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. 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. 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 sells them into the hand of Jabin, King of Canaan. This is not good for the Israelites as Jabin’s army, led by Sisera, is awe-inspiring—they have an impressive 900 chariots of iron and a dominant record of victory and cruelty for 20 years. That’s 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’s just a game. Imagine our country being overcome and run by tyrants for 20 years. Israel is in a bad state, and God is not happy with them.
Judges 4:4-5 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.
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 it is simply God’s design for the roles we are to play. So, the fact that Israel is in such a bad place that Deborah is 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 children 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.
With that said, Deborah is chosen by God and lifted to a very important task to 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 incredible.
As we read Judges 4:1-16, we see that Jabin has a mighty army with “900 chariots of iron”, which is the most advanced military technology available at that time. Jabin’s stranglehold on the people is such that commerce has essentially ceased. The people do not travel on the highways that carry goods in and out of Palestine because of Jabin’s mighty army.
God uses Deborah to rally the Israelites against Jabin. Humanly speaking, the deck is stacked against Israel, and everyone knows it. General Barak is unwilling to call the Israelites to battle against their Canaanite foes without Deborah “holding his hand” as it were. Consequently, when the Lord keeps His promise to save His people, a woman, rather than the soldiers of Israel, would receive the credit for the victory.
This is what happens: Despite the fact that his army is technologically inferior to Jabin’s, Barak’s force of 10,000 Israelites is 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 chooses 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 leading an army against another army that they simply should not overcome, but they do.
God will, and does, use the most unlikely, 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!
As we read in Judges 4, we see that only Sisera, Jabin’s general, is left alive. Sisera flees until he comes to the home of Jael, the wife of a Kenite with whom Sisera’s kingdom is at peace. Jael’s ultimate loyalty is not to the Kenites but to Yahweh, the God of Israel, and His people. Jael gives shelter to Sisera, but only so that she can lure him into the place where she can kill him with a tent peg to his head. 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, God delights to use the unexpected to fulfill His will. That is exactly what He does 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 does in, and through, Israel despite the people’s rebellion. It stands as a great proclamation of praise for who God is and of what He is capable.
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,
Pastor Joshua Kirstine