Saturday, July 12, 2008

Deborah - A Woman whom God Spoke Through

These people have been cruelly oppressed for twenty years. The Israelites did evil in the LORD's eyes, so He sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan. Their armies are huge and cruel, and they've been a horrible master. Finally, the people are crying out to God for help.

And God has answered their cries! God has given me a message to give Barak son of Abinoam. He is to lead our people to victory!

A lot of talk swirls around the story of Deborah. Some see her as the pattern for working women; others see her as somehow going against God because she led Israel for a time, when women don't normally lead in the Bible. I've been confused about what we can learn from her, especially when I've read a lot of contradictory stuff about her.

So, I decided to go straight to the source of the story and see just what the Bible says about her. Surprisingly, there are very little details about who she was and what she did. Let's examine her story in Judges 4-5 together.

Chapter 4 opens by telling how Ehud, the judge before Deborah, died, and that the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD, resulting in their being oppressed by the Canaanites. Judges 4:4-5 introduces us to Deborah: "Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading [traditionally, judging] Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Eprhaim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided."

The story of Deborah is tucked between those of many other judges of Israel. The unique thing is, though, that she is the only woman judge. Should she have been leading Israel when the Bible clearly teaches that men should be the leaders? Well, nowhere in her story do we find that God is displeased with Deborah - rather, He spoke through her to tell Barak that he should deliver Israel. However, in Isaiah 3:12 we find that when "youth oppress my people and women rule over them," it was party of God's judgment on Israel.

It seems that at this time in Israel's history, there were many scared men that refused to lead. Joshua 5:6 describes abandoned roads and people taking winding paths, and verse 7 goes on: "Village life in Israel ceased until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel." She doesn't seem to be a woman that was power hungry and looking for an opportunity to seize control. Rather, Joshua 5:2 begins the song of Deborah and Barak with "When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves - praise the LORD!" Then in verse 9: "My heart is with Israel's princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the LORD!" Deborah wanted men to lead (also as evidenced in her conversations with Barak) but when none of them stepped forward, she arose as a mother in Israel. Even in her leading, she emphasizes her feminine role, leading as a mother, who gently guides, teaches, and sometimes rebukes her children.

So, back to the story.

Deborah sends for Barak and says to him, "The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: 'Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulon and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.' " (Judges 4:6-7)

But Barak was afraid. He said to her, "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go." (verse 8)

" 'Very well,' Deborah said, 'I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.' " (verse 9) Because of Barak's timidity and unwillingness to lead when call had called him, the honor of deliverance would be transferred away from him to a woman.

So Deborah went with Barak as he summoned ten thousand men and marched to Mount Tabor. When the enemy drew up battle lines against them, Deborah said to Barak, "Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?" (Judges 4:14)

This time Barak valiantly led alone, and the ten thousand men followed him down the mountain and into battle, where they routed the enemy. I think it's important to not that Deborah did not go and fight in the battle - she stayed safely on the mountain. I got rather annoyed when I saw a "Deborah doll" that was sold in "her warrior costume" complete with pants. It's evident from Scripture that she did not fight in the battle! But I digress...

In accordance with the prophecy, Sisera escaped the battle and fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. She went out to meet him and said, "Come my lord, come right in. Don't be afraid." (Judges 4:18) She went above and beyond in gracious hospitality, as Judges 5:24-25 praises. She not only invited him in, she put a covering over him, making him comfortable. When he asked for water, she generously gave him milk "in a bowl fit for nobles". However she had another intent. When he was fast asleep, she drove a tent peg through his temple, killing him and winning Israel's praise. When Barak came along pursuing Sisera, Jael met him and took him to see the man he was looking for - dead.

After the lovely and poetic song of Deborah and Barak, we don't hear anything more from or about Deborah. Unlike the stories of other judges, it doesn't tell us about her later years or when she died. Judges 5:31 gives us a clue about the remainder of her life, however, saying that "the land had peace for forty years." Her leading was a blessed time.

What can we learn from Deborah? We can learn to be ready and waiting to be used by the Lord. It may not be something we'd expect, and we can be sure that what He calls us to won't be against a specific Scriptural command, but we need to be open to following Him. He may use us as an example or as someone to challenge or encourage others to follow God's commands.

If you have thoughts about Deborah's story, please share them!

Read all about Deborah in Judges 4-5, and read more about other women from the Bible here.


Ella said...

Anna, Deborah is a very complicated person to understand. Depending on what commentary you read can make it harder.

I have always heard, when Mom and I discussed it, that it kind of a form of God's judgment--using a woman to lead a nation. I know that sounds like an anti-feminist remark....but I don't mind =) God had her for a purpose yes, but was it absolutely wonderful....I don't know.

Needless to say, I think you did your best going right to the source, taking God at His word!

Mardi said...

Anna, I enjoyed reading your blog about Deborah! I have liked her story since I heard it as a child. Judges is an interesting book!

Mirka said...

For me Deborah is a fine example of righteous woman. She was loyal to God's word in those sinful times and I think for that reason she was picked out. Not only was she a prophetess but also a judge, doubly blessed by God and therefore seemingly meaningful to Him. I think there would have been men to lead, but God does not always act as we think (or want).

She inspired and encouraged her people to follow her (physically and spiritually) and eventually win the battle. Like a mother is a backbone of family, she was that in larger scale for her nation. I see her that motherly way. She was there to comfort and saying the right words, making them feel better and stronger in their faith. She was there for them like a mother is for her children when they need her. She did what was necessary and what was expected from her and didn't exalt herself but stayed true to herself and true to God and His word. It might be that was something she didn't really wanted to do but she trusted God.

My lack of English fails me :/ I'd like to say more and more accurately. I hope I do not insult anyone accidentally with my posts.

Anna Naomi said...

Ella: Yes, based on the verse I quoted from Isaiah, I do think it's usually a form of God's judgment when women lead a nation. However, they doesn't mean that Deborah was doing something wrong. She was following God's leading, and He used her to deliver His messages. She was faithful to follow Him, even though it wasn't the ideal situation.

Mardi: Judges certainly is an interesting book! I think a lot of the varying stories is because, like the book ends in Judges 21:25 - "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit".

Mirka: Your English is very good! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I like how Deborah led more in a motherly way. She is a good example of a women following God even in hard times.