Deborah’s Story

Women of God: Harlots, Tricksters, Judges, and Queens series

Deborah lived sometime before 1200 B.C. and perhaps a little more than two hundred years after Rahab and about one hundred years before the time of Ruth. The people’s lives are unsettled and troubled politically because their life is unsettled and troubled spiritually. A recurring refrain from the book of Judges is that Israel was defeated by its enemies and then harshly ruled by them until God called a judge to deliver them (Judges 2:16-19). Here we find a brief description of the judges: they were raised up by God to rescue his people from their enemies. The Lord showed compassion to his people as they groaned in distress under their oppressors and he delivered them through a judge. After the judge died the nation turned back to its evil ways. This cycle stands as a summary of the book of Judges: a time of apostasy, disobedience, worship false gods, oppressed by enemies, cry out to God for deliverance, God shows mercy and raises up a judge to save them, a time of peace and prosperity, the judge dies and the cycle repeats. (Note: This cycle points to the need for a permanent Savior, Jesus).

Judges 4 opens with a description of the people’s apostasy and God’s judgment when he gave them over to the oppression of Jabin, king of the northern part of Canaan. To understand how severe life was then, read Judges 5-7. To travel on the roads was so dangerous that few people used them. Villages were abandoned and village life ceased. Obviously this means there was economic hardship. The people worshiped other gods and this was the judgment they deserved. During this oppression the people experience a time of unbelief, idolatry, wickedness, fear and distress. What was God’s response to them? God is merciful to his children. He raises up a deliverer for them, Deborah. Deborah is described as a prophetess, judge, warrior, poet, and singer.

Deborah the Prophetess

There are two other women in the Bible who were prophetesses, Miriam (Exodus 15:20) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20). Some people say that God only uses a prophetess when the men are all living in disbelief but Deborah, Miriam, and Huldah were not called to be prophetesses because there were no men available – Miriam was Moses’ sister and Huldah prophesied during the time of Jeremiah. These women weren’t God’s second choice, he chose them on purpose to speak for him – to make known what he would do for his people, to reveal the future, to call the people to repentance, and to summon them to serve and follow the Lord. Deborah’s office called her to teach, warn, and encourage. This office gave her great authority.

Deborah the Judge

Deborah is supreme justice of Israel. She is described as holding court in the hill country of Ephraim. The judge is one to whom the people come for resolution to their disputes when the lower courts are unable to reach a verdict. (Deuteronomy 17:8-11; Judges 4:5).

The judge is more than the head of the judiciary. The judge is also the political leader or ruler of the people. She is raised up when the people are being oppressed by their enemies. She also calls the people back to worship God and obey his commands. There were no kings in the time of Deborah. She holds the office closest to that of a king.

Deborah the Warrior

Deborah is called by God to lead the military. She sends for Barak to command the Israelite army against Sisera but it is Deborah who gives the military strategy devised by the Lord. She tells Barak whom he should call up for the troops and it is Deborah who gives the battle plan. Barak won’t even go to war unless Deborah goes too. Some say that this is because he lacks courage and virtue but I see that Barak recognizes Deborah as God’s leader and knows that she can inspire the soldiers to fight for the Lord and his people. The former way of thinking of Barak makes him weak and meaningless but the later shows him as a man after God’s heart and this fact makes him strong and mighty.

Deborah the Poet and Singer

Deborah writes a song in Judges 5 after God gives victory to Israel. She and Barak sing it together. The song is poetical and it’s filled with wonderful images and powerful rhythms. It was originally sung with musical instruments accompanying it. Note the first words: “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!” God is to be blessed for making a woman a leader. He is to be blessed for the people offering themselves up willingly and following this woman.

These are the gifts and callings that God gives to Deborah –prophet, judge, military leader, poet and singer. If you would like to read about Deborah’s song and its influence on later Biblical writings, bookmark and read that story tomorrow.

How does Deborah’s story give you a future and a hope?

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  1. Sometimes when you read the Old Testament and the Commandments, things do not look kindly on women. It’s easy for me to get a sense of oppression, but this story shows that wasn’t the point. We were always equal in God’s eyes, not just after Jesus came and declared it so. I like the image of a warrior woman of God. 🙂

  2. I’m fascinated by Deborah – probably because I was named after her. What an amazing woman. All those thousands of years ago a woman was this powerful? This talented? It’s sad that women have been so oppressed in the meantime. Thank you for summarising her story so well.

    • Ali Dent says:

      Thank you for giving me feedback. It is ashamed we have lost our identity, or at best misunderstand it. Christ has so much more for us than we can imagine or comprehend. I love Deborah’s story and seeing the gospel threaded through it excites me.

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