The Old Testament: Deborah The Judge

Deborah was the only woman to be a Judge of Israel. Her courage, humility and faith teach us a great deal about how we should serve God.

Deborah is a unique character in the Bible. She is the only woman to be a Judge of Israel. Her story takes place between the years 1209 and 1169 B.C. She was a prophetess and Judge of Israel, the equivalent of king. How she came to be chosen for this position is not recorded but it is evident in her story that her leadership was honored. As Judge, she was also leader of the army of Israel.

The story of Deborah takes place during the third apostasy, or falling away from God. After God delivered the Israelites from Egypt into Israel, they went through seven apostasies. The Israelites intermarried with other tribes in the land and turned away from God into pagan practices. With each apostasy Israel suffers oppression and wars. And with each apostasy, God raises up a deliverer to rescue the Israelites from their oppression. Deborah's story is found in Judges Books Four and Five.

The first thing that becomes obvious about the story of Deborah is how much it is like the story of Christ. Over and over again in the Old Testament, we see the Israelites ending up oppressed, often as a consequence of their own actions. And over and over again, we see God send a deliverer to rescue the Israelites. God seems to enjoy sending deliverers that the people would not expect. They certainly couldn't have expected a woman to deliver them from the Canaanites. Jesus was not the Messiah that the Pharisees expected either. Yet, both deliverers got the job done.

During the time of Deborah's rule, the nation of Israel had been under domination by the Canaanites for twenty years. They had suffered terrible atrocities and finally began to cry out to God for deliverance from this enemy. (Judges 4:3)

Jabin ruled the Canaanites and the captain of their army was Sisera. The Canaanite army had 900 iron chariots and many more warriors to boot. Poor Israel had only 10,000 warriors; they were badly outnumbered. Outnumbered or not, God tells Deborah to instruct Barak, her general, to take their 10,000 soldiers up to the River Kishon on Mount Tabor. There, God would send Sisera and his 900 iron chariots and the Canaanite soldiers. God tells Deborah that the Israelites will win the battle. (Judges 4:6-7)

Barak says he'll obey this command only if Deborah accompanies him. She agrees. Remarkable. This general is given a prophecy that his army will win but won't go to battle without Deborah. We can discern two things from this: that Barak had incredible faith in Deborah, if not in God, and that Deborah was a courageous and faithful woman.

Here we sit 3,500 years later and women are not allowed by our government to serve on the front lines. Yet this woman was not only going to serve on the front lines but lead the battle! This alone is astonishing for the times. That the woman would be so willing is almost unbelievable. When God asks us to do things that seem outrageous or impossible, how willing are we to go ahead and do them? Deborah teaches us that with God all things are possible. No person is useless or not good enough to serve God. And, when we are willing to obey Him, God can work through us to achieve incredible victories, even against terrible odds.

Deborah doesn't take any credit for her actions or for the victory their army was to enjoy. In Judges 4:8, she tells Barak that the honor will not be for him but for God. Her humility is a lesson to us. Too often, we are quick to grab the glory of our successes instead of thanking God for them. Jesus taught, "4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:4 KJV)

The Israelites defeat the Canaanites, killing them all except Sisera, their leader. Sisera flees and hides out in the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. He believes he is safe here, because the king of the Canaanites was at peace with the Kenites. But, Jael was no friend of the Canaanites or of Sisera. She slays Sisera, driving a tent stake through his head. There is nowhere to hide from God. This story tells us how God conquers evil and sin; it cannot be hidden from Him. He is all seeing, all knowing and all-powerful. We cannot hide our sins from Him, but if we confess them, He is faithful to forgive them. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9 KJV)

In Chapter Five of Judges, Deborah sings to the Lord with thanks and praise for delivering the Israelites from the Canaanites. Even though she would certainly have bragging rights considering her position for the times and the success of the battle, Deborah instead gives all the glory to God. She also thanks Him specifically for what He has done for the nation. She recounts the miracles He has performed. What's important in this is that she is making an effort to recognize God's work and thank Him for it. How often do we even remember to mutter "ňúthank you' let alone enumerate the things that God has done for us and thank Him for each one of them? Her behavior is a model of gratitude for us.

Deborah's story is largely about success against all odds. Though everything about the times and the culture was against Deborah serving as the leader of the nation, she did. Though her army was vastly outnumbered, they won. Though her enemy tried to hide among sympathizers, one he believed to be on his side killed him anyway. Deborah didn't allow the circumstances around her to overwhelm her or interfere with her belief in God's promises to her.

I struggle with believing against all odds. I'm sure that I'm not alone. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the circumstances of our lives and get caught up in them. Circumstances can fool us, if we let them. Had Deborah believed in the circumstances and not God, Israel would have remained under the oppression of the Canaanites. Don't block the rewards God has for you with unbelief.

Deborah's courage and humility are models for us. She kept her eyes focused on God and not the circumstances around her. She gave God the glory for the victory and she thanked Him specifically for what He did for her and her country. She reminds us that we all have the potential to do great things for God if we will only listen, trust and obey.

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