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The Bold Leadership of Women in the Bible

On September 17, 2008

"Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided" (Judg. 4:4-5, TNIV).

"Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel" (Judg. 5:7, TNIV).

Last week we celebrated the political prominence women enjoy today as a direct extension of the gains earned for women by early evangelicals. The early evangelicals were some of the first to develop a whole-Bible approach in their advocacy of gender and ethnic equality—biblical ideals that propelled their work as suffragists, abolitionists, and evangelists on mission fields where women outnumbered men two to one. While some evangelicals today believe a woman can lead a country but not a church, egalitarian evangelicals have never made the distinction between women’s leadership in the secular world over and against women’s equal service in the church. Why? Because Scripture does not make such distinctions.

Consider Deborah whose leadership, as a judge and also a prophet, influenced all of Israel. Israel refused to go into battle without her (Judg. 4:6-9)! Prophets as a group held high positions of leadership over God's covenant people. Whereas priests pleaded on behalf of the people to God, prophets were used by God to guide the covenant community—especially the priests and kings. Because of this, prophets like Deborah and Huldah brought leadership, exhortation, and correction to the highest levels—to Israel’s leaders; the kings, priests, and also other prophets.

Huldah was a prophet during the reign of King Josiah. When the Book of the Law was discovered (2 Chron. 34:14-33, 2 Kings 22), King Josiah (622 B.C.) and his committee went directly to Huldah for advice, rather than to either Zephaniah or Jeremiah—both of whom were prophets during this time. Huldah’s exhortation to obey the Torah led to some of the most sweeping reforms in Israel’s history for nearly 1000 years. If this isn’t spiritual leadership, I don’t know what is!

And, there is more! Consider the leadership of women like Rahab, Jael, Miriam, Ruth, Esther, and the women who were leaders at the city gates of Jerusalem. Given the patriarchal culture of the times, the fact that you have women leading Israel’s army; judging disputes; exhorting and advising Israel’s prophets, priests, and kings; declaring the ways of God to the people; and bringing fruitful, badly needed reforms, speaks volumes. It means that God delights in using whomever he wishes despite the cultural expectations of ancient or modern people. Because sacred leadership influenced all of Israel, these female prophets brought enormous guidance to the life of God’s people. Let’s celebrate their holy boldness to lead and draw all of us closer to God!

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CBE advances the gospel by equipping Christians to use their God-given talents in leadership and service regardless of gender, ethnicity, or class. Together with supporters and ministry partners from 100 denominations and 65 countries, CBE works to inspire and mobilize women and men with the Bible’s call to lead and serve as equals.

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