Wisdom of Deborah and Folly of the Cross

So yesterday I had my little grump moment about Deborah as an example of God using a woman in the leadership of God’s people. The reading I gave there was a historical reading of sorts: attempting to read the story within its original contexts of an irony-laden book written within a partriarchal culture.

But as I interacted with the posts yesterday I also started pondering the implications of Christian hermeneutics for this story. What difference would it make if we read the Deborah story in step with the New Testament’s hermeneutics of christological revisionism?

Judges depicts not only the folly of people who have gone their own ways, but also the God who works to deliver a people who have turned aside to foolishness and idolatry–through foolish and idolatrous people, often enough.

If we place the book of Judges on a grid of wisdom and folly, assessing its various characters by such a standard, we see a great deal of folly: deadly follies of rashness and rage, weak follies of cowardice and passion.

But we also see God at work in just these sorts of foolish people.

From the perspective of those who have been saved by the cross of Christ, we can reassess what the author of Judges scorned. While not celebrating the human folly that leads to death, we do celebrate the God who chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

The very grace of God that is at work to save through the murderous rage of God’s own people in cahoots with the nations is the grace at work to save through the Deborahs and Jaels and Baraks and Sampsons and Gideons. A people saved by the cross of Christ celebrate none other than the God who saves through what humanity can only call foolishness, weakness, and death.

The judgment of the writer of Judges is not the last word to be passed on Israel’s history. Another word of revelation from God gives us more to say.

And in this cruciform context we have something to say about Deborah that the writer of Judges did not have to say: what you intended as judgment, God intended for blessing; what you intended as folly, God puts forth as divine power. The grace of God by which a woman is chosen and empowered to lead, putting the wise and powerful to shame, is less to shame the men into taking the roles they should, but to humble us at the saving grace of God who chooses those whom we would not, who chooses the means that we would not, who transforms our folly into the very wisdom of God.

So, in the end, can Deborah help the cause of women’s full participation in the leadership of the church? Yes, I think so, but we should use her with an awareness that such use is deeply conditioned by a prior commitment about the cross of Christ and its impact on our reading of scripture and its importance for interpreting everything that pertain to the life of the church.

In confessing the wisdom of God in the crucified Christ we turn all the world’s value systems on their heads–even those that wrote the part of a woman as though it were folly, rather than recognizing in it the very wisdom of God.

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