There is concern and reservations over the candidacy of Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential candidate, and not all of it is coming from the political left. A number of Christians have expressed their disapproval of a woman holding political office. The most articulate biblical appraisal taking this position has been written by William Einwechter. At first reading, there is little I can disagree with, but I believe he has left out some important points of consideration. My article is not designed to serve as a refutation but as an addendum. Even so, I expect to get in trouble for writing and posting it.
Let’s begin with the obvious. If Sarah Palin were a man, conservatives everywhere would be rejoicing. It’s not her conservative policies her critics object to but the fact that she’s a woman, and the Bible prohibits women from holding civil office. This is the essence of the biblical argument against her. I’m not sure an iron-clad case can be made for the prohibition of women holding civil posts of authority in all circumstances.
Nearly all the articles I’ve read on why Palin should not be in politics make reference to Deborah and why she can’t be a favorable example under certain conditions. I disagree. First, God Himself establishes Deborah as a judge. When the people “cried out to the Lord,” Judge Deborah was the answer to their prayers (Judges 4:2–3).
Second, Judges 4:4 God is making a point. Here’s how the New American Standard translation renders the verse: “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.” The KJV offers a similar translation. Here’s how it reads in the Hebrew: “Now Deborah, a woman, a prophetess, and the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.” The point of the chapter is to make it clear that a woman is judging Israel. When the Bible offers such detail, we need to pay close attention to the message.
Third, there is no condemnation of Deborah. In fact, we learn that the place where she judged is eventually named after her: “the palm tree of Deborah” (4:5). There is an entire chapter devoted to the Song of Deborah and Barak (5). Jael, another woman, is praised for doing her “civil duty”:
Most blessed of women is Jael, The wife of Heber the Kenite; most blessed is she of women in the tent. He asked for water and she gave him milk; in a magnificent bowl she brought him curds. She reached out her hand for the tent peg, and her right hand for the workmen’s hammer. Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head; and she shattered and pierced his temple. Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay; between her feet he bowed, he fell; where he bowed, there he fell dead (Judges 5:24–27).
Fourth, contrary to one blog I read, Deborah is a true judge in Israel. She certainly did not force herself into office. Her authority was legitimate and recognized by the people, so much so that she could call on Barak to muster the troops to defend Israel against Jabin king of Canaan (4:6–7). The claim that she was not “judging in the gate” does not diminish her legitimacy as a judge. No one in the book of Judges is said to judge “in the gate.” The fact that she judged while “under a palm tree” is indicative of civil authority, sustenance, and wisdom (Ps. 1). Remember that Nebuchadnezzar’s civil authority is symbolized by a tree (Dan. 4), as is civil authority generally (Judges 9).
Fifth, if God had disapproved of Deborah as a judge, it seems to me that Israel would have lost the battle with Jabin. In addition to Deborah’s faithfulness, there is the account of Jael and Sisera in the same chapter (Judges 4:15–24). God is trying to tell us something, and we need to listen to His voice.
There is no doubt that the judgeship of Deborah is out of the ordinary, but the period of the judges is not a normal period in Israel’s history. The men are weak, as Barak’s response indicates (4:8), and the people were generally unrighteous with every man doing “what was right in his own eyes” (17:6). We see what this type of society produces if the men don’t assume their proper leadership roles. The people will choose a king like all the nations (1 Sam. 8), but not before adversely affecting the family and church.
There is a warning and hope in the story of Deborah as God’s chosen judge during a time of Israel’s spiritual malaise. It’s a reminder that men need to become leaders. At the same time, we are not called on to judge the Deborahs of our time or those who support their civil work.
Why did Sarah Palin run to head the PTA? Where were the worthy men? Why did she run for mayor of Wasilla? Where were the worthy men? How did she beat an incumbent governor in the primary and go on to win the governorship? Where were the worthy men in this long election process? It seems to me that Sarah Palin got fed up and decided to do something about what was happening to her children’s school, her city, and her state. Sarah Palin’s candidacy is an indictment on the many men who have compromised their principles.