On Wednesday nights I have been teaching through the book of Judges. Just last week we came to the prophetess Deborah and the important role that she plays in the narrative. I hear about Deborah a lot in discussions pertaining to the proper roles of women in ministry. Often times, and unfairly as I hope that you will see, she is used in an attempt to skirt around the clear teaching of Scripture that God created men and women in His image both equal in status (Galatians 3:28) but with different roles that compliment each other in the home (1 Corinthians 11:2-16; Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7) and in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-15). I have spoken with some people who support women serving as pastors or as other head leaders in the church who have treated Deborah as THE case that proves the point that a woman can and should be behind the pulpit preaching the Word of God to a mixed audience. (Just a note, there is no problem according to God's Word for a woman to be teaching or preaching to a group of all women or to be teaching children. Just look at Titus 2:3-5. I will go on the record to say that we need more women serving in these areas. But God has limited the office of elder or pastor to that of a man just as He has designed for men to lead their homes.) However, does Deborah really solve the issue? Does her very presence in the book of Judges lead to the clear conclusion that people like me who hold that God has not intended for a woman to serve as a pastor or elder are certainly in the wrong? Or, and I really hate to type this, that this would trump Paul's teaching in his letters? Actually, a closer examination into what goes on with Deborah shows no such thing. Let's together look at Deborah's Role, Deborah's Presence, and Deborah's Purpose.
The first thing that we must recognize about Deborah is that she is identified as a prophetess and not a pastor. We are told when we are first introduced to her that she is a prophetess. In fact, this serves as her predominant role in the narrative itself. Unlike the other judges that we read about in the book, she is not a military leader. The author stresses her role as settling disputes (v. 5) and prophesying (vv. 6-7, 9), mediating a direct word from God to His people. It should be noted that there is a difference between the role of a prophesying and that of an elder or pastor in the New Testament. According to 1 Corinthians 11, women could indeed prophesy in the assembly of a local congregation but she still was not granted the authority to teach a mixed group (1 Corinthians 14:34-36). So to use Deborah as a means to support the argument that God has granted the authority for women to play a major leading role in the life of a congregation doesn't hold water. It would be the equivalent of comparing apples to oranges. We are talking about two different roles here. A prophetess is not the same thing as a pastor or an elder. Be careful not to confuse what God has determined to be distinct.
We also have to consider Deborah's very presence being a leader during the time of the judges. The author actually goes out of his way to emphasize the fact that she is a woman. Literally in Hebrew he says concerning her in Judges 4:4, And Deborah, a WOMAN PROPHETESS, the WIFE of Lappidoth, SHE, she was judging Israel at that time (emphasis mine). He certainly wants it to be clear to everyone who reads this account that she is a female. Now, why is this? Notice as well the contrast between her and Barak. She actually sends for Barak and commissions him to go out and deliver the people (vv. 6-7). However, he refuses unless she goes with him (v. 8). And the ramification for this would be that the victory would be at the hands of a woman instead of Barak himself (v. 9). That would have been a humiliation to Barak in this culture. It may also be significant that nowhere does the author ever explicitly state that God raised up Deborah to serve as a judge. Just that she was judging Israel at that time (v. 4). Could it be that the writer of this historical account wants to highlight for us a specific problem during this time? That the people lacked strong male leadership? We have a woman in leadership which certainly is rare and sticks out among all the other judges and also the man that is called to lead refuses to step up and go at it alone. Contextually, Deborah should not have been serving as this leader of the people.
Let's explore this deeper in the overall structure of the entire book. The author chooses to organize the events of this time in a way that demonstrates a continual downward spiral. That as time goes on, we have the further degradation of the nation of Israel as they become more and more mixed with the world. As they resemble the pagan Canaanites more than being God's very holy people. (A very much needed contemporary lesson for the Church today as the visible church, instead of being a ship sailing on the sea of the world, in many ways has begun to let the water of the world in and in many cases no longer can be seen as distinct from the world itself.) The author even states in the introduction of the book that every time a judge that God raised up to save them died, that they would turn back and act MORE CORRUPTLY than their fathers (2:19; emphasis mine). Not only is this degradation seen with the people themselves but also with their leaders. Everyone just becomes more and more corrupt as we move through the book. Compare the first judge, Othniel (1:11-15; 3:9-11), with the last one in the book, Samson (13:1-16:31). Othniel really is presented to us as a model judge. There is not any mention of any corruption caused by him. He is a courageous godly leader. However, on the flip side, nothing positive can really be said about Samson. He was a womanizer who broke every vow that he ever made. He was far more concerned with chasing women than he ever was about chasing after God's prescribed will. After Othniel, pretty much every judge has some sort of blemish on them. Take Ehud who was left-handed and certainly used a very questionable method to deliver Israel at the time (3:15-30). Or Gideon with his doubts and the idolatry that he encourages with the ephod that he built (6:1-8:32). Or Jephthah's rash vow leading him to sacrifice his very own daughter (10:6-12:7)! (I know some will attempt to argue that Jephthah didn't really sacrifice his daughter as a burnt offering but it was a case of her being dedicated to the temple in perpetual virginity. However, I will just point out in passing that the Hebrew word for "burnt offering," "olah," always, in every case that we find it in Scripture, refers to a literal "burnt offering.") And then we have Samson, the worst of the worst. What each of the judges did mirrored something that the ungodly pagans practiced, not what God commanded His people to do. So, following this pattern, we should expect to see something negative about Deborah that represents the people of the time. In light of the author drawing great attention to her gender and pointing out Barak's cowardice to lead, it seems reasonable to conclude that Deborah as a judge reflects the lack of strong male leadership at this time. Perhaps it should be mentioned that part of God's chastisement of the leaders in Israel years later by the prophet Isaiah was that children and women ruled over them (Isaiah 3:12). In other words, they lacked strong male leadership. A problem certainly true in many households today and within the church itself.
We need to remember that the events recorded in the book of Judges are descriptive, not prescriptive. There is a difference in what the Bible reports and what it recommends. What it says and what it supports. (I am indebted to Dale Ralph Davis for this valuable insight.) Just because the Bible reports several kings having more than one wife at a time does not mean that the Bible recommends that for people today. It is just telling us what happened during the time of the kings and even recording for us the sins of the people in that day. Just because the Bible records that Deborah served as a leader in the time of the judges does not necessary follow that it recommends that women should serve in main leadership roles in the church or as head in their families today. No more than the fact that Gideon laid out a fleece in a lack of trust in God's word or that Jephthah literally sacrificed his daughter indicates that we should do likewise. The whole purpose of this book is to show us how bad things got in those days when there was no king in Israel and man did what was right in his own eyes (21:25). Things that "were right in their own eyes" also regarding leadership. Not following God's design for leadership but creating their own way instead. As Dean R. Ulrich has put it, "Deborah was not so much a picture of the way things ought to be as she was a testimony to the way things were, and in the days of the judges, things were definitely not the way they were supposed to be" (From Famine to Fullness: The Gospel According to Ruth (The Gospel According to the Old Testament; Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2007) 8). Rather than seeing the case of Deborah as justification for disobedience against what God has established, we should instead view it as a warning. We as a church should not desire to resemble the ungodly world and culture in which we live as the nation of Israel did in the book of Judges but to remain faithful to God's Word which always is counter cultural and makes us stand out in contrast to the world.
Soli Deo Gloria
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15
- I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.
Friday, July 31, 2015
Thursday, July 9, 2015
I will bow down toward your holy temple
and I will praise your name
for your love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
~2 Timothy 2:15
Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God. . . . Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan's reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the word of God
Today marks the 506th birthday of John Calvin, one of the instruments God used to spread the Reformation throughout Europe. One could easily argue that he is one of the most influential theologians in history next to the apostle Paul and possibly Augustine. Personally, he is one of the "Johns" whom God has used to greatly impact my life and aid in teaching me His Word. (The other three being John MacArthur, John Piper, and John Charles (J.C.) Ryle). Regardless of whether you agree with him theologically or not (while through my study of Scripture I wholeheartedly affirm, embrace, and cherish the doctrines of grace he purported, I differ with him on his understanding of infant baptism and church order), there are things we all can learn from his life and ministry which had at its heart the glory of God. A fresh look at Calvin teaches us several things:
1) The Importance of the Word of God
The backbone of Calvin's ministry was the Word of God. This was central to his work in Geneva. In fact, upon seeing the many problems which existed in the church at Geneva, Calvin concluded that the only remedy to the problem would be to preach God's Word and let God straighten the people out through it. Calvin labored at teaching the flock that God had entrusted to him what God had communicated to them through His written Word. He preached ten sermons every two weeks at the same time writing several commentaries which he has blessed the church with today. His belief on the centrality of God's Word led him to preach through the Scriptures verse by verse. Such a commitment is shown in his return to Geneva after his banishment to start preaching from the exact verse he left off at his last sermon three years prior. He is known as the "prince of expositors." Every minister would do well in making the Word of God the foundation of his ministry. Every born again believer would do well in making the Word of God the foundation of their life and work; whatever God has called them to do.
2) The Importance of Embracing, Proclaiming, and Sharing the Glory of God
Calvin had one thing which drove his actions. This was his zeal for the glory of God to be made manifest and shared. The impetus for the strong commitment of teaching God's Word just discussed came from Calvin's perspective that to honor the Word of God would be to honor the God of the Word. He felt that the best way to display God's glory to the people was to preach God's Word which revealed His glorious work of redemption throughout history. He even stated at the end of his life that "I have written nothing out of hatred to any one, but I have always faithfully propounded what I esteemed to be for the glory of God."1 Such a commitment to living for the glory of God should be one which envelopes our lives as well. Paul tells us that Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Nothing should be a higher priority for the Christian than seeking to bring glory to God in everything that he or she does.
3) The Importance of Scholarship
Calvin was a pastor-theologian; something many claim today can't exist. In one moment he could write a treatise explaining what Scripture actually says about "free will" and then in another minister to one who was grieving the loss of a loved one. In fact, Calvin at first could not see how the two went together. He desired to be a scholar and write books concerning the faith. His whole purpose in writing The Institutes of the Christian Religion, his "magnum opus" respectfully, was to teach the pastors who were suffering persecution in France the faith that they were dying for. However, God continued to direct the Reformer to the pastorate where he used his scholarship in his teaching. He was not only a pastor shepherding his flock but a scholar seeking to teach God's Word as thoroughly and clearly as possible. It is interesting that for many decades historical scholars were perplexed with what translation of the Bible Calvin used in his teaching. It was not until recently they realized the reason for their mystery. Calvin did not use a translation but translated the original Hebrew and Greek on the spot from the pulpit without ever mentioning a Hebrew or Greek word! Such scholarship is usually laughed at today with ministers who desire to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) and pine over what God originally spoke in the original languages with them being accused of wasting their time on frivolous matters. I actually think the church would benefit more from scholarly pastors such as Calvin as well as Jonathon Edwards and John Piper which have followed him.
4)The Importance of Dedication
Calvin's hard work in ministry is enough to make the busiest pastor today in 21st century America appear lazy. Not only did he keep up with his extensive preaching schedule and strive relentlessly to write his commentaries, he also visited people in their homes and managed his administrative responsibilities at his church. He also had a wife and kids to minister to, some kids which I believe he took in. He never would have had time to waste hours in front of a TV or playing video games (not saying that these are wrong but we do need to be careful how we spend our time-Ephesians 5:15-16). These would have slowed him down from the work of ministry. Upon his latter years in poor health, people begged him to take a break. He was even preaching in his bedroom when bedfast. The Reformer's answer was "What? Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?"2 Unfortunately, and not admirable, he occupied himself so much with the work of the church that he did not take care of his health. (Something the current commentator as well as others would be wise to take heed about.) Calvin's dedication to what God called him to do reminds me that no matter how overwhelmed I feel with what God has on my plate, I can accomplish what He would have me to do if I rely on His strength in His grace.
5) How God Uses Men Despite Their Many Flaws
Calvin is another reminder of how God uses the most flawed men to do His perfect work. The Bible is full of those who had several weaknesses which would have hindered their effectiveness if it had not been for God's supernatural work both in and through them. Abraham had wavering faith, Jacob was a trickster, Moses couldn't speak and clearly had a problem with his anger, Jeremiah was too young, Gideon was unsure, David committed adultery and murder, Samson was a womanizer, and Peter denied his Lord. Yet, inspite of all of these, and possibly because of them, God chose to use such weak vessels so that He might get the glory. Calvin is no different. He had his flaws. Just the mention of the name "Michael Servetus" brings the sober reminder of Calvin's role in his execution and no discussion of the church's role with the state is complete without a reference to Calvin's Geneva and how the merging of the two entities was disastrous. This birthday is not a celebration of Calvin. He was a mere man who was nothing. Instead it's a celebration of a great God who sovereignly chose to work through such a weak vessel to bring reform to His church for His glory as He had purposed. Calvin was just an ordinary man who was used by an extraordinary God. Just as we also are. Praise God for John Calvin and the work that He accomplished with his life and ministry. May God use us, as insignificant as we are, to further His Kingdom for His glory as He sees fit.
Soli Deo Gloria!!!
1 John Dillenberger, John Calvin, Selections from His Writings (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1975) 110.
2Preface to John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009) xiv.