If you have not yet caught Part 1 of Deborah’s story, go HERE to read that first. This is a continuation of her story.
The name Deborah means, “bee”. Which could mean that she has sweetness of character to her friends and a sharp sting to her enemies. It’s sort of makes me think of that scene from, “You’ve Got Mail” where Meg Ryan’s character is trying to psych herself up for her news interview and boxing in the corner saying, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!” It’s a funny scene in the movie because Meg Ryan’s character is anything but a stinging bee.. but that description rings true for Deborah.
The text describes Deborah as a prophetess. This is significant because she is one of few women named in the Bible as a prophet and the ONLY judge to be named both judge and prophet. To be a prophet meant that God’s spirit had come upon her and that God spoke through her to his people. This indicates to me that Deborah may have carried a different weight/type of authority than some of the other judges and/or that people around her may have viewed or responded to her differently than some of the other judges.
It is interesting to note as well that Deborah was the only judge of Israel to be in power BEFORE a militant victory. Winning a war was the beginning of the rule for all the other judges. But not so with Deborah. She was already established as a judge and leader over Israel before conflict arose. People around her already valued her wisdom and intelligence and came to her to have their disputes settled before any military action took place. She was influencing Israel long before she fighting wars.
And then God speaks, and we really get into the story. Deborah calls to Barak, the military leader and tells him that God is going to deliver them and it is time to fight their enemies (Judges 4:6-7).
This makes me ask a few questions; At this point, Israel had been being oppressed for 20 years what changed? Was God waiting on Israel to finally cry out to Him? If Deborah was leading Israel at the time, why did it take so long to do something about their enemy? What was Barak’s part in this? What was he doing for that 20 years?
My best guess is that they were just waiting for God to come and deliver them. If Deborah was a prophet, that indicates to me that she was faithful and obedient. I know that I have had situations where I have seen or felt an injustice and cried out to God only to have Him say wait. So I wait, painfully, as I watch the injustices continue to happen and nothing changes. Until one day, God says move, and then things change suddenly. Maybe it was like that.
At any rate, Deborah calls to Barak. He comes, which signifies her power and influence at the time. She tells him that God has said that it is time to go to war and it’s time to rally the troops. He responds by saying, “If you go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”
These words are curious. Especially in the cultural context. The fact that a man is seemingly dependant on a woman is very unusual and it’s a very debated subject. Some people say that it was the response of a weak or passive man who was unable to summon the courage to fight the battle on his own. Some say that it was the response of a faithful man who wanted the assuring presence of the nations prophet to be with him. We will never know for certain, but I think that it was a combination of both.
Barak knew of course that Deborah held the power. He also would have known of her great wisdom and influence throughout the tribes of Israel. He knew how people responded to her. But most of all, he knew that she spoke for God. I believe that there is an element of faith and wisdom in him asking her to come along. Maybe he knew that with her power and influence she would have a better chance of rallying the troops than himself. He could have also been asking for the continued hand of God to be with them in his response for her to come. Both options seem to me like wisdom and faith.
On the other hand, it’s possible that he could have been scared senseless and needed her confidence to go with them in the fight- that may have also been true.
Deborah agrees swiftly and confidently to go along with Barak to the battlefield. This is a beautiful picture of leadership to me. Not only was she willing to go into battle, but she was willing to go first. It’s also such a beautiful picture of a woman who was so filled with faith in the God whom she loved that she was willing to go to the hard places, do hard things with full assurance that God would be by her side, doing what He said he would do. She didn’t know the plan. She had no idea how they were going to fight and win this battle against this mighty enemy. God didn’t tell her that. But she knew God. She knew his voice. She knew His promises. And she knew His love for His people. So she went.
After she agrees to go along with him, Deborah says to Barak, “… nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.”
We assume from her statement, since she is the leader of Israel at the time, that she means that she herself will get the glory for the victory. Maybe she did. We find out at the end of the chapter though that it was another woman named Jael who actually is the one to kill Sisera.
I wonder if she knew that Jael would be the one to kill Sisera. Or if she thought that she would be the one to get the glory since she was the one commanding the army. Did God reveal to her what was going to happen specifically, or just that it was time for them to go to war and that they would win?
There’s really no way to know. But if you read in Chapter 5 of Judges where Deborah and Barak write a song of praise to God and a replay of the story, they give a whole section in there of praise to Jael for her actions. Jael was heralded as a hero. Despite what Deborah knew or didn’t know in the beginning, she responds to Jael’s part in the story with praise and celebration. I see no evidence of anger or bitterness in her towards Jael for stealing part of her glory.
Again, what a testament to her faith and relationship with God. She was comfortable resting in the fact that ultimately GOD got the best glory. There were people who rose to the occasion in faith and followed God and they were praised for their faith. But she ultimately knew that it was God’s story and God’s victory and He was the one to which the praise should go. I find that so beautiful, and such a great reminder of the way that it is supposed to be among women. In our society today we have such fierce competition between women and it is exhausting. How much better would it be if we all could just rest in the fact that no matter what I do that is good or bad and no matter what you do that is good or bad, ultimately it’s all God’s story anyway…
Stay tuned for Part 3 of Deborah’s story coming soon!