(Images for this series are owned and provided by Sarah Beth)

Even though they were not perfect, God mightily used 12 judges to bring deliverance for Israel from their oppressors. The leadership vacuum after Joshua’s death led to six successive cycles of disobedience spanning 325 years, causing God to lift his protection from them. When the Israelites cried out to God for deliverance, He would raise up a judge to lead and deliver them. Deborah was one of those judges.

  • Deborah was the only female of the 12 judges mentioned in the book of judges
  • Deborah was the only female ruler (apart from Athaliah) of the Jews mentioned in the Old Testament
  • Deborah was a prophetess and the only one of the 12 judges to be attributed with that title.
  • Deborah means ‘bee’.
  • Deborah is referred to as ‘the wife of Lapidoth’. This could mean her husband’s name was Lapidoth, but some commentators say this phrase was ‘she was a woman of Lapidoth’, meaning she came from Lapidoth. The name Lapidoth means ‘lamps’ or ‘flames’ and one commentator, Rashi, says she was called ‘a woman of lamps’ because it was thought that she made the wicks for the lamps in the sanctuary. If this latter interpretation is correct, she went from making lamps to leading a nation!

Six things we can learn from Deborah’s leadership

1. She was not afraid to say ‘yes’ to the call of God

Deborah led Israel at a time when they were experiencing great oppression from Jabin, King of Canaan. Unlike other enemies who had oppressed Israel, this enemy was close by. Israel had themselves to blame for this oppression, because they had not totally destroyed the Canaanites as God had instructed them. Sisera, the commander of the army, had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron. Compare this to Israel’s 10,000 foot soldiers. Jabin had been oppressing the Israelites for twenty years, causing fear and anarchy. Judges 5:6 says: ‘the highways were abandoned and travellers took to winding paths’ to avoid being robbed or ambushed. This was the setting in which Deborah submitted herself to God, answering His call to lead. Have there been times you have said ‘no’ to God because you were afraid of the consequences of saying ‘yes’? Leaders say yes to God even when they feel inadequate.

2. At a time when no one else was willing to fight, she took initiative

Deborah was able to lead well because she knew who she was and what God had called her to accomplish. In Judges 6:7 she refers to herself as ‘a mother of Israel who arose’ when everyone else was holding back, refusing to fight the oppression the nation faced. Leaders take initiative when they see a problem that needs solving.

3. She was a person of integrity who could be trusted.

Israelites came to have their disputes settled, meeting with her under the Palm of Deborah. This shows the degree of trust the Israelites had in her as they willingly accepted the justice she administered. That they named the palm tree she sat under after her was a sign of the great esteem in which they held her. Leaders constantly work on their character because they understand the importance of good character in fulfilling their call.

4. She heard God’s voice clearly and was quick to obey

Deborah relied on hearing from God regarding the disputes the Israelites brought to her. This ability to hear God enabled her to proclaim His instructions to Barak, and prophesy the subsequent victory. Barak esteemed Deborah so highly that he prevailed upon her to accompany the army to the battle. Leaders listen for God’s voice and are quick to obey Him.

5. She knew her role in the defeat of Sisera

Deborah knew she was not an army general. This was Barak’s role and although he needed some persuading, he did eventually play his part. His skill as a soldier was necessary to win the battle. When he asked for her support, she gave it. Deborah’s song (Judges 5:9) proclaimed that her heart was always with the ‘rulers of Israel’. Good leaders are clear about their strengths and their role, and delegate accordingly, continuing to provide support for their followers.

6. She gave praise where it was due

In her duet with Barak, Deborah was careful to give honour to Jael, whose courage and wisdom enabled her to kill the mighty General Sisera, giving glory to God. A good leader is quick to give praise where it is due and resists the temptation to take any glory that is God’s. Deborah and Barak did such a good job that the land had peace for 40 years after Sisera and his army were defeated. Note that in spite of Barak’s initial hesitation to go to battle, he is mentioned in the Hebrew 12 hall of fame. His delayed obedience did not stop him from gaining a place as one of God’s faith generals!

As you read through the six aspects of Deborah’s leadership, ask yourself what areas in your leadership you might need to work on. It might be helpful to discuss this with your mentor or within your leadership group.