Women of the Bible: Deborah

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting significant named and unnamed women of the Bible. The CEB Women’s Bible provides helpful indexes of all these named and unnamed women as well as over 140 insightful profiles. Written by female pastors, scholars, and faith leaders, these profiles encourage us to witness the stories and valuable contributions of biblical women. Below is the profile of Deborah (from Judges 4-5) written by Diana Abernethy.

The Lord used Deborah, Barak, and Jael to deliver the Israelites from King Jabin’s oppression. After the Israelites cry to the Lord, the narrator introduces Deborah as a prophet and a woman. For many of the deliverers in the book of Judges, the narrator specifically highlights a quality of the deliverer that makes that person an unlikely leader. Ehud was left-handed (3:15), Gideon was the youngest in his family (6:15), and Jephthah’s mother was sex-worker (11:1). As a woman, Deborah was an unlikely deliverer, but the Lord used her and the other unexpected heroes to bring the Israelites rest from their oppressors.

The Israelites went to Deborah under her tree to seek her guidance and wisdom in judicial matters, then she went to find Barak and encourage him to fulfill the command the Lord gave him. Deborah’s role as a prophet allowed her to discern how the Lord was going to deliver the Israelites, and she boldly held Barak accountable to his call to gather ten thousand men to defeat Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army. When Barak hesitated and asked Deborah to accompany him, she agreed to go with him into battle. Deborah willingly joined Barak because she recognized that the Lord needed her to take initiative to deliver the Israelites.

Perhaps Barak asked Deborah to join him because he doubted her word from the Lord, or perhaps he respected her prophetic authority and wanted her with him during this important battle. Either way, she told him that her presence would cost him the glory of the victory because the Lord would give Sisera into the hand of a woman. In fact, the Lord used two women. Deborah guided Barak during the battle and Jael ultimately killed Sisera when he tried to flee.

After the battle, Deborah, along with Barak, led the people in a victory song. This was a common role for women in ancient Israel. In the song, Deborah was called a “mother in Israel” (5:7). She could have been a biological mother, even though the text mentions no children, but this title also suggests that her prophetic clarity and initiative in God’s plan for deliverance made her a mother to her people.

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