Just who was Deborah in the Bible? She was a female judge and prophetess in Israel. By her faith in God, she successfully led Israel during a critical time.
During the historical period of the Judges, Israel often turned to idolatry; and as a result, God punished them by causing them to suffer under harsh rulership of neighboring nations.
One such time was when King Jabin, ruling in Hazor of Canaan, harshly oppressed Israel for 20 years. The Israelites finally cried out to God for deliverance (Judges 4:3).
Deborah the judge
It was during this time of King Jabin’s oppressive rule that we first read of Deborah. Judges 4:4-5 simply states: “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. … And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.”
The New Bible Dictionary gives this description of her role as Israel’s judge: “She had her headquarters under ‘the palm tree of Deborah’ between Ramah and Bethel, and was consulted there by Israelites from various tribes who wished to have their disputes settled—either disputes which proved too intractable for their local judges or intertribal disputes. She was thus a judge in the ordinary, non-military sense of the word, and it was probably because of her judicial and charismatic renown that the Israelites had recourse to her in the straits to which they were reduced under Sisera’s oppression” (“Deborah,” p. 275).
Deborah and Barak
In Judges 4:6-7, we read that Deborah “sent and called for Barak …, and said to him, ‘Has not the LORD God of Israel commanded, ‘Go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun; and against you I will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude at the River Kishon; and I will deliver him into your hand’?”
She called for Barak to lead Israel in a war against the mighty armies of Jabin and his general Sisera, by utilizing only a very small army of Israelites to do so. God was planning to defeat these foreign armies and deliver Israel.
It is important to note that Barak is listed in the Faith Chapter (Hebrews 11:32). Yet we see that it was Deborah who called upon him to act in faith. It is also interesting to note that Barak said he would only go against the enemy if Deborah went with him (Judges 4:8).
Deborah saw Barak’s less-than-confident attitude, and she reassured him that she would surely go with him. Then she also prophesied that the glory of killing Sisera, God’s enemy, would not go to Barak, but “the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (verse 9).
Because of Deborah’s strong, confident, commanding words to Barak and her presence with him, Barak did take 10,000 Israelite troops down from Mount Tabor as commanded. “And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak” (Judges 4:15). Barak then pursued the fleeing chariots and army of Sisera and killed them all.
But Sisera fled away and ended up being killed by a woman named Jael. God’s prophecy had come to pass, as He had spoken through Deborah.
Deborah’s faith in God and her decisive leadership and service to God were undeniable. This was at a time when faith was seriously lacking in Israel.Deborah’s faith in God and her decisive leadership and service to God were undeniable. This was at a time when faith was seriously lacking in Israel.
There is another aspect to note about Deborah, and that is her contribution to the Bible! She wrote a song about these events, which was both inspirational and prophetic.
Song of Deborah
Deborah began this song in Judges 5 by teaching the people that “when leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the LORD!” (verse 2).
This is actually an ode, or a ballad, recounting the battle that God fought against the enemy. “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD!” concludes the song (verse 31). There is a very detailed poetic description found in verses 19-21. One line, for instance, reads, “They fought from the heavens; the stars from their courses fought against Sisera.” This wording indicates an epic battle.
Deborah and Barak sang this song of praise, giving the glory and honor to God for His deliverance: “Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes! I, even I, will sing to the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel” (Judges 5:3).
Deborah: “A mother in Israel”
She then recounted the difficulties Israel was facing—the highways were deserted, village life had ceased—“until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7). She was valued as a “mother in Israel”—a title of honor and renown. Her actions helped to save Israel from further oppression.
Deborah continued in her song to praise Jael, the woman who killed Sisera. In verses 24-27, Deborah recounted what Jael did. It is highly unusual for a blessing in song to be pronounced on a woman heroine who hammered a tent peg through the head of the enemy!
Deborah also immortalized in her song other great dramatic acts of God’s majestic intervention in Israel’s history: “LORD, when You went out from Seir, when You marched from the field of Edom, the earth trembled and the heavens poured, the clouds also poured water; the mountains gushed before the LORD, this Sinai, before the LORD God of Israel” (verses 4-5).
God had gained dramatic victories over the Edomites (the descendants of Esau) in Israel’s history. Mount Sinai had quaked at the presence of the Lord at the time of the giving of the law. These were awesome acts that all of Israel had witnessed.
Deborah the prophetess
Deborah, as a prophetess, communicated information reminiscent of, and similar to, Moses’ prophetic utterance in Deuteronomy 33:2: “The LORD came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints.”
In both Deuteronomy 33:2 and Deborah’s song in Judges 5:4-5, the events dramatically depicted are suggestive of historic events and prophetic of future events as well—events that will occur at the return of Jesus Christ!
The dramatic events of the Day of the Lord are thus foretold in the prophetic literature of the Bible—the mountains gushing and quaking and moving out of their places, and God marching victorious from the battlefield of Edom.
The book of Psalms also says, “The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD” (Psalm 97:5). And Habakkuk 3:3 says, “God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran.”
A shining example for us
The song of Deborah ends with a proverb: “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD! But let those who love Him be like the sun when it comes out in full strength.” The wicked enemies of the Lord perish, and those who love the Lord will renew their strength and shine brightly like the sun!
This is the message also in Daniel 12:3: “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.”
Deborah is a shining example of a woman with faith in God who arose as a light to her people. She turned many of her countrymen to service to God and faith at a time when it was sorely needed.
A proclamation at the end of the song—“the land had rest for forty years” (verse 31)—is a testament to the life of Deborah. How much faith and commitment do we have in serving God as she did?