Deborah: Prophet, Mother And Judge
Judges Chapters 4 - 5
Deborah became Judge at a time when Israel was experiencing a spiritual and moral decline, partly due to
the loss of their national leaders, Moses and Joshua. "In those days there was no king in Israel; every
man did what was proper in his own eyes." Judges 17:6; 21:25
There were episodes of extreme sinfulness that caused Yahveh to remove His protective providence from Israel,
and foreign oppressors would exercise control over parts of the country. Nevertheless, the people never lost their allegiance
to the Torah and it's Giver. Yahveh chose leaders (judges) who rallied the people to repent and regain His favor, expel the
oppressor and enjoy a period of tranquility, until the nation slid downward again and the whole cycle would repeat. In reading
the Book of Judges, it is essential to note that the combined years of peace and righteousness far outnumbered the years of
failure and persecution. Judges were always chosen by Yahveh, and whenever they called for repentance the people responded.
Why did Yahveh appoint Deborah to the highest public office in the land, at a time when women were not permitted
to hold public office?
Deborah's Ability To Inspire
Deborah was already well known as a prophetess and respected for her godly character. As a prophet, she
did not formulate rulings in the traditional manner, but was Yahveh's spokesperson. For this reason, she was considered an
exception to the ruling that a judge be male. Her feminine character was appropriate for leading that particular generation,
as Deborah herself stated: "I arose as a mother to Israel." Judges 5:7
Deborah's unique vitality radiated from the privacy of her own home to the public, where it inspired the
entire nation. Her ability to inspire and empower was the source of her effectiveness, both as a public leader and as a wife.
The Torah tells us that Deborah was the "wife of Lapidot" ~ Lapidot means "torches" ~ Together with her
husband, Deborah made wicks for the Menorah in the Temple, thus helping to spread the light of Yahveh among her people. Her
hope and aspiration were that each person will find a deeper understanding and connection to Yahveh. For that reason Yahveh
selected her to motivate Israel to re-embrace Torah.
Deborah prophesied and led her nation from her seated place under a date palm. "A prophetess,
the wife of Lapidot; she sat under the date palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel on Mount Ephraim, and the children of
Israel went up to her for judgement." Judges 4:5
The date palm was a symbol for Deborah's generation. Just as the life giving sap of a date palm is limited
to its trunk, Deborah's generation had limited access to the life force of Torah, because it had so few Torah scholars. The
date palm's minimal shade represents the relative absence of spiritual and physical protection without Torah. On the other
hand, it was also a symbol of Israel's strength, and the concentration of sap in the trunk typified the unity of their faith.
These characteristics seemed to be contradicting, yet both extremes were true of the Prophetess' generation.
Deborah's understanding of Israel's potential for spiritual greatness stemmed from her maternal love. She
held hope for Israel and inspired a renewed sense of value as Yahveh's chosen people, and exhibited a woman's ability to instill
rather than impose, to invigorate rather than force, and to cultivate rather than command.
As judge, Deborah brought a feminine sensibility to a male
dominated office. She referred to herself
as a "Mother to Israel" and her commitment to nurturing fit this title. Deborah's leadership style was selfless, focusing
on the people rather than on herself. This, together with her appreciation and knowledge of Torah and her prophetic gift,
marked her for national rejuvenation. Deborah embraced and utilized the full extent of a woman's power for positive change.
As wife, judge, prophetess and mother, and in the role of commander-in-chief, she was indeed 'a Mother to Israel', sustaining
her feminine power to educate, encourage and uplift, even in times of war.
Regarding Israel's battle against Jabin, the book of Judges states:
"Yahveh sold Israel into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, the captain of whose host
was Sisera. And the children of Israel cried to Yahveh, for he (Jabin) had nine hundred chariots of iron and twenty years
he strongly oppressed the children of Israel." Judges 2:3
While Israel was no military match for Sisera, Deborah prophesied that Yahveh will nonetheless lead them
to victory. As commander-in-chief, Deborah showed the same unwavering dedication to Torah that she exhibited as judge. She
staffed her army with members from the families of Zebulun and Naphtali - two of the twelve tribes of Israel.
"She sent and summoned Barak and said to him, Behold, Yahveh, the Elohim of Israel,
has commanded saying, go and gather your men to mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali
and the children of Zebulun. And I will draw out to you, to the brook of Kishon, Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with
his chariots and his multitude, and I will deliver him into your hand." Judges 4:6-8
Barak responded: "If you will go with me, then I will go, but if you will not go with
me, then I will not go." Judges 4:8 It was not because of his lack of faith in Yahveh's Word that Barak
made this request. Rather, he wanted Deborah's presence to insure that Israel will acknowledge the miraculous success of his
mission in her presence.
The Song Of Deborah
Barak's name appears favorably in the famous "Song of Deborah" which praises Yahveh for His assistance in
Jabin's defeat: "Deborah sang, as well as Barak son of Abinoam, on that day saying, Bless Yahveh."
The "Song of Deborah" celebrates Israel's victory and return to Torah observance. Time and again in her
song, Deborah connected Israel to their divine lifeline, referring back to the moment when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai.
While leading the nation, Deborah continued to function as judge, teacher and commander-in-chief, however,
she saw herself primarily as "Mother to Israel." The word "mother" is linked to Deborah's patient nurturing of the nation
of Israel back to spiritual health, much like a mother would nurture her child back to physical health. Deborah had the capacity
to inspire change with a mother's ability to admonish, in ways that encouraged and motivated her followers to create a better
Accordingly, when we effect positive change and inspire strength and commitment in others, we contribute
to our own well being. As we grow in spiritual service and awareness, we influence our family, benefit others and partner
with Yahveh in changing the world around us.
Admonishing The People
"Why did the tribes of Reuben stay behind with the sheep... the tribe of Gad stayed
east of the Jordan? The tribe of Dan remained by the ships, the tribe of Asher stayed by the coast and remained along the
shore... But the people of Zebulun did risk their lives in battle; so did the people of Naphtali." Judges 5:16-18
Deborah's reason for condemning the tribes that did not take part in the battle: "For
they did not come to the aid of Yahveh with the victors." Judges 5:23
Israel's conquest and settlement of the Land was a slow and painful process. They faced constant harassment
from the Canaanites on the higher land, and the Philistines on the southern coastal plain, and their survival depended on
their loyalty to Yahveh, while disloyalty always led to disaster.
In her song of joy and praise to Yahveh for the victory over Jabin, the Prophetess reprimanded the tribes
of Reuben, Gad, Dan and Asher for not joining in the war effort against the Canaanites. At the same time she praised the tribes
that did participate - namely Zebulun, Issachar, Naphtali, Ephraim, and Manasseh.
"For they did not come to the aid of Yahveh with the victors."
Why does the verse not say "they did not come to the aid of Deborah and Barak"?
Yahveh helps us in our daily life and through that help He shows us that He is the source of all our blessing.
The victory over the 'superior' Canaanites made a deep impression on all who were part of it. When the people of Israel witnessed
the miraculous intervention in their favor "they believed in Yahveh." Knowing by hearsay is not the same as knowing
by actual experience. The people's renewed faith would not have taken place so readily had they not actually been there at
The absent tribes only learned about the miracles by report. Had they been present, there would have been
unity throughout northern Israel, resulting in a revival and total abandonment of idolatry. To Deborah's great disappointment,
the opportunity to unite the people as a nation was thus lost, thus Israel continued in their tribal existence until Samuel
came to power.
To "come to the aid of Yahveh" means to be where Yahveh can be their aid - to let Him bring the people to
One Faith. Deborah criticized the more distant tribes for not having participated in this unique spiritual opportunity to
come close to Yahveh, and to create the unity that Israel needed for survival and success.