by John Lowe
The fact that she was a woman has caused questions to arise, as to why she occupied the position of a judge. A thorough reading of chapters 4 and 5 makes it clear that women played the predominant roles in this entire incident, and their significance is a reflection on the weakness of male leadership in Israel at that time. The entire book of Judges shows us a behind-the-scenes expose' of the spiritual decline and weakness that was then prevalent in Israel. Nothing in the Mosaic Law directly prohibited women from taking a place of responsibility that was normally the place occupied by men; and the principle seems clear that when a man was not on the scene to deliver the people, God chose to use a woman. However, this incident cannot be taken as a justification for contradicting the pastoral qualifications listed in the New Testament Epistles. One should always remember that Old Testament procedures do not necessarily justify New Testament policies. That pastors of churches should be men, not women, is made clear by such passages as I Timothy 3 and I Corinthians 14; and there are no records of women pastors in the New Testament. However, there are extensive references to the important place and activity of women in the New Testament congregations.
It is also interesting to note that Deborah did not lead this military reprisal herself, but chose Barak to serve as the commander of the tribe. He was an inhabitant of Kedesh-naphtali, near Hazor. As God’s spokesman, Deborah tells him that he is to take ten thousand men toward mount Tabor, and that God said He would draw unto thee … Sisera … and … deliver him into thine hand. The brave Barak responded that he would not go unless Deborah would go with him! She replied that she would be willing to go; but the battle would not be in his honor, for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. This was a prediction which Barak could not understand at the time; but the strain of it conveyed a rebuke of his unmanly fears. Again, there can be no doubt that this passage is intended to indicate the weakness of male leadership at that time. Judge Deborah takes charge of the situation:
1. By God’s direction, she orders Barak to raise an army, and engage Jabin’s forces, that were under Sisera’s command. It may be that Barak had been considering some action against the common enemy; a spark of fire was glowing in his breast, and he would gladly do something for his people and for the cities of his God. But two things discouraged him:
a. He wanted a commission to recruit forces; therefore, Deborah gives him orders under the broad seal of heaven, which, as a prophetess, she had every right to do it: "Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded it? Certainly he has; take my word for it.” Some think she intends this as an appeal to Barak’s own heart. "Has not God, as if it were a secret, whispered to you, given you some intimation of how He plans to use you as an instrument in his hands to save Israel? Haven’t you felt some impulse of this kind acting on your own spirit?” If so, the spirit of prophesy in Deborah confirms the spirit of a soldier and leader in Barak: Go and draw towards 8Mount Tabor.
i. She tells him the number of men to raise—10,000; and do not allow him to fear that these will be too few, when God has said He will with them save Israel.
ii. Where he should raise them—only from his own tribe, and the tribe of Zebulun. These two counties should furnish him with an army of sufficient size; he need not need any more.
iii. She orders him where to make his rendezvous—at Mount Tabor, in his own neighborhood. It was a convenient place to assemble, and the recruitment is not to be limited to ten thousand, although a smaller force would have been inadequate.
2. When he had an army raised, he did not know how to go about engaging the enemy, who perhaps declined fighting, after hearing that Israel, if they had courage enough to go up against any enemy, seldom failed to succeed. "Well,” says Deborah, in the name of "God, I will draw unto thee Sisera and his army.” She assured him that the issue would be determined by one pitched battle that should take place as soon as possible.
a. In mentioning the power of the enemy; Sisera, a celebrated general, bold and experienced, his iron chariots, and his huge number of soldiers, she obligates Barak to fortify himself with the highest degree of determination; for the enemy he was to engage was a very formidable one. It is good to know the worst that can happen; that we may be prepared to meet it. But,
b. In fixing the very place to which Sisera would draw his army, she gave him a sign, which might help to confirm his faith when the battle is engage. In the beginning he may have thought that the progression of the battle depended upon Sisera’s own will; but, afterwards when Barak sees the event unfolding just as Deborah had foretold, he might surmise that she spoke under divine direction, which would be a great encouragement to him, especially because with this,
c. She gave him an express promise of success. I will (that is, God will, in whose name I speak) deliver them into thy hand; so that when he saw them prepared to enter the fight against him, he might be confident that, according to her word, he would soon see them fall before him. Notice, God drew them to him only so that He might deliver them into his hand. When Sisera drew his forces together, he had made plans for the destruction of Israel; but God gathered them as sheaves into the floor, for their own destruction, 10Mic. 4:11,12. Assemble yourselves, and you shall be broken to pieces, 11Isa. 8:9. See 11Rev. 19:17, 18.
Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go. Responding to Barak’s request, she promises to go along with him to the field of battle.
1. Barak insisted much upon the necessity of her presence, which, for him, would be better than a council of war: "If thou wilt go with me to direct and advise me, and in every difficult case to let me know God’s mind, then I will go with all my heart, and not fear the chariots of iron; otherwise I will not go.” Some make this out to be the language of a weak faith; he could not believe her words unless he had her with him to give advice, if he needed it on the spot; or perhaps to give up her life in case of failure by Israel’s army. It seems that this attitude arises from a conviction of the necessity of God’s presence and continual direction, a pledge and guarantee of which he would consider Deborah’s presence to be, and therefore he begged earnestly for it. "If thou go not up with me, in token of God’s going with me, carry me not up hence.” Nothing would be more satisfying than to have the prophetess with him to animate the soldiers and to be consulted as an oracle upon all occasions.
2. Deborah promised to go with him. No hard work or danger can discourage her from doing the utmost for the service of her country. She would not send him where she would not go herself. Those that in God’s name call others to do their duty should be very ready to assist them in it. Deborah was the weaker vessel, yet she had the stronger faith. But though she agrees to go with Barak, if he insists upon it, she gives him a hint sufficient enough to move a soldier not to insist upon it: The journey thou undertakest (she was so confident of the success of the mission that she called his engaging in war the undertaking of a journey) shall not be for thy honour; not so much for thy honour as it would have been if you would have gone by yourself; for the Lord shall sell Sisera "into the hands of a woman;’’ that is:
a. The world would ascribe the victory to the hand of Deborah: this he might himself foresee.
b. God (to correct his weakness) would complete the victory by the hand of Jael, which would cast a shadow over his glory. But Barak values the satisfaction of his mind, and the good success of his enterprise, more than his honor; and therefore he will not drop his request. He dares not fight unless he has Deborah with him, to direct him and pray for him. She therefore stood by her word with a masculine courage; this noble heroine arose and went with Barak. It must be noted that despite his show of cowardess that Barak is listed among the heroes of faith 12(Heb. 11.32 ).
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