Women of the Bible: Deborah
Deborah Study: Judges 4-5
The Book of Judges has several recurring themes. The first is the cycle of sin, suffering, petition, deliverance, the death of the deliverer—and then the cycle begins once again with sin. This is outlined in the text above. The next is the recurring statement, “there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (see 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). Another recurring theme is that, at this time, there were two problems in Israel, and both concerned leadership: (1) Israel had no king, and (2) its leaders (judges) kept dying. The solution will become apparent in time—Israel needed a man who could be their king, and yet who would never die. This could only be fulfilled in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
A judge of Israel.
Joshua has invaded the Promised Land and the Israelites are in constant battles with the inhabitants. They are sent judges to keep them living the right way under God but constantly drift away from God and worship other Gods. God uses other nations to judge Israel but also gives them many victories to show his power.
Deborah came to be Judge after Ehud. The Israelites went away from God, so God let the Canaanites rule over them who oppressed. Israel cried to God and He called Barak to fight the Canaanites. He promised Barak victory. Deborah was a Prophetess and many people came to her to have their arguments dealt with. Barak went to Deborah for counsel, who confirms again Gods message to Barak, however he would not go without Deborah. She went with him but said God would give the glory of taking Sisera's life to a woman. They went to battle and the Israelites killed all Sisera’s men. Sisera escaped and found refuge in the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. She hid him and Sisera fell asleep. Whilst he was asleep, Jael killed Sisera by hammering a tent peg through temple. Barak came to find Sisera and Jael showed him dead. The Israelites eventually conquered Canaan. Deborah and Barak sang praise to the Lord for being freed and living in peace again.
Name and Character
Deborah's name means 'Bee'.
A Bee- very focussed, produces wonderful results (honey). At the start of her ministry the Israelites were severely oppressed, at the end they enjoyed 40 years of peace under her leadership.
Deborah had a ministry of encouragement and was all for God. She was very influential and due to her closeness with God produced a strong spiritual atmosphere which attracted people and was a source of encouragement.
Confidence in God
Deborah was plain spoken and direct, honest, decisive and courageous.
Strong military leader: generating effort and commitment towards a goal/objective.
Spiritual leader: Deborah and Barak praised God after they won the battle.
Deborah is introduced as a prophetess, someone who speaks with divine authority, and as the Eshet lapidot which can be translated as 'wife of lapidoth' (NIV) but also means 'woman of torches'. The two translations originate from different possibilities. If it is translated as 'wife of' then it implies Deborah could be married and therefore have another role. However the other translation results from the translation of how the sentence is written. 'Lapidot' means torches and is written in the place where a man’s name would be, however it is strange sounding and doesn't have the standard patronymic 'son of'. Is 'lapidot' a noun or a name?
Woman of torches fits Deborah and the story in the manner of biblical names. "Torch‑Lady" provides a significant wordplay, for it is Deborah, not her husband, who is the torch that sets the general Barak (whose name means "lightning") on fire.
Moreover, in Mesopotamian mythology, the torch and the lightning (tsullat and hanish) are the heralds of the storm god. In the same way, "Torch Lady" and "Lightning" are fit agents for the God of Israel, who defeats Sisera by creating a river of mud to incapacitate his chariots.
Women in leadership
A prophetess seems to be identified in relation to a man. Do you agree with the view that when there was a woman prophetess who assumed a leadership role, it was meant to be a very clear indication of spiritual decay?
“You will be shocked and amazed! You are totally blind! They are drunk, but not because of wine, They stagger, but not because of beer. For the LORD has poured out on you a strong urge to sleep deeply. He has shut your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers)” (Isaiah 29:9-10).
Can this passage be used to prove the role of women in leadership?
Deborah's ministry is located in the book of Judges. It is in Judges that we read, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; cf. also 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). The Book of Judges is not holding forth an ideal for us to follow, but is depicting evils for us to avoid. Judges describes real people, people with very serious flaws, people that God nonetheless employs for His own purposes. But let us not make the mistake of assuming that since they are found in the Bible they are examples for us to follow in all that they did.
The story of Deborah and Barak does not advocate a general principle that women should lead men. Deborah does give Barak the word to go to war in 4:14, but she is merely repeating what she had already said. Barak should have seen that it was the time to fight on his own, based upon what God had already said. Deborah plays a crucial role in this battle. She operates behind the scenes as much as she can. Barak’s reticence to lead and his insistence that Deborah go with him are portrayed as weakness on his part, for which he is rebuked. That a woman gets the glory is to be viewed as a divine rebuke, not a compliment.
Deborah lead within limits, to promote male leadership, and thus to keep herself in a subordinate role. Deborah did not seek a prominent leadership role, and in fact she actively sought to avoid it. She made it clear that God had designated Barak as the leader, and that God was commanding him to lead.
Deborah did play a crucial leadership role in our text, but note the outcome of her leadership. From 4:23-24, we learn that this battle was a turning point in the relationship between Israel and the Canaanites, who dominated the Israelites for 20 years. In the “song of deliverance” in chapter 5 (verse 2), we see that because of Deborah’s ministry, the leaders assumed their leadership roles, and the workers followed them (not her). Deborah did not seek to overturn the way leadership was supposed to function, but affirmed it. Because of her ministry, God’s designated leaders did lead, and followers actively followed by volunteering for service. That is the way it is supposed to work. That is the way it did work when Deborah played out her role in Israel’s history.
Barak became the leader he was supposed to be, thanks in large part to the role that Deborah played. More often than not, when a man becomes the kind of leader that God wants him to be, there is a “Deborah” somewhere nearby, perhaps out of the spotlight, but very much standing behind the man, encouraging him and strengthening his faith in God. Many of the great deeds of faith performed by men find their roots in the godly actions and prayers of a woman—a wife, a mother, a daughter, a prayer warrior.
In those dark days of the judges, the leaders shrunk back, and there were few who were willing to follow. The bottom line was that there seemed to be no one to fight the enemy, the Canaanites. Through the ministry of this great woman, Deborah, leaders and followers emerged, and the battle was fought and won. Today, it is very little different than in Deborah’s day. There is a great deal that needs to be done in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are Sunday School classes to be taught, new believers to be discipled, evangelism to be carried out, and on and on the needs go. And yet today there are all too few willing to step forward and assume leadership positions. And there are even fewer people who are willing to follow. In our church, as in most others, there are jobs that need to be done and not enough people willing to do them. What has God called you to do? Has He called you to serve? Then volunteer, and be a supportive follower. Do what needs to be done! Are you called to lead? Then do it, trusting in God to work through your weakness in a way that makes you strong.
LEARNING FROM DEBORAH
Our relationship to God affects those around us. If we exhibit trust in God's ability to help and promptly obey whatever he requires, others will be encouraged to follow our model.
Truly successful leaders recognize that worship and praise to God is the right response to their accomplishments. The more we see God's hand in our endeavours, the more we will want to fall before him in wonder and praise for his incomparable works and mercy.
FOLLOWING THE EXAMPLE
There is no shortcut to knowing God and being able to hear his voice. Knowing him requires that we spend time speaking and listening to him. One way we can listen to him today is by reading Scripture. Try systematically reading the Bible from beginning to end. In this way you will not be tempted to concentrate only on your favourite passages but will receive a more complete picture of God's character and of the ways he has related to his people throughout the ages. Also, thank God openly and quickly for every good thing he gives his people.
By Ruth Tisdall
The highlighted words were highlighted by K.Oni