Leading with creativity and courage
She was a wife and mother, and decided over war and more mundane conflicts. Nothing was too much for her. A singular biblical figure tells us about her time, her life, and her heroic deeds. In all modesty.
My story, as it is written in the Bible, is quickly told. But how I came to be so well respected and honoured by everyone is not mentioned there. My name was not translated as “bee” for nothing. Through diligence, skill, and God’s grace I came to my important position and was appreciated by my people.
A woman with power
I was a prophetess and judge among the people of Israel. God chose me as a prophetess to speak to His people. As a judge I made legal and military decisions. One could say that I was the leader of the tribes of Israel.
The Israelites from the various tribes were loosely connected and still without a king and came up to me to have their disputes and problems settled by me. You read right. I lived and worked from elevated locations to keep track of things. I held court under a palm between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim.
I was in a prominent position. In the long list of judges that the people of Israel had had so far, I was the only person who was both judge and prophet. And I was the only one who really performed the functions of a judge. The Israelites came and consulted me to have their cases heard and disputes decided and give answers as an oracle.
A woman with feelings
And on top of that I was married to Lappidoth and fulfilled my social role as wife and mother. In the time in which I lived this was also very important. It was unusual for a woman to occupy such an important position. But I did my job well, my people trusted me and what I had to say from God. I always strove to act in the interest of my people and to do what God wanted me to do.
A woman of courage
I am still known 3,000 years after my death thanks to the victory over Sisera. He was commander-in-chief of Jabin, king of the Canaanite city of Hazor. Jabin had long oppressed our tribes.
When the people asked me for help, I called for Barak, our army commander, and told him the prophecy I had received from God. He was to go to Mount Tabor with 10,000 men, where God would deliver Sisera and his warriors into Barak’s hands at the River Kishon. Barak was still slightly uncomfortable and asked me to accompany him into battle. Fully trusting in God’s help, I went to war with him.
A woman goes down in history
The Lord sent rain so that the chariots of our enemies got stuck in the mud and it was easy to defeat them.
Through another woman, God helped us to the final victory over Sisera. Sisera fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. There was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite. Assuming that she was friendly to him, he settled down with her. She though picked up a tent peg and rammed it into his temple, killing our oppressor.
The whole story is told twice in the Bible: once as a narrative and then as a poem. The song named after me is one of the oldest passages in the Bible.
A woman who made an impact
Later, I caused difficulties for many—mainly male—interpreters of the Bible. They could not deal with the fact that there were women in positions of power. Rabbis went on to translate my beautiful name as “hornet” to ridicule me and accuse me of arrogance and excessive self-confidence.
Ambrose of Milan, however, used my story in the third century to win women for leadership functions in the congregations. He understood that it was not only gender but bravery that made one strong.
My name is Deborah. I was a judge and prophetess.
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