Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

Deborah the Judge: Godliness Produced Strength of Character and Modesty

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The era of the judges was marked by sin and more sin. The Israelites reverted to the ways of the ungodly in their midst and to idol worship. The pagan peoples they allowed to remain in Canaan after the conquest proved to cause turmoil in their life by their living amongst and association with them. It is apparent that God allowed the Israelites through their ungodly actions and deeds to become so oppressed by the pagans they assimilated with, to experience so much overwhelming distress, that they were forced to turn back to Him and pray for relief. An age old lesson for us all is that we knowingly and unknowingly take on traits of those we associate ourselves with.

When the Israelites did earnestly turn back to God, God raised up a judge among them, who was strong, who would lead the Israelites, and continue to keep them faithful to the Lord their God. Deborah was this judge. Deborah would become the only woman to judge Israel. Not just a woman, Deborah was also described as a prophetess and a wife.

A Prophetess and Wife

We first read about Deborah in the Holy Book of Judges as a...

"Prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth who was judging Israel" (Judges 4:4).

Apparently according to this verse, being a prophetess and wife are considered the two most important of her relationships. First, Deborah is characterized as a prophetess. In Deborahs Song, her love for the Lord is described as "like the sun, when it comes in full strength" (Judges 5:31). Most probably this is the reason why God chose Deborah to communicate His Will to the Israelites. Deborah was considered by the people as Gods spokesperson and this helped to establish her respect among them. Though Deborah was the only Israelite woman to become a judge; other Israelite women were prophetesses such as Miriam and Huldah.

Second Deborah is described as the wife of Lapidoth. Though most Old Testament women were denoted as belonging to the household of a man, the implications here may have been two fold. It is important to consider that Deborahs husband played no role in her judgeship which is directly identified in the Holy Bible. He was not chosen by Deborah to play a role in the story of the victory over the Canaanite people. In fact, nothing is known about Lapidoth, not even the tribe he was from. It therefore, must be important to understand that while Deborah was a prophetess and a woman of great respect, she was also a woman that was a wife. Deborah belonged to a household and we can rightly assume it was a household of faith.

We read of no conflict between her and her husband with the role God had selected for Deborah. We do not read that Lapidoth had a problem with her putting God first rather than himself, nor do we read that he hindered her service to God in any way or was resentful of it. Rather we can assume because Deborah was a wife, she was of good character and had many social roles as a wife whom she capably fulfilled. Also due to her position and love for God, she must have encouraged her husband to be Godly and ultimately won the Israelite respect for her husband as well.

A Judge and Leader

Deborah was a judge that mainly settled disputes "holding court under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim" (Judges 4:5). Being a prophetess must have helped Deborah to solve these disputes spiritually rather than simply politically or judicially. Also we can assume that being a prophetess the people who came to her to settle their disputes which could not locally be resolved would respect her opinion regardless of the outcome of the dispute. Being a prophetess and judge could have aided her as a female judge in a patriarchal society in a positive perspective as both a woman and judge by both the male and female population of Israel.

Deborah was not a military leader nor did she pretend to be one to assert her judgeship or standing in the eyes of the Israelites. She was historically not characterized as one who demanded authority or as one who always insisted upon her own way. She had a mission to conquer the King of Hazor whom commanded 900 chariots of iron. While the 900 chariots sounds ominous the Israelites had not learned to work with iron therefore the number of chariots and what they were composed of forced the Israelites to go to battle by sheer faith in God.

Deborah called upon Barak, a known military man, in the name of the Lord to lead the Israelites in battle against the Canaanites of Hazor. She then passed down to him the instructions given to her by God. Barak willingly accepted the role of military leader with one provision, that Deborah would accompany him. She relented to his request as she desired to carry out the will of God and destroy the Canaanites. She was disappointed in Baraks lack of faith in God alone, and that his faith needed bolstering by her presence at battle.

Barak described as a "military man" not a "spiritual man of God" needed her presence at the battle. Why? She must have represented someone whose relationship with God was so supreme that they knew God would not allow anything to happen to her or to them. Deborahs relationship with God must have been so great that it was recognizable to all those around her and so strong that they were willing to go to battle with her in the midst no matter the odds against them. Her femaleness must have been viewed as second to her love for the Lord.

The battle of the Israelites against 900 chariots of irons was a decisive one. The Israelites defeated King Hazor and he was killed while seeking refuge from the battle. The defeat was so strong that the city of Hazor fell within a few short years thereafter. The Israelites under Deborahs strong leadership would come to enjoy forty years of peaceful times.

Strength of Character not Personality

Deborahs relationship with God was first. She was also a wife, perhaps even could have been a mother, and she was a judge. She balanced many roles and with each role we are not told she did not have "the time" to fulfill a certain role. She served God faithfully and God provided Deborah a way to balance all her roles according to His calling.

Deborah did not have a strong personality. She did not manipulate, use strong language or a loud voice to use her authority. She is not described as tough in her judgment of others. Worldliness was not a part of her lifestyle as she did not mix with the Canaanite culture, environment, or desire anything of their way of life. We can assume her background and education was centered upon the teachings of the Lord.

Deborahs spirituality, power, and inner peace were not disturbed by either adversity or prosperity. She was stable and of strong character.

"For the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two edge sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, ad of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrew 4:12).

Some descriptors of good character are putting away worldly things and placing God first in your life. Instilling habits that will assist you to guard your emotions from worldly teachings and desires will help us to avoid the emotions associated with heartache and pain. Emotions help to shape how we are known by others. Emotions shape our thinking. Deborah is historically described as a woman who had a special relationship with God not a woman who allowed her emotions to overtake her.

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandment, for this is mans all" (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Strength in character opposes sinful ways and does not enter into them. We can assume Deborahs strength of character helped her to overtake King Hazor who had earlier been defeated by a man, Joshua. But this man had not completely conquered King Hazor as he had regained power and rebuilt his army. Deborahs defeat was total destruction.


With all the respect, acclaim, and power that go along with the denotation of prophetess and judge, Deborah remained modest. She was an obedient servant. She willingly without hesitation carried out the Will of God. She was Godly and used discernment of leadership. We are not told that she flaunted or "dressed up" to do the job. Rather her perspective was one of a spiritual nature. We do not read that she usurped authority in her own home or that her home life was negligible.

Rather one can assume that Deborah through the guidance of the Lord balanced roles as only one that walked with the Lord could do. She used her gifts and talents as directed and it was not written that she failed at a single task. Rather, Deborah served the Lord competently, with capability, and in confidence of her abilities.

We also learn from Deborahs example that the prophetess role and the role of judge were more significant than the role of military leader or fighter. Deborah would settle disputes but she would not lead the army. Maybe the confines of womens roles in the Old Testament times or that Deborah neither needed nor wanted any credit for a battle victory to sustain her, helped to maintain the modesty within her.

Deborah was reluctant to go to battle with Barak, knowing that God chose Barak to lead the army. She may have been even uncomfortable with the role as a woman. Deborah would have preferred that Barak trusted in God and went off to battle without her. Maybe Gods choice of Barak also indicated that women were not appropriate for every type of leadership role. Regardless of Deborahs personal felt limitations she accompanied Barak and when the battle was won, in her song, "The Song of Deborah" she gave credit to God and the battles leader Barak omitting any role she may have played in the defeat of the Canaanites of Hazor.

May we all look to Deborahs example of her love for the Lord, using her gifts and talents, and the end product of her obedience to the One she loved above all.

Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern USA

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