This week we study the only female Judge, Deborah. Let’s turn to Judges 4 and see all that God did in and through her.
Judges 4:1-3 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died. 2 And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth- hagoyim. 3 Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.
The people are disobedient and doing evil in the sight of the Lord. So much so that God sold them into the hand of Jabin, King of Canaan. This was not good for the Israelites as Jabin’s army, led by Sisera, was awesome– boasting 900 chariots of iron and a dominant record of victory and cruelty for 20 years. That is a run. Imagine what it would be like to have the rival to your favorite team beat you and claim the trophy 20 years in a row. That is a long run. But that is just a game; imagine our country being overcome and run by tyrants for 20 years. Israel was in a bad state, and God was not happy with them.
Judges 4:4-5 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 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.
The fact that God allows a woman to be the representative of the people is another sign of just how bad things are in this era. God’s design for headship of the man over the woman when it comes to authority is not a swipe at a woman’s ability nor her value but simply is God’s design for the roles we are to play. So the fact that Israel was in such a bad place that Deborah was the one to lead them simply shows how far they have come from God’s design and commands on them.
This is not unlike the sad state of much of the modern-day church. In many congregations, it is the women who are the heartbeat of the church, while husbands take their faith and God-ordained role to lead their families in Christ all too casually.
For many families, the kids don’t even know their dad as a spiritual leader and disciple of Christ. It is Mom who is faithful to growing in her faith and serving God in the church. This has to change. We have to see men of God act like men of God and take seriously their God-given duty to love and lead their families in Christ and in the church. I pray that the men within my sphere of influence take seriously this charge so that the boys and young men whom God has entrusted them can be raised to honor God and lead their families according to the scriptures, and we can correct this terrible trend of letting the women do the heavy lifting of spiritual leadership in the church and home. May it be so.
That said, Deborah is chosen by God and lifted to a very important task for which she is faithful.
Deborah lived during the period of the Judges, when Israel was not united as a nation under one leader, but rather existed as a loose confederation of tribes. Periodically, the Lord would endow a leader—a judge—in one of these tribes with His Holy Spirit, and that leader would rise to rally the Israelites together to face down a common foe. Deborah judged Israel in the days when Jabin king of Canaan oppressed the Israelites for 20 years.
It says she is a prophetess, which means she hears from God directly and is to share this insight with those entrusted to her influence. Additionally, she is raised up as the only female judge ever. This is a high position in this economy and time.
She essentially is the highest rank and voice among God’s people. What she does with this position is great.
Judges 4:6-16 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh- naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘ Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin ‘s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand ’?” 8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him. 11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father- in- law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.
12 When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth- hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth- hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.
Today’s passage tells us Jabin had a mighty army with “900 chariots of iron” (Judg. 4:1–3), which was the most advanced military technology available at that time. Jabin’s stranglehold on the people was so strong that commerce had virtually ceased. The people did not travel on the highways that carried goods in and out of Palestine because of Jabin’s mighty army (5:6).
God used Deborah to rally the Israelites against Jabin. Humanly speaking, the deck was stacked against Israel, and everyone knew it. General Barak was unwilling to call the Israelites to battle against their Canaanite foes without Deborah “holding his hand,” as it were (4:4–8). Consequently, when the Lord kept His promise to save His people, a woman, rather than the soldiers of Israel, would receive the credit for the victory (vv. 9–10).
Of course, this is exactly what happened. Despite the fact that his army was technologically inferior to Jabin’s, Barak’s force of 10,000 Israelites was able to defeat the Canaanite army. This is huge! God is awesome.
Throughout the redemptive history we find recorded in the Bible, we see that God often chose to raise up unlikely men and women to rescue His people from their enemies. The story of Deborah is an excellent example of this reality. Here we have a female leader in Israel lead an army against another army that they simply should not overcome, but they did.
God will and does use the most unlikely and regular people to do the most extraordinary things. We need not ever forget this, but instead walk in faith and trust that the God of all things can and will use little ol’ us to do amazing things in His name for His eternal glory!
Judges 4:17-24 But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20 And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No. ’” 21 But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.
23 So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. 24 And the hand of the people of Israel pressed harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
Only Sisera, Jabin’s general, was left alive (vv. 11–16). Sisera fled until he came to the home of Jael, the wife of a Kenite with whom Sisera’s kingdom was at peace. But Jael’s ultimate loyalty was not to the Kenites but to Yahweh, the God of Israel, and His people. Jael gave shelter to Sisera, but only so that she could lull him into the place where she could kill him with a tent peg to his head (vv. 17–24). The mightiest general in the region at the time was defeated not by a general but by an “ordinary” housewife. The Lord does not need mighty men to accomplish His purposes. Often, He delights to use the unexpected to fulfill His will. That is exactly what He did with Deborah and Jael. To Him be all the praise and glory!
In Judges 5, we read a great song of testament and praise about all that God has done in and through Israel despite the people’s rebellion. It stands as a great proclamation of praise for who God is and what He is capable of.
As we consider the testimony of Deborah and Barak, we realize that most of us would likely be considered ordinary people who will never make the history books. From a human perspective, you may not seem all that “great.” Yet from God’s perspective, ordinary is what we want to be. He brings about His will through the instrumentality of ordinary people making ordinary decisions such as the best way to teach their children the Bible, or how they can reach their next-door neighbor with the gospel. The Lord uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary.
May we use all that God has entrusted to us to be faithful to Him despite our circumstances and trust how He will use it for his eternal purposes. We are to be faithful to till the soil, but the results are up to Him.
By His grace and for His glory,
Soldiers for Jesus MC