“And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.”
–Judges 4:4 KJV
Across the various translations of the Bible, Deborah’s opening line remains the same. It gives many clues about her not only as a woman but how the recorders of history regarded her. She appears in two chapters, and Deborah’s story teaches us about the strength and capabilities of women.
Like most women, Deborah wore many hats. Much was asked of her and much was given by her. Unlike many women in the bible, she has a unique ability to relate to women in all walks of life.
Growing up in a ‘Women’s Lib’ world, I see a lot of flack over “the church” and its treatment towards women. Namely in the vein of women cannot make the same kind of leaders that men can. Yet we see women such as Mother Therese and Benazir Bhutto performing amazing acts in the names of their religion. Why can’t women help others come to Christ, serve the Lord, teach and help other people just like men?
Historically speaking, women tell quite the tales of woe. We are ignored, often left out of stories, considered more a commodity and a possession than anything else. I hear you, women of the past! Not the kind of life I would chase after! Welcome to 2008. Anything a man can do, I can do!
Sometimes women rose above that. They led countries and helped many. You just need to look for them. Learn of them. Let them inspire you. Deborah is one of those women.
So, what is the woman’s place in religion? Some would tell you it is behind the man while others say woman is equal to man. Today we see some religions allowing for female pastors while others cry out against it. How do we know which is right? Which is God’s way?
Remember how special Eve was? Her creation set apart from others. God wanted her to serve as “help meet” for Adam. Think about how women naturally behave. Many women experience an easier time behaving in spiritual ways than many men. So much we already know that can answer our questions about a woman’s role in the Kingdom of God!
Deborah served as a prophetess to the God of the Jewish people, the God of Christians, at a very difficult time for her people. The Canaanites, specifically a man named Sisera, persecuted the Jews for twenty long years.
Now wait a minute. Women could not even enter into the walls of the Temple. They remained in a courtyard, segregated from the men, seemingly denied access to the most sacred acts of their deity. Remember though, many men were also denied some of these rights as well. Priesthood ran through one bloodline. If you came from the wrong family you did not get to do a lot, either. Talk about not wanting to be from the wrong side of the tracks.
What does this mean? It means exactly what we read. Deborah served her God, and He wanted her to serve a pretty big role. He gave her inspiration for her people. She experienced a special communication and relationship with God that set her apart from most others. Furthermore, those in charge of things respected this, and in turn they respected Deborah.
Can we do no less? Women now experience the blessing of more ways to serve their God than anyone can possibly count. Some are called to work with the disadvantaged in their towns, others are called to teach, still others lead community groups. How many different ministries for women are out there?
No one questions that the leader of the Christ-centered MOPS program, an organization giving support to Mothers of Pre-Schoolers, is a woman. I have no doubt that she spends many hours each day praying over the different members of this huge organization. The service the group performs locally as well as globally is truly inspired of God.
Women like her, they give so much to women like me. They show that women do have a vital role in God’s Kingdom as something other than mothers and wives. There is a joy in motherhood that can know no bounds, but we have the ability and the privilege to do more.
We admire the prophets. We learn their names, read their stories. Who does not know of Isiah and his prophecies of Christ? What about the prophet, Abraham? Everyone knows the infamous story of his willingness to give his beloved son because the Lord desired it.
Given the pedestal we like to put our prophets on, can we do any less for a prophetess?
A prophet is many things. Deeply spiritual, in tune with God, a leader of a great many people. They receive revelation of the future, they warn their people, they serve the priests that serve the people.
What must one do to become a prophetess of God? Do you think you would come close to qualifying for the job? I skimmed my resume, and I know I do not have the experience required. Should I not strive for that, though? To walk so in communion with God that He could use me in a second for whatever His needs may be?
Do I spend enough time in prayer? Am I versed enough in the Scripture? Am I willing to listen for the word of the Lord or do I lean upon my own understanding? Have I the compassion for my fellow people to truly be worthy of their trust and belief?
I know how I feel I rate on these. My hope is that you rate higher than me.
I am not expecting God to come down to me and call me to be a prophetess to the people. I do not know that I want that pressure! However, I want to live my life so that He could put that trust in me. Should we not all live that way? And in theory, as wife and mother am I not serving in that capacity to my family at least?
In our families, we should teach our children the things of God. Church is fantastic, but it is our duty to teach our families, not the Church. My husband needs to serve as our priest, calling our family to prayer and ensuring we study from the Scriptures often. I need to work in my capacity to also do these things and plan our schedules according to allow for this. He and I need to work together to keep watch over the spiritual welfare of our children.
Women, get out there. You have just as much right to serve your God. If you think He wants you to do something, go for it. Do not dilly dally or think you are unworthy as a woman. He has special places, sometimes important positions, for women in His Kingdom. Let Him use you.
Wife of Lapidoth
I find it interesting to see the mention of ‘wife’ come second in the description of Deborah. Most women, that is their sole defining factor in the Scripture. In fact, many times we do not even get the luxury of a name on these dear sisters. We know them solely as “Lot’s wife” or “Noah and his wife”. Generally, that comes first even if there might be something else worth mentioning.
Why do you think it comes second in the case of Deborah?
Only one thing should be above family, and that is your relationship with God. Thus the scribes writing the account found in Judges listed Deborah’s spiritual status first. They realized though that there was far more to Deborah than just performing her duties as a prophetess.
Deborah knew that serving the Lord was a great calling, and she accepted it. However she also knew the importance of family. She married a man named Lapidoth. Perhaps they conceived children. We do not know for sure, but the account does not mention her as barren. We can only assume she had children.
Family is great in the eyes of the Lord. After all, we are His family. He only wants us to experience the same joy that comes from family that He has. His first commandment to Adam and Eve was to multiply and replenish the earth.
What of the people that seem to think that spirituality supersedes the need for a family?
Seems the example is set right here. Like the prophets, Deborah married. It in no way detracted from her devotion to God or ability to serve him. Today we see plenty of people able to do much in God’s Kingdom while still having a family.
Furthermore, she gave her family the blessing of a righteous example. They saw her diligence to God, her faith in Him, the way she served those who needed her. We learn much from the examples of those around us so take a minute to imagine the example she gave to her husband and her children.
She judged Israel
What is this? Another “man job”? Unbelievable! How can a lowly woman judge anyone? It seems unfathomable!
The judges at this time acted as secular leaders of the nation. They had the boring job of dealing with complaints that came up over land issues and sheep ownership and all that great fun of bureaucracy. Makes you want to race out and run for office, doesn’t it?
This means she served not only as a spiritual leader, but a secular leader. The text says she would sit under a the palm trees and people would come to her seeking advice Yeah, she was the Judge Judy of a different time. Can you imagine the wisdom she needed to perform that task? The patience?
Her job did not end just with being a prophetess. Oh no, she was also wife, and probably a mother. That was not enough though! She also judged the people. Now remember, she did not have all the good things we have today to supposedly ease her life.
No dishwasher to stack the dirty plates in. No palm pilot to keep track of appointments. Her Kirby vacuum consisted of a large stick and something to hang a rug on while she beat the living daylights out of it for hours on end. No email or website to more easily get out the latest “Word of God from Deborah”.
The first lesson we learn, once more goes to priorities. God first, then family, followed by job. How easy is it for us to get our priorities out of whack? We can skip prayer in the morning to get to work on time. We dispense with family time at the dinner table to snag a burger before soccer, ballet, and tutoring. Ever done these sorts of things in a day? If so, you probably know once you slip that first day it is oh-so-much-easier the next. We need to prioritize our lives in a way that makes sense for our eternal progression.
The second lesson learned is this woman must be related to Franklin Covey. Seriously. The organization and ability to multi task is astounding. Why am I picturing her beating a rug with a stick while her bread is rising and she’s hearing the case of Eliasaph vs Zebulun? Where on earth did she find the hours in the day to accomplish all of this? She desperately needed one top of the line day planner to keep all this stuff strait. I am a housewife and mother and I can barely keep up with my own life. I could not imagine working full time and being a prophetess to boot. I already cannot get my dishes done and the jeans washed. Our house would fall into complete and utter chaos. Help! Where’s my Control Notebook?
How well do we accomplish the tasks we put before us?
All that, and there is still a story? Yes! And a pretty interesting one. She’s out at the river scrubbing the laundry one day while hoping her oldest son catches a rabbit to make some stew out of it. She knows that in twenty minutes someone is going to come with a complaint about sheep stealing for her to mediate. Deborah works hard, feeling how good it is to do something productive with her hands. The good hard manual labour that you can end your day proud of. She decides to spend some moments in communion with the Lord while there is some relative peace, knowing well that things will get hectic fast.
So? She turns her thoughts to God and prays. Maybe she asks for that rabbit for the stew. Maybe she asks that the Lord will bless her to know what the deal is with the sheep. “Help me be fair in my judgments today, Oh God!” Who knows what she is saying, but all of a sudden she knows something. A big something. She’s got to move on this baby, and now. The laundry looks good enough so she drapes it over some palm branches rigged just for clothes drying. Hoisting up her skirts, she takes off running.
Deborah sees Barak, just the man she was looking for. She hails him and gives him the news of her revelation. Twenty years has been about twenty too long. Sisera needs to be taken out of power, and Barak is just the man to do it. “God’s going to deliver these people to you, Barak, you just need to be in the right place at the right time. Victory is yours, God promises it!”
Barak thinks this is great, but he is afraid. He begs Deborah to go with him. In fact he tells her that there’s not a chance he’ll go alone. Deborah looks at him, and probably thinks, “Really? Are you KIDDING me?” Isn’t it enough she’s a prophetess, a wife, and a judge? Now she needs to go marching off into battle?
Knowing how important this is, she knows that whatever it takes needs to be done. She doesn’t bat an eye before agreeing to accompany Barak. However, there is a punishment for his lack of faith, his act of cowardice. Sisera will fall to a woman. Barak loses the chance for being the man to take down the evil overlord, and worse yet he loses it to a lowly woman. Imagine how he must have felt!
The two head off into battle with their army. Sure enough, it plays out just as Deborah said it would. Sisera’s army gets wiped out and fast. Sisera takes off running, hoping to escape certain death, but falls at the hand of a housewife named Jael, of whom Deborah sings praises over.
Yes, there is even more to Deborah than we already discussed. She showed a bravery. I wonder if I could be so brave as to march into battle. What if I died? Who would watch over my children? My husband? Am I truly ready to meet my maker and cross into the next life? And what about the sheer horrors of war, am I mentally equipped to handle that?
And what of the example she set? As if her day to day life wasn’t enough, she marched off to battle. The girls and the women in her community, what do you think they felt? Even today, I get a sense of pride when I see our military women acting in heroic manners.
I think she also showed a great deal of patience and compassion. My general response to Barak would have been somewhere in the realm of calling him “chicken” and clucking at him. Telling him to man up and get his feet moving. My husband served in the Marines. You get orders you just go pack your bags, you don’t whine about it. Instead of that sort of negative response, Deborah gives in to his request, accompanying him into battle.
Back to that, though. In a time where women were so poorly viewed, how emasculating was it for Barak to ask Deborah to go with him? I know a lot of men today that would feel the need to prove their strength and be macho. Forget this asking a woman for help! Barak’s actions speak of a deep respect and desire to have the servant of God close at hand. What kind of life did Deborah lead that would cause someone that level of desire and respect? Myself? I am a big fat chicken. No one would ask me to go to war with them. They might laugh at the prospect, and that is OK. I know my place. I want to live the sort of life, though, that brings people to respect me in that manner.
The final thing I learned from Deborah comes from her reaction after everything was said and done. The perfect chance to look at Barak and say, “I told you so,” or “Check out what you lost, this victory could have been yours, bro” yet Deborah did not do that. Instead, she sings a great song speaking of the events of the day. She gives praise to Jael.
Jael, a nobody housewife minding her own business but handy with a tent peg and hammer saved the day and Deborah wanted to make sure people knew. It was a bloody battle. Who really cared what person got the winning blow to Sisera? All that mattered, really, was the fact he was dead. No more trouble from that guy. We’re free at last! Deborah, however, calls Jael to the front, makes sure that Jael will never be forgotten.
We should look for ways to acknowledge the good things that people do. Maybe they are not taking out evil overlords and other such major things. However, every day people perform many good acts. How different would our world be if we focused on the good things instead of the negative?
Sing Like You are on American Idol
Walking with Deborah, seeing the things she saw, I shake my head in disbelief. She overcame prejudice against her due to gender. She led her people spiritually as well as secularly. During her time she brought an end to the tyranny of one man over the Hebrew nation and ushered in 40 years of peace. She served the Lord with all her heart, mind and soul. She served her people. She exuded all the things we should strive for: a good relationship with God, married, compassionate, brave, a willingness to praise others. She did all of this and what have I done?
Join Deborah in praise. Sing with her the glories of that day as well as this. Gird yourself in the armor of God, for there is nothing you cannot do. Cast aside your fears, your doubts, your concerns. God is with you and you can do it. Encourage and remember those around you doing well. Sing today like you are taking the win on American Idol. If Deborah could do it all, so can you!
*If you want to read the account of Deborah and Jael, you can find it covered in Judges 4-5. It’s a great story and I recommend it. Tune in next week when I discuss Jael!
Originally posted on ladyozma.vox.com
Wow…that was long, but so worth the read!
Have you heard of Dr. Ellen Umansky?
She has written three books, two of which are about women and Judaism/spirituality.
(She is also my aunt-in-law.)
Lady Ozma said:
No but now I am interested!
Not only am I reading the accounts of these women in the Bible, I am also reading whatever I can find to go along with them. I’ve got several books about various women of the scriptures and have a bunch more I want to get!
Do I need to add Dr Ellen Umansky to my list? I think I might! Oy, I need more book money! HAHA
Lady Ozma said:
Thank you for taking the time to read it!
It was long, and I did not plan it to be that way. It just happened. There was so much more I wanted to say, but just… didn’t.
I am glad you found it worth the read!
Thank you for your hard work in bringing this series to us. You make these woman both accessible and relevant.
Lady Ozma said:
You are welcome!
I didn’t get any comments last week at all. I thought I lost all my readers!! 🙂
Thank you for enjoying these! I’m glad you survived the plod through this thing!
Re: No but now I am interested!
I have a copy (signed of course) of her first book and it is fascinating.
At least check to see if a local library has a copy. At the time she wrote it, she was one of the few scholars (in this country, period) who was focusing almost exclusively on women in the Torah.
Lady Ozma said:
Re: No but now I am interested!
The women so get the shaft. More people should study them. Thankfully I did find one great series. It is probably the best yet. I’ve got these two books that are a bit chintzy IMHO about the women in the scriptures… but then I’ve got this one book that’s part of the series and it’s fab. So I have all that series on my list! 🙂
I will add these books to my list. Hopefully I can find them soon! 🙂
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Love this, O. I like to look at Jael killing Sisero in a different light. When our friends’/brothers’ faith wavers, we got that. We’re a partnership, we men and women, and when one drops the ball, the other is there to pick it up again. Barak should have had the faith, sure, but his faithful sisters were there to help. Are we? And are we willing to allow someone else to help us when we are the ones lacking faith?
I’ve wondered why women seem to get left out of history so often. Why didn’t we leave records? In the last years of her life, my grandmother wrote a history of her life. I was really disappointed because while listing the places they moved and fun things the kids did while there, she never once said “I felt” or “I hated” or “It was hard when”. It finally occurred to me that grandma’s life was full to her because of the relationships she had fostered. She didn’t have a need for someone to appreciate or acknowledge “her” actions or choices — it probably never occurred to her — she felt the relationships and activities she enjoyed told her story.
It’s made me wonder if that’s the real reason women are left out of history. It’s because when we tell it, we leave ourselves out of the telling. Perhaps we are left out of history because women don’t feel the need to be “seen” in the way that many men often do. Women’s history is our legacy, really. Women’s history is actually and literally the future.
Lady Ozma said:
There’s so many different ways to look at Jael’s story. I actually did an essay on her as well. 🙂 Such a good point about Barak. We do need to be there to help someone when they are struggling with their faith – just like Deborah.
I do think women have a tendency to leave ourselves out of the telling! We’re so busy focusing on others, it’s our very nature. We often think little of ourselves. Such great thoughts you shared on this very topic and an important lesson we could all learn. We should include ourselves in the telling, but remember the humility it takes to leave ourselves out as well. If that makes any sense…