Moses and Deborah Compared

Deborah is a judge, and the judicial activity is the same word used to describe Moses (Exodus 18:33) and Samuel (1 Samuel 17:6) as well as rulers/judges appointed throughout the tribes of Israel (Deuteronomy 16:18-20) as representing God’s own authority (Deuteronomy 17:12).

Deborah exercises authority analogous to Moses. She is pictured as a second Moses.

Action Moses Deborah
Judge Exodus 18:13 Judges 4:4
People Came to Them Exodus 18:13 Judges 4:5
Proclaimed Word of Lord Exodus 7:16 Judges 4:6
Prophets Deuteronomy 18:5 Judges 4:4
Pronounced Blessings Exodus 39:43 Judges 5:24
Pronounced Curses Deuteronomy 27:15 Judges 5:23
Both had military generals Joshua Barak
Instructed Israel about how to defeat enemies Exodus 14:14 Judges 4:6
Lord caused enemies in chariots to panic and flee Exodus 14:24 Judges 4:15
God’s victory told in prose Exodus 14 Judges 4
Then told in poetry Exodus 15 Judges 5
Led people in worship Exodus 15:1 (& Miriam) Judges 5:1 (& Barak)

Reading Strategies:

  1. Deborah usurped authority illegitimately? But there is no indication in the text this was illegitimate; in fact, there are positive indications that she is an honored prophet.  She speaks and her words come true; they are confirmed. Her song, celebrating the victory (like the song of Moses), takes up the whole of chapter 5, which is unique in the story of Judges. This affirms her role and authority.
  2. Deborah’s ruling was private rather than public? But “tree of Deborah” is a public place where she “judged” (using the same word as Samuel) Israel (the nation).
  3. Deborah was a substitute for weak men who would not lead? But see Judges 5:2, 9 where leaders are commended for following Deborah’s lead, and men were not faulted for the reality of Deborah’s leadership but affirmed for following it. The parallels between Moses and Deborah confirm this. Moreover, God often raises up men in a vaccum in the biblical story–why could not God have done that and remained faithful to the intent in creation (e.g., according to complementarians, God intended men to exercise authority over women).
  4. Deborah only exercised political authority? But Israel is a theocracy under the rule of God, and Deborah commands in the name of the Lord (Judges 4:6) and Israel’s rulers led on the basis of the Mosaic covenant (Deut. 17:18). Moreover, she is a prophet!
  5. “Since God himself raised up Deborah as a judge, and that which God chooses to do can not [sic] be intrinsically wrong, it cannot be intrinsically wrong for a woman to exercise authority over a man” within a covenant community. But that may live in tension with 1 Timothy 2:12, or does it? There are other ways of reading 1 Timothy that do not conflict with God’s appointment of Deborah as an authority in Israel over men.

Based on John Jefferson Davis’s article here:

3 Responses to “Moses and Deborah Compared”

  1.   Richard Constant Says:

    But that may live in tension with 1 Timothy 2:12, or does it?
    John Mark,
    the problem is that we just don’t use our Bible right on Mark.
    We have the new covenant that starts out Matthew, well that’s all not right, we have the book of acts, as all New Testament and that’s not right. All of chapter 1 and all most half of chapter 2 up to about the 40th verse, I would say are prior to the new covenant relationship, to be specific.
    Which we should be specific this kind of topic, because of all of our embedded traditions.
    One of our embedded traditions is how we read scripture.
    From Genesis God what he likes what he doesn’t like.
    To put it simply and to put it simply we use our Bibles not right.
    These are where all of his righteous judgments are put into motion and we can see them.
    But we’re also called to liberty.
    We’re also told what love is.
    Love is a fluid thing depending on the sociological vision that we happened to be put in. Period
    I think what you’ve written and expanded on shows explicitly that women should take more of a role in being a servant of the Lord in his house.
    Oh well, this just some of the offhanded remarks I have on your post on Mark.
    Always appreciated to hear what you have to say thank you so much your bro Rich

  2.   Darryl Willis Says:

    Excellent! John Mark have you read Gary Goat’s dissertation on Ephesiacus by Xenophen and its significance to 1 Timothy and the Russian context? I’d love to read your take on that.

    •   Darryl Wills Says:

      Wow. Did I just catch the spell checker after this many months? Gary Goat? Really? Yeesch! I meant to say “Gary Hoag”!

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