Judges 4

An Excellent Woman

I find it amazing how people, myself included, tend to interpret scripture through paradigms we’ve been raised with or taught. Yet wouldn’t it make the most sense to read scripture from the paradigm of the author and intended audience – the audience of the time to whom it was written?

My wife teaches writing. One of the examples she gives her students is to find what is wrong with the following sentence.

“The dog ran down the road.”

While the sentence is structurally sound, it lacks much information. Why is the dog running. Is there a destination? What type of dog, what sex, what color? Is the dog in fear, running for joy, with a purpose? What kind of road is it? What is the setting? You get the idea.

In the book of Proverbs there is a chapter which talks about a woman who is praised. The leading sentence about her is most often translated as follows.

An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. – Proverbs 31:10

or

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. – Proverbs 31:10

But, if you look at the word translated as “excellent” or “virtuous” you find alternate translations that, had this been a man in the verse, would have been used. Words such as; valiant, warrior, strong, capable, and very powerful. Why weren’t they used?

Because of the paradigm of the translators. Women are not supposed to be associated with those particular descriptors, therefore the translators chose alternate meanings. It is a cultural view that women are “the weaker sex” needing protection, that they are the nurturers and not fighters or leaders.

So, in reading about Deborah in the book of Judges I mentioned to my wife that a woman was in charge of the men.

My wife replied, “That is because no man would step up and take the role. God had no choice but to use a woman.”

Whoah! Where did that come from?

She confessed that it was what she’d been taught.

So I challenged, “Where is that found in scripture?”

The answer is, it is not. Someone’s paradigm had altered how she interpreted scripture rather than reading the narrative as it was written.

This made me a bit more curious than usual, so I pulled out my trusty Palm OS powered Garmin iQue3600, and consulted the Olive Tree Eerdmans Bible Dictionary about Deborah. What I read caused a paradigm shift in my brain too. However, my need for a course alteration was not due to my preconceived notions, rather it was due to that of nearly all bible translators.

Universally Deborah is introduced with a verse nearly identical to the following.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. – Judges 4:4

I’d taken those words at face value and not looked at the Hebrew words behind the scenes. In particular what I should have looked at, and didn’t, was “wife of” and “Lappidoth”.

The word for wife is “ishshah”. However, it simply means woman. If it is used in conjunction with “belonging to”, or “of”, then it is assumed that it means wife. And on first glance, even second, it would appear that this is indeed the context of this verse. However, the word “Lappidoth” is not used anywhere in scripture as a proper name. In fact, this is the only time this particular word is used. It is derived from the Hebrew word “Lappiyd”, which means torch, firebrand, burning, or lightning. Further, Lappidoth is the feminine form of the word, not masculine! So, ishshah lappidoth could be translated, “woman of burning”.

Try this on for a verse translation and see what it does to your paradigm.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, a fiery woman, was judging Israel at that time. – Judges 4:4

Wait, where did her husband go? I don’t know. Perhaps there wasn’t one. Maybe he died. Whatever the reason, God apparently didn’t think he was crucial to the tale.

Eerdmans Dictionary pointed out that her lineage was implied by the description in the next verse, and if she were identified with a specific man, that geographic description would have been superfluous.

‘Because of the overlap between territory and kinship groups in ancient Israel, her family identity is supplied by the information in Judges 4:5 about her geographical locale – that she comes from a place “between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim” – rather than by the name of a male relative.’

Who can find an ‘excellent’ woman? God can! And he can also find a capable, valiant, strong,  fiery woman who is willing and able to execute justice and take command.

Father, please help me to look at your word through fresh eyes. I want to know the things that you have for me, not someone else’s interpretation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

My wife is a “Chayil”, “Lappidoth” woman. – Jan

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