What do you think it would have been like to meet Deborah? I would imagine that most people would envision Deborah with stereotypical female traits and personality: a welcoming and hospitable presence, a reserved personality, and a pliant temperament. Yet is that an accurate view of Deborah? Deborah was a judge, a prophetess, and a military leader. While most translations identify her as the wife of Lappidoth, these words could equally be translated as a woman of flames, or a ‘fiery woman.’ It is this latter translation that I believe is most accurate. I lean towards a translation of fiery woman for two reasons, first, I believe that Deborah is a fiery woman and not a wife because there is no mention of children, nor is it stated that she is barren. If she were married and without children, there most likely would have been a note of her barrenness. Second, Deborah is a military leader and judge in a culture that is very patriarchal which means that she had to be tough. In addition, her leadership was accepted and respected by men.
Deborah most definitely exhibits a fiery presence, and she incinerates the illusion that a reserved temperament is required in godly women. Deborah was not only a judge, she was a prophetess. God spoke to her and she received instructions from God to deliver to others. It was God who gave her authority not just as a secular leader, but a spiritual leader as well.
Deborah is assertive. Deborah publicly sits under the palm tree of Deborah “and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Judg. 4:5 NASB). It is clear that she is a much sought-after prophet and judge. She summoned Barak, and she told him what God had commanded (Judg. 4:5-6). She does consent and goes with Barak at his request, but Deborah informs him that Sisera will now be given into the hands of a woman instead of him (Judg. 4:9). It is clear that after God, Deborah is the person in charge of the troops of Israel. She issues commands, directs the troops, and gives the battle cry of reveille. When Deborah speaks, people listen and obey. The fiery Deborah is ablaze with the authority given to her by God.
Deborah is fierce. God spoke to Deborah and had her issue the command for Barak march against Sisera and the Canaanites at Mount Tabor. Then, at the request of Barak, Deborah accompanies Barak as the Israelites go to war (Judg. 4:6-9). Deborah is on the battlefield, and it is she who issues the call to arms and issues the command to go forth (Judg. 4:14). In the song of Deborah in Judges 5, Deborah is presented as a co-leader with God. God, “the Lord, the God of Israel,” leads the heavenly war while Deborah, “a mother in Israel,” leads the earthly war (Judg. 5:4-7). Deborah calls out the battle cry, and it is Deborah who is given the credit for ending the oppression of the Canaanites (Judg. 5:6-7, 12). The fiery Deborah sears a path forward for women leaders.
Deborah was called and affirmed by God to lead in various ways. She depicts what we would call a warrior woman. Deborah’s leadership abilities and faithfulness to God are lauded. She shows us that women do not have to be passive, submissive, and quiet to be considered worthy and faithful in God’s eyes. Deborah is given a position of leading with God, and all of her fiery qualities are praised.