In my last post I described my vision for a Blessed Alliance, a partnership in the Kingdom between men and women who are encouraged, equipped and empowered to serve from their giftedness rather than their gender. I mentioned an “aha!” moment during my ministry trip to Beijing when I discovered something in the Bible that was relevant to my vision. It happened at our women’s retreat during a talk given by one of the Chinese women leaders.
As Mawei expounded on the qualities of a leader as demonstrated by Deborah in the book of Judges (chs. 4-5), I realized that I had never really paid attention to the details of the story. But I had listen to or read essays from plenty of other people who considered her story to be significant.
On one side of the debate, Deborah as a judge and prophet in Israel has been offered as biblical evidence for the full equality of women in leadership. On the other side, she is seen as an unfortunate and less than ideal substitute for the lack of male leadership. The text makes it hard to deny that Deborah is given tremendous respect for her leadership abilities, not to mention her prophetic gift which had strict qualifications according to Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). And it doesn’t seem to me that God had any problem recruiting unwilling judges (read about Gideon in chapter 6).
Barak is caught in the middle of the debate and is often characterized as weak or more strongly, as a coward. However some commentators believe this portrayal is too harsh. His only response is to request that Deborah accompany him to the battlefront. Barak did not dispute Deborah’s instructions. His only “weakness” may have been a lack of confidence to hear directly from God and so he wanted the prophetess to be nearby in case there were further divine orders. He had ample reason to be afraid with only ten thousand fighting Israelites against an untold but probably overwhelming number of men and 900 fearsome chariots. Yet Barak displays great courage and obeys God’s command given through Deborah. He is no weak man!
But he is also human and subject to the same lessons of faith as any other person in the Bible. Consider Moses. Even after the spectacular display of God’s presence in the (non)burning bush and of his power in the transformation of the staff, Moses still resisted God’s command to go to Egypt to face Pharaoh. When he put up the excuse of not having the gift of eloquent speech, God appointed his brother Aaron as a temporary mouthpiece. Eventually Moses found his faith and his voice so that by the time the Israelites were ready to enter the promised land after 40 years of wandering in the desert, Moses was doing just fine in the speech department (read the book of Deuteronomy).
I believe Barak also goes through a development of character and courage. Judges 5:31 tells us that after the death of Sisera and his army, the land has peace for forty years. It is not too much of a stretch to think that Barak’s initial fear has been transformed into a faith and confidence that helps to sustain this peace. In fact he is included in Hebrews 11, the “hall of faith” (11:32).
The story of Deborah is actually the story of Deborah AND Barak. A story of two individuals in partnership called by God to fulfill his purposes for the nation of Israel. A story of two leaders gifted in different but complementary ways, a judge-prophet with a general. A story of a woman who does not back away from the word she receives from God but delivers it to a man who may have been fearful initially but was still appointed by God. A story of a man who submitted to a woman nationally recognized and respected as a leader.
This is a story of mutual collaboration and dependence with roles defined by gifting and actions orchestrated by the command of God, not by cultural expectations. They operated from their strengths and leaned into the other in their weaknesses. Deborah could not wield a sword nor chase a chariot. Barak did not have the spiritual ear to discern God’s voice nor the wisdom to settle disputes. Deborah needed Barak and Barak needed Deborah to achieve the peace God intended for his people.
This collaboration is even more evident in the song of victory in Judges 5. Note that the song is sung by both Deborah and Barak (5:1) even though I have heard and read many refer to it as just the “Song of Deborah,” probably because it appears Deborah is singing most of it (5:7). As far as I know, this is the only song in the Bible written by two people. As if to illustrate their complementary roles, Barak joins her in an antiphony of mutual encouragement that echoes the theme of collaboration (verse 12):
Barak: Wake up, wake up, Deborah! Wake up, wake up, break out in song!
Deborah: Arise, Barak! Take captive your captives, son of Abinoam.
I wrote on a previous blog describing marriage as a dance of mutual submission. Here we have a song of mutual respect and honor, both praising God for his work of deliverance through their collaboration.
How I wish the church would see leadership and ministry in this way!