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Deborah: A "Do Right" Woman

Judges 4:1-5:31

Judge Debby she was not, dispensing criminals with a sarcastic barb and a wave of her hand. Instead, the biblical Deborah was a renowned prophetess, an honored judge, and an ideal role model for every woman called to lead others.

Three millennia ago Deborah convened her court under a palm tree where "the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided" (Judges 4:5). Undoubtedly their greatest disputes revolved around their oppressors, the Canaanites. Something had to be done, and Deborah was the woman for the job.

When she ordered Barak, her secretary of defense, to amass an army, Deborah made it clear who reigned as commander in chief: "The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you" (Judges 4:6). Unlike take-charge Jezebel, who sought no one's counsel, levelheaded Deborah obeyed the Lord and insisted his will—not hers—be done.

Even if our "army" is a small group of volunteers or a kitchen full of kids, we can learn from Deborah's leadership style by putting aside any personal agenda, listening for God's clear direction, and letting others know who's really running the show.

Fearless in Battle

As courageous as she was wise, Deborah promised to lure Sisera, the enemy commander, to the riverside and deliver him into Barak's waiting hands.

Levelheaded Deborah obeyed the Lord and insisted his will—not hers—be done.

But Barak balked. "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go" (Judges 4:8). What's the deal? Was he a weak-kneed wimp? Or did Barak think the Lord would bless his efforts only if godly Deborah was by his side?

Whatever the case, her response was swift. "Very well," Deborah said, "I will go with you" (Judges 4:9). As her modern counterpart, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once quipped, "In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman."

Deborah indeed took action, yet warned Barak that he'd forfeited any claim in the victory: "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" (Judges 4:9).

Keep that prophecy in mind, and be prepared for a few surprises.

Marching Orders

The two armies mustered: ruthless Sisera with iron chariots and countless men pitted against Barak with 10,000 foot soldiers and nary a chariot. Before Barak lost his nerve, Deborah told him, "Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?" (Judges 4:14).

Once again, Deborah resisted the urge to take credit or take charge, and made the chain of command clear. Oh, that I'd paid attention to Deborah's story a dozen years ago! In my short stint as an employer, overseeing three women who worked for me, I discovered my strong-willed nature didn't always serve me well. My management style was all about "follow me" and "do it my way." Yet as Deborah demonstrates, it's in following the Lord and doing things his way that we truly lead others.

Grand Finale

Just as expected, God's will prevailed on the battlefield: "All the troops of Sisera fell by the sword; not a man was left" (Judges 4:16). The one exception was Sisera himself, who fled on foot and sought refuge inside the tent of a woman named Jael.

Hardly a safe haven, since Jael owned a tent peg, a hammer, and two strong hands …

I'll spare you the gory story of Sisera's demise and jump to Deborah's response. When she learned her prophecy that God would hand Sisera over to a woman had come true, the sound of music rang out across the land. Her Song of Deborah, the oldest remaining fragment of Hebrew literature, was dedicated to the One she loved: "I will make music to the Lord, the God of Israel" (Judges 5:3).

She also sang the praises of those who served her well—"My heart is with Israel's princes, with the willing volunteers among the people" (Judges 5:9)—and she commended Jael at length, calling her "most blessed of tent-dwelling women" (Judges 5:24). A final leadership lesson from Deborah: Acknowledge the efforts of others, rather than pat yourself on the back.

Beginning to end, Deborah was God's woman. If the Lord has called you to lead others, consider taking Deborah's motto as your own: "March on, my soul; be strong!" (Judges 5:21).

Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of 25 books, including Embrace Grace (WaterBrook Press). She lives with her husband and their two teenagers in Kentucky. Visit her website: www.lizcurtishiggs.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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