I grew up in the 70’s when the fight for women’s rights was at its peak. My college was one-third women, and my law school was about one-quarter women. I felt strongly that there should be equality for men and women in the workplace which would naturally include equal opportunities, as well as equal pay for equal jobs. I still support those values, and I am grateful that both my schools now have a more equal gender ratio. But in God’s Kingdom equality does not necessarily mean that women and men are called to do the same things. Sometimes they are, but sometimes they are not. Sometimes, God calls us to service because we are uniquely made as women—or uniquely made as men. It is comforting to realize that our value to God is not determined by how we measure up to a man, but how we obediently use our gifts as a woman.
Years ago, when I first started studying the women in Scripture, I was so glad to find women who God used to do amazing things. Clearly God valued women enough to use them to advance His purposes. But soon I realized that I was looking for their value based on the wrong premise. I had been concluding that these women were inspiring if they could do what only a man in their culture had previously done. For example, I studied Deborah, who was called to be a prophet and judge to save the nation of Israel. I remember thinking—she must have been truly great if she could join the ranks of prophet and judge. But as I looked further, I realized that many of the great women (including Deborah), did great and valuable things for God because, not in spite of the fact that they were uniquely women.
The story of Deborah is recorded in the Old Testament Book of Judges. Because of Israel’s wanton disobedience against God, He had allowed the surrounding nation of Canaan to oppress them. Finally, the people of Israel cried out to God for help. Deborah, speaking for the Lord, summoned a man named Barak to go to battle. Despite God’s assurance that the battle would be won, Barak would not go without Deborah. He actually declared, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” Judges 4:8. Deborah agreed to go. Ultimately the enemy was defeated in an exciting yet bizarre story. But why Deborah? Perhaps the key is in her song of celebration:
“The villagers ceased in Israel; they ceased to be until I arose; I Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7).
Yes, Deborah was a prophet (one called to speak God’s Word). Yes, Deborah was a judge of Israel who settled disputes among the people. But neither of those roles were what motivated her to action—to be the one person brave enough to speak the truth and rally the nation. A mother in Israel. Deborah identified herself first and foremost as a caring, loving, compassionate mother of her wayward children, the nation of Israel. I can’t help but believe her heart for the lost, her heart as a mother and woman, is what God recognized, valued and used.
I recently read Eric Metaxas’ book, 7 Women. He chose seven women (after writing a book about seven men) whose stories were compelling and inspiring. What struck me in his introduction was how he selected the women. He chose women that “were great for reasons that derive precisely from their being women, not in spite of it; and what made them great has nothing to do with their being measured against or competing with men. In other words, their accomplishments are not gender neutral but are rooted in their singularity as women.” To clarify his point, he referenced the first woman he chose, Joan of Arc. While she is often thought of as great because she did what a man could do—become a warrior, that was not what made her great: “On the contrary, it was her youth, innocence purity and holiness that made it possible for her to do what she did…It was precisely her vulnerability and womanly virtue that stunned and inspired the rough soldiers in a way that no man ever could.” He went on to say that “there could never be a male Joan of Arc. The very idea is a laughable oxymoron.” (Metaxas, Eric, 7 Women, 2016, page xix).
When I look at the incredible women in Scripture I can conclude the same thing about many of them. There could not be a male Deborah, a male Esther, a male Rahab. It has made me wonder—what might God call me to do because I am uniquely a woman?