It is very common for hierarchists to explain away Deborah’s position as Judge in the nation of Israel as merely a judgment by God.
The men in Deborah’s day were very weak and cowardly. This is seen in the fact that Barak, the captain of the armies of Israel, refused to go into battle unless Deborah went with him. The woman had to remind him that God had said it is time to fight; the woman had to encourage and challenge him to go; yea, the woman had to go with him!
Obviously it was a period in Israel’s history during which God could find no man to do His will, so He used a brave, willing woman. We can praise God for women like Deborah who are willing to be strong when the men are weak.
In general the leaders are weak and seem entirely lacking even in common sense. They cannot control their little children and women rule over them (compare Is. 3:12). This is God’s judgment because of the apostate condition of professing Christians.
Is it really true that women ruling the nation represent God’s judgment? The only way that we can know for sure is to see what God had to say. Several nations were used by God as a judgment against Israel and their sin. The thing that we can notice in all of the cases of judgment is that the nation who was used as a judgment by God against Israel always hurt and destroyed Israel. Israel was taken captive many times and this was God’s judgment. But what about Deborah? Was she used by God to punish Israel and hurt Israel or was she one of the many godly Judges that God raised up and sent to deliver Israel?
Judges 2:16 Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them.
Judges 2:18 When the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.
The Judges were all sent to deliver Israel from their enemies. This means that it was impossible for Deborah to be a judgment against Israel when she was sent to deliver Israel.
Let’s look at the next claim – that God had no man he could use, so his hands were tied and he had to use a woman. This idea is foreign to scripture. The sovereignty of God demands that we see God as the one who chooses whom he desires to use. He is not a God who does not have choices. When Elijah thought that he was the only one left, God educated him in the true facts:
Romans 11:4 But what is the divine response to him? “I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.”
There has never been a time when God has not had his men. God is sovereign and he is able to preserve the remnant just as he stated that he would. The second proof that God is able to choose a woman even when there are godly men available is the case of Huldah. Huldah was a prophetess of God who was consulted about God’s word at a time when Jeremiah had already been a prophet in the land for five years. This proves that there is no such thing as God having to use a woman only because there are no godly men available.
But what about Barak? Was he weak-willed and cowardly because he needed a woman to go into battle with him? Not at all. The bible tells us that Barak was a man of faith. He is listed in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11:32 right alongside David. How was Barak’s faith in God shown? His faith was shown because he refused to go into battle without God’s provision for the battle. Deborah was God’s provision. Deborah was the Judge who was to deliver Israel from their enemies. Barak was a man of God because he believed God and he trusted that God would work through Deborah. He was willing to be shamed by men who would call him cowardly and weak-willed because of his faith in God’s provision. Barak was a great man of God who accepted God’s provision in the battle. It was Deborah herself!
Lastly, what about the verse that seems to say that women who rule the people are a judgment by God?
Isaiah 3:12 O My people! Their oppressors are children, And women rule over them. O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray And confuse the direction of your paths.
The NET bible follows the Septuagint in rendering this verse much differently:
Isaiah 3:12 Oppressors treat my people cruelly;
creditors rule over them.
My people’s leaders mislead them;
they give you confusing directions.
The Septuagint, (English version here) is the Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures and it was the bible that the early Church used the most. The Septuagint’s rendering which is consistent with the NET bible, shows how the early church would have understood Isaiah 3:12.
Isaiah 3:12 “O My people, your exactors strip you, and extortioners rule over you; O My people, they that pronounce you blessed lead you astray, and pervert the path of your feet.”
Isaiah 3:1 is also very differently translated in the Septuagint showing that the Lord of hosts will remove the mighty men and women of strength leaving behind those who are weak:
Isaiah 3:1 Behold now, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, will take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the mighty man and mighty woman, the strength of bread, and the strength of water,
This passage in Isaiah isn’t saying that God is sending women as a judgment against Israel. Not at all.
If we are to take Isaiah 3:12 as women ruling the nation as a “sign”of God’s judgment, why would God use a “sign” that means evil in one place and good in another place? Why would God raise up a godly woman (Deborah) in the same “sign”? This would mean that God is contradicting himself and he is wishy-washy using women as a sign for evil and a sign for good. This cannot be. God cannot contradict himself.
The fact is that Deborah was a godly woman sent by God to be a blessing to Israel. She did her job and delivered Israel from their enemies. She operated in the gifting and calling of the Lord God Almighty. It is a dishonor to say that Deborah was an instrument of God’s judgment to shame the men. Instead of bringing shame to Barak, Deborah brought him victory and a place in the Hebrews 11 hall of fame.