Men and Women Together as Worship Leaders: We Do Worship Better Together

Jesus’ church is quite polarized in its understanding of the role women in the church and home. Emotions run high and discussions about what the Bible really means can head south altogether too quickly. So, we might consider adopting another approach and ask, what does the Bible show men and women actually doing?

It is well known that Scripture shows women celebrating to the LORD with singing, dancing, and musical instruments (1 Samuel 18:6; Ps 68:25). It is also not a state secret that young men and young women are called to praise the LORD (Psalm 148:12). But it is not well known that the Bible also shows men and women in stereo, leading together in worship.

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Stereo

Moses and Miriam the prophetess leading worship together is a familiar case in point (Ex 15:1-12). But less known is the male-female worship leader duet of Barak and Deborah the prophetess (Judges 4-5). Two examples provide us with a double-duet. But even lesser known is the fact that both these stories are intentionally arranged to mirror one another. Though separated in time, they are twin stories.[1] Let me explain what I mean.  

A Pattern of Man and Woman Together

Parallels—or twin stories—dot the landscape of the Hebrew Bible.[2] Parallels draw attention to a pattern occurring, not just a one-time occurrence. Patterns indicate a Pattern Maker, intentionality, and eliminate accusations of randomness, luck, or coincidence. Patterns don’t just happen.

One such pattern occurs with a man and a woman leading together in worship. The author of Judges portrayed the musical duet of Barak and Deborah[3] the prophetess as a twin account of the musical duet of Moses and Miriam found in Exodus. The two accounts of male/female worship leaders were written to resemble one another (Exodus 15; Judges 5). Have a look at a few of those resemblances.  

The Men and Women were Leaders in Israel

The men in both duets were leaders in Israel (Moses, Barak, a military commander). The women were also leaders in Israel: Miriam[4] and Deborah were prophetesses[5] on equal footing with male prophets as God’s mouthpiece in Israel’s culture.

Panic and Mud are God’s Weapons

It is striking that both stories involve pivotal military victories in Israel’s history. The key to both triumphs is the LORD throwing the enemy into a panic:

“Then during the morning watch, the LORD looked down on the Egyptian forces from the pillar of fire and cloud, and THREW them into a PANIC.” Exodus 14:25

  

“The LORD THREW Sisera, all his charioteers, and all his army into a PANIC with the sword before Barak. Sisera left his chariot and fled on foot.”[6] 

In both cases, God caused the Israelites to triumph over a more powerful opponent due to the combination of mud and panic.

Water is God’s Weapon

There are more resemblances. It is not accidental that in both battles, the LORD used water[7] as a weapon to destroy the chariots of the enemy. In the case of Egypt, God used the waters of the Red Sea. In the case of Judges, the LORD lured the enemy commander Sisera to the waters of the River Kishon and the waters swept his Canaanite army away (Exodus 15:5,8,10,21; Judges 4:7; 5:21).  

Total Annihilation

Both military stories conclude with the exact same phrase describing the annihilation of Israel’s enemies: “Not one was left.” Exodus 14:28; “Not one was left.” Judges 4:16 

Men and Women Lead in a Victory Duet

Finally, don’t miss the musical link connecting these twin stories. Moses and Miriam the prophetess[8] sang a duet of poetic triumph to the LORD following the defeat of the Egyptians (Exodus 15:1-18; 19-21). In the same way, Barak and Deborah the prophetess sang a poetic duet of victory to the LORD following the crushing defeat over Sisera and the Canaanites (Judges 5:1-31).

Both victory duets contain the phrase, “sing to the LORD” (Exodus 15:1,21; Judges 5:3). So, in both episodes, the event is followed by a poetic song of praise (Song at the Sea, Exod. 15; Song of Deborah, Judg. 5). These resemblances are meant to demonstrate to us a divinely ordained pattern common to Israel’s battles.  We cannot explain the pattern as a random event or coincidence.

Men and Women on Equal Footing in Leading Worship

The Bible actually shows a pattern of men and women leading worship together. So, will Jesus’ church permit women to do what women actually did in the Bible?

The pattern teaches us that God places women on equal footing with men in leading worship. Both Miriam and Deborah co-led in worship, composing the two oldest pieces of literature preserved in the Hebrew Bible, literary masterpieces. Deborah’s Song (Judges 5), in particular, is an example of rehearsing God’s victory march in Israel’s history. She interpreted Scripture, interpreted Israel’s theological history, and pronounced a call to worship the God of Israel, the One of Mount Sinai.

Worship in the New Testament

We, too, are called to celebrate the triumph of new life in Christ, as the apostle Paul exhorts:[9] “Make the word about Christ[10] set up its permanent home[11] in you[12] in all its richness, using its wisdom to teach and admonish each other,[13] [and using it’s wisdom][14] to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with grace in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16

 What does the Bible exhort us to do as men and women in celebrating God’s victory over our enemy at Jesus’ cross and empty tomb? Two sets of actions: It commands men and women to use the words about Christ (found in the Scriptures) both to teach[15] and admonish[16] one another. It also commands us to use the same rich words about Christ to sing to God with grace in our hearts (heart-singing, heart-felt, not art-felt or art-singing).[17]

The Church Will be Enriched

So, since Jesus’ Bible shows a pattern of men and women leading in worship together, it follows that Jesus’ church will be enriched if it follows the same pattern. The Bible shows us and urges us to adopt the same approach in celebrating the triumphs of His grace.  

 

Thank you for reading.


NOTES:

[1] There are literally hundreds of such twin stories in both Old and New Testaments.

[2] Parallels—a type of literary technique, are found on virtually every single page of the Hebrew Bible. Yet, though they are hidden in plain sight, up to the late 20th century, parallels in the Old Testament eluded Bible students. Scholars are only now discovering this literary technique. The net effect of this discovery is that almost everything written about the text of the Pentateuch (viz., Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) requires reinterpretation. It is in keeping with this recent discovery that Jewish scholar Robert Alter writes: “It is a little astonishing that at this late date literary analysis of the Bible of the sort I have tried to illustrate here in this preliminary fashion is only in its infancy…The general absence of such critical discourse on the Hebrew Bible is all the more perplexing when one recalls that the masterworks of Greek and Latin antiquity have in recent decades enjoyed an abundance of astute literary analysis…” Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (Basic Books: New York, 2011), p. 13.

[3] Deborah is called a “prophetess” (4:4), as is another unnamed individual in 6:8. Deborah fulfills various roles, including prophetess and judge (4:4, 4:6). As was the case with Moses and Joshua, these leaders were not given a delimited job description but rather were people anointed, led and empowered by God’s Spirit. As such they were qualified to lead the nation. 

[4] “I brought you up out of Egypt… I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.” Micah 6:4

[5] Prophets and prophetesses were called to be God’s mouthpieces in Israel’s culture, on equal footing with each other. The names of prophetesses cited in the Old Testament were representative of many others: Miriam, Deborah, Isaiah’s wife, and Huldah. The prophet Joel predicts that in the last days the LORD will fulfill Moses’ prayer that all of the Lord’s people, both women and men, will become prophets (Numbers 11:29). This prophecy is fulfilled at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to old and young, women and men, to boldly proclaim to their generation the victorious news that the risen Jesus is Lord of all (Acts 2:1-4, 11, 17-18).

[6] The Hebrew words “threw” and “panic” in both the Exodus and Judges account are exactly the same; Panic: Hebrew va-yahom).

[7] The Bible is obsessed with God’s power over the waters. The story of Genesis 1 and Genesis 6-8, for example, show that God is the water controller, the water warrior, who controls rains, the subterranean water, rivers, and all forms of water. “God sits enthroned over the deluge (Psalm 29:10). Waters are completely under His control and judicial authority. The Gospels claim this same judicial authority over wind and water for Jesus (Mk. 4:35-41).

[9] Colossians 3:16; see also 1 Peter 2:4-10 where men and women constitute a royal priesthood, called by God to declare—in word, in song, in print, “the praises of God who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

[10] “The word of Christ” is an objective genitive, ὁ λόγος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, translated literally, “Let the word about Christ.” The phrase refers to the words written in the Gospels and Epistles about Jesus Christ, words about His birth, life, death, resurrection, miracles, identity as God and human, return, pre-existence and eternality, etc.  

[11] The traditional translation in English versions “Let the word of Christ…” is quite misguiding. There is no idea of “let” or “allow” or “give permission” in Paul’s mind. The verb is a present active imperative, a command to continue to take the words about Christ and make a permanent home in us—men and women alike.  

[12] The pronoun “you” is not singular, but plural, referring to men and women in the congregation who have been raised up together with Christ in resurrection (Col 3:1); in other words, Christian men and women.  

[13] Observe: Paul explicitly commands men and women to teach each other and to admonish each another, using the wisdom and words about Jesus Christ from Scripture.

[14] The initial phrase, “using it’s wisdom to” is to be repeated a second time. This is an example of an anacoluthon, a common grammatical technique in the Greek New Testament.

[15] Paul uses the standard word in the NT for teaching, διδάσκοντες.

[16] The word “admonish” can also be translated as “rebuke.” Context determines the precise meaning. Both verbs are used earlier in Colossians 1:28. See also Romans 15:14 where Paul instructs the church that they—both men and women—are competent to admonish one another. Some translations use the word “instruct” in this passage. But the Greek verb is clearly “admonish.”

[17] There are two kinds of singing, heart-singing and art-singing. Art-singing is all about staging, performance, providing entertainment, making an impression with lights, smoke, snappy photos on a screen, making a name for oneself, seeking applause, making money, selling DVDs, counting noses and nickels. Heart-singing is all about heart-adoration, the lyrical emotion of a devout soul toward God. Circus props are unneeded.