Over the last couple weeks I have been studying the life of Deborah, the prophetess and judge. As one of the few female leaders in the Bible, her story and life is fascinating. And while we don’t have many details, God gives us enough information to make several important observations. So over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to share some of the lessons I’ve gleaned from this mighty woman of God in a little mini-series called “Deborah: A Light in the Darkness.
Deborah’s story starts in Judges 4, which opens with the tragic cycle of sin and God’s subsequent judgment repeated over and over during the era of the Judges. Deborah was the fourth judge raised up by God to deliver the Israelites and lead them in the way of truth. Here’s what we first learn about Deborah:
“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.”
Did you catch how God describes Deborah? The Bible says she was a prophetess and a judge. Notice how the prophetess title comes first. God values our relationship with Him above what we do for Him. Deborah’s spiritual maturity is noted before her ability to provide wise judgments. She is also the only judge besides Samuel to also have the title of prophet.
Deborah walked in close fellowship with the Lord. Her spiritual maturity was such that God entrusted with her information about what was to come and insight into what He was doing among the people during her life. God also gave Deborah wisdom and discernment. In the culture of male dominance, Deborah must have been a special lady with great wisdom to be respected and sought after by the masses.
The other judges of Israel were men called by God to deliver the Israelites from a specific overlord or oppressor. Most of them were men who were not following the Lord previously or who had mixed devotion. However, Deborah’s story is different. Since the description of prophetess is listed before her role as a judge, I believe that Deborah sought out God before God raised her up to be a judge. She personally desired to follow the God of her fathers, and because of her faithful devotion, God gave her spiritual leadership and prominence among the people. He made her a prophetess and, because of that spiritual gifting, the Israelites recognized her as a judge even though she was a woman.
So what can we learn from this introduction to Deborah? What lessons can be gleaned from these first two verses of her story?
The first lesson we receive from Deborah is that those who follow God whole-heartedly will stand out in a mediocre culture. The era of the judges was full of evil, sin, and lukewarm devotion to the God of Abraham. There was much compromise between what the Israelites knew was right and what their Canaanite neighbors taught them. In fact, at the end of the book of Judges we are told that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). That sounds familiar! We also are living in a culture of relative truth and a society in which it seems everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes.
However, just as Deborah stood out in her day because of her faithful devotion and uncompromising love for God, we also can stand out in our mediocre culture. Deborah was like a bright light that people flocked to in the midst of the spiritual darkness of the Judges era. And we also are called to be a light in our generation to which people are drawn and redirected to our Father in heaven. As Jesus commanded us:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Secondly, Deborah’s life teaches us that the spiritually wise will be given leadership and responsibility. Because Deborah had a close relationship with the Lord and was spiritually mature, God gave her wisdom which then placed her in a position of leadership and authority in her generation. I doubt Deborah sought after the position of judge of Israel, but it came because of her spiritual wisdom and insight. Because she had a close relationship with the Lord and knew His heart, she became a leader of Israel and eventually a heroine.
Therefore, the lesson for us is to seek spiritual maturity. As we pursue the Lord with our whole heart, He will give us wisdom. And as we gain wisdom and stand out in our generation, we will be given leadership and responsibility to guide and lead others in the ways of the Lord. So if we want to be leaders and world changers, we must invest in our spiritual relationship with God and seek the wisdom that only comes from Him.
Finally, the last lesson we glean from the introduction to Deborah is the fact no matter what cultural norms are, God can set you above what is considered “acceptable” and do great things through you. Deborah was a woman who led and judged over men. While in our day and age that doesn’t sound too foreign, we must remember that in Israelite culture, women were valued at about the same level as livestock. They were not really counted as people. In all the census counts we read in the Old Testament, women are never mentioned. They just didn’t count. It was a culture where men ruled and women unquestioningly followed.
Therefore, Deborah’s role in Israel was counter-cultural. Not only was she a woman respected and revered by men, but as we’ll see later, she actually called men out for not doing what God commanded them. She was not afraid of the cultural norms and was willing to break them to speak the message God had entrusted to her. And God blessed her and did great things through Deborah.
So our take-away is don’t let the norms or expectations of culture stop us from doing what God has called and gifted us to do. If we are surrendered to the will of God and walking in step with His purposes and direction, we do not need to worry about what is considered “acceptable” or culturally correct, because God can set us above the laws of culture and do great things through us as long as we are faithful to His direction and guidance.
Deborah’s love and relationship with God made her a counter-cultural leader and judge in her day. In the next couple of posts, we’ll learn more about the amazing things God did through her life. But in the meantime, may we as whole-hearted followers of Jesus seek to live out a similar testimony, and purpose to leave an equally history changing legacy.
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