Deborah, Female Bible Judge

Bible References: Judges chapters 4 and 5.

Heart of Story: Deborah was a prophetess, possibly before she became a judge over Israelites. She is the only woman judge in the Bible.

Back Story: Deborah was a member of the tribe of Ephraim. She gave judgements under a palm tree between the towns of Ramah and Bethel which were about four miles apart. Israelites came to her to settle their disputes; she didn’t travel. When Deborah became a judge over Israelites, she was a wife. Her husband’s name was Lapidoth. In the Song of Deborah, she is named a “Mother of Israel.” Whether Deborah birthed children and/or she was named Mother because she saved Israelites isn’t recorded in the Judges’ chapters.

The Bible didn’t record prophecies which Deborah gave before the ones associated with the incident with Commander Barak and the battle with the Canaanite general, Sisera.  Yet, she was regard as God’s prophet among Israelites. Although a judge, nowhere does the Bible record that she was given God’s Spirit for the task described in these Bible chapters; however, clearly, God’s Spirit was on her.

At the time of this story in Judges, King Jabin of Hazor, a Canaanite, led a confederacy of several city-states against the Israelites. His army was led by Sisera and it contained 900 chariots, a very impressive number. King Jabin had oppressed the Israelites for 20 years when God told Deborah to initiate action to free Israelites from Jabin’s oppression.

Story Line: Acting on God’s direction, Deborah contacted Barak of Naphtali. Readers are not given information on how God communicated with Deborah, i.e., dream, vision, angel.

Barak came to Deborah. Deborah directed Barak to lead 10,000 men from the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali to Mount Tabor where God would give Sisera (commander of King Jabin’s army into Barak and Israelites’ hands. Barak heard Deborah’s direction but only agreed gather the soldiers and travel to Mount Tabor if Deborah went with him.

Deborah agreed to accompany Barak but was not happy with his doubt. She told Barak a woman would have the glory of killing Sisera rather than Barak.

As expected Sisera attached the Israelites and God gave the victory to Barak to including killing all of Jabin’s soldiers. Sisera escaped on foot and arrived at the tent of the Kenite Jael. She invited Sisera into her tent. After Sisera fell into an exhausted sleep, Jael killed him with a tent peg through his head.

Pondering Relationships: The primary relationships in Deborah’s story are between Deborah and God and between her and Commander Barak. Deborah the prophetess and judge obeyed God’s direction. Commander Barak acted as Deborah directed but with less confidence that God or Deborah desired.

The story of the Kenite, Jael, is part of the story of Deborah told in Judges; yet, possibly the two women never met. Deborah prophesy  that a woman would kill Sisera was from God and in it she did not mention Jael by name. Deborah didn’t need to know who the woman would be who killed Sisera. It was sufficient that God knew.

The African Bible Commentary noted that the story of Deborah should put to rest any question about women being leaders.

Reflection: All of King Jabin’s oppression was able to occur because the Israelites did not kill the Canaanites when the Israelites entered the Promised Land. Hmmm, makes me wonder what consequences I reap because I did not or do not obey God.

Copyright: June 15, 2019 Carolyn Adams Roth

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