Deborah, whose Hebrew name means “bee” or “wasp,” is a woman to be admired and praised for her commitment to the God of Israel and to His people. She made her appearance in history at a strategic time when her nation was paralyzed by fear and devoid of leadership. One should not be surprised that at just such a moment, God raised up a woman to inspire and encourage; and by so doing, exercise her feminine leadership in appropriate ways to be a part of the victory God planned for His people.
This extraordinary woman excelled in every area of her life:
- Identifying herself as the wife of Lapidoth (Judg 4:4), she understood the priorities for a woman who had chosen to marry and become the helper of her husband and stand under his leadership in their marriage. Every indication in the text is that she was a homemaker. Although no children are named, she is also called a mother in Israel (Judg 5:7), which may have referred to her own children or simply her spiritual motherhood within the nation of Israel. Nevertheless, she did what God called her out to do at her home, holding court under a palm tree in her own yard instead of taking a place at the city gate (4:5; see Ruth 4:1-2; Prov 22:22) as was the custom for prominent city officials.
- As a prophetess, she acknowledged that what she had to say came directly from God—not from her own wisdom. A message from any prophet or prophetess was limited in its authority by the extent of the words coming from God Himself. She showed a high degree of spiritual sensitivity and disciplined character, which restrained her from taking matters into her own hands, however hopeless the situation seemed. She called for Barak—not to be her general and to do her bidding, but rather to deliver to him God’s words (4:6-7). When Barak shrunk from his assignment, Deborah did not push him aside and move forward on her own, but rather encouraged him and agreed to help She did not go out to pursue venues for public proclamation of the Word of the Lord; she did not function in the same way as the male prophets in the Old Testament.
- Judging Israel at that time, she must have truly ministered to those who came to her home—she did not put out her shingle and seek to attract clients. Her judgments were done in private and without drawing attention to herself and on the request of those who came seeking her wisdom. She must have been a master at using teachable moments to listen to problems and suggest solutions based upon her understanding of divine wisdom. Unlike other judges in the Old Testament, Deborah did not assume a military function; rather she went up with Barak (Judg 4:10) and seemed quite satisfied to fulfill the role she was given with no military position, not seeking to lead the troops, but being a helper and encourager for Barak, whom the troops followed.
Lessons in Feminine Leadership
Deborah was not head of the nation of Israel; she was not the nation’s military leader. However, she is surely one of the most honored and noble persons in the book of Judges—quite a feat in these very dark days (Judg 21:25). She was a patriot; she was a strong woman—even in the midst of weak men, and yet she uses her strength to strengthen the men around her by being the epitome of biblical womanhood.
Here are some special traits of this uncommon woman of faith:
- She listened to God and responded to His call on her life in commitment to what He called her to do (Judg 4:5).
- Her servant’s heart enabled her to embrace great challenges with quiet confidence (Judg 4:9), what the New Testament later describes as “a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Pet 3:4).
- She received God’s assignment and then used her own creativity and giftedness to delegate the tasks according to His directive (Judg 4:6-7).
- She did not forget to offer thanksgiving to God for what she knew to be His deliverance (Judg 5:2).
- Her leadership was based on humbling herself before God, accepting His authority, and doing everything according to His plan (Judg 4:4).
- She knew how to inspire and motivate others (Judg 4:9, 14).
- Deborah is indeed a woman used of God to exercise her feminine leadership, while always affirming in the process biblically prescribed male leadership (Judg 4:8).
No one could say that Deborah’s gifts or roles were inferior, but any careful reading of the text will affirm that the way she used those gifts and even the roles in which she used those gifts never took her outside of biblical boundaries. She had a unique and “out of the box” assignment from God, but she affirmed male leadership in the way she carried out her tasks. Her giftedness was harnessed for the Lord’s use.