Deborah (Judges 4-5)
The best of the judges is Deborah. The people recognize her wisdom and come to her for counsel and conflict resolution (Judges 4:5). The military hierarchy recognizes her as supreme commander and in fact will only go to war on her personal command (Judg. 4:9). Her governance is so good that “the land had rest for forty years” (Judg. 5:31), a rare occurrence at any point in Israel’s history.
Some today may find it surprising that a woman, not the widow or daughter of a male ruler, could arise as the national chief of a pre-modern nation. But the book of Judges regards her as the greatest of Israel's leaders during this period. Alone among the judges, she is called a prophet or prophetess (Judg. 4:4), indicating how closely she resembles Moses and Joshua, to whom God also spoke directly. Neither women, including the undercover agent Jael, nor men, including the commanding general Barak, exhibit any concern about having a female leader. Deborah’s service as a prophetess-judge of Israel suggests that God does not regard women’s political, judicial, or military leadership as problematic. It is also evident that her husband Lappidoth and her immediate family had no trouble structuring the work of the household so that she had time to “sit under the palm of Deborah” to fulfill her duties when “the Israelites came up to her for judgment” (Judg. 4:5).
Today, in some societies, in many sectors of work, in certain organizations, women’s leadership has become as un-controversial as Deborah’s was. But in many other contemporary cultures, sectors, and organizations, women are not accepted as leaders or are subject to constraints not imposed on men. Could reflecting on Deborah’s leadership of ancient Israel help Christians today clarify our understanding of God’s intent in these situations? Could we serve our organizations and societies by helping demolish improper obstacles to women’s leadership? Would we personally benefit from seeking women as bosses, mentors, and role models in our work?