Her character: Her vision of the world was shaped not by the political situation of her day but by her relationship with God. Though women in the ancient world did not usually become political leaders, Deborah was just the leader Israel needed—a prophetess who heard God and believed him and whose courage aroused the people, enabling them to throw off foreign oppression. Her sorrow: That her people had sunk into despair because of their idolatry, forgetting God's promises and the faith of their ancestors. Her joy: That God turned the enemy's strength on its head, bestowing power to the weak and blessing the land with peace for forty years. Key Scriptures:Judges 4-5
Jericho, gateway to Canaan, had lain in ruins for two hundred years. From there, the Israelites had swept across the country like a storm of locusts, devouring everything in their path. But the native peoples had somehow managed to survive, and like well-rooted weeds, their idolatry spread until it began to strangle Israel's faith.
Rahab and Joshua were the palest of memories now, and the slaves-turned-warriors were once again underdogs, oppressed for twenty years by a coalition of Canaanite rulers, whose chief warrior was Sisera. His nine hundred iron-plated chariots terrified the ill-armed Israelite people, threatening to sweep over them with invincible force. Small wonder no one challenged him.
Sisera must have felt smugly secure, especially since Israel was now led by a woman. But his military calculations failed to account for one key variable: the strategic power of that woman's faith. Deborah was a prophetess who held court under a palm tree several miles northwest of Jericho. Though much of Israel was divided and dispirited, she refused to lose heart. How could she forget God's faithfulness, living so close to ruined Jericho?
She summoned Barak, a Hebrew from the north, and told him plainly: "The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: 'Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.' "
But, like every other man of Israel, Barak was terrified of Sisera, and he refused to comply unless one condition was met: Deborah must accompany him in battle. She would be his talisman in the fight. "Very well," she replied, "I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman."
Hearing of the plot, Sisera led his troops and chariots to the Kishon Wadi, a dry riverbed, determined to crush the uprising. But his very strength turned against him as rain swelled the valley to floodtide. Suddenly, nine hundred iron chariots became a huge liability. No matter how furiously the soldiers flogged their horses, urging them onward, oozing mud held them. They became easy targets for Barak's troops sweeping down from Mount Tabor, putting every man but Sisera to the sword.
Once again, God had heard his people's cries and had sent a deliverer—this time a woman whose faith stilled the nattering voices of doubt and timidity so that the people could hear the one Voice that mattered. On their day of victory, Deborah and Barak sang this song:
When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves— praise the Lord! Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I will sing to the Lord, I will sing; I will make music to the Lord, the God of Israel…. Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel. - Judges 5:2-3, 7
Indeed, a mother in Israel had arisen, a woman whose strong faith gave birth to hope and freedom and a peace that lasted forty years. Never again would the Canaanites join forces against Israel. Like an ancient Joan of Arc, Deborah arose and called the people to battle, leading them out of idolatry and restoring their dignity as God's chosen ones.
Godly Deborah has been an encouragement to women throughout the centuries. When women feel confined or mistreated, when they are unsure of what is right or which way to proceed, when they are entering unknown territory, when they feel overlooked or ignored—they gain stability and help from remembering Deborah. Whatever Deborah had is available to you today. Her wisdom is discovered in the Scriptures. Her confidence in God is found in a relationship with him. Her bravery is achievable when you put your trust in God and his promises. Her inner strength and calm leadership are characteristic of confidence not in herself but in her God. All Deborah offered to Israel she offers to you as an example of a woman willing to be used by God.