Who was the judge of Israel, Deborah or Barak?

Who was the judge of Israel, Deborah or Barak?

The story of Deborah and Barak in the book of Judges has caused many hierarchists to assign the God-given work of judge delivering the people of Israel to Barak while denying that God raised up Deborah as a deliverer.   By assigning a calling to Barak that scripture never assigns, it appears that the example of Deborah and Barak is a clear example of reading into the text the tradition of men and failing to identify in the text God’s own inspired words which give the calling to Deborah.  In the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s (CBMW) Journal article, Barbara K. Mouser writes concerning Barak:

Barak is a weak man who does the will of God when paired with a righteous and wise woman. He does the job of deliverer-judge, makes the roll call of faith, but suffers a loss of glory because of his lack of zeal and obedience.

Barbara Mouser also denies that Deborah is a God-given judge who is raised up by God to deliver Israel:

Deborah is Not a Judge

She is not a judge in the sense that the book of Judges defines a judge; she is not a military deliverer.17 Rather she is a prophetess, and as a prophetess, she commands and exhorts Barak with God’s own words and authority.

The amount of “reading into” the text is astounding in this article.  For example, where is Barak said in scripture to be “raised up” by God as a judge?  Barak is never called a judge but Deborah is and Judges chapter 2 makes it very clear that all the judges were raised up by God.

Judges 2:16  Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them.

The raising up must include all of the judges and in this account of deliverance it is only Deborah that is identified as a judge, not Barak.

Next the CBMW article identifies women as a sign of degeneracy:

Isaiah tells us that the rule of women is a sign of degeneracy, not liberation (Isa 3:12).

However, Deborah is never listed as a Judgment of God against Israel and Isaiah 3:12 has been mistranslated with the word “women” which can be clearly seen from the NET bible and the Septuagint’s translation of Isaiah.  For more information see my article titled “Are women leaders used to judge sinful men?

Mouser goes on to note that Deborah’s judging was “a very rare circumstance”.

Those who seek to extrapolate doctrine or practice from Deborah need to remember that Judges 4-5 is the historical report of a very rare circumstance in a far-from-ideal setting.

The fact that God creates a “rare circumstance” is not proof that the “rare circumstance” is a judgment against Israel by God choosing to use a woman as a judge.  The passage in the book of Judges is clear that Deborah was a blessing to Israel and not a curse of judgment against Israel.  We can also clearly understand that in the book of the Judges, God does not give the calling of a judge to someone who by the virtue of their gender is disqualified as a judge.  God does not break his own rules.

The article goes off into speculation about the judging work of Deborah:

Clearly Deborah is not providing military deliverance under her palm tree. While the text is not specific, it is most likely that she is rendering verdicts in lawsuits, and/or giving divine guidance. (emphasis is mine)

While the CBMW article leaves Deborah devoid of the call of deliverer, who then is the true judge raised up by God according to CBMW and Mouser?

The Deliverer-Judge Barak

Call and Command

She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you…

Whatever the nature of Deborah’s judging ministry, something provokes her to summon Barak (v. 6)…

Whether God initiated the message to Deborah to commission Barak in response to the people’s cries to him, or whether the people petitioned Deborah and she sought the Lord for his word, we do not know. What we do know is that God’s prophetic word is to call and command Barak to engage the enemy general, with a sure promise of victory.

This is reading into the passage something that is not there.  This passage in Judges does not say that Barak was commissioned as a judge.  Deborah did the judging and she called Barak to come.  Deborah gives her prophetic message to Barak in the form of a question.  “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you?”  The word of the Lord came through Deborah.  The issue of the command was through Deborah and her direction was to be enough to send forth the troops.

Mouser then attributes sin to Barak for refusing to obey an earlier command of God.  This is attributing sin to Barak where no such charge of sin is given in the passage.  This is nothing but speculation and eisegesis:

Barak is the commander of the army; the people have cried out for salvation, and yet no deliverer has arisen. It is likely that God has previously commanded Barak to go forth,11 but he has refused to go.  If this is the case, Deborah is repeating a command Barak has already heard, but refuses to obey.  (emphasis is mine)

Barak’s response to Deborah showed why he was listed in the Hebrews hall of fame in Hebrews 11:32.  It was “by faith” that Barak requested Deborah to go with him.  “By faith” he accepted her as the deliverer-judge and he would not take the calling for himself.  He believed God that God would once again bring deliverance from Israel’s enemies by the very word of God’s chosen judge.

A leader’s faith and reliance upon the one true God was measured by how he aligned himself with God’s appointed and called messengers.  For those leaders who refused to obey God’s prophets, they experienced neither economic nor military prosperity but found themselves ravaged by the enemy.  But the godly leaders who accepted God’s provision experienced freedom from their enemies and Barak was willing to risk his own ego to align himself completely with God’s called and chosen judge even if she was a woman.  There is nothing in the passage about Barak being called as God’s chosen judge nor is there anything in the passage about Barak being a weak man who needed someone else’s wife to give him courage.  Barak is listed as a great man of faith and it is our man-made tradition that turns the passage around to make Barak a disobedient judge who failed to receive the full calling that God had for him.

We do not know why Barak does not obey the Lord straightaway. Perhaps he thinks the people do not trust him as much as they trust Deborah; perhaps he fears they will not answer his muster. Perhaps he trusts Deborah’s physical presence as an assurance of God’s help more than God’s own promise. Whatever the reason, Barak’s issuing a condition to God is not a good or admirable thing (as some have tried to make it13)

Asking God’s chosen judge to go into battle as all the other judges had gone into battle was not a good thing?  How could this be so?  Mouser states that both Deborah and God are displeased with Barak:

Both Deborah and God are displeased with this response from Barak as we see by their responses to him.

There is nothing in the passage that says that God is displeased with Barak.  Nothing at all.  And Deborah’s response to Barak’s request is that she will indeed go into battle with him.  While Barak will receive great honor for his victory in battle, Deborah does let him know prophetically that God has chosen to give the leader of the enemy into the hands of a woman.  Barak is not threatened by this.  He goes with Deborah as a man of faith.

The fact is that it was the Lord God who raised up the judges and the Lord was with the judges giving them credit for saving Israel all the days of the judge.  Three times in the inspired book of Judges chapter 5, Deborah’s name is listed first before Barak’s.

Judges 5:1  Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying,
Judges 5:2  “That the leaders led in Israel…

Judges 5:12  “Awake, awake, Deborah; Awake, awake, sing a song! Arise, Barak, and take away your captives, O son of Abinoam.

Judges 5:15  “And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; As was Issachar, so was Barak;

Deborah was indeed God’s appointed and called judge.  And in her days of judging, the land had peace for forty years:

Judges 5:31  “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD; But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.” And the land was undisturbed for forty years.

Israel had peace through the judging of Deborah and she was God’s appointed judge just like all of the others that God raised up in Israel.

13 thoughts on “Who was the judge of Israel, Deborah or Barak?

  1. What EVERYONE does is fill in the gaps of a story with the defaults from their worldview, this is what a worldview does and allows communication between people that share similar worldviews.

    One thing the Bible is intended to do is to help us develop a Biblical and Godly worldview, this is a transformational process, step by step over time.

    However, there is a temptation to fill in more than the gaps in a story, but actually to see what is not there, this is a temptation for all of us and is one reason we need trusted others to help us see when we might be doing that.  It is clear in the case of Mouser that her trusted others did not help her in this, by publishing it, they endorsed her deceiving of herself.  Pray for her that the scales be lifted from her eyes and she can see clearly.

  2. I agree, the reason so many people fill these gaps as they do is because they have not heard any other view, or such views have been brushed off by the “scholars” they depend upon. They trust their leaders and are taught not to question them since they have credentials.

    This sort of narrow vision has been a problem on many topics for generations. We tend to cloister ourselves in safe havens where contrary opinions on disputable matters are never heard. The leaders spoon-feed the followers and never teach them how to reason on their own, because many leaders fear losing their following.

  3. For those hierarchists who are upset that many see Deborah as a wonderful egalitarian leader in Israel, raised up by God as a judge and who condemn egalitarians for “seeing” too much into the account, I thought it appropriate to give a little story:

    A young couple moved into a new neighborhood the next morning while they were eating breakfast, The young woman saw her neighbor hanging the wash outside. ‘That laundry is not very clean,’ she said. ‘She doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.’

    Her husband looked on, but remained silent.

    Every time her neighbor would hang her wash to dry the young woman would make the same comments.

    About one month later, the woman was surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband:

    ‘Look, she has learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this.’

    The husband said, ‘I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.’

  4. “Deborah is Not a Judge
    She is not a judge in the sense that the book of Judges defines a judge; she is not a military deliverer.17 Rather she is a prophetess, and as a prophetess, she commands and exhorts Barak with God’s own words and authority.” (emphasis mine)
    Does anyone else see how ironic it is that in an attempt to keep a woman from having military control over a man, they have given spiritual control to Deborah, and set her up as a teacher over him? 
    By defining prophetess as they have, it means that Philip’s four daughters who prophesied were teaching  men God’s word. By their own admission, women taught men in the New Testament. 

  5. I kept waiting for someone to ask that! I just couldn’t believe the male supremacists would actually argue for a woman’s spiritual authority!

  6. It seems to me that Barbara Mouser’s errant teachings show us a perfect example of why Timothy was exhorted to “let a woman learn.”  Those who would presume to teach, ought to be properly taught first.

    For far too many parts of the body of Christ, women are excluded from solid theological and biblical study (and their men’s study could stand some scrutiny too, for that matter).  The fruits of their substandard study show crystal clear in assertions such as Barbara Mouser makes.  But she is bound to back up her husband, according to their highly patriarchal system, and since he makes the same sorts of assertions and is her authoritarian “head” and her “lord,” well…what else could we expect her to say?  Poor education and patriarchalist husband don’t provide much chance for his wife to come up with much besides a parroting of said patriarchalist’s extrabiblical propaganda.

    If you had any doubts, google “Bill Mouser” and/or his “faith and gender” blog.   And be sure to catch his assertions that God is engaged in “cosmic sex” with creation.  Of course he’s going to denounce Deborah and push his wife to do the same.  His poor definition of manhood is at stake if he doesn’t.

  7. Nicole,

    Bingo!  You get the prize for picking this out.

    Paula,

    Thanks for letting Nicole be the first one to point this out!

    Mary,

    Thanks for the information on Barbara Mouser.  I thought her last name sounded familiar.  It appears that the egalitarian viewpoint poses a great threat to Christianity according to William and Barbara.  It appears that the Christian faith is supposed to be lived out in a way that regards sexuality.  It appears that they believe that there are male Christians and female Christians instead of just Christians.  Below is a quote that I found that concerns me:

    The International Council for Gender Studies (ICGS) is formed of evangelical Christians in America and Europe who are committed to speaking the historic Christian faith to this generation.  We think that non-biblical egalitarian tenets about the nature and relationship of men and women are not only corrosive to society at large, but also pose a threat to the spiritual vitality and integrity of the Church. Persuaded that God has spoken through the Prophets and Apostles in the Bible concerning human sexuality, we have joined together to call Christians to reaffirm and to live anew the whole counsel of God as He has spoken concerning gender issues.

  8. Don, (comment #1)

    You said,

    It is clear in the case of Mouser that her trusted others did not help her in this, by publishing it, they endorsed her deceiving of herself.

    This is a very valid point.

  9. I always get suspicious when they trot out Isaiah 3:12 to affirm their pov. Most folks have not checked that verse out in different translations to see just how badly it is translated.  You cannot tell me that folks like the Mouser’s don’t know that verse is translated differently in the LXX, for example. The fact they use it as affirmation of their view speaks volumes.

  10. ‘The International Council for Gender Studies (ICGS) is formed of evangelical Christians in America and Europe who are committed to speaking the historic Christian faith to this generation.  We think that non-biblical egalitarian tenets about the nature and relationship of men and women are not only corrosive to society at large, but also pose a threat to the spiritual vitality and integrity of the Church. Persuaded that God has spoken through the Prophets and Apostles in the Bible concerning human sexuality, we have joined together to call Christians to reaffirm and to live anew the whole counsel of God as He has spoken concerning gender issues.’

    If I were you, I’d be very concerned too…

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