one hand, and of autocracy on
the other. The dislike for and resentment anything
autocratic or in the nature of dictatorship makes people
throw over and utterly repudiate law and authority and
become a law unto themselves. The unspiritual Corinthians
gave this “autocratic” interpretation to the
authority which Paul said had been given him in Christ.
To read his letters to that church is to see how he
claimed and used that authority, but it is also to see
that it was absolutely necessary to their salvation as a
church. But it certainly was not autocratic
only lack of the spiritual discernment as to “things
that differ”, although they may appear alike —
about which Paul said much to the Corinthians — that
confuses things, and loses the values of what is
God-given. On the one side it was disastrous for Israel,
and meant four hundred years of confusion, weakness, and
impotence. On the other hand the salvation and periods of
improvement were because the Lord raised up leaders.
we come to Deborah, we have a significant and impressive
thing. There is first Deborah herself, and then there are
those to whom she refers when she says: “For that
the leaders took the lead...” (5:2).
overshadows the whole story, therefore she must be seen
for what she is. Being a woman in such a position, she
must represent a sovereign activity of God.
Deborah and divine sovereignty
Bible is quite clear that, in the normal order of
God, women are not given authority over men. Normally it
would be disorder if they were. We state the Bible fact
without staying to expound it. In God’s first order
man is given the position of authority. But here in the
case of Deborah we have a woman by divine consent and
approval in that place. It has often been argued that it
was because there were no men available or suitable. Much
importance has been given to the argument in the evident
coercion which Deborah had to use in order to get Barak
on his feet. That may be but a feature of abnormal times
and conditions, and it may lend force to the statement
that, when things are not normal, God acts sovereignly.
That is, He transcends His own rules and acts as the One
who has the right to do exactly as He wills. That
argument may be allowed to stand in this and in other
instances, but it does not dispose of the whole matter.
context of this record, and the fact that not Deborah but
Barak is mentioned in the list in the letter to the
Hebrews carries with it another explanation. Why is
Deborah left out of the list of heroes of faith in
Hebrews 11? The answer surely has to be found in a wider
context and one which, after all, upholds rather than
violates divine principles. If you look into the
Bible, and not merely on it, you will see that
good or bad. The first woman, Eve, is definitely pointed
to as a representation of the church’s relationship
to Christ, its Head, and she is shown to have embodied
the principle of subjection in honour and glory. Out of
that honourable subjection the first Adam and the
last Adam realize their destiny by “being fruitful
and multiplying”. The violation of that principle,
whether in Eve or the church, has been most disastrous
for the race and the world. If Mary, the mother of Jesus,
is to receive honour, not homage, it is because she
recovered and embodied this primal principle of exalted
submission — “Be it unto me according to thy
word” (Luke 1:38). There may be humility in that,
but there is certainly no humiliation in it. This is a
supreme example of the truth to which we are pointing.
This truth can more or less easily be traced in a host of
women in the Bible: Sarah, Rebekah, Asenath, etc.
same way evil principles are represented by
another line of women until the great harlot, the scarlet
woman of the Apocalypse is reached; and the very term
“harlot” betrays the principle. Having
established the fact that women represent
principles in the Bible, we can return to Deborah.
while being a real person, is, in effect, the spirit or
principle of leadership. This is borne out in that she is
called a prophetess. What is the supreme characteristic
of prophetic ministry? It is inspiration. So we see that
leadership in Deborah’s case was her power to
inspire. Both Barak and the leaders who took the lead
fulfilled their leadership by reason of the inspiration
received through Deborah. Leadership is a matter of
an endowment. Not all who take the position can fulfil
it. It is a pathetic thing to observe someone in the
position without the inspiration or anointing. That is
why it is so wrong and dangerous for anyone either to
assume the position or be put into it by vote or human
our godly women realize that their function is not to
rule and govern, but to inspire. Deborah said to Barak:
“Hath not the Lord commanded...” She knew the
Lord, and out of that knowledge she was the spirit of
no small thing to see the purpose of God and to
inspire to leadership in it. This can be done, as in the
case of Deborah, without personally going into the
forefront of the battle.
lesson, then, from Deborah, is that, whether officially
in the office of a leader or not, leadership is
essentially a matter of the gift and power of
inspiration: a contagious influence, an emanating
spiritual energy, and a potent example.
A mother in Israel
often is leadership regarded as an official thing. The
leader must have a title, an office, an appointment.
Deborah teaches us that leadership is the expansion of
the mother-spirit to embrace the whole of God’s
people. “Until that I Deborah arose... a mother in
Israel” (5:7). Not “Till I a leader, a
prophetess, a divinely-chosen instrument arose”, but
“a mother”. Hers was evidently a heart-concern,
an affectional-concern for the Lord’s people.
have earlier referred to the revolt against Paul’s
spiritual authority, but his answer to that was his love,
even “as of a nursing mother” (1 Thess.
2:7,11), and any seeming severity was born of his very
deep paternal or — spiritually — maternal
concern for them.
element must be in all leadership; the element of
a jealous yearning over the spiritual interests of those
concerned. “I arose a mother”, said Deborah.
The incentive of her inspiring leadership was the
mother-passion for a spiritual family.
of all that appears and sounds otherwise in the Prophets
of Israel, there can always be detected this sigh and sob
of a heart-relationship with a wayward family, in trouble
because of its waywardness.