We are introduced to Deborah in Judges 4:4. She was a prophetess, a wife, and a judge. The order of those roles may be an indication of her priorities, for as a prophetess she had a responsibility to God, as a wife she had a responsibility to her husband, and as a judge she had a responsibility to her community. Deborah was not a preacher, and she did not exercise authority she did not have. In all things, she was becomingly modest, shamefaced, sober, having an inward quietness, and an appropriate subjection. Like the godly women of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, she was powerful because she was a woman of faith, charity, and holiness.
Deborah did not make laws; as a judge she helped people apply God’s law to their situations. She did not go from village to village preaching like Jesus; people came to her for judgment where she sat under her own palm tree (Judg. 4:5). The New International Version says that Deborah “held court,” but they made that up. God wants men to preach and lead in prayer (1 Tim. 2:8). Some women think that when men will not do this, then they can step out and do it themselves. Deborah was not like that. When Barak failed to lead the men of Israel against Sisera, Deborah did not try to lead the men herself.
As a prophetess, Deborah knew God’s will. She sent and called for Barak to admonished him. Barak is rightly faulted for not having already done what God told him to do, but to Barak’s credit, he asked Deborah to go with him (Judg. 4:6-9). He knew Deborah was a woman of God. Barak’s dependence on Deborah was his dependence on God. This is why Barak is counted as a man of faith in Hebrews 11:32. A wise man knows the value of having a wise godly woman at his side. Deborah did not go with Barak to be his commander; she went to be his helper.
Following God’s own prescribed strategy (Judg. 4:6-8), Barak led his men to the top of Mount Tabor. This drew Sisera out, and he brought his chariots into the Kidron valley. The storm God sent brought the brook out of its banks, and the rain and flood-soaked soil rendered Sisera’s chariots useless. When Barak and his men came charging down the mountain, the Canaanites panicked, fled, and were destroyed. We sing a children’s song about Barak at Vacation Bible School. “There was a wise old king who had ten thousand men. He marched them up a hill and then he marched them down again.” We should tell the children that Barak was not really a king, but like a king, he led the men of Israel in battle against the kings of Canaan (Judg. 5:19).
Deborah gave Israel a song of victory and praise. God had come to their rescue (Judg. 5:2-5). Israel was downtrodden until Deborah took the initiative (Judg. 5:6-11). From the top of Tabor, Deborah spurred Barak into battle (Judg. 5:12-19). God sent a flood that swept Sisera’s chariots away (Judg. 5:20-23). Jail killed the Canaanite captain; her story is told in Judges 5:24-26: “Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent. He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.” The way Deborah sang of Sisera in his death throws is chilling: “At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead” (Judg. 5:27). Then she sang of Sisera’s pathetic mother, awaiting her son’s return in vain (Judg. 5:28-29). Deborah’s song ends, “So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might” (Judg. 5:30).
Deborah is often more admired than Barak. This is not because of the role she played, but because of how she played her role. There are similar Deborahs in our churches today. They encourage the preachers to preach sound and distinctive doctrine. They call things needing attention to the attention of the elders. I have been in Bible classes where it was evident that the women knew their Bibles better than the men. These are the wives and mothers who, by their “chaste conversation coupled with fear” (1 Pet. 3:2), have kept their families together and have kept them faithful and strong. Their quietness, meekness, and submission are not born of weaknesses; these are their strengths. I knew a Deborah who was held in high esteem among her elders. She held no office of authority, but the shepherds of that congregation would often consult her concerning matters they were overseeing. She was a wise woman, and they were wise men.
Those who put women in public positions of leadership in the churches thinking to elevate them, actually degrade them. They do not understand women, men, or God. Jesus said that the greatest in his kingdom are servants (Matt. 23:11). Often the greatest of these servants are women. God chose men to lead his churches (1 Tim. 2:8; 3:1ff), and God chose women to be their helpers. It is by God’s design that women are most powerful in their influence among the righteous when they are modest, charitable, and chaste. It is no accident that men grow in courage and faith when they have the company of godly women. If you ask a Deborah like that to be your preacher, she will set you straight. We should thank God for spiritual Deborahs in the churches, and we should pray for men of faith who recognize their worth and honor them.