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Deborah is introduced along with the other 11 judges in the Book of Judges. She is the only female judge and the fourth judge chosen by God for Israel. The Bible records no dissent or rebellion against her. The people of her time had no difficulty in accepting her as a judge. This suggests that judges were seen as ‘God’s people’, and their gender was unimportant. This makes Deborah one of the most influential women of the Bible. She was a prophet, judge (ruler and military leader), and priestess. Her reputation was built on the foundation of her wisdom and courage. She would be the only woman of the Old Testament who is known for her own faith in God and her deeds as a leader. Whereas most other women were known as part of their relationship to a husband or another man. The Israelites recognized Deborah for her abilities. The nation prospered under her tenure. Her name means bee or honeybee. A good name when one considers that a bee works for the benefit of the hive and not themselves.

Her story is told in both prose (Judges 4) and poetry (Judges 5). Deborah is thought to be an Ephramite because she resided in Ephraim (Judges 4:5). Deborah led Israel for 60 years in the 12th century B.C. Her oversight spanned approximately 20 years of national hardship before the Canaanite war. It was followed by a period of peace for 40 years. Many scholars contend that the phrase, “a woman of Lappidot 1” (Judges 4.4) is a reference to marital status. Lappidot being her husband’s name. However, the Hebrew word “lappid” means a “torch” or “lightning.” It can be just as probable that Deborah was being called a “fiery woman.” She was only one of five women described as a prophet in the Old Testament. The four others are Miriam, Huldah (2 Kings 22:14, 2 Chronicles 34:22), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), and “the prophetess” in (Isaiah 8:3). The only other person in the Bible who was said to be both prophet and judge was Samuel. Deborah’s story stands out because it offers our society an opportunity to learn important lessons:

  • Discernment is required to lead – Not everyone, male or female, is equipped to be a leader. Discerning the call of the Holy Spirit is necessary. Deborah began her history of service to the people of Israel because she was able to respond to God’s calling. God did not care that she was a woman.
  • We are called to be Obedient – When God calls, we are to listen! It is not necessary to understand His plans. We cannot! Our own obedience to God will affect the hearts and lives of others. To hear God’s call requires a quiet mind. God most often whispers.
  • Courage is necessary – Through the Holy Spirit, God will provide obedient people the necessary qualifications for success. Faith is never easy. In fact, sometimes it is downright frightening. Most faithful experiences are out of our comfort zone. Remember, the purpose of courage is for God’s Glory, not ours. Both men and women can be courageous equally.
  • Stand true to your faith – Do not expect the world to cooperate with God’s plans. The world is Satan’s domain. While we cannot see the future, we can stand firm in our faith in God and Jesus Christ.
  • Finally, God will faithfully guide us – This is a certainty for both men and women.

We know about Deborah today because God wanted to give is a biblical example of how men and women are to live and work together. Barak, an Israelite warrior, commanded 10,000 troops. His task was to attack the Canaanites, under king Jabin. The Canaanites possessed superior military technology. Sisera, leader of the Canaanites, had a disciplined, professional army, and his troops were armed with iron weapons and 900 chariots. Barak had a citizen militia made up of volunteers from most of the twelve tribes of Israel. A few tribes were cowards and stayed at home. Barak knew that his own forces were fewer in number, untrained, and had inferior weapons. His hesitation is hardly surprising. Against such odds, it was unlikely that he could succeed.

This is where faith in God is important. For years, God has used the Canaanites as a tool of judgment against the Israelites for their idolatry (Judges 4:2). Deborah, upon receiving instructions from God, called on Barak to attack the Canaanites on Mount Tabor. Barak’s response was not a display of courage. He said, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” (Judges 4:8). Deborah agreed to go to battle with Barak and his troops. She shared with him that there will be no glory for him. In her faith and confidence, she tells Barak that God will deliver the enemy into the hands of a woman. But even Deborah did not know exactly what God had planned (Judges 4:9). Both went off to fight together.

Deborah’s strategy was to trick the Canaanites into driving their chariots onto marshy land. There they became bogged down. The Israelite slingmen and archers picked them off one by one. In the end, the enemy general Sisera, fled from the battlefield. He went towards an encampment of a woman called Jael the Kenite. He asked Jael for a drink of water and a place to rest during his retreat. Instead of water, she gave him milk. The milk made Sisera fall asleep. Jael would avenge the Israelites by driving a tent peg through Sisera’s head with a mallet while he slept. God was right, victory went to a woman that day.

Israel’s leaders were always expected to seek guidance from God by praying and meditating before proclaiming their ruling on a matter. Many of the judges were also thought of as prophets who could be thought of as a receptor of “a word from the Lord.” Deborah would often sit under a palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim. The Israelites would line up for her to rule on matters of importance to them. The two chapters, four and five, in the book of Judges begin with Israel’s disobedience. Then go on to describe a Holy War and its participants, ending with the victorious result (Judges 5:31). Deborah’s story is about people sinning, learning from hardships, then repenting, and finally crying out to God. Because the people had no bias against her as a woman, no bigotry, they were able to end their 20 years of oppression at the hands of the Canaanites. Because Israel had chosen a Godly leader, a generation of peace would follow. Unfortunately, the Israelites would fall back to old habits of worshiping idols again.

Contemplations

  • What do you consider to be the criteria for a leadership position?
    • Ideas to Explore: Is gender an influence? What about their belief in God? How do you measure someone’s wisdom and discernment?
  • How do you personally “listen to God?”
    • Ideas to Explore: How do you find the opportunities for God to speak to you? Can you discern God’s callings? 
  • Where are your fears?
    • Ideas to Explore: All people have fears. Where are yours and how do you let God assure you of His presence? What do your fears keep you from doing? What circumstances would being fearful be considered wisdom?
  • Where should a leader’s wisdom come from?
    • Ideas to Explore: Education, experiences, beliefs, God?
  • Where do you see personal biases between men and women hurting our world?
    • Ideas to Explore: Where have the barriers been successfully removed? Where do the barriers remain? How do we unintentionally teach bias toward each other?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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