Deborah, A Symbol of God’s Equality

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“Awake, awake, Deborah!
Awake, awake, utter a song!

Judge [5:12]



After the Israelites had entered the promised land and Moses had died, they were ruled by Joshua. Joshua had been loyal to the mission of the great Exodus out of Israel and when others grumbled, Joshua maintained his faith. He led the Israelites for the balance of his life, fairly and justly.

Upon his death, the Israelites became leaderless and slowly drifted into being a loose confederation that slowly slipped into a complacent life. Their faith lives dimmed and slowly drifted away from the values of God.

To help reverse this trend a new group of leaders emerged, called Judges. These were people assigned to rule and lead Israel. To bring the Israelites back into alignment with God.

The book of Judges contains many great Biblical stories, like Samson and Delilah; and Gideon. The book of Judges contains the stories of the early leaders of Israel before the kings of Israel, like King Davis. Judges contains the story of Deborah, the first female leader of the Israelites.

Deborah, was a woman with a rock solid faith and trust in God. In the turbulent times of her life, she turned to God. Where she gave advice it contained wise solutions that were based on the values of God. It was for this reason she was raised up to be a Judge.

Deborah was the fourth Judge or go between for God and his people of Israel. Deborah’s reign started with the people once again turning away from God and then asking God to save them. This was a repeating pattern that occurred with Joshua and the three previous Judges. Now it was Deborah’s turn.

Deborah, spent most of her days sitting under a palm tree and was visited by many for her advice. For the previous twenty years the Israelites were under the rule of King Jabin of Canaan, who was a harsh and oppressive ruler. The Israelites called out to God to be freed. Deborah became God’s choice to once again lead Israel out of bondage.

As the new leader of the Israelites, God asked Deborah to act to save her people, by saying, “Awake, awake, Deborah.” Hearing this call, Deborah called on the military leader, Barak to move his armies against King Jabin.

Lacking in faith, Barak was not convinced that he could succeed, even with God’s help. He was sure he would be doomed and to test Deborah, he said, “I will go, if you will go with me.”  With absolute certainty that arose from her faith in God, she agreed. But also told Barak, that this victory would not be credited to him, and that a woman would be credited with the victory. Still doubting, Barak accepted the task.

Sure enough the Israelites won the battle, but the leader of the opposing army escaped. Only to be discovered by a woman named Jael. Who dispatched the general of the opposing army and was credited with the victory.

Barak, had been cagey in his dealings with Deborah and tried to avoid a fight to free the Israelites. But Deborah did not take the bait, instead relied on her faith to fight a stronger opposing force. In turn, God prevented Barak from receiving the glory of a victory and gave it to another, a woman.

What is important about this story,  is it is one of the first times in the Bible that women are raised up as being wiser, more faithful and stronger than man. It is a story that has been subdued for many years, not because God didn’t see women as equals, but that those who tell the story of the Bible have ignored the great stories of women that exist in numerous examples in the Bible.

In Genesis, God made all humankind in the image of God. For added emphasis, God states, “ both man and woman” in Genesis [1:27]. Deborah was an example of this equality and proved equal to her male predecessors.

Like her male counterparts in earlier stories, she corrected the pattern of disobedience to God in her people. This story, while an exciting war story, is more about the equality of gender. We shouldn’t look past her gender as an important statement by God. That all people, regardless of gender, race or national origin are made in the image of God.

The stories of the Bible have been told many times over the last four thousand years. In these stories are a history of God’s relationship and saving of God’s people. But these stories have many sub-plots and this story’s subplot is about equality of the genders.

For a different view of the Bible, Google great women of the Bible. You will receive a long list of women who have made significant contributions to the ways of God and in the story of the Bible. From Ruth to Esther to Rahab to Tamar to Mary and so forth. A legacy of the value of woman in God’s eyes.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Daniel Buckle

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