When God wove Deborah’s and Jael’s stories into his big story, he didn’t do it so that we would turn the whole thing into a call for female empowerment, intent on making it all about how awesome women are. He did it so that we would know what kind of God he is — he is a God whose mercy triumphs over, and even through, judgment. He is a God who keeps his promises to his people and provides everything we need to walk uprightly in the strangest of circumstances.
Many have noticed the trend in modern films: the warrior woman. From animated stories to superhero genres to crime mysteries, women are cast less frequently as the damsel in distress, and more often as the physically powerful rescuer come to save the day.
Rather than reflect the realistic differences between men’s and women’s physical strength, many of these movies portray impossible ideals. While our family is very picky about what movies we watch, we occasionally go ahead with one that indulges this sort of fantasy, and when we do, we talk through it together, asking questions and making sure we don’t check reality at the door.
It matters what kinds of figures we set before our sons’ and daughters’ eyes. Stories shape our understanding of what’s good, true, and beautiful. They shape our sense of what’s normal and what we ought to aspire to in life. Often the stories that put women in the role of the physically dominant hero do so to serve a particular feminist agenda that would have us understand men and women as interchangeable — or, even more so, it would have us believe women are superior to men, both mentally and physically.
Tent-Peg-Wielding Weaker Vessel
Stories from the Bible give us glimpses of women in real life — some godly, some not. There are women we should imitate, like Abraham’s wife, Sarah, and women we should not imitate, like Ahab’s wife, Jezebel.
The book of Judges tells the story of God’s people, Israel, during one of the more terrible times in their history. God’s people were doing what was right in their own eyes rather than remembering his faithfulness to them and obeying all he commanded them to do (Judges 17:6; 21:25). So he gave them judges, each of whom ushered in a brief time of turning back to God and subsequent rest. Of all the judges God gave to Israel, he gave one who was a woman — and she wasn’t only a judge, but also a prophetess. Her name was Deborah.
When God made a woman to rule over Israel as judge, it was likely a signal of his judgment on them. The prophet Isaiah describes the judgment upon Judah this way: “Infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them” (Isaiah 3:12). And God doubles down on this theme by using another woman, Jael, to deal the fatal blow to Israel’s enemy. In God’s good design, men are rulers and fighters; they bear the responsibility of providing and protecting. A female judge and warrior, then, suggests that something has gone wrong in Israel.
But first, God commands Barak to gather ten thousand of his men at Mount Tabor, where God himself will draw out the troops of Sisera’s army and give them into Barak’s hand. Barak refuses to obey, instead insisting that he won’t go unless Deborah goes with him. Because of his disobedience, Deborah tells him, “The road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judges 4:9).