The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.
At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”
This is the Old Testament selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for Year A, Proper 28, the twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost. It will next be read aloud in church on Sunday, November 19, 2017. It is important because it tells of God’s response to cries to help, through those who never lost their connection to God.
To make this shorter, I refer readers here to an analysis that I published on this “blog” in November 2014, about this same reading. I entitled that article “The Truth of the Prophetess Deborah.” If one browses the selected reading above, one will find that there are no less than nineteen names of people and places plus words identifying things, all which have hidden meaning that needs to be understood for this “simple” story to unfold fully. I explained this reading based on understanding those name-word meanings in that article; so I will not repeat that interpretation.
I will state in brief review that my thoughts of three years ago focused on Deborah being a High Priestess, more than on her being a “wife.” While that is certainly an identification based on the Hebrew text, there is question as to the meaning of Lappidoth. Is it naming a husband or a personification of self-identity? If the latter, then “ishshah” may take on a secondary meaning as the primary intent, intended to state that Deborah was nobody’s “wife,” but a female of Lappidoth. For this interpretation, however, I will focus more on the traditional translation of Deborah being a “wife,” while looking at a couple of “side items.”
One is a view that I touched on a short while back, when I mentioned the Prophetess Deborah was an ancient example of God working through females. Simply by her called a “prophetess” all priestly claims for male superiority (Roman Catholics primo uno) are false. My point was that female servants of God, when filled with the Holy Spirit and reborn as Christ Jesus, are not “mothers.” Likewise, males are not “fathers,” in the sense that the word implies progeneration.
All who speak the word of the LORD do not speak as the personal bringer of life to people. The words they speak come from the one they become identified with, through the title of “Father.” A female priest is not meant to nurse all of a congregation’s boo boos away, or give group hugs and lead pep rallies. A female priest calls upon the name of Jesus Christ, the same as does a male priest. Therefore, a female priest is the Father, in the same way as a male priest is. This is a simple matter of Spirituality, where the sex of the human cannot change the masculinity of God.
The example of Deborah says, foremost, that she was a “wife,” based on “ishshah” used as an identifier. The Hebrew text says, “’iš·šāh nə·ḇî·’āh” (rooted in “ishshah nebiah”), followed by some indication of separation (written or implied), then “’ê·šeṯ lap·pî·ḏō·wṯ” (rooted in “ishshah Lappidoth”). The word “ishshah” means “wife,” so the actual text says Deborah was “a wife prophetess.” Following that identification, we are told she was “the wife of Lappidoth.” This repeating of “wife” says that Deborah was married to a man who supported her. Together they were husband and wife.
The word “husband” comes from Old Norse, meaning “master of the house,” while implying “a man who has land and stock.” It also strongly implies a man who has a spouse. While these modern times are almost totally focused on the sexuality of a couple, so that “marriage” is only for two single people to have all the sex they want, without any plans for children, the true purpose for marriage is often overlooked.
Rather than marriage being between two lovers, to have and to hold till death does them part (a highly unlikely scenario in the modern world of divorce and multiple marriages), marriage means to have children. It is the marriage of one’s DNA to another’s that “can never be torn asunder.” A child remains “married” to its parents, regardless of how the parental sexual appetites wane and begin to look elsewhere.
While overlooked today, it was clearly understood in ancient times; such that a “husband” was more able to tend his land and stock with the assistance of male children. The “wife” was able to have the female children help her as “mistress of the house.”
As a “wife,” it is then stated indirectly that Deborah was a “mother.” To understand this, I recommend reading Genesis and the history of Abram and Sarai, who were married – as a man and a woman who had sexual relations together, exclusively – but Abram kept introducing Sarai (to important men) as his “sister.” This was probably stated as, “Sarai is the daughter of my father,” which was the truth of a woman who had been “given away” in marriage. However, Abram could not truthfully say, “Sarai is my wife,” because that would cause the important men to inquire, “Oh, nice! Where are the kids?”
When one grasps that Deborah was a “wife” first, which meant she was (in essence) “Mother Deborah,” her sex organs that delivered and nursed babies had absolutely nothing to do with her identification as a “prophetess.” The Hebrew word “nebiah” says, “prophetess,” as the feminine form of “nabi,” which says “prophet.” This says that Deborah was a “wife” who “prophesied.”
In Isaiah 8, the Lord spoke to the “prophet” Isaiah, and in that process we read (Isiah 8:3a): “So I approached the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son.” This “prophetess” is believed to be the “wife” of Isaiah, the “prophet.” This relationship of a husband prophet to a wife prophetess is then more than a wife taking on the female title of the male (like “father-mother”), or the text would read, “So I approached the wife, and she conceived.” It says Isaiah the prophet was married to a woman who not only shared his household and bed, but a woman of like mind, who was also able to be in touch with God.
This means the prophet Isaiah was married to his female compliment; and that example can then be applied to the relationship between Deborah and Lappidoth. It says a “prophet” or “prophetess” cannot be joined with someone who acts like Darren Stephens, while Samantha was twitching her nose – always trying to get her to stop doing what came naturally. A husband prophet becomes supportive of a wife prophetess, so each knows when the word of God is being spoken by one or both. The words “prophet” and “prophetess” become statements of equality, although one is male and one is female.
According to one web page I found, in a search of “ancient school of prophets,” Samuel initiated that formal institution. It can be presumed that this school focused on presenting Kabbalistic studies to first-born male students who had been given to the priesthood by their parents. Thus, being an “educated” prophet can be seen as a parallel in modern times (since the advent of Christianity) to monasteries, seminaries, and schools of divinity and theology. The difference between then and now is a school of prophecy was designed to educate those who would advise kings, whereas Christian schools are designed to educate the heads of churches and parishes.
The Roman Catholic Church’s program of only allowing males to be leaders of churches, where those males were called “priests,” threw dirt and mud on the concept of a female “priestess.” That title became associated with the pagan religions. like that Rome had. Forget the Greek mythology of the Oracle of Delphi, where a “priestess” spoke only the truth of Apollo (the Sun god), while in a trance of ecstatic prophecy, if the truth is spoken by a female, then it is a lie. Where a “prophet” and a “prophetess” have equal status, a “priest” and a “priestess” do not.
This is why female priests become such a difficult entity, where giving one a proper title is not as easy as tossing out the female form of the male title. That is where “Mother” comes from, even though people forget that “Mother” is the title of the head nun in a convent. Since a female “priest” is an educated head of a Christian church, the use of “prophetess” would imply almost the same as “priestess” (“oooh! Pagan!”), with neither seeming appropriate. Still, “Mother” indicates “the Mistress of the Church,” while “Father” means, “I speak for God.”
What most Christians fail to grasp is the differences between human beings – man (little-a adam, identified as “zā·ḵār” – “male”) and woman (identified as “neqebah” – female) – versus holy man (capital-A Adam, made by the breath of God and identified as “the man whom Yahweh had formed” – “hā·’ā·ḏām” – “the man”) and holy woman (identified as “hā·’ā·ḏām lə·’iš·šāh” – “the wife of the man”). Because the human beings that Christians call “Adam and Eve” were created on the Sabbath day – the Holy Day – they are the first “prophet” and “prophetess” (because they spoke with God) AND they are the first “priest” and “priestess” (because they taught sacred rites). They are a complimentary pair, with both sent to the earth as the seeds of religion, teaching animal man and animal woman the differences between good and evil.
When we read of Adam’s son making altars, and Abram making altars, and Abraham going out with Isaac to make an altar and do a sacrifice, the purpose of those Patriarchs was to be “holy priests,” and only “holy priests” build altars and make sacrifices to the LORD. A father teaches his sons, just like the Father teaches His sons (to be the Son). What is not written, but can be assumed, is “holy wives” were also “holy priestesses,” who taught their daughters, just like the Fathers teaches His daughters (to be the Son).
While the sons of fathers turned out frequently to not be as holy as the father (Cain being the first example, but the sons of Eli, Samuel, and David are others – et al), one can see that God sending holy man and holy woman to the earth (a realm of evil), there were “priests” and “priestesses” who did a Darth Vader, and turned to the dark side. The lesson in that is a title is a way of self-aggrandizement, so the ones more likely to truly be holy priests and holy priestesses are those who do not stand before others in pretentious form, so the focus is on them and not the Father.
That is why I have a problem with a female graduate of a Christian seminary being referred to as “Mother.” If a “priest” is a male leader of a congregation, then “priestess” should be the natural feminine gender compliment title. However, since “priestess” seems muddied by its association to pagan religions, then it might be worthwhile to look at the Jewish title of “rabbi,” which is the same for both sexes. That translates as “Teacher.” Both are called the same, with neither insinuating harder or softer.
The “prophetess” that was Deborah means she, like a male “prophet,” spoke to God and then passed that wisdom on to those in need. She taught what the LORD told her. Ehud did as well, I presume. That is what holy men and holy women do. It is called being filled with the Holy Spirit, where one prophesies via speaking in tongues – the Word of the LORD.
Seminaries and schools of prophecy cannot teach that; so they have no title for those who do that. Graduates are sent to seek employment by religious institutions, which then ordains priests (male and female) and assigns them to buildings with congregations. The problem with “Teacher” (for ordained Christians) is then the onus put on that title by ordained priests who really do not like a ministry shepherding congregations. Some quit doing that mundane work and return to a school, in order to teach flocks of seminarians. Fortunately, those add Professor to their title, rather than “Teacher.”
Another thing I wish to point out from this reading selection is the first verse, which states, “The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died.” Ehud was a judge from the Tribe of Benjamin, which was the area of land settled between Jericho, Jerusalem, and Gabaon (Gibeon).
Deborah was also a judge, like Ehud had been. This is a statement of equality, which has nothing to do with the sex of a judge and everything to do with one’s connection to the LORD. This means a “judge” is not some official title of government, as much as it identifies someone filled with the Holy Spirit, as one who is constantly in touch with God. This ultimately makes God the true Judge. Therefore, Ehud and Deborah were vehicles of God’s judgment.
That judgment was essential because the Israelite people had turned away from their LORD and “did what was evil in [His] sight.” This would be a repeating theme of the Book of Judges. As it was then, so it is now, and forever.
Human beings who claim devotion to the LORD but then run and play like their heathen neighbors are no longer “children of the LORD.” They are no longer His chosen people. To be common is to be like 99.9% (plus) of humanity is, which is unholy (“evil”) and given over to following whomever or whatever human individuals can choose to follow. In this case it was some high ruler in Canaan, but that “King” can be reflective of any President, Pope, or movie star – anyone who puts people on their knees worshipping someone other than the One God, YaHWeH.
Finally, I will address the location of Deborah, which is said to be, “between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim.” Ephraim was the area of Israel that bordered Benjamin, to the north.
Ephraim was the tribe of Joshua; and Joshua was also one who judged Israel for God. Other than what I have written previously about the implications coming from the name meanings that add value in this story, this verse can be a clue as to Deborah’s heritage. If it is an indication that Deborah (and/or Lappidoth) were descended from a line of holy men and women from the house of Joshua, this would help explain how she became a prophetess. This would mean Deborah was raised with priestly values taught to her, to which she adhered fervently and that devotion led to her abilities as a “prophetess.”
In this scenario, Deborah’s “husband” would be God. Her marriage to the LORD was then what filled her with the Holy Spirit and allowed her to prophesy. In the grand scheme of the books of the Holy Bible, the thread from Genesis to The Revelation is holy lineage, as the Tree of Life or the Vine of Christ, which includes many names of the dead branches that were gathered up and thrown into the fire.
The lesson of that lineage is the work involved in being filled with God’s Holy Spirit. Just as Deborah probably never knew Joshua (Ehud judged Israel for 80 years after Joshua died), people today never knew any of the holy figures of the Scriptures. We have to study the word of God, through His prophets and prophetesses and adhere to that teaching. With hard work and prayer, God will see that devotion as worthy of allowing us to prophesy as God’s judges.
Lord knows we need that.