I recently shared on my Instagram how the Lord is leading me on a new writing journey. I shared it in my most recent post on the blog – Ezer Kenegdo.
Today I wanted to talk about Deborah. She’s one of my biblical heroes, and my first realization that women in Christianity are often slighted in leadership.
Why is that? After growing up in a church culture that had women as Sunday School teachers but never pastors, I read about the female leader of Israel.
Deborah was a prophetess and poet, but most importantly one of the Judges of Israel.
This was huge to me when I learned this. Israel was ruled by judges for some 300 years before they asked for a king, and Deborah was one of those leaders.
This was even more astounding to me because the judges of Israel were appointed by God. That meant, contrary to what I had been taught, that God placed a woman in leadership, over His people.
The office of judgeship in the tribal confederacy of the Israelites, which was centred at a covenant shrine, was not hereditary. The judges arose as Yahweh saw fit, in order to lead an erring and repentant people to a restoration of a right relationship with him and to victory over their enemies. The quality that enabled a person selected by Yahweh to be a judge was charisma, a spiritual power that enabled the judge to influence, lead…”https://www.britannica.com/topic/biblical-literature/Judges-importance-and-role
The villagers ceased in Israel; they ceased to be until I arose; I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.
Judges 5:7 ESV
Judge here comes from “Shophet” – שׁוֹפֵ
This type of “judge” doesn’t mean a person presiding over legal issues in court. Shophetim were heroic, highest ranking leaders in the land in both the political, spiritual, and military sense.
Let’s set up Deborah’s story
Life in Israel during this season was extremely difficult, and it was because of the Tribes’ disobedience.
When God delivered them into the Promised Land He told them to drive out all the Canaanites, and while some listened– other tribes allowed the Canaanites to stay, perhaps trying to make peace believing things would change or be okay.
In choosing passivity with an enemy they disobeyed God’s command, which was given for their protection and abundance. This led to the Canaanites pushing Israelites from their land and the slow fade of losing who they were as they mingled with these people who did not honor God.
They began to worship false gods and idols and behave in wicked ways. “So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them.” (Judges 2:14)
He allowed them to be overtaken by the culture and people they welcomed. He didn’t do this with a hateful heart, but that they might repent after feeling His absence.
There was a cycle of obedience, bondage, and rescue in the history of Israel. Judges 2:18 says God was moved to pity by their groaning because of the oppression they were under, and yet they would still return to the same patterns that ensnared them.
When God was setting up judges for them, he would be right there with the judge: He would save them from their enemies’ oppression as long as the judge was alive, for God was moved to compassion when he heard their groaning because of those who afflicted and beat them. But when the judge died, the people went right back to their old ways—but even worse than their parents!—running after other gods, serving and worshiping them. Stubborn as mules, they didn’t drop a single evil practice.Judges 2:18-19 MSG
The Lord was angry. Can you imagine? Rescuing a prodigal child over and over for them to spit in your face and return to deplorable ways?
Because of His anger and their violation of the covenant, He left them.
Judges 3 shares the compelling story that comes next, the continuous cycle of judge, rescue, and disobedience. One judge, Ehud, defeated an enemy and led Israel to peace and rest for 80 years, one of the longest breaks in the cycle of this 300+year cycle.
As we can expect, again, the people of Israel fell into evil deeds after Ehud passed away. And so yet again the Lord allowed them to experience the brunt of the repercussions for this.
The Canaanite king’s army was led by a man named Sisera. “Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.”
Judges 4:3 ESV
During this time, Deborah became judge of Israel.
As I have studied this, some of the commentaries have felt the need to weaken the legacy of Deborah, saying she was only appointed because there wasn’t a man strong enough or worthy enough to take on the position.
Only. I laugh at that! She was appointed not because of a lack of men, but because God saw her fit to lead His people!
I also read that she was permitted to lead because she came under Barak’s authority and leadership. But I can’t find Scriptural evidence that confirms this. Barak was a military leader but Deborah was listed as judge over Israel.
“In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned, and travelers kept to the byways. The villagers ceased in Israel; they ceased to be until I arose; I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.Judges 5:6-7 ESV
In this season of cyclical pain God appointed Deborah to lead His people to freedom again. She rose into her calling, into her position of leadership, and partnered with her military to defeat the oppressive enemy.
The book of Judges says Deborah summoned Barak. When she asks him about the Lord’s command to confront Sisera, Barak tells her he will not go to battle unless she comes with him.
Various theological ideas abound here, might Barak have said this in sarcasm? Because he was spineless and weak? Or because he valued her leadership and prophetic connection to God?
It’s disheartening that so much male-written commentary and opinion seems to discredit Deborah’s authority or worth on some level.
Why would Barak ask her to accompany him to battle in a sarcastic manner (he wasn’t being emasculated), or because he was weak (he led the military forces)?
Could it be that Barak asked the highest leader in the land to join him because that wasn’t uncommon for leadership to go into battle?
He respected her, he recognized the authority given to her from the Lord (Deborah is the only Biblically documented prophet AND judge of Israel, aside from the last judge – Samuel).
Deborah was appointed by God to lead Israel and bring them to peace.
She stepped into a divine calling, obeyed, led her people and brought them into rest as a mother to the land.
“Now Deborah was a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth.” What is interesting here is this word in Hebrew, eshet, can mean wife. Because of the culture at the time, women were often identified by relation to a husband or father.
“Eshet” also means woman. Lappidoth could be a husband or a place, but neither are mentioned in Scripture to confirm.
There is a third way of interpreting “woman of lappidoth.” Rather than being a proper noun, lappidot in Judges 4:4 could be the plural of lappid, a word usually translated as “torches” elsewhere in the Old Testament, including the book of Judges where the word occurs in two fiery and fierce situations (Judg. 7:16, 20; 15:4-5). Did Deborah have a fiery or fierce personality? Does eshet lappidot mean “fiery lady”?Marg Mowczko (Who has a theology degree and an MA in early Christian and Jewish studies)
Lappid can also refer to lightning flashes (e.g., Exod. 20:18). This has led a few scholars and rabbis to suggest that Deborah was a “woman of splendours”.
Deborah. Wife, mother, prophetically gifted, governing leader. She is an incredible example of Biblical womanhood.
We, too, can be wives and mothers and leaders. We all have a God-created design and purpose.
In hindsight we can see the great purposes of various women in the Word. Did Esther realize the grand outcome of her story? Did Rahab know the legacy that would come from her?
Are all women called to be political leaders? No. Likewise, not all women will be mothers. Not all women will marry.
Like Paul, there will be women called to not marry. There will be women who mother nations, who mother school rooms, who mother emergency rooms instead of biological children.
I believe we have individual callings for His glory and purpose. We must be careful not to measure another’s role against our own.
If you have been led to be a homeschooling, stay at home mom, I believe there is greatness in the purpose there. You should be supported and equipped on that journey!
If you are called to minister to hearts in social work, there is greatness in the purpose. You also should be supported and equipped well for your journey in that.
A woman’s role is not strictly confined to be a wife and mom. Culturally, in biblical times much else wasn’t always permitted.
In Judges we can see that God does appoint women. In our culture now we have so much more freedom to lead, grow, and serve.
Some of us will serve as wives and mothers. Some will serve in careers. Others will serve in both realms, and all areas covered here deserve our support.
Let’s be women who cheer each other on in our various glorious callings here on earth.
There doesn’t need to be competition or comparison, those are tools of the enemy to divide us and hurt even further.
Women of the Word, let’s rise up like Deborah. Let’s mother our children well, mother our careers well, and mother our callings well together.
Help your spiritual sisters as you can in their own journey. Deborahs partner with Esthers and Tamars and Ruths. Partner with the Baraks and Boazs of our lives!
Let’s dive into biblical womanhood together. I’m excited to dig more into our powerful and divine design! Thanks for joining me along the way.