Why did God use Deborah?
I’m a church kid. I grew up learning stories and lessons from the Bible; stories about epic battles and amazing miracles. I learned that God partnered with people and worked through them. I learned that from beginning to end God had and has a plan.
As a female, it was easy to observe that the stories about men in the Bible outnumbered the stories about women. This isn’t some bitter accusation, it’s simply true. I wasn’t really bothered by this, but I definitely observed it, and from time to time I wondered why?
I wondered if God just didn’t want to use women as much?
Now, this may seem insignificant, but for a little girl trying to figure out what to do with her life, this is a big question! Does God want to use me?
This question was magnified when I heard some of the “explanations” about why God used women. Take Deborah, for instance.
The account of Deborah is found in Judges 4. She and her story are notable for a few reasons: the first being that she was the only female judge over Israel recorded, she was also a prophetess, and in the story another woman got the honor of killing the enemy commander. So, we might ask, why did God use Deborah?
The answer I always received was that God used Deborah because there was no man in Israel that would step up at the time. He had to use her, as a last resort, because He couldn’t convince any of the men to help.
Now, on the surface this kind of makes sense, but as I’ve thought about it more, I’m beginning to see some gaping holes in this argument, for instance:
Gaping Hole #1: This argument uses a tool of logic called the “Evidence of Absence”, it means that we can make assumptions based on a lack of evidence to the opposite. (But you know what happens when you assume…) The logic in this case would apply that because most of the stories in the Bible have a man as the main character, that implies that God prefers using men as His heroes. You can then take that a step further, that if God prefers using men over women, there must be a good reason why he wouldn’t want to use women. And that my friends will lead us down a dark rabbit hole of horrible theology.
What if the lack of female protagonist was less an indication of God’s sentiments and more an indication of society’s at the time? Think about it. At the time of the writing of most of the Bible (a span of around 1500 years) woman held a very distinct position in society. They were rarely formally educated and their entire days were largely devoted to survival. They could spend long portions of time, even hours, simply accumulating enough water for their families to live through that day. All meals were made entirely “from scratch”, from every raw ingredient to the final product. They had to create their clothes, bedding, tent materials and every other piece of cloth they used from the raw materials to finish, by hand without machinery. Life was focused around survival and survival was dependent on their hard work.
When did they have time to save the country too!? Honestly, the men have got to do something around this place! And these are the stories we read – and there’s nothing wrong with that. What is wrong would be to assume that God was excluding women on purpose rather than simply understanding that women generally didn’t have the time to take part in these activities… Except, for the occasional women who God had SO gifted that the men around her couldn’t ignore God’s insistence on using her. Women like Deborah.
But Deborah wasn’t alone. There are 10 women in the Bible who are specifically mentioned as prophetesses: Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 3:8), Anna (Luke 2:36), and the 4 daughters of Phillip (Acts 21:8-9). There are also women labeled as “false prophets” in Ez. 13 and Jezebel, in Rev. 2:20 who calls herself a prophet but isn’t.
I mention these to show that I’m trying to be fair. The point is that the Bible mentions prophetesses in both the old and new testament, and they aren’t inherently all good or all bad. But, like the myriad of male prophets, there were some who spoke God’s truth and others who didn’t. The point is that it’s not about gender, it’s about the heart.
Gaping Hole #2: Does God only use women when he can’t find a man who’s heart is devoted to him and will step up to the challenge? This one, when you really stop to think about it almost laughable. What this implies is that God is sitting in heaven totally stressing out, desperately trying to find a man he can use. Then, in abject defeat (cause he can’t find where all the cowboys have gone), he reluctantly acquiescences to the fact that there are no useable men, so he must resort to a woman.
Is there anyone, of any gender, ever, who is really perfectly ready to be used by God? God didn’t use Gideon because he was bold and volunteering! God found him hiding in the middle of the night trying to beat out enough wheat to make a loaf of bread and had to straight up pull out miracles just to convince him to let God use him. Even David, who is called the “man after God’s own heart” had major areas of sin in his life. God doesn’t use men because they are good or ready, he uses them because he wants to and they obey.
And that my friends is the exact same reason why He uses women.
God didn’t use Deborah because she was his only option, God worked through her because he wanted to and she said yes.
Now, this post is not a teaching about women’s roles in the church. I am not telling you what you as a woman should or shouldn’t be doing on a Sunday morning – that’s not my place.
What I want you (man or woman reader) to know, is that God has a purpose for your life. He has given you gifts and He wants to partner with you to impact the world for His glory. Not because of your gender, but because of His love.
God loves His women just as much as He loves His men. And He loves His men just as much as He loves His women.
The question isn’t, does God want to use you, but will you let Him?