An archetype is a pattern that has been repeated in storytelling so often that it becomes a template for our understanding. For example, we have seen what it means to be a hero so often that we know his or her characteristics, we understand the moment we identify this character in a story what his or function in a story will be. We also look to these archetypes for an understanding of possibilities. If we only see a hero as male, we only think of heroes as males. Conversely, if the female’s only function in a story is to be passive or serve as someone the hero needs to rescue, we understand perhaps that this is all a female is capable of (and we think of her as the Damsel in Distress). This is one reason why people have such strong reactions to stereotypes in our media today (films, TV shows, music, books, etc.).
It’s also why so much is made of representation in the Bible. Since the stories in the Bible are so often male-driven, they have been used to justify our male-driven culture. Therefore, it’s nice to finally see some strong women take charge for a change.
Deborah, a prophetess who seems to live on the outskirts of town, is consulted for war strategy. When she is encouraged to join the war party, she gives a head’s up to Barak, who will lead the army against Israel’s oppressor (Jabin, kin of Canaan), suggesting she’ll get the credit, not him. Since there is little (any?) mention of women in battle thus far, this deserves mention. Second, not only will she get credit—don’t all prophesies come true in this context?—but the fact that she warned she would and the man STILL wanted her to join them suggests that he was okay with a woman being praised—at the expense of a man, no less. Since so much of the Old Testament shafts women at nearly every turn, it’s nice to see them given some positive screen time.
But Deborah is not the only grrr-girl. As Jabin’s forces are conquered, the general/commander Sisera flees and finds refuge in a tent. Turns out he picked the wrong tent. The woman doesn’t get along with him—some family squabble—and she takes a tent pin and stabs him in the neck, killing him. No nice and easy poisoning his food or drink. She stabs him in the neck (4:21).
But not all women had to rely on brute force or physical strength. Samson, a leader of Israel favored by God, has some issues with a woman he falls for—Delilah. She shows how crafty a woman can be. Since Samson has his enemies, these men pay Delilah to extract the secret to his strength. Sensing a trap, perhaps, he lies to her three different times (16:7, 11, 13-14). When she works through his defenses for the fourth time, he’s screwed (16:21).
In the end, these female-driven parts of Judges present an archetype of an empowered woman, and thereby create a model from which women can draw inspiration: they too can be active members of society, and not just ones identified with the home. For all of the push to keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, it’s surprising that I haven’t heard about Deborah and Delilah more. Why aren’t their stories trotted out more as examples that show women are just as capable as men?