Deborah & Jael - Women of the Bible
Judges Chapters 4 -5
Deborah was a prophet, a leader (otherwise known as a Judge) in Israel as well as the wife of Lappidoth (Judges 4:4).
Deborah means 'bee'. Bees are responsible for pollination of flowering plants. Pollination is what creates seeds that grow into other plants. One third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination of plants and bees play a major role in this1. The biblical Deborah, like a bee, fulfilled an active and vital role in bringing life to the community.
BackgroundAfter the death of Joshua, the man who had led the Israelites into the land of Canaan, God raised up Judges to lead and rule Israel. The first Judges God used were Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar (Judges 3). And then came Deborah.
In Deborah's day Israel had no overall leader. Everyone did whatever they pleased and the nation fell into sin and were oppressed by the Canaanites (Judges 21:25).
Jabin was the Canaanite king during the era of Deborah. Sisera was the commander of Jabin's army. The Canaanite army was the super-power of the day. It could boast of nine hundred iron chariots. Jabin literally ruled the people of Israel with cruelty and violence for twenty years. This is the situation Deborah found herself.
DeborahDeborah is introduced first as a prophetess (Judges 4:4). A prophet (or prophetess) in those days was someone who spoke on behalf of God. Deborah was very similar to Moses in many respects. God had previously promised Moses that He would raise up prophets when they got into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). Deborah was an answer to God's promise.
As a woman Deborah was not the only prophetess in the Old Testament. There were several - Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14;) and Isaiah's unnamed wife (Isaiah 8:3). Despite the male dominated nature of the culture of those days, women still played a major role in the spiritual life of the nation. They still do today.
Deborah was a Judge (leader) in Israel. The people came to her to have their disputes settled (Judges 4:4). This again shows the status, wisdom and respect she commanded in the community. Although we know little about her husband, we are told she was married. Marriage was never designed to be a hindrance to woman but rather a blessing.
Israel's deliverance from the oppression of the Canaanites began when Deborah summoned Barak. Speaking as a prophet, she told him to assemble 10,000 troops from some of the tribes of Israel. She prophesied that Sisera would come and attack barak and his army and that Sisera would be defeated.
In the natural it would have been a stupid thing for Barak to do. Firstly, Barak's fighters were not professional soldiers. They were simple tribesmen. Secondly, Sisera, as we have already mentioned, had a well equipped army with iron chariots. It all sounded like a suicide mission for Barak.
It is not surprising then that Barak insisted that Deborah come along with him (Judges 4:8-10). Her presence would encourage the hastily picked troops he was to assemble. Even he knew that confidence and faith in God's promise is vital for victory.
Deborah did not allow the fact that she was a woman living in a patriarchy hinder her ministry. She was the first (and only) woman Judge of Israel. Despite the fact that she lived in a time when men seemed to dominate everything she did not allow this to hinder her.
Although Deborah did not lack confidence nor did she allow pride to taint her. In the heat of the battle she clearly identified that 'Does not the Lord go out before you?” (Judges 4:14)' She never got carried away with her own significance. It is a godly attitude that promotes a person. People will respect and heed to your ministry once they see the love and character of God flowing out from you. Women of God please take note.
Once the fighting starts Deborah is no longer in the picture. Rather another woman called Jael comes on the scene.
JaelAlthough Barak won the battle with Sisera, as Deborah had prophesised, he did not kill Sisera (Judges 4:9-10). That task was handed over to another woman called Jael (Judges 4:17-24).
Jael means mountain goat. Indeed Jael was a free ranger.
Jael is an intriguing character. She was the wife of Heber the Kenite. The Kenites were the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses. They had made peace with Jabin, the King of the Canaanites (Judges 4:17-18). Sisera in fleeing Barak rightly thought he could find protection in Jael's tent. She ended up killing him (Judges 4:17-24).
Deborah's reign brought forty years of peace to Israel (Judges 5:31). Forty years is a long time. A whole generation had peace because of the godly behaviour of one woman. Now it’s your time.
Questions1. What was the role of Deborah in Israel?
2. Who called her to play this function in the land?
3. What gave Deborah the strength to do her work?
4. How can we be effective as women ministers of the gospel in this day and age?
5. Who was Jael?
6. Can you relate Jael's act to present day Christian ministry?
7. What ministries do women have in the Church today?
8. What is the importance of keeping a clean heart?
9. Mention some things that can help women in fulfilling their God given ministries today.
1. The New American Commentary: Judges, Ruth. Broadman & Holman Publishers 1999 (p.193); The Guardian - wild pollinators [http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/28/wild-bees-pollinators-crop-yields]