Jud 4:4-Behind Every Good Man
Question: “Did Deborah and Barak judge Israel together, or was it just one of them? And what does this say about male verses female leadership?”
Answer: It is not only possible, but it is likely, that some of the judges tenure overlapped with other judges, in other regions of the land; but there is no justification for referring to Barak as a judge. He was integrally involved with the forces of Israel during the reign of Deborah, but the Bible is explicit as to who was the judge: “And Deborah, the prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time”; no such statement is ever made regarding Barak.
Throughout the account, Barak is the recognized leader of Israel’s armed force, whether previously his vocation, or called to that responsibility under Deborah. His hesitancy to go to war, despite the divine command, would lend credence to the idea that he had only recently come into the role. Barak’s reputation is not enhanced in the story. Deborah makes plain the Lord had directed the campaign to deliver them from the opposition. Barak’s response was a mark of his timidity; he agrees on the condition that Deborah goes with him; an astonishing condition for a man war! God gave the victory, but not just at the hand of Barak. Jael’s tent peg did more to finish the campaign than all the swords and spears in Israel; and she was given the credit, too, just as Deborah had prophesied.
To be fair, Barak, and not Deborah, is included in the Hebrews hall of faith, along with some of the judges, kings, and prophets. This alone is not sufficient to declare him a co-judge with Deborah. You have to wonder, then, why someone would feel his status needed to be enhanced. Is it because he was the most prominent man leading Israel’s army (but not the only one, “the princes of Issachar”, 5:15)? Is it hesitation to allow that God used a woman to do what a man was apparently afraid to do? I don’t see how this changes any of clear instructions about God ordained authority or offices.
Deborah was no Molly Pitcher, but her record is no less legendary. I’m not seeking argue for evangelical feminism, or female candidates for high office. I’m only pointing out that the Bible states what actually happened, not what we might think should have happened. If we are honest students of Scripture, we must state the fact as recorded and leave the consequences up to God.
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