Summary: Too many times, even modern believers allow the male-dominated nature of our traditions to overshadow the fact that God calls female leaders, too.
The Bible is certainly a male-dominated book that reflects a male-dominated culture. Even if we separate the history in the Bible from World History, we see that human history is full of tales of testosterone-driven leaders using the force of military might, personal strength, and personal charisma to cause change. It is rare to see the female Pharaoh, Hatshepset, the brilliant Austrian monarch, Maria Theresa, the strong English queens (two Elizabeths and one Victoria), Jeanne d’Arc’s (at least titular) command of the French army which lifted the Siege of Orleans during the so-called Hundred Years War, Indira Gandhi’s leadership bringing the new nation of India into the modern era, or Margaret Thatcher’s firm leadership during Britain’s latter portion of the 20th century. Yet, we know that the involvement of women in history has been critical AND, surprisingly enough, we know that the involvement of women in the male-dominated narratives of the Bible was absolutely vital.
Remember that it was Samson’s mother who first encountered God’s messenger and Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who dedicated her son to God. It was Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Jacob, who ensured the eventual dominance of the royal lineage of Judah and Ruth, the Moabitess, who also acted with the kind of faithfulness that ensured this royal lineage. Remember that it was to Mary that the angel spoke of Jesus’ birth and that it was to Mary Magdalene that Jesus first spoke upon His resurrection. Remember that it was Moses’ mother who had the courage to hide the baby Moses and a woman of ill-repute, one Rahab, who helped Israel with vital intelligence to take Jericho. Pastor Cho of Full Gospel Central, ultimately our mother church, has noted that New Testament texts where the wife is listed ahead of the husband (such as when Paul greets Prisca and Aquila) would be unheard of in Asian culture UNLESS the woman was in a leadership position within the house church where they served. Only in that case in Asian culture would the woman be mentioned first. It isn’t like western culture where we believe in “women and children first” (at least, in our conversation—if not our actions).
And so we come to a crisis in the life of early Israel. Judges 4:1-3 sets it out for us. (Read these verses) Israel did evil AGAIN—right in front of God. I say it that way because it is so often that we forget that God is aware of everything we do. Sometimes, as humans, we forget and think we’re doing stuff in secret. So, it’s good to remind ourselves that we’re always in God’s presence.
For a time, I was addicted to a BBC television series called Kingdom. It was a show about an English solicitor named Peter Kingdom and starred Stephen Fry, the actor who played Jeeves in the series Jeeves & Wooster with another favorite actor, Hugh Laurie who now chews scenery on the doctor show, House, M.D. A particular episode dealt with CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) used for police surveillance. There were some funny bits where the attorney is spied upon in his bedroom, a serious plot point where the camera didn’t tell the whole story and someone was falsely accused, and another plot point where the surveillance saved a life. I personally don’t like surveillance cameras. I value my privacy. But as I was watching that show, I realized anew that nothing we do is hidden. And that’s what the text is telling us when it says that Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD (v. 1).
Then, almost as an afterthought, it tells us that this happened after Ehud’s death (v. 1).
What is it with the human condition that causes us to require a leader? Are we that unsure of ourselves? I honestly don’t know, but I see over and over again in the Book of Judges where a judge, a leader, dies and the people go back to the “easy way,” the “accepted” culture of their surroundings, instead of holding to their convictions in God Who rules over all. And too often, even in modern churches, we see churches that become cults of their pastors instead of armies of the Lord. Now, I know there is a certain sense of identity in recognizing, even sometimes promoting, one’s pastor in a PR, “face of the church” sense, but churches really gain power when the members feel empowered to win victories for God.
Now, as we’ve seen over and over again, God puts Israel in a fix to fix her and God’s people cry out for help. In this case, I like the wording that God SOLD Israel to Jabin. God’s people thought they were free to serve these other gods, so God showed them via King Jabin of the Canaanites (this is the second Jabin we’ve run into in the Old Testament, so we should probably call him King Jabin II) what slavery is really like. And you want to know the real irony? The Canaanites are the descendents of Noah’s grandson, Canaan, Ham’s son. Do you remember Noah’s curse upon Ham’s son? All of his descendents were to be slaves to the descendents of the other boys—including Shem, ancestor to Abram and hence, ancestor to Israel. Israel was sold into slavery to those who were intended to be slaves to Israel.