Guest author Jesse Flowers continues his “Godly Women of the Bible” series:
In the book of Judges we read of Israel’s greatest woman leader. The inspired account is given in two ways – chapter 4 contains a prose narrative, while chapter 5 contains the story in poetry. It is safe to say that Deborah is the only woman who served God as an official of the state government. She was raised up by God; no other woman ruler of Israel could claim this. Deborah’s skills were exceptional and her character was holy.
1. She was a prophetess. This is the very first detail the author provides us about Deborah (Judges 4:4). Only two other women shared this honored position in the Old Testament (Miriam, Ex. 15:20; Huldah, 2 Kings 22:14-20). As a prophetess of God she had been uniquely selected by the Lord to be filled with the Holy Spirit to reveal divine truths to Israel. She was the wife of Lapidoth. We know nothing else about her husband. So often the Bible barely makes mention of some wife or mother, and tells us a great deal about the man. This is one of those rare exceptions where it’s the other way around.
2. She was well respected. Deborah was well respected by all of Israel. We read in Judges 4:5 that “the children of Israel came up to her for judgment” on important matters. As the various tribes learned that she spoke by inspiration, they would naturally turn to her for instruction and advice, and to have her settle their disputes. The text reads that “she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim” (4:5). It was her place for holding court. Here the people came to her for judgment. She was a godly woman possessing knowledge and wisdom that her people came to rely upon and no doubt benefitted from greatly.
3. She was a woman of strong faith. The one fact that stands out above everything else in Deborah’s story is her faith in God. Repeatedly the narrative stresses her faith in God (4:4, 6, 7, 9, 14, etc.). She was full of faith at a time when so many in Israel were faithless. Recall that she lived at a time when so many in Israel “did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel” (2:10). Remember that she lived and served at a time when “the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD…forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtoreths” (2:11, 13). She lived during a general time of apostasy. 1) Israel worshiped false gods (2:14-15). 2) God used other nations to punish Israel (2:14-15). 3) Israel repented and cried out to God for deliverance (2:18). 4) God provided judges to deliver Israel from oppression (2:16). 5) Israel disregarded the divinely appointed judges and returned to idolatry (2:17, 19). 6) The cycle repeats. Her faith, trust and confidence in God certainly stood in stark contrast to the majority in her day. When “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6; 21:25), Deborah did what was right in God’s eyes.
4. She was a leader. The children of Israel were starving for leadership. At this time Israel was being “harshly oppressed” by Jabin king of Canaan for doing evil in the sight of the LORD (4:1-3). Israel cried out to God for mercy and deliverance. Help and deliverance ultimately came from two unlikely sources, Deborah and Jael (4:8-9, 17-22). Deborah demonstrated leadership in summoning Barak, from the tribe of Naphtali, to come lead 10,000 of his men in battle (4:6, 14). She inspired others, such as Barak, to rise up, take courage, and lead (4:6-7, 14-16). She was courageous to lead Barak and his forces into battle against overwhelming odds when Barak refused to go without her (4:8). Consider how Deborah used her tongue to lead: she spoke the commands of God (4:6); she used cheerful, positive words of victory when those around her faced innumerable odds (4:14); her words were so wisely selected that people traveled far distances to hear her speak (4:5). Today women must use their tongues in similar ways if they are to prove effective leaders in the Lord’s church.
Robert L. Whiteside commented: “Deborah was raised up to meet an emergency. When men will not lead, or cannot lead, and some good woman can lead, it falls to her lot to do so. It is evident that there was no man willing, or able, to take the lead at that time. They cried to Jehovah, but no man made a move to do anything about it. When Barak was called by Deborah to lead the army in battle, he did not want to do so, and would not agree to assume full responsibility in the matter. In her song for the victory over Sisera and his army, Deborah said, “The rulers ceased in Israel, they ceased, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel” (5:7, ASV). Thus did Deborah herself acknowledge that she was called to leadership because the rulers of Israel failed. It is a shame and a pity that the men of a nation make it necessary for a mother in Israel to settle their troubles and lead them to victory against their enemies. And so, instead of being just a mother in Israel, Deborah had to be a mother to Israel, and had to bear the burdens that rightfully belonged to men. She had the approval of Jehovah, else she would not have been an inspired prophetess” (Bible Studies, vol. 2, pp. 44-45).
Thanks to Deborah’s leadership, the land had rest for forty years (5:31).
5. She made a difference. Read these two chapters and you will readily see that Deborah made a tremendous difference in the lives of God’s people.
John L. Kachelman, Jr. wrote: “As you read the account in chapter 5 you will notice a “before” and an “after.” Before Deborah assumed general leadership the highways were so dangerous that no one traveled them; they were deserted (v. 6). But after she led Israel the highways were so safe you could leisurely rest along the roadside without fear of robbers (v. 10, 11). Before Deborah’s leadership the city gate was the scene of battle (v. 8). But afterwards, “the people of the Lord went down to the gates” (v. 11b). The influence of this godly woman made a difference! Modern women need to consider this tremendous influence of Deborah. Let each woman ask herself these questions and answer honestly – Does my life merit the respect and devotion of others? Am I doing things which “strengthen” others? Am I a source of power for others? Does my life change things for the better? Does it make a difference if I am around?” (Studies in Judges, p. 77).
At no other point in Israel’s history has God ever raised up a woman leader like Deborah – here we discover a solitary, unique event! She was a breath of fresh air in a polluted environment of sin and ungodliness. She was a much needed light of faith and holiness during a time of darkness and corruption. Just like Deborah you too can influence everyone in your life for good (Matt. 5:13-16). Just like Deborah you can make a tremendous difference for the cause of truth and righteousness (Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Thess. 5:8). Although we also live “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” we too can and should “shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15)!
Jesse Flowers has been preaching for the church of Christ at Pruett and Lobit Street in Baytown, Texas for the past 8 years. He is married to his beautiful wife, April (Melton), and they have four sweet children, Jesse, Josiah, Anna and Clara. If interested, you can read more of his articles or listen to his sermons at www.biblework.com.