The story of Deborah describes the unlikely victory of the Israelites, led by an extraordinary woman who was a prophetess, a judge and a deliverer for her people. Though she lived in the time of “Judges”, some thirteen centuries before Christ, there are few women in history who have ever attained the public dignity and supreme authority as Deborah.
The scriptures tell us that she was the wife of a man named Lapidoth. Therefore, she must have been a homemaker and perhaps a mother. The rabbis say she was a keeper of the tabernacle lamps. If so, these were wonderful and humble tasks for a woman who was to become so great a strength in Israel.
In Deborah’s time, the children of Israel began to worship pagan deities so God allowed them to fall into the hands of Jabin, the king of Canaan, who oppressed them sorely for twenty years. Because the men of Israel had faltered in leadership, Deborah arose as a counselor, judge and prophetess for her people. She sat under a sacred tree in the hill country of Ephraim where she gave ruling on particular matters. People came to her when they needed a dispute settled, or when they needed advice about their future actions. She listened, considered the problem then gave her guidance.
Deborah was distressed over the plight of her people. She spoke out about the deteriorating state of the country around Ephraim. Law and order had broken down, and it was no longer safe to travel on the highways. As she spoke and listened to the people, she must have sensed their common enthusiasm for immediate action against their enemy.
With courage and faith in God she called for Israel’s most capable military leader Barak. Together they made a plan to move against their enemy. At first, Barak must have made the case that their tribesmen were hill people, who fought mostly on foot. Their enemies had nine hundred thundering, iron chariots to clear their way. There technology, fighting skills and numbers were far superior to the Israelite forces! Deborah however, let Barak know that she was not afraid to do as the Lord commanded. She told him“Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtale and of the children of Zebulun?”.
Deborah further told him, “I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him unto thine hand." Deborah's strategy was to get the enemy to fight in a muddy place where their chariots would be disabled. She knew that if they came, God would disarm Sisera's army and be Israel's shield.
Barak, sensing the spiritual insight that Deborah possessed and urgent need for her spiritual presence and counsel said, “If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.”
She then prophesized, “I will surely go with thee; notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall deliver Sisera into the hand of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh.
After Barak had assembled his men on a flat place atop Mount Tabor and Sisera had formed his army and chariots on the plain near the Kishon River, Deborah alerted Barak: “Up; for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the Lord gone out before thee?”
Barak and his ten thousand warriors descended from Mount Tabor, and the Lord strengthened them. They fought so fiercely that Sisera was forced to flee for his life on foot, his chariots were destroyed, and all of his men were slain.
When the battle was over, Barak went in search of Sisera and discovered that he was already dead. He lay on the ground inside the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. Sisera had sought safety inside Jael’s tent, but, as Deborah had prophesied, he had been delivered “into the hand of a woman.” Jael had killed him while he was asleep for the good of all Israel.
Because of Deborah’s valor and her ability to inspire confidence in Barak to do his duty as God had commanded, “the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.”
Why this story is important?
~God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
~Women can have the gift of prophesy.
~ God does gift women for spiritual leadership. At the same time, Barak as a military leader indicates that not every leadership role is appropriate for women.
Deborah’s story is largely about success against all odds. Though everything about the time and culture were against Deborah, she put her faith, courage and trust in God. She stayed worthy in a time of great sin so that the Lord could communicate with her and act through her. She prayed and listened to him when the priesthood leaders of her time would not. She gave her life to his service, believed in his promises and he used her to bring about his will.
Deborah’s courage and humility are models for us. She kept her eyes focused on God and not the circumstances around her. She gave God the glory for the victory and she thanked Him specifically for what He did for her and her country. She reminds us that we all have the potential to do great things for God if we will only listen, trust and obey.