“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.
We know much about this amazing woman, Judge Deborah, even so, much of her personal life remains a mystery.
Question: How did a woman become a judge in male-dominated Israel? The book of Judges covers 400-plus years of history before the reign of Israel’s kings began. In all those years, Deborah was the only female judge!
Answer: The only answer we can be sure of is that it was God’s will.
Question: How was it the men of Israel consented to come to her for legal and military counsel?
Answer: They had to have recognized her personal righteousness and respected her godly judgements. Even when Barak, the highest ranking military man in Israel, was scared to death to follow God’s command, Deborah remained bold and unafraid.
Every time I reread the role Deborah played in Israel’s history—you should read Judges 4-5, now because they are too long to recount here—I ask God to reveal the truth waiting there for me to learn. Deborah had two qualities I desire: to be quiet before God to hear his instruction, and to be fearless in obedience. She is my beloved example of strong femininity.
Unanswerable questions: How old was Deborah when she took her position under the shade of that palm tree, the one called Palm of Deborah, where she held court? We know Israel suffered cruelly under Jabin, king of the Canaanites for 20 years and then had 40 years of peace once that evil hold was broken. Was she already 30 or 40 years old when her judgeship began? Did Deborah have children and eventually grandchildren? Since Scripture does not say, it must not be important to the main point God wants to convey. But these unknowns in Deborah’s life give me pause to think about women of the Bible for whom the struggle of child bearing was the point of the story, and where it forwarded God’s will in earth’s history.
When the inability to conceive a child is important to the story, we know. In her old age Sarah finally gave birth to Isaac, who was integral to fulfilling God’s promise that Abraham’s seed would number like the sand on the seashore (Gen 12-21). And unattractive Leah, the wife Jacob was tricked into marrying, a woman he did not love. Leah gave birth to Judah, the name of the tribe from which Jesus was born (Gen 29). And Hannah, because of infertility, was taunted by her husband’s second wife who could bear children. In fervent prayer, Hannah promised to deliver her child up to God if only she could give birth. Her first child was Samuel, a prophet who eventually had the honor of proclaiming David the second king of Israel (I Sam 1-2:11, 16). And childless Elizabeth, in her old age gave birth to a baby boy who grew up to be John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-24, 1:57-80). And, of course, Mary, the mother of Jesus the Son of God, accused of adultery and whom Joseph could have divorced (Matt 1:18-24).
Question: Would Deborah have been respected enough to be honored in her position as prophetess and judge if childless?
Answer: We will never know. So, you may wonder I ponder such questions which have no answers. I do it because I love God and his Word, and Jesus his son and the Holy Spirit who teaches me. Thinking on the Word makes me desire more and more of it.
I say: “Wow! What godly women were Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, Leah and Mary!” And Deborah, her character astounds me, her courage and strength in the face of danger. Out of the past, more than 3,000 years ago, her righteousness speaks to my spirit and calls me and persuades me to strive for a godly, fearless righteousness like hers.