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Deborah, The Only Female Judge In The Bible | written by Marinda Lubbe

We find the Biblical account of Deborah in the Book of Judges, chapters 4 and 5. Not much is said about her personal life and roles as wife and mother, in fact I don’t even know if she had children, but we do know that she was married to man named Lapidoth, and we know that she played a significant role in the history of Israel in her position as prophetess and Judge to the nation.

Painting by Ilse Kleyn – Your Sword in my Han

I find it very inspiring and liberating to note that Deborah was called by God to lead His people for a period of 40 years. Yes, a woman led the nation of Israel from about 1107 BC until her death in 1067BC (according to Traditional Jewish chronology). Archeologists place her between 1200 BC and 1100 BC. To fully grasp the gravity of this, one needs to understand the backdrop of the book of Judges, and the function of a judge in Israel at that time.

Judges functioned during the period between the death of Joshua and accession of King Saul. It was a very strange and volatile time in Israel’s history. As a nation, they would continue to go through the cycle of moving away from their God by worshipping idols, and doing just what they pleased and what seemed right in their eyes.

This would lead them down a path of destruction and oppression by other nations, then they would cry out to God and God would hear them and send them judges to lead them and deliver them from their oppressors. The main functions of a judge were, firstly, to give them wise counsel, according to the Torah (the Law of God), in solving disputes; this included inspired teaching, and revealing God’s will to them. Secondly, a judge had a military role to play by leading the nation to deliverance from oppression. It was a position of authority.

Deborah’s name means honeybee. She was not just a leader but had the added benefit of being a prophetess. She was an inspired teacher and proclaimer of the will of God to her people. Her favourite spot was under a date palm tree named after her between Rama and Bethel. There, the people of Israel would come to her for wise counsel and to render decisions on their inquiries.

The Lord spoke to her about deliverance from the oppression of Jabin the king of Canaan, the commander of whose armies, a man called Sisera, reigned terror on her people. She called on Barak, the commander of the Israelite army to tell him that God was going to deliver them and that he had to gather 10,000 men to fight against, and defeat this great Canaanite army who were 900 chariots and thousands of soldiers strong, indeed a superior force.

When she spoke to Barak, he refused to go without her, so she went with him and gave him a crystal clear battle plan regarding the location for the battle and exact time to attack, as the Lord instructed her to do. God worked with her as He promised, and sent a thunderstorm and torrents of rain that made it nearly impossible for the iron chariots to manoeuvre, and the outcome was a roaring victory for Israel. Sisera fled the scene, but was killed by a woman named Jael, when he was hiding in her tent. This shows the accuracy of Deborah’s gift of prophecy, for she told Barak that he would not receive the glory for the victory, “for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman”, Judges 4: 9 (NKJV) and yes, yet another woman was used by God to give His people victory. They annihilated the Canaanite army, and it ended the oppression. The Bible states that they managed to live in peace for forty years during Deborah’s rule.

It fascinates me to see that a thousand years plus before the dispensation of grace arrived with the birth of Jesus, who came to level the playing field between races, genders and classes, before His death on the cross, before His resurrection and before Paul wrote these words in Galatians 3: 28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”, that  God gave His people a Deborah, a mother in Israel as she refers to herself in her song recorded in Judges chapter 5. She was a woman who brought the word of the Lord, righteous judgement, deliverance and peace to her nation. This also shows me that God does not have a problem with women being in positions of authority or in ministry and He showed it to us even in the Old Testament.

It is interesting to note that songs were written to celebrate national victories, and the Song of Deborah, or hymn of victory, is one of the oldest examples in biblical literature. Even the great composer George Frideric Handel, composed an oratorio called Deborah, based on the Biblical stories contained in Judges 4 and 5.

May Deborah’s story inspire us in our world today, to give wise counsel to those who are confused and need answers, to lead with courage and grant support to those we lead, to bring deliverance from oppression in the form of poverty, addiction, human trafficking, to name but a few issues we face in our day and age, and, last but not least, let us bring peace to a world filled with unrest.

Let us be 21st century Deborahs #be brave #be kind #be loved

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