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Mystery and Modesty

by Gwen Sayler

As a small child, I idolized Dale Evans. Gentle, kind, and spiffy in her cowgirl outfit, the beautiful wife of cowboy singing star Roy Rogers embodied the characteristics I had been taught an ideal woman should have. But then I discovered Nancy Drew, girl detective, and my vision of ideal womanhood changed. Nancy was not a wifely helper—she was in charge. Leading the way, she solved mysteries and brought crooks to justice. I wanted to grow up to be her.

The few female role models I heard about in Sunday school—Hannah, Mary, Dorcas—were presented as sweet, patient, passive mothers or helpers of male heroes. Within the model of womanhood prevalent in the culture of the 1950s, there was little to no room for lauding Nancy Drew-type biblical figures like Deborah and Jael.

Much has changed. Beyond Nancy Drew’s wildest imagination, today’s women run nations and corporations, serve as senior pastors, and share power with men in all sorts of other public arenas. As access to power rapidly changes for women and for men, the Judges 4–5 story of Deborah and Jael has much to teach us about the use of power and faithful discipleship.

The book of Judges invites us into the pre-kingship wild west frontier days of ancient Israel’s history. During those centuries the Hebrews who later would form the nation of Israel lived as separate tribes, rarely interacting with each other except when joint military action was necessary for survival.

Gwen Sayler serves as the John and William Wagner Professor of Bible at Wartburg Theological Seminary and is a proud member of the Valpo Deaconess Class of ’71.

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