JUDGES 4: DEBORAH THE WONDER WOMAN
JUST HOW WONDERFUL WAS DEBORAH?
Now Deborah, a prophet, 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 went up to her to have their disputes decided.
She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’” Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”
“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him (Judges 4:4-10 NIV).
Of Israel’s 14 judges, Deborah is the only woman. And, Deborah is not the only woman who takes center stage in Judges 4; the second is a woman named Jael. Males get most of the press in the Bible, so when two women get as much ink as these two, we’d better pay attention. Of course, there are many other women whose stories teach and inspire us—women like Miriam, sister of Moses, prophetesses like Huldah in the Old Testament and Philip’s daughters in the New Testament.
Two books in the Bible are named after women: Ruth and Esther. Priscilla, who served alongside Apostle Paul, is yet another example of a strong woman whose influence is unquestionable. But, this is not a devotional about all the women in the Bible (not nearly enough space for that!); this is about only two of them. Deborah’s roles are significant. Not only was she a judge, but also a wife, prophetess, military leader, and a poet.
As her story unfolds, the Israelites are once again subject to an enemy because they have done evil in the God’s eyes—this time to a Canaanite king named Jabin. God informed her that it was time to throw off this oppressor. So, she drew up a battle plan which would draw Jabin’s forces, led by the Canaanite commander, Sisera, into a valley where Israel would meet them in war. Deborah’s commander, Barak, was hesitant to lead Israel’s troops into battle, and agreed to do so only if Deborah went with him. She agreed to go, but told Barak that when the victory came it would come at the hand of a woman. Game on!
Sisera assembled his army and made ready for battle. Note verse 14—the whole chapter hinges on what Deborah says to Barak: ‘Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?” Clearly, Deborah knew who was directing this battle and from whom the victory would come. The victory is recorded in just one verse (see verse 15). Sisera escaped and ran for sanctuary in Jael’s tent. Why? Because Jael’s husband (a man named Heber—see verse 11) had a treaty with Jabin, the Canaanite commander. Sisera thought he would be safe there, but did not realize Jael was sympathetic to the Israelite cause. Falling asleep from exhaustion in her tent, he never saw Jael coming with a hammer and a tent peg, which she drove through his temple, pinning his skull to the ground. Her expertise with the hammer and tent peg is no surprise since Bedouin women were the ones who set up the tents. Battle won!
Score the victory to a woman, just as Deborah had predicted. Does it trouble you that God delivered his people through Jael’s treachery? You may wonder why she didn’t stop before driving the tent peg through Sisera’s head and ask, “What would Jesus do?” But, Jael was born more than a thousand years before Christ.
It’s important to recognize that there’s a difference between what the Bible reports and what it recommends. For example, just because King David had multiple wives doesn’t mean that’s what God recommends you do. But, the objection comes: “Yes, but, it looks like the Bible approves of Jael’s actions.” How are we to understand all this mayhem and violence? Well, much like those annoying commercials that break into the story, leaving you hanging, I’m going to leave you hanging until part two of this story. As the programs sometimes say, “We’ll be right back.”
Father, you have reminded me once again that the victory belongs to you. You are the source of wisdom and power. Thank you for people of faith like Deborah who demonstrate what a life of faith looks like. Help me move ahead in my battle against wrong, knowing that you will defeat the enemy. In Jesus' name, Amen!
Dr. Dan Dozier
Dan Dozier preaches for the Rural Hill Church of Christ in Antioch, TN. Dr. Dozier holds degrees from Lipscomb University, Harding School of Theology, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate from Abilene Christian University. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, JaneLee, since 1972. They have three married children and eight grandchildren.