Background: 12 Century BC
Because of their wickedness the children of Israel had suffered continuous wars with the peoples that surrounded them and were in bondage in the land of Moab (Judges 3). The Lord sent a man named Ehud, who was left handed (Judges 3: 15), to deliver them. Ehud went before the King of Moab, Eglon, who was a very fat man and told him that he had a message for him from God. Ehud then took his dagger and thrust it into Eglon's belly, and the scriptures tell us that then "...the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out." (Judges 3:21-22) Ehud escaped and led the children of Israel in victory against the Moabites. They had peace in the land for fourscore years (Judges 3: 23-31). But after Ehud's death the children of Israel became wicked again and they get sold to Jabin king of Canaan, whose captain was named Sisera and who had nine hundred chariots of iron. They were in bondage to Jabin for twenty years (Judges 4:1-3).
Facts About Her:
- She was the fourth judge to judge Israel and did so during Israel's bondage to Jabin the King of Canann;
- She was the only woman to ever hold the position of judge over Israel;
- She was a prophetess;
- Her name means "bee" in Hebrew;
- She was the wife of Lapidoth (which means "torches" in Hebrew)
- She dwelt under a palm tree between Ramah and Beth-el in mount Ephraim;
- The children of Israel went to her for judgment;
- She called Barak out of refuge in the city of Kedesh-naphtali and told him that the Lord had commanded him to take an army and fight against Sisera's army at mount Tabor;
- Barak told her that he would go to battle if she went forth with him;
- She agreed to go but told him that, "...the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." (Judges 4:9)
- Barak and Deborah went forth with 10,000 men to mount Tabor and Sisera came to meet them. The Lord "discomfited" all of Sisera's chariots and hosts, which we later find out in Judges 5 that meant that it began to rain and the rivers overflowed (Judges 5:4, 21-22). The chariot wheels got stuck in the mud and were therefore useless, allowing allowing Barak and his men to fall upon them and slay them all. Sisera alone escaped and fled to the tent of Heber the Kenite whose wife Jael drove a nail through his head while he was sleeping, thus bringing victory to the children of Israel and freedom from bondage;
- Chapter 5 of Judges is called the "Song of Deborah" and is the oldest known Hebrew poetry in the world. It is where we get the term "mother in Israel" from and is the only time it is used in the scriptures. In verse 7 of the psalm it says, "... The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel."
View of Mount Tabor where Barak and Deborah led their army
Speculations About Her:
- There is a lot of disputations about whether Deborah was really married or not and if she had children. Some say that the phrase "the wife of Lapidoth (or torches)" meant that she had a fiery temperament. Some also think that it may have referred to the torches in the tabernacle, signifying that she worked in the tabernacle. Others find it reasonable to believe that she was probably married to a man named Lapidoth. As for children, we don't really know if she had any or not. She is called a "mother in Israel" but it is unclear if this is just referring to her role as a leader and judge over the children of Israel or if she also had physical children;
- The phrase "mother in Israel" is only used this one time the scriptures, but several Later-day women have had the phrase applied to them, such as Eliza R. Snow who was called a "Mother in Israel" even though she never had children of her own;
- Judges chapter 5 , the "Song of Deborah", may be from as early as the 8th century BC, making it older than the rest of the Old Testament which was written in about 1500 BC;
- It is highly unusual that a woman should have been chosen to lead and the judge Israel and some people say that it was evidence of the great wickedness of the Israelites at that time. Saying that it indicates that there may have been no righteous men worthy to lead and so a woman had to fill the position.
There are so many parts of this story that I love but I think the real power in this story lies in the fact that Deborah and Barak worked together to do the Lord's will. I think that they are great examples of how the Lord wants all relationships and interactions between men and women to be-- based on respect, trust and cooperation. Barak respected and listened to Deborah and Deborah relied upon Barak's skill and judgement and together, with the Lord, they were able to be victorious and free their people from bondage. This wouldn't have happened if Barak had been unwilling to take counsel from Deborah or if Deborah hadn't had faith in Barak's ability to succeed. I think they both realized the power that comes when righteous men and women work together as partners in the Lord's work.
We don't really know why Barak wouldn't go forth to battle without Deborah, but I suspect it was because he respected her judgement and knew that if he relied upon the wisdom and guidance she gave him from the Lord then he would be safe and victorious. I think that Barak knew that he couldn't do what the Lord wanted Him to do without Deborah's help, and Deborah knew that she had a gift and a responsibility from the Lord to help Barak fulfill his task. It didn't even seem to bother Barak when Deborah told him that he would get none of the glory for the victory, but that it would all go to a woman. I assume that he probably thought she was speaking of herself, but in reality the real victory of the war was done by Jael the Kenite woman who slew Sisera and ended the battle. Even so, Barak seemed perfectly fine, right from the start, with letting a woman have the glory and the credit-- he was humble enough to accept direction from the Lord in whatever form it came.
I really believe that God's work is most successful when relationships between men and women are based on love, respect, trust, and cooperation rather than competition or control. God has given men and women divine gifts and when they are combined in righteousness God is able to work might miracles.
What We Can Learn From Her:
- God calls women to hold positions of authority and leadership (but it is important to remember that Deborah held a political/social office as a judge and not a religious or priesthood office);
- God gives women revelations and guidance to help direct and protect the people they have been given stewardship over;
- Women can, and should, be sought out for their wisdom and judgement-- even by men;
- Women can prophesy (see my post on Huldah to read more about what it means to be a "prophetess");
- The Lord can work great miracles when men and women work together and respect each other's talents and abilities.
- Do you picture Deborah as young or as old? How does it change your perception of the story if she is a young woman or an old woman?
- In what ways was Deborah a prophetess?
- Why do you think that Barak wouldn't go to war with out her? What did she have to offer?
- How have you seen miracles in your own life happen when men and women work together?