God uses women in key roles in His work. In the Old and New Testament, we see many women being used by God, either behind closed doors (invisible to the public) or openly. Deborah is one of the most influential women in the Bible.
Deborah played multiple key roles: at home (mother), in her profession (judge), in God’s house (priestess), and in ministry (prophet, pastor, worship leader). She heard God’s voice and shared God’s Word with others. As a priestess, she didn’t offer sacrifices, as the men did, but she led worship services and preached.
God endowed her with powerful qualities, enabling her to fulfill His mandate here on earth. Deborah used these characteristics wisely and in obedience to God. She abused none of it. She is the only woman of the Old Testament known for her own faith and acts, not because of her connection to her husband or another man.
As Christian women, we are not ‘just’ wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters. No. We are daughters of the King! God chose us and has a purpose for each of us; at home, at work, in society, and in church. We should never let the fact that we are women let us think less of ourselves, even if others talk us down. We can rather look up to women like Deborah and receive inspiration to step into our God-given calling.
As women of God, we can learn precious lessons from Deborah in the Bible. Her acts and her characteristics can encourage us to be like her, a woman of God, confidently functioning in her ministry.
Which book in the bible talks about Deborah?
We mostly know Deborah for being a judge. God placed judges over Israel when the Israelites had turned their backs on God. The book of Judges describes successive individuals, each from a different tribe of Israel, chosen by God to rescue the people from their enemies and establish justice. Deborah was one of them.
She was fourth in the order of the judges. Like the rest of the judges, she became a leader of her people in times of national distress. The first Bible verse that mentions Deborah is Judges 4 verse 4 (NLT):
“Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time.”
The Book of Judges is the second of the historic books of the Old Testament. When we add the various time spans of the Judges together, they total 410 years. However, several judges’ time of service probably overlapped since most were from different tribes and regions of the land, so the actual period may be fewer years.
The author of the book of Judges is anonymous. However, Jewish tradition believes the prophet/judge Samuel is the author.
What was special about Deborah?
Deborah was the only female judge. She wasn’t ‘just’ a judge, she was a major judge, with both a military and a judicial function. She was unique, being the only woman in the office of judge. In modern times, we rarely see a female judge. What about ancient biblical times?
Deborah was more than a judge: she was multi-talented. Her inborn traits, her perseverance, and her God-fearing character opened the door for God to trust her with more. She became a leader and a prophetess, as well as a charismatic military leader, leading the Israelites in a mighty victory to take the land of Canaan. She led a revolt that helped the Israelites win their freedom from the Canaanites. She could do that because she continually asked for God’s guidance and then obeyed.
This may all sound like mainly physical and mental strength, but she was a poet, too. Her song is referred to as the finest masterpiece of Hebrew poetry.
The Bible also describes her as a mother of Israel. The word used in Hebrew assumes the image portrays Deborah as a mother in the sense of being a protector of the people. In her time, prophets could be called ‘father’, in the same sense, Deborah could be called ‘mother’.
“There were few people left in the villages of Israel—until Deborah arose as a mother for Israel.”Judges 5: 7 (NLT)
Deborah, a virtuous woman
Deborah and ‘the virtuous woman’ (Proverbs 31) are two excellent examples of strong and special women in the Bible. They were smart, solid, busy, and proactive leaders, each in their own way. Both were motherly figures as well. They had all the characteristics of strong women of God.
Deborah truly was a special woman, particularly if we think of the setting in ancient Israel. She was fearless and an exceptional military leader, her fame spread far and wide. When the spirit of patriotism crushed out of the nation, Deborah aroused the people from their lethargy. This made her special in the eyes of the Israelites and in the eyes of God.
Meaning of Deborah’s name in the Bible?
The meaning of her name is Bee, and she did what often marks a bee:
- She was busy. Deborah was ‘busy as a bee’ in her various roles.
- She was a leader. Just as bees follow their leader in a swarm, the Jewish people followed her in military action and in council.
- She stung the enemy. She gave blows to the enemy, like painful bee stings.
- She brought sweet refreshments to her people. Bees collect pollen and nectar for the benefit of others, not for themselves. She would sit under a date palm tree (sweet fruits) to judge the people.
- She was humble. Bees work in the favor of others. Bees are lowly insects, which is a reminder to God’s children to be humble.
Her name also suggests her prophetic role as she spoke to Barak. The consonants in her name are the same as those in the Hebrew word translated ‘speak’ and ‘word’.
Deborah’s distinct characteristics
Apart from the various roles she played, Deborah had also several special qualities.
- Strong. She was a well-known military leader when the entire nation was in despair.
- Brave. She was called by God to lead at a terrible time. Deborah stepped forward with heroism in obedience to God to lead the Israelites in a period of challenge and persecution.
- Wise. She served God and His people with wisdom and knowledge. She listened to everyone coming to her for a piece of advice and then replied to them with a God-fearing attitude and wisdom.
- Supportive. She supported the people God had called her to lead.
- Motherly. She was called a mother of Israel.
- Obedient. God trusted her with His Word and directions. Whatever God told her to do or say, she did.
- Respected. She stood tall amid adversity, not thinking of herself but keeping the best and the future of the nation in front of her. Her obedience to God and her wise answers earned her the respect of the people.
- Impeccable. She didn’t fail in any task during the full 40 years of judging Israel (Judges 5:31) until her death in 1067 BC.
- Truthful. She only said what God told her, and nothing else. She shared God’s message and not her own agenda.
- Confident. She was confident in God and never wavered to fulfill God’s commands because of what people may think. She knew God was with her and would protect her.
- Stable. She was stable and of robust character. Adversity nor prosperity could disturb her spirituality, power, and inner peace.
- Humble. She put God’s will above her own will, humbling herself to God’s leading. When it was time to receive the honor of her victory, she rather gave honor to God.
Why did God choose Deborah?
God saw Deborah’s faithful character, making her a woman He could trust. Deborah was obedient to God. She mediated the LORD’s judgment on the people, passing on to them the word of the LORD, revealing the LORD’s will for the people of Israel. Deborah settled cases in the fear of the Lord.
God could trust her with His judgments and rely on her fearless strength to conquer the enemy. Deborah was one of three prophetesses identified in the Old Testament along with Miriam (Exod. 15:20) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14).
God promised to give the Canaanites into Barak’s hand (Judges 4:7), but he refused to go on this mission without Deborah. Whatever his motivation may have been, he put a condition on obeying God. Barak would defeat the Canaanites, but a woman (Yael) would get the credit for defeating the commander, Sisera. This was Barak’s punishment for putting a condition on his obedience to God (Judges 4:9). Even though Barak had faith (Heb. 11:32), his faith was not as strong as it should have been.
This also warns us about putting conditions on our obedience to God. If we do this, God may use someone else, and we will not achieve all we could for His glory. God honored Barak, but he has forever remained in Deborah’s shadow.
The most important characteristic of a Christian leader, in whatever area of life, is a dynamic, bold faith in God. And that is what Deborah had. Through the guidance of the Lord, she balanced all her roles as only one that walked with the Lord could do. She used her gifts and talents as directed and didn’t fail at a single task. Rather, Deborah served the Lord competently, with capability, and in confidence of her abilities.
In Deborah’s song, she describes her love for the Lord as “like the sun, when it comes in full strength” (Judges 5:31). Most probably, this is the reason God chose Deborah to speak His will to the Israelites.
Prayer of Deborah
The prayer of Deborah is actually a song, poetically written by her when God led the Israelites into victory. The song of Deborah, the grandiose triumphant ode that she wrote in grateful commemoration of that great deliverance, is in Judges chapter 5. Many believe her song is one of the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible.
She gave praise and glory to God because the victory was God’s. Deborah and Barak sang a song of thanksgiving and praise to God and their followers, too. And, they had peace for forty years because of their belief and obedience.
In Judges chapter 5, we read Deborah’s story again, now as a poem. This poetry celebrates the Hebrew’s victory over the Canaanites and Sisera’s army. The Song of Deborah has become one of the fundamental elements of the poetry of the Jewish people. Deborah used her song to educate Israel to walk in the ways of the Lord.
God encourages us to move in our own walk of faith. We can learn from the women who went before us: their faith, perseverance, and character. We can let this inspire our own journey of faith. Deborah is an excellent woman of God to learn from.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”Hebrews 12:1 (NLT)
Father, thank You for creating me as a woman. You made me a woman of God. I will not undervalue that, and I won’t look down on myself for being a woman. I am a daughter of God!
You chose me and gave me a purpose in life. I will step into Your plans for me and be obedient to fulfill Your mandate here on earth.
Help me walk in my purpose and be as Deborah in the Bible, a courageous, wise, stable, obedient, humble, and strong woman. Equip me as you equipped Deborah.
Whenever I forget my strength and how You created me, help me remember Your strength in me. I am not afraid of the future because You are with me.
Thank You. Amen.