Deborah A Mother in Israel
Some people are unlikely leaders. On the surface, they appear to lack the distinctives we usually associate with greatness. David, for example, was a shepherd boy, a dreamer, who wrote songs and played a harp—qualities not generally sought after when you’re call ing someone to vanquish your enemies. Yet God not only called him to be a man of war but to be king over all Israel. Why? Because David had something more important than military skill or royal pedigree. He had faith.
In the days of the judges, a woman named Deborah became leader of Israel. By our standards, she, too, was an unlikely candidate for such a call. The Bible says little about her credentials other than the fact that she was a wife and mother (Jud. 4:4; 5:7), neither of which qualified her to run a country. But she had the same advantage David had. She had faith.
At a time when Israel was floundering and every man was doing what seemed right in his own eyes, God reached down and plucked out a woman of great faith who was willing to follow obediently after Him.
Scripture says Deborah was a prophetess, meaning God spoke to her and she relayed His Word to the people. She was a judge, meaning she ruled and individuals came to her to settle their disputes. And, of course, she was a wife and mother in Israel.
Her best-known feat came when the Israelites cried out to God for relief after 20 years of oppression under Jabin, king of Canaan. Mighty Jabin had 900 iron chariots and ruled from Hazor in northern Israel. Deborah, who lived in the south, outside Jerusalem in the hills of Ephraim, summoned Barak from the tribe of Naphtali, near Hazor. When Barak arrived, Deborah boldly relayed God’s plan:
Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward Mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? And I will draw unto thee, to the river Kishon, Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand (4:6–7).
Barak was willing to comply, but he insisted Deborah go with him. Deborah agreed but told Barak that now he would relinquish to a woman the honor of capturing Sisera.
That day God fought for Israel, as Deborah knew He would. The Lord sent a torrential downpour that flooded the Kishon River and mired Sisera’s seemingly invincible armada in the mud.1 Sisera fled and was done in by another woman, Jael, who drove a tent stake through his head and killed him. Thus God delivered Israel.
Afterward, Deborah wrote a beautiful song (Jud. 5) that exalts God and reveals much about herself. She was a woman of profound faith and discernment. She had astutely assessed her country’s dismal situation (5:6–7), understood the reason for it (idolatry, v. 8), and took charge (vv. 7, 12). She had risen to such power that when she summoned Barak, he came immediately, never questioning her authority or instructions. Deborah is the only woman in the Bible who both ruled Israel and gave military orders to a man, with God’s blessing.
When she demanded the troops be mustered, she expected them to show up. Those who ignored the call, she cursed: “Curse ye Meroz . . . curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof, because they came not to the help of the LORD” (v. 23). Deborah probably could not understand why these fighting men of Israel had so little faith in God.
On the one hand, Deborah seemed “tough,” a woman to be reckoned with. Yet, on the other, she seemed extremely maternal. Only a mother who cared for her children would even think to picture Sisera’s mother as waiting anxiously for her son to come home, worried that he was late returning from battle (v. 28).
Interestingly, no scriptural evidence exists that Deborah usurped male authority. Sad to say, little godly male authority probably existed in those days. Israel was in such sorry spiritual shape that God further shamed the nation by placing its top leadership into the hands of a woman.
However, we might do well to remember that the history of modern missions is filled with women of great faith whom God placed in positions of enormous responsibility. In the jungles of Colombia and Venezuela, Sophie Muller planted hundreds of churches for more than 50 years until the Lord finally called her home in October 1995. Her autobiography, published by New Tribes Mission, is called His Voice Shakes the Wilderness.
After Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and three other missionaries were speared to death in Ecuador by the Huaorani (Auca) Indians in 1956, two women succeeded them: Elisabeth Elliot, Jim’s widow, and Rachel Saint, Nate’s sister. Miss Saint remained in Ecuador, leading the Indians to Christ, discipling and ministering to them until her death in 1994.
Living in a world driven by material success and accomplishment, it’s easy to forget that it isn’t so much our skills God wants as it is our wills. Barak, no doubt, was a fine military man. And he is listed in Hebrews 11 as a man of faith. However, he would have captured Sisera himself had he trusted God a little more. Deborah, on the other hand, was a wife and mother. But her faith made her a vessel of far greater use to the Lord than anyone would have imagined.
The Bible teaches that our time on Earth is short: “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (Jas. 4:14). Many people may shake mountains with their credentials and build kingdoms with their skills. But in the end, what will count for eternity will not be what we accomplished with our abilities but what God accomplished through us with our faith.