Deborah ranks among the most famous women of the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians in the Old Testament. Not only known for her wisdom, Deborah was also known for her courage. She is the only woman of the Hebrew Bible who gained renown on her own merit, not because of her relationship to a man.
Deborah was both a prophetess and ruler of the people of ancient Israel, the only woman among the twelve judges. She held court under the Palm Tree of Deborah in the hill country of Ephraim, deciding the people’s disputes.
Having received instruction from God, Deborah summoned an Israelite warrior named Barak. She told him to take 10,000 troops up to Mount Tabor to confront Jabin’s general, Sisera, who led an army made up of 900 iron chariots.
The Jewish Virtual Library says that Barak’s response to Deborah “shows the high esteem in which this ancient prophetess was held.” Other interpreters have said that Barak’s response actually shows his discomfort at being ordered into battle by a woman, even if she was the ruling judge at the time. Barak said: “If you will go with me, I will go; if not I will not go” (Judges 4:8). In the next verse, Deborah agrees to go into battle with the troops, but tells him: “However, there will be no glory for you in the course you are taking, for then the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman” (Judges 4:9).
Judges Chapter 5 is known as the “Song of Deborah,” a text that exults in the victory over the Canaanites. Deborah’s courage and wisdom in calling up an army to break Hazor’s control gave the Israelites 40 years of peace.
Deborah, a prophetess and a “judge” had more of the role of a godly counselor and deliverer than the courtroom judges of modern times. As a compassionate woman, (she is called “a mother in Israel”) living in the hills not far north of Jerusalem, she must have become aware of the suffering and hardship of her people who lived in Galilee. No doubt she was responsible for uniting her people in the hill country and helping to raise a small standing army. As a judge she helped people make wise choices in their lives in the absence of prominent godly leadership among the people. Her life is an enduring example of God’s willingness and ability to use a devoted woman (or man) to change the course of history and bring about a great military victory. Though the problems must have seemed insurmountable, Deborah saw the need of Israel, knew of the promises of God, and made herself available to Yahweh. It was God who had the exact plan for the hour. All that was required was obedience and courage.
“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappodoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment,” (4:4-5).
The Song of Deborah
The Book of Judges, Chapter 5
| 1 “Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam in that day:
2 `That the leaders took the lead in Israel,
3 `Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the LORD I will sing, I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.
4 `LORD, when thou didst go forth from Seir,
5 The mountains quaked before the LORD, yon Sinai before the LORD, the God of Israel.
6 `In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, in the days of Jael, caravans ceased
7 `The peasantry ceased in Israel, they ceased
8 When new gods were chosen, when war was in the gates. Was shield or spear to be seen among forty thousand in Israel?
9 My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel
10 `Tell of it, you who ride on tawny asses,
11 To the sound of musicians at the watering places, here they repeat the triumphs of the LORD, the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel.
`Then down to the gates marched the people of the LORD.
12 `Awake, awake, Deborah!
13 `Then down marched the remnant of the noble;
14 `From Ephraim they set out thither into the valley, following you, Benjamin, with your kinsmen; from Machir marched down the commanders, and from Zebulun those who bear the marshal’s staff;
15 the princes of Issachar came with Deborah,
`Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
| 16 Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds,
to hear the piping for the flocks? Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
17 `Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he abide with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea
18 Zebulun is a people that jeopared their lives to the death; Napthtali too, on the heights of the field.
19 `The kings came, they fought; they fought the kings of Canaan, at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo; they got no spoils of silver.
20 `From heaven fought the stars, from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21 The torrent Kishon swept them away, the onrushing torrent, the torrent Kishon. March on soul, my soul, with might!
22 `Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.
23 `Curse Meroz, says the angel of the LORD,
24 `Most blessed of women be Jael,
25 He asked water and she gave him milk, she brought him curds in a lordly bowl.
26 She put her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workman’s mallet; and she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple.
27 He sank, he fell,
28 `Out of the window she peered, the mother of Sisera gazed through the lattice: “Why is his chariot so long in coming?
29 Her wisest ladies make answer, nay, she gives answer to herself,
“Are they not finding and dividing the spoil?-
31 `So perish all thine enemies, O LORD!
And the land had rest for forty years,” (Judges 4-5).