Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help. Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the River Kishon and give him into your hands.’” Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” “Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honour will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him. Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh. When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera summoned from Harosheth Haggoyim to the River Kishon all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron. Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.
If you fossick about a bit online searching on biblical womanhood, living as a biblical woman, how the Bible intends women to be, sooner rather than later you will come upon this quotation from 1 Peter 3:3–4: “Your beauty… should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit…” You’ll find a lot about modest dress and skirt lengths, about head coverings and gentle, teachable behaviour. You’re unlikely to come across anyone mentioning Deborah (or her friend Jael – see the unfolding story in the second half of Judges 4).
Can women be leaders? Are women designed to be under a man’s authority? Are women by nature and vocation gentle and sweet, quiet and kind, called to submission? If the answer is an unequivocal “Yes”, what are we to say about Deborah? A prophet, a judge, the leader of all Israel, decisive, courageous, warlike, bold.
O God of strength and truth, who has called us to prophetic lives, declaring by our every word and action the gospel of your truth, give us insight, give us courage, give us discernment, so that – men and women together – we may stand firm for your kingdom and prove triumphant in the battle against all that would undermine and destroy the work of your Spirit in us. For we ask it in Jesus’ holy name; Amen.