Studying the Truths of the Old Testament | 03

AUTHOR: Holy Scripture

READ:

Read or listen to Judges 4.

The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud had died. So the Lord sold them to King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera who lived in Harosheth of the Nations. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, because Jabin had nine hundred iron chariots, and he harshly oppressed them twenty years.

Deborah, a prophetess and the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to settle disputes.

She summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “Hasn’t the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, deploy the troops on Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the Naphtalites and Zebulunites? Then I will lure Sisera commander of Jabin’s army, his chariots, and his infantry at the Wadi Kishon to fight against you, and I will hand him over to you.’”

Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go. But if you will not go with me, I will not go.”

“I will gladly go with you,” she said, “but you will receive no honor on the road you are about to take, because the Lord will sell Sisera to a woman.” So Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.

Now Heber the Kenite had moved away from the Kenites, the sons of Hobab, Moses’s father-in-law, and pitched his tent beside the oak tree of Zaanannim, which was near Kedesh.

It was reported to Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up Mount Tabor. Sisera summoned all his nine hundred iron chariots and all the troops who were with him from Harosheth of the Nations to the Wadi Kishon. Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has handed Sisera over to you. Hasn’t the Lord gone before you?” So Barak came down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him.

The Lord threw Sisera, all his charioteers, and all his army into a panic before Barak’s assault. Sisera left his chariot and fled on foot. Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth of the Nations, and the whole army of Sisera fell by the sword; not a single man was left.

Meanwhile, Sisera had fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite. Jael went out to greet Sisera and said to him, “Come in, my lord. Come in with me. Don’t be afraid.” So he went into her tent, and she covered him with a blanket. He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink for I am thirsty.” She opened a container of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him again. Then he said to her, “Stand at the entrance to the tent. If a man comes and asks you, ‘Is there a man here?’ say, ‘No.’” While he was sleeping from exhaustion, Heber’s wife, Jael, took a tent peg, grabbed a hammer, and went silently to Sisera. She hammered the peg into his temple and drove it into the ground, and he died.

When Barak arrived in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to greet him and said to him, “Come and I will show you the man you are looking for.” So he went in with her, and there was Sisera lying dead with a tent peg through his temple!

That day God subdued King Jabin of Canaan before the Israelites. The power of the Israelites continued to increase against King Jabin of Canaan until they destroyed him.

How would you describe the character of Deborah? How can our understanding of this passage aid men and women in their honoring of one another in the church?

 

The written Scripture is CSB, however, the audio Scripture is ESV.

FOCUS:

Read or listen to the blog. What is one thing you learned about the character of God?

What About How the Church Has Treated Women?

By Rachel Nesse

 

In evangelicalism, one of the most easily overlooked persons in the history of Jesus’ life is his mother, Mary. We often minimize her because we don’t want to sacramentalize her, but in the process, we create a significant loss for the church: we miss something about God.

Mary as Jesus’ mother helps us answer the question: why do we call the first person of the Trinity “Father”? Do we call God “Father” because God is male?

If God is a Man, Are Men Better Than Women?

Here is the logic: If God is male, then being male is better than being female, and therefore, males can represent God better than females. This is, of course, flawed logic, and I bet most of us have either consciously or subconsciously bought into this thinking at some level and wondered if men are more like God than women are.

John 4:24 tells us that God is spirit; that is to say, he is not embodied. While we understand bodies are sexed male or female, God the Father, as a spirit, does not have a body. So, why is it that we call God by a name that implies he has a male body?

If Mary is Jesus’ mother, then the other partner in Christ’s conception is “Father.” Jesus calls God “Father” because Jesus has a mother. 1 Therefore, as united in identity with Christ, Christians also call God “our Father,” as Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9. When we name God “Father” and imagine someone with a male body like Michaelangelo painted in the Sistine Chapel, we wrongly assign maleness to God as Father.

But what about Jesus, who is male? Does a male Savior show us that being male is superior to being female? The virgin conception and Christ’s incarnation, which is Jesus being born into the world as fully God and fully human, has an answer for that question. It involves Jesus’ mother, Mary. As a virgin, Mary’s solo contribution of the physical flesh of Christ’s body allows us to understand that, yes, Jesus is male, but he is a male whose flesh was formed by completely female-provided flesh. As scholar Amy Peeler describes in her book Women and the Gender of God, Jesus is male “like no other” because his male body originated only from the female body of Mary. Peeler explains that the means of the incarnation shows “unparalleled inclusivity” for male and female. She writes of Mary that “the Savior’s coming from her alone – more so than any other aspect of the Christian story – confirms that the God of this story values and works with and through women…”

So, what does the gender of the Father and Jesus have to do with how the church has treated women? If we misunderstand God, we may misunderstand and therefore mistreat those who bear God’s image—in particular, women.

By and large, the church has a history of mistreating, silencing, discrediting, and dehumanizing women, and that history goes back for 2,000 years. According to theologian and ethicist William Witt, only in the last 100 years has the church and society begun to recognize that women are not inferior to men in their personhood.

 

Millennia of Misogyny

One of the most influential thinkers in history, the Greek philosopher Aristotle, taught that a woman was a deformed man, weak, incapable of higher reasoning, passive, and inferior—she was the lacking lower life form to man’s perfection. Unfortunately, many early church fathers co-opted these ideas. 2

Augustine, who wrote The Confessions and helped shape much of what we believe about God and theology today, believed only men fully bear the image of God. He taught that women were weak, of small intelligence, and more fleshly than men who have superior reason.

Thomas Aquinas believed women to be “defective and misbegotten.” 3 Martin Luther wrote that “by divine and human right, Adam is the master of the woman… There was a greater wisdom in Adam than in the woman.”4 Only within the last few decades has the teaching that women are more easily deceived by the devil started to disappear from popular conservative theology books (via a misreading of 1 Timothy 2:12-14).

With few exceptions, for much of history, the church has swallowed a misguided philosophy that women are not made in the image of God in the same way that men are. Its impacts are far-reaching.

I’m sure you join me in mourning that the #ChurchToo movement had to happen and devastated the lives of thousands of women who endured abuse from male church leaders. We also mourn for those who were shamed for voicing their stories and pursuing justice, and we mourn the news that a major American evangelical denomination protected predatory pastors for decades.5 We mourn that the church has often believed that teaching and leadership were not spiritual gifts given to women. We mourn that, as a church and culture, we still struggle to believe and listen to women. We also mourn that men have often shouldered the impossible task that they must be a perfect male leader like God. We mourn that for so long, the church has absorbed the curse of male domination from the fall and called it good.

God mourns with us.

 

Living in Hope

Yet, while the church has failed wildly, we can see things are starting to change. We hope that, until Jesus returns, we will continue to have the conversation about how to better support and value women in the church.

Join the conversation. Here are a few ways to respond:

Learn and tell women’s stories.
Read a book such as Women in the Mission of the Church by Leanne Dzubinski and Anneke Stasson and tell your kids or your small group about stories of women who spoke of Jesus, who sacrificed earthly security for Jesus, and who suffered for Jesus, often at the hand of his church.
Go to the Nelson Atkins Art Museum here in the heart of Kansas City and visit the early Christian art room. Look at the limestone engraved victor’s wreath that holds an image of Thecla. Thecla was a first-century female follower of Christ and a disciple of Paul who survived two attempts to kill her because she chose lifelong virginity (which represented full-time vocational dedication to Christ for women in the early church). Her story, although mythologized, has stood as an example for women throughout church history.

Embrace partnership and examine the system.
Pay women equal to men for the same work. When you see a woman serving well, honor and thank her. When you see a disproportionate amount of men in a given ministry area, ask “Why?” Ask, “How could we more fully embrace a complementary alliance between God’s image-bearers in this space?” Examine the system of interpretation for prominent texts that have been used to limit female participation in the body of Christ. Read through the Christ Community position paper on women and men in church leadership and give yourself time to think through the implications. Enter the conversation by reading books such as The Making of Biblical Womanhood, by Beth Allison Barr. Pray that God would open your eyes to even small areas of sexism in your own life.

Read ancient and modern female theologians.
You don’t always have to agree with them, but Google Dorothy Sayers, Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila, Tish Harrison Warren, Beth Felker Jones, Jen Wilkin, Amy Peeler, Rebecca McLaughlin, Carmen Joy Imes, Sandra Glahn, Cynthia Westfall, Lynn Cohick, or Christa McKirland, among many others.

Finally, pray for women.
Pray that your wives and daughters will be lovingly received and their voices heard in their churches and communities. Pray that your sisters and mothers and friends would not stumble on the falsehood that they were created “less-than” because of their gender. Pray that they would see God the Father as the compassionate, loving, and kind God that he is.

We know the world is deeply broken in many ways. As we strive to understand and honor the image of God, we draw closer to the heart of God. May our stories, conversations, and prayers be a chorus of hope and change as we envision a future where women are not only heard but celebrated as integral and fully equal bearers of God’s image.

 

1. The entire argument from the first half of this blog belongs to Amy Peeler, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. Any misrepresentations are mine. I strongly encourage readers to consider her work: Women and the Gender of God. For a more accessible summary, see her interview on the Holy Post Podcast.  Also her interview on Theology in the Raw.

2.  For more quotations from many more church fathers see Sandra Glahn’s book, Nobody’s Mother (Downers Grove, IL: InverVarsity Press), 19-21. The following quotations are from her book.

3. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 2nd ed. (1920), First Part, Question 92, Reply to Objection 1

4. Martin Luther, “Lectures on 1 Timothy,” in Luther’s Works, ed. Hilton C. Oswalt (St. Louis: Concordia, 1973), 28:278-79. 

5. Southern Baptist leaders release a previously secret list of accused sexual abusers

PRAY:

Wise and all-knowing God, thank you for the numerous examples of amazing women throughout Scripture. Thank you for the ways you glorified yourself through them and the ways you continue to glorify yourself through women today. 

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Week 3 of 7 Study

2 Comments

  1. Dan Irish

    Pastor Brooks’ video yesterday explains the hurt you both experienced earlier in ministry together. As you heal and share your story, we benefit from your knowledge of women’s roles in the church, and especially your personal experience. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Chip Shockey

    I also viewed the video and regret your painful experience. While I cannot know all the circumstances surrounding this incident, it does not strike me as something that would happen at Christ Community Church where women lead in this way in many settings. I would venture to guess that we have all had unfortunate experiences that we need to forgive the broken people, in the broken church in our broken world for as I do as well. That is part of what I got out of the, “What about the church” sermon in this series.

    I am rather confused by the content of your post. Moving from the title of, “Studying the Truths of the Old Testament” and a passage I am quite familiar with and launching into a lengthy, inflamed commentary on sexism in the church was not connected in any way that I could see with teaching me how to better interpret OT Truth.

    Secondly, I do not see much of this as consistent with the Complementarian theology and practice of Christ Community and our denomination as a whole as I understand it.

    Thirdly, the “mysogynist” (a strong and explosive word indeed) proof texts you provide from some church fathers are devoid of their broader theological and cultural context. This strikes me as a similar error to saying that Paul and the Bible teach that slavery is good because Paul did not condemn Philemon for his enslavement of Onesimus. Likewise, as with Onesimus, Paul’s comments about women were certainly colored by the cultural context of his day and yet they have also been interpreted to validly inform roles of leadership in the church and the home today. And in fact, it is apparent to me that Western Civilization informed by Christian Biblical principles and activism has been the root of immense strides in championing the rights and dignity of women, children and other disenfranchised groups including the abolishment of slavery. Compare the status of these issues in the non-Christian world and you must conclude that the Christian Church has done some of this much better, if imperfectly. I certainly don’t see where the church has failed “wildly” in all this.

    Finally, of all my friends in the church and sister siblings, I have not heard this complaint of being treated as a person “of lesser worth” than men. I believe most scripture and the godly communities it describes raises women up in ways that were done nowhere else in their cultures in their day. And that New Testament teaching in particular holds women up in high regard and puts men under high standards for treating them with the utmost sacrificial respect. This comes to mind, “ ”Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,“ (Ephesians‬ ‭5‬:‭25‬ ‭ESV‬‬). Try to live up to that mandate.

    After all, Jesus is the central focus of all this, not you and me, right?

    These conversations always lead me to wonder whether the church is changing the culture or the culture is changing the church.

    Reply

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