Does the story in Judges 4-5 of the Bible about Deborah, Barak & Jael give us some insight as to how God had very specific views when it comes to women's role in the military ( i.e., military conflict/war/warfare/espionage/intelligence etc.)?

To elaborate, the book of Judges in the Bible seem to suggest that Judges in Israel were some how divinely appointed by God to lead and judge Israel for a certain specific period of time. Therefore, Deborah was a woman divinely appointed by God to lead and judge Israel for a certain specified time period. However, since Deborah reveals to Barak that he needed to muster an army of men in Judges 4:6 in order to conduct a military war/conflict against the enemy, it seems to suggest/hint that God only viewed men as having a role within intensive Close Quarters Battle (CQB)/Hand-to-hand combat/Close-quarters combat (CQC), etc., in military war/conflict.

However, Jael's role in killing Sisera in a stealthy/secretive manner in Judges 4:21 seems to suggest/hint that God did seem to be alright with women being involved in spy/espionage/intelligence-related military conflict?

Therefore, I suppose my question in a nutshell is:

Since Deborah being a female judge/leader in Israel went on to appoint a Barak, a male, to be a "general" for a military army that would involve intensive Close Quarters Battle (CQB) military combat seem to suggest that God did Not view women as being suitable for said intensive military roles, however, Jael's killing of Sisera seems to suggest that God was alright with women having a less intensive or dangerous role in military conflict(i.e., involving espionage, stealthy killing, etc.)?

(Judges 4:4-10)

4 Now Deborah, a [a]prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to [b]sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. 6 Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, “[c]Behold, the Lord, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun. 7 I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his [d]many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.’” 8 Then Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up [e]with him; Deborah also went up with him.

(Judges 4:17-22)

17 Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.” And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a [i]rug. 19 He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a [j]bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him. 20 He said to her, “Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.’” 21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and [k]seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” And he entered [l]with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple.

2 Answers 2


Ancient Jewish and Israelite culture was both agrarian and patriarchal. Roman customs were less agrarian but extremely patriarchal to the point of misogynistic. Let us observe the following:

  • The ancient Israelite patriarchal society did not prevent women from inheriting property. Num 27:1-11, 36:1-12, Josh 17:3-6.
  • Women could be significant leaders, eg., Deborah. Judges 4.
  • Women could be prophets of God; eg, Miriam (Micah 6:4, Ex 15:20, 21), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20), Isaiah’s wife (Isa 8:3), Anna (Luke 2:36), The four daughters of Phillip (Acts 21:8, 9), etc.
  • Women could buy and sell property. Prov 31:16.
  • Women could earn independent income and use it at their discretion. Prov 31:11, 16, 18, 20, Acts 16:12-15, 40.
  • Men were required to treat women and wives with great respect – see “Marriage”; in fact, they were to treat wives as Jesus would love them – enough to give His life for them. Eph 5:25.
  • A man could not divorce his wife on whim and marry another without being guilty of adultery. Matt 19:9 (very different from Roman law), Gen 2:24.

In the NT we have:

  • A man could not deprive his wife of marital privileges. 1 Cor 7:2-4. (The same was equally required of women.) See also, “Marriage”.
  • Paul had female co-workers in Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2, 3) as well as Junia the apostle (Rom 16:7). Nympha appears to be the leader of the church that met in her house at Laodicea (Col 4:15). John also addressed an epistle to a female church leader (2 John 1).
  • The New Testament church was specifically instructed to care for elderly women who could not support themselves. 1 Tim 5:9-13. [This may have been because the Roman society and economy made working as an independent woman quite difficult.]
  • Women were allowed to teach men. The female leader, Priscilla taught the Apostle Apollos “more adequately”, Acts 18:26. It is significant that Priscilla is listed before her husband, Aquila, in this passage. King Lemuel was taught by his mother, Prov 31:1-9.
  • Women were permitted to pray and prophesy in public meetings, 1 Cor 11:5.
  • Gal 3:28 declares that all gender distinctions are out of place for the Christian congregation

In ancient Israel, the army was entirely staffed by men - this remained true until very recently around the world (with some very minor exceptions). This did not prevent women from performing useful duties in all kinds of areas, even killing enemies in some occasions such as in Judges 4, 5, etc, as the OP notes.


As a general rule, only men went to war.

Numbers 1: (ESV)

2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. 3 From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war

Deuteronomy 3:

19 Only your wives, your little ones, and your livestock (I know that you have much livestock) shall remain in the cities that I have given you, 20 until the Lord gives rest to your brothers, as to you, and they also occupy the land that the Lord your God gives them beyond the Jordan.

1 Samuel 8:

11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots.

Jael was a special case. Twice, her name was attached as Heber’s wife. She was not trained or instructed by the military to spy or kill. She happened to volunteer herself to kill Sisera and she was praised for doing so.

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