Deborah: woman in charge

Preached on 5/19/07 at Village Church

Series: “Women in the bible”

Judges 5:1

“When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves — praise the LORD!”

Many would say that the Bible offers a male perspective in the way its stories are told. Nowadays you can go to a Christian store and buy a Women Bible. That is a bible with female-friendly references. It is a good tool if you are of the impression that your Bible does not speak to you, because of its male centeredness.

Many of the Bible writings were written by people that were influenced by the environment in which they lived. Scripture is a collaboration between God and imperfect human beings. I personally like the challenge of exploring the scriptures to the point that the human component is not the relevant part, but the perfect message of God is. I come from a perspective that God is not sexist. I hope you agree with me on that.

In the next few weeks we will explore the life of some the most influential women in the Bible. We started last week celebrating Mothers’ Day by reviewing the life example of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Because of Hannah’s commitment to the Lord, Samuel became one of the most influential leaders in the history of ancient Israel. And we will end the series on June 9, which is the national day in honor of women. WING is hosting a special Sabbath celebration on that day.

The Bible character we will look at today is Deborah.

Deborah was the only female judge in the history of Israel. Last week we looked at the story of Hannah, mother of Samuel. We are in the same time in history, just a few decades earlier. It is the time of Judges. This is a time in which there were no rulers or Kings in Israel. God was the ruler. God was the King.

The only form of human leadership was in the form of judges. Judges were charismatic political, military, and religious leaders who were chosen by God to guide the people in times of need. During the period of Judges, the temple priest had the function of guiding the people in times of peace. The book of Judges mentions 12 judges who ruled over Israel before the establishment of the monarchy: Samson, Gideon, Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Barak, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Deborah.

Judges were also called “deliverers” because they would arise during a time of chaos to deliver the Israelites in behalf of God. When internal fights between tribes occurred, or when a threaten from outside would create an unbearable situation, the people would cry out to the Lord asking for help. The Judges were often the answer to their prayers.

Judges 4:1-3

After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD. So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the LORD for help.

The Israelites, having again separated themselves from God by idolatry, were oppressed by these enemies. The property and even the lives of the people were in constant danger. The villages and lonely places were deserted, and the people congregated in the cities protected by walls. The main roads were unoccupied, and the people went from place to place by unfrequented byways. Many were robbed and even murdered at the places for drawing water, and to add to their misery, the Israelites were unarmed. Vulnerable. Defenseless.

Judges 5:7, 8

Village life … ceased until I, Deborah, arose … as a mother in Israel. When they chose new gods, war came to the city gates, and not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.

Among forty thousand men, not a sword or a spear could be found.

The Israelites were under the yoke of the oppressor for twenty long years.

Then they turned from their idolatry, and with humiliation and repentance cried unto the Lord for deliverance. That is a story that repeats uncountable times in Israel. Isn’t it a story that repeats continually in our lives as well? How often do we find away from God, relying on worldly things, job, money, other people? Then life hits hard and we realize that we’d better rely on God. We repent and cry to the Lord to rebuild that lost relationship.

The Israelites did not cry in vain. There was dwelling in Israel a woman well-known for her godliness, and through her the Lord chose to deliver His people. Her name was Deborah. She was known as a prophetess, and in the absence of the usual magistrates, the people had sought to her for counsel and justice. The primary role of a prophet was teaching.

Deborah is recognized as the only woman in the Bible who exercised political and religious authority. Other women were queens (Esther), or princesses (Michal). But Deborah is the only one who holds the positions of prophetess and Judge.

The Lord communicated to Deborah His purpose to destroy the enemies of Israel. She accordingly to God’s instructions sent for Barak, a general from Naphtali, and directed him to assemble ten thousand men of the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun, and make war upon the armies of King Jabin.

Barak knew the scattered, disheartened, and unarmed condition of the Hebrews, and the strength and skill of their enemies. Although he had been designated by the Lord Himself as the one chosen to deliver Israel, and had received the assurance that God would go with him and subdue their enemies, yet he was timid and distrustful. He accepted the message from Deborah as the word of God, but he had little confidence in Israel, and feared that they would not obey his call.

Barak was a good general. If I was in his shoes I would have the same concerns. Picture in your mind the situation of the Hebrew people. Tribal organization, no artillery, no sword, no spears, defenses whatsoever. And now compare that picture to the 900 iron chariots of the Canaanites. That was the latest, most powerful, most sophisticated weaponry available at that time. 900 hundred of those chariots… And God has the nerve to say, go make war upon the army of King Jabin? That is crazy! Pure and simple. That is one of those “God Thing”. I call it a God thing because only God can come up with such ideas.

Has that ever happened to you? To find yourself in a situation or a challenge that looks and feels bigger that you can take? It is awful when we are not feeling comfortable taking the high roads of our life, because there is a threaten out there. Your threaten might be insufficient financial resources (forces us to take byways…), it may be lack of self-esteem, it may be a person or a group of people who are not allowing you to live your life at its full potential. You might feel like Barak felt: “I ain’t challenging it!”

Barak was a general, he probably had considered many times freeing the people. But he realized the enemy we stronger than him, and his army. In a situation like that there is only one way out. That is to partner with the most powerful on the battlefield…

Barak said “no way!” He refused to engage in such a doubtful undertaking unless… Deborah would accompany him, and thus support his efforts by her influence and counsel

Barak realized that God was leading Deborah. The assurance that God was on the battlefield with his army was enough for him to pick up the battle.

Deborah was not only a teacher and a charismatic leader. She was a valid military leader. She joins her general in battle and provides leadership on the field. Barak and Deborah now organized an army of ten thousand men, and marched to Mount Tabor, as the Lord had directed. Sisera immediately assembled an immense and well-equipped force, expecting to surround the Hebrews and make them an easy prey.

The Israelites had established themselves in a strong position in the mountains to await a favorable opportunity for an attack. Encouraged by Deborah’s assurance, Barak led his army down into the open plain, and boldly made a charge upon the enemy. The God of battle fought for Israel and neither skill in warfare, nor superiority of numbers and equipment, could withstand them. The army of Sisera were terrified.

Deborah celebrated the triumph of Israel in a most sublime and impassioned song. She ascribed to God all the glory of their deliverance, and invited the people praise Him for His wonderful works. [Judges 5]

Deborah suitably carries the designation of Mother of Israel. She is to be considered one of the “founding mothers” of Israel, because her life example and her importance in the history of the people of God.

Deborah story shows all her leadership skills. She was able to choose good helpers (don’t carry all the load yourself), she was able to plan, direct, and delegate. Plus the most important of he strengths was her selflessness. She doesn’t strike as a power hungry person. She wanted to serve God. You can tell by the song she wrote after that incredible victory. She took no glory for herself, hence she gave God all the credit and praise. [application]

Deborah’s story shows how important it is to be available to God. She is in harmonic connection with God. When God calls her, she readily answers with a prompt action. That readiness only comes when we trust God so much that we allow him to take control of our lives. Deborah does not spend one second thinking: “it can’t be done” – she focuses on what can be done when God is calling to action. [application]

Deborah governed as a Judge, Taught as a Prophetess, Loved as a wife, and fought as a patriot. She was a well rounded woman of God.

I want to conclude with the verse we read in the beginning. This is the opening sentence of Deborah’s song.

“When the leaders in the church take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves — praise the LORD!”

May we lead in our church, and community for change in God’s name.

May His people willingly offer themselves.

Praise the Lord!


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