Was Deborah a Pastor?

Hebrews 5:1 – For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

One leadership role that Deborah did not hold was priest. The New Testament speaks of pastors as the leaders in the church. The Old Testament equivalent were the priests who oversaw the weekly gatherings of God’s people for prayer, worship, and Bible teaching in the synagogue. 

A Bible encyclopedia says, “The priests and Levites fulfilled a variety of essentially religious duties and were equivalent approximately to the clergy in modern times. They were professional men and were supported for their full-time religious work.” (1)

The Old Testament priests were males descended from Aaron (also called the Levites). This leadership role was not open to women. 

·      Exodus 28:1 – Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 

·      Numbers 3:10-12 – “…And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.” And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine…”

·      Hebrews 5:1 – For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

Throughout Judges, where Deborah is reported to be a judge and prophet, the priests are mentioned repeatedly. Every single mention of a priest is a “man” and “father” (Judges 17:5, 10, 12, 13; 18:4, 9). 

Deborah serves as an amazing example of godly, fruitful, Spirit-led leadership. She did not, however, serve at the highest level of spiritual leadership in the Old Covenant Church. This reserving of senior spiritual leadership for men is consistent throughout Scripture. 

This is a functional distinction (a role based on responsibilities), not an ontological distinction (a rank based on inherent value or worth). Speaking ontologically, the Bible teaches equality. Everyone, everywhere, no matter who they are or how society sees them, are equal in God’s sight. Speaking functionally, the Bible also teaches that some people are in positions of leadership over others, which we will look at over the next few days.

Read Judges 17:5, 10, 12, 13; 18:4, 9 to learn more about Old Testament priests. 

(1)   Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Priests and Levites,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1754.

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