She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.”
Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh.
I deliberately didn’t mention the verse above in yesterday’s post because it deserves its own careful attention. It’s an important verse, a verse of PROMISE! But it is also a verse which is ironically often used to argue that Barak was weak in obeying Deborah, that he abdicated his position as leader by following Deborah’s lead.
I reject that interpretation. I believe it to be inherently misogynist, and I have confidence in that regard. And in what follows, I’ll try to explain why. To do this, I invite you to consider another story of women and victory, in the same book, one I’ve already talked about, one that positions the story of Deborah within the chiasm of Judges’ narrative structure.
A chiasm is a literary device that first presents a series of narratives, characters, ideas, etc. and then repeats them in opposite order. A chiasm is like looking at an image or a story in reverse. The Psalmist David often uses chiasm, as does Jesus. Here’s an example from Matthew 6:24.
A No one can serve two masters,
B for either he will hate the one
C and love the other,
C′ or he will be devoted to the one
B′ and despise the other.
A′ You cannot serve God and wealth.
The point of chiasm is to introduce contrast or comparison, unfolding then enfolding an argument. In Jesus’s words above, He introduces His main point, he carefully picks it apart, then he closes the loop at the end.
The most common chiastic structure is the one above, although sometimes there is another idea or character which appears in the middle, emphasized because of its position and because it’s not repeated in the chiasm. This structure looks like A-B-X-B-A.
What we have in Judges is a similar chiastic structure, on a larger scale. I wrote about this in my first encounter with Judges for this blog, considering how Judges begins with the honour of women and ends with complete dishonour, to put it mildly.
The X in the chiastic center is Gideon, who represents and reveals, as my friend James puts it, a constant turning, toward God, away from God. Gideon’s life flows out of the story of Deborah, a story foretelling Christ’s victory in union with His Bride. And Gideon’s life ends with his greed for women, out of which emerges a poisonous seed.
So in interpreting the story of Deborah, we need to remember that women are crucial in what God is saying in Judges. To illustrate all this, let’s return to my original point about Judges 4 and 5, that what we witness in the story of Deborah, Barak and Jael is a flawless picture of the Gospel itself.
What I argued yesterday is that this story points us beyond these individual characters to see God’s story of redemption in full: God the Father, sending God the Son to battle the enemies of the Gospel. And who gets the glory here? The seed of the woman, pictured in Jael the woman, a beautiful portrait of Christ’s victory in complete and perfect union with His Bride.
To help explain the meaningfulness of Judges 4:9, let’s consider Deborah and Barak but mirrored in the story of Abimelech, King of the Brambles. I’ve already written about this story elsewhere so I won’t cover all of it again here. Instead, consider a few ways God holds up a mirror to the Gospel in these two stories.
- First, where Sisera the wicked king flees away on foot to the tent, with Barak the righteous in hot pursuit, Abimelech the antiChrist pursues the people of Shechem and Thebez to another place of refuge, a tower.
- Second, where Jael pierces Sisera through the head with a tent peg, a certain woman throws a millstone on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull (see Rev. 18:21).
- Finally, and most importantly, where Barak, type of Christ, sees no shame in the glory of women’s victory over the seed of Satan, Abimelech the antiChrist is filled with shame at the very thought.
Then he [Abimelech] called quickly to the young man, his armor bearer, and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that it will not be said of me, ‘A woman slew him.’! So the young man pierced him through, and he died.
To those who say that Barak’s obedience to Deborah was weakness,
to those who say that Deborah’s reply to Barak in Judges 4:9 is a rebuke,
to them I say this:
Let’s call those confused interpretations what they are, what the story of Abimelech teaches us to call them. They are misogyny, arising from Satan’s fear of God’s curse (Gen. 3:14-15), neither of which has a place in the Kingdom of God.
After all, God told us His plan from the beginning, that the glory would go to the seed of a woman, the one righteous man, Jesus Christ, who gives His glory to His Bride, the Church (John 17:20-26).
The story of Deborah, Barak and Jael gives us an eschatalogical vision of the glorious end of God’s Love Story.
Or, more accurately, a glorious new beginning.
Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Lord;
But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.
And the land was undisturbed for forty years.
Then an astonishing miracle-sign appeared in heaven. I saw a woman clothed with the brilliance of the sun, and the moon was under her feet. She was wearing on her head a victor’s crown of twelve stars.