“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time” (4:4).- Judges 4–5
Throughout the redemptive history we find recorded in the Bible, we see that God often chose to raise up unlikely men and women to rescue His people from their enemies. The story of Deborah is an excellent example of this reality. Here we have a female leader in Israel, which in itself was quite rare, and by the end of the story, we see her prophecy indicating that a woman would rescue Israel—another rare feat—come true.
Deborah lived during the period of the Judges, when Israel was not united as a nation under one leader but rather existed as a loose confederation of tribes. Periodically, the Lord would endow a leader—a judge—in one of these tribes with His Holy Spirit, and that leader would rise to rally the Israelites together to face down a common foe. Deborah judged Israel in the days when Jabin king of Canaan oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. Today’s passage tells us he had a mighty army with “900 chariots of iron” (Judg. 4:1–3), which was the most advanced military technology available at that time. Jabin’s stranglehold on the people was so strong that commerce had virtually ceased. The people did not travel on the highways that carried goods in and out of Palestine because of Jabin’s mighty army (5:6).
God used Deborah to rally the Israelites against Jabin. Humanly speaking, the deck was stacked against Israel, and everyone knew it. General Barak was unwilling to call the Israelites to battle against their Canaanite foes without Deborah “holding his hand,” as it were (4:4–8). Consequently, when the Lord kept His promise to save His people, a woman, rather than the soldiers of Israel, would receive the credit for the victory (vv. 9–10).
Of course, this is exactly what happened. Despite the fact that his army was technologically inferior to Jabin’s, Barak’s force of 10,000 Israelites was able to defeat the Canaanite army. Only Sisera, Jabin’s general was left alive (vv. 11–16). Sisera fled until he came to the home of Jael, the wife of a Kenite with whom Sisera’s kingdom was at peace. But Jael’s ultimate loyalty was not to the Kenites but to Yahweh, the God of Israel, and His people. Jael gave shelter to Sisera, but only so that she could lull him into the place where she could kill him with a tent peg to his head (vv. 17–24). The mightiest general in the region at the time was defeated not by a general but by an “ordinary” housewife.
The Lord does not need mighty men to accomplish his purposes. Often, He delights to use the unexpected to fulfill His will. That is exactly what He did with Deborah and Jael.
Most of us would likely be considered ordinary people who will never make the history books. From a human perspective, we may not seem all that “great.” Yet from God’s perspective, ordinary is what we want to be. He brings about His will through the instrumentality of ordinary people making ordinary decisions such as the best way to teach their children the Bible or how they can reach their next-door neighbor with the gospel. The Lord uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary.
Passages for Further Study
1 Samuel 17