Women in the Bible: Deborah
"Deborah said to Barak, “Arise! For this is the day when the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Has the Lord not gone out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him." (Judges 4:14, AMP)
I've been loving this deep dive into female faith rockstars in the Bible. And although today is going to mark the end of this cool little series, it doesn't mean that these five women are the only ones that showed incredible faith or fit into God's plan of redemption.
The point is, these women are all throughout the Bible. There are far more in the Old Testament: Abigail,
Esther, Hagar, and Hannah to name a few, and even more in the New Testament. I'd love to get to all of them eventually, but today, I want to spotlight a very important lady who appears in the beginning of the Book of Judges. Her name is Deborah, wife of Lappidoth and a prophetess chosen to be a judge over Israel.
The fact that Deborah is a judge is a very big deal. She's the only woman to hold that kind of position in Jewish history. For those unaware of what a judge was, it was basically the governmental system before the monarchic system was given to Israel. In other words, the judges were rulers of Israel before God gave them Kings to rule over them as a middle man between God and the people.
The Book of Judges is a lot of push and pull when it comes to the hearts of the Israelites. They would worship God, become comfortable in their blessings given to them when they were walking with God, become sinful, and God would allow some other people to conquer and oppress them so that they would become repentant and come back to God. The cycle would repeat and repeat, and when Israel was in hot water, God would raise up a judge to lead them back to a better place spiritually.
Why was Deborah chosen as a judge? The Bible doesn't really say. God could have just wanted to choose a woman because He's God and He can; but He could also have chosen Deborah because no other man was up to the task at the time. Even still, God could have chosen Deborah to be a judge so that women throughout the history of the church could see an example of an obedient women who could lead in the order and context that God gave women. What do I mean? Deborah led as a judge, yes, but she still led in the appropriate submission to the male leadership set over her.
And for women– especially modern women– that's a cringe-y word for us: Submission. Modern feminism says we should not submit to any man if we don't want to. We should be equal to a man and so what if we lead over them as a spiritual head?
The fact of the matter is, that's not the way God designed the relationships between a man and a woman. Am I my husband's partner? Yes. Do we make decisions as a team? Yes. But at the end of the day, my husband is the spiritual head of our family, and if God tells Him to lead a certain way, it is my role as His wife to prayerfully listen. Was Deborah given a lot of responsibility to judge and lead Israel? Yes. But she was not domineering to the male leadership over her, namely Barak in this story.
So in that way, Deborah being a female judge is a wonderful example of a healthy and functioning leadership team in the Bible. In the story, she confirms what God already told Barak, which was that he should be leading an army to defeat Sisera, a war general over an impressive army for the latest king oppressing Israel. And when Deborah gives Barak his marching orders, Barak asks Deborah to come with him– to which she tells Barak that she would gladly go with him, but Sisera would not die by his hand, but rather, the hand of a woman.
And here's what's cool about Deborah's story: she rides to the battlefield with Barak, and gives Barak the command to fight, not as his domineering spiritual head or judge, but as an encourager. When Deborah hears that Sisera and his army was on the move, she encourages Barak by saying, "Get up and get going! This is the day that the Lord is going to give us the victory over our enemies! The Lord is our King and He is the kind of King that rides out before His army into battle and fights along with us!"
And it's through this encouragement that Barak rides out and takes down the enemy army, with the help of a flash flood sent by the Lord. When his army falls, Sisera flees on foot and ends up in the tent of Jael, who tricks Sisera and kills him by driving a tent stake through his head.
So the story doesn't take the obvious turn you'd think it does. Deborah the Judge is not the woman who brings back the head of Israels enemy. Instead, Deborah is the spark that ignites the battle that drives this man into the trap that another woman has set to accomplish the Lord's will.
And to me, that's where Deborah is strong. She doesn't seek her own glory. Her position doesn't make her entitled. Instead, her confidence in God is what qualifies her to be the right person for her position, and that confidence in God is what encourages an army to ride out and take a victory that glorifies God. I know people that would grow cocky in such a high position; in fact, there are even a few judges in the Bible that fall prey to that same pride– I'm looking at you, Samson.
And Deborah shows us the power of a woman that celebrates the fact that there are multiple people born and purposed and fit into God's plans. She's not threatened by Jael's role in God's victory. She's not burned by the fact that there is someone else that got more attention than her. And because there is no competition or comparison happening, and Deborah doesn't become insecure about being a supporting role in this victory, rather than front and center, we get to see the beautiful unity the Church could achieve if we were all secure in our purpose, a unified front towards our goal, and confident encouragers that can give others the inspiration they need to do their part.
How many times have we witnessed the drama that comes from an insecure leader in the Church? How many times have we experienced first-hand what disunity can do in our communities? It's worse than unproductive, it's unglorifying to God. And yes, insecurity, comparison, and competition are unfortunate byproducts of our sinful natures and humanity. But being more like Jesus should help us rise above those emotions and thought-processes.
And because the world wouldn't get to see Jesus for hundreds of years, Deborah looked more like Jesus than anyone could know at the time. Why? Because Jesus was a leader that submitted to the correct order of leadership as a son to a father. Jesus knew His role in God's redemptive plan and was never threatened by someone else getting recognition for their faith, even though He was the literal Savior of all. And finally, Jesus encouraged others from a place of confidence in the Father.
And ultimately, the ability to encourage others from a place of confidence in who God made you to be is more of a strength than you could ever realize. Frankly, it's something we need way more of in the Church. And maybe if we could remember to do more of that, the unity that would result from that kind of encouragement would do more to glorify God than you could ever do alone in the spotlight.