Summary: The story of Deborah remind us that the key to winning the victory over struggles in our lives is to listen to God and heed what God says.
We come this morning to one example of what I consider to be the most difficult part of the Bible to understand. So I’m just going to name it for what it is, right up front. This scene of Deborah calling members of the Israelite tribes into battle is just one story among many of the seemingly “God-endorsed”, militant takeover of Canaan, the Promised Land, that occurred in the generations following Israel’s exodus from Egypt. We don’t like these stories because they clash so much with the God we see in Jesus Christ in the New Testament—a God who is loving, peaceful, and even anti-violent. And, unfortunately, I don’t know how to explain these Old Testament stories of war to you except to say that God had made a covenant with Abraham that his descendants would settle in Canaan. Yet in the meantime, the Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years and other tribes had settled in to the Promised Land, but God’s plans had not changed.
So it is that, as we continue our look at women of the Old Testament, we come this morning to a judge by the name of Deborah. Since, instinctively women aren’t prone to violent tendencies quite like men are, we might think that the presence of a woman would soften the brutality of the ongoing story a bit, but it doesn’t really; actually, not at all. So let’s look at what’s going on here.
By way of introduction, Judges does not tell us a whole lot about Deborah. But in a world dominated by males, it’s worth noting that the only thing the Bible tells us about Deborah’s husband is his name. This woman Deborah is known by her own merits. She is a judge, a decider, a leader, a prophetess. She is so well respected by the Israelite people that she has set herself up in a place where she can be easily reached by many people from the surrounding towns and villages. And the tree under which she holds court is called by her name, “the Palm of Deborah.” Deborah, it seems, was just that kind of person; kind of like the CEOs and “high-achievers” of our day. Place her anywhere, and before long, her mark was so indelibly on that place that the inhabitants forget what they once called it and simply give it her name.
Some might argue that the Israelites had been suffering a lack of strong leadership since the days of Joshua, and so Deborah was just the best among a bad crop. Indeed, this was a critical time in Israel’s history. For several generations they had been a nomadic people, eventually moving to their Promised Land and taking it conquest. Now, though, they must settle the land and become a nation, but the displaced surrounding nations were not cooperating; it was to their advantage to destroy Israel before it had time to establish itself. During those perilous days, there was no central government and no structure for selecting leaders or for passing leadership from one generation to another. It was just this awkward amalgamation of twelve tribes. And in Israel, the role of leadership was especially difficult because the leader had to be not only a person of political and military talent, but also someone who could nurture the nation’s spiritual responsibilities; after all, their primary purpose as a nation was spiritual. They were to carry into the world a unique quality of godliness, of divine purpose.