In Judges Chapter 4 and 5, the Bible talks about the prophetess Deborah.
What We Know About Deborah
She was married to Lapidoth. We do not know how old she was, and what her family responsibilities were at that time (still raising kids or more in the grandparent role). We know this passage in the Bible happens about the year 2650 after Creation. This was less than 200 years after Joshua led the Jewish people into the Holy Land.
She was a judge. Judge in Hebrew means someone who will bring others into a right relationship, in this case the relationship is Israel and God. Judges had three main functions: administration, settler of disputes, and military leadership. Deborah is the only female to be chosen as a judge for Israel. She was the fourth judge in the Bible after Joshua’s death. This was before Israel had monarchies.
Her location of duties were in the cities of Ramah and Bethel, which are roughly 4 miles apart, north of Jerusalem. This is the same location the prophet Samuel later judged Israel (1 Samuel 7:16). Verse 5 says she held her court under a palm tree.
During this time the Canaanite King Jabin was the ruler. For 20 years he had held the Israelites in subjection and fear until Deborah came along. Sisera was his general, who had a well-trained army and iron chariots, which are the tanks of those days. The Israelites were easily outmatched by his army.
Deborah and Barak
Judges 4:6-7, we see Deborah’s prophetic nature in her position as a judge. These directives came directly from God and were communicated through Deborah. Once Barak arrives, Deborah tells him that victory is guaranteed. He just needs to do his part.
Barak is told what direction he should go, towards Mount Tabor. This mountain has a flat top with a circumference of nearly one mile, so it would be a good strategic position militarily. Barak is told to take 10,000 men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. In order to get an army of this size, Barak was probably well known and respected. This is a time when armies were pulled from the population if that population was tribe like. Kings would usually have a standing army.
Barak’s battle plan was to have Sisera (Jabin’s military captain) lured into a position that would bring defeat. For Sisera to attack Barak’s forces, the enemy chariots would need to cross the plain through which the Kishon River flowed. Looking at the original language here, river means torrent bed.
Barak has to put a lot of faith into Deborah and God that this plan would go well. Deborah was probably well known for her Godliness in order for him to even accept doing this. However, he needed some guarantee she was legit. In verse 8 he says he will go if she does.
No Personal Gain
What should be pointed out is, Deborah tells him he will not have any personal honor in this victory and Barak was okay with this. This is very contrary to what normally happened during this time (and even today). The leader of the armies going into battle did it many times to gain riches, stature politically, and or for other benefits. When they came back victorious there would be parades, parties, and feasts.
In Verse 14, Deborah says this is the day for battle. If you look at Judges 5:21 it looks like God sent a flash flood or the river Kishon became a quagmire. In the battle, Barak’s army kills all of the Sisera’s army except for him. Sisera’s 900 chariots were worthless in the muddy river.
We see in verse 11, that Heber pitches his tent in the plain of Zaanaim. When Sisera is on the run, he comes to the tent of Jael, the wife of Herber. Now it was custom for a man not to be in a woman’s tent without her husband, or the man could be killed. But Jael invited him in, offering hospitality, which always included protection. So Sisera, is thinking that she will turn away anyone looking for him. Instead Jael hammers a tent stake post through his head. What Deborah prophesied in the beginning came true.
What we don’t know
We do not know the circumstances that brought her into a judgeship, it was a divine appointment. Most the figures in Judges are acknowledged after military battles, but Deborah was acknowledged before.
We don’t know what happened to Deborah after this passage. Like many of the people in the Bible, they show up and then disappear.
If you’re interested in other women in the Bible, check out Tabith/Dorcas.