Who was the Real Deborah?

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I struggle with the idea that we small, “wise” humans can decide which parts of the Bible are no longer true. But I have discovered something that irks me even more. “Truths” that get added to the Bible at some point and then keep getting taught for generations even when they aren’t actually there.

I recently read the story of Deborah the prophetess and judge in Judges 4. Initially thinking I knew the story, I quickly became puzzled. Some of it was missing!

While raised in ultra-conservative patriarchy I’d been taught that Deborah was wrong to be a woman in leadership. She was only leading because there were no men available, and that her leadership was actually a curse. I thought that Barak was supposed to be the judge, but because he was too wimpy, Deborah took over. None of that was in the passage.

I did a search to see where else Deborah is mentioned in Scripture. It’s only Judges 4-5.

Not only is Deborah not condemned for being a judge, she is called a prophetess. Last I checked there were only two kinds of prophets in Scripture – false prophets and true ones. She is obviously not a false prophet, so that must make her a true one. Becoming a prophet is not something you get to choose. God picks you, gifts you, and fills you with His words. Things were starting to feel sketchy to me.

I looked further into her interactions with Barak. He was the military leader not Deborah. She called him and gave him a word from the LORD. He was nervous and asked her to come with him to battle. Deborah agreed to come, but it never mentions that she fought. She didn’t take over. Deborah lived as the strong woman God created her to be and inspired greatness in those around her.

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The truth about Deborah filled me with delight! I finished my coffee and chalked the whole thing up to one more crazy lie I’d been taught back in the day. But then something else happened.

My husband and I had a date night, and over our craft beer and fried pickles I asked him what he thought about Deborah the judge. You need to understand that my husband is my total opposite. He wasn’t raised in church and didn’t start a relationship with Jesus until he was sixteen. After graduating from public high school, he spent four years at two different Bible schools. They were conservative in theology, but incredibly tame compared to what I experienced in my legalistic Christian cult.

Do you know what my husband told me? That Deborah was only the judge because there were no available men to lead. What? In shock, I explained what I’d found that morning and we ended up having a friendly debate (that was finally solved on Google).

We found ultra-conservative blogs denouncing Deborah. But we also discovered many other articles, such as this excellent one from Bible.org “Deborah: The Woman God Uses” that celebrated the things God did through her. It didn’t take much convincing.

Horrified, my husband exclaimed, “Gothard’s ideas are everywhere!” As much as I’d love to blame him, I know my old cult leader (Bill Gothard) isn’t the mastermind behind every oppressively conservative view of life. But if not, then what?

I’ll be honest, this discovery about the real Deborah has rocked my husband and I. It makes us upset and skeptical. Why are so many things taught in conservative, evangelical Christianity that aren’t actually from Scripture? How do we know what to believe? And where are these lies coming from? No wonder people get disgusted and just chuck the whole thing out the window!

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I’m not willing to leave the cores of Christianity. But I want my beliefs to be based on Scripture, and I want to stick with the real Jesus. I really believe that Evangelical Christianity needs an overhaul. We need passionate, discerning, truth-loving people to look into tradition and opinion and figure out which beliefs are solid and which need to get trashed. The lies about Deborah need to go in the garbage.

Deborah was a wonderful, gifted, wise, discerning woman who heard from God. She wasn’t a curse, and she didn’t lead just because some man failed. Deborah used her skills and abilities to guide people into the truth. God designed her on purpose, gifted her for “such a time as this,” and never, NOT ONCE, condemned her for being female.

As a strong, passionate woman who has spent most of my life trying to push down and contain my personality and abilities, this gives me immense joy. 🙂

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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P.S. I was in the middle of writing this blog post when I came across the post Beth Moore wrote yesterday: A Letter to My Brothers. Wow! Take the time to read it. It’s powerful and confirming. I feel the Spirit moving!

 

 

 

 

7 thoughts on “Who was the Real Deborah?

  1. “As a strong, passionate woman who has spent most of my life trying to push down and contain my personality and abilities, this gives me immense joy.”

    Those words, and the others, make me both laugh and cry.

    As one on this same journey, but many years older than you, I too am trying to figure out what to do with official ‘Christianity’. Sure, it contains a good deal of truth. But has it become so corrupted that God is ready to spew it out of his mouth?

    I know, that sounds pretty radical, and would get me rejected by pretty much everyone I know and love. Because we have all been taught that being a child of God means being a ‘Christian’; when in reality, Christianity is merely a Religion. The Church is an institution, created by men, built by men, ruled by men – yet claimed to be the very ‘Kingdom of God’. I have my serious doubts.

    Yes, the vast majority of the Body of Christ has long been found in Christianity’s ‘Church’ – ever since Constantine co-opted and institutionalized that fragile, persecuted flock and made it ‘legal’ and ‘official’. More and more I am beginning to see the difference between the true Body of Christ which has been ‘ruled over’ and all too often deceived and tyrannized by those in self-claimed ‘authority’.

    How do we know? Whenever abuse and oppression is practiced – and taught – with the ever present scripture verses to prove it, we know that something besides God is at work. I was taught that those crazy liberals who were claiming that ‘The Church’ was all about power and control were God-hating monsters who ate their own children, which kept me safely away from such thoughts for decades. Let me tell you a secret: they don’t eat their children, and they were right about the power and control thing.

    No, it wasn’t all Gothard. He was just one of the tools, sent to deceive and manipulate that new thing, that branch of The Church that was slipping out of control by homeschooling and, at first, home churching. Look around with open eyes, read some of the so-called ‘Discernment blogs’ like The Wartburg Watch, and you will see that there are countless other false shepherds just like Gothard. They sold their souls, and got momentary fame, wealth and power, but they did not read the fine print, which allowed The Organization to send them off as scapegoats whenever necessary.

    Thus, the abusers are eventually exposed, often by their very own, in a desperate attempt to protect the Mother Ship, or The Organization. Whatever you decide about Christianity, do not conflate The Church with the Body of Christ. Even should the entire facade of Christianity crumble, that does not negate the elements of truth she contained, and which God graciously used her to spread in spite of her inherent flaws.

    God is real. He is good. He is love without measure. It matters not what man, men or institutions say falsely about him, or falsely claim he has said. I am afraid you are in for a long haul if you are determined to uncover all of the errors and distortions that have been pushed by Christianity and The Church. Whether or not she can be overhauled, or if the entire ship needs to be forsaken, I truly do not know. But this I know – losing The Church, or any Religion, even Christianity, will not exterminate God.

  2. For YEARS, I have become increasingly frustrated with evangelical, Protestant Christianity. Everyone believes they are right, everyone can prove it by Scripture, but when people use the same Bible to come to diametrically opposing points of view, and the Bible is what you are supposed to read and obey, how in the world do you determine who’s right? Right now, my honest answer is, “I don’t know, and I don’t know if I can ever find out.”

    And yes, I have HEARD this, you need to study it for yourself . . . but too often, the implication is, “Study it for yourself and you’ll see that I’m right about what I teach.”

    • I totally feel where you are coming from! It does get really confusing.

      I really appreciate my current church’s view on how to live the Christian life and discover the truth. They say we need the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God. I think it’s easy to get side tracked when we are following only one of those things, but with all three in place to give checks and balances we have a pretty good shot.

  3. “We need passionate, discerning, truth-loving people to look into tradition and opinion and figure out which beliefs are solid and which need to get trashed. The lies about Deborah need to go in the garbage.”

    I absolutely agree!

    And there are many things that have been taught that are now being questioned by those who are willing to read the Bible with an open mind. Which isn’t easy after you’ve been conditioned for a long time!

    One example is Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Apart from the fact that this was not taught in the early church but only came in with Augustine and was then revived by Calvin and has never been taught in the eastern Orthodox church, it is also a gross libel (or slander) on the character of God with hardly a shred of evidence to support it.

    One thing that makes all this harder is that often the Bible presents contradictory statements in different places or occasionally in adjacent verses. Here’s an example from Proverbs:

    1. Proverbs 26:4: Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.
    2. Proverbs 26:5: Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes.

    I’ve read recently that the Jewish scholars have always known that it was a text to be wrestled with rather than one that simply gives the answers.
    Peter Enns maintains that “God did not design scripture to be a hushed afternoon in an oak-paneled library. Instead, God has invited us to participate in a wrestling match, a forum for us to be stretched and to grow. Those are the kinds of disciples God desires. This book, in other words, is a giant permission slip to let the wrestling begin.”

    Enns, Peter. The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (Kindle Locations 381-383). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

    Here’s another example: in Romans 10:9 it says ‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ But Jesus taught “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ So Paul’s declaration needs some qualification it seems.

    Finally, if you really want to get into challenging texts, watch “Come Sunday” – an excellent film based on a true story – and you’ll see just how many texts declare that everyone is saved (apparently unconditionally) while there are many that state that only some are. Then read Brian Zahnd’s excellent “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God” and Brad Jersak’s somewhat heavier “Her Gates will Never be Shut.”

    (BTW, I also read Beth Moore’s letter a few days ago and it brought tears to my eyes for what she has been subjected to. Also a certain amount of righteous indignation!)

    • I always love to hear your thoughts. Thank you so much for sharing!! I totally agree with the wrestling match illustration.

      I feel like Christians have been so quick to declare “this is the truth” over very tough subjects for far too long. It’s okay if we don’t have an answer and are wrestling through these things. It’s okay if we have questions. God is definitely big enough to handle them all! And it’s okay if we don’t get it all right, because God is in control and He is doing what He wants. He is good and loving and He’s got this!

      People aren’t as smart as we think we are. 😉 We need to keep in mind that the Bible was inspired by a Being that is far greater, and more, and smarter than us and we may never get it all figured out. But that’s okay! Let’s keep digging for ourselves, and not just be content to believe what someone else says.

      Thanks again for sharing!!

  4. Pingback: The Only Condemnation was In the Commentary | Christy Lynne Wood

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