Saturday, August 25, 2012

Character Study: Deborah


What comes to your mind when you think about Deborah?  Seriously, what comes to your mind.  Think about it for a moment.  Once you have a decided essence, proceed to the next paragraph.
When I think of Deborah, I think of two things.  Strong, biblical womanhood coupled with a servant’s heart.  But wait!  Deborah was a leader, wasn’t she?  A leader of men!  A woman who charged boldly into battle! 
Deborah has received much flack from conservative Christians, as well as much image bending from the world and more liberal Christians.  In my mind there is no woman more misperceived than Deborah.  And yet I love this woman.  I love her because of what she stands for. 

People often have misconstrued ideas concerning what the Bible has to say about women.  And while there are many different examples I can give of the different wrong ideas we have on biblical womanhood, I’m only going to deal with two very specific ones today.  And what I hope to show you, in today’s character study of Deborah, is that she is not a feminist, but rather, that she is a beautiful depiction of strong, biblical womanhood.  See, I believe that Deborah’s story is not contrary to the other pictures of biblical womanhood presented elsewhere in the scriptures, but merely serves to enlarge our understanding of the beauty and power of a godly woman.  Like a multifaceted diamond, Deborah adds another dimension to how women can serve Christ within the context of their womanhood.  Women are not men.  They were designed to reflect the image of Christ differently, but no less powerfully. 
So, that’s what today’s character study is going to be about.  In order to begin, though, we have to clear up some of the air surrounding the biblical Deborah, and the world’s perception of her.  What do I mean?  Well, here is a common view of Deborah, one I have heard many Christian young women give.  By the way, these are not my words, this is a direct quote from a young lady I had a discussion with on this topic: 

[quote] Deborah wasn't a weak servant type woman saying "I'll respect you because you're a man."  Instead, Barak sought her help.  Deborah then basically told him what to do, even to the point of taunting him because God was going to deliver the enemy country into the hands of a woman. In the end she did give Barak some credit, but really she did it all. Deborah shouldn’t be forgotten in the midst of all the traditional, wife-y type women we find in the scriptures.  She shows us not every woman has to be a servant.  [/quote]
Hold that thought, we’ll come back to it.
Another common view of Deborah is as follows:

[quote]Deborah may serve as a role model to any modern woman who has career ambitions in her life. Of course not every woman wants to become a religious or a national leader. But by looking at what Deborah was able to achieve, every contemporary woman can say to herself: No matter what the field in which I want to realize my potential, no matter what is right for me, I can do it. If she could do it then, when conditions were so harsh, I can do it now.  What Deborah can teach all women is: Yes we can.[/quote]
I’d don’t believe either of these thought processes are very inconsistent with what the Bible has to say about women, and most specifically, what the Bible says about Deborah.  Deborah is a woman that many perceive in such a way that clashes with the traditional view of the biblical woman.  Yet the Bible doesn’t contradict itself.  So why would the Lord raise up a woman who went against everything He speaks of throughout scripture?  I’d like to posit that this remarkable woman in fact does not go against what the Bible teaches about women.    So, without further delay, let’s dive into our character study…
 First off, I think in order to understand Deborah, we have to understand true, biblical leadership.  If we look at what the Bible says about the “heads and leaders” either in the church or the family, we find that leadership demands responsibility, humility, and a servants heart.  The Bible shows us that a leader is not a dictator, but a servant to the people they are leading.  This view gave me a good look into the character of Deborah when I first set out in my journey to understand this woman’s character.  Her position should cause her to have humility as a leader, because a leader who is puffed up and would stoop to taunting those around him or her is not worthy of respect.  This image immediately cancels out the self righteous attitude that many people give to her.  It also made me questions something else.  Why would the Lord make a woman a judge over Israel, if she was going to command all the glory for herself?  Wouldn’t He instead choose a woman who was submissive to His will?  A woman who would give Him the glory?  I mean, a woman who took all the glory for herself isn’t exactly a great role model, right?
These thoughts quickly led me into another thought process.  In the Bible, women are put under the headship of Christ, their fathers, or their husbands, and widows are placed under the headship of the elders.  Men are put under the headship of Christ.  

“For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man” (1 Cor. 11:8-9).

The Bible explicitly states that the man has headship over the woman(1 Corinthians 11:3), and that this headship is not based on cultural factors, or even the fall; rather, it is based on the created order established by God Himself.
 So, where did Deborah fall into this?  After all, isn’t she the woman running the show?  After looking at 1 Corinthians in its entirety, I found that the critical key to a woman's role as a prophetess in the early church was her obvious submission to the male leadership in the church. A woman was to use her gifts in the context of the order established by the leaders of the church - just like anyone else's gifts.  So I looked at the biblical account of Deborah and tried to decide who it was that the Lord had put in authority over Deborah.  What I found were two men.  Her husband (4:4), and Barak.
First, let’s bring up Deborah’s husband, her primary form of headship.  The Bible doesn’t give us fluff.  It mentions every detail for a purpose.  There is no mention of Deborah’s hair color, because it isn’t a needed piece of information.  The fact that the Lord included a reference to Deborah’s husband tells us this was an important bit of information, and pertinent to the story. I feel the Lord intended for us to know that Deborah was under the headship of her husband.  
The next form of headship that Deborah falls under is Barak.  Now, why would I say that Barak was in leadership over Deborah?  Many people view her as his leader.  However, the Bible never gives us this indication.  Deborah was the spokesperson for God.  Just as the prophet Nathan was not in command of King David, the leader of Israel, neither is Deborah the leader of the Lord’s chosen military commander.  Deborah’s husband would also fall under the headship of Barak, due to the fact that he was the chosen military leader of God’s people.
This is where our study must branch off.  We have to first understand where Deborah falls into the roles of headship, ultimate accountability, and authority. God has granted these responsibilities to men in the home, church, and government. Women can, and so many times are, used greatly by God, but it was always under the headship of male authority in the church and home.  My reasons behind this thought have nothing to do with any notion of male superiority or female inferiority. Christ created men and women equally; however, He designated very specific roles to each of them. These roles have to do with God's ordained order. Jesus Himself was under the headship and authority of His Father (John 5:19) without being inferior in any way (John 1:1;10:30).

So, with this established, I began to look at the key male participant in this story.  Barak.  This man gets a bad rap by many of us.  The common thoughts concerning Barak were that he was a cowardly pansy man hiding behind the skirts of the insurmountable force known as Deborah.  Yet the Bible doesn’t give us this picture.  The Bible says

And Barak said to her, "If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!" So she said, "I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; he went up with ten thousand men under his command, and Deborah went up with him.

 "He went up with ten thousand men under his command"...  This is in reference to Barak and his men going up against the vast armies of Sisera.  Barak and all who went with him showed real courage and trust in God to go out against Sisera and his army. They had essentially no weapons to fight with against a technologically advanced army. 900 chariots of iron was an impressive and sophisticated arsenal during this time in Israel’s history. The armies of Israel, under the direction of Barak and Deborah, were at a great disadvantage. This took courage on the part of Barak. Barak did deserve credit. Deborah came as the voice of the Lord; God had Barak fight the battle. I don’t think we can discount this man as a wimp or a coward. I don’t think his actual fault was not trusting the Lord, but instead his fault was seeing Deborah as a good luck charm, ensuring God’s presence with the army. He put his faith in a woman of God, rather than trusting in God Himself. This is why the honor went to a woman, not Barak. 
Also, people look at Barak’s question to Deborah “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!" as a sign of her leadership.  However, I don’t see how we can come up with that, based off of this verse.  We have to remember the whole story.  Everything in context, as theologians say.  Deborah was the voice of God to the people.  Therefore, the way that Barak would seek the voice of the Lord would be to direct a question to Deborah.  Barak was seeking God’s direction by approaching His representative.  In essence, he was asking for God’s presence and blessing, albeit the narrative tells us that Barak’s heart was not fully relying upon God.  God looks at the heart, not the action. 
Mary asked “How can this be” when the angel came and told her of the child within.  Her heart was one of obedience and trust.  Her question was one of wonder, not unbelief. Similarly, Zachariah asked the same question “How can this be”  when the angel told him of his coming son.  However, his heart was one of unbelief, and thus the Lord punished him for the heart’s response, and not the question.   
“There will be no glory for you”...  Barak’s punishment was that he would not be the one to personally defeat Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army.  Instead, a woman would.  Now, Deborah is the woman many people attribute this victory to.  However, the story goes on to show us that this prophecy will be fulfilled unexpectedly later on in the chapter by another woman.  One yet again serving in her role of womanhood.   

However, Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, "Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear." And when he had turned aside with her into the tent, she covered him with a blanket. Then he said to her, "Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty." So she opened a jug of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him. And he said to her, "Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and inquires of you, and says, 'Is there any man here?' you shall say, 'No.' " Then Jael, Heber's wife, took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died. And then, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said to him, "Come, I will show you the man whom you seek." And when he went into her tent, there lay Sisera, dead with the peg in his temple.

God promised (Judges 4:9) that Sisera would be sold into the hands of a woman.  This woman God chose to honor was in fact a simple homemaker.  She was the wife of a Kenite, doubtless a mother with many household responsibilities.  Although Deborah was a mighty woman of God who followed faithfully after Him and was a mighty tool in His hand, she was not the woman of honor that day.

I believe Deborah was a humble woman, which is why I respect her. Not because she went out and showed Barak up. Not because she was a leader over Israel, but because she understood the role the Lord asked her to play, and she did so with humility and grace.  She shows us a fuller picture of being a servant of the Lord, and also of being a woman ministering where she is placed without losing the character traits God desires in women. 
Talk about being a servant.
And that is why Deborah is a character to study.  Because she was a servant, first and foremost.    


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Jonathan. I know you, and a few other people, have read most of this when I posted it elsewhere, but I know you will forgive me for having to reread the same info regurgitated into a Character Study Post. ;)

  2. Thank you! This is the best exposition of Deborah I have ever seen! *goes off to share and hopes some of her friends will read it*

    1. Thank you! I love the story of Deborah, and I am always sad when I see people altering her character and her story. I hope the post blesses your friends, also. :D

  3. God'sVictory I love it, what a educational insight you brought to the world. I know that God blessed you with the revelations of Deborah that has never been seen before with such clarity and scriptural venedication! That says alot about you and the time you spend in prayer and studying God's Word. Let him continue to use you for His glory.


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