Wisdom, courage and a good family life, the Old Testament's Deborah "had it all"
Ok, I admit it…in the Bible the men pulled off some pretty incredible feats: Moses parted the sea; Elijah called down fire from heaven to incinerate the wicked priests of Baal; Peter miraculously healed a cripple. Not unlike Hollywood, in the pages of sacred scripture it often seems as though all the juiciest, action-hero roles are reserved for men. And while they fill us with inspiration and admiration, I sometimes wonder where all the women are. Where are my spiritual sisters?
Often, we are led to believe that all women of leadership and personal strength are Jezebels–evil to the core and deserving of their horrible fate (lest we forget, the original Jezebel of the Bible was thrown from her window for her wickedness and her body was eaten by dogs!). The truth is that Bible is filled with heroines: Abigail counseled with King David and prevented a slaughter; Judith saved Bethulia by cutting off the head of the king of Ninevah; Miriam was called a “prophetess.” There are plenty of strong, faithful women who performed marvelous works. Sure it’s inspiring to hear about the men, but it’s also important for women and men alike to remember that stories of inspiration are by no means exclusively male.
Deborah is the Old Testament equivalent of “having it all.” Not because she rebelled against the established leadership and customs of the time, but because she incorporated all of the callings given to her by God into a balanced life. She was strong when others failed; her story is one of inspiration and courage as she heard and followed the voice of God.
Deborah appears in the book of Judges, at a time before the kings and after Joshua led the Israelites to settle the land of Canaan. She is one of five women mentioned as righteous prophetesses in the Bible (there is also one false prophetess). Deborah, the wife of Lapidoth, judged the children of Israel as she sat beneath a palm tree in Mount Ephraim (see Judges 4:5). This meant that she gave counsel and advice, as well as acted as an arbiter between contending parties. Her word was respected, and her abilities valued. Deborah received inspiration from the voice of the Lord. He called to her and prompted her to do many things and helped her judge fairly.
The scriptural record says that ALL of the children of Israel came to Deborah. Men sought her counsel; she was not simply a figure of leadership to women. We often think of the Old Testament as a “man’s world,” but clearly that is not the case. Deborah’s husband respected her abilities and did not begrudge her calling as a judge in Israel. Though he lived thousands of years ago, Lapidoth has a great deal he could teach twenty first century men with respect to looking to women for counsel as well as helping their wives reach their spiritual potential.
40 Years of Peace
Through Deborah the Lord arranged to free the Israelites from the “grievous oppression” of the Canaanites. She called upon Barak to take an army against the Canaanites. She gave him a strategy and then came with him to oversee the battle. Deborah presided over Israel’s armies and, under the direction of God, encouraged Barak’s crushing defeat of the Canaanites, ushering in 40 years of peace. She was not afraid to go to war because her faith in God was complete.
Deborah’s story is one of spiritual strength. It is also a validation that my roles as a wife and mother need not disqualify me as a spiritual leader for others of God’s children, nor do these roles preclude me from being involved in my community. Deborah’s home and public life testifies to the fact that she was a person of great spiritual strength and courage–a truly godly woman.