The story of Deborah is relayed to us in the book of Judges in chapters 4 and 5. Deborah is from the tribe of Ephraim. She lived between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim. She was married to a man named Lapidoth. Nothing else is mentioned of him. The uniqueness of Deborah is that she was the only female judge mentioned in the scriptures. She was known for her wisdom and prophetic prowess. Judges 4:5 says, “The children of Israel came up to her for judgement.”. She is referred to as “the Mother of Israel”, and is also known for song writing. She is the only prophet besides Samuel who was also a judge. She was also a prophet who was a strong decisive leader, which makes her analogous with Moses and Joshua. This is all in a time when women did not generally hold high positions in society.
As a leader Deborah was courageous. She served with wisdom and knowledge. She trusted God and supported the people that God appointed as leaders. She did not seek to usurp the authority of the leadership already established by God. Unlike another female leader in Israel named Athaliah who murdered her own grandsons in order to seal the crown. The scripture reads, “And when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal. But Jehosheba, the daughter of king Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king’s sons which were slain; and they hid him, even him and his nurse, in the bedchamber from Athaliah, so that he was not slain. And he was with her hid in the house of the LORD six years. And Athaliah did reign over the land.” (2 Kings 11:1-3) Instead, she encouraged them to do what was right before God. In this, she was direct, unwavering in duty, and still humble enough to let others have the glory. The Song of Deborah testifies to this giving of encouragement to the people and the praise of deliverance to God. She uses terms like:
- When the princes in Israel take the lead…praise the LORD! (5:2)
- My heart is with Israel’s princess…praise the LORD! (5:9)
- Take captive your captives (5:12) – I find this phrase particularly fascinating. Paul uses it in Ephesians 4:8 in describing salvation provided by Jesus and the importance of his ascent to heaven as in Jesus’ ascension he “let captivity captive and gave gifts unto men”. And Psalm 68:18 reports, “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.”
During the time of her calling the Israelites had wandered from God and did evil in his sight. So God used the Canaanites to bring them under judgement. They were brought under the oppression of King Jabin and his strong men. They had a strong army that included 900 iron chariots and they oppressed Israel for 20 years. The men of Israel had lost their courage. Jerusalem was crushed into the dust by their tormentors. Their vineyards were destroyed, their women violated, their children starving and made into orphans. They had no mighty men of valor. Out of this God called a devout woman to be his voice. Where no man had hope in God, God spoke to Deborah. Deborah put her trust in the LORD.
One day she summoned a commander of the children of Israel to her home where she delivered a message from God. In Judges 4:7 Deborah tells Barak that God wants him to take an army to face Jabin’s army at the river Kison where Elijah slew the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:40. She tells him that God will deliver his enemies into his hand, but the leader will be slain by a woman. In this way Barak will be spared from his own pride. But Barak was afraid to go into battle with out Deborah. So she went and at the time appointed of the LORD, she gave the command to Barak to do battle with the Canaanites. Later we find in the song of Deborah is says that “the river Kishon swept them away, that ancient river the river Kishon.”. We also find that Sisera the commander is slain by a woman named Jael. So the story and Song of Deborah ends with this reassurance. “So let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years.” (5:31).