For egalitarians, the book of Judges clearly demonstrates God’s approval of women leaders. Yet many who view women’s leadership as unbiblical dismiss the pattern of God-affirmed female authority in Judges.
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4–5, NASB)
Hebrews 11 is widely known as a chapter that acclaims the men and women heroes of the faith—powerful, bold, and courageous. Led by that strong faith, these heroes "shut the mouths of lions," "conquered kingdoms," and "quenched the fury of the flames."
In the book of Esther, two extraordinary women leaders, Queen Vashti and her successor, Esther, confronted the patriarchal palace system, eventually acting as power brokers on behalf of themselves and others.
What the example of Deborah reveals about gender authority: As women have gained increased influence in society, and as Bible scholars offer a consistent egalitarian interpretation of Scripture, gender traditionalists have had to work harder and more creatively to justify the subordination of women within the church and family—even to themselves.
Many times the leadership of certain women in the Bible is deemphasized because they are in conflict with a pervading thought concerning what women can and cannot do. One notable woman who has needed some explanation from those who say women cannot lead is Judge Deborah.
Many know the story of Queen Esther from the Bible. However, often our own culture and struggles can lead us to “discover” lessons that are not part of the text, or miss important details that are. Often in churches, Esther becomes obscured to the point where this brave woman who was mightily used by God becomes passively subject to the decisions of men. For example, a marriage book released recently by a popular pastor and his wife used the story of Esther to promote obedience to one’s husband, contrasting disobedient Queen Vashti with a “submissive” Esther. Is submission to one’s husband truly the lesson of this narrative?
It wasn’t until 2017 that TIME Magazine honored women silence breakers as their “Person of the Year.” Truth be told, women have been breaking the silence on abuse and harassment for centuries. They have often been God’s hands of compassion and liberation, working to expose evil and topple systems of oppression.
The book of Esther tells the story of a Jewish woman who rises from obscurity into the royal court as the new queen of King Xerxes. This narrative includes models of leadership that could not be more different from each other.