Deborah—a Faithful Focus on What You Can Do

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2022, we are spotlighting women who rocked in Bible times!

Women Who Rocked in Bible Times—Stories of Those Who Shaped Their Culture and Still Inspire You Today

Shanna D. Gregor

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.
Israel 4:4-5 esv

After the death of Moses, God allowed Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land with a clear command to destroy the inhabitants. Through obedience to God, Joshua’s leadership brought great military success to God’s people. But once Joshua died, the next generation failed to continue their battle and eventually allowed their enemies—the Canaanites—to influence their culture and way of life. Instead of obeying God and destroying those who lived in the land, they began to do life with them, eventually marrying them. Those they married brought their own beliefs and false gods into their homes and hearts. (This was what God wanted to avoid in his directive to destroy the inhabitants.)

The Israelites began to worship idols and compromise their faith. The book of Judges depicts God’s chosen people in a continual brutal cycle of sinning and repenting because they rejected God’s instruction. Each time Israel repented, God, in his gracious mercy and love, gave them a judge to save them and point them back to the truth of His love.

Deborah’s story begins in Judges Chapter 4. The first verse tells us that once Ehud, the second judge of Israel, died, God’s people once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. Israel once again found themselves under the rule of a foreign king—Jabin, King of Canaan. Sisera, commander of Canaan’s army, oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, and they called on God for deliverance. (Apparently the third judge of Israel wasn’t effective.)

Verse 4 tells us that Deborah, a wife and prophetess, was leading Israel at the time. The Bible doesn’t say how she became the fourth judge or when. I wonder if Deborah questioned God about his instruction for her to become a judge. Perhaps she had a list in her head of all the reasons why someone else should answer the call to lead. Deborah’s story is about a woman who focused on what she could do instead of what she couldn’t do. Imagine as you go about your day—in the midst of your daily chores, gathering water, washing laundry and taking care of your children—glancing across the field to see Deborah, the leader of your nation sitting under a palm tree judging right and wrong for you and your people. Judges 4:5 says, Deborah would sit under the Palm Tree of Deborah, which was between the cities of Ramah and Bethel, in the mountains of Ephraim. And the people of Israel would come to her to settle their arguments.

Greatly respected among her people, she called herself a mother in Israel. She demonstrated a strong commitment to let God lead and guide her in everything—in her personal life and her public life as a leader. Like many of the other judges of Israel, she went into battle with her people, provided counsel, served as mediator and declared that repentance for sins opened the door to restoration.

Deborah was not power hungry but wanted to serve God. She gave credit where credit was due—to God and to those who responded to him in obedience. Israel’s military leader, Barak balked at going into battle without Deborah, even though God had promised to deliver Sisera, commander of Canaan’s army, into Barak’s hand. Because of his refusal to go into battle without Deborah, she said the victory would not be credited to Barak, instead, “The Lord will let a woman defeat Sisera.”

In Deborah’s day, much of Israel’s history was preserved in song. Judges Chapter five is a song, possibly composed by Deborah and sung by Barak and all those returning with him from the battle against Sisera. The songs made it easy to pass the story of God’s deliverance from generation to generation. It recounts the battle and how God delivered the commander of Canaan’s army into the hand of a woman named Jael. She drove a tent peg through his head as he slept in her tent.

She was concerned about the physical needs of her people, but even more importantly, she paid attention to the spiritual welfare of the nation. She led by example and encouraged the people to obey God. Once God gave victory to Israel, she continued to lead her people in peace, reminding them that war comes when they choose to worship idols.

Deborah concentrated on what she could do instead of what she couldn’t do. So many times, we list why we can’t do something that pushes us beyond what we think are our limits. Remember, if God is asking you to do it, then He’s put His ability within you to do it, and do it successfully, if you’re willing to follow His lead.

For Discussion

  • Are you committed to following God in obedience to what He asks you to do?
  • How many times have you experienced something and felt a tug in your heart to do something about it?
  • It’s likely God’s call pushed you outside of your comfort zone. When that happens, how can you combat the temptation to begin a list in your head of why you can’t make a difference?

Deborah’s story is told in Judges Chapters 4 and 5.

Shanna D. Gregor (copyright 2014)

Read about other women who rocked in the Bible:
Anna—A Seer of Truth

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