Deborah: an Ezer Woman Equipped to Lead (Judges 4-5)
Sometimes God calls a woman to the highest level of leadership in a crisis moment. As the Israelites settled into the Promised Land, they often strayed from faith in the Lord. Human sacrifice, ritual prostitution, and other practices often replaced the worship of the Lord. When this happened, God allowed neighboring nations to conquer Israel. When someone would cry out to God for deliverance, the Lord would raise up a leader to organize a military campaign to throw off the oppressor. We meet Deborah in such a time, when the northern tribes in Israel were cruelly oppressed by King Jabin and his superior military might.
We first see Deborah in her day-job as judge over all the people of the land. The Bible tells us that Deborah was both a prophet and a judge, a wise woman: "she used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment" (Judges 4:4-5). But hearing about the oppression of the two tribes in the north, Deborah the prophet stepped into a different leadership role. In her hill country safety she could have ignored the plight of the Israelites in the northern flat lands under Jabin's conquest. But an ezer woman who has the ability to come to the aid of the helpless will do so.
She commanded Barak (a northerner) to raise an army of 10,000 armed men whom God would use to defeat the superior forces of King Jabin. It happened that Jabin had nine hundred iron chariots and Israel had none; Israel's soldiers were seriously outgunned. God had given Deborah the prophet a battle plan, but nervous Barak insisted that Deborah stand by his side during the battle or he wouldn't take on the assignment. Some Christians have the notion that men shouldn't work under a woman's direction, but here Barak and Deborah made a successful team with Deborah as his leader.
The ragtag Israeli army, camped on the flanks of Mount Tabor, looked down on all those iron chariots with well-equipped archers and swordsmen and knew such a battle was hopeless. But at the right moment, Deborah next to Barak shouted, "Up! The Lord is indeed going out before you!" (Judges 4:14). And as Barak's army moved down the mountain slopes God threw the enemy forces into a panic. The historian Josephus tells us that a sleet storm hit Jabin's army full in the face, blinding the archers, the chariot drivers, and their horses. The rain soon turned the plain into a muddy swamp, trapping the heavy iron chariot wheels in the mud. The nearby trickling brook Kishon overflowed its banks and flooded the land, carrying warriors out to sea in its turbulent waters. Witnessing God's deliverance, Deborah and Barak sang their praise to God: "March on, my soul, with might!" (Judges 5:21).
In the book of Judges, Deborah is the model leader, equal to the greatest leaders of Israel. No other judge was also called a prophet, indicating how closely Deborah resembles Moses and Joshua. As a prophet she had an unshakable faith in God, which gave her strength to lead her people. She knew that it was the Lord who overcame the enemy. She was merely God's instrument.
Not every man or woman is called to lead, but every woman is created by God to be an ezer, to come alongside those who are helpless without her aid. Like Deborah, our confidence is in God, not in ourselves. We too can "march on with might" because we do so in the strength of the Lord our God.