I cannot contain my excitement! Today, we will be covering our namesake–the powerhouse, warrior, spirit-led, mighty woman of God–Deborah!
Image above from the newly released motion picture film, The Woman King, starring Viola Davis. Obviously this is not Deborah, but if you've watched the movie, I think you can agree that there are parallels. Viola's character and the all-female warrior unit (The Agojie) in general, are echoes of Deborah. (If you haven't watch it--GO! It will not disappoint!)
When the book of Judges opens, we are introduced to a lineage of fierce leaders. Warrior-leaders to be exact. These were men appointed by God into positions of leadership, in order for His promise and covenant that was established with His servant, Moses, to be carried out.
Thus, following Moses, we see a powerful line-up of these warrior-leader men.
First up was Joshua. In Judges 2:7 it states, “As long as Joshua lived, the people of Israel served the Lord, and after his death they continued to do so as long as those leaders were alive who had seen for themselves everything that the Lord had done for Israel.” Joshua left behind a legacy of commitment, faithfulness, and service to the Lord. He set a standard for his people to follow so that the generations after him could continue to walk in obedience with God’s covenant. After Joshua, the Lord appoints Othniel as their next leader. We see in Judges 3:7-11 how Othniel went to war and the Lord gives him victory over the King of Mesopotamia, ushering in 40 years of peace in the land. Succeeding Othniel is Ehud (Judges 3:12-30), who leads the Israelites in defeating Moab and ushers in 80 years of peace.
If history books existed during that time, the names of these men would fill their pages. They were the all-stars of the Israelite people. Mighty men, strong in battle, fearless leaders, and great warriors.
Then, in the fourth chapter of Judges, God introduces the next warrior-leader...a woman named Deborah.
Deborah was truly remarkable. She was a pioneer; a forerunner; an anomaly. In addition to being a Godly woman, she was also the only appointed female judge of her time, a prophet, and a wife. She was the genesis of the ‘boss lady’, ‘you-can- have-it-all’ modern woman.
All of her roles and titles are no doubt sensational. But, one of the aspects that I personally love most when it comes to Deborah was her ability to hear God’s voice by intentionally seeking Him in the secret place. She would go into nature to sit by the trees and waters, waiting & resting for the Father to speak.
It was different, a little out there, perhaps a bit eccentric.
I wonder if the other Israelites went back into their tents questioning how the crazy hippie lady became a judge and maybe even judged her for her unconventionality.
Either way, I don’t think Deborah cared very much. And the people had great respect for her because they would come to her for rulings and answers from God.
“Now Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet, and she was serving as a judge for the Israelites at that time. She used to sit under a certain palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel would go there for her decisions.”
(Judges 4: 4-5, Good News Translation)
Deborah was especially oily! By that I mean, the anointing over her life had a very strong potency, as she could use her prophetic gift to make sound judgments for the people of Israel– to lead them in a way that was to their benefit, while also remaining in line with God’s word. This is exactly what they needed because if you study the text, you will find how the very same group of people that had been delivered and blessed by the Lord, were also the same ones that were stuck in what seemed to be a never ending cycle of disobedience and sinning against God. We won’t get into all of the details since the purpose of the post today is to learn about Deborah…but let’s just say that the Israelite people often took their relationship with God for granted and consistently slid back into sin once a leader died. They were so fickle and clearly lacked the wisdom to make sound decisions.
So when Deborah comes onto the scene, she is the embodiment of God doing a new thing. He breaks from conformity and appoints a woman as a judge then uses her to help bring victory to the people.
Okay, let’s back up for one minute. If you are unfamiliar with the book of Judges or perhaps the bible itself, you may be wondering why the people needed victory in the first place. Well, allow me to fill you in: When the Israelites finally come out of their 40 years in the wilderness and are told to take possession of the land under the leadership of Joshua, though they had reached the promised land, they still had to contend with enemy forces. Namely, those enemies consisted of the Hivites, Jebusites, Amalekites, Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, and Gibeonites. God had commanded the Israelites to take possession of the whole land to “kill the people living in it as they advanced” (Joshua 9:24). However, Joshua and other Israelite leaders did not obey this command to the letter, by allowing some of the people they had been given explicit directions to kill, to instead live among them–working for them and carrying their water. What began as servitude, overtime snowballed into a cross-contamination through intermarrying and adopting their gods.
Deborah is introduced to us as the Israelites are once again in a snag– faced with harsh treatment from a foreign leader. (Enemies they had failed to conquer due to lapses in judgement from previous leaders.)
“After Ehud died, the people of Israel sinned against the Lord again. So the Lord let them be conquered by Jabin, a Canaanite king who ruled in the city of Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived at Harosheth of the Gentiles. Jabin had 900 iron chariots, and he ruled the people of Israel with cruelty and violence for twenty years. Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help.” (Judges 4:1-3, Good News Translation)
Deborah was getting ready to be used by God to deliver Jabin and Sisera into the hands of the Israelites. As stated previously, in order to hear from the Lord and get the proper instructions that were entirely spirit-led, “she would sit under a certain palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim” (Judges 4:5). Let’s break down the significance of her location:
Ramah in Hebrew means "hill". The etymology of the word ramah in Hebrew is to be high or height.
Bethel means “the house of God.” Bethel was the scene of Jacob's vision in the book of Genesis (28:11-19 ; 31:13 ) and he lived there. In the troubled times when there was no king in Israel, it was to Bethel that the people went up in their distress to ask counsel of God. When we look at the etymology of the word bethel in Hebrew, we find that it comes from the word bayit, meaning house. House can denote merely a building “but mostly it denotes the realm of authority of the house-father. This is commonly the living alpha male of a household, but may very well be a founding ancestor (as in the familiar term the "house of Israel"). In the larger economy, a house interacts with other houses. These interactions are governed by the"father" and executed by the"sons": those people living in the house, irrespective of any biological relation. The sons then combined add up to mean both “mother” and “tribe.”
(*Excerpted from: Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary)
Lastly, Ephraim means two-fold increase, or doubly fruitful. Its etymology breaks the word down to mean “temple of fruitful learning.”
Don’t you just love the intentionality of God!
When we put this all together, we see that the place where Deborah was no doubt instructed to go in order that she may hear directions and receive strategy for the Israelite people, was a consecrated place. The significance of the hill is that it was above; high and lifted up. The height provided a strategic vantage point. Like an eagle who soars above other birds in the sky, they can see what most cannot. Eagles are blessed with an astounding 20/5 vision, which means that what looks sharp and clear to us at 5 feet is just as clear to an eagle from 20 feet away. Therefore Deborah had clear, sharp vision.
In addition to being on a hill (high, lifted up, height), the location was also historically a place of encounter. Jacob experienced an encounter there; the Israelites had encounters with the Lord during difficult times. It would seem as though this physical location was the closest thing to a temple or sanctuary– the only difference being that this one was not held up by four walls and a roof, and was not erected by human hands. It was a site of spiritual activity. A sort of portal you could say, that provided an entry point to the heavenly realm. The house of God, the secret place, where little houses (believers) that made up the family (tribes), could interact with the Alpha and Omega; The Father.
So we have clear, sharp vision in a consecrated place where she could access the realms of the Holy spirit. The last part is the perfect cherry-topper. When Deborah would go to this sacred place to hear from the Lord, what she was receiving was secret intel from the Creator Himself! This was all war tactics and battle strategies; tactical meetings reviewing the plans to help the Israelite people and to defeat their enemies. Class was in session and the knowledge being received would bear much fruit.
The Bible tells us that anyone who seeks wisdom should ask for it (James 1:5). I suspect that this practice of going to this place in the hill country of Ephraim is something that Deborah must have been doing for some time, likely many times before she was ever appointed into any office. I would even go so far as to argue that it was her consistency and faithfulness in seeking God and dwelling in the secret place that was able to propel her into unlocking her gifting as a prophet and accelerating her success as a judge. We barely get any details on her past and history, but something tells me that she had been training for this moment all her life.
I wonder if as a little girl, she had witnessed the leadership of some of the fierce leaders mentioned at the beginning of the piece and dared to dream that she could also be like them one day. I wonder if she recognized the never-ending cycle her people seemed to be stuck in and it started to impress upon her this urge to want to know what could be done to resolve this issue. I wonder if she witnessed the persecution first-hand and it made her want to draw closer and closer to God, our comforter and friend.
Imagine the amount of hours Deborah must have had to engage in battle by experiencing her own spiritual warfare, in order for her to be able to carry out a task of this magnitude. I’m sure the enemy threw everything but the kitchen sink to try and stop her from stepping fully into her purpose and power. I’m sure she faced tremendous challenges, setbacks, and attacks on her character and gender. I’m sure they questioned her competence and ability to serve as a judge. I’m sure she probably dealt with her own feelings of imposter syndrome. And yet, despite it all, we know that she was able to silence the voice of the enemy and push through the turbulence in order for God’s will to be done.
This is why I love Deborah so much. She is a warrior in every sense of the word–in mind, body, and spirit. It takes a different level of focus, faith, and commitment to be a forerunner. It takes a whole different level of thinking to have the courage to not be well-liked; to have the courage to stand out from the crowd; to have the courage to trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own (or other’s unsolicited) understanding.
Deborah was that girl! She was not to be played with, because she had skin in the game. And that is why she had so much respect from the people, namely the other Israelite male leaders.
In Judges 4:6-7:
“She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from the city of Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has given you this command: ‘Take ten thousand men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them to Mount Tabor. I will bring Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, to fight against you at the River Kishon. He will have his chariots and soldiers, but I will give you victory over him.’”
Notice his response:
“Then Barak replied, “I will go if you go with me, but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go either” (v.8).
There was zero hesitation on his part when it came to her directions. He did not question her judgment in any way. Instead, to accentuate the respect he had towards her, he goes as far as to give an ultimatum. Some might argue that perhaps this reveals a bit of cowardice in Barak, but I would beg to differ. In my opinion, I think Barak’s request in asking Deborah to join him and the other ten thousand men in battle is actually meant to be used as a model for the church, especially within leadership, that men should stand in agreement with & support women of God; that it doesn’t belittle or emasculate a man for embracing a woman operating fully in her power; that it is not a man vs. woman conflict. Essentially, it is a beautiful picture of a united front.
Barak did not have to have Deborah come along. She very clearly told him that the Lord said they would have victory over Jabin and Sisera, but his decision to have her accompany the men shows his level of wisdom and is a mark of true leadership. Even when Deborah informs him that he “won’t get credit for the victory, because the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman” (v.9), he doesn’t even flinch.
They set off with the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun to Kedesh–ten thousand men, Barak...and Deborah.
What a boss!
And don’t get it twisted, Deborah didn’t go with the men to just sit pretty. She continued to pray, continued to seek God in the secret place, and continued to listen for his directions. In verse 14 of chapter 4, she proves to be quite useful when she tells Barak the exact moment for him and the Israelite army to strike.
“Go! The Lord is leading you! Today he has given you victory over Sisera.”
The Israelites are successful in battle, leaving not even one man alive from Sisera’s army. And when it is all said and done, not only is Deborah praised in song by the people, but Barak as well (see Judges chapter 5: The Song of Deborah and Barak).
In this song of praise, they honor Deborah for the major role she played in the victory:
The towns of Israel stood abandoned,
they stood empty until you came,
came like a mother for Israel.
This is the spirit and anointing of Deborah. One of a warrior, wise & righteous judge, defender, and mother. She is such a great example and model for how we all should be as women. She is admirable for so many obvious reasons…but the primary one for me is her relationship and closeness to God. If you took all of her titles and accolades away, what is left–the foundation–is a steadfast, unwavering, devoted relationship with the One that matters most. And that is everything. Because she sought first the kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), so many wonderful things were added to her, and she was able to impact and influence a great number of people through her obedience.
Deborah, we salute you!
Next up in the series, we’ll be covering Jael who was actually the woman Deborah was referring to when she told Barak that the Lord would hand Sisera over to a woman! Jael is a wildcard, who seems to come out of nowhere, but because of her quick thinking and fearlessness, she gets the victory for the Israelite people. Her story is a good follow up to Deborah because it is a strong example that all women are useful and valuable in the kingdom. Deborah was highly accomplished, well-respected and well-known. Jael, well....if you want to know more come back and read our next post!