Missional Women: Deborah

The historical account of the life of Deborah is found in Judges chapters four and five. The book of Judges describes a time in Israel’s history that was very tumultuous to say the least. It was a roller coaster ride of falling away from the Lord and returning to the Lord. This cycle repeated itself many times. This is not unlike the life of many Christians. We go through seasons of rebellion and disobedience; we are convicted and we repent and enter a season of spiritual growth only to fall into sin and disobedience again and the process continues.

Israel found itself in a season where they were inflicted and bullied by the Cannaanites for twenty years. There was a stranglehold on the economy of Israel as trade routes were blocked. The Cannaanites attacked Israel when they were at their weakest, and they even captured and raped the women.

                The people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help. “In response to their plea, the Lord raised up a prophetess called Deborah. She was one of the most remarkable people to emerge during the 350 year period charted in this book. Deborah was the first prophet since Moses’ day and one of only three women prophets we read about in the Old Testament, the others being Miriam (Exod. 15:20) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14).”[1] Deborah is described as the ‘mother of Israel’ and she held court as a judge under a tree that became known as the ‘palm of Deborah.’ “There could not be a greater contrast between the oppressor and the deliverer: a monster who held the tribes of Israel in his iron grip and a mother who led them with a gentle hand. We may feel helpless in the face of our spiritual and moral enemies but we must never forget that God ‘chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”[2]

                Deborah was truly a missional woman that used great wisdom and care in helping the people of Israel. As we consider the ministry of Deborah and the missional life she lived, we see four things about Deborah that are needed if we too are going to live a missional life.

                Loved the Lord and His Word. The fact that Deborah was a prophetess shows that she had a great love for God and His Word. We must be careful not to confuse ourselves and stray from the consistency of scripture. The Bible is clear that only men should serve in administrative and leadership roles in the church such as pastors and deacons. However, the fact that there were women in the Bible that are considered as prophetess’ does not contradict the Bible’s teaching on the roles of men and women. The gift of prophecy is the ability to clearly communicate the Word of God. It is the gift of proclaiming the truth. Both men and women can certainly have this gift and the gift can be used in many different forms. Deborah was very wise, and she knew and understood God’s Word and had the ability to communicate truth to others. There are several women that I have known over the years that had great knowledge concerning God’s Word. These women demonstrate a deep love for the Lord and a hunger to study His Word. They are filled with great wisdom that they obtained through careful study of the Word, and they have much to contribute. To live a missional life like Deborah and other great women of the faith, we must have a love for the Lord and His Word. It starts with spending time with the Lord daily in His Word and in prayer. A missional life begins and ends with a love for God’s Word. A missional life is one that is wrapped up in time spent with God and in the study of scriptures. Do you have such a love for the Lord and His Word? Do you spend adequate time in the study of God’s Word? The only way to live a true missional life is to have an overwhelming love for God and His Word.

                Took Initiative. Deborah not only had a love for the Lord and His Word, but she also took initiative to get things done. She knew what was right, she knew what had to be done, and she made it happen. “Deborah, though resident in the south of Ephraim, had her eyes fixed on the tyranny which pressed especially on the tribes of the north. While of the priests at Shiloh none speak, she nevertheless cannot rest while Israel is in bondage.”[3] She calls upon Barak to become the liberator of God’s people. “The power of Deborah’s influence shows itself in the fact that Barak, though living so far north, readily answers her summons to the border of Benjamin. At the same time, Barak’s obedience to the call of the prophetess, is in itself good evidence, that he is the called deliverer of Israel. But she not only calls him, not only incites him to the conflict; she also gives him the plan of battle which he must follow.”[4] Deborah saw a problem, was concerned, and took the initiative to do something about it. Living a missional life involves taking initiative. Some people think they must wait until they are asked or until the church gives them some clear direction. However, living a life on mission is taking the initiative to bring the Gospel to the world. We should wait until someone pries us off the pew and kicks us in the pants. When we see a need, we should do something about it. When we know someone who needs Jesus, we should share the Gospel with them. We don’t need to wait for some organized program, just do it! Live a life on mission. Take initiative!

                Took Risk. Barak was willing to lead an army and go to battle as Deborah commanded, but he wanted Deborah to go with her. We are not really sure the motives behind Barak’s request. Warren Wiersbe says, “We know that “God’s commandments are God’s enablements” and that we should obey His will in spite of circumstances, feelings, or consequences. But we don’t always do it! Was Barak’s response an evidence of unbelief or a mark of humility? He didn’t accuse God of making a mistake; all he did was ask Deborah to go with him to the battle. Was that because she was a prophetess and he might need a word from the Lord? Or was it to help him enlist more volunteers for the army? The fact that Deborah agreed to accompany Barak suggests that his request wasn’t out of God’s will, although in granting it, God took the honor from the men and gave it to the women.”[5] Nevertheless, Deborah risked her own life by going with Barak to the battle. Living a missional life not only requires that we take initiative, but also that we take risks. Stepping out on faith and serving the Lord can be very risky. Too often we are afraid of failure or rejection and fear keeps us from doing anything. We should not be afraid of failure. The stakes are too high. The need is too great. Living a life on mission is worth the risk.

                Gave Glory to God. In chapter five of Judges we see a song that Deborah wrote as a praise to God for deliverance from Israel’s enemies. Even though Deborah took initiative and took a risk, she knew that it was God that delivered them. She was very quick to give God all the glory. Those who are living a missional life understand that it is not about them. They are ambassadors of Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. A missional life and a missional church is one that promotes Jesus and not themselves. God used Deborah and Barak. They were obedient to the Lord, but it was God that brought deliverance. Our responsibility is to faithfully serve and live on mission. God is the one that brings the increase. The results are not up to us. If the results were up to us, then we would be continuously disappointed. If the results were up to us, we would take drastic measures that would lead to confusion and compromise. However, when we serve faithfully and leave the results up to God, He is glorified. Living a missional life is living a life that gives all glory to God.

                Deborah provides a great example of living a missional life. To live such a life, we must love the Lord and His Word, take initiative, take risks, and give all glory to God. Are you living a missional life?

[1] Robinson, S. J. (2006). Opening up Judges (p. 25). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[2] Robinson, S. J. (2006). Opening up Judges (pp. 25–26). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[3] Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Cassel, P., & Steenstra, P. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Judges (p. 83). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Cassel, P., & Steenstra, P. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Judges (p. 83). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] Wiersbe, W. W. (1994). Be available (p. 36). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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