Deborah. Have you heard of her? When I first started reading and studying about the different women of the Bible, I had actually never heard of Deborah. But immediately upon hearing about her, I was intrigued and needed to know more. The more I study and the more I read about her and her situation, the more I become fascinated by her. Both as a person and in general about why her story was included in the Bible and what we are to learn from her. There’s so much we don’t know. And so many opinions and conjectures about her and how and why she came to be in power. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning and set the stage, shall we?
The book of Judges is the continuing story of the Israelites after God has delivered them from Egypt in the book of Exodus, after they wandered in the desert for 40 years, and after God raises up Joshua to lead them to their promised land, in the book of Joshua. Judges opens with the death of Joshua and the account of the various tribes of Israel taking possession- or attempting to take possession of the land that God has given them.
At this time, there was no anointed king or ruler over Israel and the Israelites continued in a self-defeating cycle of sin and crying out to God in their misery. Each time they cried out to God, God sent a deliverer for Israel and gave them peace throughout the life of that deliverer. Until they died. And then Israel returned to sinning worse than the generation before them. (Judges 2:16-19)
We see the beginning of another sin/redemption cycle in chapter 4 of Judges: The scene opens in chapter 4 with this;
“After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. so the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin, king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help. Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided.” (v1-5)
To me, just reading those first verses was somewhat shocking. I’ve read, and re-read and re-read in commentaries, in different versions of the Bible and it’s true. There was a woman who was leading and judging Israel!
Historically and Biblically, we don’t know a lot about Deborah. The Bible doesn’t say how she became the leader/judge over Israel, although I sure wish it did. One common opinion I’ve heard from people and also read in some of the commentaries was that that there were just no good men available and so God instead had to raise a woman to lead. The inference is that God was using the leadership of a woman to shame the men. I can see their point, as culturally, women were treated with far less value and respect than men. But personally, I do not share that opinion.
As I’ve read and studied and thought and prayed about this issue, some things have come to mind that have formed my opinion on this and I will share them with you- but, you are welcome to have a differing opinion on the subject.. it really doesn’t SAY why or how she came to power, so this is all conjecture.
The first reason that I do not believe that there were no good men so God had to raise a woman, is first and foremost because the text doesn’t say that. The text is very clear that Israel was in sin and was being oppressed by their enemies because of their sin and their unrepentant-ness. In other places in Judges it talks about Israel being acclimated into the culture of Canaan which included worshipping their gods and participating in their pagan rituals, etc. But it does not say that because of that the men were passive and lazy. It also doesn’t say that God would have preferred a man to lead and couldn’t find one.
The second reason I don’t believe this is that it seems clear to me that if God had wanted to raise up a man to lead during this season of Israel, he would have. Judges is full of different leaders whom God raised up. Some good, some bad, but God has his hand in all of it. So, if God had wanted to raise a man up in this season, he didn’t even need a good one! He could have raised anyone, and He chose Deborah, a woman.
I believe that God specifically chose Deborah to lead. If you familiarize yourself enough with the stories in the Bible, you will find that a lot of the authors wrote in a way that highlights the irony of situations. I believe that this story is perhaps one of them. Chapter 5 of Judges is a song of praise written and sung by Deborah herself and Barak the military leader that led Israel to victory. At the end, you get a picture of the kind of man that Sisera (the enemy that they were fighting) was. He was cruel, he was evil. He was particularly cruel to women, collecting them as spoils of war probably to rape and abuse them. How ironic that he himself and his army should be killed by two women. And how beautiful a picture we are given of two women, faithful and valiant, standing in the gap to fight for and protect their sisters.
The different leaders that God raised in the book of Judges highlights some powerful leaders, some awful leaders, some weak leaders and some faithful leaders and many of them were unexpected. But, they all have one thing in common. They all were raised up by God. God’s spirit came upon all of them and NONE of the judges were meant to be the hero of the story. The point of the book is that there is only ONE hero and we are all in desperate need of Him.
So- was Deborah raised up because no good men could be found? I don’t think so. Was she raised intentionally, by God for a specific time and purpose? Yes.
To be continued…