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Deborah - Israel's Only Female Judge

Profile of Deborah, Wise Woman of God

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Deborah, Judge and Prophetess

Deborah prepares to go to war against Sisera and his army.

Photo: Getty Images
Deborah was both a prophetess and ruler of the people of ancient Israel, the only woman among the twelve judges. She held court under the Palm Tree of Deborah in the hill country of Ephraim, deciding the people's disputes.

All was not well, however. The Israelites had been disobeying God, so God allowed Jabin, a king of Canaan, to oppress them. Jabin's general was named Sisera, and he intimidated the Hebrews with 900 iron chariots, powerful tools of war that struck terror into the hearts of foot soldiers.

Deborah, acting on guidance from God, sent for the warrior Barak, telling him the Lord had commanded Barak to gather 10,000 men from the tribes of Zebulun and Napthtali and lead them to Mount Tabor. Deborah promised to lure Sisera and his chariots into the Kishon Valley, where Barak would defeat them.

Instead of fully trusting God, Barak refused to go unless Deborah accompanied him to inspire the troops. She gave in but prophesied that the credit for the victory would go not to Barak but to a woman.

The two armies clashed at the foot of Mount Tabor. The Lord sent rain and the River Kishon swept away some of General Sisera's men. His heavy iron chariots got bogged down in mud, rendering them ineffective. Barak chased the retreating enemy to Harosheth Haggoyim, where the Jews slaughtered them. Not a man of Jabin's army was left alive.

In the confusion of the battle, Sisera had deserted his army and ran to the camp of Heber the Kenite, near Kedesh. Heber and King Jabin were allies. As Sisera staggered in, Heber's wife, Jael, welcomed him into her tent.

The exhausted Sisera asked for water, but instead Jael gave him curdled milk, a drink that would make him drowsy. Sisera then asked Jael to stand guard at the tent's door and turn away any pursuers.

When Sisera fell asleep, Jael sneaked in, carrying a long, sharp tent peg and a hammer. She drove the peg through the general's temple into the ground, killing him. In a while, Barak arrived. Jael took him into the tent and showed him the body of Sisera.

After the victory, Barak and Deborah sang a hymn of praise to God found in Judges 5, called the Song of Deborah. From that point on, the Israelites grew stronger until they destroyed King Jabin. Thanks to Deborah's faith, the land enjoyed peace for 40 years.

Accomplishments of Deborah:

Deborah served as a wise judge, obeying God's commands. In a time of crisis, she trusted Jehovah and took steps to defeat King Jabin, Israel's oppressor.

Strengths of Deborah:

She followed God faithfully, acting with integrity in her duties. Her boldness came from relying on God, not herself. In a male-dominated culture, Deborah did not let her power go to her head but exercised authority as God guided her.

Life Lessons:

Your strength comes from the Lord, not yourself. Like Deborah, you can have victory in life's worst times if you cling tightly to God.

Hometown:

In Canaan, possibly near Ramah and Bethel.

Referenced in the Bible:

Judges 4 and 5.

Occupation:

Judge, prophetess.

Family Tree:

Husband - Lappidoth

Key Verses:

Judges 4:9
"Very well," Deborah said, "I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman." (NIV)

Judges 5:31
So may all your enemies perish, O LORD! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength." Then the land had peace forty years. (NIV)

Old Testament People of the Bible (Index)
New Testament People of the Bible (Index)

Jack Zavada, a career writer and guest contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.

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