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DEBORAH THE DELIGHTFUL
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Based on Judges 4
I have enjoyed war stories and war heroes since I was a small boy watching the news on the movies screen in the local theater. I never realized, however, that not all of the heroes were men. I heard of Joan of Arc when I got into the upper grades of school, but I never had the concept of the heroin in my mind until recently as a retired pastor. The history of the women warriors on the battlefield has not been available until recent years when female historians have brought them to light. Even those in the Bible have not been known because they are overshadowed by the great male warriors of the Bible. It has been my delight to discover that women have played a major role in defending the freedom and value system of America and of the people of God through history. One of the most outstanding is Deborah.
Here we have a woman who rose to the top in a day when all the world around here was filled with masculine brutality. Her story takes place between the years 1209 and 1169 B.C. Life was one war after another, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Moral standard were so low that even the godly people did things that would be a disgrace in our day. Almost nothing was unacceptable. The masses of people were following pagan practices and were not different from the pagan people around them. But in the midst of this awful period of history we suddenly come to chapter 4 of Judges, and to our surprise a woman is in charge. No woman had been a judge of Israel before and none came after her. She was a one of a kind female, and she was able by her God-given gifts to rise to the point of being the leader of God's people. Israel had been oppressed by the cruel Canaanites for twenty years. They were devastated and were crying out to God for help. This is when we begin to get the story of this delightful leader named Deborah. In Judges 4:4-10 we get some basic facts about her.
She was a prophetess.
She was a wife.
She was a leader of Israel.
She was a literal judge who decided disputes.
She was a messenger of God's word to men.
She was a partner with the male commander of Israel's army.
In Chapter 5 we see also that
She was a poetess and a singer.
She was a mother-5:7.
What this marvelous women illustrates is that a woman can do it all. She can be a wife and a mother, and still be a leader and public servant. She can have both a private world and a public world where she can be successful. God delighted in this unusual woman and used her in a unique way to bless his people. Lets look at the ways she was used of God by some of the roles she played.
1. AS PROPHETESS.
This means God used her as a spokesperson to communicate his message to others. You do not choose this, for it is God's choice as to who is going to give his word to others. God does not discriminate against women and use only male instruments to communicate. The role of prophetess is found in both the Old and the New Testament. Miriam the sister of Moses was a prophetess as we read in Ex. 15:20. It is of interest to note that Miriam was also a poetess and singer like Deborah. It makes me feel that women who are closest to God will be channels of joy and song for others. Much, if not most of the poetry and song by which believers have praised God all through history has come to us through gifted women. Others called prophetesses are Huldah in 2 Kings 22:14, Noadiah in Nehemiah 6:14, Anna in Luke 2:36, and the four daughters of Philip in Acts 21:9.
These women received direct revelation from God, and this enabled them to announce what God was going to do. They were the only people who could know the future and tell others what was going to be. They were extremely valuable when it came to knowing how a battle was going to turn out. Anyone can be brave in facing a battle if they know ahead of time that they are going to win. Deborah knew that the forces of Israel could now overcome the enemies of Israel, and so she was a pure delight to Barak the commander of the army of Israel. So much so that he says in v.8 that he will not go to war unless she comes with him. Here is a male warrior who refuses to enter the battlefield without this female by his side. Because she knew the future she was a picture of faith and confidence, and he and his men needed that. She was to the army of Israel what Joan of Arc was to the forces of France. She gave them motivation and confidence to fight with assurance of victory.
We see God's sense of humor in this whole setting, for Sisera the enemy commander has 900 iron chariots at his side, and Barak has Deborah at his side. The name Deborah means honey bee, and this was the weapon that gave him courage. He was going head on against 900 iron chariots with a honey bee at his side. It was the bee verses the iron beast, but here was a bee with a sting for her foes and honey for her friends. Those who messed with this bee were stung into defeat, and those who followed this bee were blest with the sweet honey of peace for the next 40 years. She is called a mother in Israel, and a mother is one who nourishes and encourages her children. This is what Deborah did, and that is why all the people delighted in her.
2. AS JUDGE.
Most prophetesses were not the leaders of the land. They were gifted to communicate the message of God, but they were not gifted with the wisdom to settle disputes and to be the ultimate authority in governing the people. Deborah stands out as extremely unique in this sense. Being a judge in the time of Judges was equivalent to being the king or the president. She was the supreme court, the legislature and the President all rolled into one, and this made her one of a kind in history. Most all of the other judges of this period were known for their leadership in battle. They were great with the weapons of warfare. Deborah was great with the mind. She was an educator who helped people in unique ways that made them delight in her caring spirit. No other judge did what she did.
The people of Israel came to her to settle disputes, and so people had confidence in her just like they had in Solomon later because she was obviously wise and fair. They trusted her judgment for she was a woman who was committed to do the will of God, and she sought God's guidance for her decisions. In the midst of so much ungodliness her court was an oasis of godliness. It was so rare to have such a wise woman judging the nation's people at that time, but in our day there are many women in our courts as judges, right up to the Supreme Court of the land. We even have a Jewish woman by the name of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as one of our Supreme Court justices. Women have always been capable of being educated and rising to the top of any profession, but they never had the chance through much of history. That is why it is a delightful surprise to find a Deborah in the day of the Judges rising to the top.
She just illustrates that God has never been opposed to using women for the highest purposes in his plan for the world. If they are rare in olden times it is because they never had the opportunities that they have today. The important thing to recognize is that it has always been acceptable to God to have a woman in the highest places of leadership. The people were open to it in the day of Deborah, but when the society looks down on female leadership then it is not possible for them to rise to such positions. Today there are many female leaders because we live in a culture where they are free to use all of the gifts God has endowed them with. This has not always been the case even in Christian cultures. There is still the feeling among many males that is threatening about a woman leading them, and so the story of Deborah is often ignored and not taught in Bible classes.
There are still those who will not let a woman teach men, but this is folly if the woman is the best qualified to teach, which is often the case. John Macarthur is a well known Bible Teacher of our day, and he says this in a message about Deborah: "Just because we think a woman can't or shouldn't do something, doesn't make it so. Now let me add that I'm actually very conservative when it comes to woman's work. I'm not always comfortable with some roles women take on and I believe there are some jobs they shouldn't do. But just because I think that way it doesn't limit who God can use for whatever purpose he has in mind. Deborah led Israel not because there were no men who would do it but because, from God's perspective, she was the most qualified. You see it did not matter if Deborah was a man or woman because it was God working through her not the other way around. "God will use you today not because of your gender or your age or your position or your abilities but based on your submission to him. That's why Paul could write in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." God will use any of us if we will let him. The problem is we often hinder God by our obsession with titles and positions. Who cares if you are a man or a woman? Who cares if you are an elder or deacon? Who cares if you have a graduate degree from a Bible College or barely finished high school? Who cares if you are articulate or shy? We do. God doesn't."
3. AS PARTNER.
Many women feel that they need to oppose men in order to become equal, and they make the battle of the sexes their focus. This is not what we see in Deborah. She used her wisdom to cooperate with the male leaders, and this unity of the sexes is what led to victory and blessing for the people of God. Any woman is at her best when men admire her and gladly follow her leading. There was no desire of Barak to dominate Deborah, and he did not go all to pieces with a deflated male ego when Deborah said that a woman would get the honor he might have had by killing the commander of the enemy forces. Jael got that honor, but Barak was just delighted to be a partner with women who were used of God. Deborah actually told Barak that he did not need her and that he could win the war without her. She did not try to dominate him either. She was humble in her leadership and sought for no glory but the glory of God. It was this ideal relationship of male and female leadership that God blest. Deborah makes it clear that strong female leadership is based on partnership and full cooperation with male leadership. A woman who wants to lead in hostility to men is not wise in the long run, for God blesses unity of the sexes.
Barak could have said that he was not going to take advice from a woman who had no military experience. She came up with the hair-brained scheme of calling an army together who had no decent weapons to face a vast enemy who had the best weapons in the world. He had every right to be skeptical of her plan, but he had respect for her as a woman of God and he knew she would not come up with this idea unless God had given it to her. Had he not believed in her being an authentic messenger of God he would not dream of following her lead. Here was a man who had full confidence in a woman's word as being the very word of God. He had more confidence in her than he had in himself, for he would not fight without her at his side. Rare is the man who will listen to a woman in an area where he is supposed to be the expert. He delighted in Deborah, however, for she was clearly God's spokesperson.
Matthew Henry comments, "Some struggles, we may suppose, that brave man had made towards the shaking off of the yoke, but could not effect it till he had his commission and instructions from Deborah. He could do nothing without her head, nor she without his hands; but both together made a complete deliverer, and effected a complete deliverance. The greatest and best are not self-sufficient, but need one another." She had the greater faith, but she needed male leadership to get the job done. We see the perfect unity of male and female leadership in this relationship. Everyone has to delight is such a rare and beautiful partnership. Some want to accuse Barak of being a wimp for needing Deborah, but God honored him as a great man of faith in Heb. 11:32. His faith in Deborah was faith in God, for he believed her as a true source of the word of God. He would not be in the great faith chapter if his trust in Deborah was not pleasing to God.
If you study the history of women in warfare, it is surprising how often women join men on the battlefield just to be encouraging partners. During the Civil War it was not uncommon for a wife to go with her husband into battle. There are examples of soldiers who, like Barak, refused to go to war unless their wives could come with them. Keith Blaylock refused to go without his wife, and so the recruiting officer allowed Melinda Blaylock to be sworn in as his brother, and listed her as Sam. Many women have insisted that they have the right to fight along side of the men. Since it was not officially permitted the women usually had to disguise themselves by dressing as men. They were willing to give up their identity in order to be partners with men. It is estimated that between 500 to a 1000 women fought in the Civil War disguised as men. Several even rose to the rank of sergeant without being discovered. Many were discovered and discharged, but some managed to maintain their disguise all through the war. Others were allowed to remain even when it was known they were women. Here, for example, is the record of one woman. "Goodrich, Ellen Her father disowned Goodrich when she announced that she intended to join her fiancée in the war. She fought by his side for three years and was wounded in the arm by a minnie ball. She nursed her fiancée when he was ill and married him a day or so before he died."
Deborah was not a warrior, as far as the text would indicate, but she was there as one who could give the commander and the soldiers moral support. She did not go into battle and kill the enemy, but stood with the commander overlooking the battlefield. She was delighted, however, when Sisera, who was the commander of the enemy forces, was killed by the hand of a woman named Jael. Deborah had predicted that a woman would have this honor, and when she wrote her song of praise that is recorded in Judges 5, she gave praise to Jael for her role as female partner in defeating the foes of Israel. God had used two woman as partners in delivering His people from the oppression of the Canaanites.
It was rare for women to play the roles that Deborah and Jael played, but the important point is that they were honored for these roles in Israel. The Word of God does not hide them, but exalts them. That is all that should have been necessary for people of future generations to know in order to recognize and reward female partnership in the battles for freedom. Unfortunately, custom and tradition has always been allowed to be more powerful than God's revelation. The result has been that it has taken many centuries before woman could get the honor and recognition they deserve as equal partners with men in warfare. Dr. Mary Walker was a Civil War doctor who wore men's clothing and carried two pistols at all times. She fought for freedom and saved many lives. She was captured and spent four months in an enemy prison. She was scarred physically and emotionally, but she continued to serve her country, even though she was resisted constantly because she was a woman. She was of such a benefit in the war that she was rewarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1865. But it was rescinded in 1917. She refused to give it back and wore it until her death in 1919 at the age of 87. It was 58 years later before the U.S. Congress posthumously reinstated her medal. It was restored by President Carter on June 10, 1977. She is the only woman in the history of American warfare to receive the Medal of Honor. My point in sharing this is that she was not honored while she lived, and she died alone and penniless with the feeling of being rejected by the country she served. This was due to the Bible record not being the basis by which people are measured and respected. Had the record of Deborah been respected, Mary Walker would have been a great heroin in our culture, and children would have been singing of her service to our nation.
The record of Deborah is in the Bible because God inspired it to be there. It was real history, and God ordained history. It is there for an example of how God uses women as well as men in the highest roles of leadership. They are partners in every realm of life, and those who let the Word of God be their guide will delight in them and give them the honor they deserve, just as God gave honor to Deborah the delightful leader of His people.
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