Deborah knew what needed to be done, and she wasn’t afraid to tell people how to get it done. And, apparently, it was obvious to others that she knew what she was talking about… because they listened!
The people of Israel had been oppressed by Jabin, king of Canaan, whose capital was Hazor, for 20yrs.
Deborah (“Bee”) was a prophetess of God, and the 4th Judge of pre-king Israel, and a counselor, and a warrior, and a wife of Lapidoth. She is the only female judge mentioned in the Bible.
We first read about Deborah as she was leading the Israelites as prophetess. Israel had mostly abandoned God and His standards of right and wrong. She was acting as judge/ruler over her part of Israel during a time before they had a king. As she sat under a palm tree near her home, the people asked her for advice, and she also settled their disputes. As a judge and prophetess, she shared God’s wisdom and instruction at a time when everyone did what seemed right in their own eyes.
At some point, God made it clear that the northern part of Israel was to lead Israel in a fight against the Canaanites. When Deborah told Barak, their military commander, he got cold feet. And, while trusting Deborah, he refused to go into battle unless she (a woman!) led with him. She agreed to go, but told him he would forfeit any glory for the victory.
Deborah rode out with Barak. She was there when their much smaller, far out-numbered army went into battle. Imagine what she must have felt… She knew – or was pretty sure she knew – God had promised them victory over their larger, more powerful enemy.
Much of Deborah’s job was to serve as a spiritual cheerleader.
Everyone needs a little encouragement from time to time, and Barak was no exception. In spite of his doubts, Deborah wanted to see him successfully carry out the task God had given him. As Barak and his forces faced the enemy’s 900 iron chariots and the many warriors coming toward them, Deborah spurred him on to attack! With steady faith and encouraging words, Deborah ignited Barak’s confidence and filled him with the courage to lead his army to victory.
We all need a spiritual cheerleader from time to time. When we face a formidable challenge, our faith can get shaky. In our own eyes, we seem small, weak, and powerless. At those times, we need someone to remind us of God’s goodness and His promise to give us the resources needed to accomplish whatever He assigns to us. When the odds seem stacked against us, the right encouragement can make all the difference in the way we look at things. See 1Thesslonians 5:11.
As Deborah prophesied, God gave the victory to the Israelites.
The army of foot soldiers she led against 900 chariots plus the army around them would be like modern infantry advancing against tanks and artillery. In Israel’s army, the determining factor was never the skill of its army, but the faith of the people.
When Deborah acted as Israel’s judge, she advised people to follow God rather than their own heart. And, when the time came, she acted on her own advice.
In the end, Deborah & Barak won a great victory over the Canaanites, and they celebrated by singing a song of victory together.
The Song of Deborah may be our earliest example of Hebrew poetry. It is also significant because it is one of the oldest writings that portrays fighting women (including Jael, which is another story for another day).
Deborah played an instrumental role in the military victory against King Jabin’s army. She had called on an Israelite military commander, had given him instructions, and had accompanied him to the battlefield at his insistence. But, in her victory song, Deborah didn’t claim any of the credit. She gave God the glory, and mentioned everyone who had a part in the day’s success. She honored Israel’s leaders and those who volunteered for war, listing each tribe that participated by name. She praised Jael, and detailed how she had killed the opposing general, Sisera. Deborah downplayed her own part and referred to herself, simply, as “a mother of Israel“.
It’s only natural to want to take credit we think is due us. But, when we concentrate on whether or not others are recognizing our work, we miss the opportunity to be used by God. When we let go of our desire for glory, we can encourage others to bring honor and glory to God. Even if others don’t acknowledge our contributions, God sees them and will reward us. He’s looking for leaders AND followers with humble hearts… and He will honor those who don’t try to honor themselves. See James 4:10.
The Biblical account of Deborah ends with the statement that, after the battle, there was peace in the land for 40yrs.
You can read Deborah’s story in Judges 4&5.