I think the story of Deborah, the prophet and judge in chapter 4 of the book of Judges, is amazingly under told. It was never in my Children’s Bible when I was growing up, so when I heard this amazing story as an adult, I couldn’t help but wonder why it is not discussed more often in church or in bible studies.
I feel this story reveals a bit about life back in the days of the OT. It says Deborah was a prophet judging Israel in those days. Now, it doesn’t say this was anything out of the ordinary! It could have been written:
“In those days, a woman named Deborah was a prophet and was judging Israel. This was very unusual because we know that only men are supposed to be leaders, so just consider this an exception this one time.”
No, it wasn’t written like that, or anything close. It was simply stated as fact, not as an unusual occurrence. Remember, the Lord raised up the Judges at that time; He picked the leaders, and He picked Deborah.
The first statement about Deborah says she was the wife of someone named Lappidoth. Lappidoth is an interesting name, and it is the only time we ever see this name in the Bible. The word is derived from Lappiyd, a masculine noun meaning torch; Lappidoth is a proper feminine name meaning “torches.” It might be worth asking why a man would have a feminine name. Here is one literal translation of the sentence:
dbowrah nbiy’ah ishshah lappiydowth eia shaphat Yisra’el ‘eth
Deborah prophetess woman-of lappidoth she judging Israel in time
The word ‘ishshah,” that is translated “wife.” is the word for “woman.” Some think this sentence might actually be translated as “Deborah, woman of fire or torches.” That might be the case. Why was it necessary to mention that Deborah is the wife of anyone? Perhaps it was customary at that time. Who is Lappidoth and what did he do? Nothing more is said about him.
The name Deborah means “bees,” and I would imagine] she was very “queenly” since she was entrusted with decision-making in Israel. So, was she a woman of fire, or the wife of Lappidoth? Chances are, she was a wife and mother, as revealed in Judges 5:7.
You might think since I write from an egalitarian viewpoint I am trying to lessen the importance of who Lappidoth might have been…perhaps to the point of dismissing his very existence. Nothing could be further from the truth. If Deborah was indeed the wife of Lappidoth, it is sad that no more is written about him than just his name, because he is surely an unsung hero of the Bible! A man who accepts and supports his wife’s calling from the Lord! AND to allow her to go into battle! I hold him in high esteem, just as I do Joseph, who accepted his bride-to-be’s calling as the mother of Jesus. Joseph didn’t have to accept what he saw in his dream as real, and if we were to put ourselves back in that time period, we would see what a step of faith this young man took when he chose to marry a girl carrying a child that wasn’t his. And, so, this Lappidoth fellow steps aside for his wife. Absolutely amazing!
In the story, Deborah tells Barak, because he wants her to go with him, Sisera will be delivered at the hands of a woman. That statement gives us a hint there is some discrimination going on, because we would assume if one told a man this, he might puff himself up and decide that it would be far more embarrassing to succeed with a woman, than to die as a lone general.
Apparently, Barak is another unsung hero. He sees who Deborah is. He sees the Lord’s work through her. He trusts her calling implicitly. He has no shame in having a woman with him, and he doesn’t care if Sisera is defeated by a woman. As we read this, we believe (if we don’t know the ending) it will be Deborah who does the deed. Instead, it is the wife of a man on friendly terms with Sisera who delivers the blow that will grant peace to Israel for 40 years.
We don’t know why Jael decides to do away with Sisera. He obviously trusted her; or thought her incapable of rendering any harm upon him; he fell asleep in the tent, completely at ease. Perhaps his history of mistreating women was a motivating factor for Jael to kill him (Judges 5:30). We know that killing is wrong, yet she chose to do “wrong” to put something right. We know it was the right decision, and I certainly commend her for what she had the courage to do. Have you ever seen an ancient tent peg? Ouch.
My thoughts on this story, as I contemplated it in the context of writing, started out with the usual, “See what WOMEN can do? The same stuff that MEN can do!”
But, that isn’t the point. The point is that the Lord did all of this. (Judges 4:23-24) This story is about men and women stepping aside and letting the Lord do His work through us all, regardless of gender. Lappidoth stepped aside to let Deborah lead. Barak stepped aside to have Deborah AT his side. Deborah stepped aside for Jael, because she knew what the Lord was planning. If we stop seeing ministry and the Lord’s work as something that we in the flesh take any credit for, then it won’t matter who is doing the work. Everybody in Judges 4 got out of the way of each other and let the Lord do his work. It didn’t matter who completed the task then, and it shouldn’t matter now.