“And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, ‘Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.’ So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug… But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died.”
– Judges 4:18-21
Judges 4 is arguably the most feminist chapter of the Bible. The whole thing starts off with these words in verse 4 – “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at the time.” Okay. So we’ve got a woman who is a prophetess, wife, and judge. We’ve got one of the world’s first boss ladies here. She summons people. She calls Barak to her to say, “God has commanded you to do something, right? Go get your men together and I’ll get the enemy, Sisera, right where we want him.”
To which Barak responds, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” (Judges 4:8) This Deborah must have been a pretty good leader! She was obviously someone well respected and a great prophetess who was seen as someone especially close to God. Why else would this leader of an army want her close? (This is probably biblical proof that men named Bara(c)k know what’s up.)
Deborah responds to Barak. “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” (Judges 4:9) Deborah says, basically, “Of course I’ll go with you! But just so you know, you’re not going to get glory for this, because God is going to have a woman kill Sisera.” Feminist Jesus, right?! I imagine many of the Israelites at the time would have said that killing Sisera (or killing anyone) was a man’s job. In the battles previous described in the Old Testament, and there are many, the men go out to battle and the men are killed in battle while the women stay home and are won as trophies in battle.
But here God is. Moving the culture forward. Putting a woman in the place of leadership and having that woman point to another woman to say, “She’s got this one.”
Recently some people have criticized the movie The Greatest Showman and it’s celebration of the man PT Barnum. I’ve read things like, “Well, he wasn’t really that great for human rights because he still kept ‘freaks’ as oddities and things to be gawked at.” But, here’s the thing, in life and in culture and in this forward motion that so many of us are after, it’s nearly impossible to take more than one step forward. You start where you are and you do what you can, right? First, the emancipation of the slaves, then the Civil Rights movement. You can’t just skip the emancipation of slaves and jump right to the Civil Rights movement. Society and humans, unfortunately, do not work that way.
PT Barnum couldn’t jump for freaks and oddities being hidden away in attics and institutions to body positive self love human rights. But what he would do was treat freaks and oddities as real human beings and “market” them as such. He was doing the best he could what what he had and where he was.
Okay so God is the same way. I mean, God can do anything and He can totally skip all of the steps if He wants, but then we would be confused and we wouldn’t get it and we would miss out on the arc of the story and the process of sanctification and we would miss out on moments like this woman hammering a tent peg into a guy’s head.
So what God does is He moves one step at a time, moving all of culture and society forward toward heaven, toward what He intended the world to be. When we look at the Bible and we read the stories we have to bear that in mind. God didn’t jump from the fall of all mankind to a woman president. He didn’t jump from polygamous marriages and women as property to female CEOs. But He does move people forward. He moves us forward.
To more. To a woman judge. To a prophetess. To a female war hero. To a woman identified as more than just a wife and mother. To a woman used for her body being seen and known and loved. To a prostitute who saves the day. To an unwed teenage mother. To a woman identified as more than just her sexuality.
And so we continue to do the same. We join in with what God is doing as He moves us forward. We continue to close the gaps between the fall of all mankind and a woman president. We continue to close the gaps between women as property to female CEOs. We join in with and we celebrate women and men who are doing this work of moving forward. We don’t let progress stop with the end of Revelation. Because God is still at work. God is still rising up women judges and prophetesses and pastors and reverends and leaders of all kinds. God is still in the business of winning wars through the hands of a woman. He continues to call women out and up, to close the gap between what is and what should be.
If we don’t look at the Bible carefully, as a whole document with an arc and a forward motion and an end goal in mind, we miss out on the feminism and the healing and the sanctification and the fearless power. We miss out on US. The real us. The true us. The us we were created to be! The us that celebrates and empowers people of all genders, races, and nations. The us that fights and marches and speaks and writes and paints for human rights. For the rights of humans. Everywhere.
God is in the business of moving culture and society forward. Are you?