3 Lessons from the Life of Deborah
Growing up, I didn’t always do what I was supposed to. Thankfully, I had a mother who had no problem calling me out when I wasn’t stepping up to the occasion or taking my responsibilities seriously. She would always attempt to point me back to my God-given responsibilities and the importance of setting an example for my siblings, as I was the oldest. It’s moments like those that allow me to look back and see how formative my mother was in my spiritual walk — and we both didn’t even know it.
My mother reminds me of one of my favorite women in the Bible, Deborah.
Deborah’s story is found in Judges 4. But before we dive into the story, let me give you a little background. In the book of Judges, we find the nation of Israel immersed in a period of evil. Israel repeatedly turns their back on God and chooses to live in sin, worshipping false idols and doing the exact opposite of what God commands them to do. In turn, God appoints judges to lead and save Israel from their enemies. As you read the book of Judges, you’ll see that evil and sin are present not just in Israel, but in the nation’s judges, also.
Now, it’s important to note that for 20 years, no man in Israel took initiative to rally the nation’s men to battle. It was Deborah who summoned Barak to battle. This was a story where the roles of men and women were reversed.
In Judges 4, we see that Deborah is raised up as Israel’s judge and “the people of Israel came up to her for judgment” (v.5). Deborah calls on a man named Barak (meaning “blessed”) to lead Israel and fight the army of Jabin, king of Canaan, but Barak doesn’t really step up to the plate. He states in verse 8, “If you go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” Barak’s unwillingness and lack of leadership is pointed out by Deborah’s question to him: “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go’?” This means that God had previously commanded Barak to lead His army against Sisera, commander of the Canaan army.
And Deborah again says to him, “Has not the Lord told you that he would give Sisera into your hand? … Does not the Lord go out before you?” The Lord Himself had promised to lead the charge against Sisera, but Barak still would not act. So, the Lord gives initiative to Deborah, who tells Barak, “…because of the way you are doing this, you won’t receive any honor. Instead, the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman” (v.9). And just a note — He does! You can read the rest of the story here.
So, what do we know so far about Deborah?
She was a key woman of faith who led as a judge and a prophet — a messenger of God (v.4). She was confident in her role because she knew that her authority was given to her by God. She didn’t abuse her power; in fact, she prompted those who were meant to lead, aka Barak [now do you see why Deborah reminds me of my mother]?
Barak was chosen to lead and mobilize Israel’s army, and Deborah reminds him of what God has spoken to him. She holds him responsible. She doesn’t take away his responsibility to lead, but instead reminds him of his call to do so. Christians are called to empower their brothers and sisters to own their responsibilities, no matter the circumstances — just like our friend Deborah, here.
We also see through this story that Deborah leads by example. When Barak asks Deborah to join him in battle, she does. Theologians debate over whether Deborah actually participated in the battle or not. But either way, she went and led, supporting Barak in fulfilling his duty as commander of Israel’s army.
The more I look at Deborah’s life, the more I see a strong and courageous woman of God. The word fortitude comes to mind because she knew that God had called her to judge Israel, which was outside the “norms” of their current culture. But God called her. She knew it, and she did not let that sway her.
I praise God for women like Deborah. As I learn more about her life, these are the three main things that have guided me so far on my Christian walk:
Everything we do — in fact, our very being — as Christians starts with faith in Jesus, the one who saves. Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith, it is impossible to please Him. Those who come to God must believe that he exists. And they must believe that he rewards those who look to him”
We can attempt to do great things in our lives, but without Jesus at the center, we will fall short. Just like the author of Hebrews states, all the great men and woman of faith were able to do what they did because of their faith in the One who saves.
James 1:22 puts it this way: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
As Christians, we’re called to act, to care for the marginalized, to preach the good news, and be the good news to all people. We cannot sit back and just talk the talk without walking the walk, no matter how uncomfortable it is!
The Bible makes it clear that living for God is not easy. Doing the good and right thing to reflect God’s glory will bring pushback and tribulations. As Jesus states in John 15:18–19, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Living out our faith in Christ takes fortitude. But we have hope that Jesus has overcome the world (John 16), and because of this, we can boldly walk out our callings.