Deborah is the fifth of Israel’s leaders or Judges raised up by the Lord to deliver His people in a time of national distress. Her name means “a bee” and the sting of this determined heroine proves fatal to God’s enemies. Her prominence as a ruler is remarkable and her accomplishments are extraordinary. She is highly respected and her wise counsel is sought by her people. Her story portrays a woman with strength of character, tact, and resolve.
The loosely knit tribes of Israel are oppressed by King Jabin’s Canaanites in Deborah’s day. This prophetess accurately predicts the events that occur (Jud. 4:7). Her battle strategy, courage, and spiritual insight work in tandem. Although most of Israel’s tribes choose not to fight, Deborah rallies 10,000 men from Zebulun and Naphtali to combat the foe (4:6). The authority and respect she earns is verified by her war chief Barak, who says he will not fight without her (4: 8). It is highly unusual in that era for a man in his position to make such a statement, but he knows her presence will inspire his warriors. His dependency on her shows the confidence he has in her leadership. Without hesitation she agrees to go with him (4:9).
The Philistines march to meet the Israelites near the Valley of Megiddo (Armageddon) near the banks of the Kishon River (5:19). When Deborah gives the signal, Barak attacks from the high slopes of Mount Tabor. God drives a great hailstorm into the face of the enemy. This transforms the plains into a muddy morass, effectively halting the advance of Sisera’s 900 heavy chariots (4:3). The swollen river literally sweeps away the enemy (5:21). The forces of nature and perfect timing prove the delivering power comes from God’s hands rather than the hands of men. Sisera abandons the fight and flees for his life. He seeks shelter in the tent of a Kenite woman named Jael whose tribe is allied with the Philistines (4:17). She invites him in and offers him refreshment, but in the night drives a tent peg through his temple and seals the victory for Israel (v. 21). When Barak arrives the next day, she shows him the corpse (v. 22). Deborah is the daring woman who initiates the war, but it is another determined woman who brings it to a conclusion. Their combined bravery is a rebuke to the cowardly men of Israel who refused to join in this conflict.
Deborah can fight but she can also write. She composes a song which describes these events from God’s perspective (Jud. 5:1-31). The Lord Himself is described as coming from heaven to join their struggle (5:20). Her vivid, concise, picturesque, and passionate poem expresses the gratitude of her nation. Written with unrestrained emotion, it is a battle song of triumph which gives God all the glory for this incredible victory.
Before Deborah becomes a judge, the people of Israel are desperate, disheartened, and dejected. But she effectively arouses the nation from their lethargy and leads them from bondage to victory. Because of her faith in God, twenty years of Philistine cruelty are avenged and Israel enjoys peace for the next 40 years (4:3). In the inspired words of Deborah, “Let all God’s enemies perish, but let those who love Him shine forth as the sun in victory” (5:31).