Deborah and Jael in Judges chapters 4-5 are two women in scripture who represent one unique case of women at the helm. At first glance they appear to flip God's heirarchy for gender. A second look casts doubt an inversion ever took place.
The more I study Deborah and Jael, the more I marvel how they take up what should belong to a man. There aren't many other biblical accounts of women leading. How did Deborah pull this off, if Paul in all the churches everywhere does not permit a woman to rule over a man?
There looks to be a language difference in God's Word concerning the other judges that ministered to Israel in the historical account in the Book of Judges. With men leaders God "raised up for them a deliverer," but for Deborah's introduction it says "Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time."
Was Deborah a twisted fraud from the truly ordained? Or could it be that God gave her this role in Israel? In her day the people rarely saw honorable and courageous commanders. Though there were a portion of the tribes of Israel and also Barak who showed themselves both convicted and capable of accomplishing God's plan against Sisera, the fact is that they had not seized by faith what God had told them, and twenty years of oppression racked up. It was a woman who had vision of performing God's will. When Barak comes to see Deborah at her request, she prods by asking him a question about God's command. She says in Judges 4:6,
"Has not the LORD God of Israel commanded, 'Go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun; and against you I will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude at the River Kishon; and I will deliver him into your hand'?"Satan asked the question "Has God indeed said...?" (Gen. 3:1) to subvert God's purposes. Deborah quoted God in the form of a question out of respect for the authority of men. She was imploring this man essentially - "Declare God over me!" No need to say more; Barak is convicted and conditionally commits to obedience to the LORD (not to her). His condition is that Deborah accompany him to battle. This is faith, but it is not mature. It is faith by which God responds to win the battle, sure. But it is not the full faith required for Barak to gain any personal glory through undertaking God's will. Barak did what he was told. He made no individual contribution to the pool of faith Deborah had seeded. He took none of Deborah's work-load for redemption away from her but made her carry it further. Barak could have graduated from her house of provision if he would understand this one thing: he did not need anyone but God alone to succeed. Unfortunately, the only persons in this account who seem to securely trust in God are the two women.
The unspoken expectation God had for Barak was that he make the battle his own. By doing so he would assume leadership over Deborah. The superficial inversion continued; not by Deborah's choice, but by Barak's. Deborah doesn't rebuke him. In fact she honors his choice and obeys it. It was sufficient for the plan to be actualized, but God gave a consequence. Deborah foretells it before it transpires, Judges 4:9
So she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”Barak calls his ten thousand men, and Deborah "went up with him" (judges 4:10); she is still following the lead of the man. Yet by emotion or by reputation she appears to be a rallying point for the people. Judges 5:15 says,
And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah;Deborah's job wasn't finished. It wouldn't be complete until Barak personalized this war, fighting for his own life. Deborah surveys the movement of Sisera by faith and knows the time has come. Again she prods Barak to take the initiative. Judges 4:13-14,
As Issachar, so was Barak...
So Sisera gathered together all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth Hagoyim to the River Kishon. Then Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the LORD gone out before you?”Later Barak and Deborah sing a song together as one in part against their countrymen who did not fight for Deborah, Barak, and most importantly for God. Meroz is an unknown place which the Angel of the LORD curses for not heeding the call. Judges 5:15-17, 23
Among the divisions of Reuben
There were great resolves of heart.
Why did you sit among the sheepfolds,
To hear the pipings for the flocks?
The divisions of Reuben have great searchings of heart.
Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan,
And why did Dan remain on ships?
Asher continued at the seashore,
And stayed by his inlets....
‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the LORD,
‘Curse its inhabitants bitterly,
Because they did not come to the help of the LORD,
To the help of the LORD against the mighty.’
"Resolves" "in the heart" in the Hebrew can also be translated as "thoughts" "in the inward man." These men had the double-minded faith described in James 2, the kind that does not profit anyone, the kind that does not save. They stayed by the inlets and bleating sheep where things were pleasant and safe; meanwhile Barak's recruiters, his close comrades in Zebulun and Naphtali went forth inciting God's people for the taste of blood.
Deborah was the one who had forecasted the problem and its solution. She had kept the revelations of the scriptures in her heart and they gave her instruction. She had known the milestones from start to finish. She had seen her countrymen as they were in Judges 5:8
Then there was war at the gates;...And she sees how God is quickly restoring faith for the entire nation in 5:11,
Not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.
Far from the noise of the archers, among the watering places,By no means was Deborah in control. Instead, she was a full-faithed follower of God's powerful Holy Spirit. She was well-versed in making way in her heart for God's authority. She used her ministry to raise men back into their rightful and righteous role. She was a champion for God's authority being taken up by righteous men. The prophetess was not without a reverence for men and their position even if they had temporarily lost interest. Deborah was married, and so was Jael. In their hearts, these two women did not let the complacency of men corrupt and exalt them improperly.
There they shall recount the righteous acts of the LORD,
The righteous acts for His villagers in Israel;
Then the people of the LORD shall go down to the gates.
Deborah Raises Barak Up; Jael Takes Sisera Down
Deborah and Jael are a fascinating picture of the Father-Son relationship in the Godhead. Deborah is Strategist. Jael, Executioner. In what circumstance might God dispatch women to take initiative amongst His covenant people? Jael would tell you, the days were desperate. Judg. 5:6,
In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath,Common villagers could not walk on the roads. Apparently there was no way to enforce the law. Rulership was impotent. It was every man for himself. Anything of value was at risk of being seized, and perhaps people were afraid for their lives. This - was Israel. Jael learned a whole lot in those years of sneaking along unseen by intimidating enemies. God gave her wits every day, with her very life dependent on Him. These are the circumstances Deborah calls "the days of Jael" (Judges 5:6).
In the days of Jael,
The highways were deserted,
And the travelers walked along the byways.
Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel...
Jael would have been content to stay out of the fight, but the fight came to her long before Sisera fled to her place. Brokenness had already touched her house. Though the people could not carry on their business, the rulership did. Deborah refused to stay quiet about it. She says in Judg. 5:10
Speak, you who ride on white donkeys,Apparently wearing only the outward attire of a judge of Israel wasn't satisfying for her, or God for that matter. Somehow they have easy usage of the roads while the rest of the people suffer. It would do Jael little good to imagine a remedy for her own dead lifestyle without broadening the scope to the sin-problem of the community. Therefore she turned to God and found forgiveness, hope and purpose in His promises. And the vitality of her life was now intertwined forever in the vitality of her kinsmen. She was a woman intimately intertwined in body-life.
Who sit in judges’ attire,
And who walk along the road.
Her story begins in Judges 4:11 with the cataclysmic news that her husband had left her. Indeed, he had left his whole community known as the Kenites; children of the father-in-law of Moses. These people recently inherited the story of God's deliverance in Egypt and were proud to believe alongside the Israelites. But not her husband Heber. He stepped out to embrace Israel's enemies. He had established peace with the King of the Canaanites. Heber's sin covered her home and she may have been ostracized as a consequence. Severing his ties, he took his tent and pitched it far away from Jael... just in her moment of need as the enemy approached her.
Jael knew Sisera. He had been a guest in her home. Sisera knew the way to Heber his ally and was heading her direction. She knew the odds for success against the Canaanites had always been impossible. It was quite the boast; his opposing army had 900 iron chariots. And their general was no less intimidating on a personal level. But God had made her brave. Jael was cunning and not fully honest, shall we say. She promises him comfort, and deceives him. Judges 4:18,
And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear.”She sedated him with milk. She covered him with a blanket like a mother would. She uses her feminine strength to dominate him. How can God allow her to manipulate like this? Remember, she cannot fight as an equal. If she were out on the battlefield, a sobering "level playing field," she's toast. If all the army of Israel could not win in twenty years, how could she overcome, she, as a humiliated Kenite being the least of His followers? In God's sight, her composition was all the LORD needed. God does not need a level playing field. The LORD prefers impossible odds.
When Jael takes up her weapon, it is the knowledge of the mightiness of God. She takes a hammer and a foundational stake of the tent - its peg - and drives it into his skull. Zechariah 10:3-5
My anger burns against the shepherds,Though Sisera was technically laying down when she conquered him in Judges 4, the song in Judges 5 has him looming when she struck him down (5:27). What a long way he fell. Sung symbolically it captures the absurdity of it apart from God's strength - that a woman by Him might overtake a mighty man.
and I will punish the leaders;
for the LORD Almighty will care
for his flock, the people of Judah,
and make them like a proud horse in battle.
From Judah will come the cornerstone,
from him the tent peg,
from him the battle bow,
from him every ruler.
Together they will be like warriors in battle
trampling their enemy into the mud of the streets.
They will fight because the LORD is with them,
and they will put the enemy horsemen to shame.
A Full Glory
Deborah's Song is incredibly ancient; it is thought to perhaps be the oldest song recorded in scripture. The battle took place in the valley of Megiddo, of which George Adam Smith wrote,
What a plain it is! Upon which not only the greatest empires, races, and faiths, east and west, have contended with each other, but each has come to judgment--on which from the first, with all its splendor of human battle, men have felt that there was fighting from heaven, the stars in their courses were fighting--on which panic has descended so mysteriously upon the best equipped and most successful armies, but the humble have been exalted to victory in the hour of their weakness--on which false faiths, equally with false defenders of the true faith, have been exposed and scattered--on which, from the time of Saul, willfulness and superstition, though aided by every human excellence, have come to naught, and since Josiah's time the purest piety has not atoned for rash and mistaken zeal .Who fought alongside these two women as Deborah said, "Has not the LORD gone out before you?" Judges 5:20 acknowledges the stars....
They fought from the heavens; The stars from their courses fought against Sisera.Who are the stars? Genesis 15:5 calls them Abraham's descendants....
Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”The One descendant of Abraham was the Seed, Jesus Christ. And the saints are His Body. When He returns soon to fight in the Valley of Mediggo (Armageddon), His saints will be coming with Him sword in hand.
And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.Their glory differs from one another as do stars, it says in scripture. 1 Cor. 15:41-42,
There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.God gives glory to men based on their pursuits, Rom. 1:10,
but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.The location and scale of the battle could not have been larger. It was an intentional choreography by God to anticipate the final battle of Revelation, Col. 3:4,
When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.Has anyone noted how self-centerd Deborah's song really is? "I, even I," says Deborah. Is she arrogant? Is she glorying in herself? It feels uncomfortable. But James 1:9 says, "Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation," therefore the song was Spirit-inspired - and not from the flesh. Her success over Sisera was full of glory, Judges 5:31,
Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD!This last verse is a real treat. With the same exceptional vision of God, Deborah portrays Jesus Christ's conquering over Israel's enemies thousands of years into the future.
But let those who love Him be like the sun
When it comes out in full strength.
Just Once Upon a Time
|Jael Smote Sisera and Slew Him by James Tissot|
(notice the masculine shape of Jael's right arm)
I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in IsraelJael is the most blessed among women in Judges 5:24,
Most blessed among women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; Blessed is she among women in tents.But... Mary is called the most blessed woman by Elizabeth her cousin; Luke 1:42,
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!Glorious power over Satan seems to be given once-a-covenant, to women, in the dawning days of the faith. See now how Mary has Deborah's and Jael's battle in mind as a theology of her own life experiences.
My soul magnifies the Lord,Mary must have been thinking of Sisera's mother ("The mother of Sisera... cried, 'why is [he]... so long in coming?'" Judges 5:28) when she says "the rich He has sent away empty." Mary gives glory to God's mighty arm, the Arm who was in Jael's arm as she lifted the hammer. God's arm has been awakened! (Rahab (below) represents a Canaanite mythological serpent who opposed God's acts of creation.) Isaiah 51:9,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.
Awake, awake, put on strength,Judges 5:12,
O arm of the LORD! Awake as in the ancient days,
In the generations of old.
Are You not the arm that cut Rahab apart,
And wounded the serpent?
Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.
The serpent has been wounded in the head through the bravery of Jael. This is to fulfill the prophecy given to Satan in Genesis 3:15. Mary's child wounds the head,
And I will put enmityWhen was the last time you looked at a Nativity scene and considered the meek and mild Mother of God as a victor, blood-splattered and joyful in God, looming over her kill to the magnificence of the LORD?
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.
Epilogue: The Glory Passes
There is in fact no epilogue to the story of Deborah and Jael. However the Word of God can paint the picture. In truth she was from a humble state. God gave her access to His task - which was very short lived and very glorious. But there is no life in the glory of mankind - that was the harlot Babylon's passion. "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." After the victory, there was temptation in renown. It is funny how just a small step to the left or to the right can make such fantastic battles in the LORD turn into Satan's triumphs. She must relearn how she was still destitute - and it would come at the price of career suicide. Mary's exaltation in directing the young Savior was hers, yet she surrendered it fully when He was fully grown. She let it pass altogether to her Son. Abruptly we hardly hear of Jael, Deborah or Mary again. Mothering is a job that is only needed for a period of time. Righteous men had arose to do the work of the ministry, now. They were capable to lead in compliment and fulfillment of God's order.
When a righteous woman serves God in a influential way, there is no such thing as a time when she is not under the authority of men.
People often ask how they can subdue a strong woman. What influence makes her "do typical woman things" so to speak? It happens as men graduate from her reminders and treat her like a woman; a worthy treasure; a special possession to be protected. You see, the days of Jael were nothing of the kind. The children of Israel were not treasured by those ruling. Women wanted men to just go crack some skulls and get the job done. Even the LORD doesn't want women to be involved in it. Women want to be the beneficiary of the administration. In this way a woman is both silent and adoring - traditional.
"You made me this way," Adam essentially blamed Eve ("the woman you gave me"). In truth, responsibility lies with him unconditionally. But when a woman is regenerated and cleansed from Eve's sin, then she may turn his words back on him as she's wearing the pants - "You're making me this way." Jael is remembered by God when righteousness is not to be found among men. Sisera and the men in judges' attire made Deborah and Jael for what they are known. But it is not too late; it is never too late, as Deborah showed Barak, to get up and take up what belongs to the man.
If a man treats a woman as if she were a fellow man, he is untuned and insensitive to her weak form. In his ignorance he expects that she carry the work. Do not be surprised if God not only treats her like a woman - with all His possessive love and behind-the-scenes wonders... but He also passes to her the favor that should have been, could have been, the man's glory.
 Historical Geography of the Holy Land, pg. 409